The Inside Pulse Top 50 U.S. Based Wrestlers 2004/2005 – Part 3

Welcome back my friends to the show that has to end because we’ve run out of numbers. Yes, the top ten is here! Before we get to it, let’s take a quick peep at who we listed at #50-11…

NUMBER 50 – KERWIN WHITE
“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…”

NUMBER 49 – HARDCORE HOLLY
“Bob Holly, much like death and taxes, is a constant that remains entirely nonplussed about what the rest of the world thinks of him…”

NUMBER 48 – JEFF HARDY
“Sometimes marketed as the “Charismatic Enigma”, a moniker I fear could sometimes be replaced by the ‘Total Prat'”

NUMBER 47 – TAJIRI
“He makes the cut this year simply because of his comedic banter with Regal and his continually smooth and entertaining ring presence…”

NUMBER 46 – NUNZIO
“Biggest drawback of the year? No Goldberg to smear him over the mat during the Royal Rumble.”

NUMBER 45 – FRANKIE KAZARIAN
“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.”

NUMBER 44 – DOUG BASHAM
“…the reckoning here is that he might well manage to slowly but surely forge his way into the mid card…”

NUMBER 43 – SEAN WALTMAN
“If you want an example of a wrestler that is trapped by his past, then look no further than Waltman.”

NUMBER 42 – ELIX SKIPPER
“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
“If there’s any justice in the world we will be seeing a lot more from this guy in the future.”

NUMBER 40 – AKIO
“…one of the only Japanese cruisers to manage the impressive feat of sporting a pot belly…”

NUMBER 39 – ROB CONWAY
“…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.”

NUMBER 38 – CHRIS HARRIS
“…Harris hasn’t done much of note nor much wrong.”

NUMBER 37 – SONJAY DUTT
“Sonjay’s up there with Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and that guy from Short Circuit 2 in terms of engaging Indian entertainers.”

NUMBER 36 – AUSTIN ARIES
“…he’s surely in for a big climb up this chart next year if he keeps going like he has been.”

NUMBER 35 – JAMES GIBSON
“The death of Jamie Noble did not deter him any though, as the rise of James Gibson took the independent wrestling scene by storm…”

NUMBER 34 – RON KILLINGS
“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…”

NUMBER 33 – CHARLIE HAAS
“…Haas’ wrestling ability remains unbreakable, even if his career prospects seem to change rapidly.”

NUMBER 32 – JAMES STORM
“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
“He has recently managed to do some rather nifty beard trimming…”

NUMBER 30 – CHRIS SABIN
“…Sabin kept impressing by doing the same thing over and over but doing it so bloody well that you just can’t resist.”

NUMBER 29 – EUGENE
“…Dinsmore badly needs a character makeover if he is to have any longevity in WWE.”

NUMBER 28 – RANDY ORTON
“At least he’s now back in the position that he’s best used in, so let’s see what he can do with it.”

NUMBER 27 – KANE
“…at least Glen Jacobs has played his part like an absolute star and is quite clearly having a blast with it all.”

NUMBER 26 – TRISH STRATUS
“For the second half of 2004, Trish was generally one of the highlights of RAW…”

NUMBER 25 – PAUL LONDON
“Here’s hoping the kid stops pouting and dad lightens up.”

NUMBER 24 – THE UNDERTAKER
“Let’s give him a lollipop or something.”

NUMBER 23 – JOHN CENA
“Cena’s time is not now, but it could well be coming soon.”

NUMBER 22 – JEFF JARRETT
“The guitar is about as relevant to him as him smacking someone about with an Etch-a-sketch…”

NUMBER 21 – ABYSS
“Another year, another unbelievable dose of pain…”

NUMBER 20 – MONTY BROWN
“That has GOT to be one of the best reasons for watching TNA.”

NUMBER 19 – EDGE
“…Edge has had a rather disappointing year…”

NUMBER 18 – SHELTON BENJAMIN
“…that run up the ladder was a joy to behold…”

NUMBER 17 – PETEY WILLIAMS
“Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first – the Canadian Destroyer is insane.”

NUMBER 16 – BOOKER T
“A quite shocking return to form for The Book.”

NUMBER 15 – RAVEN
“Let’s hope the rest of TNA pays attention and learns a thing or two.”

NUMBER 14 – CHRIS JERICHO
“He would have been a bit lower on this list if it were not for his absolutely superb job of carrying John Cena…”

NUMBER 13 – SAMOA JOE
“He’s Joe.”

NUMBER 12 – REY MYSTERIO
“Rey’s done his usual collection of jumping, spinning and twirling…”

NUMBER 11 – C.M. PUNK
“…emphatically deserves more success and recognition in the future.”

Go ahead and check out Part 1 and Part 2 in full.


THE TOP 10 U.S. BASED WRESTLERS 2004/2005:

NUMBER 10 – CHRISTIAN
Last year #8
What we said: “Perhaps a jump to Smackdown or a spell in the tag team division would be the best way to utilise Christian upon his return?”

