Best Coast Bias: DIYou KNOW Why

Let’s get petarded in here
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With a Takeover’s strongest competition usually coming from other Takeovers, it comes down to a simple formula that might not officially be WWE policy but might as well be: moments or matches?

Some Takeovers get remembered for the former: KO going KO on Sami at the tail end of [R]Evolution, the founding trioka of the Undisputed Era completely obliterating DMC’s title win at Brooklyn the Third, Johnny earning the Triple Crown at last year’s New York event followed by Adam Cole gaining it and Goldie at the follow-up, XXV.  Some Takeovers, obviously, get remembered for the latter: New Orleans set a bar so high a couple years ago it’s the unofficial measuring stick for all Takeovers, and is still not only remembered fondly as a seminal event in NXT history but as possibly one of the greatest wrestling PPVs ever, full stop.  New York is beloved similarly, though maybe with not as much fervor, and if that’s in the discussion it feels safe to also toss some hosannas to the Dallas event.

So while Portland may not have had an immediate contender for MOTY – and that’s season to taste for a fan giving how uniformly excellent the wrestling was for 3 hours – the picture above, the moment before impact that made me a middle-aged Negrodamus, is undoubtedly going to be one of the tentpoles of NXT history for years to come and possibly for as long as they’re what one of the only two newly minted champions on the show would call A Thing.

Just like that, a match is made for Tampa, though whether or not we’re going back to the stipulation wheel is something for the next few weeks to figure out.

After Poppy’s performance, there was a moment some fans were waiting for for years: Keith Lee and Dominik Dijakovic kicking off a Takeover with a great match that stuck out its chin and dared the rest of the card to swing. (Some might argue that as good as what was to come was, nothing matched up to the heights of this match. Don’t agree with the argument, but it is an easily understandable one.) If you’ve seen them fight, you know what this was going to be: something that nodded at their prior matches while evolving them as well – counters to things not previously countered, new moves – and multiple moments where you just crack up laughing, because that’s what happens when your brain is trying to make sense of something that your eyes have seen that technically just happened yet still seems to somehow exist in an uncanny valley or video game but is very real.  The craziest thing about this match is that it looked like Keith was legitimately shaken after taking a suplex throw into the apron oddly and the match slowed way down for a couple minutes for him to get his bearings fully yet it didn’t stop the match from being great; conversely, even though the ending seemed to temporarily close their rivalry, there is still somehow improbably room for them to still improve on it. Three final things:

a) Don’t read about me outlining the match, watch the damn thing
b) When’s the rematch?
c) And the other question I always have after they fight: why don’t you guys form a full-time time and obliterate everyone else off the face of the Earth?

1) Keith Lee d. Dominik Dijakovic to retain the North American championship (Big Bang Catastrophe –> pinfall)

Normally, this would be the spot of death after such a scorching opener; women are wrestling, and it’s not even the title match. But au contraire, mon freres. First of all, the PDX crowd was loud and proud all night long; NXT almost assuredly will bring another TO back in the next few years as a result of their voiciferousness.  Secondarily, the former Team Kickers engaged in the street fight with all the vitriol that the stipulation should come with, and if Randy Orton’s getting deserved plaudits for his emergence of portraying emotionally conflicting then Nox should get it too for this match. Multiple times she looked like she was near tears, or confused. It never stopped her entirely from going on the offensive but it happened enough for it to be a major thruline during the match. And like every good babyface finding out that they have blood lust, it turned out to cost them. She clocked Kai with the Shiniest Wizard, had the aforementioned pathos, then put Kai on a table and wrapped a chair around her neck. Whatever she was going for is lost to the sands of time, as Reina Raquel Gonzalez came out off the side of a milk carton and chokeslammed Tegan from the top. To make things worse than the understandably tepid reaction, the table didn’t break. Kai sold shock about this turn of events after Gonzalez was raising her hand in victory. Outside of getting a bigger name to emerge, the ending got its point across even if it left people cold. Moreover, it gives Nox another obstacle to overcome as she tries to get a rubber match against her ex-bestie. It was the “worst” match on the card so it was only very good. They’re called Takeovers because Embarrassment Of Riches is hard to fit comfortably and attractively on shirts.
2) Dakota Kai d. Tegan Nox (Reina Gonzalez super chokeslam -> pinfall)

As part of becoming God’s E-Fed over the past few years, sometimes things in NXT get hyped up as dream matches when they’re not; what they really are is first-time affairs that the higher ups want to give a little bit more shine to.

