December is probably my favorite month of be year. This is not just because Christmas has always been my favorite holiday; it is also because it is time the perfect time for reflection. It’s the right time to look back on the year that was and celebrate what made that year so great. And while 2015 has actually been a catastrophic year in the world of politics and social justice and things are only getting uglier in those fields, it’s been a whirlwind year in entertainment And that’s what I’m here to look back on. I will take up three weeks this month to look back on my favorites in entertainment this year; and since I am FearlessRiOT, it will all obviously be in countdown form. This week, I tackle my favorites in pro wrestling, next week I’ll tackle music, and two weeks from now will see me take on acting, along with the bonus field of celebrities on social media. Hope you enjoy this week’s installment!
With WWE, TNA, Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground, and even New Japan Pro Wrestling finding homes on television this year, wrestling fans got to have their fill anywhere they turned this year. Much fuss has been made about WWE’s drop in quality (and ratings) this year, but some fans still hang on a tune in every week, stomaching their programming no matter how predictable, recycled, formulaic, and stale it becomes. WWE is a hard drug to quit, people, especially when they simultaneously present us with the amazing hour that is NXT every Wednesday night. TNA fans were fortunate for their promotion to stay alive via Destination America before the station gave them the can a short time later. ROH also got TV time on that Network, which was good news for me since it made it easier for me to keep up with the product. Sadly, I don’t have El Rey anymore and couldn’t watch LU, but I did manage to find their Ultimate Lucha show and it was very exciting. And if New Japan is your thing, AXS TV had your back this year. With that in mind, which male competitors kept me entertained this year? This Year-End Top 10 has the answer!
#10. Jay Lethal
When he was in TNA, X-Division star and master impressionist Jay Lethal was one of my favorite athletes they had under contract, so when he left the promotion, I did all I could to see what was next for him. He found his way back to Ring of Honor Wrestling and has been one of their top stars ever since. In fact, this year, he could officially call himself The Man after his rivalry with Jay Briscoe, which he won at Best in the World; the House of Truth member captured the ROH World Title, in addition to his ROH Television Title to make a full set. Jay Lethal is on top of the ROH mountain as 2015 closes out.
#9. Brock Lesnar
I didn’t know whether to grant this spot to Brock Lesnar or Sting. And the icon almost landed the spot until I realized that even though it was his first year competing in WWE and his WrestleMania match was awesome (though the end result should have been reversed), there was just no stopping Lesnar this year. He dominated the Undertaker, decimated a car, manhandled J&J Security, and was able to turn a random ad-lib on the grandest stage of them all into a meme and a slogan that’s been repeated all year and refuses to go away. Strap in; looks like we’re staying in Suplex City in 2016, folks.
#8. Ethan Carter III
The most consistently entertaining guy TNA had on their roster all year was easily Ethan Carter III. I don’t know how much of it is TNA making him look as good as possible and how much of it is his own brilliance, but how could the man not shine in a year where he shaved Rockstar Spud bald, launched a presidential-like campaign to earn him the World Title shot he totally deserved, won the World Championship with a win over Kurt Angle, and earned the right to boss Jeff Hardy around for a few weeks? TNA stay losing talent, but they should keep EC3 as long as they can?
#7. Kevin Owens
This guy may be the most evil man in pro wrestling today. That is a good thing; nobody is as committed to being an unlikable jerk like the former Kevin Steen is. Last year, he turned on his best friend for a World Title opportunity, but this year, he took it up many notches: calling out John Cena (and beating him), powerbombing rapper MGK off the stage through a table, blocking Melissa Joan Hart (from Sabrina the Teenage Witch) on Twitter for her honest opinion on him, giving announcers a hard time. And there’s more where that came from. He’s the most entertaining kind of evil.
I wanna say “poor Neville” for a couple of reasons: first of all, he lost his first name somewhere in the call-up abyss. Second of all, he was basically used as a high-flying attraction and nothing more for most of the year. But then again, it’s not all bad for him. He did take John Cena to the limit in his United States Open Challenge on RAW and he did perform on SummerSlam with Arrow star Stephen Amell, who himself gave an impressive showing. Let’s just hope that 2016 holds some new ground for the Red Arrow and he doesn’t have to face Stardust 800 more times a month.