Iain Burnside: The old adage of being unable to please all of the people all of the time has been proven numerous times in wrestling, with several potentially legendary superstars not being given the chance to break through the mythical ‘glass ceiling’ and prove that they belong in the main event. It’s happened time and time again, from Chris Jericho in WCW to Rob Van Dam in WWE, and the latest person to fall into the ‘cult favourite’ trap is none other than the former Captain Charisma, whose career has been abruptly stalled since he joined Smackdown after showing so much promise on Raw. Wrestling fans, particularly the overly cynical ones lurking around online, love to be able to claim any given talented mid-card superstar as their own, picking up on their mannerisms and the obvious talent that can shine through in their brief on-screen segments – something that management usually seems unable to do, which is rather odd considering that listening to the fans was what led to the 1998 boom in the first place. Over the past year, Christian has been the latest recipient of this underground devotion and it is almost entirely due to his brilliant character work. Let’s face it, despite what we might know about the wrestling ability of Mr. Jason Reso, he has hardly had a series of stellar mat-wrestling classics in the past twelve months. In fact, it’s a real struggle to remember any of his one-on-one matches, let alone the good ones. That’s not to say that he’s a bad wrestler by any means, it’s just that he has been far more entertaining dragging a personality out of Tyson Tomko, squaring off against John Cena in rap contests, or trying to convince Vince McMahon of his general greatness. He’s been so entertaining, in fact, that he continues to get a very noticeable pop from a steadily growing enthusiastic fanbase. Perhaps once management realises that fans simply appreciate compelling and individualistic characters more than the simplistic ‘heel bad, face good’ mentality they have reverted to peddling then people like Christian will be able to take the next step. For now, he’s got his Peep Show segment on Smackdown but, once again, has very little room to manoeuvre. While his Raw counterpart Carlito has a title and is feuding against a genuine legend, Christian is stuck feuding with Booker T in a program that can do very little for either man, just like he did back in 2002. Only then he had a title to his name. Being unable to get any further up the card is apparently taking its toll on him backstage, with reports of waning enthusiasm and low morale sadly beginning to be seen in his on-screen efforts too. Let’s just hope this is a short-term dip in form that will pass soon. After all, no matter where he is in the grand scheme of things, he will, for many of us, always be Captain Charisma in spirit if not in name – and that’s undoubtedly a good thing.

Ross Williams: We did spend a lot of time bandying around the idea of Christian being in the top five but, ultimately, we had to accept the fact that, no matter how amusing he’s been, no matter how much of a highlight he was on RAW during the spring this year, he practically never wins and has achieved precious little of note in-ring in the last year. Granted, in terms of being a personality and getting over, the good Captain has never done better, working on his shtick behind the microphone to ascend to a level that we didn’t think he’d ever reach and the crowds were just eating it up. Strangely though, since his trade to Smackdown, he’s been pushed back down the card and his efforts (and reaction from the audience) have suffered for it. Still capable of shining when the spotlight is on him, let’s hope that they give him his chance in 2006 – he’s a much better bet for a top slot than his storyline brother, but only if they actually start taking him seriously and letting him beat some people.

NUMBER 9 – JOHN BRADSHAW LAYFIELD
Last year #42
What we said: “If he keeps up his current standard, he could be looking at a spot in the top 20 next year, perhaps (*gasp*) the top 10?”

Ross Williams: Here we are, one year later, and he’s actually made it to the top 10. I never thought I’d write a top 50 column where Bradshaw, he of the basic grasp of about 10 wrestling moves, would qualify for a prime position like this yet you cannot get away from the fact that, over the last year, JBL has been one of the highlights of the WWE. Picking up extra points for an extremely long title reign and playing it to the hilt as a combination of Vince McMahon and Ted Dibiase, his in-ring showings have ranged from decent (against Eddie, Booker and Rey) to dreadful (mainly Undertaker, Batista, Cena). Evidently the idea was to build him up as a heel who kept just scraping through with the belt in the style of late 80s Ric Flair and when *finally* someone was able to knock him off his perch; it’d feel like a huge, massive deal. Unfortunately, it totally fell flat when the crowd actually started audibly rooting for JBL against heir apparent John Cena at WrestleMania, and when the dude at ringside didn’t understand what Cena was doing by handing him the belt and promptly handed it back, looking quite seriously concerned, the last 10 months build to that moment hardly looked worth it. As much as Scott Keith would turn in his grave (if he were dead), I would have kept the belt on JBL at ‘Mania by DQ or count-out (yes, I hate them too but we still had Batista vs. Hunter to go, so we would have got away with it) and then I would have built up for a cage match or the “I Quit” match at Judgement Day where Cena could have snaffled the belt. Back to JBL – barring a miracle, he won’t be in the top 10 next year but give the fella credit – he’s improved his game to a ridiculous degree.

