50. TAM NAKANO.
Two things; 1. Tam is fucking adorable. 2. Tam has been a part of the best storyline in wrestling this year. When she desperately wanted to stay in Oedo Tai only to be pinned by Momo Watanabe and forcefully ejected, in tears, from the group. Then to be adopted by a smiling Mayu Iwatani and eventually overcoming her tormenting former partners with an electrified baseball bat. Pure pro wrestling.
49. ABSOLUTE ANDY.
I’ve always liked Andy but I thought he was past his sell by date. Proven wrong this year in sensational fashion. The big dad executed an expert heel turn at the back end of 2017, went on to win 16 Carat against the odds and is one of the best things about European wrestling right now. I can’t wait to see how he proves me wrong for the rest of the year and into next.
48. SASHA BANKS.
Ever since her series of matches and rise to prominence in NXT I’ve had a soft spot for Sasha. Her boss character was ahead of Charlotte, Becky or Bayley for me. I was always a Sasha fan. While I like all four Sasha stood head and shoulders above the rest. It was telling to me that she was the factor in all the good matches. It was always Sasha vs. The storylines were better when she was involved and her storyline, ongoing, with Bayley is still the one to watch on WWE TV.
47. RONDA ROUSEY.
I keep seeing people bash Ronda for ‘not deserving’ her push. What are you talking about? She’s a fucking megastar. I guarantee you the same people are bitching and moaning about WWE not creating new stars. Here’s a new star! Shut the fuck up. Rousey has made professional wrestling look easy. Great debut (at WrestleMania no less) and she looks polished, accomplished and different. She had a good match with Nia Jax where I was totally into the action. No one else has done that.
46. MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI.
There are a few Japanese wrestlers who simply defy the aging process. One of the best examples is Mochizuki. He’s in a company which relies heavily on high speed, high octane thrills and at 48 years old is one of the best exponents of pro wrestling in said company. He seems to have instant classics with whoever he gets in the ring with. His match with Kzy from February was awesome.
45. BRAUN STROWMAN.
If you’d told me when Braun debuted that he’d rank highly with me personally and be as over as he is I’d have called bullshit. When he first came into the Wyatt Family he looked like nothing special. Another oversized Vince McMahon guy. But he listened, he learned and he kept getting better. Now everyone loves him and rightly so.
44. LARS SULLIVAN.
Speaking of monsters; I adore Lars Sullivan. The first time I saw him on NXT and I was blown away. He has such a great look. He looks like a monster. Strowman is just a big guy but Sullivan looks like he was created in a crazed scientist’s lab.
43. TONI STORM.
I’m amazed Toni has stayed on the Indies as long as she has. She’s everything WWE want from a professional wrestler. She’s technically sound, she sells well, she has sympathy, she has sex appeal. The only real concern is her promos are a bit goofy but she’s been working on them. Her base level is really high and she’s starting to get the best out of her opponents too. She’s not having great blowaway matches but name me a bad Toni Storm match from this past year. There isn’t one.
42. KOHEI SATO.
If you look at Kohei Sato’s Cagematch profile there’s nothing to suggest he’s great. Average rating. Not a lot of highly rated matches. And yet when he wrestles he delivers that hard-hitting style that I’m so fond of. And at 6’ 4”, 265lbs he feels like a big deal. When his kicks land you can really feel them.
41. SETH ROLLINS.
I debated Seth’s placement longer than most. He’s great in the ring, arguably the best in WWE at pure match quality, but he also sounds like a puppet vampire. I cannot take his promos seriously at all. Still he’s the best member of the Shield.
40. CHRIS BROOKES.
Chris would have been a lot lower down, if he made the list at all, last year. But I’ve been super impressed with his recent in-ring. Plus CCK are a great tag team but Lykos has been injured most of this year. If people book Brookes to his strengths (nice smell, great underdog, “shoop”) he’d be a bigger star than he is.
39. LUCKY KID.
Speaking of a guy who would have been nowhere last year; Lucky Kid. The transformation of this guy from solid tag team wrestler to legitimate main event star in wXw has been stunning. His mannerisms are incredible. His storytelling is on another level and he’s a great guy on top of that. His newfound position isn’t luck at all. It’s hard work.
