Part 1 – Numbers 50-31:
1996/1997: Bret Hart
1997/1998: Chris Jericho
1998/1999: Mick Foley
1999/2000: Chris Jericho
2000/2001: Kurt Angle
2001/2002: Kurt Angle
2002/2003: Kurt Angle
2003/2004: Eddie Guerrero
So who was the man this year? You’ll have to wait a few days to find out, but in the meantime we’ll kick-off the countdown and take you through 49 other superstars who deserve to be lauded for their efforts over the past twelve months – more than the other wrestlers out there, but for various reasons still not quite Number One.
Before we start, let’s have a quick explanation about these ratings and how we decided them, so that you’re all clear about what you’re getting here…
Most importantly, this is an opinion list. If you don’t agree then that is not a problem, or even expected. Getting worked up about it and sending us arrogant, hate-filled e-mails, however, is a problem. If you think somebody was overlooked or overrated then by all means tells us about it. We’re absolutely up for hearing your views, but let’s try to keep any childish name-calling out of the picture.
The 50 is based on many factors. Essentially, we’re after the best all-rounders. Since the modern wrestling fanbase is in a strange quasi-kayfabe state of mind, we do consider on-screen success in our ratings. If someone holds a World Title then it is almost inevitable that he will make the list due to the high level of success that was achieved. Still, if there is a lousy World Champion who has had a lousy year filled with bad matches and boring interviews then said champion will likely be ranked below someone who wrestles and interviews brilliantly yet loses constantly.
Wrestling ability, interview delivery, angle performance, level of on-screen success… These are the main areas that we look at. We’re not taking much notice of backstage behaviour here, since this is a list of the best performers in wrestling, not the best politicians.
The rating period begins with Eddie & Vince in a lowrider on Smackdown just before SummerSlam 2004 right up to the humiliation of Orlando Jordan at SummerSlam 2005. In that time, just to refresh your memories, we have seen the following title changes occur:
John Bradshaw Layfield — John Cena
WWE World Heavyweight Title:
Chris Benoit — Randy Orton — Triple H — VACANT — Triple H — Batista
NWA World Heavyweight Title:
Jeff Jarrett — A.J. Styles — Raven
WWE Intercontinental Title:
Edge — Chris Jericho — Shelton Benjamin — Carlito
WWE United States Title:
John Cena — Booker T — John Cena — Carlito — John Cena — Orlando Jordan — Chris Benoit
NWA TNA X-Title:
A.J. Styles — Michael Shane/Frankie Kazarian — Petey Williams — A.J. Styles — Christopher Daniels
World Tag Team Titles:
Rob Conway & Sylvain Grenier — Chris Benoit & Edge — Rob Conway & Sylvain Grenier — Eugene & William Regal — Rob Conway & Sylvain Grenier — Tajiri & William Regal — Rosey & The Hurricane
WWE Tag Team Titles:
Billy Kidman & Paul London — Rene Dupree & Kenzo Suzuki — Rob Van Dam & Rey Mysterio — Doug & Danny Basham — Eddie Guerrero & Rey Mysterio — Joey Mercury & Johnny Nitro — Heidenreich & Animal
NWA Tag Team Titles:
James Storm & Chris Harris — Chase Stevens & Andy Douglas — Chris Harris & Elix Skipper — Christopher Daniels & James Storm — Bobby Rude & Eric Young — B.G. James & Konnan — Bobby Rude & Eric Young — James Storm & Chris Harris — Chase Stevens & Andy Douglas
WWE Cruiserweight Title:
Rey Mysterio — Spike Dudley — Funaki — Chavo Guerrero — Paul London — Nunzio
WWE Women’s Title:
Trish Stratus — Lita — Trish Stratus
Now, before the 50 commences, let us bow our heads and observe a few moments of reflective silence for those who made the cut last year but couldn’t quite rise to the occasion this year… their positions last year are also listed…
STEVE CORINO [#49]
What we said: “Corino is a rare breed of old-school wrestler quite content to just give it his all for the few hundred fans in attendance rather than bitching about the lack of huge pay-per-view pay-offs.”
