And now, our favorite wrestlers from last year. Again we’re joined by our friends Thomas Holzerman from The Wrestling Blog, Jamie from Dramatic DDT, T.J. Hawke from Free Pro Wrestling, Ciara Reid of Angry Marks, Jae of iheartDG, Alyssa, Alex, Benjamin, and Senor Lariato. By Leslie, Greg, Chris C., Chris J., Sonny, Aoikougei, Sarah (and her brother), Steph, and Martin.
ACW, AAW, SLA, ROH, DGUSA, CHIKARA, Resistance Pro
Thomas: This man busted out of Austin in a big way this year. Dragon Gate USA only had the bright idea to book him at the end of the year. Ring of Honor had the chance to blow the doors off the arena in Chicago, but instead he was a sacrificial lamb for Kyle O’Reilly. I certainly didn’t love the treatment he got from promoters who apparently “know” wrestling, but this isn’t a gripe-fest. It’s a love-fest. What ACH was able to do this year was nothing short of revolutionize what wrestling was all about.
Whether as the standard bearer in ACW, a man who helped make Cleveland a destination for wrestling in AIW, or the forever-frustrated rival of Mark Angelosetti in Chikara, he did things only thought possible by dreamers who wrote matches for e-feds. Four-fifty splash from the second rope? Easy. Texas Cloverleaf big swing? Pfft, don’t trifle me with your doubts, son. He went 30 minutes with AR Fox, warred with Johnny Gargano, clashed with Willie Mack, and even helped put eyes on Kansas City through an excellent series with Jeremy Wyatt.
If ACH isn’t on your radar, you don’t watch enough wrestling, and if you watch enough wrestling and aren’t impressed by ACH, then good lord, man, you’re made of stone.
Photo Courtesy Joel Loeschman
Ciara: I can’t think of anyone else in Ring of Honor that has stood out for me in 2012 besides Adam Cole. Earlier last year, Future Shock disbanded with Kyle O’Reilly joining Davey Richards and Adam Cole aligning with Eddie Edwards. At ROH’s 10th Anniversary Show in March, Adam Cole scored an upset as he pinned then ROH World Champion Davey Richards with a Crossbody during a tag team match. Cole would go onto to defeat Kyle O’Reilly in a Hybrid Rules Match and defeat Roderick Strong for the ROH Television Championship in June. Cole has successfully retained his championship against Eddie Edwards and Mike Mondo and defeated Matt Hardy in a non-title match.
Adam continued his success over in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla as he won the 2012 Battle of Los Angeles Tournament to earn a shot at Kevin Steen’s PWG World Championship. In November, Cole defeated Caleb Konley for the Premiere Wrestling Xperience Heavyweight Championship. Adam has since won the PWG World Championship from Kevin Steen and formed the Dojo Brothers with Eddie Edwards and Roderick Strong. I was already aware of Adam Cole’s work in Combat Zone Wrestling, but this past year he has really stepped it up and became one of my favorites.
Dragon Gate, DGUSA, Evolve, CZW, Beyond Wrestling, AIW, ISW
TJ Hawke: AR Fox is the surest bet in wrestling for getting an entertaining match right now. I’ve watched him in a variety of promotions, on tape and in person, and he always kills himself to put on the best match possible. Putting AR Fox on a card automatically makes me interested in said show.
In DGUSA and Evolve, Fox stepped up and delivered some of the best matches of the year with some of the best wrestlers in the world. In CZW, he became one of their best pushed talents, having a series of great matches with a variety of opponents. In Absolute Intense Wrestling, Fox had two thirty minute Iron Man matches with ACH. Both matches received rave reviews for their excitement and innovation.
In 2012, Fox became one of the most exciting wrestlers in all of wrestling. Over the next five years, I expect him to grow so much that people start referring to him as one of the best wrestlers in the world.
Photo courtesy Marvin Cespedes
Leslie: Ayako Hamada is Wrestler of the Year, Every Year. It’s redundant to talk about how great she is at this point, you just need to watch her. Watch her in Mexico. Watch her in Japan. Watch her in in the states (especially her SHIMMER match against Kana). Watch her, year after year, effortlessly put on amazing matches. Ayako Hamada is an international treasure and the best of her generation.
Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi
Lariato: In the first half of 2012 especially, Daisuke Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi marked themselves as one of the best tag teams on the planet with a series of amazing matches in AJPW and home promotion BJW. Both guys are freakishly strong and I never tire of watching them in matches against other heavy hitting teams like Get Wild of Manabu Soya & Takao Omori.
Click here to watch 5 hours of Sekimoto & Okabayashi matches.
