|I've turned yet another corner on Charlotte Flair|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Charlotte Flair - It's weird. Her entire gimmick is that she's "genetically superior," and yet when she plays to her genetic forebear, father Ric, Flair falls short. The biggest surprise of the year was when she came over to Smackdown, was put in more of a traditional WWE babyface role, and started killing it like she did back in NXT. She hasn't had to work underneath a whole lot, and frankly, few wrestlers can make her do that believably, but she's been really good at taking bad situations, like having to wrestle Lana a bunch of times or feuding with Nattie Neidhart, and made them bearable. Flair pleasantly surprised me after the Superstar Shakeup.
Bad Luck Fale - I've turned a corner on Fale bigtime. He's not going to dazzle in singles matches, but put him in one of those patented New Japan big tags, and he becomes super fun.
Kurt Angle - I know I've soured on Angle since like 2003 quite a bit, but it was good seeing him back in WWE, even if he was just there to look doe-eyed into a camera and read whatever canned script he was there to read as general manager. But at least I knew he was somewhere where they'd at least take the minimum care of him. I don't wanna lose him yet.
Fabian Aichner - I'm glad to see he got signed after the CWC, as he was impressive in his short showing in that tournament. Wrestling needs guys like him who come out of places that aren't name hubs and still show that this world everyone shares still has surprises left in it.
Booker T - Honestly, I wasn't the biggest Booker fan in the world when he took over for David Otunga during the Superstar Shakeup. That being said, his shtick kinda won me over by the end of the year. I don't think he changed, but it was I who managed my expectations a little differently. When paired with Corey Graves and Michael Cole, he adds a bit of spice to the proceedings. Cole and Graves do the heavy lifting on getting the stories over, and Booker just comes out of leftfield with hot takes for amusement value that give a bit of a distraction during a three-plus hour show. It can get grating at times, but man, he actually has a place in that RAW booth. God bless him.
The Whisper - I didn't know what to make of him, but he won me over over the course of the Chikara season. Doing an identity theft angle (which is basically what the whole thing with Ophidian/Ourobouros was) is uncharted territory, and it worked in part because of how well Whisper played it. He feels like a replacement to Kevin Condron, a provocateur character that is good at getting under people's skins. I don't hate it so far.
Paige - It's hard not to feel for Paige, having spent a whole year of her career lost to injuries and taking the brunt of her bosses frustrations with her now ex-boyfriend. I mean, she's been easily surpassed by nearly everyone who came through NXT after her, but that doesn't mean she's not a good performer who can bring the heat to secondary programs on RAW, which is what that show is going to need if it wants to have a viable women's division.
Dr. Wagner, Jr. - I'll be the first to admit that he wasn't my cup of coffee on Lucha Underground, but honestly, I can't get enough of him as Hot Lucha Grandfather: The Meme. It was a huge bright spot of levity and humor in this ratfuckingly terrible and depressing 2017.
Shinsuke Nakamura - Look, you can get mad at him for not redoing the Kota Ibushi match from WrestleKingdom 9 (or even the Sami Zayn match from Takeover: Dallas) every night, but he's never been about that life, even in New Japan. Sure, I find it disappointing that Nakamura hasn't put on the jets like in the Zayn match in WWE, but he's still enjoyable for the most part. The Jinder Mahal matches were the best Mahal has looked in any match during his reign outside of the AJ Styles feud, and that John Cena match before SummerSlam was a perfect TV main event. I think he's a victim of heightened expectation, even if without them, he's still been a bit lackluster since coming over.
Matt Riddle - It feels like the bloom has come off his rose a bit, but Riddle still has brought it at a high level all year long. He's the kind of guy that wrestling needs at its vanguard more than, say, Cody Rhodes. Does he burn bridges with promoters? Is that a bad thing for a wrestler to have the cards in his hand rather than the capital? I would say no, it's not a bad thing at all. I hope he never signs with WWE, even if he keeps working WWE-adjacent "indies."
The Big Show - All you need to know about the difference between Big Show and Kane is their Braun Strowman matches in 2017.
Lio Rush - Sure, he might be a punk, but he's a punk that's really good at wrestling. He's not racist, he's not an abuser. He just posted some matches he wasn't supposed to, acted full of himself, and tried to make a kayfabe tweet regarding a peer's release. He's also younger than most people roasting him for his mistakes. In a world where abusers skate and have people defending them, I think you can let Rush go for being a bit brusque or wet behind the ears.
Marti Belle - The showing in the Mae Young Classic, while not really that good, isn't representative of her. I also thought it got blown out of proportion. She's a solid hand who just had a bad night.
