2014 may not have been a standout year for WWE, but beneath all the bad booking and lack of direction, there were still a lot of talented guys and ladies working their asses off to entertain us each week, and they deserve to be recognized. This list isn’t based on who was pushed the hardest or was most successful by WWE’s terms, but who made the most of what they had and excelled the furthest within their given positions. In other words, Damien Sandow is every bit as eligible for the number one spot on this list as John Cena, so don’t think you can predict where this train is going.
Without further ado, here’s the top ten Best and Worst WWE performers of 2014…
Note: I’m sticking to main roster names for this list, since comparing WWE and NXT talents is kind of an apples and oranges thing. Also it would have made the list harder to do, so to heck with it.
#10 Worst: AJ Lee
It pains me to include AJ on the Worst half of this list, because come on, I like AJ. Well all do! For nearly a year I tried to deny my feelings as I slogged through two-minute matches, disinterested promos and dumbshit storylines, but somewhere along the way I finally cracked. I’ve enjoyed watching AJ on TV about as much as she’s enjoyed being on TV this year, which is not high praise.
#10 Best: Nikki Bella
Come on now, you already knew Nikki Bella was making my Best list. I bet a few of you are surprised she didn’t rank higher. Hell, I’m surprised she didn’t rank higher, but I suppose I need to appear semi, sort of objective. Over the past year Nikki has developed into a legit hoss who knows her limitations and works smartly within them (you’ll note she rarely, if ever, throws a dropkick any more) and looking back, almost all my favorite 2014 main roster Divas moment involved Nikki in some way. Growing Up Bella, helping Stephanie McMahon murder Brie and the list goes on. Sure, she had the most room to grow, but that doesn’t change the fact that she was probably the most improved talent on the main roster this past year.
#9 Worst: Adam Rose
I feel a little bad picking on Adam Rose, because he’s a genuinely talented guy who’s been stuck with a garbage one-note gimmick, but a talented guy should be able to wring something usable from even the worst dross. Health Slater made “thinks he’s playing a guitar but isn’t” work. Damien Sandow has turned “does the exact same things as the least likable guy on the roster” into genius. It seems pretty clear Rose got one look at his PG Russel Brand gimmick and immediately thought “well then, ‘spose I never have to try again” and for that you’re banished to partying on the Worst side of the tracks, buddy.
#9 Best: Dean Ambrose
Admittedly, Dean Ambrose isn’t a personal favorite, but there’s no denying the guy stepped up to the plate, particularly when Roman Reigns was out of action. He’s also, wisely, created a unique, not easily replicable persona for himself, so he won’t be so easily shunted to the side now that his big hunky buddy is back.
#8 Worst: Cameron
Cameron doesn’t understand pro wrestling. I don’t mean she doesn’t know how to do it, which she obviously doesn’t, I mean I don’t think she understands, on a basic level, what this thing she does for a living even is. If you asked her to describe what wrestling is she’d probably tell you about her schoolgirl outfit, the time they gave her a mirror to carry around and then gurl bye you until you left her alone. Apparently everyone was so flabbergasted when she said Melina vs. Alicia Fox was her favorite match, nobody actually sat her down and told her “no, that wasn’t a good match, and here’s why”. Poor girl probably still thinks that’s her gold standard.
#8 Best: Triple H
2014 wasn’t the banner year for the Authority version of Triple H (that was 2013) but he still turned in solid performances week-after-week as the guy who’s been through the curtain, seen how the wrestling biz works at the highest levels and pities and resents all us naive rubes as a result. He also stepped up big time when his buddy Batista bombed out earlier this year – Triple H was almost as important to the last-minute success of Wrestlemania this year as Daniel Bryan was.
#7 Worst: Fandango
Why is Fandango still on TV? When they first told Johnny Curtis what he’d be doing on the main roster, I’m guessing his thoughts were something along the lines of “well, this sucks an old dong, but at least it will fizzle out within a couple months and they’ll repackage me, so no big” but here we are over two years later and he’s still stuck with this shit. Fandango matches were already the most life-sapping thing on WWE TV, but then they had to go and “improve” him by taking away his catchy music, making him wrestle in a shirt and replacing Layla with Rosa Mendes. Again, much like Adam Rose, I know Fandango has some talent, so I feel a little bad for bagging on him, but then again, remember that love-triangle storyline with Layla and Summer Rae? No sympathy for you Dirty Curty.
