All Things Combat- Top 10 Comeback Wrestlers Of The Year
I’ll be completely honest here, at first I didn’t really know what this list was going to be when I started it. If you pay attention to my Twitter, you will know that I am a fan of other sports outside of pro wrestling. A lot of those sports have an award for comeback athlete of the year, so I figured why not try and apply that to pro wrestling. Every year there are wrestlers that just don’t live up to their potential or they suffered an injury and had to miss a large portion of the year, or they have had a few down years, but they were able to turn it around this year. Even though 2018 was a good year for pro wrestling, there were plenty of wrestlers that had very down years. These wrestlers were able to bounce back from a bad 2018, and have a very good 2019.
10) Shinsuke Nakamura
How weird is it to say that in a year where he won the Royal Rumble and was in one of the main events of Wrestlemania, that Shinsuke Nakamura had a bad year but that is the case. He had a few very meh United States Championship reigns and a weird partnership with Rusev to start the year, but after Wrestlemaina and little bit of time away from TV, we saw a more aggressive and focused Nakamura. He would win the Intercontinental Championship from Finn Balor, and has looked strong ever since. There have been times that Nakamura hasn’t been on TV, but from an in ring stand point, Nakamura has looked great this year, and has a sense of purpose this year. It’s going to be interesting to see exactly what the long term plan is for Nakamura, because once he does lose the Intercontinental Championship I feel he should go to the main event scene. Let’s see where 2020 takes the artist known as Shinsuke Nakamura.
9) Finn Balor
During 2018, Finn Balor was struggling in the midcard and really couldn’t break through to that main event level that he was at first after his 2016 call up. 2019 got off to a hot start for Balor, defeating Jordan Devlin at NXT UK Takeover Blackpool, and then two days later winning a fatal four way to become the number one contender for the Universal Championship that he never lost. His match with Lesnar was very good, but it was clear that Lesnar wasn’t going to lose the title before Wrestlemania. Balor would then find himself in a feud with Bobby Lashley for the Intercontinental Championship that Lio Rush was way to involved in. A few short title reigns and a couple of title changes, Balor would win the feud at Wrestlemania and begin a second reign as Intercontinental Champion. Balor would move to Smackdown in the Superstar Shakeup, and after a few small feuds, Balor would drop the Intercontinental Championship to Shinsuke Nakamura at Extreme Rules. After being the first victim of the Fiend, it was unclear what was next for Balor. That’s when the unthinkable happened and Balor made the move back to NXT,the first time anyone had made the move from the main roster to NXT. With his heel turn and a feud with either Johnny Gargano or Adam Cole and Tommaso Ciampa for the NXT Championship, Balor could move from here to the top 10 wrestlers of year.
It’s safe to say that YOSHI-HASHI didn’t have much to comeback from. He has always been a minor character during his career. He suffered a head and shoulder injury while trying to make the save on his stablemate Kazuchika Okada from being attacked by Jay White. YOSHI-HASHI made his return to the ring at New Year’s Dash in a six man tag with Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi against Bullet Club. After the typical lull after Wrestle Kingdom in the New Japan year, YOSHI-HASHI entered the New Japan Cup and he started winning. He got wins over Manabu Nakanishi and Chase Owens before falling to Tomohiro Ishii in the quarterfinals. After the elimination, YOSHI-HASHI would be a key player in the tag team scene with his CHAOS brothers, and would pick up his biggest win to date, pinning the RevPro Undisputed British Heavyweight Champion Zack Sabre Jr. at Dominion in a tag team match. This lead to a match between the two that wasn’t just for ZSJ’s championship, but also his spot in the G1 Climax. The final night of the Kizuna Road tour was the biggest night of YOSHI-HASHI’s career, and even though he came up short, this run showed that things are starting to click for YOSHI-HASHI in the ring. While the rest of the summer and the fall was full of the multi-man tag team matches, but when World Tag League got started, YOSHI-HASHI and Tomohiro Ishii found fire and put up a record of 11-4 for 22 points, just four points short of the finals. With maybe his best year to date, it makes one wonder what is going to be in store for YOSHI-HASHI in 2020.
