Tonight I am proud to unveil the debut CRL 100. What is this mysterious conglomeration of numbers and letters, you ask? Well that's very simple. It stands for Cewsh Reviews List 100, and it is the first in a yearly reckoning of the best wrestlers of the past year as determined by, naturally, Cewsh. Wait! I can see you closing this tab and moving on to another one featuring the kind of porn that it would be weird to even talk about. And that's understandable, because when it comes to wrestling related lists, let's be honest. They suck. If they aren't comprised entirely of WWE guys with a token indy guy thrown in, then they're based on criteria so bafflingly vague that it's impossible to figure out why in the hell they ever bothered in the first place. I know, believe me. I've suffered right along with you through lists that keep men and women segregated, and lists that actually have the balls to declare the Miz the best wrestler on Earth in a given year.
But that all ends today.
You see, with my CRL 100, I have painstakingly whittled down every single active wrestler in this industry until I got the 100 most ass kicking, body rocking, shit talking, walk walking sons (and daughters) of bitches walking the Earth today. Some will come from WWE, but others will proudly represent New Japan, All Japan, DDT, Pro Wrestling NOAH, CMLL, AAA, Shimmer, Ring of Honor, CHIKARA, WSU, Anarchy, Dragon Gate and even more than that. Every effort has been made to remove personal bias and nonsensical notions from the making here, and with any luck what I have crafted here is a list you can look to and be proud of, born of research, hard decisions and experience.
And hey, if that fails, lists are great for killing time, right?
So okay, before we get into this, let's do a quick FAQ.
Q: What are you judging based on?
A: Individual in ring performance, with the emphasis on individual.
Q: How did you research for this?A: Tirelessly, for one thing. I made a point to watch every major show by every significant promotion over the course of the past year and supplement it as much as possible with other shows as well. I left no stone unturned in trying to find talent wherever there might be some.
Q: Why 100?
A: Because 500 forces you to include people who aren't really worthy of consideration, and 276 wasn't symmetrical enough.
Q: So where are you going to rank the Undertaker/Brock Lesnar/The Rock/Triple H etc?
A: I'm not going to. In order to make things as fair as possible across the board, I required that in order to be eligible for this list, you have to have wrestled at least 5 matches in the past calender year. Any less than that and there just isn't a fair sample size to base an educated opinion on. And Taker (1 match), Brock (2 matches), Rock (2 matches), and Triple H (3 matches) do not make the cut. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
Q: John Cena's not on here, is he?
A: Oh yeah, he totally is.
Q: Why are you combining the men and women on one list? That's not fair to the women, is it?
A: Judging by some of the women you'll find on this list, it might not be fair to the men.
Q: This is just the first 25, when will you be releasing the rest?
A: The will be 25 posted each day, ending before Raw on Monday Night. So that's 100-76 tonight, 75-51 tomorrow, 50-26 on Sunday and the coup de grace on Monday.
Alright, that's enough with the questions already. Let's get down to the meat of the thing. Here are numbers 100-75 on the CRL 100 list of the best wrestlers of 2012!
