So here we are, boys and girls. At the culmination of the inaugural CRL 100 list of the greatest wrestlers of 2011/2012. We’ve all laughed, we’ve all cried, we’ve all been surprised and probably angry as well, but now it’s time so say goodbye and count down the final 25. But before we’re done we will have named the 25 men and women in wrestling who tore down barriers, built up legends and through incredible hard work and perseverance managed to place their names above all others. These 25 had a year that they will never forget, and had matches that left us in awe. Maybe they brawled so fiercely that it took your breath, or flew so gracefully that they seemed inhuman. Or hell, maybe they just made you laugh and knew how to kick someone upside the head properly.
Whatever the reason they’re here, the fact remains that they are. And with that, let’s find out just who in the fuck they are.
Seeing as this is the fourth part of this list, I’m not going to waste you time by reposting the Q&A that explained all the basics about the CRL 100. But if you did miss it, and somehow wound up on this website with no idea how to operate it, by all means follow THIS LINK RIGHT HERE and have all your cares and worries soothed away.
Onwards the list!
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.
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.
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 Tanahashi coming up, look for this rank to be quite a bit higher next year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 on woman can engineer a Diva turnaround, then it must be their uncrowned Queen.
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.
So this CM Punk guy, I hear he’s pretty good, huh?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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?
Hey, dear reader, did you enjoy this review? Did you want to leave hateful messages to the authors that will leave searing trails across their souls? Are you almost sure that we’re aliens and need further incriminating information? Then head right on over to our blog at Cewsh Reviews: The Blog
Relationship and carpentry advice is also available via email at email@example.com.
Other places you can catch the fever:
Cewsh Reviews: The Twitter
Cewsh Reviews: The Facebook Page