wrestling / Columns

Csonka’s Most Improved Wrestlers of 2018

December 30, 2018 | Posted by Larry Csonka
Rhea Ripley NXT UK 11-28-18 wrestlers

One of the things I absolutely love about following professional wrestling is watching the evolution and growth of the performers, which is likely why I love the NJPW Young Lions program so much. Watching guys come in raw, with no experience, and seeing them molded into a final product and often times great performers is really rewarding. But in our day-to-day wrestling, many times performers stagnate or plateau; they stay the shits, they stay average, or they even stay great but maybe way too formulaic. But then there are those that really bust their ass, show noticeable improvement, and really take their game to the next level. Those are who I’d like to discuss here today…

Rhea Ripley: Rhea Ripley had a nice little run in the first Mae Young Classic, she had a good look, great babyface potential, her work was really solid, but there was something missing. Ripley, a developmental talent, stayed working at the PC and the coconut loop in Florida. Then word started getting out that she had undergone a gimmick change, and it’s funny, sometimes a simple change from face to heel or heel to face is all that a performer needs to head to the next level. Ripley got tons of praise for her live event work as a heel, more so than at anytime in her run, and earned herself a shot in the 2018 Mae Young Classic. I thought that she had a really strong tournament, with not only her new style of work shining through, but she was also working with a new confidence that she completely lacked the year before. She was a new woman, new performer, and impressed management so much that she got another chance to step up as the first UK Women’s champion. Ripley’s overall growth and improvement as a performer is a testament to her hard work and also the coaches at the PC, who obviously saw that Rhea Ripley V1 just wasn’t cutting it. I can’t wait to see what she can do in 2019.

Jordan Devlin: Signed two years ago to the WWE’s UK brand, Devlin was immediately pigeonholed as “the next Finn Balor” or “Finn Balor’s protégé.” Neither of which really does him any good, as it just raises expectations to an unfair degree. This was something Devlin had to battle even before he signed on with WWE, but WWE has all the subtly of a steel toed boot to the balls, and really, only amplified it. But Devlin has proven himself a resilient and hard working dude, and while he has had a great year outside of WWE, (unfortunately a lot of people watching on the Network haven’t seen his best yet) he is continuing to grow, to improve, and to show what he really has to offer. His match with Pete Dunne on NXT UK delivered as they crafted a smart match where Devlin not only looked like he had a chance to beat Dunne, but when he finally lost, looked like a complete star for the brand due to the quality of his performance. Devlin is a talent that makes the absolute most out of every TV appearance given to him; long match, short match, promo time it doesn’t matter, he delivers, he keeps getting better, and over the course of 2017 has proven that he is much more than as “the next Finn Balor” or “Finn Balor’s protégé.” If you still have doubts about Devlin, please seek out Devlin vs. WALTER, Devlin more than holds up his end of things and looks as if he belongs in there with the Big Daddy.

Adam Page: From his debut in 2011 to mid-2016, the ROH career of Adam Page was absolutely nothing to write home about. He was a new young guy, playing a role, joining the Decade, winning with the Decade, leaving the Decade and eventually turning babyface. But things all changed when Page joined Bullet Club in May of 2016. Not only did the joining up his profile, he got bigger ROH feuds against Jay Briscoe & Kazarian. But the real boost to his profile wasn’t due to Bullet Club; it was the on air association and friendship with The Young Bucks. The association also legitimized Page to the ROH & NJPW crowds, and with NJPW tours coming up, Page was slowly becoming a made man. Page started to improve at a rapid rate, his trips to Japan were very helpful, and he was showing a confidence that he never had before. Page went from a guy taking up a spot to a guy with some potential to an entirely new man with star potential, and that was 2017 for him. Page now walks, talks, carries himself, and works like a star. The biggest downfall to him leaving ROH (& potentially NJPW) is that we won’t see that work payoff in those places after years of build.

Buddy Murphy: 2018 started out with way more questions than answers for Buddy Murphy. His NXT team with Wesley Blake was over; he wasn’t even getting many coconut loop dates, and most of his free time was likely spent trying to find a way to stay out of the Forgotten Sons. According to reports and interviews by Murphy. What happened was that Murphy realized he was screwed and that unless something changed, he was likely in danger of losing his job. So he went to Triple H, and this was during the time of Enzo-Gate, and Triple H taking control of 205 Live. Murphy offers to drop weight, legit so that they can use it as a story device (which they did) if he could get a shot on the brand. He had absolutely nothing to lose, what were they going to do, “fuck you for having ideas. We’ll use you even less now!” which was impossible. The good news for Murphy is that he made his move at just the right time. 205 Live was about to start a tournament to crown a new champion, and needed bodies, and he got his chance. Murphy impressed so much that he got transitioned out of NXT to 205 Live regularly. Following his quality run in the tournament, Murphy slowly became one of the top 3 men on the brand along with Ali & Alexander. The three were the cream of the crop of the brand, with any combination of the three churning out bangers with ease. Murphy had gone from a guy doing jack and shit at the WWE PC, negotiated for a chance, made the most of that chance and became the face of the brand. If it wasn’t for Daniel Bryan’s return this year, Murphy’s story would easily be the best in wrestling. Buddy Murphy, a guy who couldn’t find NXT TV with a network subscription, has blossomed into one of the best and most consistent workers in all of WWE.

– End scene.

– Thanks for reading.

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