wrestling / Columns

The 411 Wrestling Year-End Awards: Part Two – The Best Non-Wrestlers of 2016

January 3, 2017 | Posted by Larry Csonka
Daniel Bryan Shane McMahon Smackdown Image Credit: WWE

Welcome back to the Wrestling Top 5, year-end awards edition! What we are going to is take a topic, and all the writers here on 411 will have the ability to give us their Top 5 on said topic, and the end, based on where all of these topics rank on people’s list, we will create an overall Top 5 list. It looks a little like this…

1st – 5
2nd – 4
3rd – 3
4th – 2
5th – 1

It’s similar to how we do the WOTW voting. At the end we tally the scores and get our overall top 5! It’s highly non-official and final, like WWE’s old power rankings. From some of the best and worst, the 411 staff is ready to break down the awards! Thanks for joining us, and lets get down to work.

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This award is open to managers, commentators, bookers, on air authority figures and the like. If they are an active part of the wrestling business (not as an in ring performer) they are eligible.

5. The Pope (Love Alive charity)
4. Lana
3. Renee Young
2. JBL

1. Corey Graves – As usual, I was ahead of the curve on a topic. I was singing the praises of Corey Graves well before most even knew he was a featured player all across the WWE Network. For the second year in a row, he is the man to talk about for best non-wrestler in the industry. Not even close. He is so good at everything. Whether it is a serious role or being the comedic heel for the face commentator to argue with, Graves ‘gets it.’ If WWE ever needs another manager or personality to get in the ring (nothing physical obviously) to shake up the formula, look no further than this man. I can’t imagine NXT without Corey Graves, so let’s hope, as he expands, he stays there as well. Hey, a man can dream, right?

Mike Chin
5. Mick Foley
4. Maryse
3. Daniel Bryan
2. Paul Heyman

1. Dario Cueto – Cueto was arguably even beter in 2016 than he was in 2015, adding additional layers to his character as he played part prideful manager to his brother, part protector of his brother when he got out of control. All the while, he remained an optimal heel authority figure, who never overstayed his welcome on screen, and was refreshingly neutral at times–guided by a penchant for violence over blind allegiance to other heels, as he put the screws to Johnny Mundo when he asked for a title shot, and gave Sexy Star borderline fatherly wisdom before her No Mas Match with Mariposa.

Kevin Pantoja
5. Renee Young
4. Daniel Bryan
3. Catrina
2. Maryse

1. Dario Cueto – For the second straight year, Dario Cueto takes this award for me. He does it for similar reasons too. He has taken the tired authority figure gimmick and reinvented it. Dario is the perfect guy to lead the Temple. He just loves violence and money. The added story of him having to leave the Temple and find his way back. Once he returned, he took power back from Catrina and brought in his brother. The dynamic with him and his brother was great and it has only evolved as time has passed. Dario Cueto steals every scene he’s in without making the people around him look any less valuable, which is a testament to how good he is.

Paul Leazar
5. Daniel Bryan
4. Catrina
3. Paul Heyman
2. Maryse

1. Dario Cueto – There is no better authority figure in wrestling, and you could argue that he’s one of the best characters in wrestling right now. Dario is a simple man, with a hugely complicated story encircling him. Sure, he loves making money, and loves seeing his workers kill each other (sometimes literally). However, with Matanza and the growth of the overall narrative surrounding The Temple coming out during Season 3 has really made him, and everybody else he’s been interacting with so intriguing. Dario makes everybody better, and continues to be one of the many reasons to tune into Lucha Underground every week.

Jack McGee
5. Renee Young
4. Catrina
3. Lenny Leonard
2. Dario Cueto

1. Stokely Hathaway – Just a pure old school manager with new school swagger and possibly the best sweater game I have ever seen. In a promotion that focuses on wins and loses, grappling and athletic accomplishments; Stokely Hathaway feels as if he shouldn’t belong, but it’s his great over the top persona that causes a great juxtaposition to the rest of Evolve. He’s a great man.

Chad Perry
5. Jim Smallman
4. Renee Young
3. Paul Heyman
2. Dario Cueto

1. Daniel Bryan – Bryan has risen to the occasion with the opportunity given to him as SmackDown GM during the second half of 2016. Bryan plays a great authority figure on TV as he is not too involved and does not stack the deck in either direction. His interactions with The Miz have had the internet buzzing all year as to if we would get “one more match”. Along with that Bryan & Young’s chemistry on Talking Smack has made the show a must watch.

Scott Rutherford
5. Rene Young
4. Maryse
3. Paul Heyman
2. Dario Cueto

1. Daniel Bryan – Daniel Bryan brings something completely different to the table as a commentator/authority figure/whatever within the confines of the WWE, believability. While Heyman is one of the very best promo men ever, Cueto a great character, Maryse fabulous eye candy…Bryan is the everyman and his vigorous avoidance at getting stuck in bullshit makes him a fantastic on air personality because when he says something or gets emotionally involved, we the viewers take that ride with him. His commentary work during the CWC was brilliant and his confrontation with The Miz on Talking Smack was as closed to a worked shoot as you’ll see in this age and thanks to the fact the Bryan has avoided the stink of WWE spin, he’ll always help at adding realism to the product.

