Wednesday, January 31, 2018

the 2017 TWB 100 Slow Release: 51-75

Trevor Lee giving MJF the what-for here kicks off today's TWB 100 entry
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Today, the TWB 100 will power on through to the halfway point. Enough yammering in introduction, the time has come to get to the actual wrestlers!

75. Trevor Lee
Points: 477
Number of Ballots: 7
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Brock Jahnke)
Last Year’s Ranking: 48th Place

Chris Gibbons: Lee is a wrestler who makes the most of every context he’s in. He’s one of the few TNA/IMPACT/whatever it’s called now wrestlers I tried to keep up with in the ring because he’s the X Division’s most consistent presence. He’s a great heel in places like AAW and PWG, and his impressive long title reign in CWF Mid-Atlantic keeps delivering. Lee probably doesn’t get enough due for the work he puts in.

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74. Drew Galloway/McIntyre
Points: 482
Number of Ballots: 11
Highest Vote: 39th Place (Bryan Heaton)
Last Year’s Ranking: 76th Place

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73. Scott Dawson
Points: 485
Number of Ballots: 10
Highest Vote: 21st Place (Xavier Goncalves)
Last Year’s Ranking: 8th Place

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72. Ruby Riot/Riott/Heidi Lovelace
Points: 493
Number of Ballots: 12
Highest Vote: 5th Place (Bobby Godfrey)
Last Year’s Ranking: 33rd Place

TH: I'm spoiled in that I got to see the FULL HEIDI EXPERIENCE on the indies, and even in NXT, Ruby Riot got the nerf treatment as most WWE wrestlers do who aren't near the top of their card. That being said, she's so good at what makes a pro wrestler memorable, and she even excelled when told she had to develop a meanstreak. Her heel work shouldn't be this good, but she gets how to get across her black-hearted persona when the bell rings.

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71. Bobby Roode
Points: 500
Number of Ballots: 11
Highest Vote: 23rd Place (Mike Pankowski)
Last Year’s Ranking: 47th Place

TH: Roode isn't flashy in the ring, but he gets the job done as a methodical heel worker. He's always been the best possible Triple H, which is basically a methodical heel worker without the extreme ego. His NXT Championship run produced solid matches at the top of cards that were better than any other Champion's in aggregate before him, if I'm being honest, and he was able to work a variety of opponents with satisfying results, even if they weren't elite workrate level.

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70. Chris Jericho
Points: 502
Number of Ballots: 10
Highest Vote: 8th Place (Kirk Dessler)
Last Year’s Ranking: 35th Place

TH: I voted for Jericho basically on the strength of having the best match at WrestleMania with Kevin Owens and following it up with a strong turn at the next show. He was limited, but he played within his limits and used both his veteran knowhow and raw emotion to put on some of the strongest top-level matches of the year.

Kirk Dessler: His feud with Kevin Owen’s was a pinnacle of a nearly year-long storyline, which did not start with the impression that Jericho could still go into big time matches. However, Jericho got rid of the ring rust and delivered a series of great matches with his former “best friend” that outshined quite some of the younger praised talent.

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69 (nice). Nia Jax
Points: 505
Number of Ballots: 11
Highest Vote: 22nd Place (Jonathon Hunt)
Last Year’s Ranking: 99th Place

TH: It's amazing how far Jax has come since debuting in NXT. She's legitimately become a rock for the RAW women's division to anchor itself to, and she's been able to turn in solid matches against really every opponent put in front of her.

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68. Velveteen Dream
Points: 512
Number of Ballots: 10
Highest Vote: 20th Place (Adam Blount)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

Joshua Browns: Twenty-two. TWENTY-TWO. Good lord, this kid is twenty-two freaking years old and he’s seemingly already figured out the business faster than almost anybody else. He’s figured out how to convey his character through his in-ring work so well, and his actual work keeps getting better and better. Put it this way – almost anyone else would get laughed out of the business for having the nerve to use the word “rainmaker” to describe their finish. For Dream, it just fits.

Scott Raychel: I don’t think anyone’s nailed in-ring character work in recent memory quite like The Velveteen Dream. The character is not supposed to work this well, but thedude just GETS IT. He figured it out. And he backs it up with solid wresting to boot. His match with Aleister Black was a fantastic example. The only reason I didn’t rank him higher was because he only really had one notable match in 2017, but he’s going to rule the world in 2018.

