We’ve talked about some of our favorite matches from 2011, so here are just a few of our favorite wrestlers. Again we’ve been helped by a few friends. Again, this is just a handful of all the wrestlers we loved and appreciated, so please make sure to tell us who your favorites were either in the comments or on Twitter with #ddslove. Enjoy!
With help from Brandon Stroud from With Leather, Thomas Holzerman from The Wrestling Blog, Mary from Honour Magazine, Steven from ROH World, and Charles from Puroresu Spirit. Photos Courtesy: Youji (1, 7), Martin (2), Hong Kong Wrestling Fans Society (3), Ring of Honor (4), Himajin Yone (5), Snapmare.com (6),Greg (8, 10), IWGPnabe.com (9)
Anarchy Championship Wrestling, St. Louis Anarchy, Beyond Wrestling, AAW, Absolute Intense Wrestling
Amanda: I had no idea who ACH was until Beyond started a campaign to bring him to their company. And even then I was like, eh. Then they showed us AR Fox vs. ACH and I spent a great deal of that match in awe with my jaw agape. Then I had the rare and fortunate joy of seeing him in real life (at AIW, natch) and I’m going to go on record and tell you that this kid is going to set the world on fire in 2012. I can’t wait.
Leslie: ACH is not a human being. Perhaps he’s Super Saiyan or Kryptonian or a Replicant, but it’s just not possible for humans to wall run, Flash Kick, or jump and in the air and hit someone 3 times before landing. But supernatural athletic ability alone doesn’t make for a great wrestler. Fortunately for fans in ACW, St. Louis Anarchy, and a growing list of promotions, ACH is the complete package. He’s as good on the mat as he is on his feet as he is on the top-rope, and possesses one of the most dynamic offensive arsenals in wrestling. If that wasn’t enough, ACH is gifted with a natural charisma that wins over fans before he even makes it to the ring.
ACH began 2011 as a local highlight for Austin’s ACW. With numerous top level matches against the likes of Akira Tozawa, Mia Yim, Davey Richards, Colt Cabana and Chris Hero, his emotional win of the ACW title, and an unprecedented crowd-sourced campaign that brought him to Beyond’s Tournament for Tomorrow, he ended 2011 as one of the most buzzed about wrestlers in the US. He enters 2011 wrestling almost everywhere that matters, including a just announced stint at upstart Resistance Pro.
Dragon Gate, Dragon Gate USA, ACW, Pro Wrestling Guerilla, CHIKARA, AIW
Martin: 2011 was a tale of two halves for Akira Tozawa, and both halves were amazing. January to June was spent on the second half of his year long excursion to the United States, and what was meant to be a learning period became a claim to being one of the best wrestlers in the country. Whether it was fighting alongside the mad man Kevin Steen in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, entertaining the Philly and New York crowds for Dragon Gate USA, having fun with CHKARA at King of Trios (and going to war with Eddie Kingston in the process), or getting up to all sorts of mayhem in Austin with the boys and girls of Anarchy Championship Wrestling, barely a week went by without Tozawa making waves somewhere in America. His farewell from PWG in particular was a sight to behold – no crowd took to a foreign wrestler who could barely speak any English quite like Reseda took to Tozawa.
And then came Tozawa’s return to Dragon Gate, and there was a marked transformation from the fun loving, screaming, cursing Tozawa we thought we knew, into a sadistic, arrogant, conniving Tozawa, the newest member of the Blood Warriors. Tozawa fit back into the Dragon Gate environment perfectly, having great matches nearly every time, including his return at World against Shingo Takagi, and his shot at the Dream Gate Title against Masaaki Mochizuki. Tozawa also formed a great team with BxB Hulk, winning the Summer Adventure Tag Team Tournament, and then eventually winning the Open the Twin Gate Titles in a decision match with Susumu Yokosuka and KAGETORA. The year finished off with an incredible title defence at Final Gate against Shingo and YAMATO. The promises Tozawa showed in late 2010 flourished in 2011, and 2012 has already started even bigger for him..
