I'm going to be doing this year's Independent Wrestling Year in Review post slightly different than last year. You can probably already tell by the fact that it's title Indy/Alternative Wrestling Year in Review. 2015 saw promotions like ROH & Lucha Underground tow the line of independent and corporate. Both have TV deals, but neither as large as WWE by any means. Plus, many of the wrestlers on their programs still have independent contracts. This makes for a tough issue when it comes to clarification. On top of that, TNA is clearly not on the level of WWE anymore, if they ever were, and some don't even see them on the same level as ROH or Lucha Underground. So, instead of doing three extra posts for each company in question, I decided to lump them all into this one post and I think it will make for a fun venture.
RING OF HONOR
What better promotion to start with than Ring of Honor? They basically started the independent / alternative wrestling movement when they formed in 2002. Since then they've earned a rabid following despite their growth happening gradually and not over night. ROH produced many of today's top WWE talents that you love such as Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, & Cesaro and was also the stomping grounds of names like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, & Chris Daniels.
I mention all this because 2015 was a year that ROH put forth an effort that I'd say is a culmination of their history as a company. You had the current stars like Michael Elgin, Kyle O'Reilly, Bobby Fish & ACH, but you also had veterans like the aforementioned AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, & Matt Sydal back in major roles. On top of that, you had veterans like Jay Briscoe, Roderick Strong, and Jay Lethal who have been around for the longest, still working at the top of the card on a high, consistent level. It's a great mix and if that wasn't enough, ROH's working agreement with New Japan Pro Wrestling allowed one of my favorite things about ROH to be put on display throughout the year as international talent came in on multiple occassions for dream matches of all kinds.
These dream matches allowed for men like Roderick Strong to restate why he is one of the best of the past 15 years by pulling out career performance after career performance. Roddy delivered one of his best years yet all across the board, but a core part of that was in ROH against names like Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, & Shinsuke Nakamura. Each of which, Strong produced an incredible match with. Those are just the start of his year though because we saw him form a new rivalry during the year as he and Jay Lethal waged war on a number of occassions as they vyed for championship gold.
It was a perfect match up when you look back considering they were the clear stand outs for Ring of Honor this year. Therefore, you know what we got when they wrestled - a series of classics. Jay Lethal was able to win the series and retain his ROH World Title on every occassions although he would lose his television championship later in the year. Speaking of that, we HAVE to talk about the year that Jay Lethal had because it would be a complete injustice if we didn't.
Lethal came into 2015 with the ROH World TV Title around his waist. A title that he had held for nearly a year at the time. He surpassed that year mark and would end up finding himself in a dream scenario. The #1 Contender for the ROH World Title while also holding the TV Title. This made for an epic clash with Jay Briscoe that saw Lethal make history and become the first double champion in ROH history. In the months past, he would defend the title against names like Roderick Strong & AJ Styles to prove himself as the best in the world, all the while flipping a finger and turning up his nose at anyone who got in his way. It was an unbelievable year for Jay Lethal.
Much like it was an unbelievable year for in ring competiton and considering that's what ROH prides itself on. I say we wait no longer to unveil the Top 10 ROH Matches of 2015 list, put together by yours truly!
Top 10 ROH Matches of the Year:
1) ReDragon (Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish) vs. The Young Bucks - ROH World Tag Team Title Match - 13th Anniversary Show
2) AJ Styles vs. Adam Cole - War of the Worlds Night 1
3) Roderick Strong, Jay Briscoe, Mark Briscoe, Hanson, & Ray Rowe vs. The Young Bucks, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, & Doc Gallows - Global Wars Night 1
4) Jay Lethal vs. AJ Styles - Final Battle
5) Jay Briscoe vs. Jay Lethal - Best in the World
6) Roderick Strong vs. Kazuchika Okada- Field of Honor
7) Jay Briscoe vs. Adam Page - No DQ Match - ROH TV - 10/21/15
8) The Young Bucks & AJ Styles vs. ACH, Cedric Alexander, & Matt Sydal - Winter Warriors Night Two
9) Roderick Strong vs. KUSHIDA - Global Wars Night One
10) Roderick Strong vs. Shinsuke Nakamura - Global Wars Night Two
PWG (Pro Wrestling Guerrilla)
Now, I have to preface this by saying that this is being done prior to PWG's final two events of the year being released to the masses so you'll have to check TeamPWG for my fully accurate 2015 Year in Review for PWG. However, this is an often problem with writing things about PWG at the end of the year so many of you are probably used to it. None the less, 2015 was another big year for the top Independent Promotion in America. It was also a different year and a year of change.
For the first time in a decade, PWG walked into the year without Kevin Steen (now Owens) on the roster. On top of that, two men who dominated the promotion in recent years, Adam Cole & Kyle O'Reilly were deemed unable to compete in PWG in 2015 due to contract exclusivity with Ring of Honor. This made for a big absence on the cards, but also left room for many new talent to debut.