100. ACH (Anarchy)
99. Keiji Mutoh (AJPW)
98. Paige (FCW)
97. Ray (Freelance)
96. Jigsaw (CHIKARA)
95. AR Fox (DGUSA)
94. Toru Yano (NJPW)
93. Matt Jackson (CHIKARA/PWG)
92. Rey Bucanero (AAA)
91. Courtney Rush (SHIMMER)
90. Devon (TNA)
89. Hunico (WWE)
88. La Sombra (CMLL)
87. Kenny King (TNA)
86. Antonio Cesaro (WWE)
85. Shelton Benjamin (ROH)
84. Kane (WWE)
83. L.A. Park (AAA)
82. Athena (SHIMMER)
81. Nicole Matthews (SHIMMER)
80. Jessicka Havok (WSU)
79. Bo Dallas (FCW)
78. Dean Ambrose (FCW)
77. Jay Lethal (ROH)
76. Go Shiozaki (NOAH)
75. El Generico (ROH)
74. Suwama (AJPW)
73. Michael Elgin (ROH)
72. Christopher Daniels (TNA)
71. Tommaso Ciampa (ROH)
70. Hiroyoshi Tenzan (NJPW)
69. Primo (WWE)
68. Portia Perez (SHIMMER)
67. LuFisto (NC:FF)
66. Davey Richards (ROH)
65. Samoa Joe (TNA)
64. Adam Cole (ROH)
63. Richie Steamboat (FCW)
62. Santino Marella (WWE)
61. MVP (NJPW)
60. Johnny Gargano (DGUSA)
59. Cody Rhodes (WWE)
58. Saraya Knight (SHIMMER)
57. Mike Quackenbush (CHIKARA)
56. Jeff Hardy (TNA)
55. Masakatsu Funaki (Freelance)
54. Kevin Steen (ROH)
53. Akira Tozawa (DG)
52. Takeshi Morishima (NOAH)
51. Ryusuke Taguchi (NJPW)
50. Jessie McKay (SHIMMER)
Over the past year McKay continued to put her name forward as one of the brightest young stars in wrestling with great matches against the like of Portia Perez, Paige and Kana and her skills seem to improve exponentially with each new opportunity. If she's not in WWE by this time next year, then someone isn't doing their job properly.
49. Bray Wyatt (FCW)
What if I told you that the best wrestling character in the world danced with his opponents, used wild laughter as a transition move, and dressed like an 80 year old man? That would probably sound a bit off, right? Well feel free to believe me anyway, because that man is Bray Wyatt, though you might know him best as Husky Harris. Before donning the mantle of Wyatt, Harris had already had a great year. Feuding with Richie Steamboat, winning the tag titles and having great matches with his brother Bo and generally raising hell. But when he became Bray Wyatt, everything just clicked. Frankly, the man is only this low because he's had limited chances to show off his new persona in the ring thus far. But it's only a matter of time until he makes this list burn just like his daddy's houseboat.
48. Madison Rayne (TNA)
Madison tore into her role as Gail Kim's lackey with gusto, while still managing the win the Knockouts title twice in past year. She participated in most of the best women's matches that TNA put on throughout the year, and recently has again revitalized the division with her feud with the rapidly improving Miss Tessmacher. Madison has skills and she knows how to use them, and she shows no signs of slowing down.
47. Leo Kruger (FCW)
Kruger came out of nowhere this past year to dominate in FCW and claim the FCW heavyweight Championship out from under everyone's nose. He had a terrific reign with it too, fending off other talents on this very list like Steamboat, Wyatt and Cesaro, and establishing himself as perhaps THE talent to watch in FCW over the past year.
46. Alberto Del Rio (WWE)
While Alberto Del Rio isn't exactly revered for his abilities, it's near impossible not to acknowledge that the man started off solid and is only getting better as time goes on. From his feud with Punk over the title last year, to his feud with Sheamus now, he's show great growth in his understanding of the WWE style and has produced an unending stream of good matches ever since. He's on the brink of becoming a special performer, but there's no way to know if he'll get there just yet.
45. Kofi Kingston (WWE)
Believe me, nobody is more surprised to see Kofi Kingston this high than me. But over the past year, Kingston has truly found his calling as a tag team performer, producing tremendously exciting tag matches with a variety of partners, and creating more excitement and fan interest in undercard matches than anyone in WWE. Maybe it all finally clicked for him, or maybe this year was a fluke, but at long last, Kingston finally seems to have found his niche, and he's excelling in it.
44. Bully Ray (TNA)
After 20 years as a pro, apparently Bully Ray was just getting started. Early in 2011 he made the switch to the mega bully character we know and love to day, and ever since he has been turning in amazing performance after amazing performance. If we were handing out trophies for promos, he'd be at the top of the list. But since we're handing out trophies for matches, he'll have to settle for 44.
43. Mercedes Martinez (SHIMMER/WSU)
Mercedes has seen her role in the wrestling industry change over the past year, as she found herself in Shimmer playing a heel and mixing it up with more young and hungry wrestlers, while over in WSU she found herself not being the champion for the first time in what seems like forever. But neither change seems to have slowed her down any, and her work in Shimmer especially has picked up considerably since her heel turn and in the feud with Athena where Mercedes made her a star.