Iain Burnside: There are inevitably some people out there who will balk at seeing JBL ranked so highly in this list, but not nearly as many as there once would have been – a true testament to everything that this guy has accomplished in the past year. Yes, his matches rarely make for must-see TV but they are also not as bad as people tend to make them out to be. JBL has been around long enough to accumulate the in-ring basics that his vague Stan Hansen style requires, and this was enough to get him through his lengthy title reign with a drastically improved image. Of course, if it hadn’t been for the stellar – and at times hilarious – job that he did in fleshing out the upper-class financial expert character then he would have tanked regardless of anything he could have done in the ring. Whether it was created in order to play-off of the ‘real’ John Layfield or simply to let Vince McMahon live out his wrestling dreams vicariously through him is irrelevant. What matters is that he has succeeded to a far greater extent than anybody could possibly have expected, becoming as integral to Smackdown as Triple H is to Raw. This similarity leads to the biggest criticism that can be made of JBL – that there is just too damn much of him. He has become a permanent fixture in the main event scene due to WWE’s incessant demands that the fans accept him belonging there. Well, congratulations, job well done. But if they can’t find anything else for him to do besides challenge for the World Title all the time then the fans will rapidly lose patience with him in the coming year. Certainly, a dominant stint as a tag team alongside Orlando Jordan or, preferably, a much-needed new addition to the forgotten Cabinet would do more to benefit the tag team division than rehiring the not-dead Road Warrior could. Either that or just bring back the Blue Meanie for another game of “Ouch, That Hurts!”

NUMBER 8 – EDDIE GUERRERO
Last year #1
What we said: “…he was given the unenviable task of helping transform JBL into a bona-fide star – and he bloody went and did it, didn’t he?”

Iain Burnside: Eddie reached the top of the list last time around but his fall to #8 could not be helped, especially since he had such an anonymous time for the latter half of 2004. His feud with Kurt Angle failed to live up to any reasonable expectations people would have of seeing those two working together – although the unwanted involvement of the defunct Luther Reigns and the heterosexually-challenged Mark Jindrak certainly didn’t help. His role as a bona fide championship contender was largely overlooked barring his challenge at Armageddon, which was only as part of a four-way against JBL involving The Undertaker and Booker T that did nobody any favours. A lot of this can be blamed on the decisions taken by the booking team, yet there was also the larger problem of Eddie’s lying, cheating, stealing and forever Super Fun Happy persona becoming rather grating. It certainly didn’t seem as much fun as it had been the previous year and, with the exception of nicking Ric Flair’s wallet at the Royal Rumble, it was clear that Eddie could do with something a bit fresher. He certainly got that, and it turned into one of the biggest storylines WWE has produced in recent years. The feud with Rey Mysterio might not have been to everybody’s liking, and certainly drew some harsh criticism in some places, yet I certainly enjoyed it. It’s almost unheard of for a WWE feud to last for a good eight months nowadays, let alone to show definite progression, character development and to give the appearance that it actually knew where it was headed from the get-go. At the start, it was just a friendly rivalry spurred on by the machinations of Chavo Guerrero. By the end, Eddie had lost not just his best friend but his son, his wife, his popularity, his professional status, and his self. True, some of the soap opera histrionics were a bit over-the-top but this was still a huge improvement over Al Wilson (R.I.P.) and if you could suspend your disbelief and go with the flow it was easy to get into the swing of things. If you couldn’t suspend your disbelief then, well, why the hell are you even watching wrestling? Anyway, since Rey wears a mask and contact lenses and has rarely said more than two sentences at a time his whole career, it fell to Eddie to carry most of this feud and he certainly lived up to the pressure. His intensely sinister mic work was as masterful as the likes of Jake Roberts, Raven and Mick Foley could have done and definitely compensated for the largely disappointing matches he and Rey had (though the Ladder Match at SummerSlam was great fun). He’s on the verge of another title program at long last, one which he has no chance in hell of actually winning but should provide a good platform for an even more impressive year to come.

Ross Williams: JBL really should be giving Eddie backhanders every month for the rest of his life for the job Guerrero did in helping him get over – without Eddie’s blood, sweat, tears and further blood with an extra helping of blood on top, all washed down with a copious amount of blood, who knows whether JBL would have been accepted as the top man on Smackdown by the fan base. Perhaps, perhaps not, but Eddie’s had a good year. Not a great year, like the previous when he topped this chart, but he’s still done well. Spending most of the last 12 months with Rey Mysterio, either as a team or trying to baste the shit out of each other, Eddie hasn’t provided us with the calibre of match we know he’s capable of, which is the main explanation for his drop down these here listings since his promo and angle work have been just as good – and possibly better – than his previous year’s efforts. Originally, upon the heel turn, I was concerned because it seemed asinine to turn one of the very top faces in the company heel, especially when there were few genuinely over faces on Smackdown – and also because there was a lot of concern that the Guerrero-loving audience would *never* accept a heel Eddie and cheer him anyway, but he went and got himself over as a complete git and now looks poised to steal the World Title from Batista in the near future. Will it be a caretaker reign or something more? All signs point to the former, but getting the belt back on him at all is a bloody good start so let’s see it happen ASAP please.