Dash Chisako and Sendai Sachiko
Sendai Girls, JWP, CHIKARA
Sonny: The Kanari sisters slowly emerged from the humongous shadow of Meiko Satomura in 2012, showcasing their great tag team skills versus a wide variety of opponents.
In May they debuted in CHIKARA, and defeated The Bravado Brothers. On June 25, they defeated Manami Toyota and Kyoko Inoue. In September they teamed with Meiko Satomura in CHIKARA’s King of Trios to defeat Green Ant, Red Ant and AssailAnt. In round 2 they defeated Jigsaw, Manami Toyota and Mike Quackenbush. In round 3 they lost to the team of The Young Bucks and Mike Bennett in what may have been the best match of the entire weekend.
PWG, BJW, CZW
Alex: Drake Younger’s 2012 has been a powerful journey to be able to watch, one that made him one of the best wrestlers of the year. A resolution to clean himself up led to him getting in the best shape of his life. That then led to a renaissance for Younger as a wrestler. In 2012 he delivered some of his strongest matches, including wars with Sami Callihan, B-Boy, Rickey Shane Page, Roderick Strong, and MASADA, peaking with an awe inspiring Iron Man with Sami Callihan.
Moving out to Los Angeles and finding another home with PWG turned out to be a great move for him, allowing him to show new audiences what the Combat Zone faithful already knew: Drake Younger is one of the most well rounded wrestlers in the world, able to deliver with a wide variety of opponents. An inspiration, in ring and out, making him a clear choice for this write up.
Ben: Forget the broken glass and death matches, Drake Younger can do it all, and regularly does. To me, he is the definition of a hybrid wrestler, and I love the diversity this brings.
Having changed his life this year (in more ways than one), and moved to California, a whole new horizon has opened up for him, including PWG, where he continues to have increasingly fantastic matches to sit alongside 2012 classics such as 60-minute Iron Man vs Callihan.
As I type this, he is completing his 4th tour of Japan, and has already signed a contract for his 5th tour. Every time he returns to the States following one of these tours, he seems to have grown again. It’s a pleasure to watch someone so humble, positive and joyful about their chosen craft, and long may it continue.
Leslie: I didn’t see any Drake Younger matches this year, but I saw this photo in a issue of Weekly Pro Wres. He’s earned a mention.
Photo Courtesy Snapmare.com
CZW, Beyond Wrestling, EVOLVE, DGUSA
Alyssa: Looking through my social media, I’ve encountered several people teasing me about how fond I’ve become of Drew Gulak. And by others who don’t know me well, I get asked “why him?” The answer to that question, though complicated, is that watching Drew as a character and in the ring makes me forget about all the “politicking” and backstage “dirt” that goes along with professional wrestling.
He stands out in the CZW above all with his “Campaign for a Better Combat Zone” using convincing words but less convincing tactics to advocate for safer matches and gender equality. His feud with Danny Havoc ranks as one of the best of the year. With Beyond Wrestling, Drew demonstrates his impeccable mat-based, submission and grappling techniques with finesse and a win-loss record of 13 and 5 (8 points) to prove it. And if that weren’t enough, he also works alongside Chuck Taylor, Orange Cassidy, Dr. Col. Nolan Angus, Jake Manning, and the Swamp Monster as the “Legal Eagle” of the Gentlemen’s Club. There he shows off a more comical side of himself with his “lawyer-not-lawyer” tactics.
Overall, Drew Gulak has demonstrated that he’s one of the most versatile, well-rounded talents in independent professional wrestling today. He’s conquered diverse environments and inspired both love and hate amongst the crowds everywhere he goes. I’m proud to say that I believe in Drew Gulak.
Photo Courtesy Snapmare.com
PWG, ROH, DDT, DGUSA, WXW
Jamie: In my opinion, El Generico was the absolute best wrestler on the planet in 2012. He tore it up in PWG. He tore it up in DDT and Union. He tore it up in DGUSA and Evolve. He was even able tear it up in ROH again. No matter where he went, Generico was often the highlight of the show.
Martin: Everyone loves El Generico, but does everyone think to include him as a wrestler of the year? He’s the definition of “oh yeah, someone else will probably have him”, yet everyone thinks that, therefore there’s a chance we don’t see him on lists like this. For me, he’s been everywhere (I counted 11 countries he had wrestled in during the year) and done nearly everything, and has been in some stellar matches. Nothing new there, but they deserve their due. Oh, and some entertainment company snapped him up shortly into 2013.
