With another year of pro wrestling in the books talk always turns to the year in review, complete with best and worst lists, recaps of the past twelve months and discussions of highs and lows. To kick things off here is Pulse Wrestlingâ€™s top ten list of the best American wrestlers of the year. Voting was based on in-ring success, impact on their respective promotion, quality of matches and opponents and overall presence during the year.
#10 â€“ â€œAmerican Dragonâ€ Bryan Danielson
In August, ROH broke the news that Danielson had agreed in principle to a contract with WWE, but he would be fulfilling his independent wrestling commitments throughout the month of September before reporting to WWE. During the month of September ROH held â€œThe Final Countdown Tourâ€ in which Danielson battled in six marquee matches, against long-time rivals Roderick Strong, Chris Hero, Tyler Black, Austin Aries, plus a tag team featuring Danielson and Strong battling â€œThe American Wolvesâ€ Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards and a first time ever one-on-one match against Richards. Danielson also took on Open the Dream Gate Champion Naruki Doi at Dragon Gate USAâ€™s second ever show. That doesnâ€™t even include his farewells in CHIKARA and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, not to mention the variety of other top quality matches he put on throughout the year. While many long-time fans of Danielson are sure he will be misused in WWE and that an era has officially ended for optimists the future only looks brighter for The American Dragon as he looks to get the worldwide recognition he sorely deserves, even if it is under a terrible, terrible moniker.
#9 â€“ John Morrison
Morrison started the year as World Tag Team Champion with his red-hot partner The Miz. But after losing the Tag Championships and getting shafted off of the WrestleMania XXV, Morrison struck out as a breakout solo star on the SmackDown. He had free TV match of the year candidates against a variety of opponents. He had star-making performances throughout the year against Shelton Benjamin, Chris Jericho, Edge, CM Punk, Evan Bourne, plus an incredible World Championship match against Jeff Hardy in July and a legit WWE match of the year candidate against Rey Mysterio to win the Intercontinental Championship in September. Then he spent the end of the year helping build stars out of fellow young guns like Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. Things only continue to look brighter for JoMo heading into 2010 as a victory in something like Money in the Bank could truly secure his stardom.
#8 â€“ AJ Styles
A true bright spot in the often frustrating TNA, AJ Styles finally become the face of the promotion once again after years of being passed over in favor of every WWE reject that came into the company. He led the TNA originals stable through the increasingly confusing and frustrated Main Event Mafia angle throughout 2009 but came out smelling like roses on the other end after beating Kurt Angle for the TNA World Championship at No Surrender in September. From there he did what no one else has done yet, beat Sting at Bound For Glory, and then have two legit match of the year candidates to close out the year. First he defeated long-time rivals Christopher Daniels and Samoa Joe in a ridiculously good three-way dance at Turning Point and then help make Daniels into a main event threat after their one-on-one match at Turning Point. He is already starting 2010 out great with a fun TV match against Angle and the ringing endorsement from new TNA head honcho Hulk Hogan.
#6 (tie) â€“ Randy Orton
There was no one hotter at the beginning of 2009 than Randy Orton. After creating his Legacy and being the first heel since Mr. McMahon in 1999 to win the Royal Rumble match Orton was THE guy in World Wrestling Entertainment. His rivalry with Triple H leading up to WrestleMania XXV produced some memorable television, including a kiss to Stephanie McMahon in front of a handcuffed Triple H and a punt to Mr. McMahon. Orton forewent the concept of being a â€œcool heelâ€ and embraced his true villain. He stripped away everything about his character that the fans cheered for and transformed into a calculating â€œviperâ€ that is slow and methodical in every way. While he didnâ€™t have the best matches of the year he dominated the WWE main event scene with a variety of stipulation matches against Triple H and John Cena. Love him or hate him Orton is the dominant heel in WWE and looks to be here to stay.
#6 (tie) â€“ Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle has become the glue that has held TNA together over the past year (and previous). With the Main Event Mafia storyline taking center stage in TNA, Angle was once again front and center. He was a part of many great matches throughout the year. He tore it up with Jeff Jarrett at the beginning of the year, won another fantastic King of the Mountain match at Slammiversary and tried to make a star out of Matt Morgan at Bound For Glory. Then at the end of the year he made Desmond Wolfe a legit player in TNA right off the bat thanks to great matches at both Turning Point and Final Resolution. In addition to countless free TV matches, including one against Styles back in October and his performance in the Six Sides of Steel Gauntlet match leading up LockDown, Angle was at he forefront of TNA all year, for better or worse.
