• Top 10 Wrestlers of the Year 2014

    Time to rank the best wrestlers of the year.

    Fresh off of our Year End Awards Extravaganza, we decided to create a panel to compile a list of our Top 10 Wrestlers of the Year. Five regular Wrestling On Earth contributors ranked their top 15 wrestlers of 2014 using whatever criteria they determine makes one “Wrestler of the Year.” The criteria is completely subjective to each person.

    To get on the list, you have to be on 3+ panel member lists and then we’d do simple math of who had the highest rankings to see how it played out.

    The panel:

    Honorable mentions: Brock Lesnar and Adam Cole just missed the list as they were on three lists but didn’t quite crack the top 10.

    10. Daniel Bryan

    bryan

    Tom:

    Even though he was absent for such a good chunk of the year, his story made for the best Wrestlemania in a decade and his announcement that he’ll be back in 2015 is such a relief. Raw’s gotten to the point where there’s only a handful of performers I actively look forward to, and Bryan’s absence made the show a really rough watch for a while – even with guys like Rollins and Cesaro and so on, there was a point where Bryan would be wrestling a couple of matches every show and he was always excellent. He’s just special, y’know?

    Brad:

    Daniel Bryan started the year in a position that was some what undesirable to say the least. It may have been perhaps the plan all along to put Bryan in his spot he ended up having at Wrestlemania. One thing that I will say about Bryan is he is the one guy who was involved in some of the most memorable moments of the year in my opinion.

    Bell to bell, there are few guys who truly work harder in those 3 ropes (not four) than Daniel Bryan. While Bryan’s 2014 was cut short, the intensity he brings and the level he connects with the fans makes him very worthy in the top 10.

    Deathlock:

    DBry is on my list in spite of missing half the year. You all probably know the story — he defeated Triple H at Wrestlemania XXX to get a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship (Bryan vs. Triple H was my favorite WWE match of the year). He won that match, and later in the night defeated Batista AND Randy Orton to capture the championship. That is freaking magical. A whole arena full of nothing but love for their favorite wrestler finally getting what they think he deserves after a years-long buildup. That’s one reason why wrestling is great, and one reason why Bryan is so high on my list for 2014. His recent promo on Raw announcing his entry into the 2015 Royal Rumble makes it even better. 2014 is not the end!

    9. Hiroshi Tanahashi

    tanahashi

    Joey:

    Hiroshi Tanahashi is a joy to watch. The guy is a perfect wrestler in just about every way. Seeing him live was a really nice moment at War of the Worlds. Sometimes you just see the charisma and star power a wrestler has just by their presence and Tanahashi is one of them. I enjoyed a lot of his matches this year and am glad he was the one to dethrone AJ Styles. The Wrestle Kingdom main event vs. Okada will be another classic.

    (Note: I wrote this before Wrestle Kingdom and it was indeed another classic.)

    Brad:

    There are few pro wrestlers who have the personal relationship that Tanahashi has with the fans and more specifically the female fans. He brings that aura that acts like The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Shawn Michaels have brought in the past. In ring, there are few that bring the showcase of athleticism that Tanahashi brings to the ring. His legacy will continue on at New Japan Wrestle Kingdom on Jan 4th at the Dome Show.

    (Note: His legacy DID continue on at the Dome Show.)

    Deathlock:

    Tanahashi’s been solidly amazing for a long time, but this year saw him shatter a bunch of records to become the first seven time IWGP heavyweight champion, the longest combined-number-of-days-reigning champion, and generally cementing his spot among the greatest wrestlers of all time. If his sun is setting like Okada claims, 2014 was a great year to go out on. In addition, he had a feud with Katsuyori Shibata that set everyone’s hearts on fire.