Names like Mike Bailey, Monster Mafia, Team Tremendous, Beaver Boys, Tommy End, Will Ospreay, Fenix, Pentagon Jr, Angelico, and others, all made their PWG debuts this year. To top that off, men like Jack Evans and Akira Tozawa made their big returns to Reseda in 2015. This made for quite the rollercoaster ride of the year that also featured the return of the boss. The man behind PWG. The founder. The mystery. The beast. Super Dragon.
The return of Super Dragon led to the formation of Mount Rushmore 2.0 with Roderick Strong and The Young Bucks by his side. Speaking of Roddy & The Bucks, despite all the new talent flowing in, those three veterans remained at the top of the company. Strong had the year he's been working towards for nearly a decade and he delivered in aspect from incredible matches to unforgettable moments. The Bucks had another stellar year that was pretty unexpected as they were absent from PWG until May where they returned to dethrone Trevor Lee and Andrew Everett to regain the PWG World Tag Team Titles once again.
As you can tell, it was a really exciting year for PWG that never really got dull due to the vast influx of different talent that was booked. Well, that, and just because PWG was PWG and with the atmosphere and core roster it has, it's hard for it to be anything less than great. Some matches & moments stood above the rest though and I think it's time that we recognize them.
Top 10 PWG Matches of the Year:
1) Roderick Strong (c) vs. Zack Sabre Jr - PWG World Title Match - Don't Sweat The Technique - ****1/2
2) Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr - Mystery Vortex III - ****1/2
3) Roderick Strong & The Young Bucks vs. Zack Sabre Jr, Tommy End, & Marty Scurll - Battle of Los Angeles: Night One - ****1/2
4) Super Dragon & The Young Bucks vs. Andrew Everett, Biff Busick, & Trevor Lee - Guerrilla Warfare Match - Battle of Los Angeles: Night Two - ****1/2
5) Chris Hero vs. Tommy End - Don't Sweat The Technique - ****1/4
6) Roderick Strong vs. Mike Bailey - Mystery Vortex III - ****1/4
7) Ricochet vs. Matt Sydal - From Out of Nowhere - ****1/4
8) Ricochet vs. Zack Sabre Jr - Battle of Los Angeles: Night Two - ****1/4
9) Fenix vs. Matt Sydal - Battle of Los Angeles: Night One - ****1/4
10) Ricochet vs. Andrew Everett - Don't Sweat the Technique - ****
AAW by Tony Kegger
AAW is a promotion based out of surburban Chicago, Illinois. The production value of AAW shows on DVD looks great and they are very active on their YouTube and Twitter pages. One of the things I like about AAW is their use of backstage promos that they show on YouTube and in-between matches during their shows. AAW had a mix of everything in 2015. High flying spotfests, violent brawls, technical wrestling, and comedy wrestling occurred often. AAW made improvements to their roster in 2015 with the debuts of Trevor Lee, Team Tremendous, Abyss, Matt Sydal, Samoa Joe, Shynron and Tyson Dux. International wrestlers Tommy End, Pentagon Jr and Fenix also debuted with the company. 2015 featured the AAW returns of Chris Hero, Sami Callihan and Matt Cross after being away from the company for several years. Michael Elgin made his first appearance after being away for a year and should be appearing more regularly with AAW now that he is no longer signed to an exclusive contract with Ring of Honor. AAW regulars who had a strong 2015 and may not be known to many wrestling fans include Davey Vega, Louis Lyndon, Josh Alexander, Matt Cage and Ethan Page. AAW’s women wrestling division in 2015 included Candice LeRae, Kimber Lee, Athena, Tessa Blanchard, Jessicka Havok and Heidi Lovelace. AAW had a terrific tag team division. The teams of the Hooligans, OI4K, Zero Gravity had many impressive performances. The 2015 MVPs of AAW were Chris Hero, Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. All three of them were in several great matches and they appear often in the list of top 10 matches below.
Top 10 Best AAW Matches of the Year:
1) Chris Hero vs. Pentagon Jr. - Windy City Classic XI - ****1/2
2) Chris Hero vs. Tommaso Ciampa - United We Stand - ****1/2
3) Chris Hero vs. Johnny Gargano - Defining Moment - ****1/4
4) Ethan Page vs. Jimmy Jacobs - Epic - ****1/4
5) Tommaso Ciampa vs. Tommy End - Hell Hath No Fury - ****1/4
6) Johnny Gargano & OI4K vs ACH, Davey Vega & Mat Fitchett - Hell Hath No Fury - ****1/4
7) Tommaso Ciampa vs. Davey Richards - Take No Prisoners - ****
8) Samoa Joe vs. Josh Alexander - Hell Hath No Fury - ****
9) Johnny Gargano vs. Ethan Page 2 out of 3 Falls - Jawbreaker - ****
10) OI4K vs. The Hooligans - Defining Moment - ****
Lucha Underground burst onto the scene last fall and offered wrestling fans worldwide a completely new alternative to what they were getting from companies like WWE and Impact Wrestling. Spawned from the AAA promotion in Mexico, stars like Alberto El Patron, Pentagon Jr, Mil Muertes, Drago, Fenix, Aerostar, Angelico, and others were key parts of the promotion in 2015 with home talents like Johnny Mundo (the former John Morrison) and Prince Puma (Ricochet) also being at the fore front. There were also veterans like Chavo Guerrero, Konnan, & Vampiro and familiar faces like Hernandez (formerly of TNA) and Brian Cage (of PWG). It was an eclectic mix of talent and made for my personal favorite wrestling TV show of the year.
