Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Year End Awards 2013

For the third year in a row I find myself noting that wrestling attracts lists. As I have for the past two years I thought I’d put together lists of my favourite wrestling related things of 2013.

As with the last two years (2011 is available here and 2012 is available here) there are six categories. Top fives for the best characters, feuds and shows, top tens for the best matches and tag teams, and a top twenty singles wrestlers (which, in the terminology of the sport we all follow, is the main event). Those of you with too much time on your hands may remember that I expanded the tag list from five to ten for last year’s awards post. This year it’s been the turn of the top matches list to grow. I don’t know why it’s taken this long. A list of top five matches seems odd. Ten is a much better number for that.

As with previous years there are no non-North America based grapplers on any of these lists (except one, but that’s for a match that took place in the States). This isn’t a reflection on the quality of wrestling outside of the United States, it’s simply a case of me not following anything outside of North America enough to feel I can fairly judge and compare it.

The way I’ve ranked wrestlers takes into account the company they work for, their spot on the card, what is required of them by their employer and how well they’ve performed within their parameters. Different things are expected of Adam Cole and Randy Orton for example, despite both men being world champions. Even within WWE there are different expectations of wrestlers: more is expected of Alberto Del Rio than of, say, Big E Langston for example.

TNA and ROH made some headway in their standings here last year after 2011 was dominated by WWE. This year things have swung back in WWE’s favour. TNA had to make some pretty severe cutbacks which led to their product become more unfocused and counterproductive than I think it’s ever been before. ROH had a great time in the first six months of the year but things fell apart for them when they decided to vacate their world championship. Had that not happened I think they could have ended up having their best year since Gabe Sapolsky left (left being the tactful term).

As I’ve noted before I’d watch both companies more if they got themselves together and presented enjoyable and compelling television programmes. That they’re not encouraging me to watch means they’re not going to rank highly.

We’ll start, again, with the Character of the Year category. Wrestling ability plays no part in this at all. It’s an award that acknowledges how good performers have been at establishing their character through the art of the promo and with continuous development, as well as interpreting the vision of the writers. All the other awards should be fairly self-explanatory.

Top Five Characters of the Year

5. Christopher Daniels
His antics weren't enough to make people tune in to Impact but there were enough to entertain those who did. 'The Ring General' was routinely amusing and did a great job of turning wrapping up nonsense storylines into a great gimmick. Without this man's ability to produce watchable skits TNA would be even duller.

4. Bo Dallas
Turning a bland babyface heel because they're booed is nothing new in wrestling. But it's not been done for a while and it's rarely been done as well as with Bo Dallas. The guy's brilliant as the oblivious narcissist who thinks everyone loves him and his title reign, with the puns he makes on his own name (Bolivia, the fans chanting "Bo!") warranting particular praise. Perfecting this character is Bo's best shot at getting promoted to the main roster. Bo! Bo! Bo!

3. Bully Ray
Bully Ray has been about the only man to be used in a consistent manner by TNA this year. That's helped him stand out as one of the few reasons to actually watch their shows. Whether he was the relatable, tough guy babyface or the bullying leader of Aces and Eights Ray made his character work. ‘Calfzilla’ was one of the better aspects of TNA in 2013.

2. Bray Wyatt
This is a man who turned talking nonsense into an art form.  Bray has been completely believe as an unhinged swamp preacher. Proof that gimmick characters can still succeed in the modern wrestling world, if they’re introduced well and not treated shabbily afterwards.

1. Tyler Breeze
There’s so much to love about Tyler Breeze. The selfies. The furry phone. The fact that said firry phone is used as a foreign object. The boots. The Zoolander impression. The Blue Steel facial expression. The former Mike Dalton has taken a tired cliché of a wrestling character and reworked it into something that connects with wrestling fans of the twenty-first century. Tyler Breeze has been a joy to watch.