But then, there was this.

Both men were note perfect for their characters. It had the hallmarks of starting with chain wrestling before evolving to the crazy supercharged signatures and finishers that it took to end the bout. As easy as it would have been for him to do, Finn never cheated in the bout. You could see Johnny get increasingly frustrated for obvious reasons as the match went on, but he’d hide it from time to time with wry chuckles and smiles. It really felt like the platonic ideal of a match, even if the brief limb work sort of went out the window when the big bombs went flying. In addition to the character notes mentioned before, what really made the match sparkle for me was the manner in which it ended. Johnny hit the Woo dropkick to send Finn into the barrier (to a loud mixed reaction, but we’ll get there) and looked like he was setting up a 1916 of his own on the floor to close the circle. This not being the Prinxe who lost to Lashley 17 weeks in a row, Balor flipped the eff out and hit in order a gourdbuster on the Spanish announce, a Woo dropkick from table to table to send Johnny off the SAT and into the barricade, snuffed him with a Coup then drilled a 1916 and pinned him in such a manner while covering his face that if the former Universal champion had sneezed he would’ve made Johnny his Candice. Especially given the results of the main and the fact Cole is only a few weeks away from surpassing Balor’s record for lengthiest title reign in Full Sail, it’ll be interesting to see what the results of a rematch with Cole would be with Gargano presumably off the board to keep him from winning the belt back. Who would the fans cheer in that? Does it matter? Either way, it must be said: Prince back, y’all.

3) Finn Balor d. Johnny Gargano (1916 –> pinfall) in the Match of the Night (YMMV)

Bianca was clearly Doomed from the start – before, really – but it didn’t stop her from showing up and showing out in a Black History In the Making robe. I saw some vitriol from some sections of black NXT fan Twitter about the result and Bianca losing another title match, but both last year against Shayna and here, her winning wasn’t the move for long-term applications and she got the plurality of the Royal Rumble to help boost herself higher in the troposphere. While the match went double digits long it also felt like another five minutes could have been garnered out of it. Either way, this was all a prelude to Charlotte showing up, laying Rhea out, and accepting the WrestleMania match which should also be a barnburner. Hopefully Bianca gets to do more than tread water, as eventually – barring her getting a quick “callup” – she’ll get her turn with the gold soon and long enough. 

4) Rhea Ripley d. Bianca BelAir to retain the NXT Women’s World championship (Riptide –> pinfall)

The tag title match! Just reminding myself of its existence makes me question if I bestowed MOTN honors on the right bout. Then again I had a similar thought with regards to the opener. Takeovers, man. There was some foolishness pre-match with Riddle leading the crowd in a Bobby Fish singalong, then the champions went after them in the aisle and a Pier 4 broke out. The match felt ragged while still being in the pocket the whole time, building a Jenga on a plane with some turbulence that somehow never toppled over. Per the prelude, there wasn’t a signature moment that the match had, but it was an instant classic and you could feel it as such down the stretch, especially with multiple red herrings of Riddle accidentally taking out or neutralizing Dunne before redeeming himself with a blind tag before the then challengers unfurled a bevy of tandem offense before winning the titles. Again, this is a match you want to watch instead of reading an outline about it. And again, to reiterate prior thoughts: when’s the rematch?