Running from January to August, the first season of LU provided us with thrilling action, shocking developments, and needless to say, something that left us talking nearly every week. Prince Puma was the champion coming into the year and he had many epic battles against Johnny Mundo for the title including an absolutely crazy 60 minute iron man match that saw the men perform a wide arrange of mind blowing spots and completely go all out for the championship. Johnny Mundo was unsuccessful in all of his title attempts however he certainly delivered in each of them and did so in every program he was involved in, particularly his feud with Alberto El Patron (Del Rio). The week Mundo snapped and threw Del Rio into the office window thus busting his head open was one of my favorite moments. Then again, you also had that epic dive from Angelico during the spring where he leaped from a platform above the ring to save his partner Son of Havoc from losing the trios titles despite the problems they had been having.
As you can tell, Lucha Underground brought something fresh and different to pro wres this year which made it a complete joy to watch. You had fast paced junior heavyweight and lucha style action, you had death matches, you had hard hitting contests, and to top off all the awesome matches, the majority of them had intriguing storylines to back them up. As said before, the first season ended in August of this year, but they are going to back and kicking in 2016 with the new season starting on January 27th. In the mean time, I'd highly recommend checking out the matches on the list below because I believe they will undoubtedly get you hyped for next season which is just weeks away!
Top 10 Lucha Underground Matches of the Year:
1) Prince Puma vs. Johnny Mundo - Iron Man Match - 6/17/15 - ****1/2
2) Johnny Mundo vs. Alberto El Patron - 5/6/15 - ****1/2
3) Son of Havoc, Angelico, & Ivelisse vs. Cage, King Cuerno, & Texano Jr vs. Big Ryck, The Mack, & Killshot vs. The Crew - 4/22/15 - ****1/2
4) Pentagon Jr vs. Vampiro - Ultima Lucha - 8/5/15 - ****1/2
5) Fenix vs. Mil Muertes - 3/18/15 - ****1/4
6) Johnny Mundo, Prince Puma & Hernandez vs. Cage, King Cuerno, & Texano Jr - 4/15/15 - ****1/4
7) Son of Havoc, Angelico, & Ivelisse vs. The Crew - Ladder Match - 5/20/15 - ****1/4
8) Prince Puma vs. Mil Muertes - Ultima Lucha - 8/5/15 - ****
9) Cage vs. The Mack - Falls Count Anywhere Match - Ultima Lucha - 8/5/15 - ****
10) Fenix vs. Cage vs. Mack vs. Pentagon Jr vs. Sexy Star vs. Killshot - 5/13/15 - ***3/4
PROGRESS by Mark Anthony
PROGRESS Wrestling in London has had one hell of a 2015. They ended one of the best wrestling storylines in Wrestling in near perfect fashion while making Will Ospreay a superstar at the same time, held their first Super Strong Style 16 tournament which was easily one of the top 5 tournaments of the year and and have had some excellent US talent such as Roderick Strong and Tommaso Ciampa come and make an impact without having to depend on them on a regular basis like other promotions. It's no wonder why they've sold out multiple events in under 20 minutes and have also been able to expand and do shows in Manchester. Another thing PROGRESS has done very well this year is make their own stars from their training school, the ProJo, Pastor William Eaver and the GZRS are huge examples of that. PROGRESS Wrestling is one of the best indie promotions in the planet, it's something special and if you haven't gotten into it, you really need to cause 2016 is going to be an incredible year for them.
Top 10 Best Progress Matches of the Year:
1) Will Ospreay vs. Jimmy Havoc - Chapter 20: Beyond Thunderbastard
2) Zack Sabre Jr vs. Tommaso Ciampa - Chapter 24: Hit The North
3) Will Ospreay vs. Mark Haskins - Chapter 21: You Know We Don't Like To Use The Sit Down Gun
4) Jimmy Havoc vs. Paul Robinson - Chapter 21: You Know We Don't Like To Use The Sit Down Gun
5) Zack Sabre Jr vs. Tommaso Ciampa - Chapter 19: Super Strong Style 16
6) Will Ospreay vs. Mark Andrews - Chapter 23: What A Time To Be Alive!