NUMBER 7 – DAVE
Last year #34
What we said: “…if Evolution ever splits, a big future on Smackdown could be on the cards…”

Ross Williams: I could be a bloody fortune teller. Or was that Iain who wrote the bit above last year? I forget. Either way, we’re brilliant. You know who else is brilliant? Dave is brilliant. Why is Dave brilliant? Because he needs no justification, he just is. I will, however, pursue this one. Dave’s come on a heck of a lot in the last year, if you even turn the clock back to last Autumn when he was having adequate but not impressive matches with Shawn Michaels and then look at his efforts against Triple H and, at a real push, Bradshaw in the Bull Rope Match, it’s a totally different performer. He looks like a champ, he carries himself like a champ and for the last six months, he has been the champ and that’s good enough for me for now. Winning the Royal Rumble, the main event at WrestleMania and beating Triple H three times in a row, including one incredibly good Hell in a Cell match is about as much accomplishment as a wrestler is going to get in a year and got Chris Benoit number two last year. Dave isn’t quite the wrestler that Benoit is (an understatement and even Batista would agree, I have no doubt!), so he gets number 7. The intense crowd noise that followed big Dave around at the beginning of the year has diminished somewhat, most likely because we’re now *supposed* to cheer him and it was our guilty pleasure when we weren’t, but he’s obviously taken a few lessons from Hunter and Flair along the way and will hopefully continue to evolve into a genuine long term (or medium term, given his age) top line player.

Iain Burnside: A huge leap in the rankings for the man that has made a huge leap of his own in the past year – and rightly so. He is exactly the kind of thing that wrestling has been seeking for a long time. If he was in Goldberg’s position back in ’98 then he would still be around the main event scene rather than making cameos in bad Adam Sandler movies. If he was there instead of Brock back in 2002 then he would never have left the business and would have done a damn sight better for himself than Sable. Thankfully, he’s around in the here and now to enrich our petty lives. He is The Animal capable of talking without sounding like a moron. He is The Monster that still cares. He is The Immovable Force meeting The Irresistible Object, heading out onto the town in snazzy suits to go to clubs that are too cool for the rest of us and spit-roast every hot chick in the V.I.P. room. He is DAVE. What’s even more surprising is that before the end of 2004 nobody really gave a crap about him. He had a pretty good, yet completely forgotten, match with Chris Benoit in which he countered the Crossface by standing up and smashing Benoit off the top turnbuckle, but with Operation Orton in full swing that was about it. Then something truly special happened as, slowly but surely, all those lovely wrestling fans that possessed the ability to think for themselves and the benefits of good taste began to ignore Orton altogether in favour of the far more entertaining DAVE. By the time New Year’s Revolution came about it was pretty damn clear who was going to get the big WrestleMania push. By the time the Royal Rumble had been and gone, it was evident that he was even more popular than the golden boy himself, John Cena. By the time he gave Triple H the thumbs down the crowd was damn near collectively wetting itself from the anticipation, which was unleashed in full force on three straight Raw PPVs before culminating in one of the more memorable non-bumptastic Hell In The Cell matches at Vengeance. If the estimated buy-rates for that show are to be believed then this was also one of the more popular non-Big 4 PPVs that the company has promoted in a long time, further proving the cult of DAVE. By this point there was no credible way to deny it – the man is a star. Yes, Triple H’s efforts certainly did a lot to help with this, but let’s not forget that it was the natural relationship between DAVE and the fans that started the process, and it was his ability to switch from nonchalant cool to furious rage that spurred it on. What’s more, given his age, background and experience he actually has the maturity to handle it all, the passion to not screw it up through any fault of his own, and the will to continue to learn and improve even as champion. Even better is that his title reign has no obvious end point, unlike any other recent stint with the belt. It’s all perfectly cool. It’s all perfectly DAVE.

NUMBER 6 – KURT ANGLE
Last year #9
What we said: “There’s not long left now – let’s just enjoy what we have left…”

Iain Burnside: Forget about the oft-discussed long and winding road that can take a man to greatness, what happens once he actually achieves it? How does a great man suddenly become merely good? Can a good man become great all over again? Kurt topped this list three years on the trot and rightly so, yet his work in the past couple of years has been hampered by severe injuries and the waning zest that comes with them. In fact, it’s only been in 2005 that we have started to see some classic Kurt. On a whole it is still rare for him to recapture his previous stellar form on a regular basis, but he has been finding those moments of brilliance more and more often in recent months. This didn’t really start until Shawn Michaels came onto the scene, as before then Kurt had been preoccupied with a lacklustre Eddie Guerrero program and half-heartedly pulling the strings of JBL and The Big Show in order to further their feud. Once HBK and Angle were able to work together though, it all kicked off and Kurt actually seemed keen to live up to his own expectations once again. Perhaps spurred on by genuinely not wanting to be upstaged by his opponent, we got treated to some wonderful little Kurt moments such as the return of Sensational Sherri and a match with Marty Jannetty that was so good Marty even got his job back. Briefly. After he and Michaels stole the show at WrestleMania XXI with a genuine classic, Kurt kept this newfound momentum rolling with a most unusual feud with Booker T that revolved primarily around Kurt wanting to have “bestiality sex” with Sharmell. If you compared this to the rather sweet love triangle he was involved in with Triple H and Stephanie back in 2000 then you could write a rather weighty tome about the development of wrestling in general over the past five years, but this newly savage tone of Kurt’s seemed to be just what he needed to keep on bringing the goods. After his draft to Raw this intensity became even more pronounced and has recently made him into one of the few saving graces of the brand. It certainly feels good to have a fired-up Kurt Angle back at the top of his game, but again his personal life has to be taken into account here. The man recently got divorced, which no doubt helps him with the new Angry Kurt style, but could just as easily create a bitterer, messier Kurt further down the road. Plus which, there is the ever-present concern about his neck. Seeing him lying on the floor after having been eliminated from the Royal Rumble, moving his fingers to make sure that he wasn’t paralysed was just heartbreaking – especially since he’s put himself into that position largely for our benefit. Is it worth it? Well, to him it is. Are we worth it? I sincerely doubt it. Is Kurt worth it? More than we could ever know. It may be a guilty pleasure to watch Kurt in action, but his ability brings us all so much pleasure it tends to completely overshadow the guilt. We could be in the midst of the Indian summer of his career or on the verge of another chapter of glory. Only time will tell which it is, so for the moment let’s just sit back and enjoy the marvel that is Monday Night Kurt.

