Sunday 28 December 2014

Year End Awards 2014

For the fourth year in a row I’ll kick this bad boy off by saying that wrestling attracts lists. Also for the fourth year in a row I’m presenting lists of my favourite wrestling-related things of 2014. Previous years' awards can be found here (2011), here (2012), and here (2013).

But this year there are a few changes. In previous years I’ve kicked off with the five best characters in wrestling. That won’t be happening this year. There are two reasons for that. First, I didn’t think it was a particularly interesting topic anymore. Second, it’s a slog to write this thing and I felt that if I wasn’t especially interested in the topic it wasn’t worth writing about. For anyone interested Batista and Damien Sandow definitely would have made it onto that list. Tyler Breeze probably would have as well.

That leaves us five categories: top cards, top feuds, top matches, top tag teams, and top individual wrestlers. People with too much time on their hands may notice when reading what follows that the number of ranked cards has expanded from five to ten. I’ve no idea why I’ve only previously done five. It seems a pretty slim amount. Ten’s far more natural so that’s what I’ve done here. On this subject the number of feuds would have been expanded if there were enough interesting feuds on offer. Maybe next year.

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. If English language commentary becomes a regular thing for New Japan, or if I end up signing up to their streaming service, that could very well change by this time next year.

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 Daniel Bryan and Jay Briscoe for example, despite both men being world champions. Even within WWE there are different expectations of wrestlers: more is expected of Seth Rollins than of, say, Jack Swagger.

Last year I noted that TNA had had to make some cutbacks which had resulted in “their product become more unfocused and counterproductive than I think it’s ever been before.” Little did I know that things would become worse this year. As such TNA barely features on these lists at all. What positives the company has aren’t used well enough to make me interested in watching, and if they’re not making me watch they don’t get ranked. EVOLVE fans may be pleased to see them getting a few mentions.

We’ll start, for the first time ever, with the top shows category (because the traditional opener of the top characters has gone). It should be a fairly self-explanatory subject. If you can’t figure it out probably give this post a miss, eh?

Top Ten Shows of the Year

10. ROH Best in the World (22.06.14)
(Full review here.)
This is the show where Michael Elgin finally captured the ROH world championship. Yep, a mere twenty-seven months after he became the hottest star in the company in an unsuccessful challenge against Davey Richards. Was it worth waiting for? Well… it was a good match with the right result but it came over a year too late, and I think the crowd reaction and following reign reflected that. But it’s worth watching, as are the tag title match, Strong v Alexander, Steen v Young, and the no DQ tag bout.

9. ROH 12th Anniversary Show (21.02.14)
(Full review here.)
At the time it felt like it was existing between bigger events, which is something that often happens with ROH’s anniversary offerings. But reDRagon v Adrenalin RUSH, Hero v Cole, and the show-closing brawl between Kevin Steen and Cliff Compton all have something to offer and make this a show worth revisiting.

8. ROH All Star Extravaganza VI (06.09.14)
(Full review here.)
This show is probably most notable for Elgin’s unceremonial loss of the ROH title to Jay Briscoe, apparently necessitated by Visa issues that were sorted out fairly promptly. While good that match was not the best thing on offer. That accolade went to reDRagon v The Young Bucks. Cole v Styles was a strong effort too, as was Jay Lethal’s TV title defence against Cedric Alexander. It was a show that featured a number of matches we don’t usually see, and benefitted accordingly.

Best ROH TV champion ever? Your call...

7. WWE WrestleMania XXX (06.04.14)
(Full review here.)
Despite being incorrectly referred to as WrestleMania’s thirtieth anniversary (it was the thirtieth edition, there’s a difference) WWE got the important things right with their biggest card of the year. Daniel Bryan got two of the most popular victories of his career and Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista all did their best to make him look good getting them. Cesaro also got the most noteworthy win of his WWE career so far when he won the Andre The Giant Battle Royal (hey, it’s not his fault nothing’s been done with him since). Those matches and performances were strong enough to make the show memorable in spite of a shoddy Undertaker v Lesnar match and a rushed Shield six man.

