Friday, April 7, 2017

The 2016 TWB 100 Slow Release: NUMBER ONE

Without further ado, I'd like to ask a question. Do they want some? Time to find out...

Figured as much.

Dean Ambrose sure didn't want none
Photo Credit:
1. AJ Styles
Points: 5973
Number of Ballots: 62
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Antonio Cruz, Ryan Neely, Chris Gibbons, Joshua Browns, Dirk Kessler, Scott Raychel, David Hobbs, David Murphy, CMU Chips, Joey O., Butch Rosser, Pablo Alva, For All You Kids Out There, Elliot Imes, Ryan Kilma, Andrew Hewitt, Bryan Heaton, Sean Orleans, Kyle Kensing, Cewsh, Kevin Newburn, Henry Casey, Adam Shinder, The Lady J, Nicholas Reed, Dank Rizzo, Jon Hunt, Brian Brown, Brian Coulter, Brandon House, Alex Torres, Rich Fann, Deena, Nick Ahlhelm, Brady Childs)
Last Year’s Ranking: 19th Place

TH: As of Survivor Series 2015, the idea of AJ Styles competing in a WWE ring felt ludicrous to me. But then he showed up at the Royal Rumble and proceeded to tear off the best run on main roster WWE this past year, maybe even the best total run since Daniel Bryan was the company’s unofficial, unwanted ace between TLC 2012 and Extreme Rules 2014. Of course, it’s still going on right now, and I expect Styles to place highly in 2017’s list as well. But man, no matter what opponent WWE threw at him, he excelled. He was the guy against whom company smark cudgel/heir apparent to John Cena Roman Reigns had the best matches against. He made Chris Jericho look somewhat competent at WrestleMania, a feat that no one else in the calendar year of 2016 was able to do. The series against John Cena was wrestling at its finest. Hell, the SummerSlam match alone could have gotten Styles a spot in my top ten. And the best thing was he put it in every fucking week, one of the wrestlers on the main roster who didn’t seem to phone it in more than maybe once or twice. Everyone likes to scoff at the idea that Styles had to “prove something” in WWE, because hey, hey conquered every other company in the world and then some. But maybe he did have a chip on his shoulder, and that chip made his motor run all year long. All viewers of WWE were better for the experience.

Photo Credit:
Brock Jahnke: Unless some miracle of mathematics occurred that I missed, Styles made number one on this list by a wide margin. I get that, to some degree. His particular brand of mega-athletic highspots was spectacular in 2016, literally breathtaking at some points. But aside from that, his matches almost always leave me cold. I don’t find him to be an effective heel outside of his matches with one of the best babyfaces of all time, and the rest of his matches lack the sort of emotion or realism that I look for in wrestling. His matches make me raise my eyebrows but they don’t make me feel. Still, with a slew of good matches against John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose, it’s hard to leave him off my list.

Ryan Neely: I’ve never seen anyone who makes great wrestling look so easy, and yet do it in a way that you just know it’s actually crazy difficult and that the guy is just operating on a different plane of existence. If you look at the many of the other top wrestlers in WWE in 2016, at least four of the biggest had their best matches of the year against Styles: Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns, John Cena, and Dean Ambrose. That’s not a coincidence. For as fun and innovative and effective as his offense always looks, he also works so hard to make his opponents look good, too. The guys just gets wrestling.

The stuff with Cena will go down as the best and most memorable to me. I wish the payoff had been held until a Mania match, but I suppose that’s a different conversation. Cena looked almost gleeful in the ring at times in the same way he used to during the highpoints of the US Open Challenge days because he knew this was a guy he could do some genuinely cool shit with in the ring.

Photo Credit:
Joshua Browns: I’m not trying to denigrate anybody else’s vote, but I honestly can’t see any way to choose another wrestler at number this year. To be able to jump into the grueling WWE road schedule and deliver match after match at a high level (at nearly 40 years old, no less) is an astounding feat. Whether you’re looking at the tag run with Chris Jericho as Y2AJ, the feud with Jericho that followed, the SummerSlam matchup with John Cena, the three-way run between AJ, Cena, and Dean Ambrose, or even the astounding feat of getting a guy like James friggin’ Ellsworth over as the year came to a close, Styles has been money in the ring all year long, and he shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. I’ll close it out with a thought that might be somewhat in a “grey area” as it pertains to the rules of this particular vote, but it’s probably worth mentioning – the last time a guy came in from outside the WWE as an established “star” and 100 percent lived up to the hype was when Ric Flair showed up in 1991. That’s more than 25 years since the last time somebody made the kind of impact AJ Styles made in 2016.

Scott Raychel: No single wrestler had a better 2016 than AJ Styles. He started the year with a great match with Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom, then carried that momentum into the WWE (and the official qualifications for this list) and had great matches with all the top superstars in the company. He had match-of-the-year level main events with John Cena and Roman Reigns. He helped carry the New Day to probably the best match they've ever had with some help from Chris Jericho. He even made James Ellsworth entertaining! The Phenomenal One is crushing the game right now and that momentum doesn't appear to be stopping any time soon, McMahon offspring be damned.