Top Five Shows of the Year

5. ROH 11th Anniversary Show
Ring of Honor didn’t have a great year but they did manage to put on some memorable events in the first six months. The best of these was the 11th Anniversary card. The highlights of the evening were tag matches: The Forever Hooligans versus The American Wolves and the Briscoe brothers’ loss to reDRagon were two of the best ROH matches of the year. The show also featured an enjoyable TV title match and a hectic six man opener. It was a packed show that helped to balance the slightly disappointing teen v Lethal main event.

4. WWE SummerSlam (18.08.13)
SummerSlam 2013 will always be remembered for Triple H’s heel turn and Orton’s surprise cash-in on a prone Bryan. Without that event closing the show it would be a poorer viewing experience, but there’s more to it than just that. John Cena and Daniel Bryan had a fantastic WWE championship clash in which ‘The CeNation Leader’ worked hard to show that Bryan was on his level. If you’re reading this in order I won’t spoil things for you but that match is somewhere on my top matches of the year list. SummerSlam would not be ranked here without Cena v Bryan. The decent-but-not-great undercard and the show-closing angle add to that match to create a show worth watching.

3. WWE RAW 08.04.13
We all know why this show is here. It’s because of the crowd. The post-‘Mania RAW naturally attracts fans already in town for the biggest show of the year, but because wrestling tickets ain’t cheap only the most dedicated splash the cash on going to both ‘Mania and RAW. It creates a wonderful atmosphere and that’s never been more true than this year.

The show was packed with memorable moments. The Shield confronting The Undertaker. The Ryback pwning John Cena. The sensation that was Fandangoing. Ziggler’s triumphant cash-in on ADR. You have to feel sorry for Wade Barrett: he won the Intercontinental championship on this episode and nobody remembers or cares.

2. WWE Payback (16.06.13)
John Cena’s feud with Ryback was never what you’d call enjoyable so this show so this show gets bonus points for featuring the last in the series. It’s the best match they had, fittingly. Genuine reasons this show is ranked here are The Shield’s red hot encounter with the team of Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan (noteworthy considering what would happen with those two later in the year), the fun triple threat opener, and the incredible double turn outing of Dolph Ziggler and Alberto Del Rio.

1. WWE Money in the Bank (14.07.13)
No one match stood out enough from this show for me to pick it for the top ten, but there were several that I was tempted by. The all heel ladder match opener was a flawlessly laid out match that not only featured as much stunt work as you could want but also told a nice story. The evening’s second ladder outing wasn’t quite as good but was still one of wrestling’s better stunt affairs of the year. Dolph Ziggler and Alberto Del Rio produced the match of the night and capped off their series in style. Even John Cena and Mark Henry exceeded expectations in their WWE championship match, helped greatly by an enthusiastic crowd. It was, all told, a damn fine show.

Top Five Feuds of the Year

5. The WWE roster v The Shield
That sounds unspecific and it is. There’s no accurate way to sum up the various babyfaces ‘The Hounds of Justice’ tangled with from January to April. The Shield slipped from facing one gaggle of good guys to another, all of them big names and all of them united in a common cause: trying to hand a loss to the ne bad boys on the block.

Had they been facing mid-card nobodies Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns wouldn’t be listed here. But they weren’t. In the first four months of the year they faced and defeated Ryback, Sheamus, Kane, Daniel Bryan, The Undertaker, and John Cena, amongst others. No matter your feelings on the abilities of those guys they’re all big names. The various matches The Shield had were big deals that helped get them established.

4. CM Punk v The Rock
Their Rumble encounter could easily have been a flop if ‘The Great One’ hadn’t acknowledged Punk as someone on or near his level. The same is even more true of the Elimination Chamber rematch: by that point Rock had proven he was capable of beating ‘The Second City Saint’. Neither match was that great but through their promos they at least made viewers care about them. Their interactions and the hype for the two bouts were among the highlights of WWE’s first month and a half of the year.

3. Daniel Bryan v The Authority
It’s surprising, when you consider the popularity and talent of Daniel Bryan, that this programme didn’t produce any really classic matches. Randy Orton, the chief pawn of The Authority, may not be blessed with charisma but he can wrestle a fast, physical match and he’d proven earlier in the year that he could have excellent matches with ‘The World’s Toughest Vegan’. They didn’t manage to click in the high profile setting of pay-per-view main events, sadly.

