Friday, February 2, 2018

The 2017 TWB 100 Slow Release: 1-25

Riddle kicking off the TWB 100 today, BRO
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
I decided against dragging this out for another week, so the top five will be introed with the rest of the top 25. Sorry! Anyway, the final entries on the list are below. THE SUSPENSE MUST BE KILLING YOU.

25. Matt Riddle
Points: 968
Number of Ballots: 13
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Chris Gibbons, Dylan Hales)
Last Year’s Ranking: 27th Place

TH: The drawback of Riddle getting more comfortable in wrestling and gaining influence over his creative is his bad habits are starting to come out. That being said, warts and all, he's still an enjoyable watch no matter what the setting, and the floor for his matches is always at least "watchable," with a near infinite ceiling, even against dudes you wouldn't expect like Dan Severn.

Chris Gibbons: It’s strange that Riddle seems to have lost a bit of his luster in 2017 for some, because his in-ring work was just as good if not better than his incredible rookie year in 2016. Part of it might be Riddle’s pure grind – working 146 matches in 2017 compared to 69 (nice) in 2016 according to Cagematch. So when a guy is on almost every major indie show imaginable in big matches, it could be easy to tire on him. But he’s great in just about every context – from long indie “epics” to crazy sprints. Riddle even played with a little bit more hardcore wrestling in 2017, having a great plunder brawl with Chuck Taylor in EVOLVE and having a death match with Matt Tremont in Beyond. Riddle remains one of the most exciting people to see that’s not linked to a major company. I hope he sticks in that role for a while.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
24. Keith Lee
Points: 979
Number of Ballots: 13
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Henry Casey)
Last Year’s Ranking: 72nd Place

Chris Gibbons: Keith Lee leaving ROH was maybe the best decision any wrestler made in 2017. Instead of being relegated to undercard multi-man tag team matches for most of the year, he had one of the best Mania weekends ever and established himself as maybe the premier “indie hoss” type. Nobody broke out this year quite like Keith Lee, and I’m so happy he’s on top of AAW and EVOLVE cards as a solo act instead of having trios matches with The Kingdom.

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23. Aleister Black
Points: 997
Number of Ballots: 15
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Scott Raychel)
Last Year’s Ranking: 89th Place

Adam Blount: Tommy End had a good match with Neville in Blackpool at the start of last year and since then, since Black debuted in NXT every time he has been in the ring has been must see. Although his entrance can’t be counted in these rankings (he’d be number 1 if so) his in ring style is fantastic. And the Balck Mass looks like such a killer finisher. Black could be the biggest star WWE have made in a long time.

Joshua Browns: I was pretty late to the game on Black when he was on the independent scene (as Tommy End), but got a chance to watch him work extensively in the 2016 Battle of Los Angeles, and was instantly a fan. That said, I had some misgivings when I heard he’d been signed to a WWE developmental deal, as he seemed like the kind of worker whose style had the potential to not mesh well with the WWE’s preferred style. Boy, am I glad to have been wrong. Black’s in-ring work and character work was stellar all year, and he deserves a good share of credit for launching the career of Velveteen Dream. Black’s strikes are some of the best in the business, and the persona he’s crafted has WrestleMania main event potential.

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22. Neville
Points: 1045
Number of Ballots: 16
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Xavier Goncalves)
Last Year’s Ranking: 61st Place

TH: Putting Neville in with the cruiserweights was simultaneously asinine for business, but it provided him an opportunity to work his strengths. His best match under a WWE umbrella before getting to the purple division was when he worked slightly heel against Sami Zayn and Takeover: R-Evolution, so his run in 2017 was like that turned up to 11. He had straight bangers with Austin Aries, Akira Tozawa, and he even got something passable out of Enzo Amore at times. Unfortunately, that grind is what caused him to grow dissatisfied with how WWE was treating with him, and while I didn't blame him one bit for going home, WWE was a lesser place without him working actively at the end of 2017.

Chris Gibbons: Neville could have had the best year of anyone in WWE before he asked for his release and has been in roster limbo ever since. He was a great champion in a division that struggled at times, and his regular defenses always delivered. He definitely made the most out of the little he was given, and it’s a shame that he’s in the position he’s in now.

