Here we are, boys and girls. The very final installment of the 2013 CRL 100. Here we will find out just who the best and brightest performers of the past year really were, and exactly what it is that they did that makes them so special. The top 25 contains wrestlers from Mexico, Ireland, Japan, Spain, Israel and so much more, and even contains one complete tag team for god’s sake! Are you dying of anticipation? Are you already salivating at the thought of loudly scorning the choices? Well who am I to stop you, let’s get right to it!
25. (N/A) Mistico II (CMLL)
With less than 2 years total experience to his name, Mistico II set out to continue CMLL’s solid momentum going into 2013. He joined together with Valiente, (Cewsh’s favorite chubby luchador,) and Mascara Dorada to form Los Estetas del Aire, and the trio spent the year wowing audiences and cementing themselves as the top triad in all of Mexico, an honor every bit as significant and revered as any singles championship, if not more so. But more important than any individual victory, Mistico II served as a symbol of CMLL’s rebirth and youth movement as they worked to establish a new generation of stars. He has a long way to go yet to fill the shoes of the man who wore his mask before him, but with the company on the rise, and fans flocking to the arena, this young man might go down in the record books all the same.
If there’s one theme that you can take away from wrestling around the world over the past year it would have to be veterans passing the torch on to new stars. From John Cena putting over Daniel Bryan clean, to Hiroshi Tanahashi legitimizing Kazuchika Okada and onwards. But somewhat lost in all of this is Kane, who was so integral to the rise of Daniel Bryan, Bray Wyatt and the Shield that it’s hard to believe that any of them could have reached such heights without him.
This year saw Kane defying the maxim that giants fade as they get into their 40s, by delivering what may be the best collection of matches in his long career, all while being a huge favorite of fans worldwide. The end of the year saw Kane dramatically give his mask to the Authority and join them as part of the most powerful stable in the wrestling world; a partnership that has only just begun to bear out it’s potential.
Kane’s selflessness and skill were never more evident than this year, and his value to WWE has never been higher. Giant’s curse my ass.
It was the strength of the first half of his year, as well as his habit of giving his all whether he’s in a main event or a pre show match, that got Ziggler this far up the list, even while his second half was one of the most miserably unsatisfying of anyone in the wrestling world. We can only hope that the Show Off has another big run in him to get back to where we all feel he belongs.
El Generico had a lot of fans on the indy scene who were sorry to see him go when he signed his WWE developmental deal in January of this year. They loved him for his goofy antics, his high flying expertise, and for his willingness to put his body on the line in any number of crazy ways. But if any of those fans tell you that they had even an inkling of what Generico would become when he arrived in WWE, they’re either a god damned liar or his mother.
Sami Zayn took NXT by storm upon his arrival, and that truly is the only apt way to put it. His matches with Anotnio Cesaro were the best of the indy style melded with the WWE style to create something that jumped right off the screen from the first lock up. It was obvious right then and there that Zayn was special, and he has only gone on to back it up further with a full year of character growth and eye popping performances. For a developmental wrestler to get this high on the list is an incredible feat. But for Sami Zayn, it’s just the prologue.
SUWAMA IS ALL JAPAN. You might as well put that phrase on the logo, because, with the exception of someone we’ll get to later, there is no promotion that depends so heavily upon one single man to keep it afloat. He wins every title, is part of every title feud, and is just generally the gamble that the entire promotion is staking everything on. So why isn’t he higher on the list? Well, in short, he just hasn’t had much to work with. With the exception of Go Shiozaki and Jun Akiyama, who gave him a welcome batch of new opponents SUWAMA has been mired in messy feuds with lesser talents all year long. That’s what you get when you work for a company so far on the down slope, but SUWAMA has proclaimed his allegiance to All Japan for the near future. So we’ll have plenty more time to see him rule the roost there, for whatever that may be worth.
I want you to imagine that you’re Gail Kim. You created the TNA Knockouts Division, and have seen it fall to ruin over the years through mismanagement and bad booking. You return to TNA triumphantly after a run in WWE, only to find the level of competition severely degraded from when you were there before. Now fast forward a bit to this year, and that talent has degraded even further, to the extent that your ENTIRE DIVISION is comprised of ODB, Velvet Sky, Taryn Terrell, Madison Rayne, Lei’D Tapa and Brooke Tessmacher, all of whom had been in non wrestling roles or off the show altogether a year before. Most people, when faced with this dire level of competition, would have given up and just gone with the flow. Instead, Gail Kim set about turning scrubs into stars.
