Monday, March 28, 2016

The 2015 TWB 100: Number One

Sasha Banks leapt into the number one spot this year
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1. Sasha Banks
Points: 6628
Ballots: 68
Highest Vote: 1st Place (TH, Rich Thomas, Andrew Smith, Charles Humphreys, Bill Bicknell, Willow Maclay, Jeff Stormer, Chris McGibbons, Nick Ahlhelm, Rene Sanchez, Joey O., Ryan Kilma, Mat Morgan, Butch Rosser, Francis Adu, Brandon House, Joe Ellis, Angelo Castillo, Tanner Teat, Devon Hales, Scott Raychel, Mike Pankowski, Brock Lutefisk, Patrick Kay, David Murphy, Bill DiFillipo, Matt Conley, Joshua Browns)
Last Year's Placement: 11th Place

TH: Last year, I voted Sasha Banks second on my TWB 100 ballot, just after Sami Zayn. I wrote something along the lines that she made wrestling look easy, and if she had more than the one opportunity she had at Takeover: R-Evolution against Charlotte to show that in showcase matches this past year, that she might take the number one spot this year. In many ways, I set myself up to prove confirmation bias this past calendar year. Is it a bit dishonest? Maybe, but it's not like she had a resume like, say, her's in 2014 against someone like Zayn's from the same year. One could argue that the lack of strong, sustained matches after Takeover: Respect hurt her. However, from January 1 through October 7, she had a run that was epic in scope. If you wanted high end matches, she gave them to you, and she gave them to you with emphasis. The only other person who came close to her in that regard was Bayley, and that's because they shared the ring for two of those encounters. She gave me every reason to have confirmation bias. She gave me every reason to start a narrative from day one.

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If Bayley is the paradigm of "hard work paying off into talent," then Banks, the yin to her yang, is the exemplary model of "infinite ability with a hard work ethic." History is littered with people with tremendous aptitude for things and no drive to work hard at it. Sometimes, that talent shines through with minimal effort. Who am I to say that Banks works lightly or hard, but she looks as if she's busting her ass in addition to being preternaturally good at things like exchanges and reverses and sequences. It's not as if the Bayley matches were the only pieces of evidence either. Anyone who goes that hard at a house show like she did with Charlotte in Philly has to be busting out. She made everything feel like a big deal, and in response, entire cards felt bigger because of it. Because of her, it didn't matter that Finn Bálor was given the NXT World Championship without ever finding himself as a character. The missteps with the Samoa Joe/Kevin Owens program weren't as material. As long as Banks was on the card, it was going to have a match that stood out like few other matches in history ever could. That's not even the difference between a good worker and a great worker. It's the difference between a great worker and a transcendent one.

The width of opponents and the breadth of situations were just staggering: three other opponents in a wild, breakneck spotfest at Takeover: Rival, high-prestige but low-history throwdown with Becky Lynch at Unstoppable, Alexa Bliss in both a late-'80s Wrestling Challenge-style countout setup to a title match and a work-from-above title match, history-based indie-style throwdowns with Charlotte both at house shows and on regular NXT television, spammed trios matches on the RAW roster during the "Divas Revolution," and yes, showcase, main-event level blood-feud matches with Bayley. She would have had to have convinced Triple H to bring over Manami Toyota or do a World Women's Lucha series to have conceivably done more than she did. Every time she went out, in every situation, the stakes were raised, and she doubled down each and every single time, until the end of Respect. At that point, she had no worlds in NXT left to conquer (at least ones that aren't controversial or straddle gender lines) and creative had barely anything for her on RAW.

And I think it's also supremely important to note that she did all this as one of the most marginalized demographics within any industry. A woman of color isn't supposed to be allowed to carry the vanguard, especially in the highest of the high of corporate art. But Banks did just that mostly on the strength of being the most baller wrestler in 2015. She and Bayley (who resides in a minority demographic) may have seized the mantel, but they weren't met with much resistance, ESPECIALLY from eager and hungry fans who just wanted to see the most excellent wrestlers work without stringent limitation. That, above all else, may be the thing that matters most about her 2015.

Rich Thomas: There is something about the emotion that happens in the ring during Sasha Banks big matches. It is not just her emotion but the emotion of her opponents also. In these big matches you can tell she really wants to win, past wanting the price of winning. She wants to win because being great means something to her. Her opponents come off as really hating Sasha Banks. Her drive to win causing pain and that pain angers the other women.