JERRY LYNN [#48]
What we said: “…his desire has been lacking somewhat over the past year as he has been passed over in favour of a new generation of X-Division stars, leaving him somewhat stagnant and superfluous to requirements.”
What we said: “Rico’s in-ring work was never quite as good on Smackdown as it was on RAW, mainly because he tended to work around his comedy spots.”
HECTOR GARZA [#44]
What we said: “You can just imagine Konnan watching backstage muttering ‘Well, shit…’ and wondering why he traded in his wrestling skills for a wardrobe of gravity defying pants.”
What we said: “…one of the most overlooked and hottest properties on the independent circuit…”
MICHAEL SHANE [#39]
What we said: “now could be a decent time to hook him up with a tag partner and make a good run at Tag Team Gold.”
RIC FLAIR [#33]
What we said: “…who else could call The Rock a motherf*cker at WrestleMania and get away with it?”
ROB VAN DAM [#32]
What we said: “…head down time, Rob – if you want to be up there, you’re going to have to work a lot harder.”
What we said: “Aside from one admittedly very good match with AJ Styles, there’s really been not much of Low Ki at the top of the bill and that’s a shame.”
MOLLY HOLLY [#20]
What we said: “…every single match I’ve seen her in this last year was worth watching, even the matches against clag-monsters Lita and Old-School Gail.”
KID KASH [#19]
What we said: “For someone with such an irritating voice he can certainly cut a good promo, and he more than backs it all up in the ring to boot.”
What we said: “…she got over with the fans enough to command a good spot at WrestleMania where Lita didn’t even make the card and she dragged the aforementioned useless lump to something actually decent on a couple of occasions.”
BROCK LESNAR [#15]
What we said: “…it is to Lesnar’s credit that his body of work from July ’03 to March ’04 has been of sufficient standard to warrant this high position, particularly since his last WWE Championship reign was so poorly booked.”
What we said: “The Goldberg/WWE relationship ended and it didn’t have to – to be honest, there was a whole new world waiting for the man over on Smackdown…”
Now, buckle your seatbelts because here we go…
THE TOP 50 US BASED WRESTLERS 2004/2005
NUMBER 50 – KERWIN WHITE
Last year #37
What we said: “…he’s had to get rubs from his Uncle and his Dad to get him over but finds himself back to square one – alone and not-over.”
Ross Williams: The former Chavo Guerrero is one of the most peculiar cases in modern wrestling history. He’s clearly quite a sound wrestler and knows a few nifty holds, he’s certainly spent the better part of the last few years hovering around the top of the WWE cruiserweight scene – as is – but how the bloody hell is a chap with all the aforementioned in his favour so tremendously tedious? He’s only just scraped in here due to a handful of adequate performances over the last 13 months, combined with his yearly cup of coffee with the Cruiser belt – and to be honest, his only value since being drafted to RAW recently is showing up looking like Gunther from Friends.
NUMBER 49 – HARDCORE HOLLY
Iain Burnside: Bob Holly, much like death and taxes, is a constant that remains entirely nonplussed about what the rest of the world thinks of him – he just gets on with the job at hand, critics be damned. Most of the critics point out his reputation as a bully backstage, such as his $10,000 fine for assaulting Rene Dupree over a driving ticket, but while such behaviour should not be condoned it is hardly unique within the wrestling industry. Holly is somewhat unique in WWE, however. He is a throwback to the days of the mid-card stalwarts that exist not to win titles or to constantly put others over or for any other purpose other than to wrestle, and to give Holly his due he can wrestle pretty damn well. He has spent most of the past year teaming with Charlie Haas – a younger, friendlier version of himself – in addition to having the odd, fairly enjoyable, singles bout. There’s nothing particularly fancy about what he does but it does tend to get a consistently decent reaction from the crowd, particularly when he twatted Daniel Puder at the Rumble. He’s certainly one of a kind, which may well be a good thing.