7) Ryusuke Taguchi
Last year was an overall down year for Ryusuke Taguchi. Multiple failed attempts for the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championships, no real or meaningful feuds, and he only mustered six points in the Best of the Super Juniors. This is after an eight year stretch when he averaged 9.5 points and was in contention for the block all eight years. Things changed very early this year when Taguchi teamed up with Toru Yano and Togi Makabe to win a number one contenders match for the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championships in the kickoff match at Wrestle Kingdom 13. The trio would win the titles from the Guerrillas of Destiny and Taiji Ishimori the next night at New Year’s Dash. Taguchi would enter the New Japan Cup and get a win over Hiroyoshi Tenzan, which is rare to see a junior heavyweight beat a heavyweight in New Japan. It was then back to the Best of the Super Juniors for Taguchi, and Taguchi would find the success that he had in past tournaments. Taguchi would post 12 points and be in the B Block finals, where either he or Will Ospreay would go to the finals. Ospreay would win, but the loss did not deter Taguchi as he continued to have success in the six man division as Makabe, Yano and himself will go into the new year as champions. With both Ospreay and Shingo Takagi looking like they will move to the heavyweight division, it might be time for the Funky Weapon to get back to the top of the mountain of the junior heavyweight division.
6) Bobby Fish
When you talk about the members of the Undisputed Era, Bobby Fish is the one that has easily had the worst luck since coming to NXT. Fish and Kyle O’Reilly won the titles almost immediately won the NXT Tag Team Championships. But early in 2018, Fish tore his ACL and MCL which kept him out of action until October of last year. This year we started to see Bobby Fish develop into a real character that was gritty, but also very smart. We don’t often get smart heels in wrestling, so it’s a nice change of pace. Fish was a solid tag team wrestler this year, and it shows, as he was a part of two separate 100+ day reigns for the Undisputed Era. While Fish and O’Reilly wouldn’t win the titles back at Takeover XXV, the duo would win the titles just two months later. Ever since, Fish has been on fire. The matches with the Street Profits, the one off match with the Revival, the War Games match, and the Tag Team Champions match at Survivor Series. It’s going to be interesting to see what the future holds for Bobby Fish and if he will ever break out of the tag team ranks of the Undisputed Era.
5) Lance Archer
If you had told me at the beginning of the year that Archer would win championship gold outside of the tag team division in New Japan, I would’ve called you crazy. The early half of the year was a bit quiet for Archer, with some wins here and there mostly in tag team action. When he was initially announced to be in the G1 Climax and Minoru Suzuki wasn’t in the tournament, I was confused to say the least. What had Archer done in the past year to earn one of the 20 spots in the biggest tournament of the year? But when the tournament started and as the tournament progressed, the reason became clear. Archer being in the tournament wasn’t about the year that he had, rather it was establishing where he was going to go. Archer was the breakout star of the tournament despite only putting up six points. Archer would then be the benefactor of being in the right place at the right time. Jon Moxley couldn’t make it to Japan due to the tsunami, and was stripped of the IWGP United States Championship. The match at King of Pro Wrestling would be changed from Moxley vs Juice Robinson to Archer vs Robinson and Archer would win his first singles championship in New Japan. While him and Suzuki had a decent showing in World Tag League, I’m more invested in where Archer goes as a singles star, which is not something that I thought I would be saying at the beginning of this year.
I’m not even going to sugar coat this, I can’t remember Bayley doing anything memorable in 2018 off the top of my head. There was a stop-start feud with Sasha Banks that was never seen through, and the Riott Squad feud but that was it. But once the calendar turned to 2019, Bayley started to get it going. Bayley and Sasha Banks won the Elimination Chamber match to crown the first ever WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship. Although it was a short reign, somebody saw something in Bayley, and things just started rolling from there for her. Bayley was moved to Smackdown as a part of the Superstar Shakeup, and would win the Women’s Money in the Bank match. She would cash in the same night on Charlotte Flair, who had just beaten Becky Lynch for the Smackdown Women’s Championship. With that win, Bayley became the first woman in WWE to complete the grand slam, but she wasn’t done there. Bayley would make a much needed heel turn, attacking Becky Lynch and siding with her tag team partner in Sasha Banks. Bayley and Flair would then play hot potato for just a few days with the championship, but a new look and a new attitude would end that and Bayley would begin his second reign as Smackdown Women’s Champion. With this new attitude and reformed alliance with Sasha Banks, who knows just how high Bayley can go as Smackdown Women’s Champion.