#7 Best: Cesaro
Cesaro has been given approximately zero chances to shine this year – he hasn’t been allowed to cut one significant promo, have any real feuds or win more than two matches in a row, but he still makes the Best list because the dude is just straight up amazing at his job. Three of With Spandex’s top ten WWE matches of the year involved Cesaro – sometimes you just have to be good at wrestling to be a good wrestler. ‘Nuff said.
#6 Worst: Los Matadores
Ugh, Los Matadores. These guy are just so pointless and aimless in the ring. Their matches have no build, no story, they’re just a bunch of crappy chubby dude high flying en route to a roll-up finish. Also, they do weird, racist Speedy Gonzalez voices and have dumb masks and are holding their mini down and I HATE THEM SO MUCH. Phew. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.
#6 Best: Daniel Bryan
Okay, so Daniel Bryan has been out of action for most of 2014, and a few of the things he did while he was still around, like Occupy Raw, were eye-roll worthy, but for the most part Bryan went out in an amazing blaze of wrestling glory. Even knowing how it all turned out, this year’s Wrestlemania is still on my all-time top 5 list, and that’s down to a goat-faced troll who was never supposed to make it, but did purely by virtue of being a wizard between the ropes. Hopefully 2014 won’t be Bryan’s last year as a wrestler, but if it is, it was a fine send off.
#5 Worst: Bray Wyatt
Hey, remember last year when I questioned where this Bray Wyatt stuff was going, and you all bit my head off? Still want to step up and defend this guy’s 2014? Granted, Bray started the year on a high note with a win against Daniel Bryan and a brief, but potent feud with a Shield, but then came the Cenapocalypse, the demon kid, the crushingly disappointing Jericho feud and finally, the loss of his family. In recent weeks the guy has fully descended into self-parody, gasping and wheezing through promos about how Dean Ambrose climbing a ladder reminds him of pretty pretty angels. Has Bray had some good moments in 2014? Certainly, but he’s also the guy who’s made me groan aloud at the screen more than anybody, so here we are.
#5 Best: Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar hasn’t been around all that much in 2014, but each appearance has been a pure injection of Minnesotan backwoods crazyman awesomeness. Lesnar is the rare guy who doesn’t really have to perform per se, just being Brock Lesnar is enough. This guy could just stand still in a glass case like in an old-timey museum and I’d pay my two-bits to gawk at him. When he actually does rouse himself to give a real performance, it’s astounding – every expression and facial tick during his destruction of John Cena was more entertaining than R-Truth’s entire career. I really should be ranking him higher, but I’ll admit I’m a little sore at him for making this year’s fall wrestling dregs even worse than usual by absconding with the belt.
#4 Worst: Jack Swagger
Jack f*cking Swagger. I’ve been a loyal Swagger Soaring Eagle since his ECW days, but in 2014 the dude just radiates apathy. Wherever this guy goes failure and boredom follows soon after. Worst of all, Swagger’s lack of motivation extends right down to his “protect your opponent” basics – the dude can’t get through a match without a major miscue or tripping all over himself, and after eight years in the business, he’s still forgetting it’s fake and injuring people.
#4 Best: Seth Rollins
Nobody expected Seth Rollins to be the break-out star of the Shield. I, like a lot of people, thought he’d be relegated to doing flips in the mid-card while his brothers went onto bigger and better things, but for mostly storyline and logistical reasons, the guy lucked into becoming the Authority’s “chosen one” and he’s absolutely run with the opportunity. Rollins has been the company’s top bad guy who, you know, actually regularly wrestles and stuff, for much of the year and he’s delivered in that position, successfully making himself one of the most hated figures in the company and turning out one good-to-great match after another. His naturally smarmy persona makes Rollins hard to root for, but he’s this year’s Daniel Bryan, pulling himself up by his wrestling bootstraps through pure determination and hard work.