NUMBER 48 – JEFF HARDY
Ross Williams: Sometimes marketed as the “Charismatic Enigma”, a moniker I fear could sometimes be replaced by the “Total Prat”, Jeff’s managed to scrape into the 50 in a year where Matt Hardy doesn’t rate (and for the second year running). Granted, Matt spent most of the year injured, whining, unemployed or all three but you can’t take it away from Jeff – as much as the boy sure hates turning up for work, when he actually does get his act together enough to put down the PCP, he can put forth a tidy little effort which seems to involve leaping off tall things and driving his body into breaky or sharp things. With a resume like that, who are you to resist?
NUMBER 47 – TAJIRI
Last year #7
What we said: “Unfortunately, Vince seems to have a defect that causes him to remember and forget Tajiri for precisely 9 months at a time and we’re going to have to wait another 6 months or so for him to get his next swing on screen.”
Iain Burnside: Last year, there was a brief, tantalising hint that Tajiri might actually get to do something more prominent on Raw when he was one of the faces that stood up against Evolution. Sadly and inevitably, this didn’t last and he was soon bumped back down to Sunday Night Heat status along with the World Tag Team Titles that occupied most of his year. He had a brief stint with Rhyno before being reunited with William Regal (the man that, in storyline terms, originally brought him into the company back in 2001) and spent a lot of time beating La Resistance – most notably winning the titles from them on a Raw show in Japan. After Regal was drafted to Smackdown, however, Tajiri returned to his ol’ stomping ground of Heat to do nothing of note barring a surprisingly underwhelming match with Super Crazy and Nunzio at ECW One Night Stand. He makes the cut this year simply because of his comedic banter with Regal and his continually smooth and entertaining ring presence – one that is limited only by WWE’s strange refusal to send him to the cruiserweight division on Smackdown.
NUMBER 46 – NUNZIO
Last year #41
What we said: “Nunzio’s been quietly keeping our attention and gaining our respect…”
Ross Williams: At long last, our favourite little fella has got his hands on the Cruiserweight title. Sure, we’re not too pleased that he snagged it at the expense of Vince’s favourite house boy, Paul London, but we love Nunzio so much that we’ll let him off. Over the last year, he’s seen rather cool looking Johnny Stamboli and rather rugged looking Chuck Palumbo get kicked out of the company to be replaced by his newest sidekick, the remarkably ugly Big Vito but through it all, Nunzio keeps bringing the above average to good match quality and keeps doing the little things during his performances that raise him above the standard of your Shannon Moore’s and other such non-entities. Probably why he didn’t get sacked earlier this year upon the spring cleaning, the super little bugger. Biggest drawback of the year? No Goldberg to smear him over the mat during the Royal Rumble.
NUMBER 45 – FRANKIE KAZARIAN
Last year #40
What we said: “…you can expect to see a whole lot more of him in the coming year.”
Iain Burnside: Frankie had the testicular fortitude to turn around and tell WWE “thanks, but no thanks” when it became apparent that he was going to have to trade in his passion and creativity for their steady pay-checks; something that most of his peers would have been unable to do. It does raise the question of what they could have told him to do that could have been worse than being pinned by some NASCAR pundit on a TNA PPV, but let’s not dwell on those little blips. Kazarian’s certainly not The Future of WWE but he can live up to that moniker on the independent scene with his marvellous ability to spin, twirl and generally flip around with the best of them. What’s more – he can actually put it all together into a cohesive, fluid and psychologically sound match rather than an endless series of jumping on to, off of and through things. This handy little skill is called wrestling, and he is really quite good at it. What’s more, this combination of both immediately elevates him above about three-quarters of his peers. Hopefully there will be another X Division stint from Frankie before too long.