What made this feud a success were the promos, mostly handled by Triple H on the subject of why Daniel Bryan could not be allowed to succeed, and the beatings dished out. The psychology of the programme was designed to let Bryan be a big success. It’s just a shame he wasn’t allowed to win more often and was so easily outsmarted. That would never have happened to ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. More to the point it would never to John Cena.
Triple H explains to Daniel Bryan that wearing only a shirt and trunks is kind of Randy Orton's thing...

2. Antonio Cesaro v Sami Zayn
With the unassuming environs of the NXT Arena as their stage and nothing more than a wrestling ring and their experience as tools Zayn and Cesaro constructed one of the most compelling wrestling feuds in years. Together they proved that wrestling fans can still be convinced of the importance of wins and losses and be drawn in with great wrestling. Their feud was one of the many reasons NXT was the best weekly wrestling show of 2013.

1. Alberto Del Rio v Dolph Ziggler
No two men consistently produced great matches like Ziggler and Del Rio. Their rivalry began when ‘The Show Off’ cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase in what would turn out to be the best four minute match I’ve ever seen. They had a captivating double turn exchange at Payback and a heated return bout at Money in the Bank. By pure coincidence (or perhaps not) my top three shows of the year feature matches from this programme.

They didn’t get much mic time to hype their feud but that was actually a bonus: all people wanted was to cheer Ziggler at this point and ADR turned out to be the man who brought out the best in him. The only bad thing about this feud is that it didn’t stretch to SummerSlam.

Top Ten Matches of the Year
(There’s no analysis here. If you want to know why these matches are in the top ten just go and watch them...)

10. Alberto Del Rio v John Cena – WWE Hell in a Cell (27.10.13)

9. Daniel Bryan v Jack Swagger, Antonio Cesaro and Ryback – Gauntlet match, WWE RAW 22.07.13

8. John Cena v CM Punk – WWE RAW 25.02.13

7. SHINGO v Johnny Gargano – Dragon Gate USA Open The Ultimate Gate (06.04.13)

6. The Shield v Team Hell No and John Cena – WWE RAW 13.05.13

5. Antonio Cesaro v Sami Zayn – Two-out-of-three falls match, WWE NXT 21.08.13

4. The Shield v Undertaker, Kane and Daniel Bryan – WWE RAW 22.04.13

3. Dolph Ziggler v Alberto Del Rio – WWE Payback (16.06.13)

2. Undertaker v CM Punk – WWE WrestleMania XXIX (07.04.13)

1. John Cena v Daniel Bryan – WWE SummerSlam (18.08.13)

Top Ten Tag Teams of the Year

10. Prime Time Players
The latter months of 2013 have seen WWE introduce new tag teams and overhaul existing ones. It's given the company the packed division that's been teased for the last few years. This has been good news for viewers, those who like doubles action (oh!) at any rate, but it's left Darren Young and Titus O'Neil to kill time in mostly pointless matches.

This doesn't seem a big deal until you remember that for much of 2012 they were one of the few WWE teams of note. A lighter division would have meant their interplay earned them a higher spot. Clearly a packed tag roster is not good for everyone.

9. Jimmy and Jey Uso
When it comes to dependable if unspectacular tag teams you don't get much better than the Usos. Throughout the year Jimmy and Jey have had several really fun matches, against The Shield at Money in the Bank and as part of the three-way title match at Hell in a Cell for example, but they've never truly connected with audiences. They're a good team that do good work but I can't bring myself to place them higher because they fall down when it comes to connecting with people. If they can master that they could get a little higher on the card. But they've got their work cut out for them.

8. Adrenaline RUSH
ACH and Tadarius Thomas were always a fun pair to watch. They didn’t win all that often but they always had exhilarating matches that got crowds worked up. That’s the role and job the RUSH boys have been given and they’ve performed very well. I’d like to see them rewarded with a more substantial role in 2014. A series with reDRagon could be gold!