7) Jinny vs. Pollyanna - Chapter 19: Super Strong Style 16
8) Mark Haskins vs. Tommaso Ciampa - Chapter 22: Trust, Encouragment, Loyalty, Satisfaction
9) Tommy End & Michael Dante vs. The Hunter Brothers - Chapter 20: Beyond Thunderbastard
10) Zack Sabre Jr vs. Marty Scurll - Chapter 19: Super Strong Style 16
Revolution Pro (UK) by Dan
Revolution Pro Wrestling is another UK based promotion that prides itself on using the best names in British wrestling mixed in with the best stars from all around. They have had a great year in 2015 and produced some of the best matches on UK soil in quite some time.
I attended two shows from Rev Pro in 2015 which were Summer Sizzler in June and Uprising in October and both shows were outstanding from top to bottom. The shows took place in the legendary East London venue the York Hall in Bethnal Green which is the same venue that held FWA events Uprising in 2002 which featured AJ Styles first UK appearance against UK veteran Johnny Storm and also the infamous Frontiers of Honor show from May 2003 which featured names such as AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Low Ki and Samoa Joe so the excitement of being in such a historic venue was already there from the outset.
The fact that Will Ospreay cracked my top 4 showsthe kind of year this young man has had. His performances are always outstanding and he has incredible athletic ability and is up there with Ricochet as the best cruiserweight in the world. Will against dream opponents such as AJ Styles, Matt Sydal and Okada are all amazing matches and are must see in my opinion. The atmosphere was electric as evidence by the "OSPREAY – OSPREAY -OSPREAY" chants from 2,000 strong all night long. This shows what a superstar Ospreay is and I expect huge things from him in 2016.
The excitement in October 2015 was even more so for me in October 2015 when I attended uprising as this was the show that brought the best from New Japan to the UK and I was able to see names like Jushin Liger, Tanahashi, Okada, Nakamura, & AJ Styles. It was a one of a kind experience to see such legends and they put on some great performances over two shows in October.
The above matches again are all must see and you can purchase and watch these from anywhere in the world via www.revolutionprowrestling.com/ondemand
2016 again looks to be a huge year for Rev Pro with their High Stakes 2016 event which I will be attending featuring matches such as AJ Styles v Zack Sabre Jr which will be a first time dream match, Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll and Big Damo vs. the debuting Speedball Mike Bailey who has been killing it on the US Indy scene in 2015.
Top 10 Best Rev Pro UK Matches of 2015
1) Will Ospreay v AJ Styles - High Stakes 2015 - 2/15/15 - ****1/2
2) AJ Styles vs. Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll - British Heavyweight Championship Match - Uprising - 10/2/15 - ****1/2
3) Will Ospreay v Matt Sydal - 2/3 Falls Match for the British Heavyweight Championship - Summer Sizzler - 6/14/15 - ****1/2
4) Kyle O'Reilly vs. KUSHIDA - BOSJ Finals Rematch - Uprising - 10/2/15 - ****1/2
5) Will Ospreay vs. Kazuchika Okada - Global Wars UK - 10/3/15 - ****
6) AJ Styles vs Marty Scurll - British Heavyweight Championship Match - Summer Sizzler - 6/14/15 - ****
7) Big Damo vs. Shinsuke Nakamura - Uprising - 10/2/15 - ****
8) Marty Scurll vs. Ricochet for the British Heavyweight Championship Match - High Stakes - 2/15/15 - ***1/2
9) John Morrison vs. Ricochet - Live in Broxbourne - 9/18/15 - ***1/4
10) Roderick Strong vs. Shinsuke Nakamura - Summer Sizzler - 6/14/15 - ***1/4
SOUTHSIDE WRESTLING by Dan
Overall, Southside Wrestling has had a great year in 2015. Southside has been in existence since October 2010 and it prides itself on using top UK talent and also top US indy names including ex WWE, TNA, and ROH stars as well as top talent from CZW, EVOLVE and PWG.
I attended two shows from Southside at the Circus Tavern in February 2015 (Supremacy) and eptember 2015 (Adrenaline Rush). Despite being a wrestling fan for 15 years this was my first time attending a British Indy show and I was blown away on both occasions.
Going into my first Southside show the names such as Johnny Gargano and Chris sabin attracted me to go the event as they are such big names from Evolve, TNA and ROH, however upon leaving the show I was left amazed by the likes of Will Ospreay, Tommy End , Mark Andrews and Tyler Bate. Southside had an amazing year and I recommend any of the above mentioned matches on DVD which can be purchased via their website www.southsidewrestling.co.uk
2016 already looks set to be another amazing year from Southside having announced matches already such as Will Ospreay v Andrew Everett and Sami Callihan v Mark Haskins for some upcoming shows and you can bet I will be in attendance or buying the DVDS of those. Look out for some more from Southside in 2016.