Juan Francisco de Coronado - Fans have been grumbling about his title reign, but in all honesty, he's not the worst option to have an overbearing, Triple H-esque reign of villainy. He knows how to get heat which is rare on the indies for a heel, plus he's an ace worker. I've long been on the Juan Train, and I'm glad he's on top.
John Cena - I find the pendulum swing from utter hatred to folk heroism for Cena in the last year or so to be rich and hilarious. The truth is Cena was never really that bad, and he's been having great matches when most of the maladjusted dorks in the crowd were still chanting "CENA SUCKS" at him. But I still appreciate him for the most part when he's around nowadays. I just kinda wish he'd keep that shooting gun holstered...
Rory Gulak - He's been a nice addition to the Chikara continuity. I hope he sticks around and continues to bring that amateur flair as a contrast to all the dudes in hoods.
Ethan Page - I admit, he's won me over, mainly because of his dedication to being a heel on an indie show. It sucks that he left EVOLVE, but hey, I'm not sure I'd want to be on that ship right now anyway.
Nia Jax - The amount of growth she's gone through in the last two years is stunning to the point where she's not just someone who looks good wailing on Bayley, but someone who's a good wrestler flat out.
Adam Cole - He feels like the right fit for WWE, which is why his NXT signing made a lot of sense. He got a lot of flak in Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla for not being as "indie" as even his running buddies Kevin Steen, Kyle O'Reilly, and the Young Bucks, but the dude is always enjoyable at least.
Michael Cole - Another Cole who gets maligned a bit, but no one really gets the nuances of WWE commentary and balancing getting his own voice in and having to deal with Vince McMahon barking in his headset. Is he corny sometimes? Obviously. He's a company man and a dude that wasn't even hip when he was the age when he should've been. But the man does good work, and when he's in there with a guy who complements him like Corey Graves, few people in the business right now come close to being able to call a match as well as he does.
Katsuyori Shibata - I'm still bummed that his career is probably over all over a shoot headbutt. I loved his work but for Christ's sake, everyone's in on the joke nowadays, and if they are't, they're too young to know the difference.
Percy Watson - It's chic to bust on the "third Black guy in the booth" in WWE, but all three of them are actually good at their jobs. Watson gets the most shit, and it baffles me because he's far and away the best guy on the NXT team. He's better focused on getting a story over than Mauro Ranallo, and he's both way more enthusiastic than Nigel McGuinness and way less likely to mention The Troubles as a positive in the development of a wrestler's career. I'll admit the beginning of his career in the booth was a bit too extra-generic, but he's definitely getting more and more of a knowledge base so that he's not just pumping out aphorisms.
Logan Easton Leroux/Race Jaxon - He's found his true calling as a heel, especially as Leroux. Who'd have thought that playing up a privileged rich boy would play well as a bad guy in front of a crowd of monetarily depressed indie wrestling fans who can't afford Ticketmaster surcharges to go see WWE shows.
Jason Jordan - Honestly, he had a lot mileage left as Chad Gable's nuclear hot tag, but man, I am digging this transformation he's making into a conniving failson. WWE may not have started out pushing him in that direction, and who knows, maybe McMahon is dumb enough to think that he can somehow get Jordan over as a good guy. But I feel like at least Jordan is reading the room right, which feels important.
Allie Kat - I don't care if she made disparaging comments at Wawa on Twitter. I dig the commitment to bringing Maureen Ponderosa to a wrestling ring.
Mojo Rawley - I find it insulting that everyone only started liking him when he threatened to kill Zack Ryder on Twitter. What did Ryder ever do to you? I maintain that outside of like the first few months of his NXT tenure, he's always been good. Just because he wasn't a workrate fiend who superfluously worked limbs and had a bunch of 1990s AJPW finishers as transition moves doesn't mean he wasn't an enjoyable watch. But yeah, I'm definitely intrigued where he's going to take his new oeuvre. If he puts as much into it as he did the jolly big guy who loved Weird Twitter Shitposting Humor, he'll do just fine.
Pete Dunne - I feel like my pushback against him being named the greatest wrestler in the history of life and history is misinterpreted as not liking him. Dunne is just fine, and oftentimes has great matches even if not in the trappings of something more meaningful. He's clearly among the vanguard of that English scene, and at least if he's a piece of shit like Will Ospreay is, he's doing a far better job of hiding it.
Aleister Black - He feels like he's just hitting a stride in NXT. I remember kinda enjoying him on the indies but not really getting him, but he's been pretty good on NXT, especially in the context of the Velveteen Dream feud. I just hope that once he gets to the main roster, McMahon doesn't go heavy-handed on the "HE'S NOT GOOD BUT HE'S NOT EVIL HURRRRRR" shit they laid at his doorstep upon his initial NXT television debut.