Bill Bicknell: May 20 was NXT TakeOver Unstoppable, which was, to me, the nadir of the mostly excellent series of NXT specials. It was headlined by an entirely unnecessary Owens/Zayn rematch that did little beyond introducing Samoa Joe, who wouldn't really do much for another four months. Bayley and Charlotte had a nothing match. Finn Bálor introduced his body paint before an unremarkable match with Breeze. Rhyno fought Baron Corbin before moving on to a storied career goring politicians in Michigan. In the midst of a largely forgettable show, though, something magical happened: I finally GOT Sasha Banks. After fifteen minutes of watching THE BOSS try to rip off Becky Lynch's arm, she clicked as a character and a performer, a relentless ball of insecurities trapped in the body of a tiny submission master who doesn't necessarily WANT to break you in half but must for the good of her own self-image. If I'm picking my ten favorite matches of the year, Sasha Banks is in close to half of them; she's as gifted a wrestler as anyone else on the planet, with an undeniable charisma that demands immediate attention. When she rolled out at Brooklyn in her Escalade, bodyguards in tow, no wrestler on Earth was a bigger deal. Sasha Banks is the best wrestler of 2015, and she was only 23. Where is the ceiling for this? What does Sasha Banks, Grizzled 40-Year-Old Who Still Adamantly Insists She's The Boss look like? DO NOT MESS THIS UP, WWE.

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David Kincannon: While I'm not one of the people who thinks that Sasha Banks is the best wrestler in the world, I do think that she is great, and more than that, she has improved leaps and bounds since joining the NXT roster. In 2015, she had several amazing matches, including bouts with Bayley and Becky Lynch. One of her defining traits, is her ability to exhibit her character during a match. This was most exemplified by her taunting of Izzy during the Iron Man match at Takeover: Respect. She's a superstar (lowercase "s"), and I can't wait to see where she goes from here.

Elliot Imes: For me, there was no greater moment in wrestling in all of 2015 than during the Ironman Match between Sasha and Bayley, when Sasha stole superfan Izzy's headband, mockingly wore it on her own head, and then threw it back at her. It was so good I thought my heart might stop. I voted Sasha as my number 2 pick, but upon thinking about this moment again, I probably should have just made her Number One. She outshined everyone in wrestling, just by being the most confident kid on the entire playground. Her brilliance as a wrestler and character is almost secondary.

Willow Maclay: I have an emotional connection with wrestling. When I get caught up in the characters and the ring work it can become something akin to euphoria. There is nothing else like it in any other art form. I've failed to grasp “why” I like wrestling as much as I do, but when it's good it is the best thing in the world, and no one was better last year than Sasha Banks. I cried during the Fatal Four Way, the match with Becky Lynch, and her series with Bayley. I cried partially, because there's something resonant and powerful in seeing someone of your gender achieve something comparable to equality in a sport that is so completely dominated by men, but it's also because she was just putting on great wrestling matches. The match that everyone is going to remember is the Brooklyn match with Bayley, but I slightly prefer the Iron Man match, because of the god like heel work from Banks that was so encompassing it reached out into the crowd and made a child cry. I cackled at that little girls tears, because it was great, and I have a fondness for villains in wrestling, but she'll remember that for the rest of her life. How cool is that? That Iron Man match felt huge. It was a genuine main event, and the ultimate seal of approval for these women. For all the back patting the main roster has done in saying they care about women's wrestling they haven't shown the grace that has been represented in NXT, and given the chance Sasha may very well top this ballot again next year. She's that good. Also, the backstabber into the crossface is a badass motherfucking god damn hell of a move. She's the boss. She's the first woman to top the TWB 100. She was the best wrestler in 2016 on North American shores.

Jeff Stormer: In 2015, a girl went and pushed 'em all out of the way. Every time Sasha stepped in the ring, she left an indelible impression. She told her stories well, played her character--every shade of her character--better than anyone, and was the glue that held together the women's wrestling revolution. She was so good in the ring, that, to hear her describe it, they changed their NXT TakeOver plans to give her and Bayley the main event Iron Woman slot. That's huge. And when I look through my match of the year or moment of the year lists, it's her name that keeps popping up. Those "We Want Sasha" chants weren't for nothing. It was her year.

