The last time we got together in this format, I shared with you some of my favorite women's matches. This time, I want to talk about some of my favorite wrestlers, some of which, you may find yourself shocked to see, aren't women. These may not be the best wrestlers in the world (although a few are regarded as such), but these are certainly the people I look forward to seeing, whether it be on TV, PPV, DVD, or Live in Person.
So, with no further ado, let's start with an obvious one...
I love Rain for all the right and several of the wrong reasons. A consummate "naughty girl," Rain generally plays a fun, charismatic heel who tries to get ahead by any means, and look good doing it. She's confident, she's funny, and smarter than most would give her credit for. You remember how Lacey would take the dollar bills from fans holding them up at ringside at ROH shows? She got the idea from Rain, who actually earned a reputation in her early career as the "dollar whore" for doing so. She took an act meant to demean her, fans waving dollar bills at her to "show her stuff", and ran with it, taking the money and running off, getting heat in the process (as well as a few extra bucks a night). Eventually, both Lacey and Rain had to start refusing the cash, or, in some cases, tearing the dollar bill and throwing the pieces back at the fans, just to get heat, because people started to accept it as part of their shtick. And, with this, you can see a small part of what makes Rain an interesting person to watch, both in and out of the ring. She knows what her role is, and plays it. As a heel, she does everything she can to get heat, and does so in a fun, entertaining way. A lot of people will say that she's not much of a wrestler. These people, in my opinion, do not get how the Art of Wrestling works, because Rain's job isn't to have the wicked awesome match with all the cool highspots and the superlative work rate. Her job is to get the babyface over by trying to take something from the audience that they want to see, namely, her ass getting kicked. As far as I'm concerned, sure, there are better athletes out there, but few can hold a candle to Rain as an all-around performer.
Plus, she's hot. I mean, really, are we going to ignore that completely? I certainly don't!
Now, let's move on to someone who'll give this article more "street cred" with the hardcore fans...
Everything you hear Michael Cole say about the guy on commentary is more than likely true. Daniel Bryan really is little more than a nerdy vegan who's more of a goof than anything else. He can also turn out some of the best wrestling matches, bell to bell, I've ever seen. In the ring, Daniel Bryan can make you forget that he's a relatively small, pale nerd, and come off as someone epically badass, a fighter who will never say quit, a man who may literally never die against the biggest, the baddest, and the meanest this industry can offer. His style, honestly ought to seem ahead of its time, completely inspired by Mixed Martial Arts. His mode of attack - get the opponent on the ground, lock in a hold, and hope he taps. If he doesn't tap, elbow the sh*t out of the joint and go for it again. If you can knock the guy out, great. That's really all he does. Yet, he does it in a way that makes it seem exciting and quick-paced, even though most of his offense comes while on the mat. Daniel Bryan has no wasted motion. Everything he does, whether in his strikes, his holds, or simply pointing his finger to the sky in the right moment, is designed to draw you in and want to see him overcome. You can also see everything in his face - confidence, frustration, anger, determination... whatever the moment calls for, whatever a real person in the same situation would feel in that very moment, you can see it, plain as day, on Daniel Bryan's face.
When it comes right down to it, most people, whether they realize it or not, have it wrong about Daniel Bryan when it comes to why he is so beloved by the Internet Fanbase. It's not because he can do cool moves, or because he works a strong style, or because he was a big deal in Ring of Honor, although those things do help. Daniel Bryan is as beloved among his fanbase as he is, moreso than virtually anyone else at his level, because he was able to take a jaded and skeptical fanbase who had lived through years of ECW ultra violence and MTV-style Sports Entertainment, and made them believe that a 5' 9" mat wrestler could beat any man in the world with a submission hold. In essence, Bryan has been able to do what so many critics of the Hardcore/Extreme style of wrestling we saw in the late 1990s said would be impossible to do once fans saw people live through barbed wire matches and thrown off steel cages - he put the genie back in the bottle and made fans believe that a simple headlock could really hurt someone, again. I mean, hell, the small package was considered his big finish for nearly a year when he held the ROH World Title, and when Bryan finally got his first win on WWE TV using the small package, people on the 'Net practically exploded in joy. A small package. You find another man that can make people jump up and scream after seeing a match end with a small package, and you may find the only other wrestler on the planet that can do what Daniel Bryan can do in the ring.
"Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels
As I've said here and on ClubWWI many times, Daniels was my bridge into Ring of Honor. When he left TNA last year and showed up in ROH, I immediately took an interest in ROH. Part of this is because I had honestly become frustrated with the changes to TNA's product in the wake of Hulk Hogan's debut. The other part is that I'm simply a huge fan of the Fallen Angel. Sure, the gimmick is a bit cartoony, and Daniels can, more often than not, engage in the grandiose, over-the-top speech pattern akin to Charlton Heston as Moses in
The Ten Commandments, but this is wrestling. You're bound to run into a man with a Messiah Complex doing the Charlton Heston voice in wrestling at some point! Beyond the campiness of the Fallen Angel gimmick for a second, though, it's hard to argue with the man's athleticism and storytelling capabilities in the ring. The X Division style of Wrestling, while innovative and fast-paced, has its critics, who will claim that the style lacks in ring psychology, as guys will simply do stunts for 10 minutes until someone gets a pin. Christopher Daniels, at least to me, serves as proof that the X-Style can and in fact does have quite the depth of psychology, as there are workers like Daniels who take the time and effort to make things look like they have a purpose. You're not going to see Daniels do a stunt in a match just to do it, like you'll see many independent and X-Style wrestlers do these days. If he's doing something, it has a purpose. What I appreciate most about Daniels is that not only has he been a leader and an innovator of a style of professional wrestling that honestly needs to be in the greater forefront of this business, or else risk fading even further into social obscurity than it already has in the post-Austin era, but has proven that the style itself isn't just some frivolous highspotting for the sake of highspotting. The X-Style, as it's become commonly referred, really is the present and future of the Art of Wrestling, and guys like Christopher Daniels, AJ Styles, Jerry Lynn, Lance Storm, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Austin Aries, Alex Shelley, Chris Sabin, and Davey Richards really ought to be heralded as Saviors of the Art of Wrestling, in a lot of ways, because of the work they've done in their careers to advance the Art of Wrestling forward in a business that outright refuses to truly evolve.
Speaking of which...
The guy gets it. Plain and simple, the guy gets the point. It's a sport. Pro Wrestling, at its most basic, is a sport that just happens to rig results for its financial benefit, like most people believe Boxing is. At the same time, provided people are right, and Boxing is, in fact, rigged, you don't see Manny Pascual kicking it with Fozzy Bear before a fight. You don't see Floyd Mayweather whining about how Shane Mosely slept with his ex-girlfriend, who just happens to be the Commissioner of Boxing, and is now refusing to give Floyd a rematch because of it. Davey gets that, and acts accordingly. Unlike some people, who will talk a lot about principal and honor, then go and take a job with Impact Wrestling because he's tired of only making "10% of the money", Davey has spent his career acting on his beliefs. The man respects the Art of Wrestling, what it is, what it could be, and what it should be.
Or... at the very least, he's incredibly good at making you believe these things about him. Davey can make you believe that wrestling is his life, his passion, what keeps him going every day. Davey can make you believe he's a man of principals, a man who won't sell out his beliefs for anything. Davey can make you believe what he says, because he delivers it in a straight-forward, serious tone, that can draw you in make you believe it's real. If nothing else, the man is good at making you believe he's being honest with you, the fans, about who he is and what he stands for. Even as a heel, you knew the man had principals. You may not believe he is a good and decent man, but you can believe that he loves and respects the Art of Wrestling, and will do what he feels he needs to in order to advance what he believe the Art of Wrestling ought to be.
Plus, the guy is an incredible in-ring performer who, like Daniel Bryan, has very little wasted motion, and like Christopher Daniels, makes everything he does matter. The man is direct, both in ring, and out, which makes it very easy to believe in him as the man who now spearheads everything Ring of Honor claims to be about.
The key to continued cultural relevancy is the ability to reinvent oneself as time moves on. This is just one of Allison Danger's many talents. Originally a valet who came into the business almost by accident, Allison Danger has reinvented herself so many times in so many different ways, I honestly don't know which version of her you'd be most familiar with. Whether she was the crazed lesbian of the Christopher Street Connection, the one True Believer in Christopher Daniels' Prophecy, the Strong Style Samurai of SHIMMER's early days, or today's Leader of the Womanist Revolution, Allison Danger is always evolving. She is also completely unhindered when it comes to speaking her mind. Whether or not she set out to become the Feminist Icon many fans see her as, now, it's hard to say, but its certainly come to be a role she's embraced, not only as the Matriarch of SHIMMER, but as one of the leading figures of the American Joshi Movement which has seen serious women's wrestling become more prominent in today's Independent Wrestling Scene.
When people ask me about who my favorite wrestlers are, I feel my answers change a lot, as I rattle off whoever's work I enjoy the most at the moment. I do feel, though, that the people I've listed here are the names that almost always get rattled off when I'm asked this question. If you ask me again tomorrow, I may mention Johnny Gargano, or Sara Del Rey, or AJ Styles, or Mike Quackenbush, or Madison Eagles, and so on. Honestly, I could spend a lifetime blathering on about who I like and why, but I figure these five I discussed here was a good place to start. After all, I need material for other columns, right?
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