Generico’s first major achievement of 2012 took place in Germany, as he defeated Marty Scurll, Karsten Beck, Johnny Moss and finally Tommy End to win Westside Xtreme Wrestling’s annual 16 Carat Gold tournament, previously won by big names such as Chris Hero, Shingo Takagi and Sami Callihan. He would eventually parlay this into winning wXw’s Unified World Wrestling Championship, defeating Big Van Walter for the title. Generico would lose his PWG World Title to Kevin Steen in a three way also involving Eddie Edwards in March, but at DDT4 in April, he and Willie Mack made it to the final, only to fall to the red hot Super Smash Brothers. In Japan, Generico made several visits to Dramatic Dream Team, and renewed his old rivalry with Kota Ibushi – in four matches, Generico won all of them, including taking the KO-D Openweight Title from him in September, and then defending the title against him in October. Generico would hold the title for three months, including making a defence of the title in England against a very similar looking (and familiar) opponent in El Ligero, until losing it in December to Kenny Omega.
In the States, Generico competed more often for both Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE than for Ring of Honor, notably embarking in a rivalry and then partnership with the incredible Samuray del Sol. That’s not to say that Generico didn’t have memorable moments in ROH, where he resumed his eternal rivalry with Kevin Steen, first losing a Last Man Standing match to him at Showdown in the Sun, and then losing the Ladder War in December at Final Battle. Generico also made regular appearances in Chikara, resuming his alliance with 3.0 (aka Canada’s second best tag team featuring a member named Matthews), and whilst there, having an incredible match with Sara Del Rey, who got the better of him. For the variety and consistency of his work, and the sheer traveling he did, no-one in wrestling is as such a free spirit as the Generic Luchador.
JWP, ICE Ribbon, STARDOM, SHIMMER, AIW, NCW:FF,
Aoikougei: Hailey went up to many woman organizations and promotions, and collected titles. She has already become one of the strongest woman wrestlers. She understands Japan, has a pleasant personality, and is always eager to improve.
I would like to see her have single matches with the top Joshi wrestlers in 2013.
Leslie: Empty waists make the loudest sound. Hailey Hatred started 2012 having lost most of the ouroboros-like collection of belts she had been carrying around. In January she let the wheels burn in an awesome match with Ayumi Kurihara for the CMLL title, but her bid was unsuccessful.
In her time of need, home offered her comfort. She crossed the transoceanic depths for an extended tour of North America. There she tore a page out of previous chapters in her career, reigniting her old feud with John Thorne, starting a new feud with Cheerleader Melissa, and taking on Sara Del Rey one last time.
And that was her vacation. When she returned home, she brought bedlam to ICE Ribbon, robbing multiple innocent candies of their titles. She also the Goliath of Kyoko Kimura’s Monster Army in STARDOM, who have recently She was still a mainstay in JWP, though her former tag partner Kaori Yoneyama was too busy seeking vicarious atonement for her non-retirement to reform Queens Revolution.
Hailey had a desire to win 12 titles in 2012. She missed it by a bit, but her impulse has made her strong, one of the best wrestlers in the world.
Heart Move Kei: Emi Sakura, Kaori Yoneyama, Morry, Hanako Nakamori
JWP, Gatoh Move
Aoikougei: Emi Sakura left Ice Ribbon in January. She started new promotion Gatoh Move in Thailand. In Japan, she made JWP her main battlefield.
She also acquired the JWP Open-weight, JWP tag titles, and even the EVE title on a British expedition in October. Kaori Yoneyama supported Sakura in Thailand and took the JWP tag title in Japan. After canceling her retirement, she is enjoying professional wrestling.
Morry and Hanako Nakamori smoldered in JWP. However, they participated in the Japanese tour of Gatoh Move, and they changed themselves.
The atmosphere of the show of JWP during October to December was intense because of the activity of HMK. Especially in this HMK vs JWP Captain’s Fall Eight Woman Tag Match.
ACW, SHINE, NCW:FF
Sarah: Jazz in 2012 just kicked ass, and looked great doing it! With her dominance in SHINE Wrestling Jazz showed us that she still has it (chant unnecessary) Challenging Saraya Knight for the SHIMMER Title in SHINE 4 and constantly main eventing their shows, Jazz will still be a major player in 2013.
Photo Courtesy Joel Loeschman
Jimmy Jacobs and Arik Cannon
Chris C: These two spent most of 2011 trying to destroy each other, so, naturally, they won AAW tag team gold from the Irish Airborne in January of 2012. Despite hating each other, Jimmy Jacobs’ and Arik Cannon’s desire to win kept the belts around their waists for most of the year. Granted, sometimes they felt the need to hit each other more than their opponents, but the reluctant duo managed to put on some great matches and provide plenty of entertainment for the crowd.
They also kissed each other once. It was awkward.
Unfortunately, the Irish Airborne were able to regain the belts in November due to some shady tactics, which seems to have been the final crack to break up this odd couple. However, that doesn’t erase the great 2012 they had before it all came crashing down in violence when the two picked up where they left off and tried to once again destroy each other in December.