Kim pulled incredible matches out of Terrell and Tessmacher, made ODB into a relevant name again, helped Tapa to look like a monster in the making, and gave everyone a foil to play off of. It’s been known for a long time that without Gail Kim, there never would have been a Knockouts Division. To that, I will amend that if it weren’t for her, there wouldn’t be one now either.
18. (#60) Johnny Gargano (Dragon Gate USA)
Okay, listen up people because this is important. If you learn nothing else from the CRL 100 this year, I at least want you to remember the name Johnny Gargano. Because he is, for my money, the best wrestler on the planet who is not signed to a major promotion. It’s inexplicable that WWE and TNA have left Gargano to his own devices all this time while they desperately gobble up anyone on the indy scene who can do a suplex without falling over, but just take that as an opportunity to see the man before he gets big.
2013 saw Gargano continue his two year long streak as the champion of Dragon Gate USA, a streak that has seen him make a whopping EIGHTEEN title defenses against the likes of Chris Hero, Brian Kendrick and new WWE hires Samurai Del Sol and Sami Callihan. In between, he took time out of his busy schedule to win the PRIME Wrestling championship at their biggest show of the year, and to challenge Adam Cole to a match for the PWG Championship at All Star Weekend X that is my hands down indy match of the year.
Johnny Gargano is more than just a great wrestler, he’s one of the last great hopes for indy wrestling as a whole. And while there’s only so much higher he can possibly rise before heading for the big leagues, that just gives you a little while longer to enjoy the best talent walking the bingo hall circuit today. Don’t miss out.
Like it or not, this was the year of the Stardust Genius in New Japan. Though he missed nearly half of the year with a knee injury, he came back in the second half of the year like a storm, not only besting Masato Tanaka for the NEVER Championship, but also winning the entire G1 Climax Series by pinning Hiroshi Tanahashi in the finals.
With that incredible victory, (no G1 winner will ever be outside the top 50, that’s how prestigious a tournament it is in Japan,) Naito has propelled himself into the main event and will face Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship just 4 days after the start of the new year. With a win there, his stock would be through the roof. For now, though, he’ll have to settle for moving up just one spot from last year.
I’m not even going to try to untangle the web of feelings that people have for the wild twists and turns of AJ’s character over the years. This isn’t a list for that. What this list is for is looking at how great and significant a person was in 2013, and from that point of view it would be hard to say that AJ is anything short of one of the top female performers in WWE history. In her dual role as both valet and wrestler this year, AJ’s accomplishments speak for themselves. She managed a World Champion in Dolph Ziggler and, more importantly, she engaged in a feud with Kaitlyn that captured the imagination of audiences world wide and which netted AJ her first ever WWE Divas Championship.
Now that title isn’t exactly one that has had a proud lineage, but all year long, AJ has been working overtime to change that, with fantastic results. Her title defenses have made women’s matches on pay per view something to look forward to again, and her feud against the Total Divas crew created a whole new crop of babyface challengers seemingly out of nowhere.
To say that AJ is the undisputed face of women’s wrestling in the United States right now is really underselling it. She has brought credibility back to a division that some thought would never see it again. And just wait until those developmental girls get brought up to face her…
It seems like every few years the American indy scene comes to some kind of unspoken agreement and chooses for itself a new “king of the indys”. That isn’t just a guy who gets pushed hard in one company, but rather someone who every indy company seems to realize all at once is THE guy. Low Ki was that guy once upon a time, so was Daniel Bryan, and more recently Kevin Steen held that mantle. But in 2013, that torch got passed definitively to Adam Cole.
In winning both the PWG title and the ROH one, (both featured dramatic heel turns by Cole,) Cole put himself on the map with a select few individuals over the past decade as the top guy on the independent scene. In times gone by, this has been like putting chum in the water for the WWE sharks to come, but until they do, we can enjoy the new face of indy wrestling. And a goddamn good looking one at that.