5) the Broserweights d. the Undisputed Era to win the NXT World Tag Team Championships (Bro 2 Sleep/jumping enzuigiri combo [Owen 2 Sleep?] –> Riddle pinfall Fish)

About the main: I liked it in real time. When the “betrayal” happened, it made me love the match, and not just because I saw that cab coming down Broadway with the doors open. It was because – perfectly, hilariously, and I assume intentionally – a mirror of Johnny’s title victory in New York. Ciampa kicked out of everything Cole threw at him, up to the point where his response to getting Panama Sunrisen into the floor was Willow’s Bell and the Fairy Tale Ending. (Again, good thing the “heel turn” showed up, because while I didn’t feel the vitriol many felt about that sequence it was again perfectly understandable.) He fended off all the Era interference even after eating a HiLo on the floor. He kicked out after three superkicks and the Last Shot, then responded to getting kicked in the balls with a pretty quick and equal response when Cole went for another in-ring Sunrise. He hit the Ending again, but the ref had been bumped and that opened the door to the interference he fended off. Let us also note at this point that during the Cole/Gargano rematch and title change, Cole feinted at the interference to distract Johnny but never deployed it. It’s just another grace note to add to Finn unilaterally merking him three matches prior.

Anyway, it happened and the crowd was livid. It’d be nice to see a visual representation of their anger on a scale of one to my best friend stabbed me in the back out of nowhere, then got me fired, then spit on my wedding ring and threw it into the crowd then beat me in two consecutive matches after I accidentally handed him the inanimate object he cares about more than me as a human being and his former best friend thus sending me into an emotional spiral so deep and lasting that even in my last moments as a babyface years after the betrayal in a loss to a different fuckface I was wearing Carnage-inspired gear.

Everyone’s favorite thing to say after a heel turn is Why, [X], Why?

In a related note, here’s my favorite gif. But here’s another one that’s fresher and more pertinent to this. The shirts alone are worth noting.

6) Adam Cole d. Tommaso Ciampa to retain the NXT World Championship (Gargano “heel turn” –> pinfall)

= – =
Takeover: Portland, for what will probably be the first of several. It wasn’t the GOAT, but being GOAT adjacent is nothing to sneeze at. The $64,000/whatever USA paid to get them Question now is this: what’s Tampa going to do to follow this?

Well, besides defibrillating Old Faithful.

The Black and Gold Standard Preview for Takeover: Portland (Episode 20-22 Apologia)

This Sunday, the boom goes off
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Febutchary hit some of us (my liver) harder than others, but the crown jewel in the chosen month is happening this Sunday from the PDX. It seems like every time a new Takeover rolls around, everyone wonders if this is going to the best one ever, the most loaded one ever, the one that eradicates constellations because us fanboys need to yank them out of the sky in order to rave about TEH BEST MATCHES EVA!~~~~!1!1111

Sure, hyperbole in the Internet age. Original.

That said: have you seen this card? Two grudge matches on the undercard, four title matches that have been percolating for weeks if not months. Not only is there not a weak match on paper to be had, there’s a sixth match where we usually only get five, and any single one of them on the card could possibly walk away with MOTN honors. And no one would be surprised if we got a or multiple MOTY candidates.

So, in case you’re looking for your late pass? Well, I know a little something about lateness. But fret not; we’ll take this ride to the fireworks factory together.

{street fight} Dakota Kai v. Tegan Nox
Born of the Kiwi’s sudden turn on her then best friend at WarGames, this further got goosed in a contentious match on the January 29th NXTV episode where a justifiably irate Nox and Kai had a sprint that ended with a Candice LeRae distraction, Nox uppercutting Kai with her brace and then falling her with the Shiniest Wizard. On this week’s episode, Kai got a flash pinfall win over LeRae and then her and Tegan fought some more with NPCs having to separate them.

I WANT: Since the first match lasted less time than a round of the Dunk Contest and its both their actual TO debuts, double digits of hard hitting action is all I need here, and I suspect that’ll come real easy.

I THINK: Dakota has to win here. Mia almost crippled her, and Tegan (yes, shadily, insert Raiders catchphrase) has gone over her which is bizarre given the level of vitriol that came with her heel turn. She loses here and she has pretty much nothing, plus it can be the catalyst for a final rubber match. Maybe a second Last Woman’s Standing brawl coming to a USA network near you?