WAVE, WNC, SHIMMER, ICE Ribbon, Triple 6, Osaka Pro, DDT
Leslie: Almost everyone’s favorite (and a sad minority’s most hated), Kana went neither underpaid nor overrated in 2012. Kana spent the beginning of the year trying to hold on to the SMASH women’s title before the promotion surprisingly closed. She then joined TAJIRI and AKIRA in founding Wrestling New Classic until a financial dispute with the owner set her off on her own again.
She won the inaugural WAVE Tag Titles with Ayumi Kurihara and the Best Match Ever against Ayako Hamada in SHIMMER (in between forming the Cutest Tag Team Ever with LuFisto). Kana branched out with high-profile appearances in ICE Ribbon, beating their champ in a sick match. She even found time to crush the entire DDT roster in winning their Ironman title multiple times (lesser accomplishment: crushing the entire Triple 6 roster to win a spiked hat).
But the best thing Kana did last year was become Volk Han. She took her submission transition Sambo game to god-level, moving from limb to limb on her opponents with armbars, kneebars, chokes, and combinations of all three. Her technique was already the most beautiful and dangerous in all the sport, and it only got better in 2012.
Greg: The World Famous continued to dominate, in both singles and tag team competition. No one is safe.
Chris J: “Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada was really a breakout star to me. He went from being Samoa Joe’s sidekick under a mask, to being on top of the world. I have honestly never seen a rise like his before. His match at the Tokyo Dome last year didn’t really show any signs that he was about to be challenging for the title, but there he was, next month in Osaka, challenging Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight Title, winning it and shocking everyone. Fans seem to have accepted him right away, due to it being something completely different than the norm.
His title reign was short-lived, ending after two excellent defenses against Tetsuya Naito and Hirooki Goto, and an absolutely tremendous title change where Tanahashi regained the title. He went on to have another great match against Karl Anderson on October 8th. It’s safe to say that Okada has my lock for “Favorite Wrestler of the Year”. Jun Akiyama and Minoru Suzuki respectfully ranked #2 and #3. Honorable mentions go to Katsuhiko Nakajima, Aki Shizuku, and Kazuki Hashimoto.
Aoikougei: Okada had his homecoming in January and immediately won the IWGP title from Tanahashi in February.
He was beaten by Tanahashi in June and lost the title, but he never lost vigor, and won the G1. The Rainmaker boom continues.
His has good size and youth. His future will entertain man fans.
SHIMMER, STARDOM, NCW:FF, WAVE, PWWA, Joshi-4-Hope
Chris C: Long have I fought for mutants to be viewed as equals amongst their peers, only to be met with ridicule and scorn around the DDS offices. Well, after this year, I have only one thing to say: Magneto was right, jerks. After spending some lengthy time in Japan and having her secondary mutations kick in, the “Rate Tank” Kellie Skater put the “superior” in “Homo Superior” this year. The Colossus of Bacchus Marsh racked up a number of impressive matches in 2012, including a brutal 2 out of 3 falls match against Kalamity for the NCW Femmes Fatales International Title in Montreal. This was the year people found out what I’ve been telling them for awhile now: Kellie Skater is a star.
Martin: In 2012, Kellie Skater went from one of the most mocked wrestlers in SHIMMER to one of its most loved, and it was effort, determination and hard work that got her there. Here was a wrestler who was not satisfied with her place in the business, and did everything necessary to change things without taking any shortcuts.
It all started with a tour of Japan. In addition to her two appearances on Joshi 4 Hope shows, the Rate Tank split her time between the old REINA (now REINA x WORLD), Pro Wrestling WAVE and STARDOM, spending time in the ring with names such as Manami Toyota, Yumiko Hotta, Ayumi Kurihara, Yumi Ohka, Natsuki*Taiyo and Mima Shimoda. In between these matches, Skater was learning new skills in both the STARDOM and ZERO1 dojos, ready to surprise fans once she made it back to North America for nCw Femmes Fatales and SHIMMER. The match that best demonstrated Skater’s improvements was her battle with Kana on Volume 48 – this would have been the kind of match in the past where the Rate Tank would have been abused, Mercedes Martinez style, gobbled up and spat out, and although she did lose the match, the fighting spirit she showed in the contest was enough to earn Kana’s respect, something only a select number of competitors in SHIMMER had ever earned.
From there, Skater made her long awaited return back home to Australia, competing in shows across the country, even at one point forming a tag team with noted podcast host and friend of a family entertainer from Chicago, Colt Cabana. Her biggest matches back home were rematches of a war she had the previous year with breakout New Zealand star Evie. First, in the semi finals of PWWA’s Interim Title tournament, in a battle reminiscent of their original 2011 encounter, Evie earned her second victory over the Rate Tank, and would eventually go on to win the title in the final against Jessie McKay. But it would be Skater who would earn the first shot at the title, and in October at PWWA’s yearly show, in their third meeting, Skater and Evie would go to a hard hitting, kick-heavy brutal 30 minute draw. It was Skater’s breakthrough against the Kiwi Kicking Machine, but their battles are by no means over.