Bob RT: Hulk Hogan. Randy Savage. Ric Flair. Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock. John Cena. What do they all have in common? They're all transcendent superstars of wrestling. They're bigger than the ring they are in, and are basically rock stars. Sasha Banks is on her way to joining that list. It's very rare when you can spot a generational talent in wrestling, but how rare is it when you're pointing at a female performer? Banks is a rockstar personified. Her 2015 will go down in history as the start of something big. Her Takeover:Brooklyn match is something that will live in wrestling history. Her ascension from bland smiley baby face to Charlottes BFF to "the Boss" has been nothing short of astonishing, and she proved last year that not only can she hang, she can hang, AND be the feature attraction. I can say with conviction that she will be the next female to blur the male/female dynamic and win a male championship. But for now we can sit back and enjoy what we saw in 2015, and await what is to come. The Boss is legit. There is no brass ring to grab when you've already got the bling to prove you've already surpassed it.

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Joey O.: "Had a dream I hadn't made it / There's nothing dragging down me now / Cause a girl gonna push it all out the way" Sasha's mission (/bank) statement is laid out right there in the first line of her theme song and in 2015, she pushed everyone out of the way to the top of the TWB 100. Her pair of title matches with Bayley cemented her status as not just the top women's wrestler in America, but the most complete wrestler in the country last year. The BO$$ faced pretty much every upper-card woman in NXT along the way. At the first-ever NXT house show here in Philadelphia, her and Charlotte made history by main eventing the show and no one found it remotely unusual. Why wouldn't they close out the night? And though it hasn't really been mentioned on TV, she's undefeated since being called up to the main roster and it just seems a foregone conclusion she's going to walk out of Mania with that ugly Divas Belt (and hopefully replacing it with something less insulting and much more aesthetically pleasing)

Sean Orleans: In the spirit of full disclosure, it's possible I ranked her lower than any of the other panelists. I had her ranked 12th, behind Bayley and Becky in the pecking order. And I'm second guessing that decision even as I write this -- but I'm sticking with it. Sasha Banks is a fantastic wrestler and entertainer, and the strength of her three matches against the aforementioned Becky and Bayley at the NXT specials should be enough to vault her into many top 10 lists. However, once she arrived on the main roster, Sasha disappeared. Regardless of the booking decisions (thumbs down emoji), she was saddled with much shorter matches and didn't get the time to shine that she deserved. And then there was the whole "is she injured?" issue, which also limited her opportunities in the ring. It was that lack of time that bumped her out of my top 10. I await your slings and arrows, folks.

Frank McCormick: My blurb for Bayley applies to Sasha, too: based solely on their matches, Sasha deserves top-tier ballot placement. But THE BOSS has even more qualifications. One thing I really, really like in a wrestler is a capacity to show me new, interesting things, and of all the current women in WWE, Banks does that the most. But even when it's "same old, same old," her in-ring character and charisma are top-notch. Banks is a special talent, and the future holds nothing but even brighter things for her.

Butch Rosser: I lean on the "this is one of the farthest-reaching alternate Earths" trope a lot. I do. I feel I only need to do so, however, because this reality continually obliterates any alternatives. Proof? What reaction would you have had a thousand days ago if someone told you the best wrestler on the face of the Earth is not only female, but pushed heavily by WWE, happens to be Snoop Dogg's cousin to boot, and isn't even 25 yet? That in three consecutive big match situations she followed up a potential Match of the Year with a definite candidate for Match of the Year if not the outright MOTY, and if that one didn't do it for you put on another one in the subsequent main event that went half an hour in the first-ever unofficially named Iron Maiden match and got flowers afterwards since she was so awesome she made William Regal cry and hug Sara del Rey like they were two proud parents watching their girl graduate magna cum laude from the finest Heel Academy in the world? I knew two things about this ballot before I ever put a keystroke to white space: Eva Marie was coming in 593rd, and the formerly forgettable good girl turned unforgettably bad-ass was going to be at the top and it wasn't going to be that close, either. Whether as rebellious babyface or snotty heel, be it on Wednesdays or Mondays, in Orlando to Seattle and all points in between, Sasha Banks ran shit in 2015. And what do you call people who run things?