14. (N/A) Nick Jackson (Freelance)
The Young Bucks have always been a hugely exciting team, and we were proud to be among the first blogs to herald their most excellent potential. But in the years since they first broke onto the scene in a big way, the Young Bucks have transcended any of the “Hardy Boyz 2.0” labels they found themselves shackled with in the beginning, and have staked a definitive claim to the title of “Best Tag Team In The World”. With a slate of incredible performances across an enormous variety of promotions, and an eye popping collection of titles and awards, the Bucks have made themselves into perhaps the most compelling act on the independent scene today. Frankly, in today’s climate, the Young Bucks basically ARE tag team wrestling. Just look at that list of fucking titles. IN ONE YEAR. And now that they have joined Prince Devitt’s Bullet Club and found a new home in Japan, the sky truly is the limit for the brothers who spit on gravity.
Now, who wants to have a superkick party?
Del Rio kicked off the year with a face turn that had no right to work as well as it did, and at the Royal Rumble he had a fantastic match with the Big Show that began a streak of great pay per view matches that is unequaled by any other wrestler in any company this year. This year, Del Rio established himself as the perfect undercard champion, having great matches with a wide variety of opponents and making threats out of contenders that might be laughable against anyone else.
Now that we have a unified title, Del Rio’s value may be dimmed, but 2013 will always be the year that he found his place in WWE at last.
(NJPW Best of the Super Juniors)
Welcome to the age of the Real Rock ‘N’ Rolla. This year saw a rise from Prince Devitt that took him from opening matches to main events and everywhere in between. From the moment he cast off his babyface persona and traded it in for a new, darker one, Prince Devitt became one of the top stars in New Japan seemingly without trying. His stable, Bullet Club, bullied and destroyed opposition wherever they went, and Devitt himself proved his unstoppable domination of the Junior Division by winning the Super Junior Tournament almost out of spite, and holding the title all year long, even as he pursued Okada and the Heavyweight title relentlessly.
In Japan it is very very difficult for a foreign wrestler to get to the main event. It is even harder for a junior heavyweight wrestler to do so. But somehow, this skinny Irishman with an impenetrable accent made it look goddamn easy from his perch on the shoulders of his bodyguard, Bad Luck Fale.
This was a banner year for Devitt, but it’s only the start for him. And that’s a shoot.
Has anyone in wrestling history ever been tasked with doing more with less? As one of the two people that TNA built its entire year around, it was Bully Ray who was asked to do the heavy lifting in promos and PPV main events, even while the storylines that surrounded him were increasingly baffling, and the company fell to pieces around him.
But no matter how bad TNA got, Bully Ray never let it slow him down for a second. He made being sttoryline married to Brooke Hogan work, he made leading the worst stable in wrestling history work, and he even managed to pull off the most satisfying heel turn of the year at TNA Lockdown. And when it came time to put over AJ Styles at Bound For Glory, he went down swinging in a match that will rank up there as one of the best of his career.
In 2013, Bully Ray wasn’t the star that TNA wanted or even the one that it needed. But he was the one that it had. And did the impossible every single time he hit the ring. He made people care.
So what does it look like when the best wrestler on the planet has an off year? Well, he legitimizes the new face of his company, (Okada,) puts over a fresh new heel sensation, (Devitt,), puts over his eventual replacement in the main event of the second biggest gala event of the year, (Naito), works tirelessly to improve the company’s partnerships, (CMLL, Europe,) and acts as the company’s spokesman and figurehead throughout the world during it’s attempts at global expansion.
Gosh, Tanahashi. What a let down.
It aint easy being AJ Styles. After waiting over a decade for TNA to finally commit to him as it’s top star, he finally got his wish; only to see the sweet taste of success turn to ashes in his mouth thanks to the storyline they gave him. 2013 was a year that had AJ Styles abandoning everything his devoted fanbase had loved about him and parroting a tired storyline from 1997. The feud was one of the most poorly constructed in wrestling history, and shortly after it concluded, AJ found himself out of a job with the company he is synonymous with.
So with all that being true, how did AJ Styles wind up in the top 10? Well, it’s simple. In 2013, TNA made AJ Styles its undeniable focus, and his victory over Bully Ray and Aces and Eights at Bound For Glory was every bit as triumphant as it was significant. Frankly, I don’t know that anyone else could have come out the other side of a storyline that terrible and still shine like AJ Styles did. And while that win over Bully Ray may well prove to be the climax that precedes the downturn of his career, at least we can finally say that one of the unsung greats of our era finally got his moment in the sun.