Skater then returned to North America, first taking part in matches for Shine and AAW, and then embarking in her biggest SHIMMER weekend to date – after huge victories over Leva Bates and a war with Yumi Ohka, the Rate Tank then entered a four way for Saraya Knight’s SHIMMER Championship, a match no-one could have imagined the Rate Tank of 2009/2010 ever being in, and ended up taking Knight to the limit, at times being less than a second away from becoming SHIMMER Champion, and having the fans believe she could do it.
It wasn’t to be, but the weekend certainly made the “Roo-Roids” section of the Eagles Club into believers. Skater then followed that by heading to Montreal and nearly winning the nCw Femmes Fatales International Title from Kalamity. Skater then finished the year by returning to where it started, Japan, making her debut at Korakuen Hall for STARDOM. Skater is the example to never judge a book by its cover, to never assume where someone is and what role they play is where they’re going to end up. Sometimes in wrestling, hard work and dedication DOES pay off.
DDT, AJPW, Gatoh Move
Jamie: The Canadian Ken Masters had a year to remember and was a pleasure to watch no matter where he wrestled. In DDT we finally got to see him face Kota Ibushi in a match that was 4 years in the making. But the real highlight of Kenny’s year was his run in All Japan. Omega was exactly what a modern foreign heel should be in Japan, an obnoxious otaku who backs up his mighty boasts with his success. Kenny is the guy who would spend an hour inside an Akihabra arcade beating everybody on Street Fighter IV and the go and do the same inside the ring over at Korakuen Hall. He wanted to be the coolest champion All Japan had ever seen and he managed to piss off the entire Jr. Division in the process. That led to some great matches where the AJPW Juniors did whatever they could to shut him up and get their belt back. What makes this even better was Omega still had his adoring fanbase back in DDT and would often return with a hero’s welcome when he defended the title in his home promotion.
At the end of 2012 he was on top of the mountain as DDT’s KO-D Champion and I cannot wait to see who comes up to challenge him. Plus he may begin to stop by more often in PWG again where he has his most fun matches. The man is an absolute blast to watch and 2013 looks like it will be even better for him than 2012.
RPW, NWA, CHIKARA, Resistance Pro
Thomas: This man is a YouTube superstar. Every time I did a search for him (at the behest of my buddy Dylan Hales), I found new and exciting options of him going hard against opponents as varied as the former Luke Gallows to big man Bobby Moore to fellow light heavyweight standouts like Mike Posey. Kyle Matthews is a guy whose forays into the Northeast have been less than impressive, but he’s probably the best wrestler from south of the Mason-Dixon and a reason why people need to check out wrestling out of their comfort zone. He combines old-school Southern psychology and crowd-baiting with junior heavyweight high-flying and independent standard big moves. Put him on your radar and expand your world of wrestling. It’ll be well worth it.
NCW:FF, NCW, Lucha POP, NSPW, SHIMMER, WSU
Leslie: It’s far too easy for people to overlook LuFisto, she’s been so good for so long. Put her in a big match and she will give you twenty plus minutes of hard-hitting high-flying hardcore strong style Queen’s Road greatness, and make it look easy. She did this multiple times 2012, as she did in 2011, and 2010, and most other years for the past decade.
It was no surprise she had great matches against the likes of Jazz and Mercedes Martinez and great team ups with Kana, that’s just what LuFisto does. She also has a long history headbutting her way through any and all gender barriers she faces. In 2012 that meant winning the NSPW title and becoming the first woman in Quebec to hold the top title for a predominately men’s promotion.
LuFisto set the bar for multiple promotions across Canada, the US, and Mexico last year, and she can be counted on to do it again, and again. That’s why we love her.
CHIKARA, Beyond Wrestling
Greg: The Angels had Mike Trout in 2012, but in wrestling, it was all about Mr. Touchdown. He came in as a substitute for Sugar Dunkerton in the ThrowBacks. From there, it was a straight line upward. He became, got the girl, and banished his mortal enemy Archibald Peck. He won the Young Lions Cup, defeated the hottest prospect in ACH…. CLEAN! He figuratively murdered the 1-2-3 Kid. He literately killed Sapphire! Even a nerd like me can appreciate the greatness of Mr. Touchdown.