Photo Credit: Zia Hiltey
67. Dasher Hatfield
Points: 517
Number of Ballots: 8
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Scott Raychel)
Last Year’s Ranking: 86th Place

TH: Anytime someone says Chikara doesn't have great consistent work, I point them to the solid core it has had for the last few years with Hatfield at the vanguard for the tecnico side of things. He turned in another solid year this year near the top of the card.

Joshua Browns: I will stan for Dasher Hatfield until the day I die, and 2017 was not only a great one for Dasher from a character development standpoint, but also gave him the opportunity to diversify his ring work, from a “good hand” tag specialist to really solidifying his status as Chikara’s ace. His giant-killing run to a championship opportunity (with wins over Merlok, Moose and Keith Lee) gave Dasher the chance to show off his deceptive strength, and hopefully positioned him for the Grand Championship run in 2018 he’s richly deserved for a couple of years now.

Scott Raychel: Few know how to put on a main event match like Dasher Hatfield. He made a run for the Chikara Grand Championship this year by earning a title shot after defeating hoss giants like Merlok, Moose, and Keith Lee in wildly entertaining matches and it was one of the best things about Chikara this year.

Mat Morgan: A year ago in last year's TWB 100 I wrote the following: "If he's not doing big things and headlining shows this year then I'm gonna shake my head ruefully at Quack in Chicago this year." It's a year later and I am happy to say that I did not shake my head ruefully at Mike Quackenbush, because Dasher Hatfield's 2017 was really great. He got to take the role of CHIKARA's standard-bearer, putting on showcase matches against big-name outsiders much like the likes of Eddie Kingston and Hallowicked did in past years, and shined en route to a heartbreaking loss at the end of the year to Juan Francisco de Coronado in an absolute thriller. Hopefully more big opportunities are heading his way in 2018, because he'll knock them out of the park.

... like a baseball. Because of the baseball gimmick. I'll shut up now.

Photo Credit: Christine Coons
66. Hallowicked
Points: 519
Number of Ballots: 9
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Mat Morgan)
Last Year’s Ranking: 64th Place

TH: Hallowicked has been doing this for over a decade, so he brings not only the lucharesu-styled flair to the game that you'd expect from a Chikara worker, but veteran seasoning as well. His sarcophagus match against Ophidian over the summer was a charged brawl that couldn't have been had by just any other two performers in that locker room.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
65. AR/Dante Fox
Points: 519 (ranked higher because of a higher-high vote than Hallowicked)
Number of Ballots: 9
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Scott Raychel, Mat Morgan)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

Chris Gibbons: AR Fox could have only had the Hell of War match make tape and it still would have gotten him on my list. But his crazy work in Lucha Underground was just the tip of the iceberg, as Fox was a big standout for AAW, Beyond and WWN. Fox delivers something exciting damn near every time (even if he nearly dies in the process), and is setting himself up nicely for a big 2018 as he returns to a more regular role in EVOLVE.

Scott Raychel: Just watch the Hell Of War match from Ultima Lucha Tres. Good LORD.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
64. Shane Strickland/Killshot
Points: 523
Number of Ballots: 6
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Mat Morgan)
Last Year’s Ranking: 98th Place

Chris Gibbons: After being a CZW mainstay for a few years and being a regular on Lucha Underground as Killshot, Shane Strickland had a huge 2017, establishing himself as one of the absolute best high flyers in the United States and ascending to the main event of the Combat Zone. And while he could easily coast on his flying abilities, he hasn’t shied away from that hardcore style of his home promotion. Strickland’s appearance as a card means a spectacle, whether it’s from incredible flips from the top rope or from leaving his body a bloodied mess.

David Hobbs: The WMD match on LU was revelatory to a lot of people, but the man has been absolutely killing it in the indies. Stronger than he looks, as fast as you expect him to be, and impossibly smooth. He somehow seems to be gliding across the ring and moving with desperation at the same time. The death matches were eye-opening, as I was captivated watching how purposefully he attempted to murder Martin Casaus, AR Fox, and Sami Callihan (with whom he had an awesome stand-off at Wrestle Circus while making the save for Leva Bates that involved a superhero-esque double chair catch and stare down). It seemed like he was getting better with every spotlight match he was put in, whether moving in an impossible blur with sprinters like Lio Rush and Dezmond Xavier, or trading impact moves against the likes of Brian Cage. He skyrocketed up my list with those performances and may have been my personal favorite wrestler in a year that involved an incredible amount of great wrestling.