6. WWE Elimination Chamber (23.02.14)
(Full review here.)
This show is here because of three matches: Titus O’Neil v Darren Young, Cameron v AJ Lee, and Alberto Del Rio v Batista. I’m joking, of course. It’s the Chamber match and the Shield v Wyatts six man collision that are most memorable about this show and they’re two of the reasons I’m ranking it here. The third is the Big E v Jack Swagger opener, which was far better than anyone could have reasonably expected. That nothing was done with Swags and E off the back of that performance is exactly what was wrong with WWE this year.

5. NXT ArRIVAL (27.02.14)
(Full review here.)
Looking back I think this was the show where people realised that NXT was more than just an enjoyable developmental programme. In these two hours the NXT crew put on a show better than the vast majority of RAWs (possibly all RAWs) this year and became “the new ECW” or “the new ROH in its prime” or whatever else you want to label it. Basically, it became better than WWE’s main product with this show. We all just took a while to realise.

4. WWE SummerSlam (17.08.14)
(Full review here.)
Brock Lesnar’s fifteen minute demolition of John Cena is the obvious thing to mention here. It was something different to the average WWE match made all the more powerful because it was the usually untouchable Cena who took the one-sided beating. Supported by Ambrose and Rollins’ wild lumberjack fight, a surprisingly entertaining Stephanie McMahon match, a great Rusev v Swagger match, and what was probably Miz’s best match of the year opposite Dolph Ziggler, this was the best main roster effort from WWE all year.

Sixteen of these bad boys. Sixteen!

3. ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds (17.05.14)
(Full review here.)
ROH and New Japan collaborating to put on some never before seen matches was practically guaranteed to produce a great card so it wasn’t a surprise when it did. In spite of some odd choices (The Decade v Gedo and Jado and Hiroshi Tanahashi being tasked with carrying Michael Bennett) the event was a classic. The three-way main event was very good, an achievement in itself considering how unfamiliar the three were with one another, Jay Lethal and Kushida had a wonderful tussle over the ROH TV strap, and the Bucks and reDRagon had one of their many great matches. The news that the two groups will offer a similar collaboration in 2015 was most welcome.

2. NXT Takeover: R Evolution (11.12.14)
(Full review here.)
It’s probably a bad sign that WWE’s best show of the year was one put on by developmental talent. Because the main roster is clogged up with guys like Big Show, Mark Henry and R-Truth, none of whom are capable of contributing anything constructive, names like Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Finn Bálor and Hideo Itami have to make do with wrestling on Network specials. It’s not how the world’s biggest wrestling promotion should be run.

What’s good is that the stupidity of the company doesn’t seem to get any of the performers down. All of them do amazing work week after week, participating in a well-written, logical show that doesn’t rush anything and gives its characters time to development. The result of that approach is R Evolution. If that’s not a reason to apply that approach to the main roster I don’t know what is.

1. ROH Final Battle (07.12.14)
(Full review here.)
Ring of Honor takes the best show spot with, well, the best show of the year. It was easy to overlook how good Final Battle was as it came just days before NXT’s acclaimed R Evolution event. As much as I enjoyed the NXT spesh Ring of Honor’s year-ender was better. Every match did what it needed to. The majority did far more. The three title matches, the six man bout, and Strong v Page were all cracking efforts, and there was even an amusing swerve turn from Veda Scott. The show could not have done more. If this were the benchmark for ROH they could expand in no time.

Top Five Feuds of the Year

5. reDRagon v The Young Bucks
It wasn’t the most heavily emphasised rivalry in wrestling but the two teams clashed several times during the year: Raising the Bar Part 2, War of the Worlds, All Star Extravaganza VI, and the Super Junior tourney finals show. Every single time they did they produced something very enjoyable, and usually superior to their previous clash.