WSU, SHIMMER, SHINE, NCW:FF
Ciara: I’ve always been a fan of Mercedes Martinez’s work for many years, but this past year she made me rejoice. Mercedes’ heel turn at the SHIMMER tapings back in October 2011 foreshadowed things to come. So to when Jessicka Havok stoppeded her near three-year reign as WSU Champion.
Mercedes went on to unsuccessfully challenge Kalamity for the nCw Femmes Fatales Championship. An underlying beast within Mercedes was awakened at Femmes Fatales VIII as Mercedes planned to pick Kalamity apart piece by piece. LuFisto stopped those plans in motion and the two proceeded to brawl. Mercedes caught the WSU Championship for a second time in April and once again lost it to Jessicka Havok. Mercedes tried to regain the WSU Championship in a Casket Match at the Uncensored Rumble V, but LuFisto had other plans for her. Let’s not forget, Mercedes continued her rivalry with “The Wrestling Goddess” Athena over in SHIMMER and took her antics over to SHINE Wrestling where she crossed paths with Jazz.
Between the outrageous brawls with LuFisto, to brutally attacking Athena, to getting under Jazz’s skin, Mercedes Martinez pissed a lot of people off in 2012, and I loved every moment of it.
Photo Courtesy Snapmare.com
ROH, PWG, AAW, AIW
Stephanie: There are big men who can rassle but there are precious few who can wrestle. The unbreakable one’s year may not have been filled with ROH gold but it gave him his first taste of the big time spotlight. Taking the last two ROH World Champions, Davey Richards and Kevin Steen, to the limit is a badge of honor (pun intended) but in 2013, expect even bigger things from this Canadian. With Truth Martini’s poison no longer in his ears, the only thing that will likely be broken in 2013 are the spirits of his opponents.
Lariato: 2012 was wonderful breakout year for Michael Elgin, with some high profile matches in Ring of Honor and PWG that saw the big man prove himself as one of the top talents on the indies. While I feel ROH somewhat backed away from his potential in the later half of the year, I can only assume they have big things in store for Elgin in 2013.
The Midwest Militia: Sassy Stephie, Allysin Kay, Jessicka Havok
WSU, AIW, NCW:FF, SHINE, SHIMMER
Leslie: Build a time machine. Get Mike Tyson, Wanderlei Silva, and Bull Nakano in their prime. Make them form a Pro Wrestling stable, then give them machetes. Do all that and you just might be close to replicating the aura that surrounds The Midwest Militia. As a team they dominated WSU last year, full stop, capturing all of the promotion’s titles. They successfully invaded NCW: Femmes Fatales, turning Courtney Rush‘s ribs into powder in the process.
They were almost as unstoppable individually. Jessicka Havok ended the unendable Mercedes Martinez WSU title reign, putting Mercedes in a hospital then in a casket, in the process. Allysin Kay turned AIW into her personal Game of Thrones: “You Win or You Die,” complete with the gratuitous violence. Sassy Stephie became the woman to ultimately dethrone the “Queen of Wrestling” Sara Del Rey, taking the RPW title from her in a a defeat so crushing that Del Rey has barely stepped in the ring since.
The Mid-West Militia rules the world.
Photo Courtesy Snapmare.com
WAVE, WNC, ICE Ribbon, DDT
Leslie: Who came in second, behind Yuzuki Aikawa, in the Weekly Puroresu Joshi of the Year Poll? Not Kana, not Nanae, not Meiko, but Mio Shirai. Hell, 2012 was supposed to be her sister Io’s breakout year, but when Mio’s wrestling ability finally caught up with her top tier shit-talking ability, everyone in Joshi had to take a step back.
2012 saw Mio grab well earned gold in DDT, WAVE, and ICE Ribbon, turn a broken nose into a fashion opportunity, brutally torture Ken Ohka, force Cherry to reveal her age, and make Hikaru Shida cry. It was a good year.
Jae: Yes. From Dragon Gate I am going with Mondai Ryu. Over CIMA. Over Tozawa. Over YAMATO. People are going to think I am trolling or trying to be ironic with this pick. In fact, he doesn’t even really fit the “Wrestlers I Loved in 2012” tagline because I didn’t really enjoy him all that much until the last months of the year. But, I’m not trolling. Mondai Ryu was one of the most fascinating stories in Dragon Gate this year. He began the year as the 2nd generation Super Shenlong, a character he had portrayed with little success since 2008. In early spring he embraced his general un-likability and turned into the aptly named Mondai Ryu.
His name means, literally, Problem Dragon. He took to carrying around a large bucket of salt, which represented his new fighting style and persona. His general performance in the ring did a sharp 180. The Shooting Star Press was abandoned in favour of low blows and salt attacks. His interview time increased, and he took great delight in being as obnoxious as possible. In particular, his backstage interviews with TV host Katsuya Ichikawa saw him bully and berate the hapless announcer on nearly every show. So much that when Ichikawa finally got his chance at comeuppance in December, it received one of the biggest fan reactions of the show.