Brandon: There is no wrestler I enjoyed more in as many places as Akira Tozawa.
I was fortunate enough to see the bulk of his U.S. tour in Austin through ACW, and every time he stepped through the curtain (or walked down the steps) — be it against MASADA, ACH, Gary Jay, whoever — he delivered. I personally watched him tear the roof off of a roofless building on at least four occasions. I sat in the second row at CHIKARA’s King of Trios tournament and watched him do it again in both his trios match and in full-on “kicking Eddie Kingston‘s head off” form in singles action. I didn’t get a chance to see him live in PWG, but I’ve seen his matches, and they’re never less than stellar. I don’t know how many episodes of Infinity I’ve downloaded by now.
Tozawa is the man. My 2011 wouldn’t have been 10% as fun without him.
SHIMMER, Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling WAVE, Joshi-4-Hope, SMASH, Oz Academy
Mary: Just when you think Kurihara’s become such an amazing competitor, she’s able to elevate herself even higher. How can such a seemingly sweet girl be such a hard hitting, determined wrestler? She continues to add more and more accolades every month, it seems like. And her wrestling itself continues to astound me. The teaming with Ayako Hamada in SHIMMER makes for a unique pairing, as does her partnership with rival Kana. There’s also the unfinished business with Syuri in a soon-closing SMASH. And more challengers ahead in Mexico, who seek to take her CMLL Women’s Title.
SHIMMER, Resistance Pro, River City Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling
Leslie: Melissa curbstomped her way across the scene with elegant savagery in 2011, but that’s her usual. One of wrestling’s most consistently good performers, Melissa gave us another year of top-tier, most notably in SHIMMER and NCW: Femmes Fatales. She achieved her long-time goal of winning the SHIMMER Title by facing and defeating both Kana and Madison Eagles on the same day. While Melissa found new ways to mangle people with chairs and guardrails, she also opened new avenues to represent women’s wrestling. She appeared on All Japan’s first Taiwan shows across from Makoto. She also starred in a music video for The Smashing Pumpkins.
Repeat: one of my favorite wrestlers starred in a video for my favorite band. 2011 was pretty rad, thanks in large part to Melissa.
Big Japan, AJP, Zero One, Combat Zone Wrestling
Martin: I feel the term “brick shithouse” describes Daisuke Sekimoto perfectly, and the fact he’s also one of the best pure wrestlers in the world makes him even more impressive. Not only that, but he proves his quality time and again in a wide variety of promotions, and in many countries and continents. His record in 2011 in Japan alone is outstanding – not only did he continue to dominate in his home promotion Big Japan (proof that it’s also known for its superb in-ring wrestling alongside its more well known hardcore deathmatch style), but he and his tag team partner Yuji Okabayashi also took All Japan by storm, winning the All Asia Tag Team Championship and arguably making those titles more coveted than the company’s main World Tag Team Championship, engaging in a stellar feud with Seiya Sanada and Manabu Soya that also spilled into Big Japan, whilst also getting into it with All Japan’s huge combination of Akebono and Ryota Hama. Sekimoto also had a big year in Pro Wrestling Zero1, winning the Fire Festival and having great matches.
Not only that, but Sekimoto also made waves in Europe and North America in 2011. He went to Westside Xtreme Wrestling in Germany and became their World Champion, defending the title all over the world. He even made three successful defences during WXW’s famed 16 Carat Gold Tournament weekend, defeating Bad Bones, Johnny Moss and El Generico in successive nights. He then went to America and defended the championship, defeating Chris Hero in a great match at the old ECW Arena. Sekimoto also took part in CZW’s Best of the Best tournament, making it through to the semi finals, where he would lose a war with Sami Callihan. No matter where he goes, Daisuke Sekimoto dominates.