Kazuchika Okada - Like, I don't get the six-star frenzy from him. He feels like the absolute best possible Randy Orton, which I swear isn't a slam on him. But I mean, I don't hate watching him, and I think he's fine to put on top of a company like New Japan. He definitely gets how to be a wrestler, not just a worker. And man, he should get a medal for getting something watchable out of Cody Rhodes in Long Beach.
Roman Reigns - I wish I could just enjoy Reigns for what he is, but you fucking people just gotta make him a talking point, don't you? Just shut the fuck up about his push and if you really wanna talk about what WWE is doing wrong or right (mostly wrong), look at the people running it. For fuck's sake. Goddammit.
And The Rest: AJ Styles, Aliyah, Allysin Kay/Sienna, Anthony Greene, Anthony Henry, Apollo Crews, Arik Cannon, Ariya Daivari, Authors of Pain, Ayesha Raymond, Baron Corbin, Beer City Bruiser, Bobby Fish, Bobby Roode, Brian Kendrick, Brie Bella, Buddy Murphy, BUSHI, Byron Saxton, Cage, Cajun Crawdad, Cezar Bononi, Cheerleader Melissa/Mariposa, Cheeseburger, Christopher Daniels, Colt Cabana, Crossbones, Curtis Axel, Darren Young, DASH Chisako, David Finlay, David Otunga, David Starr, Dean Ambrose, Dez Peloton, DJ Z, Dominic Garrini, Donovan Dijak, Dragon Azteca, Jr., Drew McIntyre, Ember Moon, Epico, Eric Young, Erick Rowan, Everett Connors, Famous B, Finn Bálor, Flex Rumblecrunch, Frankie Kazarian, Goldberg, Goldust, Gran Akuma, Greg Hamilton, Guerrillas of Destiny, Hallowicked, Hangman Page, Hermit Crab, Hideo Itami, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ho Ho Lun, Hornswoggle, Hot Sauce Williams, Hype Rockwell, Icarus, Jack Evans, Jack Gallagher, Jack Swagger, Jaka, James Ellsworth, Jason Kincaid, Jay White, Jeff Hardy, Jeremy Leary, Jessica James, Jessicka Havok, Jigsaw, Jimmy Jacobs, Jody Fleisch, Johnny Kidd, Jojo, Jon Davis, Kavita Devi, Kay Lee Ray, Kevin Owens, Killer Elite Squad, Killshot/Shane Strickland, King Cuerno, Kobald, Kobra Moon/Thunder Rosa, Kona Reeves, KUSHIDA, Kyle O'Reilly, Lince Dorado, Liv Morgan, Los Ice Creams, Lucas Calhoun, LuFisto, Luke Harper, Mandy Rose, Marty the Moth, Mascarita Sagrada, Matt Hardy, Matt Taven, Max Smashmaster, Merlok, Mickie James, Mike Kanellis, Mike Rome, Mil Muertes, Minoru Suzuki, Missile Assault Man, Motor City Machine Guns, Mr. Touchdown, Naomi, Neville, Nikki Bella, No Way Jose, Officer Warren Barksdale, Oleg the Usurper, Ouroboros, Paul Ellering, Paul London, Penta El Zero M, Pimpanela Escarlata, PJ Black, Primo, Princesa Sugehit, Proletariat Boar of Moldova, Rachel Ellering, Raul Mendoza, Reina Gonzalez, Rey Mysterio, Rhea Ripley, Rhett Titus, Rick Roland/Rex Lawless, Rock Lobster, Roderick Strong, Rusev, Ryusuke Taguchi, Sage Beckett, Sammy Guevara, SANADA, Santana Garrett, Sawyer Fulton, Sean Maluta, Serena Deeb, Shayna Baszler, Shelton Benjamin, SHO and YOH, Silas Young, Sin Cara, Sloan Caprice/Mike Verna, Solo Darling, Son Of Havoc, Space Monkey, Street Profits, Tajiri, TAKA, Taynara Conti, The Batiri, The Ealy Brothers, The Usos, Thomas Sharp/Blaster McMassive, Tian Bing, Titan, Titus O'Neil, TM61, Tom Phillips, Tony Chimel, Tony Nese, Toru Yano, Travis Huckabee, Vinnie Massaro, Volador, Jr., Wesley Blake, Wheeler Yuta, YOSHI-HASHI, Yuji Nagata, Zeda