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21. Andrade “Cien” Almas
Points: 1046
Number of Ballots: 17
Highest Vote: 4th Place (Jonathon Hunt)
Last Year’s Ranking: 90th Place

TH: Almas has taken to a WWE ring really well, and even when he was floating aimlessly as the dude creative would put against their new face du jour on Takeover cards early in the year, he was putting in the work. Once that talent and aptitude met with some storyline focus, he really took off. His matches with Johnny Gargano at the end of the year were some of the best in NXT, and he did some good work with guys like Fabian Aichner, Aleister Black, and others during a strong year for NXT television.

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20. Sami Zayn
Points: 1100
Number of Ballots: 15
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Bobby Godfrey)
Last Year’s Ranking: 3rd Place

TH: Zayn wasn't featured as much as he should have been, and WWE sillily turned him heel at the end of the year, which dissipated some of his in-ring charm. However, as a testament to his innate talent, he still broke through and put in some good work during the calendar year.

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19. Nikki Cross
Points: 1164
Number of Ballots: 18
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Henry Casey)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: I'm not sure anywhere in WWE has seen a worker like Cross in a good long while. Her frenetic energy and unique body language and movements add to a crazed style of strikes and a fearless propensity to submarine both her and her opponent with huge spots. Her falls count anywhere match with Asuka was perhaps the best NXT match all year that didn't involve Johnny Gargano, and it was due all to how far Cross was able to illuminate dark parts of studio space that few people even think of treading.

Photo Credit: Mikey Nolan
18. Ricochet/Prince Puma
Points: 1164 (ranked higher because of higher-high vote than Nikki Cross)
Number of Ballots: 16
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Scott Raychel, Mat Morgan)
Last Year’s Ranking: 23rd Place

Chris Gibbons: Some fans have turned on Ricochet a bit this year, and it makes sense. He had one foot out the door for forever and he’s a bit annoying on social media. But he’s still one of the best high-flyers around. Even if I didn’t love the decisions for him to win BOLA and the PWG title, his work in PWG and Lucha Underground made up for it.

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17. Xavier Woods
Points: 1175
Number of Ballots: 18
Highest Vote: 7th Place (Jonathon Hunt)
Last Year’s Ranking: 87th Place

TH: Woods was a revelation in 2017, morphing from marginal dude who was better suited as a manager/talking head to a solid worker who could bring out the best pathos and vulnerability in clutch situations. I mean, what visual in-ring was better than him bound up, chest stretched out and taking shot after shot from the Usos' kendo sticks in that Cell match? Sometimes, just taking garbage spots like that can be art, and not everyone could have done that as well as Woods did.

Adam Blount: very time Woods is in ring he shows how good he is. That’s why it sucks how often he is just the third man for the New Day.(True, that this is also a role Woods excels in) I think he might be the most underrated wrestler in WWE today. He has it all, charisma, athleticism, a bad ass move set (love that rope walk elbow) and he can sell his ass off.

Scott Raychel: Xavier Woods has gotten really good at being the guy that everyone keeps forgetting is actually really good at wrestling and not just trombone antics.

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16. Ember Moon
Points: 1194
Number of Ballots: 19
Highest Vote: 10th Place (Antonio Cruz, Ryan Neely)
Last Year’s Ranking: 62nd Place

TH: No one was a better babyface worker under the WWE umbrella in 2017 except Johnny Gargano. She kept pace with Asuka like no one else did, not even Nikki Cross, and she brought out the best in the Empress of Tomorrow to date.

Scott Raychel: Asuka is nothing without a great rival. That’s where Ember Moon comes in. The story of Ember Moon having Asuka’s number in her chase for the NXT Women’s Championship wouldn’t have worked as well if it wasn’t for Ember Moon’s ability to just GO from the first bell. It also helps to have a super dope finisher like The Eclipse.

Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
15. Zack Sabre, Jr.
Points: 1265
Number of Ballots: 15
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Chris Gibbons, Brock Jahnke)
Last Year’s Ranking: 17th Place

TH: Sabre's aptitude for wrestling keeps growing and growing. He went and had by my estimation the best match of the year with Chris Hero as an exasperated rival looking to get a one-up one last time before his white whale moved onto inaccessible waters. Then he started with New Japan, joined Suzuki-gun, and started doing prick heel shit as good as anyone including his stable leader. His matches with Juice Robinson and Tomohiro Ishii during the Long Beach specials were great for different reasons than the Hero match. He's grown into one of the most versatile wrestlers on the scene, and all without losing his core identity of a dude who'll wrench your body parts until they fall off.

Chris Gibbons: Zack Sabre had possibly his best year ever in 2017, having great match after great match throughout the year for a variety of promotions worldwide. He’s my number one wrestler of 2017 period, and his stateside work tended to be his best in my opinion, even considering a very good G1 Climax run. His great runs as champion of PWG and EVOLVE were aided by an added sense of brutality. Sabre added a bit more of a mean streak to his work in 2017, getting less cute with his moves between the bells and becoming more of an ass-kicker. The year was full of big moments for Sabre. He’s the last guy Chris Hero put over on his way back to WWE, a great final chapter in one of indie wrestling’s greatest rivalries. Mike Quackenbush came out of his semi-retirement twice to get a piece of Zack. Chuck Taylor’s ascent to PWG champion wouldn’t have been as emotional if he didn’t have to go through somebody like Sabre. Sabre was the wrestler best-suited for ending Timothy Thatcher’s long EVOLVE Championship run, and the match those two technical masterminds had for the belt was the best match I saw in the indies last year. Sabre can create a big match feel consistently like few indie wrestlers can, and I’m so happy he chose to kill it on his own terms instead of signing with WWE and being in a tag team with TJP or some shit.

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14. Kevin Owens
Points: 1280
Number of Ballots: 16
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (David Hobbs)
Last Year’s Ranking: 2nd Place

TH: It's hip to clown on Owens, and honestly, he gives good reason to sometimes. However, he's still shown time and time again that he just gets wrestling. His feud with Chris Jericho produced a few good matches, and whenever he's able to allow the violent, Ring of Honor Kevin Steen leak out, the ceiling is infinite for how good he can be.

David Hobbs: I’d rank him fairly high just for the fact that Shane McMahon didn’t die at Hell in a Cell. He performs at such a consistently high level, with such a malicious intent and unmatched ability to work a crowd, that the only thing keeping him from the #1 spot is Styles’ inhuman abilities. His abilities seem completely unrelated to his physical condition, as he apparently drops and gains weight at will to match the moment, never missing a step or sacrificing impact. He was born to be a heel. Everything he does just drips with disgust for his competition. He seemingly embodies every heel characteristic at once, cycling between monster, coward, and psychopath as the situation calls for it, and he does an amazing job of tying his in-ring performances to his character’s insecurity, ruthlessness, and treachery.

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13. Tyler Bate
Points: 1290
Number of Ballots: 16
Highest Vote: 5th Place (Adam Blount, Henry Casey)
Last Year’s Ranking: 88th Place

TH: Bate will probably get a bit more love from people who don't find his work to be just a little too clean for their liking, but I can't deny that the kid has chops, man. I enjoyed him anytime he was on NXT, and he's got some veteran things down already at his young age. For example, his fakeout punch is savvy beyond his years, not just in ideation but in how it's timed.

Chris Gibbons: Bate is a truly exciting prospect because of how well he seems to get pro wrestling at just the age of 20. He felt just as much of a veteran when he was a teenager as his tag partner Trent Seven does in his mid-30’s. It’s easy to see why WWE chose Bate for the first UK Champion. He’s got all the potential in the world.

Adam Blount: Apparently Tyler Bate was 19 when he was in the UK tournament last year. Holy shit. For how good he looked then, for his age, Bate is the future! Since then, the dude has been working out and added a bunch of muscle and continued to have a ring presence beyond his years. Obviously his matches with Dunne are already highly regarded but Bate can go with anyone. Even better, now Bate has upgraded his ring attire from the generic look he had at the start of 2017, he along with Bang and Bop should have a fantastic 2018.