42. Wade Barrett (WWE)
This was the year the Barrett Barrage began. Despite only being active during this year for less than half of it, Barrett made an immediate and indelible mark on the year during his time with it, as he engaged in a brutal and extended feud with Randy Orton that made both men look like a million dollars. Barrett won the traditional Survivor Series match, dominated Orton time and again, and seemed poised for a serious shot at permanent main event status when he got hurt. With a full year to work with and a laundry list of new worlds to conquer, don't be surprised to see Barrett run rampant on this list next year.
41. Big Show (WWE)
Against all odds, this may have been the big guy's finest year as a professional wrestler. From breaking the ring with Mark Henry in a moment for the highlight reels, to being the springboard for Daniel Bryan to get to main event status, to the plethora of "way better than you'd expect" performances against CM Punk, John Cena and others, this was a fantastic year for the Big Show as a performer. He's never looked more dominant and he's never put more people over, and somehow he's the only one who seems to know how the hell that works.
40. Masato Tanaka (ZERO-1)
The former ECW World Champion did what he does pretty much every year. Make men half his age feel insecure about their physiques, turn in some absolutely gifted heel work, and show that he may very well be the finest wrestler working a hardcore style in the world today. His alliance with the Tokyo Pimps gave him plenty of fun stuff to do, but it was his match with Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship that was the crown jewel of a great year.
39. Eddie Edwards (ROH)
This was the year that Eddie Edwards really broke away from the rest of the Ring of Honor pack. Up until now, he had always been a sort of Davey Richards Lite, with all the pros and cons that come with that association. After losing the title in July to his former teammate Davey Richards, he went on a quest to get it back, culminating in the biggest match of either man's career at Final Battle. Then he teamed up with Adam Cole against Richards and Kyle O'Reily and continued to not only have great matches, but to utterly outshine Davey Richards and everyone else they put against him all year long. It's a weak year for ROH when their best only makes it to 39, but his association with Adam Cole can only push both men to be better in the future.
38. Hirooki Goto (NJPW)
Another year passed Hirooki Goto by without him being able to win the big one. And another year passed with him being surpassed by his fellow members of the "New Three Muskateers" Hiroshi Tanahashi and Shinsuke Nakamura. The man still puts on performance after performance that makes you think that this time, THIS TIME, he might just be ready to move up to the next level. And yet here he is, at number 38, great, but forgotten.
37. Rey Mysterio (WWE)
It's something of a dark day to consider that we live in a time where Rey Mysterio is ranked all the way back as only the 37th best wrestler of the year. But people have to get older, and this was a year of injuries and suspensions for Flyboy Rey. Since his comeback, though, he's seemed much like his old self and has made a lot of people look good in a very short time. But it would be a lie to say that another year like this one might not remove him from the list altogether. We're looking at the twilight of one of the finest careers in wrestling history. He's hoping this wasn't our last chance to enjoy it.
36. Satoshi Kojima (NJPW)
Kojima burst back into relevance in a big way this year, as his reformed legendary dream team with Hiroyoshi Tenzan reformed to take down the invincible world killers of Bad Intentions. Unlike his partner Tenzan though, Kojima has been anything but a retread of the past since forming the team, and has found the perfect role for himself at this point as the a red hot, firey babyface in a tag team. It's refreshing to see guys like him find a niche like this where they can continue to produce long into their careers, and Kojima is making the most of every match.
35. Low Ki (NJPW)
Low Ki tried the whole WWE thing. Smiling, being nice, not kicking people's body parts into the front row. He tried it, and it wasn't for him. So he cruised back over to Japan and IMMEDIATELY started right back up where he left off when WWE originally signed him, by conquering the Jr. division in an almost effortless manner. Mixing Low Ki into the already mind blowing mix of talent in the New japan Jr. division didn;t just make for great matches, it made for DREAM matches, and he's poised to continue doing the same right on into 2013.