Charles: One of the strongest wrestlers in Japan, and also one that carries a lot of the classical style in Japan. Chain wrestling, power wrestling, and even high flying, he can do it all. Though he is only 175cm tall, he is no one to take lightly and is being seen as one of the best wrestlers in Japan today.
Leslie: When I met Daisuke Sekimoto he was standing outside Korakuen wearing purple Nike hightops. If that doesn’t make him one of your favorite wrestlers I’m not sure what will. Maybe the fact that Big Japan is known for blood and broken glass but Daisuke has made a name for himself as a pure powerhouse? Perhaps that he’s branched out into the more mainstream promotions while carrying the BJW banner proud? Or that, coupled with Akiyama’s Triple-Crown win, his intense tag team feud with Sanada and Soyo gave us welcome, if unmerited, flashbacks to the companies King’s Road glory days?
Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, PWG, SLA, AIW, Beyond
Leslie: Back during the original No Remorse Corps days, Davey was nearly knocked out after a loss and had to be carried to the back by partners Rocky Romero and Roderick Strong. Barely conscious, Richards said one thing before going behind the curtain: “I’m still winning!”
Indeed. Richards spent 2010 chasing then ROH champs Tyler Black and Roderick, giving them their most intense battles. Each nearly had to kill him to beat him, and even then, dazed and drooling, Richards would have been Okay going best 2 out of 3. That nigh-supernatural resilience and nigh-Jessicka Havok level of intensity mixed with a This-is-Real-Pro-Wres-Fuck-You attitude meant that every time Richards stepped in the ring in 2011, you were going to see a god damned fight.
Davey reached the pinnacle of his career in 2011 with his defeat of fellow American Wolf, Eddie Edwards, to win the ROH World Title at Best in the World. Few matches from the companies 10 year history were better, and few moments were more emotional than Davey’s post-match speech. He has worn the crown with pride, leading ROH into its new era on Sinclair Broadcasting while also doing the traditional ROH champion’s duty of being a main attraction for various other promotions across the US. Not one to be content just kicking things in one country, Richards also won gold in Japan, teaming with Rocky to win New Japan’s IWGP Junior Tag Titles (whilst wearing truly amazing vests).
Davey almost left wrestling entirely at the end of 2010, but he stuck it out and had his best year ever in 2011 and looks to top that with his continued title reign in ROH and big moves in New Japan. Davey was “Winning” before the phrase became code for doing rails of cocaine off the abs of models in Vegas. He still is.
ROH, Pro Wrestling NOAH, CHIKARA, PWG, 2CW
Steven: Edwards had been on the rise in ROH for a couple of years but he really solidified himself as one of the biggest names in the company with some really great performances. I loved his title run and some of the matches he had against the likes of Roderick Strong and Chris Hero, although I was disappointed that his reign didn’t last a bit longer.
Leslie: Edwards began the year having an unexpectedly epic match with Kotaro Suzuki that still stands as one of the best from 2011. He continued to, pleasantly, surprise the wrestling world by winning the ROH World Title from Roderick Strong well before his partner, and assumed future champ, Davey Richards did. In the lead up to Final Battle, he brought Dan Severn back into our lives, and that’s all love.
JWP, SHIMMER, ICE Ribbon, AIW
Leslie: You really can’t do anything but love Hailey Hatred. She’s been an unsung heroine of the US women’s wrestling scene since the beginning stages of its rebirth. Now she is on the Joshi scene, making history, breaking records, and beating everyone to a pulp. There is no overstating the immensity of Hailey’s 2011. She had numerous epic Joshi encounters and cemented herself as one of the top women in JWP by winning the prestigious JWP Open-Class title. She was the first foreigner to win that belt, as well as the first woman to defend the title outside of Japan.