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12. Sheamus
Points: 1313
Number of Ballots: 18
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Xavier Goncalves, Mike Pankowski)
Last Year’s Ranking: 37th Place

TH: It feels like Sheamus is the inverse of his tag partner. Whereas Cesaro has to literally grow hair in an instant and walk on it for people to marvel at him further than their baseline, Sheamus almost seems to get no credit. Yet, no way The Bar has the 2017 it had if it were just Cesaro doing things. Sheamus has been excellent in the ring for nearly a decade, and it feels like people have only started taking notice at large this past year, at least further than the bubble in which I reside that has always recognized how truly special Sheamus has always been.

Chris Gibbons: Sheamus is one of the best WWE workers of a generation, and it’s great to see his run with Cesaro turn more people onto that fact. The way many of The Bar’s feuds played out gave him plenty of opportunities to shine in singles matches, and he has such great chemistry with Cesaro as a team. Sheamus’ more brawling-oriented style plays off so nicely with Cesaro’s more “pretty” offense.

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11. Big E
Points: 1329
Number of Ballots: 18
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Kirk Dessler)
Last Year’s Ranking: 36th Place

TH: Big E has been screaming, just ACHING for a solo run where he doesn't have to confine all his big offense and inappropriate gyrations to bursts in tag matches, but man, how am I going to complain about him as New Day's hammer when he's so good at it? Few big guys worked with as much energy as he did, and his run in the Cell against the Usos was brawling perfection.

Kirk Dessler: Big E is the total in-ring package. He perfectly combines hard-hitting moves with technical ability. He knows when to add some funny elements, but get’s serious when it matters. His consistency over the year (or better over the years) is impressive. He is my number 1 and is still WWE’s single most-missed opportunity to create a superstar.

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10. Samoa Joe
Points: 1433
Number of Ballots: 17
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Antonio Cruz)
Last Year’s Ranking: 16th Place

TH: Joe's been steadily finding himself again in a WWE ring, but it took going to the RAW roster and working against dudes who could best absorb his kick-ass machine offense that he became the Joe Whomst Was Gonna Kill You again. Whether against bruisers like Roman Reigns, kaiju like Braun Strowman and Brock Lesnar, or even smaller guys with big bumping tendencies like Seth Rollins, Joe reminded the world why from 2002 through his initial run in TNA, he was considered one of the elite workers in the world.

Adam Blount: He's still so good. So fucking good.

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9. Jey Uso
Points: 1479
Number of Ballots: 19
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Joshua Browns)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

8. Jimmy Uso
Points: 1482
Number of Ballots: 19
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (TH, Joshua Browns)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: Smackdown Live was fuckin' dreadful for most of the year, but the Usos made it worth tuning into, as they held court against a wide variety of teams that came at them. Among this cavalcade of challengers, the New Day was the most frequent, and the two teams balled out for a good chunk of the year. New Day is New Day, but what made the series of matches go from good to transcendent was the Usos' fierce intensity inside the ring. They've always been good in the ring, even when they went hard in the paint and everyone was sick of them. Their rebirth has less to do with the fact that they got good, but that they refocused their energies and talents inside the ring and morphed into the best manifestation of street-hardened brawlers possible.

Chris Gibbons: It’s almost undeniable at this point that The Usos is one of the greatest tag teams in WWE history. Turning heel at the end of 2016 was a great move as they’ve felt really fresh since them. The series with the New Day was inspired as both teams really brought something new to each match.

Joshua Browns: I’ll be totally honest here, neither Uso brother has ever really been my cup of tea, but you can’t argue with results. The Usos’ run with The New Day not only revitalized the Smackdown tag division, but breathed new life into The New Day, re-focusing the audience on the fact that all 3 of those guys can actually WORK, and not just make Booty-O’s jokes. The Usos/New Day run (along with a couple of matches with Benjamin and Gable) were consistently the best thing on WWE “main roster” programming over the last 6 months of 2017, and given how little truly great stuff was going on during that time, that puts them at numbers 2 and 3 on my ballot.