34. Tensai (NJPW/WWE)
If the only thing you've seen of Tensai this year is him giving people the Claw and losing to Tyson Kidd in WWE, then you're missing out on the real reason he's on this list. Because before he came back to these familiar shores, he was over in Japan enjoying the longest tag team title reign in New Japan history. Not only that, but he and his partner Karl Anderson, (who narrowly missed making the list himself,) won the Pro Wrestling NOAH tag team titles as well and defended them again and again in incredibly dominant fashion. Tensai himself was easily the centerpiece of it, and for a stretch of the year he was perhaps the most dominant figure in all of wrestling.
And now he looks like a tattooed weather balloon who can't buy a victory. A lot can happen in a year.
33.Gail Kim (TNA)
When Gail Kim left WWE, she had a chip on her shoulder and something to prove. So when she got back to TNA and the women's division she founded, she wasted absolutely no time in snatching up every title available. But far more important that what she won, is what she did, and that's make Knockouts title matches must see for the first time since she had left before. She pulled fantastic matches out of everyone from Mickie James to Miss Tessmacher, when all they had been doing before her is trying to see who could botch more in a 30 second match. Kim completely changed the tone of the whole division and rewrote its future in one glorious run. And now she's set to get right back to it.
32. Mark Henry (WWE)
It's ironic that this is the year that we were introduced to the Hall of Pain, because this was by far the least painful to watch year of Mark Henry's career. Henry had shown flashes of potential greatness before, but that stuff was nothing compared to the 3 month span where he feuded with Randy Orton and then Daniel Bryan, and looked like the most terrifying badass in wrestling. Some of that credit has to go to who he was working with, but it was Henry himself who really seemed to dial in for the first time and achieve his massive potential. Unfortunately a prolonged feud with Big Show that did neither man any favors followed, as did injuries that still keep him out even now, but those 3 months will stand alongside those of anyone on this list in terms of greatness, and that's enough reason to be excited for the comeback.
31. Randy Orton (WWE)
This won't go down in history as the best year of Randy Orton's career, and it won't go down as the worst. But you want to know the measure of just how good Randy Orton is, even when he's not at his best? Wade Barrett, Mark Henry and Kane all owe their spots on this list to him. How's that for performance?
30. Ayumi Kurihara (Freelance)
It's been a busy year for everyone's favorite Joshi. She's competed all over Japan, won the CMLL women's championship in Mexico, and in general made a name for self as one of the faces of the new Joshi movement. But it's in America with Shimmer that she has truly distinguished herself, particularly in forming a tag team with Ayako Hamada that stole virtually ever single show they appeared on, including a match against Ray and Leon that caused the live crowd to chant "That was awesome" for TEN STRAIGHT MINUTES AFTER THEY LEFT. Perhaps the scariest thing about her is realizing that she's still a baby in terms of experience, and just how much better she could truly get. Could she surpass her mentor Hamada next year? Stranger thing have happened.
29. Kana (Freelance)
Kana arrived on the American scene last year like a whirlwind. She had fantastic matches with virtually everyone she encountered there in the 2 trips to Shimmer she's made during the past year and has been the talk of nearly every show she's been on. Add that to her incredible work as SMASH's first Divas champion, (in particular her MOTYC match with Syuri,) and you have a woman who has taken the entire wrestling world by storm and is only getting started.
28. Christian (WWE)
Christian is Christian. What else is there to say about a guy who is simply a bastion of consistent goodness all year long no matter who he faces or under what circumstances. If ever there was a man who had a lock on being part of this list until they retire, you're looking at him.
27. Jun Akiyama (AJPW/NOAH)
This year Akiyama mounted a full scale comeback tour that saw him win the AJPW Triple Crown Championship and Pro Wrestling NOAH's tag title and defend them against all comers all year long. It was a return to form for the man as he held court over some great matches and seemed to be keeping the fortunes of All Japan afloat all by himself the entire year. A decline next year seems inevitable, as he's just as beaten up as any other wrestler that drove the King's Road, but with one last big push, he has found himself in the spotlight at least one last time.
26. Chris Jericho (WWE)
Now, now, now. Put down your torches and pitchforks.