Finn Bálor v. Johnny Gargano
Again: this card is so fucking bonkers that two former NXT World Champions in a heated rivalry is on the undercard even though it could deliver main event level stuff. Finn’s return to the Prince has made him more compelling than he’s been in years, and Gargano’s been more than willing to let some of what the wars with Ciampa rub off on him in snuffing the man who made him miss WarGames. Finn was merciless in tearing apart Trent VII on the last episode in January, then on the 5th in their satellite interviews Gargano swore if “the guy who lost to Lashley 17 weeks in a row” showed up in Portland, he was going to tear him apart and on this week’s show bested Cameron Grimes.

I WANT: This may be the match I have the least amount of feel for, which means in a lot of ways it interests me the most. It seems anything outside of a ridiculously unlikely Gargano squash is on the table. Anyone have any complaints about a great match where no one gets legitimately injured? No?

I THINK: Well…that ties into the main event. Elucidation to come, but Gargano gets a flash rollup to win and bails before Finn can try to shave another couple of inches off of his head. 

[NXT WORLD] Bianca BelAir v. Rhea Ripley (C)
Bianca won a #1 contendership battle royale, and Rhea’s been taking her 2019 momentum, seeing it and raising it by regular appearances on RAW in an attempt to goad Charlotte into using her Royal Rumble victory marker on her. While they briefly aligned to lay Charlotte out when the Queen returned to Full Sail on the 5th, they don’t like each other, and Bianca laid out Rhea on tonight’s show which means she is Doomed like my cousin Reed and Damn Simmons.

I WANT: Rhea to bench press me into the Mariana Trench.

I THINK: I have a better chance of being bench pressed into the Mariana Trench than Bianca does of beating her for the title with the likelihood of Rhea/Charlotte at WrestleMania happening.

[NXT WORLD TAG] the Broserweights v. the Undisputed Era (Fish/O’Reilly) (C)
If I’m remembering my Nick and Nite correctly, Pete Dunne is the Tony Randall to Matt Riddle’s Jack Klugman, and since more than half the time these mismatched tag teams end up hoisting up the bronzed boots of the American Dream overhead they pulled off this year’s win in the Dusty Classic. Congratulations! You now get to face the most dominant NXT Tag Team Champions of all time!

I WANT: Even amongst the deep water provided from the rest of the card, this seems to have the biggest potential for show stealer, instant classic, and all the rest of the accolades. Not ReDragon makes putting four stars on the board easier than Sunday morning and Pete & Matt have shown instant chemistry together as a unit. The only question this match needs to answer is if it’s going to be great, Great, GREAT or GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREAT (probably need to secure an endorsement deal for that last one)?

I THINK: This has shady-ass Era win all over it, possibly thanks to the otherwise-missing-from-the-card Roddy Strong. They can always run this back at Takeover: Tampa and have the babies go over there, even though as long as the BWs exists the Dexter Morgan in my head is clamoring for Pete to do to Matt what Roddy did to him.

[NORTH AMERICAN] Dominik Dijakovic v. Keith Lee (C) 
Mothra v. King Kong with workrate. This is the rubber match of their rivalry, with the first two matches occurring months apart on NXTV and firing both these land monsters into the rarefied air of Full Sail where they belong. Nobody reading this needs to be hyped on this, and hopefully at least a couple of you have used this as a thin excuse to watch the September 25th and/or October 19th matches for a refresher. If not, let ’em know, Mark.

I WANT: You ever see Captain Raymond Holt eat a marshed mallow? That’s the reaction I’m expecting to get from this match.

I THINK: I get what I want, Keith retains, and the seeds of a Dijakovic heel turn get planted during and/or after the match, Look, kids! It’s another instant classic! Make a wish!