Top 10 Best Southside Matches of the Year:
1) Tommy End vs. Will Ospreay - Adrenaline Rush Show - 9/26/15
2) Tommy End vs. Chris Hero - Menace to Society V - 8/10/15
3) Chris Heros. Tyler Bate - 30 Minute Iron Man Match - Retribution Six - 8/9/15
4) Will Ospreay vs. Mark Andrews - 2/3 Falls Match for the Speed King Championship - Supremacy - 2/28/15
5) Young Bucks vs. Hunter Brothers - Raw Deal IV - 4/12/15
6) Tomasso Ciampa vs. El Ligero - Adrenaline Rush - 9/26/15
7) Roderick Strong vs. Will Opreay - Great Expectations - 7/18/15
8) Johnny Gargano vs. Tommy End - Supremacy - 2/28/15
9) Hunter Brothers v Sumerian Death Squad vs Stixx & Toni Storm vs. So Scandalous - Great Expectations - 7/18/15
10) Austin Aries vs. Will Ospreay - South Side 5th Anniversary Show - 5/24/15
TNA IMPACT WRESTLING
I was tempted to not even do a write up for Impact however that would be rude and kind of misleading since I mentioned at the start of this post. This year was essentially just like 2014 for TNA. It had bright spots, but as a whole it was still a struggle to get through one episode of Impact which makes the year as a whole seem like a flop. I pull for every wrestling promotion because it's wrestling and it's the employees' livelihood, plus it's also good for the business. It just seems impossible for TNA to pick up steam at this point and I rarely ever watch. I did, however, tune in on several occassions and caught some of the best matches they had to offer this year. Plus with EC3 getting his long awaited title run, it wasn't ALL bad. However, there isn't much else to talk about. The Wolves had some good tag matches, they did a GFW "Invasion" angle that wasn't nearly as big as it should've been, and that's really about it. So, let's take a look at the best matches that TNA had to offer in 2015.
TOP 5 TNA MATCHES OF 2015:
1) EC3 vs. Spud - Impact - 3/13/15 - ****1/4
2) Davey Richards & Eddie Edwards vs. Austin Aries & Bobby Roode - Impact - 5/29/15 - ****
3) Kurt Angle vs. Bobby Lashley - Impact - 4/3/15 - ****
4) Eric Young vs. Bobby Roode - Last Man Standing Match - Impact - 3/13/15 - ****
5) The Wolves vs. The Hardys - Impact - 1/5/15 - ****
2015 was truly one for the books for Beyond Wrestling. The year began with a huge controversy in the Dickinson/Kimber Lee saga that sparked a massive social media buzz. As the year rolled, Donovan Dijak became THE reason to buy every show Beyond put out with his incredible streak of great matches. This happened just as the ace of Beyond, Biff Busick would start building towards his ultimate departure which resulted in a memorable event where he faced all of his greatest rivals in one night - Eddie Edwards, Drew Gulak, & Timothy Thatcher. The year closed with shocking news as Beyond had to say goodbye to the venue it called home for nearly two years, Fete Music. They went out with a bang though as Dijak & Ciampa tore the house down along with Hero & JT Dunn and the dream match of Da Hit Squad vs. Low Ki & Homicide.
Top 10 Best Beyond Wrestling Matches of 2015
1) Biff Busick vs. Donovan Dijak - Life Sucks And Then You Die -
2) AR Fox vs. Shynron - Ladder Match for the CLL Title - King of Arts
3) Biff Busick vs. Eddie Edwards - Greatest Rivals Round Robin
4) Donovan Dijak vs. Chris Hero - TFT4: Night 2
5) Donovan Dijak vs. Eddie Edwards - The Real Thing
6) Chris Dickinson vs. Kimber Lee- King of Arts
7) JT Dunn vs. David Starr - Scorned
8) Donovan Dijak vs. Tommaso Ciampa - Fete Finale
9) Samoa Joe vs. Chris Dickinson - The Real Thing
10) The Young Bucks vs. Shynron & Kitsune - When Satan Rules His World
TOP 10 INDEPENDENT WRESTLERS OF 2015
1) Roderick Strong - 212 points
Who woulda thunk it? Roderick Strong taking the cake as Wrestler of the Year in 2015. I don't think anyone would have guessed it and even if I second guessed this result. Then, I went back and watched multiple matches of his and runner up, AJ Styles, to see if this was an accurate reading and sure enough, I felt like it was. Roderick Strong was simply on another level this year and when you go back to watch his matches, you still feel it. The way the crowd reacted to him, the feel of his matches, the atmosphere, it all clicked, even after the fact. Seeing this year unfold for Roddy is something I'll never forget as a wrestling fan. All over the board, he was working harder than ever and finally getting the due that he has deserved for so long. In PWG, he turned the corner as a character by becoming the complete dickhead of a World Champion, but also delivering some of the best matches in career & company history against the likes of Zack Sabre Jr and Mike Bailey. In ROH, he got opportunities to face NJPW all stars like Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura, & KUSHIDA and knocked it completely out of the park in every single chance. On top of that, he went 60 minutes with