4. The Shield v Evolution
The two teams only met twice. But both of those matches were excellent and there was a compelling story to the feud: The Shield were tired of being used as mere enforcers by ‘The Game’ and The Authority so they turned babyface. It sounds simple and it was, but there were layers and nuances to it that really made it stand out, such as Triple H becoming obsessed with ending The Shield at any cost and the way the programme was presented as having tinges of the young guys wanting to take the older guys’ spots. Plus, of course, there was the ending. Which we’ll get to in a moment…

Note Batista's stylish red boots.

3. Sami Zayn v Adrian Neville
Friendly rivalries are not something we see all too often in WWE which is a shame as they can be very effective when done right. As was the case with Neville and Zayn’s rivalry. What’s particularly good about it, looking back, is that it actually had the seeds sown for it (intentionally or not) in late 2013 when the pair clashed in a number one contenders match (won by Neville).

They started interacting more frequently in the lead-up to Takeover II, being presented as pals that shared a healthy competitive streak. As things escalated, Neville becoming increasingly antagonistic and Zayn played the troubled babyface, doubting himself as he continued to fail in his quest to capture the NXT gold, the pair participated in a number of exciting matches against one another and shared opponents (such as that young prospect Titus O’Neil), and even had a couple of memorable verbal exchanges. They made everything they did matter.

2. Daniel Bryan v The Authority
It was the rivalry that drove the 2014 WrestleMania Season. And one of the reasons I like that fact is that it wasn’t the original plan. Things had to be rejigged after the CM Punk walkout and the fans’ unwaveringly positive reactions to Daniel Bryan week after week.

It worked because it stuck to probably the most successful formula WWE has ever had: the downtrodden babyface who keeps going no matter what’s thrown at him. Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Batista, Randy Orton ad Kane were all deployed against D-Bry in a wide variety of skits and segments and he kept going, determined to win the WWE championship. His opening match battle with Tripper at WrestleMania XXX was a joy to watch and cleverly saw Bryan gain the retribution he needed to before he went on to have his moment of victory later in the night when he made ‘The Animal’ tap out to the Yes Lock for the title.

1. Dean Ambrose v Seth Rollins
When The Shield were split and went their separate ways I was disappointed. Not only did it feel like the lads had plenty left to accomplish together but I wanted to see a member of a faction win the WWE championship without his teammates turning on him. It came across as an act of desperation designed to distract viewers from the absence of Daniel Bryan rather than a well-considered move that would improve WWE programming.

But improve WWE programming it did. Rollins became a bratty, entitled egotist who was handed opportunity after opportunity and cheated to come out on top every time. Ambrose was cast as the deranged vigilante, the one man determined to give Rollins what he deserved. After making us wait nearly three months for a proper match the pair didn’t disappoint: they had a great battle at SummerSlam and followed up with memorable performances on the August 18 RAW and at Hell in a Cell. It was exactly the rivalry WWE needed to make it through the year without their hottest star.

Greatest rivalry of 2014. Fact.

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. Big E v Jack Swagger – WWE Elimination Chamber (23.02.14)

9. Sami Zayn v Adrian Neville – NXT R Evolution (11.12.14)

8. Dean Ambrose v Seth Rollins – Falls Count Anywhere match, WWE RAW 18.08.14

7. Kushida v Jay Lethal – ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds (17.05.14)

6. reDRagon v Time Splitters – ROH Final Battle (07.12.14)

5. Dean Ambrose v Seth Rollins – Lumberjack match, WWE SummerSlam (17.08.14)

4. The Shield v Evolution – No holds barred elimination match, WWE Payback (01.06.14)

3. reDRagon v Young Bucks – ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds (17.05.14)

2. The Shield v The Wyatt Family – WWE Elimination Chamber (23.02.14)

1. Cesaro v Sami Zayn – NXT ArRIVAL (27.02.14)

Top Ten Tag Teams of the Year

10. New Age Outlaws
Because the Outlaws were in the first wrestling match I ever really paid attention to and they're the reason I became a fan. There's no way I'm passing up an opportunity to rank them somewhere in a Year End Awards in what will probably be my only chance. Plus they won the tag belts and had more than competent matches with the Usos and the Rhodes brothers. That’s enough to justify their inclusion.