He lost all his matches. He was embarrassed in all his feuds. So why do I love him? Because he escaped a role that saw him languish for years to become a consistent, and more importantly, a necessary part of the show. I’m a proud, card carrying member of the Salt Army.
Muscle Venus: Tsukasa Fujimoto & Hikaru Shida
ICE Ribbon, REINA
Aoikougei: They won two tag belts, in REINA and ICE Ribbon respectively, and they went on an expedition to Mexico for CMLL in July. They fought fifty-fifty with outstanding luchadora and made a big impact.
Leslie: Hikaru Shida and Tsuksa Fujimoto deserve a distinguished service award. They held it down in ICE Ribbon in the midst of several high-profile departures and a roster often lacking veteran talent. These two women started out wrestling via an acting gig, but they’ve more than proven their ability to weather the real ups-and-downs of the sport. They’ve also more than proven that they are some of the top wrestlers in the Joshi scene. Any match where these two team up or face one another is gold, and the reason to keep watching ICE Ribbon.
Photo Courtesy Youji Kawauchi
PROGRESS, ICW, WXW
Martin: For those unfamiliar with the name, you soon won’t be. Noam Dar is one of the most impressive and solid teenage wrestlers I have seen anywhere in the world in quite some time. He’s not one who’s all “oh, he’ll be very good in a few years with experience”… he’s really good NOW. Within a few years, he could seriously threaten the best wrestlers in the world. Just 19 years old, making his home in Glasgow, Scotland, Dar has spent the year traveling across the UK, having really good matches not only with Britain’s biggest stars, but also racking up big matches against some of the world’s best stars. He’s also one of Britain’s cockiest, smarmiest stars, taking the swag of 90s Britpop giants Oasis and embodying it into his style, finishing his opponents with a kneebar submission the fans at PROGRESS Wrestling, including myself, officially christened the “Champagne Superkneebar”.
After a solid start to the year, competing in promotions as varied as Insane Championship Wrestling in Glasgow, Preston City Wrestling in the North West of England, Southside Wrestling Entertainment in the Midlands, Revolution Pro Wrestling in Kent and PROGRESS Wrestling in London, in addition to trips over to Germany for Westside Xtreme Wrestling, Dar’s first huge match of the year would come in Pro Wrestling Elite in Ayr, Scotland, where he had a great match against former Ring of Honor standout (and occasional TV star) AJ Styles. From there, at Southside, Dar had a big weekend in August, impressing but falling short against Marty Scurll for the Speed King Title, and then taking former Ring of Honor Champion Davey Richards to the limit.
Also in August, Dar won a six way in Preston City Wrestling to win their Cruiserweight Title, which he currently holds. At the end of August, Dar did battle with the current ace of Junior Heavyweight wrestling, Prince Devitt, in Revolution Pro Wrestling, once again falling just short, but once again proving his credentials as a future superstar. Dar would have two more big time matches to add to his collection, first back at Revolution Pro in October against Jerry Lynn in the New F’N Show’s final British match before his retirement, and then back at PCW in December against former entertainer John Morrison, and was also back in the ring with Devitt in December for Revolution Pro, in a four way also involving El Ligero and Mark Haskins. Throughout the year, Dar also claimed big wins over the likes of Zack Sabre Jr., Dave Mastiff, Rockstar Spud, Mark Haskins, Martin Kirby, Kris Travis, El Ligero, The Lion Kid and Jimmy Havoc, a collection of some of Britain’s best wrestlers.
Noam Dar’s accomplishments in 2012 may not stand out quite as much as other wrestlers on this list, but in terms of building a name, and making sure you’re someone to keep a close eye on in the near future, he is the first name I will suggest. I won’t be surprised if you see Noam Dar in the United States or Japan some time in 2013.
Leslie: I’ve got nothing but love for Rachel Summerlyn. Her heart-breaking feud with Lady Poison/Jessica James, her instant classic against Jazz, her Prom Dress, her showing Mickie James that wearing a pair of Daisy Duke’s doesn’t make you “Hardcore,” her winning the ACW title and proudly being the standard-bearer for the “There’s No Such Thing As ‘Women’s’ Wrestling” movement, and every other amazing thing this amazing women did in 2012 was a reminder of why I love Pro Wrestling much.