There’s something truly special going on here with Nakamura, and now, planted firmly in the back of every New Japan fan is the realization that someday soon, SWAGSUKE is going to decide to come for Okada. And when that happens, there won’t be an arena in the world big enough to contain them.
(RCW Triple Crown Championship)
(RCW Angels Division Championship)
(PWR Women’s Championship)
The first woman ever to make the top 10 of the CRL 100, Melissa earned it in spades this year, with the heel turn that will define her entire career, and a title reign to tell the grandkids about. After battling long and hard to finally reclaim the Shimmer championship from Saraya Knight, Melissa seemed poised to enjoy a nice relaxing year or being the top dog in Shimmer. But none of us could have expected her to turn on her old friend Allison Danger and head down the path of the dark side, or the carnage that would result.
Whether in Shimmer or outside of it, this was a year of dominance for the now Present Legend. Even Pro Wrestling Illustrated acknowledged it by giving her the top spot in their list of top female wrestlers of this year. And who are we to argue with them?
With Melissa making enemies out of everyone of importance in the entire world of women’s wrestling, 2014 may be a wild year for her, but for now she’s the queen of the world with no debate to be had.
I bet that there are more than a few people who are looking at that list of accomplishments with surprise. After all, the perception among wrestling fans seems to be that John Cena was surprisingly inconspicuous compared to years past. Or at least as inconspicuous as you can be when you win the Royal Rumble, face the Rock in the biggest rematch of our era in the main event of Wrestlemania, put over the next big thing in the main event of Summerslam, and compete in the match to unify the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships.
This year was less about John Cena being absent, and more about him getting the most mileage out of every single thing he did. His feud with Mark Henry will go on Henry’s highlight reel forever, his work in putting over Bryan will be a point of pride for the rest of his career and his near miraculous return from crazy injuries will baffle medical experts for years to come.
We’ve entered the golden period with John Cena, a period where we’ve grown comfortable with him, and he has grown into the peak of his skills. And for anyone hoping to stay ahead of his on this list, the idea that he might get MORE conspicuous and, even scarier, that we might not mind, is enough to keep you up at night.
It feels good to be right, doesn’t it?
As the heel foil for Daniel Bryan, and the centerpiece of the Authority, Randy Orton has unexpectedly gotten the biggest push of his entire career this year, allowing him to cap off a marvelous 2013 with the greatest prize in the entire wrestling industry, a Unified WWE Championship. Winning that belt fair in square made Orton an automatic top 5 entrant into this year’s list, but that’s not to say he didn’t earn it the rest of the way. His work with Bryan was critical to Bryan’s growth into a main eventer, and Orton’s uncharacteristic deference to putting over the Shield at every turn helped turn them into the monsters of 2013.
Ultimately though, it is the enduring image of Orton standing astride the brand split and hammering it shut himself that will be the accomplishment that defines him. That, and the warm, happy feeling that we got for getting exactly what we asked for and seeing it turn out so, so well.
What is there left to be said about CM Punk? This year saw the man do it all. From feuding with the Rock and leading him to some of the best matches of the legend’s career, to stealing the show at Wrestlemania with the Undertaker, to having the WWE match of the year with Brock Lesnar at Summerslam. CM Punk’s year was defined by coming up big in the biggest moments, and on the biggest stages, and in doing so, he has become a true icon all of his own. The only thing that could have made this year better for CM Punk is if he would have won some of those matches, (he went 0-4,) but just being there and breathing that rarefied air next to names like Rock, Taker and Lesnar puts you on a whole other level.
Outperforming them all while you’re there is just the icing on top.
3. (N/A) KENTA (NOAH)
It’s one thing to be the top star for your company; to be counted on and looked to to lead the promotion to greatness. There are a select few individuals who are ever put into that position, and they are names that most of us can draw upon at will. But it’s a whole other ballgame to be the one and only reason why your promotion continues to exist at all. And all of that crushing pressure and responsibility was placed onto the shoulders of KENTA in 2013, as he finally ascended to the GHC Heavyweight Championship in a last ditch effort by Pro Wrestling NOAH to make anyone care about them. And it worked.