9. The Vaudevillains
A vaudeville act that enters the arena as part of a silent movie. One is a strong man incapable of working a particularly strong man style. The other is a skinny, pale fella originally introduced as a singer. Written down it sounds a mess. But the pair have done everything possible to set themselves apart on a lively, interesting roster. For that they deserve a tonne of credit.

8. The Usos
Jimmy and Jey had the underwhelming honour of being WWE’s most reliable team, guys who’d always put on a good match and occasionally push themselves to great ones. Their most notable offerings this year were a pair of tag matches against Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan, their tag team title win over the New Age Outlaws in early March, and a six man tag match against The Wyatt Family alongside John Cena, towards the beginning of their lengthy series with Harper and Rowan. The trouble the Usos have is that they’re in WWE, where tag wrestling takes a back seat. That and the fact that they’re not especially interesting characters.

7. The Wolves
TNA’s premier tag team. It’s not much, but it’s something. They did put in good performances against Team 3D and the Hardy Boys in the three-way series, getting the overall victory when they won a Full Metal Mayhem match (on Impact because TNA can’t afford pay-per-view). Outside of that series Eddie and Davey rarely shone, but they did have a handful of decent outings against The BroMans and MVP’s heel unit.

They'd have been better off in ROH.

6. Adrenaline RUSH
ROH were stupid to split ACH and TaDarius Thomas back in April. There was so much more that could have been done with them and a disservice was done to the tag division by not pitting them against The Young Bucks. Imagine how good a Bucks v reDRagon v Adrenaline RUSH match could have been! In less than three months they had numerous exciting matches with reDRagon and even dragged enjoyable showings from various Decade pairings. They were exactly the sort of team that makes ROH worthwhile.

5. The Dust Brothers
The Rhodes boys had competent matches against the New Age Outlaws at the start of the year before doing a whole lot of not much for months on end. They were reinvigorated when Cody became Stardust: he threw himself into the new persona and Goldust subtly reconfigured himself to become the intimidating enforcer of the team. It’s tough for tag teams to stand out in WWE but the Dusts have come about as close as can be reasonably expected.

4. The Bravado Brothers
After sending The Young Bucks packing from EVOLVE (in storyline because of a suspension, in reality because the Bucks cost top dollar) the Bravados went on to become the longest reigning Open the United Gate champions ever. They became the focal point of a thin but talented doubles scene in the company, working a series of matches with The Colony before progressing to The Premier Athlete Brand. Not the flashiest wrestlers but a pair of guys who know their gimmick and make the most of what they do well. Not bad for a pair of guys Ring of Honor (stupidly) cut a year or two back.

3. The Premier Athlete Brand
Technically this entry should about the pairing of Caleb Konley and Anthony Nese, but Trent Barreta tagged with both men on different occasions and all three wrestled some very good trios matches throughout the year. The Brand’s highlights of 2014 were a win in the six man tournament final at Mercury Rising, a loss in a spot-heavy TLC match against Uhaa Nation, AR Fox and Rich Swann, their tag title victory at EVOLVE 35, and their three-way collision with The Colony and the Bravados on the final night of the WWN China tour. Not bad for a group who hadn’t really teamed at the end of 2013.

2. The Young Bucks
They had great but psychology lite matches with everyone. Most notably they tangled several times with reDRagon and always put on a great show. In addition to that they had enjoyable bouts against Daniels and Kazarian, the Briscoes, and the dashed together pairing of ACH and Matt Sydal. This is, of course, without mentioning their stellar New Japan work (for reasons discussed above), although I say that their three-way IWGP junior tag defence against Forever Hooligans and Time Splitters at Global Wars was top notch.