    Leading up to their feud, Tanahashi took many opportunities in interviews (and in his autobiography!) to express displeasure at Shibata leaving NJPW when they needed him, years ago. Shibata responded by saying he doesn’t care, why is Tanahashi so obsessed with him, anyway? After two incredible hard-fought matches in the latter half of the year (that you definitely need to see! July 26 at the G1 Climax 24, and September 21 at Destruction in Kobe), they hugged, and Tanahashi welcomed Shibata back to NJPW.

    8. Matt Jackson

    matt-jackson

    Tim:

    The Young Bucks deliver every single time they step in the ring. They are (arguably… I guess) the best tag team around. The tag team wouldn’t be anything without the two men within it because that’s how tag teams work. They require two people to exist. Math.

    2014 was a year where Matt and his brother not only continued to shine but also grew a bit more as performers. Their matches with reDRagon really highlighted just how much these two can offer. Matt Jackson is a joy to watch. Plain and simple.

    Joey:

    The Young Bucks are so consistently amazing. From NJPW to ROH to PWG to the random local indie fed, the Bucks always give me my entertainment value and supply me with wrestling happiness. The Young Bucks vs. reDRagon series of matches are among my favorite things to happen in 2014.

    Brad:

    Matt Jackson brings a combination of The Rockers, Hardy Boys and embodies today’s current independent style with a huge influence on Japanese wrestling. The creativity and athleticism seen in his ring style is unprecedented in tag wrestling today. Having one of the best Twitter pages and a super funny guy, there would be no Nick without Matt. Much of what I said about Matt applies as well to Nick. The incredible ease and pin point accuracy of some of the most athletic maneuvers is something that makes Nick Jackson very worthy of being one of the best of 2014.

    7. Nick Jackson

    nick-jackson

    Tim:

    No matter where they go or what night they are performing The Young Bucks perform at their best. I’ve already said a lot about both members of The Young Bucks but I feel the reason why Nick Jackson is ranked in this spot is because of the charisma he shows and how entertaining he can be on Twitter. It really gives the team a fun dynamic.

    Joey:

    Same as Matt. Except he gets the one spot higher ranking for being The Indytaker.

    Tom:

    Just the best laugh you could hope for, both in and out the ring. The Bucks’ insanity on social media and elsewhere has been much copied, but I don’t think anyone’s come close to the levels they’ve reached or done it as well. They’ve also hit a level of comfort and confidence in the ring that makes them incredibly fun to watch. One of the few acts in wrestling that I’d buy a ticket for regardless of who they’re wrestling or what the rest of the card looks like.

    6. Kazuchika Okada

    okada

    Joey:

    Kazuchika Okada is arguably the best thing going in NJPW. Every time he wrestles, it feels like a big deal. His match with AJ Styles on the first day of the G1 Climax set the tone for me. If that wasn’t as excellent as it was, I probably wouldn’t have paid as much attention as I did for the entire series. Okada also ended it strongly with a stellar match with Nakamura that he won.

    Brad:

    I cannot think of one guy who was mishandled and miscast worse than the Rainmaker. After his brief stay with a certain American company, he came to New Japan and rose up the ranks that hasn’t been seen since the debut of Brock Lesnar.

    His true strength, in my opinion, is coming off as a huge superstar but taking what might be a simple reversal and making it feel fresh. His ability and New Japan as well is his knack for coming off like a superstar whether its his unique hairstyles, having money rain or dressing like royalty. Kazuchika Okada could be # 1 on this list but this competition is incredibly strong.

    Deathlock:

    Okada had a great year in spite of losing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to an arrogant newcomer to his promotion (yes, NJPW is his, look at him), AJ Styles. Besides, if he doesn’t lose the title every now and then, how will he ever top Tanahashi’s record 7 reigns? I know, right. Okada wrestled in the US and the UK and fascinated a ton of international fans. He beat Shinsuke Nakamura in the G1 finals in an incredible contest, and proceeded to cut the best promo of his career, saying that as long as he’s the center of NJPW — no, of the pro wrestling industry entirely — カネの雨が降るぞ! (kane no ame ga furu zo; it will rain money!)