7. Bad Influence
They didn't win TNA's tag team titles this year but that doesn't matter because they're worthless anyway. Daniels and Kazarian did everything in their power to make every ludicrous situation they were placed in (and they were placed in some belters) memorable and fun. On top of that they had good or better matches with every twosome on the roster this year.

6. Forever Hooligans
I didn't follow their New Japan work closely but whenever I did watch their work there it was of high quality. It's their ROH appearances that have got them onto this list. They had a string of worthwhile exchanges with top tandems reDRagon and the American Wolves, won the company's tag gold, and had one of the best ROH matches of the year opposite The Young Bucks. Bringing them on board as semi-regulars has proven a wise decision by ROH.

Big in Japan

5. Young Bucks
Let me be clear. I do not like the personalities of Nick and Matt Jackson. I'm also aware that they're basically living their gimmick and-or are rarely out of character. I don't care. I find their lack of humility irritating, and not in a heel-being-effective kind of way.

That said I can't deny they've had a phenomenal year, especially for two guys without permanent links to any meaningful company. They won the Open the United Gate championship in April, the PWG tag team titles in January (and still have them), and the IWGP junior tag straps in November, plus they won PWG's DDT4 tourney at the start of the year. In addition to these accolades (which illustrate how highly they're regarded around the world) the duo also had cracking matches with Kevin Steen and El Generico, the Forever Hooligans, and Adrenalin RUSH (and those are just the ones I saw). If they worked regularly in a company I can watch more I'm sure they'd be placed higher.

4. American Wolves
The year's ended on a bit of a sour note for these two. They should have enjoyed a swan song at Final Battle but instead Davey was expelled from the company for speaking out of turn during an interview, leaving 'Die Hard' to team with BJ Whitmer against the random unit of Jay Lethal and Roderick Strong.

Before they were robbed of the send-off they deserved (by Richards' big mouth) they'd been one of ROH's most popular acts, helping to remind everyone that the tag titles could be seen as main events prizes too. They had plenty of good matches but I particularly enjoyed their dream match against the Forever Hooligans at the 11th Anniversary and their unsuccessful title challenge at Supercard of Honor VII. ROH will miss having access to the Wolves.

3. Cody Rhodes and Goldust
Had the brothers Rhodes been together for another couple of months they'd probably be number one on this list. They've not had a single bad match since being paired up in October. They bring out the best in each other and the team has benefited greatly from 'The Bizarre One' seemingly being in the prime of his career. I've never wanted a tag team split to be held off more.

2. The Shield
Here I'm talking about Rollins and Reigns, although their six man work alongside Dean Ambrose has been great too. As a pair they had a five month reign as WWE’s tag team champions after besting the incomparably popular Team Hell No. During their time with the gold they had great doubles outings against Bryan and Orton, The Prime Time Players, the brothers Uso, and the brothers Rhodes. They were the most reliable, storyline formidable, and dominant duo in a tag team division which heated up considerably as the year went on. I think the success of Rollins and Reigns as a duo helped convince WWE that the tag scene was worth investing time in. Is there any greater success in a company like WWE than that?

1. reDRagon
Put simply they were the best tag team in Ring of Honor, a company that despite its faults remained the best promotion (that I watch, anyway) for tag wrestling. After capturing the tag team titles from perennial top boys the Briscoes at the 11th Anniversary Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly went to produce great matches with everyone they faced. Their matches against The Forever Hooligans and The American Wolves were amongst the best offerings from ROH all year. And it’s not just in the ring that they shine: Fish’s arrogant heel persona has brought out some long-needed character in O’Reilly and they’ve been one of ROH’s top antagonist acts.

Top Twenty Wrestlers of the Year

20. Big Show
Another year, another ridiculous number of face-heel switches for 'The World's Largest Athlete'. Despite this character inconsistency he remained surprisingly (uncharacteristically, considering his career as a whole) reliable in the ring. He had an above average programme with Alberto Del Rio at the beginning of the year, numerous excellent outings opposite various members of The Shield, and a fine encounter with Randy Orton at Extreme Rules.