She carried two additional singles championships, and three tag team championships with her partner and BFF Kaori Yoneyama. She probably would have earned even more belts, but some TV champion’s promotion was afraid to let the scheduled match happen. It’s just as well, Hailey already appeared on TV as a less tough version of herself in the Pro Wres J-Drama Muscle Girl. Hailey ended 2011 with the beginning of her campaign in Ice Ribbon, and it’s only a matter of time before she beats up all those innocent candies and takes their belts too.
Mary: Wow. Somebody took Japan by its balls and called it her bitch. Every match and every opponent, she’s gotten better and better. I don’t think anyone can discredit the amount of hard work Hatred’s put in during her tenure overseas. The girl’s been on fire in Japan, winning the JWP Open-Class Title, alongside numerous other championships. She’s had a plethora of joshi to work against and still even more in the future. With her work ethic and the passion she’s shown to have, I can only think this year will be even better for her.
Pumi: 2011 was her year without a doubt. The many championships she won made her become one of the most successful female foreigners in Joshi history. She became a truly International Superstar in 2011, and I want to see her win more titles in 2012.
Hanan: She made history! And American lady holding six titles in one of the hardest countries to impose yourself as a foreign wrestler. 2011 in women’s wrestling was all Hailey Hatred’s year!
Charles: Though a few people have issues with Tanahashi, the facts can’t be denied that he is one of the best in Japan. He held the IWGP for practically all of 2011 and went on to set a record for most defenses with the turn of 2012. All of his title defenses were solid and help solidify his reign.
Pumi: I’m not his biggest fan but I have to respect his championship reign. In 2011, he walked to the ring as champion from January to December! This is EPIC!
Leslie: You certainly can hate Tanahashi, but he won’t care: all he needs is his (air) guitar. And the IWGP title, which he held on to for practically the full year. A feat that demands respect especially given the top challengers he turned away for a record number of defenses. He also lead the charge for New Japan’s first US Tour, dabbled a bit in Mexico, and turned some of his negative reactions into a positive by embracing his “dark” side. His divisive nature means that the crowds are always vocal, which meant Tanahashi was in some of Puroresu’s hottest matches throughout the year. And, to be honest, I’m learning to love the post-match victory jam session.
HWA, AIW, CZW, IPW, AAW
Alex: In 2011, Jake Crist spent his time conquering every promotion he stepped upon. He ended the year being the HWA heavyweight champion, CZW wired champion, IPW heavyweight champion, and AAW tag team champion (with his brother Dave). The AIW tag team championship also went through his hands last year. There are lots of wrestling titles out there, but winning one everywhere you go? That’s special.
He started the year with one of my favorite matches, a tag team but against the American Wolves. It showcased the air of intensity that he has. He’s also more than that, as shown in another of my favorites, a tag match against the Olsen Twins, where he took part in a handshake with his brother and encouraged fans to chant “you fucked up” at him when he forgot to shake his butt at the end. Fun when he needs to be, pure athlete when he needs to be, and an all around great performer.
Crist has also impressed against a veritable who’s who of independent wrestling stars for his gold, including AR Fox and Sami Callihan. I’d hold his name up with any of them.
WSU, ArenaChicks, Dropkick Divas
Mary: Controversial. Outspoken. Unorthodox. Hungry. Do any of those adjectives not describe Jessicka Havok? Ever since the start of ’11, Havok’s bulldozed the majority of her opponents. Her focus has solely been on ending Mercedes Martinez‘ undeniably lengthy title reign and taking over WSU. Every match has become her playground of torture. Every opponent has become an unwilling pin cushion for her fists and feet…and machetes. Love her or hate her, you can’t deny that she’s made a lasting impression once you’ve seen her in action.
Leslie: The beautiful and terrifying Jessicka Havok took WSU to new heights in 2011. Jessicka’s willingness to do, say, and kill anything to get her way made her the most interesting personalities in all of wrestling in 2011. We were glued to our screens well before the matches took place, as she filled Twitter and Youtube with insults, threats, and promises to destroy her enemies.