Scott Raychel: He gets overshadowed as Killshot on Lucha Underground by the likes of Prince Puma and Dante Fox, but Shane Strickland is still a hell of a talented wrestler. He co-created art with the brutal Hell Of War match on Lucha Underground, but he’s had more of a chance to shine as Wrestle Circus’s Ringmaster Champion, and holy hell can he put on a main event! Strickland throws all caution to the wind in order to get the best out of his opponents. I can only imagine he’ll continue to rise if he doesn’t destroy his own body too much first.

Mat Morgan: There have been wrestlers who could make a claim at the "King of the Indies" title from Washington State before, but 2017 was probably the first year where you could see that King of the Indies actually killing it in their own backyard throughout the year. Shane Strickland was my #1 because on top of his fantastic work in Lucha Underground as Killshot, culminating in a Hell of War match with Dante Fox that that for my money was one of the absolute best matches to not go down on Japanese soil last year, I got to watch him display his craft at DEFY shows against a variety of opponents, and every match ranged from "yeah, that was pretty good" (Cody) to "oh my god that was amazing" (Lio Rush, Brody King). And it wasn't just in Seattle that Strickland made his mark, having at one point last year held the top titles for CZW and WrestleCircus concurrently with the DEFY Championship. For however long as this run lasts I'm going to enjoy the hell out of seeing him do his thing both live and in that weird Hellmouth temple in Boyle Heights, because probably sooner than later a much bigger contract and platform is coming his way.

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63. Mustafa Ali
Points: 530
Number of Ballots: 9
Highest Vote: 11th Place (David Hobbs)
Last Year’s Ranking: 80th Place

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62. Shayna Baszler
Points: 531
Number of Ballots: 12
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Willow Maclay)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

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61. Akira Tozawa
Points: 540
Number of Ballots: 12
Highest Vote: 24th Place (David Hobbs)
Last Year’s Ranking: 65th Place

TH: People who judge wrestling and don’t take into account crowd play are doing it wrong. Sure, commentators like to say “he shouldn’t care about the crowd, he should focus on his opponent,” but it’s crucial to engage the audience. Tozawa was not only the best at this on 205 Live, but in WWE. His crowd play was as important to his in-ring resume as any sell, any senton, any counter exchange.

Photo Credit: Mikey Nolan
60. Nick Jackson
Points: 542
Number of Ballots: 9
Highest Vote: 17th Place (Bobby Godfrey)
Last Year’s Ranking: 45th Place

59. Matt Jackson
Points: 543
Number of Ballots: 9
Highest Vote: 16th Place (Bobby Godfrey)
Last Year’s Ranking: 42nd Place

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58. Dash Wilder
Points: 552
Number of Ballots: 11
Highest Vote: 20th Place (Xavier Goncalves)
Last Year’s Ranking: 10th Place

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57. Jason Jordan
Points: 560
Number of Ballots: 12
Highest Vote: 23rd Place (Adam Blount)
Last Year’s Ranking: 25th Place

TH: He started the year as the best hot tag in WWE, and ended it as guy finding his groove as a marquee singles star in the making. When WWE broke up American Alpha and let Jordan run as Kurt Angle’s son, the going was rough at first, but he got a handle on pacing a match and breaking out the big spot, and thus he found his space.

Photo Credit: Devin Chen
56. Chuck Taylor/DUSTIN
Points: 567
Number of Ballots: 10
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Mike Pankowski)
Last Year’s Ranking: 63rd Place

Chris Gibbons: Chuck Taylor is one of my favorite wrestlers, but after a somewhat weak run in 2016 (especially in EVOLVE) I wasn’t expecting much of him in 2017. Chuckie T proved me very wrong, finishing that EVOLVE run with a great brawl with Matt Riddle and having an incredible ascent to the championship in PWG. Taylor is one of the most diverse guys around. He’s a great comedy wrestler (his TLC match with Hornswoggle is one of my favorite matches period) and brawler. He’s great in tag teams whether he’s tagging with Trent?, Orange Cassidy or Chuck Taylor™. He can do just about everything, and his success at this point in his career is inspiring.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
Points: 578
Number of Ballots: 9
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Kirk Dessler)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

Chris Gibbons: WALTER’s been on the European wrestling scene for over a decade, but 2017 was his first taste of Stateside success. While he worked probably less than 15 matches on American soil, each one of them felt special. Even though many of the opponents he faced here were people he wrestled in Europe, those matches against the likes of Sabre, Riddle and Starr never felt like retreads. Instead they felt like true big matches finally making their way here, in front of tons of eyes in awe of what the big man can do.