The autumn saw Show become embroiled in the Authority plot. The payoff match he had with Randy Orton at Survivor Series was dreadful, the worst WWE pay-per-view main event of the year (a pity they couldn’t recapture the synergy they had at Extreme Rules). But Show kept getting strong reactions throughout the entire thing and his mic work was top notch. I wouldn't be surprised to see him back on top next year. WWE seems happy to have him floating up and down the card, and he's proven he can slot in where needed.

19. Randy Orton
When his return to the main event came at SummerSlam he instantly transformed himself into one of the most irritating wrestlers on the planet. Why? Because he can probably. Before that he’d quietly been having a good year. He met Big Show in ‘The Giant’s’ best match of the year at Extreme Rules, had a wild-by-modern-standards street fight with Daniel Bryan on the June 24th RAW, and was part of the frenetic six man opener opposite The Shield at WrestleMania. And unifying the WWE and World Heavyweight titles has to count for something right?

18. Seth Rollins
Along with his Shield teammates Rollins helped to popularise six man tag matches this year. The number of amazing trios outings they had verges on astonishing. There are far too many to list, but two appear in the top ten matches list and several others have been mentioned elsewhere. Rollins also teamed with Reigns as a duo to enliven the traditional tag scene, and had numerous excellent singles matches, most notably against Daniel Bryan (but doesn’t everyone?).

17. Roman Reigns
His entry could be substituted for Rollins’ for the most part. It was only during the final few months of the year he begun to rack up accomplishments he didn’t have to share. Survivor Series saw him as the sole survivor, being booked as a dominant force that encouraged cheers. The next month at TLC Reigns was once again booked to elicit cheers, and sympathy too. They’ll end up as career highlights one day. And I suspect there’s another one on the way at the Royal Rumble.

A stare that makes butter, ice and women melt

16. AJ Styles
'The Phenomenal One' was, as usual, one of TNA's best in-ring performers this year. Despite being lumbered with a knock off of Sting's fifteen year old Crow gimmick he managed to remain one of the company's most over performers. He ends the year as a jobbing indy talent but I think it's likely he'll resurface in the promotion he's most associated with next year. When that happens a feud with Magnus seems likely. In the meantime there are plenty of fresh matches for him to have in Ring of Honor.

15. Dean Ambrose
The best all-round member of The Shield: solid ring psychology and a damn fine wrestler. It’s the quirky little touches that have helped to set him apart from his compatriots this year. And his singles outings, of course. He’s been called on for non-tag outings more than Reigns or Rollins. The best was his meeting with The Undertaker on the April 26th SmackDown, but he also had worthwhile matches with Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and (astonishingly mayhap) Big E Langston.

14. Dolph Ziggler
Everything went well for Vickie Guerrero's former client in the first half of the year before falling apart in the second. He lasted for nearly fifty minutes in the Royal Rumble and got great reactions at Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania despite being in matches that were basically meaningless. His cash-in on the April 8 RAW was unquestionably the high point of his year and the catalyst for WWE's decision to turn him face.

That happened in a fantastic double turn encounter against Alberto Del Rio at Payback, a match almost equalled by its rematch at Money in the Bank the next month. But that's where things fell apart. After MITB Ziggler found himself in an afterthought bout against Big E Langston and spent the last few months of the year in similar matches on RAW, SmackDown and PPV pre-shows. It's not too late for WWE to get behind him again but I don't think they will.

13. Austin Aries
'A Double' would have really had to go some to better the year he had in 2012. Unsurprisingly he didn't manage it. He remained amongst TNA's best all-rounders and had high quality matches with everyone from Jeff Hardy to Kurt Angle, and had an all too short run tagging with Bobby Roode but Bully Ray's push and too many flips between the heel and face divisions kept him from being TNA's top boy on this list.

12. Johnny Gargano
Mr Gargano was the best thing on every Dragon Gate USA show I watched. His match with SHINGO at Open the Ultimate Gate is ranked seventh in my top matches of the year and his battle with Chris Hero from Freedom Fight came close to making it in too. His lengthy reign as Open the Freedom Gate champion, which started in November 2011 and is still chugging along now, has given that title meaning. I'm interested to see it he can he hold on to it for another full year.