Not the Hulk Hogan villain but rather All Japan’s muscular main eventer. Zeus has shown such steady improvement it’s hard to dislike him. What really popped his position here was seeing him wrestle a match in Fortune Dream where he was having so much fun he was smiling and shit. It made me realise there was more to him than All Japan will have. He’s not surly at all. He’s a happy go lucky scamp!
37. GO SHIOZAKI.
The heir apparent to the NOAH crown but he never quite got there. Go in his autumn years is a mixture of a man contemplating his shortcomings as a pro wrestler and chops. Really, really hard chops. It’s telling than whenever Kobashi does a Fortune Dream he gets Go on. Astonishingly he’s still the right side of 40. Will NOAH fans ever forgive him for walking out all those years ago?
36. JUN AKIYAMA.
Jun is also 48 years old and this year had his best singles match since circa 2004 when he was in his prime (vs. Marufuji in Champion Carnival). He’s always entertaining regardless of quality and knows how to behave around other people. He’ll bully lower card guys, even if they’re on the same team as him. As a booker he’s been fantastic for All Japan. As a wrestler he’s been arguably even more important. Giving it his all, well into his old age.
35. TOMMASO CIAMPA.
Ciampa is on here because he rode the Gargano Train into town. When WWE signed him and Johnny it was apparent, from day one, that Ciampa would turn. The only person that didn’t see that was Gargano himself. And that’s the beauty of wrestling. Now it’s turned Gargano into a monster out to hurt his former friend. Ciampa’s psychology is all over the place at times but he is a Psycho Killer.
It is criminal this man isn’t contracted to a major professional wrestling company earning the big bucks and living the dream. He’s got every inch of the personality you need to be a star and he’s great in the ring and he’s not got an ego. He sat down at our table at Carat a few years back and he’s a born entertainer.
33. MARK HASKINS.
Mark has always been one of my favourite British wrestlers. He’s a terrific technician and he’s a lovely bloke. He’s had to deal with me drunk several times and has coped better than any other wrestler I can think of. If he’d had a better year he’d probably be ranked higher. I get the feeling he’s lost out on main events because of assortment of injuries.
32. TETSUYA NAITO.
His placement might surprise you but if you’ve really been paying attention you’ll notice I’ve never been a big Naito guy. For me to put him this high shows that he’s improved. The act is better, I love his relationships with other LIJ members and fans. I’ll not go out of my way for one of his main events (like I would have for Shibata or Ishii) but he’s certainly doing alright. Plus he wins lots of popularity awards. I’m sure he can deal with being here in this one.
Flippy flipper. Finally in NXT after years of being good enough to take that next step. Whether he succeeds in WWE is down to WWE but his skills are almost without compare, certainly in NXT. There’s only the likes of Ospreay that can be more sensational at their best.
30. LA PARK.
He might be fat and old but goddamn it, LA Park is still as good as ever. I saw a match of his against Rey Fenix where if they’d trimmed the bullshit and kept it short it could have been a MOTYC. He embraces the zanier aspects of wrestling and carries an ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude better than almost anyone in the world.
29. ALEISTER BLACK.
The former Tommy End has flourished in NXT in ways that I can scarcely believe. I always thought he was good but NXT has smoothed his edges. He’s not throwing a million kicks and then finishing with a kick. The variety is there. The storytelling is there. He still slaps his leg too much but he has an aura that most WWE superstars are told to chase their entire careers, usually without success. When he walks into a room the atmosphere changes. He’s like Bray Wyatt, only good.
28. TYLER BATE.
Tyler has reached the point where people are raving about ‘how good he’s going to be’ because he’s been around for long enough that what you see is basically the finished article. Now they’re more taken aback by his change in style. The way he’s maturing in front of our eyes from a wholesome boy to a sleazy stripper. Or he could be chief justice of the supreme court. Only time will tell.
2nd best technician on the planet (sorry, but Zack is untouchable). Wholesome. Willing to take horrific looking bumps to get the next generation over. That head drop he took off Hiromu in BOSJ was sickening.
26. HIROMU TAKAHASHI.
There are few people in wrestling who put as much thought into their character right now than Hiromu Takahashi. Whether it’s Daryl, his love of a belt, the scrapbooks for each tournament, his relationship with Naito etc. When he made Will Ospreay chicken as a sign of respect it summed him up perfectly. Yeah, he’s a nutbar but at his core Hiromu is respectful of people he respects. And he sticks to his own internal logic. I love that.
To be continued…