    5. John Cena

    cena-8-19-raw

    Joey:

    John Cena is just a consistent main eventer that is good for a few great main events per year. You can’t ask for more in your WWE headliners. I felt Cena had some great matches with Cesaro, Luke Harper, Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt. The Wyatt match was the one in Chicago with a last man standing stipulation that I feel was Bray’s best match in WWE. Cena also swallowed his pride and let Brock Lesnar basically squash him in a big match for the betterment of the story.

    Tom:

    There just isn’t anyone else on his level right now in WWE. Even with his flaws, he’s still THE main event guy, and deservedly so. He seems to genuinely relish working with the current wave of new guys and, as more guys come up from NXT, I hope that’ll continue and we’ll get to see some of the most unexpected Cena matches imaginable in the next couple years.

    Brad:

    John Cena has held a position in the WWE as the top star for perhaps the longest of anyone in history. He has kept the merchandise end of things in a strong position with few others making a mark since he has been top seller.  When he is on TV, the ratings go up and he has represented the company in a positive way that NFL players dream of.

    Some may argue that Cena perhaps is uncool or “not pro wrestling.” I argue he has kept the ball in WWE’s court and has allowed certain others to have an opportunity to be in the WWE. Cena is not only a WWE superstar, he is a crossover entertainment star only rivaled by Batista and The Rock. Now, some might argue “that’s not wrestling”, but part of wrestling is promoting.

    John Cena brings a game day feel that few wrestlers are able to bring, whether it is the risks and very rough style he showcases or using his voice to communicate that he is bringing it like its Wrestlemania everyday of the year. Cena, however, never really had that feud in 2014 that shot him to the top. John Cena not being my number one is due to circumstances beyond his control and, as I said, the competition is strong.

    4. Shinsuke Nakamura

    shinsuke

    Joey:

    Shinsuke Nakamura is an exciting wrestler that is among Tanahashi and Okada as the stars of NJPW. Seeing Hammerstein Ballroom explode for a Nakamura vs. Kevin Steen match was a treasured live show memory. Nakamura had a strong and consistent year in the NJPW shows I watched. His match with Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom could easily steal the show.

    (Note: It DID steal the show.)

    Tom:

    In our Year End Awards post, I raved about being introduced to Nakamura via his match with Kevin Steen at the ROH/NJPW show in New York and man, that experience is going to stick with me for a while.

    The thing I find most frustrating about wrestling is the sameiness; in the WWE and on the indies, there seems to be a habit of guys settling into a routine or doing what’s popular and expected and it can just be such a DRAG. Nakamura’s the opposite of that – he’s completely original and comes off across as wildly unpredictable in a way that doesn’t feel forced or put on, and that’s super exciting! Wrestling needs more genuine weirdos.

    He’s absolutely the guy I’d point to as a gateway into my one true love, puroresu. I can’t imagine anyone seeing a minute of Shinsuke Nakamura and not NEEDING to find out more about what is so, so wrong and so, so right with him.

    Deathlock:

    At the risk of ruining any puro cred Tom may have extended me: I’ve been familiar with Shinsuke for a while, but I only lost my mind over him in 2014. I don’t even know what happened. One day I was excited to go to the NJPW/ROH show in NYC because LIGER and the next day my life was different and the world was different and I needed to buy every piece of Nakamura merchandise in existence and see every match he’s ever wrestled, and he’ll never not be #1 on my best of the year lists for eternity, even if he doesn’t wrestle a single match. Sorry, everyone else, my mark heart and wallet are claimed.

    More objectively, Nakamura had a roller coaster of a year: losing his Intercontinental title to Tanahashi in January at Wrestle Kingdom 8, winning the New Japan Cup tournament in the spring to get a title shot, choosing to use that title shot on Tanahashi and regaining his IC title, losing the IC title to Fale somehow in the summer, winning his tournament block to advance to the G1 finals, losing to Okada in the G1 finals in August, winning his IC title back from Fale, defending it against Katsuyori Shibata near the end of the year… It’s emotionally exhausting, but all of it was great.

