|Number one on my ballot grapples number 64|
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
1. Fred Yehi
2. Drew Gulak
3. Johnny Gargano
4. Matt Riddle
5. AJ Styles
6. Zack Sabre, Jr.
7. Scott Dawson
8. Dash Wilder
9. Heidi Lovelace
10. Sami Zayn
11. Timothy Thatcher
12. Tommaso Ciampa
13. Ricochet/Prince Puma
15. Sami Callihan/Jeremiah Crane
16. Kimber Lee
17. Becky Lynch
18. Chris Hero
19. John Cena
20. Killshot/Shane Strickland
21. Lio Rush
22. Sasha Banks
23. Silver Ant - Well, I can't really write what I really want to write about Silver Ant because of important kayfabe reasons, so I'll say this. Whenever I saw him in 2016, no matter where, he delivered a match with a high floor for quality. Even though he had his flaws, which mostly were tied to matches going a few minutes too long, his grasp of mechanics and dramatics was always strong.
24. Gran Metalik
25. Kota Ibushi
26. Aerostar - Everyone does flips, but not everyone should do them. Aerostar is not one of those people. In fact, maybe Aerostar should be the only person who dives to the outside. Seriously, no one jumps to the outside with more jaw-dropping beauty than Aerostar, and he always has the knack for the big moment to break out his best stuff.
28. Big E
29. Roman Reigns
33. Cedric Alexander
34. Kevin Owens
35. Juan Francisco de Coronado - JFDC was Chikara's unsung ace in 2016, a top rudo who knew how to hit every beat in any match to help get stories and his opponents over. He was one of the best users of stalling, and his body language may have been the best on the indies.
36. Broken Matt Hardy
37. Jeff Hardy/Brother Nero
38. AR/Dante Fox - He's always been the original death wish wrestler, but he really stepped his game up with an aggressive mean streak, both in Lucha Underground and on the indies. His match vs. Zack Sabre, Jr. at Hybrid Wrestling in suburban Philly is worth searching for in the Smart Mark Video archives.
39. Dean Ambrose
40. Jason Jordan
41. Chad Gable
42. Meiko Satomura - Am I rating Meiko Satomura in my top 50 based solely on King of Trios weekend? Well, for one, a handful of matches from Satomura are a godly gift to the world and worth more than two whole years of Seth Rollins Triple H cosplay. Two, have you considered the fact that she was really good in them? Catch you later, nerd.
43. Kofi Kingston
44. Jack Gallagher
45. Rich Swann
46. Braun Strowman
47. Nikki Bella
48. Jack Evans - Evans is known mostly for his high flying and bumping, but he was also tremendous at giving off a complete scumbag vibe via his in-ring work. It helped up his Lucha Underground work a lot.
49. Blaster McMassive
50. Flex Rumblecrunch - They left (were released from?) Chikara at Trios and it was an instant bummer because they were doing some of the best big-boy tag work in the company to that point. Their brutish presence and amazing athleticism gave them one of the most unique double team offenses in the land
51. Fire Ant
53. Tye Dillinger
54. Darby Allin - Allin was my favorite new discovery in 2016 by far. His reckless disregard for everyone's bodies, his own or otherwise, brought an air of unpredictability to EVOLVE that it was missing for the better part of 2016.
55. Ryback - Look, Ryback may not be everyone's cup of tea, but he had a decent enough run in WWE before he left over labor disputes. Also, he saved Kalisto's life on a suicide dive, which may have looked wonky but is something to value over doing cool shit.
56. Shinsuke Nakamura
57. The Miz
58. Frightmare - He's always been a personal favorite of mine, but I dug the added edge he brought to his high-flying antics with his turn towards Nazmaldun. He skirted the line between crowd-pleasing spot guy and vicious pitbull so well.
59. Marty "The Moth" Martinez/Martin Casaus - He was a great foil for Killshot in the Weapons of Mass Destruction match. He was a great brawler and another guy who was adept at portraying the fact that he was an utter scumbag through his actual work.
60. Luke Harper
61. Zack Ryder - People love to slag Ryder, but he gets the ebbs and flows of a WWE match really well. His performance in the Intercontinental Championship ladder match at Mania hit all the right notes, and he was having himself a year, both singles and with the Hype Bros before he got hurt.