Chris Jericho had another one of his wacky comebacks in the past year, with the primary purpose being the clear desire to elevate CM Punk at all costs. There are many differing opinions on whether he actually did that or not, and their matches were a bit of a mixed bag, but Jericho himself spent the entire year looking more spry and quick than he has in a decade, and once he moved past the Punk feud, he added a jolt of electricity to every match he participated in from then on. And even though he walked away from wrestling again for a little while shortly before this list was formed, he went out hitting just the right note with a pair of terrific matches with Ziggler that made it clear that he very much still has it. He's at a crossroads now in terms of which direction his performances will go if he comes back next year, but one thing is for certain. His fans will never stop lobbying to see him at number 1.
25. Hailey Hatred (Freelance)
So, um, Hailey Hatred won 1 or 2 titles this year.
But beyond simply being the title winningest wrestler of 2012, it was also the year that the wrestling world finally took notice of her and she finally reached her great potential. As the gaijin Joshi killer in Japan she met with incredible success and rave reviews, and the same praise followed her around the world to Mexico and the back to the United States where she left her mark definitively all over Shimmer's face. With her boot, mostly.
24. John Cena (WWE)
Commercially speaking, it's been a big year for John Cena. His feuds with the Rock and Brock Lesnar are two of the biggest of his entire career. And while both have their critics and he's been bogged down in an unhelpful feud with John Laurenitus and the Big Show for much of 2012, it cannot be understated just how valuable John Cena was as a performer in 2012. He was given two men with a decade or more of ring rust and asked to pull gigantic main event matches out of them, and that he did with both is a testament to their hard work and skill, but also very much to his leadership and how far he's come as a performer. The man may not have the best matches on his resume this year, but he may have had the hardest job, and he did it well.
23. Naomichi Marufuji (NOAH)
The funny thing about Naomichi Marufuji is that after the level he has competed at in recent years ranking as the 23rd best wrestler in the world is actually a LET DOWN. He began the year on injured reserve, as it were, but finally made his comeback in time to enter the friendly feud between NOAH and New Japan for the first time and teased a feud with Shinsuke Nakamura with a fantastic tag match at Wrestle Kingdom. He's been mixing it up with the New Japan main eventers ever since and was a show stealer all through the recent G1 Climax series. With him finally getting a chance to get treated as a main eventer in New Japan, and a hotly anticipated match with Hiroshi Tanhashi coming up, look for this rank to be quite a bit higher next year.
22. Abyss (TNA)
If you had told me that I would be ranking Abyss ahead of the likes of Naomichi Marufuji, Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho on any kind of list aside from which one is most in need of some Slim Fast, I would have been in disbelief. Hell, all of us would be. But then we were all introduced to a man named Joseph Parks, and perhaps the most incredible transformation in wrestling history occurred. Overnight, Abyss transformed himself from a dominant monster into a man so convincingly inexperienced at being in a wrestling ring, that I almost began to believe that it really was a different person. Try to wrap your head around that idea for a second. He put in a performance so good that he CONVINCED ME HE HAD NEVER BEEN IN A RING BEFORE. Not only that, but he did it SO well that the Impact Zone completely ignored the ridiculous storyline he was in and embraced him more than they have any wrestler in years. The bumbling lawyer was everything Abyss wasn't and was an accomplishment on par with anything hat anyone did this year.
21. Cheerleader Melissa (Shimmer)
After long, long years of waiting, wishing and hoping, the Shimmer faithful finally got to see Melissa win the Shimmer championship from Madison Eagles in the end to the finest feud in Shimmer history last year. Then they got to watch her defend it this year all of 3 times before she was unceremoniously unseated by the devilish tricks of Saraya Knight. But even though she's at the very top of independent women's wrestling, she hasn't rested on her laurels this year at all, turning in great matches against Portia Perez, Nicole Matthews and Saraya Knight, as well as wrestling overseas in Ring Ka King to much enjoyment from yours truly. She's been one of the best for so long its getting kind of ridiculous. It's about time she got recognized for it.
20. Eddie Kingston (Chikara)
This was the year. The year Eddie Kingston finally shrugged off his deathmatch reputation, and the sense that he'd never really amount to anything. When he faced and defeated Mike Quackenbush for the first Chikara Championship in what was easily the most emotional indy match of the year, he showed that he was ready to step forward as one of the true stars of professional wrestling with a performance that I'm not sure any of us knew he had in him. And he's been doing it ever since.