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7. Johnny Gargano
Points: 1592
Number of Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 1st Place (TH, Adam Shinder)
Last Year’s Ranking: 6th Place

TH: Johnny Gargano was a maestro in 2017. No one wrestled with as much vulnerability as he did without dipping into the abyss of geekdom. No one turned that vulnerability into fire so easily and readily as Gargano did. No one took the big spot and framed it as gorgeously and breathtakingly as he did. He did all this in tag matches the first half of the year, and he turned around and made the same waves in singles matches the second half. He was a participant in NXT's two best matches all year, vs. the Authors of Pain with Tommaso Ciampa at Takeover: Chicago, and vs. Andrade "Cien" Almas at Takeover: Brooklyn III. No amount of superlatives would be enough for what he did in 2017 as a wrestler, and all of it was distinctly away from the main focus of the show (even as his match at Chicago was in the final slot). And he did all this under a corporate umbrella, which is hard to do. Maybe it's not as hard to do in NXT as it is on the main roster, but still, it's amazing to see someone lose creative freedom and increase return on emotional investment like Gargano. And he did so almost exclusively through passion plays in the ring. If that's not worthy of a first-place vote, nothing is.

Chris Gibbons: Gargano is the best pure babyface in WWE right now. The way he sells makes you believe that any move could finish him off, but he has so much fire that it seems like he could ultimately overcome anything. Other babyfaces in wrestling are set up to overcome the odds, but nobody makes you believe it like Gargano.

Joshua Browns: During a year where the last two performers that you could consider true babyface characters either turned (Sami Zayn) or had their motivations badly watered down by terrible booking (Bayley), it’d be easy to think that the art of “white-meat” wrestling had finally gone completely extinct in 2017. Enter Johnny Wrestling. Whether he was playing face in peril during the DIY/Revival/AOP run, selling his betrayal at the hands of Tomasso Ciampa during his losing streak through the summer, or beginning his ascendancy as an underdog favorite towards the end of 2017, Gargano turned in a year of wrestling that probably should only be described as “Steamboat-esque”. His pacing, facials, and comebacks are basically perfect. If his first major match of 2018 is any indication, Johnny Gargano could be a major player either in NXT or even on the main roster very soon.

Kirk Dessler: Johnny’s first months of the year were a tag team classic but he truly demonstrated his abilities later in the year. When you are put into a lose-streak storyline, it is not easy to maintain momentum. You need to be confident with your in-ring work to effectively pull such a story off because of you allow weakness in your in-ring performance and don’t get your stuff in, you can easily look very bad in a losing streak. Johnny Gargano nevertheless was looking stronger to the end of the year than ever before.

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6. Pete Dunne
Points: 1656
Number of Ballots: 19
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Joshua Browns)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: It's hard to deny that Dunne is one of the best in the world right now after the year he's had. I'm sure his placement might have been higher on a lot of people's lists had his stuff in his native land been eligible, but the work he did in the United Kingdom tournament and on NXT is enough to push him up the list. While a lot of his peers that came over with him work with a certain sterility, Dunne's sleaze and dedication to doing the little things pushes him ahead of the pack.

Chris Gibbons: Pete Dunne plays an absolute prick so well, it’s frightening. Throughout the year he and Tyler Bate played their roles of ambassadors to the British wrestling scene extremely well, making the most of every platform they had in front of WWE audiences, especially when they were facing off. Dunne also had one of the best individual performances in the year’s King of Trios. While Dunne and Bate still did most of their work still in the UK, I feel like they did their best work in American companies. That may be because they didn’t have to worry about overbooked PROGRESS main events and didn’t play into their grating Triple H tribute act that they pull out often in Europe.

Adam Blount: Before the UK tournament in January of last year I had never seen or heard of the Bruiserweight before. As soon as I found out he was from my home town he obviously became a personal fave but I still wasn’t expecting to become as big a fan as I did once I saw his matches. Every show I’ve seen Dunne on since then , he’s stole the show. Great offense, believable and he sells great too, making every match competitive. I feel like you could throw Dunne onto 205 Live and make it must watch, or let him run wild on NXT and see classics with people like Gargano, Black, Ohno etc. Or hell put him onto the main roster, SD preferably, him and Chad Gable could have some of the greatest matches of all time. “Big up Pete Dunne man, geezer’s one of the best.”