With her imposing, Tyrant-esque physique and constant improvement as an in-ring competitor, she kept those promises in matches that lived up to her hype. By forming the Midwest Militia she introduced the world to future star Allysin Kay and brought out a brand new aggressive side of Sassy Stephie, further elevating WSU as a whole. Perhaps no wrestler was as important to a promotion in 2011 as Havok was to WSU. Given her recent win of the WSU championship, that will be true again in 2012.
CHIKARA, EVOLVE, DGUSA, AIW, AAW, Beyond
Amanda: Johnny Gargano leads this list, for all of these things I already mentioned in the Wrestlers We Love articles. Plus he generally all-around awesome and I can’t wait for him to get better and back in a ring (preferably AIW) as soon as possible.
Leslie: Lebron who? Finally, Cleveland has a super star athlete to place their hopes on that won’t fade in the playoffs. 2011 saw Gargano prove himself a All-Star player in the US wrestling scene, winning the top titles in both CHIKARA and Dragon Gate USA. That was in addition of being one of the go-to-guy in the Midwest for companies like AIW, AAW, and Beyond. An unfortunate injury slowed down his momentum a bit, but it’s safe to assume that once he’s 100% he’ll have another MVP-type year. Get your “Whole Shebang” jerseys ready.
Charles: No one can discredit Akiyama. He is now coming up on his 20th Anniversary as a professional wrestler and has a pretty solid career. In 2012, he finally capped off his career by capturing the All Japan’s Triple Crown Championship, something a lot people said would never happen after the AJPW/NOAH split, but Akiyama won the belt decisively and 2012 is looking to continue on with his success.
WAVE, SMASH, Triple 6, SHIMMER, CHIKARA, JWP, OZ Academy, FREEDOMS, Osaka Pro
Aoikougei: She won the SMASH women’s & WAVE tag titles. She had many great matches, no matter who she was facing throughout the year.
Chris: One of the more popular bandwagons in the wrestling world in 2011, Kana was the source of much buzz (#TeamKana anyone?). She becoming the first SMASH Divas champion, made her American debut with SHIMMER and CHIKARA, and looked great doing it. The Queen of Poisons impressed many with her hard hitting, Shootstyle-inspired technique and gained many new fans through the year. Plus, have you seen how she can catch a kick from behind without looking turn it into an ankle lock? It’s really, really cool.
Leslie: I’ve been waiting a whole year to say this: Team Kana was right, everyone else was wrong. Kana made all of her fans proud, and all her detractors angry, in 2011. She appeared for nearly every Joshi promotion you can think of while also expanding her brag to a number of ,male dominated promotions like FREEDOMS and Triple 6. “The World Famous” also made her debut in the US for both SHIMMER and CHIKARA. And, in spite of declaring herself the anti-Joshi, she was the top star in the top drawing Pro Wrestling WAVE, winning both their Catch the WAVE tournament and winning their first ever championship, the WAVE tag titles with Ayumi Kurihara. She became the first champion in SMASH as well when she bested Serena for their women’s title.
She accomplished all of this with the same uncompromising attitude, the same gritty, atypical BattlARTS Pro Wrestling style, and the same maverick spirit that once made her the most controversial woman in Joshi. Now, as much she’d hate to admit it, she is simply the woman in Joshi Puroresu. You’ve got to love that.
Hanan: Every time he’s mentioned, we automatically think “Tag Team specialist in Bad Intentions.” True, he and Giant Bernard were the Tag Team of the Year, but people tend to forget how great he was as a singles player in the G1 Climax. I loved him in the G1, I hope he gets a singles title shot down the road.
NOAH, Kensuke Office
Charles: Many call him one of the most youngest skilled talents in Japan. He has dominated every promotion he has been in and has held plenty of gold in the process. 2011 saw Nakajima claim the GHC Jr. Heavyweight title and re-solidify his name as one to watch out for in Japan. Being only 23 he is still thought of as a young wrestler, but he has been wrestling since he was 15 years old. There is still plenty more to come from Nakajima and he has always been one of my favorites to watch for years now.