Also, while this is obviously a list about in ring performances, this was the promo of the year leading up to his match with Quackenbush. Nothing else came close.
19. AJ Styles (TNA)
It seems like AJ Styles has been mired in one silly feud after another over the course of the past 12 months, but he can't control how he's booked, he can only control how he gets down. And despite seeming to show some signs of slowing down with age here and there, and struggling to find the old chemistry with Christopher Daniels, he continues to show that if you put the man in a match that requires fire, he will burn the fucking building to the ground.
18. Tetsuya Naito (NJPW)
People had already earmarked Naito for eventual stardom ever since the early days of his No Limit tag team. But this was the year that it all really came to fruition. After making it to the finals of the 2011 G1 Climax Tournament, he got a title shot against Hiroshi Tanahashi...and lost. But then in January he got to face off against the legendary Keiji Mutoh who he so frequently is compared to...and lost. But then he got into a feud with Shinsuke Nakamura where he lost, and then had the match of his career against fellow rising star Okada...where he lost. So okay, this wasn't really the most SUCCESSFUL year of Naito's career, but he finally got his chance to rub elbows with the biggest names in New Japan and he came out looking like a bankable star with talent to burn. So, you know, it's not all bad.
17. Sheamus (WWE)
It was a banner year for Sheamus. He turned babyface, won the Royal Rumble, won the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania and has been champion ever since. But more so than just his accomplishments, this has been a year where he's finally begun to grow into his role as a firey bull of a babyface. It was during the Daniel Bryan feud that I first began to compare him to Kenta Kobashi, and when it comes to praise, its hard to do better than that.
16. Prince Devitt (NJPW)
Last year, Prince Devitt was the undisputed king of the Funktastic Five, but this year he took a backseat to the other guys and kept out of the title picture for the most part after losing the title to Low Ki. He's still an incredible performer, and managed to edge out that OTHER guy from Ireland, but it will remain to be seen if next year he can do more to keep ahead of the always hungry group of people now nipping at his heels.
15. Mike Quakenbush (Chikara)
Mike Quakenbush has always fallen under the category of "everyone knows he's good, but he'll never really go anywhere." After years of that he had to start his own promotion to do what he wanted to in the wrestling business. That promotion's name is Chikara, and he is its ace. But this year especially has been standout for Quack, as they crowned their first singles champion in a match that saw him bring the very best out of Eddie Kingston, and then Quack went and started turning heel on us, showing just exactly how incredible he can be as a personality and a wrestler both. The man is absurdly gifted at what goes on between the ropes, and as Chikara continues its rapid ascent to become the top promotion on the indy scene it's becoming more and more clear that this is Quack's world. We're just living in it.
14. Yuji Nagata (NJPW)
Old man Nagata looked around his Japanese kingdom and saw all kind of dickheads and annoyances marring the once pretty landscape. So being the manly fuck he is, he decided to do something about it, and with that he declared a one man war on dickbags all over Japan this year. He first took out Toru Yano satisfactorily, then he tried to keep that whippersnapper Tanahashi from breaking his record for most title defenses but couldn't quite pull it off. So then he began chipping away at the stable of Funaki, (not the one you're thinking of but nice try,) until he finally got a huge blow off match with the big guy himself. All the way through Nagata killed it like he always does as Japan's favorite resident curmudgeon, and he'll go on kicking in the faces of anyone who puts a foot out of line long into the future.
13. Ayako Hamada (Shimmer)
There really isn't enough that I could say about Ayako Hamada. Everything I said before about Ayumi Kurihara's tag team title reign, (Cliff Notes: It was the best tag reign of any team in the world this year,) goes here too, but it was Hamada who was directing traffic and added the pizzazz. Once again, she has spent the year in Shimmer just adding incredible amounts of interest and skill to every match she takes part in, and her match with Ayumi against Rey and Leon may be her finest achievement as a performer since the 90s Joshi days. Suffice to say that Hamada rocks faces and this was perhaps the finest year since her comeback 3 years ago.