World Champion Jay Lethal before delivering two more amazing matches with Lethal which resulted in him winning the Television title which Jay had held for over a year. All of that alone can qualify Roddy as wrestler of the year, but he has more to offer when considering him as a candidate as he competed in companies such as EVOLVE, Rev Pro, & Southside during the first half of the year prior to signing his exclusive ROH/PWG contract. In the aformentioned promotions, he delivered more memorable performances including a blow off feud with Drew Galloway, a second classic meeting with Zack Sabre Jr, a first time ever match with Will Ospreay, and the reunion of the Dojo Bros with Adam Cole & Eddie Edwards on two separate occassions. Roddy has been one of the most consistent and well conditioned athletes in pro wrestling for nearly a decade and I admit, I didn't even realize it until now. This year, he opened my eyes and made me a full fledged believer in his ability to be one of the best in the world. And in 2015, I don't think there was anyone better. Sure, you had the Shinsuke Nakamura's that produced two five star matches. Yes, you had AJ Styles continue to build his legacy and show persistence through injury. Yup, John Cena had one of his best years yet and won over many new fans. And who could forget the resurgence of Chris Hero & Matt Sydal to new heights? Despite all that, no one reached the level of Roderick Strong. When I think Wrestler of the Year, I think the year that Roddy had in 2015. It was one hell of a ride and I have no clue how Roddy plans to top it in 2016, but one thing is for sure, after this year, I wouldn't dare doubt his ability to do just that!
2) AJ Styles - 207 points
In 2014, AJ Styles re-emerged himself into legit Wrestler of the Year contention by adding a new fresh interest in his career when he left TNA for NJPW. AJ's time in TNA is not ANYTHING to be ashamed of by any stretch of the imagination, but the truth is that Styles left TNA at just the right time because it was sinking. He would win the IWGP Heavyweight Title three months into 2014 and become the leader of the Bullet Club, a stable that would rule the world of wrestling until the present day. With that in mind, you may say, how could someone follow that up? It was hard, but AJ did so in phenomenal fashion in 2015. Another IWGP Title run, outstanding matches against the likes of Kota Ibushi & Kazuchika Okada, great trios matches with The Young Bucks. The consistency, success, and overall excellence was the same amazing factor as in years past however this year we saw what AJ was truly made of as he fought through tough injuries yet still delivered some of the best performances of the year. An extremely consistent year by AJ Styles was punctuated by a jaw dropping performance against Jay Lethal on live PPV at ROH's year end event, Final Battle. AJ challenged for the World Title despite battling some real life injuries that caused NJPW to pull him from the World Tag League. This left many worried about how he would deliver in a main event slot and I'll be damned if he didn't prove them all wrong by providing fans with one of the best ROH matches of the year. The thrilling performance by an injured AJ Styles had me on the edge of my seat and reminded why AJ is such a class act and top notch performer. 15 years and counting and the phenomenal one doesn't look to be slowing down any time soon!
3) Ricochet - 159 points
Ricochet was the Independent Wrestler of the Year in 2014 and rightfully so as he won NJPW's Best of the Super Juniors tournament AND PWG's Battle of Los Angeles tournament. Just like with what I said about AJ, it left me wondering, how can possibly follow that? Well, Ricochet may not have found as much tournament success however he certainly covered a load of ground and continued build his legacy. The Future of Flight began the year under his Prince Puma persona as the champion of Lucha Underground. He competed in a number of highly entertaining title matches against Johnny Mundo and Mil Muertes before losing the title on the season finale in August. Outside of the temple, Ricochet was in his most well known form competing in PWG regularly as well as Dragon Gate and NJPW in Japan plus other various Indies throughout the year. There is one key counterpart that made Ochet's year special this year though and that man's name is Matt Sydal. Ricochet faced Sydal in February for PWG in a remarkable match and it would spawn a year that the two provided us with stellar matches, not against each other, but as a team. The duo tore it up in Dragon Gate over the summer including one of my favorite matches of the year against Naruki Doi & YAMATO then they went to NJPW where they won the Junior Tag League thus earning them a title match at Wrestle Kingdom 10. It was a way to cap off 2015 for Ricochet!