Now KENTA is a name that many American wrestling fans are already familiar with. He brought his incredible in ring style to ROH during it’s hottest period, his moves have been stolen en masse by top American wrestlers, and he and Naomichi Marufuji made a whole new generation of puro fans with their jaw dropping matches in the mid 00s. But what many American fans don’t know is that before very recently, Jr. Heavyweight wrestlers were doomed to oblivion in the undercard for their whole careers. There was a huge size bias in Japan that was impossibly hard to overcome, and which kept KENTA, NOAH’s most popular star by a mile, from becoming a main eventer. It took the very real threat of total irrelevance to force NOAH to finally give KENTA the ball to run with and put their full hopes for the future behind him. And luckily for them, he has been all they could have asked for and more.
Throughout this year, KENTA has defended NOAH’s title tirelessly, breaking their record for most title defenses in a year. He has faced down the likes of Takeshi Morishima, Naomichi Marufuji, and Yuji Nagata, and has restored fan interest in NOAH enough to pull it’s neck off the chopping block. It’s entirely possible that no man or woman means more to their company than KENTA does to NOAH, which is a dangerous thing. But, at least for the present, the gamble is paying off big time.
(WWE Tag Team Championship)
Our returning champion had a great year last year, as he almost single handedly carried the entire WWE undercard on his back, made the most unexpected tag team in WWE history a success and cemented himself as WWE’s finest performer all in one go. And maybe the most amazing thing about Daniel Bryan’s 2012 is that his 2013 was EVEN BETTER.
After all, this is the year that Daniel Bryan lit the WWE Universe on fire and somehow ascended to heights that seemed unreachable by anyone not named John. On the strength of several wildfire performances, a rabid fan following and, strangely enough, reality show stardom, Daniel Bryan became the hero of WWE, and captured the WWE championship by beating John Cena clean in the main event of WWE’s second biggest show of the year. Unfortunately a slow start to the year, (with him playing third fiddle in the feud with the Shield,) and a end of the year bogged down with overbooked pay per view matches and a lack of success post Summerslam have to count against him ever so slightly. Which is why he slides ever so slightly down to number 2.
In damn near any other year, what Bryan accomplished would have been more than enough to keep a hold on the top spot. But this is 2013. And 2013 belonged to…
1. (N/A) Kazuchika Okada (NJPW)
Believe me when I tell you, it just couldn’t be anyone else. Despite the incredible, incredible years had by every single member of the top ten, and Daniel Bryan in particular, this was quite simply the year of the Rainmaker.
Okada’s year began with a match against Hiroshi Tanahashi that is a serious contender for the match of the year while still somehow not even being the best match they would have this year. Okada lost there, and rumors began to swirl that WWE was showing serious interest in the 26 year old mega star, bringing Okada’s name to a whole new crop of fans curious about what would have WWE so interested. Okada shot the rumors down, and even went on to win the New Japan Cup soon thereafter while inventing a brand new submission finisher called “Red Ink”. With all the momentum in the world behind him, and a new arsenal prepared, Okada challenged his arch rival Tanahashi one more time.
In the most climactic match in any promotion in 2013, he defeated the former face of New Japan once and for all, taking his place as the top star of the second biggest wrestling company in the world.
For most people, this would have been too much pressure, and comparisons were made to how WWE pushed Randy Orton too fast and too young. But Okada buried all of that discussion as business boomed all year long with him on top, defending the title against the likes of Togi Makabe, Minoru Suzuki and Tanahashi (again) in matches that had people raving, and new fans from other countries flocking to join the New Japan craze. And now he stands ready to face the challenge of Tetsuya Naito at New Japan’s biggest show of the year on January 4th.
New Japan is the hottest promotion in the world, and Kazuchika Okada is the rocket that is carrying them into the stratosphere. There are many men and women who could have fairly held this top spot, but there’s only one who truly deserves the title of Mr. 2013. And baby, you’re looking at him.
Well, that’ll do it for us this time, boys and girls. We hope you enjoyed this epic countdown of the greatest of the great from this amazing year in pro wrestling. 2014 is fast approaching, full of potential and intrigue, and who the hell knows how this list might shake out one year in the future. But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that it’ll be a whole lot of fun to figure it out.
Now i’ll leave you with a list of the people who were on the list last year and dropped off, just to give you an idea of just how volatile this year in wrestling was. In the meantime, remember to keep reading and be good to one another!