12. Kurt Angle (TNA)
It doesn't take a rocket scientist, (or even rocket pilot,) to deduce that Kurt Angle is in decline and nearing the end of his career. He's lost a step, is looking a little older and he doesn't crank out classic matches with the same regularity that he used to. But even with that said, he is so integral to the success of TNA even when he's not at 100% that it's insane. He's the guy that put both James Storm and Bobby Roode in a position to succeed, he's the guy who made people forget that they hated Jeff Hardy and he's even the guy that managed to salvage that whole Jeff Jarrett mess last year. So while he may not see the top 10 again in his career, I don't think he needs to worry about it too much. 80% of Kurt Angle is better than all but 11 wrestlers in the world.
11. Sara Del Rey (Shimmer/Chikara)
Long has she said that she's the Queen of Wrestling, but this year she didn't just prove it in the ring, but also on this list as our top ranked female competitor. All it took to do it was be the most dominant and well respected woman on what seems like a dozen rosters over the course of the year, and being part of perhaps the most surprisingly great storyline of the year teaming up with Courtney Rush. She conquered men with ease in Chikara, mowed down the competition in Shimmer, fucked people up in Ring of Honor, and imposed her awesome will on the masses anywhere else stupid enough to turn her loose. WWE has signed her now, and the indies will miss her dearly, but if one woman can engineer a Diva turnaround, then it must be their uncrowned Queen.
10. James Storm (TNA)
Though ultimately Storm's 2012 has to be compared to Bobby Roode's 2012 and doesn't quite stack up, that's only because Bobby Roode exploded into greatness, whereas James Storm quietly snuck up on it. Over the past year Storm has gone from a tag team specialist who drinks a lot of beer, to an expert singles wrestler with a killer finishing move who kicks a lot of ass. His feud with Kurt Angle showed really just what he was capable of, and he's kept it up with marvelous performances against AJ Styles and Roode himself seeming to come out of the woodwork every other week. So while he may have to stand in Roode's shadow for now, the shadow will only get smaller, and the Storm is coming.
9. CM Punk (WWE)
So this CM Punk guy, I hear he's pretty good, huh?
8. Kota Ibushi (DDT/NJPW)
We always knew that Kota Ibsuhi could fly, that was a given. But recently he decided to prove that he could GO. He stepped out from the fun and shenanigans of DDT and gave a serious shot to being the best Jr. in the world, and the results have been absolutely stunning. Despite being stripped of his IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship to start the year, he has come back at a blistering pace. He challenged and beat Low Ki in a series of tremendous matches, and his matches with Kenny Omega were almost ridiculously opulent in terms of entertainment. Barring the injury he could easily be higher up on this list. A scary thought.
7. Shinsuke Nakamura (NJPW)
Imagine for a second that you're one of the best wrestlers of your generation. You're a legitimate sensation, a credible fighter, beloved nationwide, and yet somehow you can just never surpass the man that you've been held up to and compared with for your whole career. You're big, but he's bigger. You're great, but he's greater. How would you react to that situation? If your name is Shinsuke Nakamura, then the answer is, in order: Shrug, strut, BOMA YE.
You see, Nakamua has developed perhaps the best "Doesn't give a fuck" character not only in wrestling, but in ANYTHING. His matches are something truly special as he underestimates every opponent on purpose, waits for them to piss him off, and then unleashes the hound of hell on their faces in a torrent that is totally unstoppable and makes for some of the best finishing sequences in the business. He may not be Hiroshi Tanahashi, but he is Shinsuke fucking Nakamura. Come at him, bro.
6. Austin Aries (TNA)
It's been a heady year for the former ROH Champion. First he got himself hired into TNA by winning a fourway in one of the most exciting matches in years for TNA. Then he went ahead and only held the X Division belt longer than anyone ever has while single handedly propping up a dying division and breathing new life into it with his consistently brilliant work. And then when it came time to find a man to unseat Bobby Roode as champion, all they had to do was listen to the fans who were rabidly chanting his name. And just like that, it only took Austin Aries one year to be so impressive in his work, and so successful with his fans that he went from unemployed to the TNA World Heavyweight Champion. The best things in life and wrestling are unexpected, but in the future, it wouldn't hurt to bet on Team Aries.