Joshua Browns: I initially had Dunne slotted for an easy top 10, maybe even top 5 vote before finding out that we were counting both the UK Championship Tournament and Chikara’s UK King of Trios as part of our balloting. Adding those two tournaments to the mix pushed Dunne to the top of my ballot. Just about anybody can pull off cool looking moves in the ring, and most decent performers can get a character over given enough face time with a microphone in their hand, but it takes a special talent to be able to infuse everything they do in the ring with the fundamental nature of their character, and that’s what Dunne is better at than nearly everybody else, and he’s just 24 years old. Take all that, add in the fact that he and Tyler Bate delivered arguably the best WWE singles match of 2017, and you’ve got my number one wrestler for 2017.

Kirk Dessler: Some wrestlers are born as beasts. When Pete Dunne entered his first UK championship tournament bout, he had it written all over him. Despite of his age Pete Dunne has understood his role and knows how to tell it in the middle of the ring. As a matter of fact, Pete is most probably one of those wrestlers who do not need promos and would still be over with a mainstream crowd. Despite being underutilized by WWE over the year, he never lost his it-factor when put on screen (in contradiction to some of his UK-fellows).

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5. Roman Reigns
Points: 1693
Number of Ballots: 19
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Dylan Hales)
Last Year’s Ranking: 15th Place

TH: Roman Reigns is somehow still a talking point in 2018, but after the 2017 he had, it’s hard to deny that he’s one of the better workers in WWE. He has been tasked with working long matches on RAW most weeks, and every time, he turned in something that while fitting into a formula came off as a worthwhile watch. The highest-end stuff on free TV, like the Cesaro Intercontinental Championship defense at the end of the year, would net him a high ranking, but he had a habit of turning in big pay-per-view performances too, especially against Braun Strowman. Reigns has quietly emerged as the best overall worker from The Shield, and even though I hate when the commentators and the narrative uses the term “workhorse” to describe him, that term fit him to a tee last year.

Chris Gibbons: Multiple subsets of obnoxious wrestling fans have made Roman Reigns a talking point instead of a wrestler. All hot takes aside, he’s a hell of a wrestler who helped make Braun Strowman one of the biggest stars of the year during one of WWE’s hottest feuds in recent memory. His feuds outside of Braun didn’t reach those same heights and the Taker match was bad (not necessarily Roman’s fault), but he remained one of WWE’s best main roster workers the whole year.

Adam Blount: Booooooooooooooo!!! Wait, why the boo’s again? Do you not like entertaining matches? While the Mania match with the Undertaker won’t be in the deadman’s best of list, Reigns more than carried hs end. Then throughout the year he had good to great matches with nearly every other person on the roster. Balor, Wyatt, Owens, Joe, Elias, Cena, Braaaaaun, Roman had enjoyable matches with all of them. Plus more. And the Summerslam 4 way was awesome.

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4. Cesaro
Points: 1707
Number of Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Ryan Neely, Mike Pankowski)
Last Year’s Ranking: 7th Place

TH: Cesaro year in and out turns in stellar resumes in the ring, and this year was no different except he had perhaps his most prominent role since the Sami Zayn-era in NXT. He was part of the top of the tag team division all year, and he and Sheamus worked their asses off against a bevy of tag teams. Cesaro’s become such a sure thing that he almost gets taken for granted and only is noticed when he horrifically mangles himself like he did with that flying bump into the ringpost where his teeth got pushed into his skull. However, it’d be foolish to discount what he brings to WWE in a variety of roles.

Chris Gibbons: Cesaro will likely be voted most underrated by certain newsletters because he hasn’t ascended to world title status in WWE yet, but Cesaro plays his role perfectly. Cesaro might be the best tag team worker in the world, and he fits perfectly with Sheamus. WWE has some killer tag teams going in their divisions right now, and the Swiss Superman is consistently the best performer in his matches, and he’s had plenty of TV singles matches to shine as well. I’d like to see him have a title as much as the next guy, but he’s establishing himself as a generational talent whether he’s in the main event or not.