Photo Courtesy Joel Loeschman
Robert Evans, Archibald Peck, Mixed Martial Archie, The Mysterious and Handsome Stranger
ACW, ROH, CHIKARA, ACW, AIW, Beyond, SLA
Jamie: What a deck of cards this guy is. I don’t think I have ever laughed as hard watching wrestling as I did with his matches in 2012. We watched as his heart was broken by his high school sweetheart Veronica, we supported his attempts to man up by transforming into an MMA machine the likes of which haven’t been seen since some Brazilian guy named Gracie stepped inside a cage for the first time. We marveled for months at unexpected the appearance of The Mysterious and Handsome Stranger, not once even humoring the idea it could have been good ol’ Archie. Man oh man, the look on everyone’s eyes when we found out his true identity.
Peck is the funniest guy going in pro wrestling right now. In 2012 he went ahead with not one, not two but three great personas in CHIKARA. Each of them were so entertaining to watch whenever they showed up on the card. Only the most cynical and jaded fans would have refused to play along with The Mysterious and Handsome Stranger story. And who couldn’t feel sorry for Peck when Veronica dumped him for Mr. Touchdown. Even Chuck Taylor tried to cheer him up!
Leslie: Robert Evans is too talented an entertainer to be a Pro Wrestler. He should probably successfully audition to be a recurring character on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, before leveraging that into his own animated pilot while taking on various supporting roles in romantic comedies before finally taking a dramatic turn in independent Canadian production that dazzles at Sundance.
As it is, we’re very lucky to have him. There is literally nothing in or out of the ring that he can’t do, and no promotion where he wouldn’t shine.
AAW, PWG, CZW, DGUSA, Dragon Gate
Chris C: I didn’t see everything the Callihan Death Machine did in 2012, but what I saw of him in AAW and PWG was enough. Sami Callihan’s presence in the ring is one of the more unique things in wrestling and his versatility is surprising and impressive. I’ve seen Callihan brawl with wreckless abandon, throw bone breaking strikes, and out wrestle seasoned mat verterans, sometimes all in one match. I’ve very much come to appreciate Sami’s skill and am interested to see what he brings in 2013. If it’s anything like the promo about the grizzly bear from AAW’s December show, we’re in for a treat.
Photo Courtesy Snapmare.com
SHIMMER, SHINE, Bellatrix
Stephanie: With her daughter Brittany’s mysterious disappearance after her victory at SHIMMER Volume 44, Saraya was left alone without anyone to keep her in check. Like any nasty infection when left untreated, it spread. It began by her making no attempt to change her, despite being defeated by her own child. The mere idea of a set of ethics or fair play rules didn’t seem to matter to Ms. Knight, she was just going to take what she wants and damn the consequences to her win-loss record! Or so we thought. With the idea well planted in our minds, she fired up SHIMMER Champion Cheerleader Melissa and defeated her. “Mum” got through 2012 successfully with the title.
Say what you will about the means, the woman gets things done.
* = If we don’t name Saraya as one of the best of the year, I’m quite certain she will find us all and beat us senseless until we name her one of the best. As a result, we should appease the former SHIMMER Champion.
Leslie: Who’s bad? Shinsuke Nakamura’s off the wall entrance, dangerous neo-strong style offense and Michael Jackson-esque swagger made him one of the best to watch in 2012. This was, technically, a slow year for the former multi-time IWGP Heavyweight champion. Even though he leads CHAUS, young Okada represented them on the biggest stages more-often-than-not.
Things changed when Shinsuke came across IWGP Intercontinental Title which he decided to raise the prestige of by actually defending it on more than one continent. Since he’s made the case that the white belt is the belt in New Japan. With seven defenses, including a show-stealing bout against Kazushi Sakuraba just outside of 2012, I’m willing to believe him.
Alex: I wrote about Tim Donst last year, mostly as a person who had only just learned of him. This year, I’ve seen him become a champion, and I can confidently say he was the most interesting part of a weird year of CHIKARA. While the rest of CHIKARA juggled multi-man wars which had no real interest for me, Donst stood out with his darker, stronger character, his compelling relationship with Jakob Hammermeier, and his personal feuds with Hallowicked and Eddie Kingston. The hair vs. mask match was the highlight of Chikarasaurus Rex, Donst conveying an array of intense emotions throughout. Without Donst, I doubt my interest in Chikara would have been as strong this year.
Donst was also a power player in AIW, being a part of the biggest storylines, and finally completing his long journey for the company’s top title. AIW has put Brian Kendrick, BJ Whitmer, Johnny Gargano, Shiima Xion, and ACH in his path, and Tim Donst has more than delivered against each of them.
Tim f’n Donst took over his promotions in 2012, arguably the MVP of both. I’m excited for his 2013.
Greg: Thanks to CHIKARA, I finally got to see the powerful Tsubasa Kuragaki live in action. No one could stop her. I was more than pleased to see Matt Classic put in his place, running away in fear. Hopefully we’ll see her return to the US this year to start breaking some backs.