Jack Stevenson
5. Renee Young
4. Maryse
3. Daniel Bryan
2. Dario Cueto

1. Jim Smallman – I would dearly like to give this award to Daniel Bryan. This is partially because my raging man crush on him has not even slightly dissipated during his transition from wrestler to General Manager, and partially because I can understand a British writer handing this to someone from a British group that, for all the strides they’ve made, still haven’t decisively cracked the predominantly U.S market this site draws its readership from, might seem a wee bit self indulgent. But, the more I think about it, the more I think Jim Smallman is unavoidably the strongest contender in a relatively weak field. He is so thoroughly vital to everything that has made PROGRESS the sizeable cult success it’s become. As a professional stand up comedian doubling up as a ring announcer and promoter, the laid back, cheerful sense of humour he infuses PROGRESS shows with has been a key factor in the construction of the company’s raucous, devoted fanbase. He makes people feel warm and welcome from the second the show begins, and gives the impression that everyone is part of one giant, happy family. That’s why you hear more about PROGRESS than you do RevPro Wrestling, which brings in bigger international stars for arguably a better quality of match, but doesn’t have anywhere near as many hardcore supporters. Of course, Smallman is more than just an affable ring announcer; he’s also one third of the promoting team, and comfortably its most visible public face. He is inextricable from the product in the way that his closest comparison, PWG’s Excalibur, is not. If you enjoyed a PROGRESS match, a PROGRESS angle, or the atmosphere of a PROGRESS show, you have Smallman to thank, and I don’t think the same can be said for any of the other potential winners. I mean, Dario Cueto is fantastic and has single handedly reinvented the idea of the authority figure and is a significant part of Lucha Underground, but the show would not be completely adrift without him. PROGRESS wouldn’t be PROGRESS without Smallman, so he takes the award for me this year.

Mike Hammerlock
5. Maryse
4. Catrina
3. Daniel Bryan
2. Vanguard 1

1. Dario Cueto – In 2016 Dario reclaimed his temple, got away with murder and indulged his bloodlust at a whole new level. He’s far and away the best authority figure in pro wrestling, simultaneously evil and beloved. Let’s be honest, pro wrestling outfits should be run by sadists. One of his best moments was in not allowing Rey Mysterio to be driven from the temple via a Guerrero family screwjob DQ. Does more with 30 seconds of screen time than others do with 15-minute segments. Probably has something to do with him being a real-life professional actor. Forget about wrestling, Dario’s one of the best, most compelling characters on television.

Larry Csonka
5. Senor Benjamin
4. Daniel Bryan
3. Stokely Hathaway
2. Lenny Leonard

1. Dario Cueto – It’s no secret that one of the things that I hate the most about modern day wrestling is the authority figure. Over the years I feel that it has not only become a booking crutch for some promotions, but has also made them very lazy in their writing and storytelling. So when I saw that Lucha Underground was going to have an authority figure and that he was going to be some actor with no experience in the business, I rolled my eyes and feared for the worst. I am glad to say that I was completely wrong about him, and not only do I feel that Dario Cueto is the top non-wrestling performer in the business today but he’s one of my favorite overall performers on TV. What I love about “El Jefe” is that he’s not the cookie cutter evil owner. He is a man that opened a temple to watch people fight to entertain himself. He loves money, he’s not above paying people off, he’s not above changing his own plans if it ends up pleasing himself or causing pain to the performers he’s not a fan of. He also has a monster brother locked in a cage that eats people’s faces. Seriously though, the man is a great performer, he’s well written, his performances are awesome and the presentation of Dario Cueto has proven that you can do an authority figure that doesn’t feel like a retread or a cliché.

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“Just call me… “El Jefe.”

Jake Chambers
5. Maryse
4. Catrina
3. Melissa Santos

1. Dario Cueto – In the realm of “Non-Wrestling Personalities” there is currently no one in the same league as Dario Cueto on Lucha Underground. In my opinion, he’s re-defined the long-tired “General Manager” role in wrestling federations, partly because of the writing/production on LU in general, but mostly because of the enthusiasm the actor brings to the role. There hasn’t been an untrained talent in the world of pro-wrestling this natural since Kurt Angle. Dario Cueto is the absolute heart of Lucha Underground; he’s funny, intense, evil, logical, mysterious, and exciting, and as he goes so to does the best wrestling show possibly ever produced follow.

AND 411’s TOP 5 NON-WRESTLERS of 2016 ARE…

5. Catrina11 points

4. Paul Heyman13 points

3. Maryse15 points

2. Daniel Bryan24 points

1. Dario Cueto45 points


* The Biggest Disappointment of The Year: The WWE Cruiserweight Division – 28points
* The Best Non-Wrestler: Dario Cueto – 45 points
* The Best Tag Team of The Year: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 4)
* The Worst PPV/Major Show of The Year: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 5)
* The Best Female Wrestler of The Year: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 5)
* The Best PPV/Major Show of The Year: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 7)

* The Best Promotion of The Year: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 8)
* Most Outstanding Performer 2016: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 9)
* The Best Match of The Year: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 10)
* Most Overrated Performer 2016 : TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 11)
* Most Underrated Performer 2016 : TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 12)
* The Best Wrestler of The Year: TO BE DETERMINED (JANUARY 13)