David Hobbs: The man is a goddamn machine. He takes the robotic movement perfection of an Apollo Crews and adds a purpose and physicality to it that makes him look like a living weapon. It feels like he can do no wrong in a wrestling ring. He can do every throw and lift the show-muscley heavyweights fail at. He can land every escape counter spot the flashiest main eventers consistently botch. He botches a turnbuckle bump, nearly knocks himself unconscious with it, and that made it seem BETTER for another 20 minutes while he runs around looking like Recoome once things started going sideways. I believe that at some point this year, he will launch Seth Rollins in the air and hit the psycho crusher uppercut before he hits the ground. It will be like the 3rd best thing he does all year.

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3. Braun Strowman
Points: 1784
Number of Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Antonio Cruz, Bobby Godfrey)
Last Year’s Ranking: 55th Place

TH: While he came on at the end of 2016 in the ring, few could predict that Strowman would become perhaps the surest thing in a singles match on the main roster in 2017. Yet, with his combination of ring presence, intensity, huge spots, and key yet sparing bumps, the Monster Among Men showed that the huge wrestler that Vince McMahon stereotypically fetishizes can also get it done in the ring. Whether it was the epic main event against Big Show on RAW early on in 2017, the several hard-hitting affairs vs. Roman Reigns, or his many dalliances throwing around smaller wrestlers like Kalisto, no one really shone brighter at their peak than Strowman.

Chris Gibbons: Strowman is one of the biggest success stories WWE has put together in a while. He might not be on the level of carrying a match like other guys on the top of the card, but he’s getting better constantly. Braun feels like a legitimate monster in the ring and is almost always entertaining even in weaker matches. The man had two great matches with Big Show in the Year of Our Lord 2017. Booking and presentation might have helped him, but he’s run with it and now he’s a star.

Scott Raychel: BRAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNN had a year so good he managed to make multiple matches with the Big Show entertaining in the year of our lord two thousand and seventeen.

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2. Asuka
Points: 1833
Number of Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Willow Maclay, Jonathon Hunt)
Last Year’s Ranking: 5th Place

TH: Asuka’s year can be hard to parse out because of the undefeated streak and all the cacophony surrounding her main roster transition, but honestly, she turned in some fine work. While her performances weren’t necessarily diverse, she excelled in what she was asked to do, which was either squashing n00bs, having showcase joshi-style main events mostly with Ember Moon, or going complete straight garbage brawl with Nikki Cross. That last match was one of the best of the year on any level that I’ve seen, and Asuka deserves a lot of credit for it.

Chris Gibbons: Because NXT wrestlers don’t always make a ton of tape throughout the year, they sometimes have a bit of an uphill climb to make my list. That wasn’t a problem for Asuka, who made the most of each and every one of her opportunities. She really does create the feeling in the ring that she’s unbeatable, being able to turn almost anything into a submission hold. That added to her striking ability and her desperation to hold onto the title made her unique presence among WWE women in a year that not a lot of them were given opportunity to stand out.

Willow Maclay: I spent a small fraction of my time this year on Wrestling happening in North America, and finding the majority of my wrestling related happiness in Joshi companies like STARDOM World and Sendai Girls, but I consistently made time for Asuka. She was without a doubt my number one this year among what I had seen based almost entirely on her Last Woman Standing match with Nikki Cross, which stacks up against any match I saw this year quite nicely, and if it had happened on a Takeover instead of on Weekly NXT TV we would likely be talking about it as a match of the year candidate on a grander scale. Outside of her work with Nikki Cross she had impressive title defenses in fatal four way matches and the wrestling goddess formerly known as Athena. The one constant in all of Asuka's matches was an understanding of who she was as a character in relation to her undefeated streak. As her career in NXT went on she became more cocky, resentful of fans, and showing vulnerability in subtle ways to keep our interest afloat and retaining the suspense of the magic question of who would actually beat her? Her kicks were stiff, her submissions were deadly and through it all she retained her aura in a way unseen in WWE in ages. North American wrestling in 2017 belonged to her, and it was nothing short of tragic that her NXT narrative ended with an ellipsis rather than a period. She deserved the chance to carry the NXT belt onto the main roster and defend it back home against the likes of Kairi Sane, Shayna Baszler, Nikki Cross, and Ember Moon while also stepping up against women like Emma (fuck wwe), Sasha Banks and Bayley. Ride on Empress of Tomorrow. May the main roster bring you the same treasures you were afforded in NXT in 2017.