Ross Williams: We expected less and we got more – it’s smashing how it works out sometimes. After his rather tepid series with Eddie Guerrero ended last SummerSlam, Angle moved on to bigger and better things – erm… hmm… oh yes – tagging with Luther Reigns and Mark Jindrak, two blokes summed up best by the fact that they’ve both been sacked in the last year. These jolly three teamed up to shoot tranq darts at The Big Show and shave his head, then lose a three on one match to him in the likely low point of Kurt’s existence. However, it’s been all go since then, as he began the build up to his WrestleMania showdown with Shawn Michaels, busted his ass to make Cena look like a credible World Title contender on the way there (and nearly succeeded), turned in what is likely to end up as match of the year against HBK at ‘Mania and supplied a decent rematch at Vengeance, mainly let down by the fact that we *all* knew who was going over. His trade to RAW has left him tooling around the mid-card with Eugene for the last few months, which was probably meant to make us hate Kurt for his manhandling of the cretin but actually managed to get the previously sympathetic audience turn on Eugene with all the grace of a bunch of wolves who have decided that their benevolent human friend who happens to be holding sausages really should be eaten. Now he finds himself in the familiar surroundings of his third (or is it fourth?) run with John Cena and, if their wobbly outing at Unforgiven is anything to go by, this one might be better if cut short. Surely it’s about time that he got another run with the strap? I say let’s get it off wapper boy and let Angle run with the gold, building to another match with Michaels at WMXXII. It’ll be very interesting to see how Kurt holds up upon Triple H’s imminent return because you know full well that Tripper is either coming back as the top babyface (in which case Kurt will be laying down for Hunter at ‘Mania) or coming back as the top heel (in which case Kurt better have been saving his pennies for a retirement fund or, if not, hoping for Orton-related assistance).

NUMBER 5 – TRIPLE H
Last year #11
What we said: “…like watching an only child learn the valuable properties of sharing for the first time.”

Ross Williams: Another step back towards the top by good old Hunter, the man who could and still can. In fact, this year has been a blinder for Tripper, what with getting to squish upcoming face Eugene for shits and giggles at SummerSlam 04, then getting to squish bland babyface Orton for his ninth World Title at Unforgiven, kicking off a 7 month title reign that saw him mainly defend against the aforementioned No Mates before ditching the big one at the big one against big Dave. The weakest of their matches, Mania saw Hunter put in a good performance to make Batista look like a credible Champ and he continued in this vein by topping it at Backlash and then polished off his most non-greedy period in half a decade by putting Dave over spotlessly clean in a Cell at Vengeance and making him look a million bucks in the process. Since then, he’s been absent from our screens but will return soon and you know what? For the first time in years, I’m excited about it. Let’s hope he brings more of 04/05 Hunter and less of the 2002/2003 vintage.

Iain Burnside: There are only two main aspects of Triple H’s year – Randy Orton and Batista, the former a huge letdown and the latter an unexpected treat. The Orton program can be attributed to poor booking decisions – and certainly expecting the WWE audience to treat Orton as a sympathetic babyface was peculiar – yet given Hunter’s obvious prominence backstage he has to share some of the blame here. It could also be blamed on poor performances from Orton himself, which may well have been the case, but it takes two to dance and Hunter was the lead, so once again he cannot escape the blame here. Thankfully, once management began to pay attention to the fans paying attention to Batista, Hunter stepped up and properly used his role as someone said fans genuinely hate in order to benefit someone they genuinely loved. What happened in the ring was almost incidental to the slowly unravelling teacher/student relationship between Hunter and Batista, with Hunter doing some tremendous character work fuelled by outstanding facial expressions, body language, timing and delivery. Sure, his chin was now mysteriously bald but for once Raw was being dominated by a Triple H storyline that actually made for compelling viewing. Whether or not he would have done such a thorough job of establishing Batista as a credible champion had he not known in advance that Batista was going to go to Smackdown remains open for debate, but the fact remains that he did do a thorough job. Most notably, he and DAVE put together a very well-received Hell In The Cell match at Vengeance that was undoubtedly the pinnacle of Hunter’s in-ring efforts this year. We all know that he will never again reach the giddy heights of excellence he achieved back in 2000, but let’s give the devil his due – he has come a long, long way from the dire slow-motion “efforts” of 2002. In fact, while he may not have had any memorable, stand-out bouts this year he has still been enjoyable and consistently so. All in all, barring the best-forgotten Orton situation, it’s been The Game’s best year since his quad injury. Where he goes in the next year and how he gets there is still something of a mystery, with rumours of a feud with Ric Flair at long last (it’s been seen before but never fully explored) and perhaps even a face turn persisting. The title scene will certainly be welcoming Hunter at some point, particularly since he has never fought John Cena before. Then there’s WrestleMania XXII, with defeats in the previous two events perhaps pointing to a more successful outcome this time around. Whatever he does will in all likelihood fail to match this past year in terms of accomplishment… but that sure would take a hell of a lot of effort.