SHIMMER, CHIKARA, PWWA
Mary: Hands down, this woman became one of my absolute favorites over the past two years. I’ve enjoyed her since her debut alongside Jessie McKay in SHIMMER, but ever since she changed her attitude, she drew me in like a magnet. Her mannerisms, her scowls of disgust, the arrogance (rightfully so!) and the punishment she puts her opponents through are on a level unlike any other villain. Having Cheerleader Melissa as a nemesis certainly helps, but Eagles title reign in itself was a thing of beauty. It’s unfortunate that she’s been sidelined by injuries, but one can only hope she’ll be back in the near future, being just as awesome as ever.
ROH, SHIMMER, CZW, REINA, ACW, RCW
Sonny: Mia Yim came into her own in 2011. Whether she was making her debut in Japan for REINA, or having more stellar work in SHIMMER, or getting piledriven through a table by Sami Callihan in CZW, Mia stepped her game up big time. She went from being perceived as “the sexy looking Asian chick” to being regarded as a bad-ass performer that puts on one hell of a match for the fans. Her dedication to her craft and to the gym are leaving a big impression on her ringwork, and we can only expect huge things from Mia in the future.
Chris: This Canadian powerhouse turned a lot of heads in 2011. Here in Chicago, he defeated the monstrous Mason Beck for the AAW Heritage title, and on a national scale, he won Ring of Honor’s Survival of the Fittest tournament. Elgin uses his scary strength along with his equally scary athleticism to destroy his opponents in the ring and he never fails to wow me. I was concerned that he would lose his power when he cut his mullet short, much like the mighty Sampson, but all he really did was lose the party and become all business. The Unbreakable one is getting some of the spotlight now and I expect he’ll only continue to shine in 2012.
ECCW, SHIMMER, NCW:FF, REINA
Martin: The Canadian Ninja it’s OK to like. 2011 was Nicole Matthews’ biggest year yet, and it saw her cross the globe to make her even better and badder than before. It was a huge year for her in her home promotion ECCW in Vancouver, where she completed a near full year as their Women’s Champion, defeating all comers throughout the year, before finally falling to her long time rival KC Spinelli. Nicole’s year in SHIMMER results-wise didn’t start out too great, as her and her Canadian Ninjas team-mate Portia Perez lost the SHIMMER Tag Team Titles to the Seven Star Sisters of Hiroyo Matsumoto and Misaki Ohata after a near two year reign with the titles, and they then proceeded to lose their next match to both members’ major personal rivals, Jessie McKay and Serena Deeb. However, things would soon pick up, as Matthews entered an epic two out of three falls match with McKay on Volume 39, which would turn out to be one of the best women’s matches of 2011, with Matthews coming out on top 2-1 to win the feud by the same tally. A narrow loss to Ayumi Kurihara on Volume 40 did not stop the momentum.
September would prove to be a pivotal month for Matthews. It started with a trip to Australia for the biggest opportunity of her career, her first shot at the SHIMMER Championship. Despite coming up short against the defending champion Madison Eagles and McKay, Matthews proved on this stage that she belonged on top for many years to come. After rounding out her Australian tour with a match against Shazza McKenzie and several house show matches against Eagles, Matthews would hook up with her running buddy Perez again, but this time in Japan, where the Ninjas were booked in a tournament to decide the first ever REINA Tag Team Champions. After defeating Sara Del Rey and Mia Yim in the semi finals, the Ninjas would fall in a close final to the CMLL team of Zeuxis and La Commandante, but their brief Japanese tour clearly benefited them, Matthews especially. Back at SHIMMER a week later, after a close loss to Matsumoto, Matthews bounced back quickly with a huge victory over Serena Deeb, followed by another victory over the young up and comer Davina Rose. Despite the Ninjas then losing their shot at regaining the Tag Team Titles against new champions Ayumi Kurihara and Ayako Hamada, this didn’t stop Nicole’s swagger, leading her to make the sneak attack heard around the world, as she attacked the new SHIMMER Champion Cheerleader Melissa shortly after she won the title from Eagles. This statement of intent, along with her vast body of work throughout the year and her snarky quick witted attitude made Nicole Matthews one of my favourites of 2011… even if she is still a major dick.