#3 Worst: John Cena
I know it’s the douchiest, smarky thing ever to put John Cena on the Worst list, but seriously, what has John Cena achieved this year? Has he had any particularly great matches? No. Been involved in any good feuds? Also no. Pretty much everything the guy has done in 2014, from cutting Bray Wyatt off at the knees, to coveting every title shot since SummerSlam has been counterproductive and frustrating. Really, the guy’s only indelible 2014 moment was getting dumped on his head 16-times and pinned like a goob by Brock Lesnar.
#3 Best: Damien Sandow
Damien Sandow has been the most innovative man in wrestling in 2014. He stumbled upon this goofy stunt-double gimmick and for months he’s managed to keep it fresh by never letting it become a routine – seemingly every show he’s on he comes up with some brilliant, hilarious new spot. Imagine if instead of devoting his ingenuity to wacky physical comedy, he was coming up with new wrestling spots and moves every show? He’d be hailed as the most cutting edge, must-watch wrestler in the sport. Aside from all that, the dude is working for two every time he and The Miz come out and putting entire one-man matches on the floor every night. Now, if he can translate all this energy and ingenuity into more traditional wrestling matches in 2015, then he’ll really have something.
#2 Worst: Kane
Kane has done an incredible job of milking his silly character for everything it’s worth over a long and successful career, but 2014 was the year the fire finally fizzled out. I lost track of how many times Kane switched from demon mask to slacks and back again this year, but somewhere along the way the dude’s mystique got completely lost in the shuffle. 2014 Kane is basically a seven foot pasty Jamie Noble with worse hair.
#2 Best: The Miz
Yeah, that’s right, The Miz is number two – I ain’t care, I do what I want. While on hiatus filming Christmas Marine 6 or whatever earlier this year, Miz apparently finally figured out how to make his wrestling character work, and he’s been hugely entertaining since. Maybe I have a special perspective as the B-show reviewer around here, but Miz has single-handedly saved more shows this year than anybody else. The Miz is the friggin’ MVP of Smackdown (no, not that MVP) and the John Cena of Main Event. Speaking of Cena, Miz is doing the thing established stars who are moving onto bigger things should be doing – creating opportunities for other, unappreciated talents. Sandow gets all the credit, but the whole Damien Mizdow thing wouldn’t work without Miz selflessly playing the shitheel dweeb for Sandow to play off of, and now Miz is even making gold with Naomi. Miz may not have headlined any PPVs this year, but he’s headlined my goddamn heart.
#1 Worst: Michael Cole
We’ve been over this ad nauseam, but it bears repeating – nothing has been more detrimental to the product in 2014 than Michael Cole and his stupid garbage mouth. Cole is awful for a lot of obvious, surface reasons – his bullying of talent, his barely concealed sexism, his out of control ego, but what truly earns him this top spot is the astonishing fact he still doesn’t understand wrestling or how to do his job on the most basic of levels after 20-years in the business. A huge reason why all the good guys come off so terribly in current-day WWE is that Michael Cole, lead face announcer, is incapable of explaining their actions or casting them in a positive light. JBL spends every show he’s on making solid points in favor of the heels (albeit in an obnoxious manner) and Cole has no decent comeback, because he doesn’t understand how to tell a story or just doesn’t care. Want the audience to stop turning on all your faces, WWE? Start by clearing out the commentary desk.
#1 Best: Stephanie McMahon
Nobody brought it week in and week out, show after show in 2014 like Stephanie McMahon. I don’t know if she cut a single promo all year that didn’t make me chuckle and clap my hands at least once. As much as Triple H would like you to think otherwise, it was Steph who was always the backbone of the Authority. Stephanie didn’t just bring it on the mic either, when it came time to step into the ring she squeezed into the most badass wrestling outfit of the year and had probably the best main roster women’s match of 2014. With her cutting multiple promos on pretty much every single show (almost) all year long, nobody provided me with more entertainment from a pure volume standpoint than Stephanie McMahon, and for that she earns my top spot.
So there you have it – my picks for Best and Worst WWE performers of 2014. Want to yell at me for this, admittedly totally subjective list? Want to list your own picks? Let’s get all judgy in the comments!