NUMBER 4 – CHRISTOPHER DANIELS
Last year #8
What we said: “…the only thing holding him back from the Top 5 is lack of top level success within his organization and the lack of exposure not working for the WWE brings with it.”

Iain Burnside: Well, Daniels might still be lacking the shiny, pre-packaged and formally approved exposure that WWE could offer him but, well, there’s a reason why he earned the nickname ‘King of the Indies’ and it has nothing to do with dominating the Caribbean with an iron fist. It is of course that the man loves and lives wrestling, with a style so easily digestible by any crowd that he can just slide right into practically any promotion and get on with the task at hand – more often than not stealing the show along the way. For the past year his travels have been more limited than before as he became a TNA exclusive, with his faith in the promotion being returned forthwith by the powers that be. Now he’s one of the promotion’s biggest stars, listed right up there beside former champion Raven and the deity Jarrett in their Spike TV promotional blurbs. Daniels absolutely deserves to be held in such high regard. In fact, since he’s been there from the very beginning and helped to lay the foundations of what the X Division is, he probably deserves even more. His list of accomplishments in the past year is certainly mightily impressive. There was the glorious death of Triple X in the Six Sides Of Steel Match, his first major solo classic in the Iron Man bout against A.J. Styles, his successful Ultimate X challenge, the Triple Threat with Styles and Samoa Joe that was largely engineered by his mind, and of course his record-breaking stint as X Division Champion. Low-Ki didn’t stick around and Skipper’s obvious talents are starting to rust around the edges, but Daniels is one Triple X alumnus who has absolutely proven himself a superstar in TNA. What is perhaps even more impressive than all of his standout moments and achievements is that, throughout them all, he has managed to inject a little bit of greatness into every match that he has had. Every random and essentially meaningless filler match that he has been involved in is instantly elevated into a can’t-miss, must-see prospect simply by his presence alone. Yet another no-name scrub match clogging up Impact? Doesn’t matter, it’s got Daniels in it. His finisher is a bloody moonsault? Doesn’t matter, it’s the best moonsault ever. He’s actually going up against the best wrestlers in the world? He’ll be fine, he’s Daniels. Not gotten a chance for a World Title program yet? Well, he’s Daniels, he bloody deserves one. The Fallen Angel has landed with a bang once again and we are just so damn lucky he’s landed for us.

Ross Williams: My heavens, isn’t this lad up the chart a wee bit high for a TNA guy? Yes he is and with very good reason – he’s had a pearler of a year and had more entertaining matches than Chris Masters has had vitamin supplements, so to speak. I should like to comment at this point that nobody reading this should ever try to use office equipment to open beer. I just attempted the highly tricky bottle opening with a filing cabinet manoeuvre and was promptly rewarded with an explosion of beer in my face and all over my desk and PC. But the beer tastes so, so good. My being distracted is becoming commonplace, better get on with it. Daniels spent far too long f*cking around with the likes of Elix Skipper in tag matches but still won titles and was the star of their matches, a run that ended in 2004 and led to the Fallen Angel focusing on the X Division, an area of TNA that fits him like a fine leather glove – a couple of absolute gems against AJ Styles were swiftly forthcoming, the first of which was an overtime defeat in an Iron Man Match, the second was his X title victory at Destination X. Since then, he’s had blinders with, but not limited to, Petey Williams, Chris Sabin, his old mate Elix, and flavour of the month Austin Aries but it was his three way match against Samoa Joe and AJ Styles where he would lose the X belt back to Styles that was his standout match of the year – and unless AJ and he (or Joe and Liger) pull something very special out of the bag at Bound for Glory, will probably be TNA’s best match of the year – and the only contender to Michaels vs. Angle.

NUMBER 3 – SHAWN MICHAELS
Last year #5
What we said: “…he wouldn’t have rated this *low* if he’d not forgotten to sell the Hell in a Cell match in the last 10 seconds of the broadcast and if the previous 40 minutes of ‘action’ hadn’t redefined the word boredom.”