ACW, SHIMMER, CHIKARA, REINA, NCW:FF, AIW, 2CW, NWA: Hollywood
Leslie: Speaking of major dicks. Portia is, of course, the worst person in wrestling, if not the entire world. That’s established. But in 2011, somewhere between spitting on fans, bashing people in face with wrenches, and shattering the jaw of one of the two people in the world that enjoyed being around her, Portia found time to show the world what she can really do as a pure wrestler.
In ACW she remained a powerful force in the American Joshi division, with a strong showing in the Queen of Queens tournament. She also made her way back to CHIKARA where she squared off with the Greatest of All Time Manami Toyota. Her outings in SHIMMER and NCW:Femmes Fatales produced some of the best matches for each company in 2011, including the incredible brawl between her and Serena Deeb. Her crowning achievement was her historic win of the ACW Heavyweight title, as she was the first woman to ever hold the increasingly prominent belt.
She also made her first trip to Japan. And got streamers and a banner. So, maybe it’s us in the US (and Montreal) that are really the dicks for not recognizing Portia is every bit as good as she says she is.
Pumi: The main reason? He is a Tottenham Hotspur like me. Just kidding, I loved his series with Kota Ibushi that stole the show every time out, including their match at Wrestle Kingdom. In my opinion, he is the best junior wrestler in the world now. When Ibushi was injured, NJPW decided to give him a chance to become a double champion as opposed to a new face. He proved he was worthy, and is my number one wrestler without question.
Leslie: Devitt is unreasonably good. He has the looks, athleticism, and charisma of a megastar, coupled with the humility that doesn’t make you hate him for it. 2011 was a test for Devitt. Last year’s phenomenal Best of the Super Junior’s tournament brought top wrestlers from around the world to challenge Devitt’s spot as top man in the division. He also had to fend off new signees and extended incursions from the likes of KUSHIDA, Richards, and Ibushi. Through it all gold has been won and lost, but Devitt has yet to be truly out-classed in New Japan.
ACW, SHIMMER, NWA:H, SLA
Leslie: The Blood Covered Angel of Austin, Rachel Summerlyn, had her best year. She won the ACW Tag Titles with Jessica James and held on to them for several months. She beat seven of the best women in the world to win the ACW Queen of Queens Tournament. Then she did the unthinkable: she ripped open “Showtime” Scot Summers, choked him as the blood drained until the ref raised her hand and awarded her the Anarchy Televised Title. Yeah, she’s hardcore.
Less violently, Rachel put on a totally awesome wrestling prom where she won the best evening gown match in the history of the sport. She also may or may not have been spotted bronoodling with Donald Glover and shooting some scenes with Ryan Gosling. No big deal.
Rachel really, truly deserves all her success. Yes, she looks physically more impressive at every show (earning the moniker “Big Bad Booty Momma”), but more than that she’s one of the brightest, most cheerful and positive people you’ll meet (in wrestling or otherwise). Wrestling is a better sport for having someone like Rachel Summerlyn in it, and she’s deserves nothing but love.
DGUSA, EVOLVE, CZW, IPW, AAW
Alex: Sami Callihan is going to rule over 2012, if 2011 is any indication. Sami stands out in DGUSA and Evolve environments, even among the elite talent, because he is a personality that shines among them.
Last year the beer guzzling, violent, sadistic machine, formed Dirty Ugly Fucks with Arik Cannon and Pinkie Sanchez, and declared war against the ideal of the wrestler personified in AR Fox. In the last match of the year, Callihan told him to quit, and when he wouldn’t, he smashed a beer bottle over his head, telling the world that it was his time. Along the way, he’s wrestled Dave Finlay (voted by DGUSA audience the match of the year) and tangled with Sabu, proving to be the go-to person for guest stars.