4) Zack Sabre Jr - 158 points
When Zack Sabre Jr made his first big wave of US appearances in 2014, it truly was the kickstart of something special as the world would bare witness to the birth of a new technical master in every sense of the word. 2015 was Sabre's year to shine and he did so in every corner of the globe. From his home in the UK in promotions like Rev Pro & Progress to the US in PWG & Evolve to Japan in NOAH, ZSJ was everywhere delivering his unique brand of pro wrestling to fans across the world. Notable moments from Sabre's year include his unbelievable series of matches with Roderick Strong, his run in the Battle of Los Angeles tournament which he would ultimately win, and rumors of a WWE NXT debut on the horizon. Heading into 2016, ZSJ will be leaving NOAH for the first time in several years to work full time in the US. With a PWG World Title Match in his future, indie bookings pouring in, and NXT seemingly around the corner at any moment, it looks like Zack Sabre Jr is just getting started and I think we'll see him breaking arms, fingers, & wrists on our TV screens very soon!
5) Kyle O'Reilly - 154 points
When it was made clear that Kyle O'Reilly would be working exclusively with ROH last year, I was extremely bummed because I always looked forward to his singles work in PWG. Well, with the absence of PWG on his schedule came more singles opportunities and a year that I can't complain about AT ALL. 2015 was just as good if not better for O'Reilly. He made it to the finals of the Best of Super Juniors tournament and proceeded to compete in an amazing match that is being hailed as one of the best NJPW matches of the year, against KUSHIDA. They would take their chemistry to RevPro later in the year and add another chapter to their rivalry in another fantastic contest. That's just singles talk though. O'Reilly continued to tear through the world of tag team with partner Bobby Fish as ReDragon delivered another stellar match with the Young Bucks, won their second pair of IWGP Tag Team Titles, and had great matches throughout the year against the Timesplitters, Jay Lethal & Shinsuke Nakamura, among others, despite losing the ROH Tag Titles in the middle of the year. O'Reilly capped off his already landmark year with a huge return to PWG, exactly one year to the day that he made his final appearance for the promotion. What a way to end the year! With a contract that allows him to work ROH, NJPW, & PWG, 2016 is going to be absolutely epic to watch unfold for Kyle O'Reilly.
6) Chris Hero - 140 points
Chris Hero has always been a favorite of mine, but this year in particular he truly solidifed that. In late 2013, he returned to the Indies and was solid however his 2014 didn't leave many people talking. Once 2015 hit, though, Hero turned it up SEVERAL notches and produced one of the best years of his career. Hero's wars with Timothy Thatcher, technical battles with Zack Sabre Jr's, fights against underdogs like Mike Bailey, his stint in NOAH, teacher-student match ups against Tommy End and record breaking occurences like his 100+ minute wrestling gauntlet for SMASH Wrestling proved to the world that Hero is far from done leaving his imprint on pro wrestling. There are still some doofs who make fun of his weight, but those people have clearly not been watching his matches. Hero's style has changed and been adapted to fit the times and better suit who he is as a wrestler now. It's something that is amazing to look back on as you will see Hero grow throughout his career. I'm not going to take the time to reminisce just yet, though, because Hero is heading into 2016 strong and I don't want to miss a minute of what The Knockout Artist has to offer in the present day.
7) Trevor Lee - 136 points
Trevor Lee took the momentum from his breakout run in 2014 and used it to propell him to an equally great year in 2015. Lee was all over from what has become his home in PWG to CZW to Beyond Wrestling to AAW and he even made his debut for TNA Impact Wrestling as a part of Team GFW. Lee grabbed gold only weeks into his run with the company as he and Brian Myers defeated The Wolves to win the TNA Tag Team Titles. It was Trevor's biggest achievement thus far despite it being shortlived. Lee has become an attraction across the Indies and I look forward to watching him progress further in the years to come.
8) Will Ospreay - 136 points
Will Ospreay took wrestling by storm similar to how Trevor Lee did in 2014, if not on an even bigger scale. At the young age of 22, Ospreay has more skill than some ten years older than him and beyond that, he puts it to good use. This led him to bursting out of nowhere into the limelight with must see matches against AJ Styles, Matt Sydal, and Mark Andrews throughout the year. This also led to his first trip to compete prominintely in America where he made it to the semi-finals of PWG's Battle of Los Angeles tournament. Ospreay held the Rev Pro British Cruserweight Title and the SWE Speed King Title in the first half of the year before closing out the year with a reign as PROGRESS Champion. The Aerial Assassin is the next big thing.
9) Matt Sydal - 129 points
Just like Chris Hero, Matt Sydal returned to the Indies in 2014 only to use it as a warm up year in prep to blow us all away in 2015. Sydal's first year back was fun and it was clear that he could still do all of his stuff in crisp fashion however we didn't see the true Sydal of old until this year and I'd almost say it wasn't even the Sydal of old, it was the Sydal of a new level. As my friend Mark (@seethekidwin) has said, he's pretty much the smartest junior heavyweight around. He never does too much, but he still wows you. He does just enough and it's all done in remarkable fashion. Sydal left us with MOTY candidates all across the board from his 2/3 Falls Match with Will Ospreay in Rev Pro to his bout with Ricochet in PWG to his tag with Ricochet in Dragon Gate in Japan against Naruki Doi & YAMATO to his Best of 5 Series with ACH, Sydal was a can't miss act in 2015.