Adam Blount: Since moving to RAW it seems like Asuka has been booked to have more competitive matches but when she gets going still looks she would kill everyone with her strikes and submissions. As dominant as she has been in the WWE (and NXT) she also has a way of making her opponents look better too. No shame in getting beat by the Empress.

David Hobbs: It looks so incredibly unfair watching her against the women’s division, when each of her strikes look like they’d knock out most of the men’s roster. Her hip attack and Naomi’s Rear View are basically just variations of the same move, and yet Naomi’s is basically comical sexualization and you want to cover your eyes every time Asuka connects with it, because it looks like it could legitimately knock out anyone it hits. The most terrifying thing about her flash strikes and submissions, is that they’re not the only thing she has. She’s never been shy about heeling it up when things start to fall apart. When you combine her vividly violent offense with her willingness to take shortcuts, it seems like an impossible challenge for all but the most courageous pirate princesses. Her entire character is inevitable doom, and she does an incredible job of embodying that in-ring.

Photo Credit:
1. AJ Styles
Points: 1919
Number of Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Adam Blount, David Hobbs, Ryan Neely, Bryan Heaton, Xavier Goncalves)
Last Year’s Ranking: 1st Place

TH: Styles felt like he had more of a low-key 2017 than his 2016, but he was still turning in big performances on a regular basis. A lot of his dip came with a Kevin Owens feud that produced fine matches, but not ones folks were used to seeing from either him or Owens (and for those who want to blame it all on Big Kev, he had a couple of fantastic high-profile matches with 2017 Chris Jericho). However, his highest-end stuff matched up to the best work he’s put in in prior years when he was considered one of the best in the world.

Chris Gibbons: A Shane McMahon-heavy feud with Kevin Owens stalled his 2017 campaign a little bit, but Styles was still bar none the best wrestler in WWE. He was a stand out in every multi-man PPV main event he was a part of, the company’s best TV match worker, and elevated the oftentimes poor material he was given.

Adam Blount: While AJ may not be as fashionable a number one choice as any indie darling or a New Japan featured superstar his in ring cannot be denied. Even with the over-saturation of WWE product on our TV’s, computers and cell phone screens, AJ manages to stay fresh and have must see matches with pretty much any and everybody he gets put into the ring with. In 2017 Styles was on point against KO, Jericho, Balor, and had a classic matches with Cena and Lesnar just to name a few. For professional wrestlers in the United States they don’t get any better than AJ Styles. Hell, if TH would have included Japanese matches in this top 100, I’d still take AJ over Omega, Naito and Okada.

Joshua Browns: Is there much left to say about AJ Styles? He’s so damn good that you can make a legit case for him as #1 every year. He didn’t quite get there in 2017 for me, if only because his opponents for much of the year were fairly lackluster (looking at YOU, Ziggles), but he’s almost certainly the best bell-to-bell professional wrestler in the world right now.

Kirk Dessler: AJ Styles had a little slump in the middle of the year when some of his Kevin Owen matches were only around the 4-star level but before and afterwards he showed that he is the masterclass of big time performance. His match layouts are always intriguing, he just does not apply one standard formula. And he makes is opponents like Shane McMahon look better than they are. He even got a good match out of Jinder Mahal!

David Hobbs: It’s probably time to start putting him in the conversation for greatest in-ring performer of all time. I had the pleasure of seeing him live twice last year, once as a heel champion vs. Dean Ambrose, and the other as a face champion vs. Kevin Owens. He looks as amazing in-person as he does on TV. Everything has purpose and urgency. His offense is ferocious at all times, whether fighting from under a strong heel challenger, or viciously trying to put down a face. He is the absolute best wrestler right now. I’d love nothing more than to say someone is better at a thing than this incredibly problematic man, but there’s not a single person in the USA I can legitimately consider higher than AJ Styles on this list.