62. Brian Kendrick
63. Ethan Page - Page's ring work does leave a little to be desired, but again, he's the type of wrestler who knows how to make up for his deficiencies through orchestrating matches to get so much heat. The art of getting people to boo you on the indies for stuff you do in a match is almost lost.
64. TJ Perkins/TJP
65. DASH Chisako
66. Cassandra Miyagi - I hate to refer to both of them as "Satomura's sidekicks" because they both had stories. Chisako was the vet on her last tour before retirement and played up the face in peril role so well, while Miyagi was the brash greenhorn whose hubris often got her into trouble that she had to fight out of. Really, I can't say enough good things about the Sendai Girls from King of Trios.
67. Estonian Thunder Frog - One of the highlights of Chikara was seeing this lunkhead come back. His matches were almost always fun, and he was one of the best at crowd engagement.
68. Alexa Bliss
70. Heath Slater
71. Shynron - He's another guy I wish I saw more of in 2016. Just whenever he gets going, he makes wrestling look effortless, like a kung-fu movie come to life. His spot appearances for Chikara early in the year were always highlights.
72. John Silver - I only saw like one match of his, but holy shit, he was amazing in it. Like, search out his match with Lio Rush at Beyond (if you can still get to its videos on YouTube) right away. He's tremendous in it with a more than worthy opponent.
73. Oleg the Usurper - Oleg represented Big Dumb Wailing Graps for Chikara, and it was just the best complement for the more refined big guys like DevCorp and Thunder Frog as well as a great palate cleanser for the smaller high flyers and practitioners of #grapplefudge.
74. Xavier Woods
75. Dasher Hatfield
76. Jeff Cobb/Matanza Cueto
77. That Ol' Juke Joint Lucas Calhoun - He made a significant leap. He's a fun brawler, both live and on tape, and he's got the hip-swiveling charisma that helps draw crowds into his matches even when the quality of work might not be enough. Hopefully he pops up in several more promotions in 2017.
78. Chuck Taylor/DUSTIN/etc.
79. Mil Muertes
80. Randy Orton
81. Andrade "Cien" Almas
83. Samoa Joe
84. Finn Bálor
85. Rock Lobster - Of all the newbs at Chikara in 2016, Rock Lobster felt like he was the most polished and the most ready to jump right into the fray and increase the overall in-ring show quality.
86. Rhyno - I never liked Rhyno in the ring until he got back to NXT, and when he made the jump to Smackdown, he became one of the three best hot tags in the company. He's a veteran who knew what worked and milked it for maximum effect, which is something I appreciate verily.
87. Mickie James - Sure, this ranking is based mostly off the Asuka match, if not wholly, but James showed that she deserved the cliche "YOU STILL GOT IT" chestnut from the crowd. Can't wait to see her more this year.
88. Tony Nese - Nese is at worst the baseline for a good wrestler. I thought a lot of his showy flips and stuff were just that, showy, but he still was game for a solid match in every situation.
89. Amasis - See below.
90. Ophidian - Even though they worked a lot of singles matches, it was hard for me to separate the Portal in terms of sheer quality. They were both similar bets for quality, and their brawl with TDT was one of my favorites of the year.
91. Mojo Rawley - He's definitely limited in the ring, but Rawley knows what he has to do and does it well. He's an eight-pack box of crayons instead of 64, but he colors within the lines.
92. Nia Jax
93. Missile Assault Man - He still feels like he's trying to find himself, but I liked him quite a bit as a righteous powerhouse, especially after breaking from Snowflake.
94. Will Ospreay
95. Argus - I like plucky dudes who show power-pack strength, and Argus definitely brought that presence to Chikara Wrestle Factory shows last year.
96. Bobby Roode
97. Daria Berenato - She brought a different in-ring presence to the NXT women's division, a rougher, rawer, more grapplefucky one that I welcome.
98. Hitokiri (Io Shirai) - If this were a worldwide list and I watched STARDOM, I chance that she'd be a lot higher. Still, her snapshot in Lucha Underground, especially with the huge dive from the top of the office, was bangin'.
99. Rory Gulak - His tag team with "brother" Drew was ridiculously fun in the ring. Carnival stunts are the new hotness.
100. Dylan Waco - Man, this kid was green as hell, but he showed a lot of promise. I hope he doesn't quit the biz.
* - By regular posts, I mean recappy stuff from the staff and maybe a TweetBag if I'm not too swamped at work, sorry everyone that's the new normal.