NUMBER 44 – DOUG BASHAM
Ross Williams: Before he took on the rather moronic nickname of “The Bash Man”, our Doug was quite the tag team wrestler. Generally considered the most talented AND more charismatic one of the Basham Brother team, the hired muscle of the Cabinet got their mitts on the Smackdown Tag Titles for a few weeks at least and played their part in a number of enjoyable doubles outings on the “lesser brand”. Now that fake sibling Danny has been shifted to RAW to reprise his Damaja character, we’ll all get to see how Mr. Basham does in singles on Smackdown and the reckoning here is that he might well manage to slowly but surely forge his way into the mid card and have a few choice encounters with talented folk like Mysterio, Guerrero and Benoit.
NUMBER 43 – SEAN WALTMAN
Iain Burnside: If you want an example of a wrestler that is trapped by his past, then look no further than Waltman. Oh, sorry, it’s meant to be “Syxx-Pac” now, isn’t it? Heaven knows why Waltman thinks that using a combination of two outdated nicknames is a good idea, but then he also slept with Chyna so it’s not as though we are dealing with someone of impeccable taste here. Aside from the soap-opera of his personal life, his return to the Russo-free TNA also wound up shooting itself in the foot by forming a short-lived stable with Kevin Nash and DDP. The umpteenth reincarnation of what Waltman has been doing for the past decade was greeted by apathy from most wrestling fans that do in fact have a modicum of taste, and complete silence when his partners left the promotion, disbanding the group. It’s actually quite astonishing that amidst all these rather embarrassing developments, Waltman’s wrestling skills have managed to get him onto this list for the first time in years. He has been having some cracking matches lately, and his current feud with Jerry Lynn has the potential to steal many a show in the coming months. Let’s just hope, for his own sake, that he sticks with TNA and doesn’t turn up back on Raw…
NUMBER 42 – ELIX SKIPPER
Ross Williams: Any man who trots along the top of a hexagonal cage and leaps off it into a huricanrana thoroughly deserves some fearful respect – either that or a nice, soft, padded room. Cage leaping antics aside, Elix is an odd one – much like his sort of lookey-likey (at least according to Ricky Gervais in Extras) Shelton Benjamin, he suffers from this irritating problem called “the blown spot”. Heralded as a superior athlete, sometimes he’s extremely on and sometimes he farks around looking like a trombonist without his trombone. This year, he’s marginally managed more of the former than the latter, so he gets a rating. Who knows about next year? Static in the TNA mid card, he doesn’t look like he’s got anything of particular note coming in the near future.
NUMBER 41 – ALEX SHELLEY
Iain Burnside: A number of things have ended prematurely over the years – from Ben Affleck’s popularity to George Bush’s credibility to the beer that was in my fridge. Let’s just hope that young Shelley’s wrestling career doesn’t follow suit and instead brings him several standing ovations, shiny belts and attractive, large-breasted and “open-minded” teenage girls. He certainly deserves any success that comes his way in the future, for it has been quite some time since someone of his age was able to make such a positive and widespread reputation for himself. He’s done just that over the past year though, from his time leading Generation Next in ROH right up to his competitive feud with Shocker in TNA. If there’s any justice in the world we will be seeing a lot more from this guy in the future. If justice has gone off-planet for its holidays, then we’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope for the best. Such as more beer in my fridge.
NUMBER 40 – AKIO
Ross Williams: Despite being one of the only Japanese cruisers to manage the impressive feat of sporting a pot belly, Akio achieved little this year other than an absolutely corking selection of matches with Paul London on Velocity – a series of matches so good, in fact, that Mr. Yang graces the top 50 purely on their strength alone. We would have preferred him to be kept on Smackdown rather than the bastion of mediocrity that is Funaki, but we’re certain that he’ll be turning up in TNA any time now to spin, leap, flip and possibly perform “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” at Karaoke.
NUMBER 39 – ROB CONWAY
Last year #38
What we said: “…has a terrific ring presence that screams out for everyone to just hush up and pay attention to him so that everyone may lavish him with praise later on.”