Most of these wrestlers had a full year to turn things around, KENTA did it in six months. While he was in WWE as Hideo Itami, he wasn’t able to reach the heights that he did in Pro Wrestling Noah. Whether it was injuries, lack of storylines or some other third thing, KENTA just couldn’t make things work. He was granted his release after the Royal Rumble, and would be away from wrestling for six months. At Dominion, the fans were surprised to see Katsuyori Shibata come out on the ramp, and point to the entrance way. Out would come KENTA, to the surprise of the wrestling world. Many people thought we would see KENTA return to NOAH, but he made the jump to New Japan, and he wanted in the G1 Climax. He would get that wish, and would start with wins over Kota Ibushi and Hiroshi Tanahashi, two of the biggest wrestlers in New Japan. KENTA would finish with eight points, but what was more important was what would happen after the tournament, as KENTA would turn his back on the fans and Shibata and join Bullet Club. He would go on to capture the NEVER Openweight Championship from Tomohiro Ishii at Royal Quest and would retain over YOSHI-HASHI at Fighting Spirit Unleashed New York. With World Tag League at an end, and KENTA and Yujiro Takahashi failing to win the tournament, the question becomes what do we see KENTA do at Wrestle Kingdom 14? While a match with Shibata is a possibility, if he is not 100% cleared I don’t want to see the match happen. But with KENTA having such a huge comeback year, he is going to be a threat for the top 10 wrestlers of the year in 2020.
2) Jon Moxley
After coming back from a tricep injury last year, Dean Ambrose didn’t do much in the WWE in 2018. There was a very meh rivalry with Seth Rollins over the Intercontinental Championship that Ambrose would win at TLC before losing the title to Bobby Lashley in the early part of this year. After one last ride with the Shield, Ambrose was officially a free agent as of May 1st. He re branded as his old Indy persona of Jon Moxley, and showed up at AEW’s Double or Nothing attacking both Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho. It was then off to New Japan where it was revealed that it was Moxley who had vintages airing aimed at Juice Robinson and the IWGP United States Championship. Moxley would win the championship at the Best of the Super Juniors Final and enter the G1 Climax. In the tournament, Moxley would rattle off five straight wins, including wins over Tomohiro Ishii and Tetsuya Naito. Moxley would drop his last four to end with 10 points. After he was stripped of his IWGP United States Championship due to the title defense clause, Moxley would then start showing up on AEW Dynamite and main evented their first Pay Per View, Full Gear, against Omega. Now as the next challenger for Chris Jericho’s AEW World Championship, and challenging Lance Archer for the IWGP United States Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 14 in a Texas Death Match, Moxley could be in for a career year in 2020, but who beat him out for the number one spot on this list?
1) Hirooki Goto
While Moxley had a career resurgence in the second half of the year, he was still pretty relevant last year in WWE. Goto had a decent NEVER Openweight Championship reign, but only had two successful title defenses before dropping it to Michael Elgin at Dominion in a triple threat that also had Taichi. Goto would win the championship back during the Kizuna Road tour, but would only win three matches in the G1, a tournament that Goto had found success in the past. He would drop the NEVER Openweight Championship to Taichi at Destruction in Beppu, win it back at Power Struggle, then drop it to Kota Ibushi at the World Tag League Final. Nobody on this list had a worse 2018 than Hirooki Goto. 2019 didn’t get off to a great start for Goto, as he, Beretta and Chuckie T would lose the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship number one contender gauntlet, and Goto would lose to SANADA in the first round of the New Japan Cup. Goto would have a light schedule in the beginning of the year, but after he beat Hikuleo at War of the Worlds, something changed. Goto took almost two months off and trained at the New Japan LA Dojo with his longtime friend Katsuyori Shibata. Goto entered the G1 a lot leaner than in the past and refocused on finding success in the tournament once again. Got started off his tournament with a huge win over Jay White, the man that would eventually win the block. Add in wins over Tomohiro Ishii and Jon Moxley, and Goto would finish the tournament at 10 points to finish tied for second in the block. Goto has righted the ship and it only seems like a matter of time before he finds more championship gold around his waist. He is the only one that made sense to be the comeback wrestler of the year, and Goto is going to be one to watch in 2020.