    3. Sami Zayn

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    Tim:

    From the magnificent El Generico to the most promising new star in the WWE system not many people got anywhere close to having the year tha Sami Zayn had. His skills on the mic were surprising coming off of the generic luchador gimmick and his already astounding in-ring style matured a great deal. He was the highlight of every NXT special and ended the year as NXT Champion. The best part about this is that 2014 was only the beginning for this man.

    Joey:

    How incredible is Sami Zayn? Very. El Generico was one of the best wrestlers on the independent scene for years but the work as Sami Zayn has completely blown it away. Zayn has an emotional connection with fans that many wrestlers could only dream of. Seeing the road Zayn has taken this year has been complete wrestling magic.

    His matches on the live NXT specials vs. Cesaro, Adrian Neville, Tyler Breeze and Tyson Kidd are damn near untouchable if we’re ranking a wrestler based on his or her top 3 matches. I had to rank him a little lower than I typically would due to NxT having less standout matches on the weekly show with an hour long cap.

    Tom:

    Even without watching more than a handful of episodes of NXT, Sami was my number one. Every single one of his ‘big’ matches was one of the best and most memorable I saw all year and there isn’t another guy working anywhere who I’m more excited to see do more in the future. Hopefully 2015 is the year he’s brought up to the main roster and gets a chance to do amazing things.

    2. AJ Styles

    aj

    Tim:

    For AJ Styles, 2014 was a year about reclaiming his role in the business and solidifying himself as one of the best around. By breaking free of TNA and heading out to places like ROH and NJPW, AJ Styles not only reminded people why they used to be big fans of his but also brought a lot to those promotions. His G1 match against Minoru Suzuki was a sight to behold. AJ Styles is something special and 2014 only helped to prove that.

    Joey:

    I don’t think anyone proved more or padded a legacy in 2014 more than AJ Styles. TNA snubbed him and wanted him to take less money thinking there were no options out there for him. After being dragged down with silly TNA writing, many fans didn’t view Styles on the level as a top tier wrestler In 2014, AJ proved just where he is in the upper echelon of wrestling.

    His work in the G1 was absolutely phenomenal, pardon the pun. For a NJPW novice like me, Styles was the main reason I had a bridge to watch more shows. AJ also helped ROH out tremendously.

    The beginning of 2014 saw a rise in ROH’s success in terms of live show attendance and various opportunities for growth like live TV PPV and NJPW joint shows. Styles presence was a large reason for that.

    Deathlock:

    AJ could have earned a spot on my list simply for having his best year in wrestling since 2006, but 2014 was a great year even without taking into account AJ’s history. After winning the IWGP heavyweight championship from Hiroshi Tanahashi in his first match in New Japan, he’s had nothing but stellar matches in the company. His match vs. Minoru Suzuki during the G1 Climax 24 is my match of the year, and I’ve watched it at least ten times. Outside the ring, he worked me into a shoot by wearing jeans to the G1 press conference, and generally pissed me off any time he did anything. I loved it. Thanks for a great time, AJ!

    1. Seth Rollins

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    Tim:

    Seth Rollins has always been a wrestler I thought was great and was proud to support but couldn’t help but feel he lacked certain necessities to make it into the main event tier of WWE. 2014 saw this wrestler grow far beyond my belief and become the main reason to watch Raw week after week during a time where most of my favorites were being used poorly or away from the ring. He was WWE’s MVP in 2014 to me.

    When they split up The Shield I figured he’d be the one put on the backburner after awhile but when they made him a heel and he delivered in that role I knew he was destined for a great future. He has grown on the mic a considerable amount and continues to go all out in every match he is put in. Seth Rollins was the the backbone of the roster in my eyes for most of 2014.