5. Kenny Omega (DDT/NJPW)
Wait. The frizzy haired guy who does Dragon Ball Z moves and acts like a spaz all the time? Number 5? Really?
Kenny Omega has always been sort of a strange case in wrestling. He had undoubted wrestling abilities, but his wrestling persona was basically that of an Anime character on speed. But it was when he finally arrived in Japan's lovable madhouse of DDT, that he finally fit in and began to figure out how to work this character into something that could work anywhere and against anyone. And it was through this and a budding friendship/rivalry with Kota Ibushi that he finally came to prominence. But THIS year he took all that, tossed it merrily over his shoulder and said, "Hey, what if I just became the single most irritating and obnoxious heel who has ever entered a ring?" The results have been breathtaking, as he has stolen show after show after show, and has practically been pumping like into All Japan all by himself by being the most antagonizing antagonist in recent memory. Add that to the jaw dropping matches he's had with the other members of the Funktastic Five (Prince Devitt, Kota Ibushi, Low Ki, Rysuke Taguchi) and the PARTICULARLY jaw dropping one he just had with Ibushi to cap off their feud, and you have a year that couldn't be better if he had animated it himself.
4. Dolph Ziggler (WWE)
The story of how Dolph Ziggler went from the guy who shakes people's hands to one of the best wrestlers on the planet is a long and storied one, so let's just say that at some point the ghosts of Rick Rude and Curt Hennig possessed him and have been fighting over control of his ridiculously elastic body ever since. This year, though, Dolph truly seemed to be everywhere. From giving Zack Ryder his one moment in the sun, (and the best match of Ryder's career by a mile,) to being Sheamus' personal pinball machine, nobody has spent more time making other wrestlers look good than Ziggler has. And people have begun to notice. He's currently riding a wave of popularity and acclaim that will soon put a World Championship in his hands, and it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.
3. Bobby Roode (TNA)
We've seen a great many people change their stock in the industry in the past year. Lots of people have catapulted up the list and many have fallen precipitously downwards as well. But no wrestler on the planet Earth has had such a dramatic change of fortune, (heh, get it? Because he was in Fortune,) as Mr. Bobby Roode. Last September he made his first real breakthrough as a singles wrestling by winning the BFG Series and went on to face, and be defeated by, Kurt Angle. But then a funny thing happened. James Storm won the title and Roode lost his mind, resulting in perhaps the best heel turn in TNA history, and laying the ground work for perhaps the best title reign in TNA history. In stunning time, Roode transformed himself from just another talented wrestler into "The It Factor" and became the true main event heel that TNA had been grasping for desperately since its inception. He brought style to his matches, and was absolutely flawless in his heel work, while maintaining the basic skill that had seen him to so many great tag matches in Beer Money. 2012 is the year that he became the complete package and ushered in a new era for TNA. Let's hope 2013 isn't the year they fuck it up.
2. Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW)
First of all, if you've been on this blog for more than 8 seconds, you may have noticed that this place is practically a shrine to the brilliance of Hiroshi Tanahashi. But if you're thinking that that means that he got a free pass to the number 2 spot, then you're drastically mistaken. He EARNED his silver medal here, and if it weren't for a certain someone he'd be standing right at the top of the heap. As the man who has personally prided over and driven the sudden rise to success and glory of New Japan in the past few years, Tanahashi has spent the past year defending his title against all manners of comers including the legit scary Minoru Suzuki at Wrestle Kingdom, the young phenom Naito, and the next big Japanese heel Okada, who Tanahashi basically turned from a jobber to a main eventer in ONE MATCH. It was another brilliant year in a string of them. But while it was amazing, it wasn't quite enough to top...
1. Daniel Bryan (WWE)
Are you really surprised?
Once again, Daniel Bryan has surprised absolutely nobody by being the best wrestler in the world. He took CM Punk, Kane and especially Sheamus to levels even they, top performers, had never been before, and he did it all while becoming an expert in personality and character psychology so rapidly that I think he had known them all along and was just sharking us to let other people catch up. The man is, in every sense of the word, the greatest.
What else needs to be said?