[NXT WORLD] Tommaso Ciampa v. Adam Cole (C) 
(inhales deeply) Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff. The babyface with a heart of black out to recapture what he never lost, the man who won WarGames and came back from wrestling death in record time consumed by the love of the title, which his opponent took from his best friend last summer and has held on to for nearly 300 days since beating everyone from Daniel Bryan to KUSHIDA this week and every point in between. He’s got the backup; Ciampa might even though it doesn’t exactly measure up to Cole’s (keeping in mind two of his WarGames teammates are fighting each other lower down the totem pole and the other was Special Guest Star Kevin Owens) and damn sure is fine fighting without it.  Is his indomitable will going to get Goldie back in his arms, or is Cole the ultimate 2020 model merger of skill and sleaze to roll into WrestleMania weeked…let’s just say it…the best NXT World Champion in history outside of Asuka?

That’s just some of what’s on the line here, so yeah, it oughta be doper than Marion Berry and fresher than your gradmamma’s fried chicken recipe.

I WANT: Well, since this is the irrational fantasy booking part of the column, Cole to retain then Keith beats him in Tampa and goes Black Naito. Then again, I want Rhea Ripley to bench press me into the sun, and that’s not happening either. So I think the safer bet to go with here…but yet again, why be safe?

I THINK: Ciampa wins. The Era swarm him afterwards and he gets help from some ineffectual babyfaces before Johnny helps him clean house.  #DIY celebrates, the credits come up…and the circle closes as behind Ciampa we see Johnny point two finger guns behind the former champ before throwing him into the Tron.

We didn’t get the end of the Johnny Brasco storyline. But they’ve got an opportunity to defibrillate that whole thing and do this WrestleMania weekend what they couldn’t last year, so why not?

And with that – see you next week for the Best Coast Bias review of Takeover: Dame’s Town. Expect a lot of italics and bold.

The 2019 TWB 100 Slow Release: 20-6

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Today, the TWB gets to the doorstep of the top five. I hope you have chills, and not because you’re cold either!

20. Shayna Baszler
Points: 1466 (ranked higher because of higher high vote than Matt Riddle)
Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Joey O., Nicholas Reed)
Last Year’s Ranking: 7th Place

Joshua Browns: Another person I voted for on the basis of not only what they did for themselves, but for what they did for others. Shayna delivered over and over again in 2019, and got a bunch of people over in the process. In an era where the idea of “believability” gets flogged to death by a tiny subset of bad-faith actors, I think it’s important to remember that it still is fairly important that a wrestler look like they’re really trying to beat up their opponent. The women of the current era bring a lot of different things to the table, but nobody looks like they’re trying to hurt somebody as much as Shayna Baszler does. If I were a woman trying to get over as a babyface, Shayna Baszler is the person I’d want to be in the ring with.

Joey O.: Baszler comes off as a dangerous threat every single time she walks in the ring, carries herself like a star who will legit choke out anyone and everyone, and never has a bad match. She’s a pure heel and a true “submission magician.” Putting aside her MMA background, I don’t know if there’s anyone more believable when it comes to in-ring violence than Shayna 2-Time. With the booking of the women in the WWE, she’s the only one with the credibility to knock Becky Lynch off the top of the mountain… if only she’d won the Royal Rumble…

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19. Asuka (WWE)
Points: 1487
Ballots: 19
Highest Vote: 5th Place (Bill Hanstock)
Last Year’s Ranking: 24th Place

TH: It’s no secret I fell off watching WWE sometime last year, and I miss certain wrestlers. Asuka is 100 percent one of them. Her match with Becky Lynch at the Rumble may have been the best women’s match in main roster history, and a close third after the two Bayley/Sasha Banks NXT main events overall. No one in that company has the gift of graceful snugness like she does.

Joey O.: From her crisp kicks to the addition of the green mist to her arsenal, Asuka is still one of the most talented and entertaining wrestlers (and YouTubers!) in the world. When WWE remembered that and gave her the spotlight, she was electrifying.