Ross Williams: I don’t like him and don’t think I ever will but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t deserve this high rating on the back of a marvellous year. After his yearly hiatus, he returned to grapple with a bunch of large and muscular miscreants, namely Kane and Batista, before shooting right into a program with Edge based around the fact that, basically, Edge is a big whiny bitch. After there being no real conclusion to this feud other than they both proved they could beat the other, Michaels moved on to one of his two peaks of the year – the feud with Angle. I’ve said what I will about this in the Angle entry above but Shawn more than pulled his weight in this one and it was nice to see him tap out clean at ‘Mania. His other peak of the year was lugging the broken down and generally absent Hulk Hogan to a satisfactory program AND match over the summer, something that should guarantee Shawn a footnote in the annals of time and be mentioned in the same breath as the water-into-wine trick, levitation by Fakirs and someone managing to convince studio execs that a Charlie and the Chocolate factory remake was a good idea. Oh yeah, and he had a brilliant match on RAW with Shelton Benjamin and pretty much said “I fart in your general direction” to Hogan on live TV. Eat it, you orange twat!

Iain Burnside: Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle should definitely have one another on their respective Christmas card lists, because without a shadow of a doubt it was their feud that helped to rejuvenate each man’s increasingly basic performances. We’ve mentioned Angle’s side of this up above, and Michaels was certainly on a hiding to nothing up until that point too. Really, can you remember anything he did in the latter half of 2004? There was something with Edge… and, uh… other Canadians? He wasn’t exactly doing anything wrong but he certainly wasn’t stopping the show anymore. Then along came Kurt and suddenly, Michaels gets a second wind and *bam* The Rockers are on Raw and *bam* Angle/Michaels overshadows everything else at WrestleMania and possibly 2005 entirely and *bam* he’s bringing back Hogan for one… more… match… and *bam* he has possibly the best TV match of the year with Shelton Benjamin and *bam* he’s taking Canada’s collective cock and giving it the biggest tease of it’s life with one of the most entertaining and memorable promos of his entire career. Then he got to work with Chris Masters. Ah well, can’t win ’em all. Well, unless you’re Hogan – something that Shawn learnt the hard way at SummerSlam. That led to our scheduled bout of backstage bitching from Michaels, but it ain’t ’97 anymore and it’s all been a lot calmer and more reasonable… though still a bit cheeky, as his recent on-air anti-Hogan ramblings showed. Still, we can’t deny him his fun as he finally seems to have settled into his role on Raw. He doesn’t really need to win any titles or headline any PPVs, he just needs to get out there and entertain people for the sake of entertaining them, whether he’s facing a talented rookie or a lethargic veteran or the other way around. Age and circumstance might not let him stop the show anymore, but he’s sure been pausing it an awful lot lately, and that’s just fine with me.

NUMBER 2 – CHRIS BENOIT
Last year #2
What we said: “Benoit has become the personification of the wrestling dream and has enjoyed a quite marvelous streak in 2004…”

Iain Burnside: You know what would be great? If they dropped the Our Lady Peace version of Benoit’s entrance theme and gave him the version sung by Edge & Christian instead. “Here comes Chris Benoit and he’s really mad, here comes Chris Benoit and he’s really angry…” Orlando Jordan would run screaming in the other direction, trust me. Other than that, there is not a whole lot that could or should be done to try and improve Benoit’s status since he has become the perfect version of himself in recent times. He has become one of Smackdown’s most popular stars – lagging behind Undertaker obviously, but closer to DAVE than you’d think – not by having a great deal to say, taking other people’s adopted children, riding a limo out to the ring or doing anything more complicated than making people tap out in a ferociously devastating manner, usually after a really damn good match. It’s almost as if WWE fans appreciate good wrestling or something, which is of course a sinful notion that must be repented at the Altar of Stephanie immediately. Seriously though, there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or innovative about what Benoit has been involved in over the past year, it’s just all been done to an outstanding degree with such professionalism and consistency that we’re in danger of taking it all for granted. The Elimination Chamber Match at New Year’s Revolution was much less enjoyable once Benoit was eliminated. While Shelton was off leaping around and Edge was reading the newspaper outside, it was Benoit that glued the potential mess of the Money In The Bank Match together and made it so damn good. While most other people thought that an ECW reunion revolved around hitting others on the head with large, shiny bits of metal, he and Eddie Guerrero decided to have a proper match. He lived up to his reputation as a draft-slut and went back to Smackdown to continue to bring the goods against guys like Booker T and Christian, who had seemingly lost their goods down the back of the sofa. Now Benoit is out there as the constant thread of wrestling greatness that can easily weave its way into any single aspect of Smackdown that needs it, which is something that nobody else on that roster could hope to do to the same level as he can. Why? Because he’s Chris Benoit and he’s really angry