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Brandon House: Picking between Sasha and my number 2 pick was one of the most difficult choices I had to make in forming this list. Ultimately, I picked The Boss because of her sheer talent. There is probably no one on the roster, man or woman, who "gets" being a wrestler quite like Sasha Banks. She is The Boss whenever the red light on the camera is on. Watch Sasha Banks when she's in the ring, when she's on offense, when she's selling, she is ALWAYS The Boss. Her matches with Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Bayley were brilliant with the two matches against Bayley standing out as two of the best matches any company put on last year, period. Those matches were emotional roller-coasters that made me gasp with each big move, clench my fists until my knuckles went white with each near-fall, and cheer to the point of tears when they were over. I love those two matches. I still think about how much I enjoyed and enjoy those matches, something I can say about only two other matches from last year. The only knock one could hold against Sasha Banks is that she hasn't been as completely brilliant on the main roster as she was on NXT. But really, considering how good she is, it's only a matter of time.

Joey on Earth: As mentioned in one of the prior reveals, I wanted to rank some of the NXT stars higher but the lack of noteworthy matches made it a difficult process. While I didn’t have Sasha Banks in my top five, she was my favorite wrestler in 2015. The two standout matches against Bayley and the NXT match against Becky Lynch were three of the top fifteen matches all year. Banks vs. Bayley in Brooklyn was one of the greatest wrestling matches of all time and Banks put it all together in a huge 2015.

Scott Raychel: I feel incredibly lucky to have started watching NXT when I did, right around when Sasha Banks started. She was bad. Like, really bad. Not Eva Marie levels of bad, but just unremarkable altogether, which is something I like to keep in mind when watching her wrestle today.

Because Banks is probably the most improved wrestler I think I have personally ever seen. Every time she shows up in the ring, I get excited because I know the match will be amazing at best and watchable at least, even for main roster matches with "distraction finish" written all over them.

The Boss came into her own most in 2015 as a solid wrestler and performer. She delivered great matches with Charlotte and Becky Lynch, but it wasn't until her fateful match-of-the-year rivalry with Bayley did we get to see Banks truly shine. Her matches in Brooklyn and Respect helped uphold the fact that a wrestler can still look amazing in defeat, and even though Bayley may have the heart and the story to make her a universally adored wrestle darling amongst pro graps nerds and casual fans alike, Sasha Banks was just as important in that story and is just as undeniable in her in-ring abilities.

Having seen her WWE journey from the beginning up until her upcoming first WrestleMania match makes me appreciate her beastly performances today just that much more. Plus, every time she prefaces the Bank Statement with that brutal back breaker, I squeal and clap like a small child.

Mike Pankowski: The Boss proved to be the best this year. No one combined wrestling skill, charisma, and in ring smack talk as well as she did. Her match with Bayley at Takeover: Brooklyn was by far my favorite match of the year and the best match I ever saw live. As great as she was last, year, she evolved another level in 2015.

Stygimoloch: Sasha Banks owns her character as well as any wrestler going today, infusing it into every movement and every facial expression. Stealing Izzy's headband was the #heelshit moment of the year, but it was far from isolated. It was merely the crowning moment of one of wrestling's most engaging character studies of someone succumbing to their inner demons in years.

Sasha Banks: I want so badly to stretch Sasha Banks’s 2015 NXT run onto the rest of the year. Banks was simply perfect from the start of the year all the way through the bouquet presentation at Takeover Respect. Her title matches with Bayley and Becky Lynch were true masterpieces, but the fire and perfectly developed talent she brought week-to-week on NXT TV shouldn’t be overlooked. The transition to the main roster has not paid off yet, but for a wrestler as talented and determined as Banks, the breakthrough is just a matter of time.

Joe Drilling: "Legit Boss" is not just a gimmick. Sasha Banks is the best female wrestler in the world right now, and in my opinion, is one of the five best wrestlers in the world period. WWE has not, traditionally, done well with women. Even the ones who were great often weren't given enough time in the ring to show what they could really do. But times seems to have changed, and even on the main roster where Sasha is not used as well as she was on NXT, she still shines. Most importantly, she had two of the best matches of the year (in a year that saw a pretty high number of great matches), one against Becky Lynch at NXT Takeover: Unstoppable and one against Bayley at NXT Takeover: Respect. The latter was the main event of that show, and deservedly so. We can only hope that she continues to get time on the main roster as 2016 continues, and she inevitably moves into the title picture.

Brock Lutefisk: It was kind of tough to watch WWE in 2015...unless we're talking about NXT. In that case, it was fun watching NXT in 2015. To me, no one personified NXT in 2015 more than Sasha Banks. She's someone who rose through the ranks and became a top star. Banks was incredible in 2015. Her match with Bayley at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn was my favorite match of the year and it's hard to think of a runner-up that would come close. That's a match I'll remember for a long time. Banks is now on the main roster. I don't know what to expect for Banks in 2016, but I hope she continues her rise to the top. She's an amazing talent and she's someone who could be a main eventer.