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18. Shingo Takagi
Points: 1523
Ballots: 16
Highest Vote: 1st Place (TH, Bill Hanstock)
Last Year’s Ranking: 65th Place

TH: There once was a time that I didn’t care for Takagi. Back in the Dragon Gate USA days, I found him brusque and extra. I don’t know if he changed. Maybe I did. I don’t know. However, his run in New Japan in 2019 was in a word eye-opening. Every match he was in was hard-hitting and epic in scale. He was inarguably (at least to me) the MVP of the G1 Climax. Shingo Takagi was the best in-ring wrestler in the world in 2019, and I’m not sure anyone was all that close.

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17. Io Shirai
Points: 1526
Ballots: 22
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Cosmis)
Last Year’s Ranking: 41st Place

Photo Credit: Lee South

16. PAC
Points: 1571
Ballots: 22
Highest Vote: 6th Place (Brandon Kay)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked

TH: PAC is probably the shortest male wrestler on the roster, or at least one of them, and yet he’s the most effective aggressive heel. It’s a wonderful paradox that helped back up his self-proclaimed “bastard” aura, and because the tallest members of the AEW roster haven’t debuted yet, it’s effective because everyone’s not much taller than he is.

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15. Becky Lynch
Points: 1575
Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Jarrett Saidler, Brandon Kay)
Last Year’s Ranking: 3rd Place

Joey O.: After her history-making Mania main event, The Man seemed to get stuck in second gear match-wise for too much of this year, feuding endlessly with Lacey Evans, then never having a true challenger on her level for much of 2019 (aside from Sasha Banks and her endless frenemy Charlotte). Hopefully, the main roster women heal and/or the NXT women step up so Lynch can shine as much as we all know she can.

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14. Chris Jericho
Points: 1575 (Ranked ahead of Becky Lynch because he received more votes, which is the second tiebreaker after high vote)
Ballots: 22
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Matt T., Rizz)
Last Year’s Ranking: 67th Place

TH: Cagey old veteran Chris Jericho has been a lot better in the ring than advertised. Although he breaks out the lionsault every once in awhile, he’s based his game more on being a grumpy old brawler. Whatever works works I always say.

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13. Johnny Gargano
Points: 1582
Ballots: 22
Highest Vote: 3rd Place (Chris McDonald, Joey O., Andrew Hewitt
Last Year’s Ranking: 1st Place

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12. Andrade (Cien Almas)
Points: 1583
Ballots: 22
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Rizz)
Last Year’s Ranking: 12th Place

Joey O.: I never stopped using his “full” name, but Andrade is always such an exciting presence in the ring and has clicked with so many different performers. Of course, he’s worked best with his fellow legacy luchador Rey Mysterio but any time El Idolo gets 10+ min on TV, you’re guaranteed to see something great.

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11. Kazuchika Okada
Points: 1608
Ballots: 17
Highest Vote: 2nd Place (Don Becker, Chris Striegel, Bill Hanstock, Mat Morgan)
Last Year’s Ranking: 8th Place

TH: Lil’ Kazu spent most of the year with the Japanese Big Gold Belt, and as par for the course, his main events were at least watchable, which I swear isn’t damning with faint praise. I think him leaning into being lauded as the best worker in the world has allowed him to act cockier in the ring, which actually enhances his matches.

Kirk Dessler: The best closing streak in the business: MSG G1 Supercard. Nothing more to say.

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10. Tomohiro Ishii
Points: 1613
Ballots: 18
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Mat Morgan, John Bills)
Last Year’s Ranking: 25th Place

TH: Everyone’s favorite sentient bowling ball continued his run as CHAOS’ official gatekeeper and NEVER Openweight Championship contender. His G1 as always was a masterclass in dumptruck battles, especially with Moxley and Taichi. If Ishii is on the card, you know you’ll have something more than the main event to look forward too, unless he’s in the main event.

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9. Kota Ibushi
Points: 1631
Ballots: 19
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Kirk Dessler)
Last Year’s Ranking: 10th Place

Kirk Dessler: 2019 is the year in which Kota Ibushi’s suicidal tendencies have been more latent than ever. Legitimately knocked out at Wrestle Kingdom 13, he did not hesitate to engage in a mortal spectacle against Tetsuya Naito at MSG. He crowned his year with an immaculate G1 final against Jay White a match perfectly contrasting the methodical style of heel Jay White and the unstoppable reckless Ibushi.