#5. Seth Rollins
Between Ethan Carter III, Kevin Owens, and this guy, it really wasn’t that bad a year for despicable cowardly heels, was it? In the Shield days, I never expected to see Seth Rollins become the slimeball that he became in 2015. Apparently, though, when you’re the favorite of the Authority, you do have your perks (and constant chances to defend them). After cashing in Money in the Bank at WrestleMania, Rollins won his first World Championship and held onto it for months against opponents ranging from Cena to Sting before going down with a knee injury. Get well soon, Rollins!
#4. John Cena
In a refreshing change from the norm, John Cena was barely in the World Title picture this year. He got a shot against Seth Rollins, but Jon Stewart of all people made sure Cena didn’t gain a 16th World Title. Despite this, Cena was still one of the best things about WWE in 2015: sure, he ruined Rusev’s momentum and adopted a sixth move that everyone hated, but his series of matches against Kevin Owens were epic and as were his matches against Neville, Sami Zayn, and others as a part of his U.S. Title Open Challenge. In fact, some of his best matches were with this next guy…
No, Vince McMahon hasn’t completely changed his tune on the Swiss Superman; he’s still an upper mid-carder and McMahon is still hesitant to give him the main event spotlight. That said, the fans (and Stone Cold) have still shown their support all year long; signs reading “Cesaro Section” were visible countless times in the crowd, and when Cesaro’s tag team partner Tyson Kidd went down with an injury, Cesaro took advantage by delivering show-stealing performances every match even in defeat. Will 2016 be the year Vince opens his eyes and gives Cesaro the chance to be the star he’s capable of being?
#2. Dean Ambrose
Much like Cesaro, Dean Ambrose is one of those wrestlers the fans have embraced that the high-ups in WWE clearly haven’t. He spent a large chunk of the year either losing matches he shouldn’t be losing or playing Roman Reigns’ BFF who knows that he loves his water room temperature. He didn’t even win a title this year, even though he did steal both the IC Title and the World Title a number of times. On the bright side, he’s still one of WWE’s most entertaining characters and his matches against the likes of Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens proves he’s valuable between the ropes.
#1. Finn Bálor
Finn Bálor (with an accent on the “a”) says that he is in no hurry to get to the main roster. And honestly, who could blame him? He became a marquee name for the NXT brand fairly quickly due to his demon paint and his exciting in-ring style. And he officially became the face of the brand by defeating Kevin Owens in one of the best matches of the year at the WWE Network’s live special from Tokyo. He followed that up by defeating Kevin Owens again in a Ladder Match at TakeOver: Brooklyn. Staying in NXT for a while may be what’s best for him if he keep churning out great performances.
Like I said, it was kind of a disappointing year for the Stinger, losing two of the three matches he competed in this year. However, just the fact that he finally competed in a WWE ring is reason enough to mention him.
+ Apollo Crews
The former Uhaa Nation debuted in NXT this year and immediately became a big name in Full Sail. And I’m impressed; he’s like Bobby Lashley with more skills, more agility, and more relatability.
+ Dalton Castle
Rolling Stone recently had a feature spotlighting this guy for his flamboyance. And I’m all for it. We could use flashy characters in wrestling again, for I approve of the rise of this Ring of Honor star.
+ Tyler Breeze
Everything I just said about Dalton Castle also applies to Tyler Breeze; he’s a flamboyant individual, but boy can he go in the ring. You also got to envy that he gets to hang out with Summer Rae these days.
Ring of Honor has so many African-American superstars and they’re all pretty good. And while Moose and Cedric Alexander have done well for themselves, I’ve had a blast seeing ACH in action. More of this guy, please!
+ AJ Styles
The Phenomenal One doesn’t need TNA after all; he’s made a career in New Japan and Ring of Honor as a part of the Bullet Club and he’s still as popular and entertaining as ever!
This gimmick will not be earning Cody Rhodes a World Title any time soon, that’s for sure. But while he’s playing the role, he’s really giving it his all and making it unexpectedly entertaining.
What male wrestlers left an impression on you in 2015? Hit me up on Twitter @FearlessRiOT or leave a comment below. Stick around for more Year-End Top 10s!