1. reDRagon
Another really strong year for Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly, the undisputed team to beat in ROH as well as two of its most well-defined and popular characters. With two ROH tag title reigns to their name, one of which started in 2013 and the other of which started in May and is still going at well over two hundred days, and cracking bouts against The Young Bucks, The Addiction, Adrenalin RUSH and Time Splitters, amongst others, there was no other choice for the number one spot. Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly continue to be the benchmark for tag team wrestling.

Two time tag team of the year winners. Prestigious, no?

Top Twenty Wrestlers of the Year

20. Jack Swagger
Even 2010, the year he won the World Heavyweight championship, wasn’t as good a year for Swagger as 2014 was. He was part of an underutilised tag team with Cesaro until they split had some enjoyable matches after WrestleMania. His summer series of matches with Rusev were surprisingly gripping and he made a surprise appearance in the Matches of the Year list alongside Big E.  

19. John Cena
Cena had a pretty unspectacular year all told. He failed to elevate Bray Wyatt in their feud and had numerous unspectacular high profiles matches on RAW and pay-per-view, many of which co-starred 'Mr Charisma' Randy Orton. But he did have two very enjoyable main events against Brock Lesnar and did a good job of making 'The Beast' look unstoppable in both (though particularly the first). He ended the year on a strong note with a decent tables match victory over Seth Rollins at TLC.

18. Rusev
‘The Super Athlete’ has been very good as an emotionless, unstoppable killer. He sells far more than he needs to and he’s had above average matches with everyone from Big E to Jack Swagger to Sheamus. He’s gotten his character over (with an assist from Lana) and been sensibly protected. One of WWE’s few successes.

17. Bad News Barrett
Took a bit part on a YouTube show produced by obnoxious commentators and turned it into one of the most over characters in wrestling. His post-'Mania RAW match opposite Rey Mysterio was a fun demolition and his IC title winning outing against Big E at Extreme Rules exceeded expectations. Had he not had some, ahem, bad news in the form of a separated shoulder Barrett would likely be much higher on this list. I hope his push gets back on track in 2015. The dude deserves it.

And yes, Barrett's half year in WWE was better than anyone's full year in TNA.

16. Luke Harper
Got a borderline-stunning win (via interference, natch) over Dolph Ziggler for the Intercontinental title late in the year. The rematches they had were amongst the few highlights of the TV shows they were on. This is in addition to the six man matches he worked as part of The Wyatt Family, most notably the ones against Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns, all of which were never less than fun.

He'd have been number one in a Greying Beard category.

15. ACH
ACH retained his status as both ROH’s premier flyer and wrestler least effected by ring psychology. He didn’t get any major wins over any established company names but he did have some electric outings against everyone from Adam Cole to Jay Briscoe to his favoured sparring partner Cedric Alexander. Before Adrenaline RUSH were (prematurely) split they had been a highlight of ROH’s tag division. That they didn’t get more opportunities to steal the show with reDRagon and The Young Bucks is a real shame. But now that he’s been selected for a prominent singles role ACH deserves to be one of ROH’s most heavily pushed guys in 2015.

14. Cesaro
Cesaro seemed poised for big things back in April. After winning the Andre The Giant Battle Royal, to a huge pop, he broke away from Real Americans tag partner Jack Swagger and took on Paul Heyman as his manager. But after winning a three-way match against Swagger and Rob Van Dam at Extreme Rules nothing much was done with the Cesaro and Heyman pairing. After they split a few months later Cesaro was mostly used as a guy who’d produce good matches, most notably against Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler on pay-per-view. It’s nice that he’s seen as reliable but so much more could be done with him.