His promos are not as smooth as they could be but they're fine for a headliner in a company that emphasises wrestling ability. As a wrestler he's more than deserving of a mention here. Johnny Gargano is DG USA's best all-rounder.

11. Kevin Steen
'Mr Wrestling's' world title reign started with a bang in 2012. It stumbled to a halt in 2013. After an exciting defence against Tadarius Thomas he had a mild letdown against Jay Lethal at the 11 Anniversary Show before finally losing the strap to Jay Briscoe. From there had a confusing meeting with Matt Hardy at Best in the World, made it to the semi-finals of the world title tournament and then got into a series with Michael 'Don't Call Me Mike, Bro' Bennett. That produced a spirited stretcher match at Final Battle but I can't help but feel nobody in ROH has known what to do with Steen since he lost the title. He remains popular and always does well with what he's given. He's just not being given that much.

10. CM Punk
Although he's remained one of WWE's most consistent wrestlers and promo men he failed to capture spirit and attention as he had in previous years. He started off fairly well, bringing his lengthy WWE championship reign to a close with two underrated outings against The Rock. The match that followed, opposite The Undertaker, was one of the best of the year, but the feud that accompanied it signalled the beginning of Punk's decline.

When he returned in June after some time off he contributed to the list of lacklustre Chris Jericho pay-per-view matches of 2013. The overly long programme that Paul Heyman that followed didn't produce anything of value (yep, including the Punk v Lesnar SummerSlam bout). Punk did have good matches this year, they just weren't frequent enough for a good with his spot and role. Hopefully 2014 will see a return his 2011 form.

9. Sami Zayn
The artist formerly known as El Generico has proven that he can achieve at least some success in "the big leagues". The regulars at the NXT Arena have rallied behind his smooth and charismatic in-ring performances and he's shown that he's a dan hand with a microphone. His series with Antonio Cesaro was the highlight of his year but he's also had great matches against everyone from Bo Dallas to Leo Kruger. Easily NXT's MVP of 2013.

8. Cody Rhodes
Cody is almost the inverse of Dolph Ziggler: his year picked up at Money in the Bank where 'The Show Off's' slowed down. Unlike Dolph Cody had more highlights in his hot portion of the year and his bad period wasn't as bad.

His Rhodes Scholars unit with Damien Sandow was an early highlight of the year for WWE, although they weren't utilised as well as they could have been and didn't get the tag title reign they deserved. Cody did get a reign with those belts though: his team with (half) bro Goldust has continued to keep the tag team scene invigorated since defeating The Shield on the October 14th RAW. That was the best match on the show, a trend that's continued at Hell in a Cell, Survivor Series and TLC. And he had that excellently booked face turn during his near victory in a Money in the Bank match too!

7. Antonio Cesaro
‘The Swiss Superman’s’ year started with his push being halted. Never a good sign. That lasted through WrestleMania, culminating with his loss of the US title to Kofi Kingston in order to get it on to Dean Ambrose. A month later things picked up for him, presumably because WWE had time for him again with ‘Mania out of the way.

In May he started his great feud with Sami Zayn on NXT. In June he formed an on-screen alliance with Zeb Colter and began tagging with Jack Swagger. What could have been one of many random and forgettable WWE pairings has endured thanks to the work Swagger and Cesaro have done making themselves look and wrestle like a unit. He’s not won all that often but Antonio Cesaro has turned everything thrown at him and made it work. He even got the Big Swing over!

6. Bully Ray
It was Bully Ray not AJ Styles who did the most to hold the perpetually sinking ship that is TNA together this year. His work as a hard case good guy from January to March was very good but it was bettered by the heel character he played from Lockdown onwards. Showing a nice blend of bravado and cowardice Ray was easily the best performer TNA had from a promo point of view.