10) Mike Bailey - 94 points
The last man on this Top 10 list is a fresh face although he has been tearing it up in Canada since about 2012. Bred from the same mold as his Canadian brethren El Generico & Kevin Steen, Mike Bailey splashed into the limelight this year with a PWG debut that turned into him being the most consistently booked man on the roster, his first trip to Mexico to compete for AAA, and just an overall year filled with this unique talent taking full advantage of every opportunity he was given. It was in 2014 that he & Biff Busick's series of matches got him on the map and that continued & ended this year with their meeting in PWG and 2/3 Falls Match for C4 Wrestling. Bailey also had outstanding matches against the likes of Drew Galloway, Chris Hero, & Trevor Lee, but truly anytime he stepped in the ring, it was something worth seeing because he's so one of a kind. Match quality isn't all Bailey has on his trophy case this year, though, Speedball won CZW's Best of the Best Tournament early in the year and also made it to the finals of PWG's Battle of Los Angeles tournament only to be eliminated by the man he defeated a month prior, Chris Hero.
Top 5 Independent Wrestling Tag Teams of the Year:
1) The Young Bucks - 155 points - ROH, NJPW, PWG, CHIKARA, CZW, 2CW
Current PWG World Tag Team Champions. Members of Bullet Club in NJPW. Competed in a packed schedule throughout the year for ROH, NJPW, and US Indies such as PWG, CHIKARA, Beyond Wrestling, CZW, & 2CW. The Bucks have taken the Tag Team of the Year Award for the past severals competing as a duo alone in amazing matches, but this year they added AJ Styles to the mix by competing a number of trios contests as well. That combined with their various championship victories made this award almost impossible to be won by any other team. The Bucks continue to revolutionize tag team wrestling as the hottest thing going to day.
2) ReDragon (Kyle O'Reilly & Bobby Fish) - 73 points - ROH, NJPW, WXW
ReDragon can never seem to top the Bucks! For the past two years, they've been 1 & 2 in this same order. O'Reilly & Fish taking deeper strides in 2015 probably had a lot to do with them not being able to this year, though. Despite that, they still held the IWGP Junior Tag Titles for a significant amount of time and also held the ROH Tag Titles during the first half of the year. When O'Reilly & Fish are together, they're almost unbeatable and that's a fact that remained the same in 2015.
3) RPG Vice - 54 points - ROH, NJPW, EVOLVE
Sleeper year for the new team of Roppongi Vice. They only experienced minor championship success with a short reign as IWGP Junior Tag Champions, but a string of consistenly good matches throughout the year earned them a spot on this list. It honestly caught me by surprise and made me want to go back and watch some of their matches from the year. ROH, NJPW, and even Evolve gave Romero & Beretta a platform this year and they never failed to impress.
4) The Hooligans (Devin & Mason Cutter) - 43 points - AAW, FIP, Beyond
The most underrated tag team in the game today. Devin & Mason Cutter had another fantastic year on the Indies despite not competing in top promotions like ROH, PWG, or Evolve. The duo debuted for AAW, wreaking havoc on the place and becoming the tag team champions soon after, a set of titles they still hold as we head into the year. They also won various other tag titles along the way this year in FIP, SLA, PWASD, & JCW! Here's to seeing The Hooligans hit that next level of competition in 2016! They most certainly deserve the opportunity!
5) The Kingdom (Matt Taven & Michael Bennett) - 36 points - ROH, NJPW, Beyond
Taven & Bennett got everything they could ask for in 2015. A reign as ROH Tag Champs and IWGP Tag Champs plus fun stints in Indies like Beyond Wrestling. On top of that, having Maria by your side is a pretty nice addition as well. The way their year ended wasn't the best as Taven got hurt and Bennett's contract with ROH expired thus leading to them losing the ROH Tag Titles on PPV, but they have nothing be ashamed of. The Kingdom left their mark.
What a year it was for independent wrestling. While old faces who dominated the scene for years such as Kevin Steen made their departure, veterans like Roderick Strong, Chris Hero, & Matt Sydal shot back up the rings in HUGE ways to solidify their legacy. Then you had guys like Zack Sabre Jr who locked his spot in as one of the best independent talents around. On top of that, new up & coming stars like Mike Bailey, Will Ospreay, Timothy Thatcher, & Trevor Lee signified that Indy Wrestling won't be dying any time soon.
Thanks for reading and always support Independent & Alternative Wrestling!
All lists and articles written by Ethan unless otherwise noted. Thanks to everyone who helped it with this piece and helped make it what it is. Namely Mark and Dan!
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