#5 â€“ Edge
Much like his counterpart Orton, Edge dominated the first half of the year in WWE. He stole the WWE Championship from Jeff Hardy at WrestleMania, snuck his way into winning the World Championship in an Elimination Chamber after losing the WWE Championship earlier in the night in another Elimination Chamber. Then after his victory over John Cena at Backlash he embarked on a great three way rivalry with CM Punk and Jeff Hardy that completely dominated the month of June all across WWE programming. From there he transitioned into a super powers tag team with Chris Jericho that was criminally cut short due to Edgeâ€™s Achilles tendon injury. Itâ€™s scary to think how good Edgeâ€™s year could have been if he would not have gone down with an injury back in June.
#4 â€“ Shawn Michaels
Despite taking the spring and summer off Michaels proved how good he can be in every performance heâ€™s in. After somehow coming out of the ridiculous â€œslave to JBLâ€ angle at the beginning of the year with his integrity he embarked on a dream match rivalry with The Undertaker. All the build up with Michaels getting the best of Undertaker at every turn just made it all the memorable. Then the actual match at WrestleMania XXV blew everything out of the water this year and is personal choice for match of the year. He followed that up with another reunion with Triple H in the old DX garb and battled Legacy in a series of matches, that while entertaining and good, failed to really elevate the youngsters. Despite that he, Triple H and John Cena went out and tore the house down in a triple threat match at Survivor Series that was a clear answer to TNA after they had just presented their own Joe-AJ-Daniels triple threat just days earlier.
#3 â€“ Chris Jericho
Is there a more consistent performer in WWE today than Chris Jericho? After he reinvented himself in the summer of 2008 he has maintained that character and the sustained push of a main event caliber star. He started 2009 with a one-man crusade against the legends of WWE that brought the best out of Ricky Steamboat of all people. Then a switch to SmackDown led to an amazing rivalry against Rey Mysterio that led to three match of the year candidates at Judgment Day, Extreme Rules and The Bash, with each match getting better as the rivalry progressed. From there he completely switched gears and became Unified Tag Team Champion with Edge. Unfortunately Edge went out with an untimely injury and Jericho surprised everyone by naming The Big Show as his new Championship partner. The two unlikely allies dominated gelled together amazingly and dominated the RAW brand and made the Tag Titles into main event attractions. While Jerichoâ€™s 2009 cannot compare to his incredible 2008, an off year for Jericho is still light years ahead of most wrestlersâ€™ best day.
#2 â€“ John Cena
The venerable â€œChampâ€ once again had a pretty good year at the behest of many over the age of 12. After defeating JBL at the beginning of the year he came out as Champion once again at WrestleMania. Then he renewed his rivalry with Edge, complete with fantastic match at Backlash. From there rivalries with The Big Show and The Miz carried through the summer. But the end of the year when his rivalry with Randy Orton kicked into high gear that Cenaâ€™s year was made. Between a singles match at SummerSlam, an I Quit match at Breaking Point, a Hell in a Cell at uhâ€¦Hell in a Cell and a 60-minute, anything goes Iron Man match at Bragging Rights Cena proved can he can hang in a variety of match types. Each of those main event matches with Orton drew mixed reactions from fans but it showed Cenaâ€™s versatility. Then at Survivor Series he went out and tore things up with Triple H and Shawn Michaels in a much better than expected in a triple threat match. Itâ€™s been another good year in a string of them for Cena.
#1 â€“ CM Punk
CM Punk shocked the world in 2008 when he unexpectedly became World Champion. An abysmal Championship reign ended with Punk back in the mid-card. But he rectified himself in 2009 by doing the unthinkable and winning his second Money in the Bank in a row. From there he became The Straight Edge Superstar indy fans have been clamoring for since he arrived in WWE back in 2006. A quick cash in on Jeff Hardy, who had just outlasted Edge in a Ladder match to win the World Championship and Punk became a hated man. He then embarked on amazing rivalry with Hardy and Edge that brought back the second installment of the SmackDown Six. He put together amazing free TV matches with Hardy, Edge, John Morrison and Chris Jericho plus quality pay per view outings with Hardy at The Bash, Night of Champions and SummerSlam. Even though Punk got owned in his one-sided feud with The Undertaker this past fall he went out and went full â€œstraight edge,â€ recruited the dead character Festus into his militant soldier Luke Gallows. With three World Championships under his reign, an offshoot of the same character that got him noticed in the first place and crazy momentum going into 2010, CM Punk became an improbable superstar in the â€œland of giants.â€
The year 2009 was definitely dominated by heels all across the board with The Main Event Mafia dominating TNA, The American Wolves and Austin Aries taking over Ring of Honor and men like Punk, Jericho, Orton and Edge reigning over WWE it was a good year to be a villain.
Tags: AJ Styles, Bryan Danielson, chris jericho, cm punk, edge, john cena, John Morrison, Kurt Angle, randy orton, shawn michaels