13. Bray Wyatt
Character-wise it was a great year for 'The Eater of Worlds'. He managed to turn every sketchy bit of material sent his way into something worth watching. Unfortunately he was lumbered with a string of less-than-ideal opponents and gimmick matches. John Cena in the spring and early summer for example. His programme with Dean Ambrose has yet to pick up. It might end without doing so. The pointless autumn sabbatical didn't help either. But when he was good (v Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble, v The Shield at Elimination Chamber, the ladder match at Money in the Bank) he was really good.

12. Roman Reigns
Yeah, Roman Reigns. Surprising, right? He rose to the occasion in the Royal Rumble, making sure he looked like the machine he was booked to be. He participated in great six man tags before The Shield were split, most notably against the Wyatts and Evolution. He again looked like a beast in the WWE championship ladder match at Money in the Bank and did what he could at Battleground a month later. Sadly, things fell apart for him after that, with a drab SummerSlam outing opposite an unmotivated Randy Orton preceding a three month layoff. He's going to struggle as the leading man WWE seem keen to cast him as but he has at least proven he'll give every chance he's given his all, and that he’s trying to improve. 

11. Johnny Gargano
‘The Whole Shebang’s’ epic run as Open the Freedom Gate champ was ended at the hands of Ricochet in a great match at Open the Ultimate Gate in April. Seven months later Gargano regained the title during the WWN tour of China in another belter opposite Ricochet. In between he produced compelling work with Anthony Nese, Matt Sydal, Drew Gulak and Rich Swann and turned babyface again. His burgeoning rivalry with The Premier Athlete Brand should be a highlight of EVOLVE in 2015.

10. Daniel Bryan
This should have been Daniel Bryan's year. The WWE creative hive mind okayed a pushed for him when it became obvious that audiences weren’t willing to accept a Batista v Orton singles main event at WrestleMania. That saw him beat Triple H in the ‘Mania opener before capturing the WWE title in the main event. Had he not needed an extended amount of time off the likelihood is that he’d have held the title until SummerSlam before dropping it to Brock Lesnar. Instead he made a single defence against Kane before vacating the strap and getting surgery. Appearances he’s made since indicate he’s as popular as he was at the start of 2014 so hopefully he can return and get back on track next year.

9. Jay Briscoe
He got a surprise second reign as ROH champion when visa issues necessitated a quick change from Michael Elgin. He then got a surprise extension of that reign when Adam Cole's Final Battle win was scrapped because of injury concerns. It wasn't just luck that got him placed here though. Briscoe had enjoyable matches at the ROH 12th Anniversary Show, Glory by Honor XIII, and Final Battle, and tag outings alongside his brother at War of the Worlds, Survival of the Fittest Night Two, and Champions Versus All-Stars. At this point he is out doubtlessly ROH's 'Mr Reliable'.

Headliners of the show of the year.

8. Tyler Breeze
'The Gorgeous One' arguably has the most rounded act in all of NXT. He has a unique look. He can talk. And he can wrestle a very good match. Obviously his performances at the NXT specials were all particularly good, but his less noteworthy matches, such as the three-way against Zayn and Kidd, his match with Kalisto, his unsuccessful challenge for Neville’s title on episode 111, and his tag match alongside Tyson Kidd against Hideo Itami and Finn Bálor, were worth a look too. If Neville and Zayn make the leap to the main roster next year then ‘The Gorgeous One’ could finally get his hands on the NXT championship.

7. Adam Cole
For the first half of the year he was the ROH world champion and during that time he produced great defences against Chris Hero, Kevin Steen, Jushin Liger, ACH, and Jay Briscoe in a hard-hitting Ladder War at the Anniversary Show. He dropped the strap to the not-as-hot-as-he-was-in-2013 Michael Elgin in a solid headliner at Best in the World and then focused on establishing his Kingdom faction with Michael Bennett and Maria Kanellis (and later Matt Taven). The second half of the year saw him work some “dream matches” against the likes of Matt Sydal and AJ Styles before failing to regain the title from Briscoe in a wild Fight Without Honor. With or without the world title Cole was ROH's top in-ring performer.