Iain Burnside: We all know the score about La Resistance by now. There was some flag-waving, some insipid insults and a lot of spectacularly average matches, most of which only reached those giddy heights due to Rob Conway’s efforts. What is far more interesting is the push that Conway is currently getting – one of the rare occasions when management actually takes a liking to a genuinely talented wrestler. Unfortunately, it’s even rarer for them to not to lump said wrestler with a zany gimmick of some sorts, so Rob has been turned into The Con-Man. He’s trapped in a sea of underdeveloped egotistical characters currently doing the rounds – including Grenier, Dupree, Masters, Venis and Basham – and it remains to be seen which of them will go the distance, if any. Conway’s one of the few mid-card prospects with the fabled combination of looks, charisma and talent though, so if they manage to get him into a decent feud before too long then he has a good chance of making it as a viable singles wrestler at long last. Apart from that, he also has the most reactionary entrance music since the original version of “Sexy Boy” back in 1992.
NUMBER 38 – CHRIS HARRIS
Last year #21
What we said: “…quite clearly the better half of the team due to having a slightly larger spark of personality to toy with…”
Ross Williams: I’m not quite certain what to write here – it seems that there’s very little to write about the majority of people in TNA and their performance over the last year and very, *very* little growth or improvement amongst the main part of the roster, but Harris hasn’t done much of note nor much wrong. He shows up, performs to a decent and often good standard in a spot of tag action, wears a belt for a few months and goes home. Good for him, but I think we’ll drop him from the 50 next year unless he can actually use the 12 months to further his career rather than just keep it in the same place.
NUMBER 37 – SONJAY DUTT
Last year #47
What we said: “…you know that he’ll zip around the ring as fast lightning and take some ludicrously sick bumps given half a chance.”
Iain Burnside: Sonjay’s up there with Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and that guy from Short Circuit 2 in terms of engaging Indian entertainers. He has the added advantage of being a real person, which makes it all the more impressive when he shows off his athleticism with the speed of Road Runner and the spinning ability of the Tasmanian Devil. He also has the advantage of being genuinely Indian, which has allowed him to go out to the homeland and promote TNA’s debut on ESPN Star Sports, possibly en-route to becoming the promotion’s first home-grown celebrity. Okay, so the planned program with Raven and Sabu didn’t work out last year, but thankfully this didn’t deter Dutt in the slightest. He took it in his stride, continued to earn his “Holy shit!” chants and has been one of the most consistently entertaining youngsters in wrestling over the past year. Long may it continue!
NUMBER 36 – AUSTIN ARIES
Ross Williams: Thumbs up to this lad for coming out of nowhere and catching our attention – he’s surely in for a big climb up this chart next year if he keeps going like he has been. Highlight of Aries’ year must be dropping Samoa Joe for the ROH title last December, becoming the first person to defeat big Joe in a bloody long time. He’d go on to defend his title across the globe for the next six months, putting in a string of tidy performances, before CM Punk snatched the title from him. Recently showed up in TNA for an outstanding match against Christopher Daniels which will hopefully have made some people take notice and give them a reason to get this promising talent on a more prominent stage.
NUMBER 35 – JAMES GIBSON
Last year #31
What we said: “…his last high-profile gig on Smackdown was to stand around and look gormless in a tuxedo whilst judging a bikini contest.”
Iain Burnside: WWE’s “see no evil, hear no evil” approach to steroid usage does occasionally lead to punishment, as our Jamie found out to his cost last September. The death of Jamie Noble did not deter him any though, as the rise of James Gibson took the independent wrestling scene by storm, fighting tooth-and-nail to get his WWE job back. He succeeded in under a year, managing to become ROH Heavyweight Champion along the way – perhaps the most telling and honest tribute to his genuine grappling skills that a wrestler can receive these days. It may well turn out that Gibson is better off staying with ROH rather than being over-shadowed by the WWE heavyweights yet again (although he certainly has the personality to make himself noticed) but he has his heart set on the big league for now. After having managed to make the most of a bad situation and working hard to improve his in-ring ability for the past year, who could possibly deny him another chance to live his dream?