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Scott Holland: There are dozens of TWB 100 voters who might think I committed heresy by ranking Sasha Banks as low as fourth. Perhaps I shouldn’t hold it against her that, with the exception of the 30-minute match at Respect, Banks’ 2015 peaked in Brooklyn. After all, it was a hell of a run up to that point, and the combination of injury and limited main roster opportunities isn’t to be laid at Banks’ feet — because when given the proper space in which to operate, Banks absolutely set the world on fire in 2015. Her tope con hilo over the referee in Brooklyn remains my favorite single moment of the year, and I look forward to seeing how she’s able to improve in 2016.

Bill DiFilippo: Her entrance theme is the best in WWE. It is, approximately, the 71st best thing about Sasha Banks. Every match she has seems important, she seems like she’s perpetually on the verge of killing people, she’s great on the mic, she cares, ok I should stop now I have other things to do. But she is the best.

Joshua Browns: I honestly don’t see how there’s any other option for the #1 spot. Sasha was in at least 3 of the top 10 televised matches in 2015, and depending on your taste, it could be argued that she’s in as many as 5. The matches with Bayley at Takeover: Brooklyn and Takeover: Respect were both instant classics – and they still might not have been her best work. She’s just so damn good in the ring, she works a crowd as well as anybody in the business, and her storytelling and psychology are light years ahead of any 24-year-old I’ve ever seen. If she’s not the biggest female star in the world by the end of 2016, something significantly strange or disappointing will have happened.

To recap, the TWB 100 in full order:

  1. Sasha Banks
  2. Bayley
  3. Kevin Owens
  4. John Cena
  5. Cesaro
  6. Seth Rollins
  7. Finn Bálor
  8. Becky Lynch
  9. Brock Lesnar
  10. Dean Ambrose
  11. Neville
  12. Samoa Joe
  13. Big E
  14. Sami Zayn
  15. Ricochet/Prince Puma
  16. Roman Reigns
  17. Chad Gable
  18. Pentagón Jr
  19. AJ Styles
  20. Luke Harper
  21. Rusev
  22. Kana/Asuka
  23. Jason Jordan
  24. Kofi Kingston
  25. Fénix
  26. Matt Jackson
  27. Kalisto
  28. Nick Jackson
  29. Chris Hero
  30. Emma
  31. Charlotte
  32. Nikki Bella
  33. Daniel Bryan
  34. Drew Gulak
  35. Dalton Castle/Ashley Remington
  36. Tyler Breeze
  37. Zack Sabre Jr
  38. Baron Corbin
  39. Jay Lethal
  40. Mil Muertes
  41. Roderick Strong
  42. Sheamus
  43. Kyle O'Reilly
  44. Uhaa Nation/Apollo Crews
  45. Kimber Lee
  46. Drew Galloway
  47. Johnny Mundo
  48. Timothy Thatcher
  49. Adam Cole
  50. Angélico
  51. Speedball Mike Bailey
  52. Trevor Lee
  53. Bray Wyatt
  54. Dolph Ziggler
  55. Ethan Carter III
  56. Biff Busick
  57. Tyson Kidd
  58. Drago
  59. Simon Gotch
  60. Bobby Fish
  61. Shinsuke Nakamura
  62. Matt Sydal
  63. Xavier Woods
  64. Alberto el Patron/del Rio
  65. Randy Orton
  66. Heidi Lovelace
  67. King Cuerno
  68. Aerostar
  69. ACH
  70. Paige
  71. Hallowicked
  72. Scott Dawson
  73. Stardust
  74. Johnny Gargano
  75. Jay Briscoe
  76. Tommaso Ciampa
  77. Hideo Itami
  78. Chuck Taylor
  79. Candice LeRae
  80. Eddie Kingston
  81. Silver Ant
  82. Dash Wilder
  83. Brian Cage
  84. Enzo Amore
  85. Kazuchika Okada
  86. Aiden English
  87. Alexa Bliss
  88. Mark Briscoe
  89. Son of Havoc/Matt Cross
  90. Michael Elgin
  91. Colin Cassady
  92. Jimmy Rave
  93. Kenny Omega
  94. Ryback
  95. Dasher Hatfield
  96. The Miz
  97. Cedric Alexander
  98. Ivelisse
  99. Rockstar Spud
  100. Fire Ant