6. Dean Ambrose
Seemingly surpassed Roman Reigns in popularity after the split of The Shield thanks to his Feud of the Year opposite Seth Rollins. Their matches never failed to disappoint. They even managed to do something interesting with the usually tedious lumberjack gimmick. While they were doomed to fail their attempts to match Mick Foley’s death-defying bumps inside Hell in a Cell were appreciated. Before that split the Shield lads showed themselves to be the best three man unit WWE's ever had with their performance opposite the Wyatt Family at Elimination Chamber and Evolution at both Extreme Rules and Payback. It’s just a shame that he ended the year on low note in a dreary programme with Bray Wyatt.

5. Adrian Neville
'The Man That Gravity Forgot' was one of the many consistent highlights of NXT. His ladder match with Bo Dallas at the inaugural NXT special was ace, as were his defences against Tyler Breeze and Tyson Kidd, as well as the four-way match at Takeover II. Neville is a reliably crisp hand who can do incredible things in and around a wrestling ring. And his verbal work has been good too. Considering how wooden he's been in the past I think that deserves particular credit.

4. Dolph Ziggler
Floated about for the first half of the year before finally being given something meaningful to do in the second. With his three Intercontinental title reigns he desperately tried to make the championship mean something again. He didn't manage it trading the belt with The Miz but he fared better opposite Luke Harper. The handful of matches he had with Seth Rollins were excellent and I wish there’d been more. Survivor Series saw ‘The Show Off’ presented as a top guy, outlasting three heels to come back and win, sending The Authority packing.

He ended the PPV by having the match of the night at TLC. I hope the renewed interest in him carries over into 2015. Ziggler is a guy that fans want to see. WWE should be embracing that.

Solid back half. Not like that...

3. Ricochet
‘The Future of Flight’ became EVOLVE’s top star this year after defeating Johnny Gargano for the Open the Freedom Gate title and getting first dibs on choice opponents. His performances against Chris Hero, Trent Barreta, Matt Sydal, and Uhaa Nation were all first rate, as were his two title exchanges with Gargano. Outside of WWN Ricochet won a great Battle of Los Angeles tournament in PWG, became the first non-Japanese wrestler to win the Open the Dream gate championship, and defeated Kushida to win New Japan’s Best of the Super Junior tourney.

Surely he should be ‘The Present of Flight’ by now?

2. Sami Zayn
The former El Generico (I’m smashing kayfabe there, right?) stood out as the most naturally likeable man in all of wrestling this year. His ongoing quest for the NXT title was one of the plots that made NXT such an enjoyable watch during the year, punctuated with charismatic promos and attention-grabbing matches. Highlights of his year in the ring were matches against Corey Graves, Tyler Breeze (Takeover), Adrian Neville (R Evolution), Tyson Kidd, and, of course, his match of the year showing opposite Cesaro at the original NXT special. His upcoming programme with old rival Kevin Owens should be a highlight of NXT next year.

1. Seth Rollins
For the first half of the year Rollins was part of the incredibly popular Shield trio. That saw him participant in lively six man tag matches against The Wyatt Family at Elimination Chamber and Evolution at Extreme Rules and Payback, in addition to entertaining singles outings against Batista and Dolph Ziggler and a memorable performance from the number two spot in the Royal Rumble.

His heel turn on June 2 provided him the opportunity to change his act up for a prominent singles role, which he seized. It also provided the launching pad for his Feud of the Year opposite Dean Ambrose. The second half of the year saw Rollins enter a dynamic, and winning, performance in the Money in the Bank ladder match, wrestle the most enjoyable WWE lumberjack match in years, headline a pay-per-view in prime gimmick bout Hell in a Cell, and rub shoulders with top lad John Cena on TV and PPV.

Rollins made 2014 a breakout year for himself by seizing every opportunity WWE sent his way. If only everyone in WWE were given things to work with.
The best wrestler of 2014.

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