Photo Credit: Bob Mulrenin

8. Pentagón, Jr.
Points: 1657
Ballots: 23
Highest Vote: 8th Place (Don Becker, Matt T.)
Last Year’s Ranking: 45th Place

TH: Everyone’s favorite fearless skeleton found a nice groove as a tag team specialist with his brother. His hard-hitting hammer nature is a great complement to Rey Feníx’s peerless aerodynamics.

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7. Keith Lee
Points: 1683
Ballots: 22
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Joshua Browns)
Last Year’s Ranking: 80th Place

Joshua Browns: I’m a latecomer to the Keith Lee party – I remember folks involved in the Austin scene talking him up and I’d seen a few viral clips of him and Dijak from Evolve and PWG, but it wasn’t until his match with Dasher Hatfield in Chikara (during what turned out to be the early stages of his indie farewell tour) that I really got to see what he was all about. I’d almost certainly have him fairly high on my list no matter what kind of a year 2019 had been for him; “giant hoss dripping with charisma who will also occasionally do 2nd-rope moonsaults and avalanche Spanish Flies” is about as EXTREMELY MY SHIT™ as you’re likely to get, but for me, what made him an easy #1 choice is the simple fact that nobody did more to get both themselves AND their opponents over in the ring this year than Keith Lee. He showcased his own incredible set of skills while also helping to rescue Dijak’s stalled NXT momentum, he elevated Roderick Strong from B-level Undisputed Era henchman into unstoppable cardio monster who can credibly take punishment from a guy three times his size and still keep coming, and, well, he pounced Adam Cole into low Earth orbit, which didn’t really do anything for Cole (not that he really needs the help), but was metal as shit. Oh, and then he showed up at Survivor Series and started laying the foundation for what could be a main-event-of-Mania-level career on the main roster. That’s a pretty goddamn special year.

Scott Raychel: Keith Lee’s feud with fellow big boy Dominik Dijakovic was so good it made NXT themselves finally realize that Lee is the resident hoss they should’ve been pushing all along instead of Dijakovic. Look no further than their match on the August 28th episode of NXT. It’s the best in their series and in ten minutes, those two put together a glorious hoss battle better than any 30+ minute NJPW epic that some nerd will try to tell you is great because an even bigger nerd with a paid subscription blog jerked off a random number of stars all over its numerous false finishes and Tokyo Domes. Anyways, Keith Lee is the light, the truth, and the way. BASK.

Joey O.: Keith Lee defied the laws of physics in his mind-blowing series of matches with Dominik Dijakovic, then took everything to another level at the end of 2019, including his WarGame/Survivor Series weekend showcase. The guy truly is limitless. Bonus points for the pounce that launched a thousand GIFs.

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6. Adam Cole, BAYBAY
Points: 1784
Ballots: 20
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Chris McDonald, Joey O., Sara Hates 2 Tweet)
Last Year’s Ranking: 37th Place

Adam Blount: Adam Cole has got down the art of match finishes. The closing stages of his matches nearly always improve them from good to great. And leave you feeling like you just witnessed an epic. The dude is charismatic as all get out too. And he sells like a champ. He had more big matches that delivered than just about anyone else last year. You gotta rate him.

Joey O.: Adam Cole went above and beyond as the linchpin of NXT all year long. A deserving champion, he started 2019 in that Super Bowl halftime trios match (remember what a blast that was?), had that incredible series of Takeover title matches vs. Johnny Gargano and wrapped up the year as the victim in Keith Lee’s Greatest GIF. He had that run of amazing, grueling matches around WarGames/Survivor Series week too! Cole seems to never get as many accolades as his opponents, yet that’s another reason why his work in 2019 was so great. Always in the mix at the top of NXT cards, Cole was easily my pick for #1 in this year’s TWB.

Tomorrow, the TWB enters THE TOP FIVE.