Callihan was recently called the top independent star in a recent Paul Heyman article. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s pretty damn hard to argue against it.
Sara Del Rey
CHIKARA, SHIMMER, ACW, ROH, REINA
Thomas: When the Queen of Wrestling began 2011, she was a subject. She walked the Kings of Wrestling to the ring, took orders from the BDK and did not have prospects for any major Championship in wrestling. When it ended, her shackles were cast off and she had arisen to her rightful throne as one of the most talked about personalities in any wrestling company on Earth. The journey to get there was as brilliant a sight to behold as any, centering mainly around her exploits in CHIKARA, where she broke free of her shackles in the BDK, made a run for the Grand Championship and ended the year as the undisputed ace of JoshiMania.
If she were a man, her year would have been impressive enough. The fact that she is a she though? Well, it shouldn’t make her year any more impressive than it was, but in this society that still has problems accepting females on the same level as males, it was a breakthrough year. She made people accept that she was just as good a wrestler as anyone with a penis who could be her counterpart, and she did it with as much brutality and skill as she did with style and grace. How could she expect to not only hang with but resoundingly defeat Claudio Castagnoli otherwise?
And while the misogynists and pigs in the mainstream scoff at the idea that a woman could credibly defeat a man, the crowds that saw her in the ring with both male and female opponents alike rejected the notion that because she has breasts and a vagina that her worth as a combatant is any less worthy. Not only is she the Queen of Wrestling, but I’d dare say she’s a feminist icon.
SHIMMER, SMASH, ACW, ROH
Leslie: Anyone who followed Serena Deeb in 2011 knows exactly what the phrase, “What a feeling,” means without having to don leg-warmers (though it is recommended). Deebs’ passion for Pro Wres paying off was one of the most thrilling stories in the sport last year. Starting in late 2010 she spent seemingly every weekend wrestling everywhere that mattered, and with a renewed drive to be the absolute best. 2011 saw her reach that destination as she debuted in Japan for SMASH, and defeated every woman that was put in front of her, including Kana. She also had one of the best matches of the year against Amanda Fox in ACW, another one of the year’s best matches in WSU against Mercedes Martinez, and was part of the show stealing women’s action on ROH’s Center Stage iPPVs.
Serena was looking to add to her resume with debuts for CHIKARA and Femmes Fatales, but an unfortunate injury has sidelined her since late October. She has promised to return from this injury and I speak for all of DDS in saying we believe in Serena, and look forward to talking about the great matches she’ll have in the future.
Alex: The fact that Tim f’n Donst is not all over the place is saddening, particularly when you look at his body of work in 2011. In CHIKRA, he was a supporting member of the BDK, playing second fiddle to Claudio and Ares, including being the second man in the tag match where the Eye of Tyr was on the line at High Noon. Based of the ending, he’s striking off on his own, which I think is the best for him. In AIW, he’s one of the main event talents, probably second to only Johnny Gargano, and the crowd salivates over him.
What was it? Was it the way he created his own song? Was it the way he impressed in matches against Gargano, BJ Whitmer, and El Generico? Maybe. But really, how can you not be entertained a man who cheers on and laughs at Eddie Kingston as Claudio whips him with a belt? Or a man who chases a limo containing his enemies? Tim Donst is great mat wrestler, but pretty adept at working any situation, comedy or serious.
I wasn’t an easy sell on Donst, but once I was converted, I was converted. I sat in a crowd in Lakewood, Ohio and chanted Tim f’n Donst with a roomful of people like a hero had returned, and every single crowd in America should greet Donst as such.
And those were just a few of the wrestlers who made us love Pro Wrestling in 2011. Next week, we’ll talk the Promotions We Loved. Until then!