In the ring his cage match with Jeff Hardy was mildly disappointing but was balanced by the manic Full Metal Mayhem (tables, ladders and chairs rules) bout that followed it. The reverse was true for his pair of title switches with Chris Sabin: the first was a shambles but the second was pretty fulfilling. His Slammiversary main event opposite Sting was pretty good, considering 'The Stinger's' limits. Meanwhile Bully’s Bound For Glory effort against AJ Styles, while incredibly strange in its booking, was as good as it could have been. Sadly it wasn't as good as it needed to be to get TNA out of the trouble it's in, but that's normal by now.

5. Adam Cole
The heel turn in ROH is clearly the thing that got Cole here. He teased it for well over six months but always in a way that left you unsure when and where the official turn would come. More importantly he made it believable. His motives for going bad were obvious to anyone watching.

In the ring Cole had probably the best match of the ROH world title tournament when he clashed with Michael Elgin in the final, gave Jay Briscoe the best challenge of his ill-conceived reign, and had good matches with everyone he was pitted against, from Tommaso Ciampa to Roderick Strong. With Elgin not being allowed anywhere near the world championship by ROH management (at least not right now) Cole is the best choice to have the belt.
Adam Cole may have the title but he's not the highest ranking ROH wrestler on this list
4. Michael Elgin
If Michael Elgin's not been the best wrestler in ROH this year I don't know who has. He's not only had some of the promotion's best matches against Jay Lethal, Kevin Steen, Paul London and Adam Cole but he's also become a master of electric finishing sequences. That's an important skill for any wrestler to have, but it's particularly crucial in Ring of Honor. He has grown into a dependable member of the roster.

Will 2014 finally be the year he wins the ROH world championship? I'd like to think so, but I've learnt my lesson about hoping for it. I’ll say it would be nice and leave it at that.

3. Alberto Del Rio
'The Essence of Excellence' excelled this year as the epitome of an upper mid-carder. His feuds with Big Show and John Cena produced matches far better than could have been realistically expected and he had the rivalry of the year with Dolph Ziggler. The two men never had a bad match, even when they were lumbered with disappointing DQ finishes and four minute run times. He also proved he could work as a babyface and survive without Ricardo Rodriguez.

I don't think ADR will ever get back into main events on a regular basis but that's okay. He's found his niche on the card.

2. Daniel Bryan
Four entries on my top ten matches of the year list and only at number two?  Yes. Bryan had more incredible matches than any other wrestler in any company I follow this year. He had dozens of high quality matches. Antonio Cesaro, Ryback, John Cena, every member of The Shield, Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow are amongst the men he’s had notable matches with this year. There are others. In the ring nobody has come close to bettering Bryan.

But there’s a reason he’s not at the very top of this list. As good as he was in the ring he wasn’t as good as he could have been with his promos. He’s playing a character that doesn’t really talk very much and when he does he’s capable of putting his point across eloquently and effectively. But the spot he’s in (number one, two or three babyface depending on who you ask and what WWE’s doing with his push at the time) requires just a bit more. Bryan is not the sort of guy who could open up RAW with a twenty minute promo without being interrupted, and he’s now at the level where he should be seen as capable of doing that.

In the ring Bryan is the best in WWE. But as a headliner there’s been one man better than him in 2013…

1. John Cena
The previous two times I've put together a Year End Awards post I've dismissed ranking Cena amongst the best wrestlers of the year out of hand. Everyone knows he's not very good in the ring and that his promos are childish and rivalries and matches with The Miz and John Laurinaitis haven't changed that.

Things have been different this year. This year Cena has lived up to his spot. He appears on my top ten matches list no less than four times, and that's a list that omits his involvement in the six man tag match at Elimination Chamber (opposite The Shield with Sheamus and Ryback), his successful defence of the World Heavyweight championship against Damien Sandow on the October 28th RAW, and the better than expected match he had with Mark Henry at Money in the Bank. Cena has had more great matches in 2013 than I can remember him having in one calendar year ever before. He's proven that he can wrestle to a high standard and draw people into matches with people who aren't CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. As a main event guy that's what he should be doing, along with providing first class promos as and when necessary but that's his speciality.

This is a John Cena I don't have a problem seeing at the top of the card. I hope he sticks around.
The best wrestler of 2013

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