Ross Williams: Another year, another number runner up spot for Benoit who just can’t seem to get to the very pinnacle of the mountain. Granted, he achieved it in the wrestling world at WMXX when he won the main event but, since then, it’s been a strange year. After dropping the belt in a decent match against Randy “I’m a pillock” Orton at SummerSlam, Benoit would thrash around aimlessly in the upper-mid card for the rest of the year and impress all by entering extremely tight performances, even when faced with the embarrassing situation of being eliminated before Maven – yes, that beetle-browed numpty – at the Survivor Series. He had a quick run with the tag belts alongside newly heelified whiner Edge in the autumn and then spent a month or two belting the bastard around before rolling toward the Royal Rumble where he entered another super performance, drawing number two and lasting the whole way until after number 30 had emerged, quite an impressive feat that we may not see for a considerable time to come, if ever. Back at WrestleMania, he was the man of the match in the Money in the Bank outing, holding it all together and chipping in some amazingly convincing selling that made us all wonder if his arm was shattered into a million pieces (memo to self: disengage Jim Ross oversell mode) which he continued to employ in the month to come. What’s he done since? He got drafted to Smackdown and proceeded to get a good match out of JBL, a couple of absolutely terrific tag matches along with Booker T and Christian and helped Orlando Jordan make Barry Horowitz look like a main eventer. Ah, I miss Barry Horowitz. That jaunty Jewish ditty always made me smile, especially when thinking about the Spanish Inquisition sketch from Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I. Benoit eh? Oh yes, he’s held a World Title, Tag Title and US Title in the last ranking period and only had one dodgy match by my count (that long winded pile of shite against Jordan at the Great American Bash). When you throw in that he’s actually getting a superstar reaction each and every time he comes out now without even saying a word, he’s never been this much of a proven commodity and totally deserving of his spot as the top ranked WWE guy for the year.

NUMBER 1 – A.J. STYLES
Last year #4
What we said: “…doesn’t interview as well as he might but, basically, doesn’t need to because the pure quality of his in-ring efforts speak volumes more than any shouting into a microphone could.”

Ross Williams: When TNA seems to recognise that this guy is the heart and soul of their organisation, not Jeff Jarrett, you’ve got to be on to a winner – phenomenal isn’t just a name with this guy, he truly delivers every time he’s in there. Never giving any less than an outstanding performance, he’s lifted the X title twice and the NWA World Title in the last year, which is enough to give him an edge over his TNA cronies in terms of accomplishments, and when you through in the pure calibre of his performances, it becomes like a whole other bunch of icing on a whole other cake topped with a massive great pile of cherries. Whether facing Raven, Jarrett, Abyss or the rest of the brawling crew or whether matched against similarly competent ring-workers like Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels, he can adapt and entertain with complete alacrity and is able to convince as a heavyweight or a cruiser. Quite simply the most rounded in ring performer at present in my humble estimation, he combines the storytelling ability of your Kurt Angles with the smooth delivery of a Chris Benoit and, when mixed in with a generous portion of being the underdog who you just can’t root against, you’ve got a superb combination for a winner – which is exactly what he’s been this year.

Iain Burnside: Here he is – the first independent wrestler to win the Top 50, and rightly so. The warped and twisted frame of mind belonging to the Styles critics of this world (and yes, sadly, there are some) usually wind up using the same navel-gazing logic that they nonetheless mock certain other people for. Oh, he’s too small. Oh, he can’t speak. Oh, he can’t fit into our standardized, square-window Main Event Style with his rounded technique. The counter-arguments are both obvious and accurate – those other guys are too big, those other guys talk way too much, and those other guys could never dream of doing the same moves Styles can manage. At the end of the day it all comes down to personal preference, but for us, in this day and age, all we are really after is some damn good matches and maybe even the odd great one here and there. Right now, the best man to fill that role is undoubtedly A.J. Styles. He has proven himself capable of delivering in any type of match with any type of opponent on numerous occasions, and continues to do so night in, night out. He has worked with lumbering heavyweights mistakenly identified as main event attractions like Kevin Nash and Scott Hall and provided all of the genuinely attracting moments of such matches. He has entered the hardcore realm of the likes of Raven and Abyss, absorbed all the punishment they can give out and still kept up the good fight. He has worked his way through various opponents of all shapes and sizes, from Sean Waltman to Monty Brown, found the best in each and every one of them and making it better by dusting it off with his own phenomenal manner. It seems that at any time and any place he can take any wrestler and make a good match. As with TNA in general, his best ones do tend to come from the X Division. When he gets to work with people that can cope with the more unorthodox parts of his offence and counterpoint in a similar way, that’s when the good becomes great and the people watching start yelling obscenities in disbelief. Getting opponents of the calibre of Williams, Daniels and Joe, to name but a few, is the chance for any wrestler to steal the show. When the wrestler in question is A.J. Styles, however, he doesn’t just steal the show, he locks it up in the boot of his car, holds it to ransom for a million dollars, gets the money, and then throws the car off a cliff anyway because he can do whatever he damn well likes. Honestly, there haven’t been enough superlatives invented to do Styles justice. There is, however, the very real possibility that if he wasn’t around then TNA would have given up the ghost long ago, and certainly most of us would not be watching it. He still continues to give us more than we deserve. We can’t give back much, but we can make him our #1 because he already is.


The end… until 2006. Please drop us a line and let us know what you thought, or drop by the forums and leave us a message!

IAIN

ROSS