NUMBER 34 – RON KILLINGS
Last year #26
What we said: “It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t too long ago when 3 Live Kru were once again stuck in the purgatory state of wrestling dark matches against all manner of nobodies.”
Ross Williams: It doesn’t say much for Killings’ year when you click on the TNA website and all you can read is some dribble about the BG James/Kip James rubbish on our Ron’s superstar page. Again, falling foul of the “it’s 12 months later and everything is the same!” issue that many have in TNA, Killings has been energetic and enjoyable to watch when he’s in there, and is screaming out for a divorce from the asinine 3LK gimmick that he outgrew before it even began, so let’s all hope he continues to be enthusiastic in the ring and gets a chance to put said energy to good use before he gets stuck in a career rut and begins doing an impersonation of Booker T circa 2003.
NUMBER 33 – CHARLIE HAAS
Last year #13
What we said: “…it looked like the demise of the Haas/Benjamin tag team was going to be great news for Shelton and terrible news for Charles – after all, Shelton got the pinfall over Triple H, Charlie got a nice new pair of neon green shorts.”
Iain Burnside: Okay. Haas started off as the reluctant third wheel to the Will & Grace antics of Rico and Jackie, won the WWE Tag Team Titles, moved onto singles matches after Rico was released, ditched Jackie after a forgettable love-triangle with Dawn Marie, formed a new team with Hardcore Holly that had good matches with little success or promotion, was released by WWE out of the blue, started working for Jersey All-Pro Wrestling and is currently biding his time before making his TNA debut. Oh, and he got married to Jackie for real. What a year… At least Haas’ wrestling ability remains unbreakable, even if his career prospects seem to change rapidly. Certainly the thought of him mixing it up with the likes of Styles, Daniels and Joe down at Universal Studios should bring a smile to the face of every wrestling fan in the whole wide world. Yes, everyone. This means you. Start smiling, you grumpy git.
NUMBER 32 – JAMES STORM
Last year #28
What we said: “It is all too apparent now that Storm would never be truly comfortable in WWE due to his stunted and small-time demeanour…”
Ross Williams: Beginning the rating year in the Six Sides of Steel match sadly turned out to be AMW’s high point of the year and it’s gone downhill from there. Storm has worked harder to improve his standing in the last year, hence his nod over Harris, but still a drop from last year. Spending valuable time feuding with the Naturals isn’t going to help anyone but TNA’s tag scene is just as stagnant as WWE’s, only it’s harder to actually see that WWE has a tag scene anymore. No matter how small or bland they are, *surely* AMW would be a useful addition to the WWE since they’ll probably work for pebbles and Storm does appear to have a lovely hat.
NUMBER 31 – THE BIG SHOW
Last year #23
What we said: “…one must wonder what there is left for him on Smackdown. He’s had feuds with Guerrero, Cena, Angle and Taker before and there’s nobody else at a comparable level. Perhaps a move to RAW might benefit him?”
Iain Burnside: Well, he did indeed wind up making the jump to Raw in the draft lottery. His remaining stint on Smackdown was largely without incident, with only a convenient shaved head at the hands of Kurt Angle to show for it. Show’s prospects had reached such a low that he even wound up competing in a Sumo Match at WrestleMania. It wasn’t quite as pitiful as the Monster Truck Battle with Hogan back in the day, but it was still accompanied by the sound of millions of flushing toilets around the world as fans made it into the choice Piss Break Match of the evening. The move to Raw certainly didn’t enrich his stock any. Most of his post-draft appearances have been to squash tag teams or to defend the honour of various Divas’ feet from the peculiar attention of Gene Snitsky. In fact, if it wasn’t for his sporadic WWE Championship challenges over the past year then he would have been ranked a lot lower. He has managed to do some nifty trimming work on his beard though, so it’s not all that bad.
Numbers 30-11 to follow shortly in Part 2…
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