Kirk Dessler: Europeans knew it for years, but 2017 was Walter’s break-out year for the US. Walter is the work-rate gold standard for big men. Neither does he need to overplay any big man trope, nor does he need to escape into the big-man-does-high-flyer-moves-and-everyone-is-baffled trope. Walter just wrestles like a big man who learnt his craft. If his European work counted here, he would be a number one contender.

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54. Roderick Strong
Points: 588
Number of Ballots: 14
Highest Vote: 10th Place (Adam Shinder)
Last Year’s Ranking: 71st Place

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53. Cedric Alexander
Points: 590
Number of Ballots: 13
Highest Vote: 10th Place (Mike Pankowski)
Last Year’s Ranking: 19th Place

TH: The spotlight promised to him after the Cruiserweight Classic didn’t exactly shine. Part of that was losing a chunk of time to injury, but when he was able to work his thing, he did great things. He always got the crowd to react to him during cruiserweight matches, and his delivery on moves, especially the Lumbar Check, was always crisp and tight.

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52. Shinsuke Nakamura
Points: 594
Number of Ballots: 11
Highest Vote: 16th Place (Joshua Browns)
Last Year’s Ranking: 9th Place

Photo Credit: Zia hiltey
51. Juan Francisco de Coronado
Points: 601
Number of Ballots: 8
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Scott Raychel)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: Coronado has always been one of Chikara’s workhorses, and he got to put it on display in a main event standing in 2017. His strong technical base and plentiful heeling was a perfect combination for a top-line bad guy champion who had compelling matches with a wide base of opponents.

Joshua Browns: There’s a fair amount of live vs. televised wrestling bias inherent in my vote for Juan at #4, as he’s the wrestler I saw live in more main events than anyone else in 2017. That said, what JFDC’s run as Grand Champion has done for Chikara in terms of building a running championship-focused storyline can’t be overstated. He rose to the level of great performers, made good performers great, and even got excellent matches out of some truly iffy guys in 2017. Juan’s in-ring character work is as good as nearly anyone else, and the little touches he adds (the now famous “Coronado shriek” made famous during his enhancement match against the Bludgeon Brothers is a perfect example) put him right near the top of my 2017 ballot.

Scott Raychel: Juan Francisco de Coronado low key had the best 2017 in professional wrestling. After stunning Chikara fans by defeating UltraMantis Black to become the new Grand Champion, the Ecuadorian Aristocrat went on to have a series of solid title defenses that only got better the longer he held onto the title. These title defenses peaked in a barn burner of a match with Fire Ant that was so good, I listed it as one of my favorite matches of last year despite the fact it ended in heel shenanigans. But Juan could still make you love to hate him and hate to love him even with clean victories as well. His match with Mr. Touchdown (which also made my list) proved just that. Juan’s a master heel with great in-ring character work and innovative offense, all while wearing a sweet bow tie. Do not sleep on him.

Mat Morgan: At the tail end of 2016, Juan Francisco de Coronado put on an incredible match with Zack Sabre Jr., in the end forcing him to tap out to the Coronado Clutch. Both the result and just how good the match was were almost shocking at the time, but it turns out that both were just foreshadowing the year the Ecuadorian Aristocrat would have as the reigning CHIKARA Grand Champion, putting on exceptional title match after exceptional title match. Coronado's always been an excellent heel, year after year further honing his persona (and year after year further stretching out his endless, wonderfully infuriating entrance), but this year he really got to show that he's a technician who can hold his end of the bargain with anyone in the world and a master of the old-school heel by-hook-or-by-crook title match. He's been a great bedrock and source of stability for a company that went through a ton of changes in 2017, and he's only getting better.