David Hobbs: There may not be a wrestler I disagree with more in non-wrestling things, from politics to religion to the general shape of the planet he's literally flown around. That being said, he has been physically unable to put on a bad match in the last three or four years, and his performances in 2016 have been sublime to the point that, in the ring, the terrible opinions of Allen Jones are completely lost in the brilliance of AJ Styles. At 40, most wrestlers in North America can be found doing special appearances consisting of rest holds and signature moves. At 40, AJ Styles is performing at a level few hope to ever achieve, and seems like he can pull out a Match of the Year candidate whenever he so pleases. He's hands down the best wrestler in WWE, North America, and the world right now, spherical though it may be.

Joey O.: From his debut at the Royal Rumble until his year-ending title reign, Styles was (duh) phenomenal in the ring. He showed remarkable chemistry with John Cena, essentially gave James Ellsworth a career and shined in every opportunity he was given. It's a shame his "reward" is a Mania match with Shane McMahon.

Photo Credit:
Butch Rosser: He didn't have to adjust to the E, the E ended up adjusting to him. Every single Network special he shone and either had the match of the night or close. The Cena SummerSlam match is in the Pantheon of all-time classics. Even his entirely too short lived team with Jericho featured the best New Day title defense. He was Number One, in bold, italicized, underlined, and in 72 point font to the point where I felt we should've skipped a number two spot.

Elliot Imes: Groupthink is a contagious disease, but I can't fight it on this one. The chatter toward the end of last year was that AJ Styles was the best wrestler of the year, and it's just the truth. His match against Nakamura was unbelievable (though that technically doesn't count here), then he lit it up at the Rumble, had good matches with Jericho, had great matches with Reigns, had even greater matches with Cena, then made Dean Ambrose the most interesting he has been, then made James Ellsworth a viable performer who gets to make money. The company wouldn't have been very good without him. He's the truest definition of the MVP.

Photo Credit:
Jon Hunt: Best hair in wrestling will get you pretty far on my list.

Nick Ahlhelm: He redefined himself and made Smackdown the best brand in wrestling again with his run as World Champion.

Frank McCormick: I have a big problem with AJ Styles. He’s a homophobe (“The Gay Community?!”). He does not want me as a fan. But the parameters of the TWB 100 dictate that we base our rankings on in-ring work, and there really is absolutely no way to do so and not rank AJ Styles at or very near the top. The man is one of the best wrestlers in the world, and one can more than credibly argue he is the best in the world.

Back at the turn of the millennium, one of my local stations aired grainy footage from whatever backwoods barn NWA Wildside (one of then-gasping-and-dying WCW’s “affiliated” indies) broadcast from at midnight on Fridays. It was here, where AJ started out, that I first saw him, and even then you could tell he was special. And nearly twenty years later, he is even more special. He fulfilled his promise, and more, and as much as I grind my teeth to say it, you but have to watch a match of his and know he’s a legend.

Photo Credit:
The 2016 TWB 100
1. AJ Styles
2. Kevin Owens
3. Sami Zayn
4. Sasha Banks
5. Asuka
6. Johnny Gargano
7. Cesaro
8. Scott Dawson
9. Shinsuke Nakamura
10. Dash Wilder
11. John Cena
12. Becky Lynch
13. Tommaso Ciampa
14. Charlotte Flair
15. Roman Reigns
16. Samoa Joe
17. Zack Sabre, Jr.
18. Bayley
19. Cedric Alexander
20. The Miz
21. Kota Ibushi
22. Chris Hero
23. Ricochet/Prince Puma
24. Chad Gable
25. Jason Jordan
26. Drew Gulak
27. Matt Riddle
28. Finn Bálor
29. Rusev
30. Dean Ambrose
31. Jeff Cobb/Matanza Cueto
32. Pentagon Jr./Dark
33. Heidi Lovelace
34. Seth Rollins
35. Chris Jericho
36. Big E
37. Sheamus
38. Rich Swann
39. Alexa Bliss
40. Fenix
41. Jack Gallagher
42. Matt Jackson
43. Kimber Lee
44. Baron Corbin
45. Nick Jackson
46. Gran Metalik
47. Bobby Roode
48. Trevor Lee
49. Will Ospreay
50. Luke Harper
51. TJ Perkins/TJP
52. Bray Wyatt
53. Tye Dillinger
54. Brian Kendrick
55. Braun Strowman
56. Fred Yehi
57. Broken Matt Hardy
58. Dalton Castle
59. Kofi Kingston
60. Kyle O'Reilly
61. Neville
62. Ember Moon
63. Chuck Taylor/DUSTIN/etc.
64. Hallowicked
65. Akira Tozawa
66. Adam Cole
67. Dolph Ziggler
68. Lio Rush
69. Randy Orton (nice!)
70. "Hot Sauce" Tracy Williams
71. Roderick Strong
72. Keith Lee
73. Bobby Lashley
74. Johnny Mundo
75. Marty Scurll
76. Drew Galloway
77. Brian Cage
78. Mil Muertes
79. Sami Callihan/Jeremiah Crane
80. Mustafa Ali
81. Austin Aries
82. Nikki Bella
83. Fire Ant
84. Heath Slater
85. Timothy Thatcher
86. Dasher Hatfield
87. Xavier Woods
88. Tyler Bate
89. Tommy End
90. Andrade "Cien" Almas
91. Brock Lesnar
92. Kalisto
93. Jeff Hardy/Brother Nero
94. Trent Seven
95. Donovan Dijak
96. Andrew Everett
97. Jay Lethal
98. Killshot/Shane Strickland
99. Nia Jax
100. Candice LeRae