    Joey:

    I have been the biggest Seth Rollins fan from his time in ROH as Tyler Black but even I didn’t dream he had a ceiling this high. Similar to Sami Zayn and even Daniel Bryan, Rollins has been typcasted by fans and critics as someone who was great in the ring but could he ever be a strong character? And this year his strong suit has been character work.

    In The Shield, the matches were always stellar and Rollins was the top in ring performer but clearly third in the pecking order. Since the split, Rollins has passed Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. The guy has all the talent in the world but now he’s a strong character as basically mini Triple H.

    I can’t remember the last time someone has played the weasel heel character this well without hurting their overall standing on the show. Rollins has had the best year from my wrestling viewing and 2015 will only be better.

    Brad:

    If you asked me I would be talking about Seth Rollins in the same breath as Triple H, Big Show and Brock Lesnar, I would perhaps call you crazy. I never saw them seeing Rollins tbh as much more than a guy who could do some cool movies, has enough fundamentals and has a decent look. I think Seth having to be the voice primarily for The Shield perhaps forced his evolution.

    His year in just The Shield alone is incredible. From The Wyatts to New Age Outlaws & Kane to Evolution all of the matches he was a part in speak for themselves. I think in a way he took over as the work horse that was held by CM Punk at the time. The moment that Rollins turned on The Shield was truly when we started to see why Rollins was the architect of The Shield.

    Rollins I thought had a great match in Money in the Bank and his feud with Dean Ambrose was one of the best things on WWE TV. Rollins fit right in with WWE mainstays and hold him in the same regard now as tenured WWE superstars such as Cena, Orton, Undertaker and Sheamus. I think 2014 we only saw the scratch of the surface what is in store for Seth Rollins. One thing you can bank on is Seth Rollins. Rollins is the undisputed future of pro wrestling.

    Individual ballots:

    Tim:

    1. Seth Rollins
    2. Sami Zayn
    3. AJ Styles
    4. Adrian Neville
    5. Brock Lesnar
    6. Roderick Strong (oh snap)
    7. Nick Jackson
    8. Matt Jackson
    9. Dean Ambrose
    10. Charlotte
    11. Rusev
    12. John Cena
    13. Shinsuke Nakamura
    14. Luke Harper
    15. Adam Cole

    Joey:

    1. Seth Rollins
    2. AJ Styles
    3. Sami Zayn
    4. Kazuchika Okada
    5. Kyle O’Reilly
    6. Indytaker
    7. Corporate Kane
    8. KUSHIDA
    9. Shinsuke Nakamura
    10. Jeff Hardy
    11. Luke Harper
    12. John Cena
    13. Jay Lethal
    14. Hiroshi Tanahashi
    15. Adam Cole

    Tom:

    1. Sami Zayn
    2. Nick Jackson
    3. Matt Jackson
    4. Shinsuke Nakamura
    5. AJ Styles
    6. Daniel Bryan
    7. Seth Rollins
    8. Damien Mizdow
    9. Adam Cole
    10. Kevin Owens
    11. John Cena
    12. Rusev
    13. Adrian Neville
    14. Rockstar Spud
    15. Grado

    Brad:

    1. Tomohiro Ishii
    2. Seth Rollins
    3. Hiroshi Tanahashi
    4. AJ Styles
    5. Sami Zayn
    6. Kazuchika Okada
    7. Tyson Kidd
    8. Kenny Omega
    9. Stardust
    10. John Cena
    11. Minoru Suzuki
    12. Daniel Bryan
    13. Brock Lesnar
    14. Ethan Carter
    15. Paige

    Deathlock:

    1. Shinsuke Nakamura
    2. Daniel Bryan
    3. Hiroshi Tanahashi
    4. Kazuchika Okada
    5. AJ Styles
    6. Minoru Suzuki
    7. Seth Rollins
    8. Dean Ambrose
    9. Ricochet
    10. Brock Lesnar
    11. Kimber Lee
    12. Kevin Steen
    13. Sami Zayn
    14. Cesaro
    15. Jun Kasai