“I’m not even supposed to be here today.”

In the immortal words of Dante, this wasn’t going to be my jam. When Razzlin’ Rick turned over the Minnesota Pro Wrestling mantle, I was excited to see everything that came next and then, as it so often does, life happened. When I started MNDIY Wrestling this May, I didn’t want it to simply be a continuation of the great individual work that had been done with MPW over the years, I needed it to be something that reflected an evolving independent pro wrestling scene in Minnesota and drew on the fans that were putting their butts in seats week in and week out to support new promotions, new faces, and proven favorites. When I thought of some word play to direct something catchy for the site, I went to MNdy first. It sounds like indy, reflects that it’s about our state, so far so good. But I wanted the fact that people and promotions and fans were going out there and supporting this scene in new ways and in numbers that seemed to grow with new faces and old faces filling the American Legions and Clubs and Theaters. You probably wouldn’t know it from looking at me today but I grew up a big punk rock kid and so I went back to the DIY attitude that made the punk scene always feel like family at shows and in between shows: sharing tapes, being inclusive, calling out shitty behavior, and taking care of one another. There is no “I” in team, but there is in MNDIY because every person from the fans, to the refs, to the announcers, promoters, and most importantly the wrestlers all help our scene to be its best self.

When I started MNDIY back in May, I wrote: “This is a movement for fans, by fans to build a better Land of 10,000 Graps. When you’re out at a show, tweeting about your favorite wrestlers to see, instagramming pics with your crew,  supporting local promotions, use the #MNDIYwrestling hashtag so we can see it. We will be working with local promotions, wrestlers, supporters, photographers, podcasters, and patrons of independent wrestling to help curate content by taking a DIY, crowdsourcing approach and hope you’ll join in the fun.”

It’s been a pretty astounding year and I think that we’ve tried to do just that and I hope this little experiment is another way we can connect, debate, and most importantly SUPPORT Minnesota Independent Professional Wrestling.

This Fall, I started to think about more ways to get people that I would see at every show I went to involved in what MNDIY is trying to do: be a one stop shop for people to find shows, venues, wrestler’s information, and connect to podcasts, information, and history. I thought, “There have been over 125 wrestlers that have laced up boots in Minnesota this year. That’s a much smaller pool than an entire World, but what if we took what PWI does and scaled it back?” So we did. We sent out lists of those wrestlers and received 20 ballots back along with comments about particular rankings. We asked that people rank the wrestlers that they saw perform that year considering the wrestler’s work based solely with promotions in the state of Minnesota. This precluded some amazing work our MN-based wrestlers did in other venues, but also allowed wrestlers who frequent Minnesota promotions to be considered for the rankings. Obviously this is a Minnesota-centric ranking, but this is MNDIY, not WInDIY or iNDiy (ain’t got time for more than one state). Those that submitted ranks will remain anonymous but there was a lot of due diligence done to make sure that these were people out at shows seeing all different promotions and different aspects of the shows around the state so that we weren’t pigeonholing a certain type of wrestling.

You can see through the results that the wrestlers that are being seen by a lot of different audiences tend to be ranked higher. That’s not a value judgement by MNDIY, but a reflection that our wrestlers are expanding not only who they’re working for locally but seeing many people travel across one border if not many borders, regionally and nationally, sharing their talents with other fans and promotions. In the best cases, that’s meant they are improving by leaps and bounds and also enticing talents from other states to come and wrestle in Minnesota which brings the brand of shows locally to levels of talent that we haven’t enjoyed in maybe a decade.

After the David Noye Benefit I wrote “Sea change is never quick. Trying to turn back the tides or roll with the waves until you can master them may seem insurmountable, but it’s those who roll with what is presented to them, sees the changes coming, and sets out for undiscovered country who will shift a paradigm.” That post had a reach of over 1,700 people on Facebook with 354 clicking through to read and a combination of over 100 people liking or sharing the post. That’s the power of the individual “I” in what is being attempting with MNDIY.

And we have seen and shared so many of those watershed moments together this year. The Academy came on to the scene at the end of 2016, starting its first classes, and officially graduate four amazing talents in Air Wolf, Brandon Gore, Kyle Pro, and James Tapia. We saw Orin Veidt and Clark Feldman travel to the Evolve tryout that featured Stokely Hathaway and William Regal and have had amazing talent brought in for seminars from Colt Cabana, Shelton Benjamin, Mickie James, Nick Dinsmore, X-Pac, Christopher Daniels, Tommy Dreamer, and Bob Evans to our talent travelling to train with the likes of Silas Young and Jimmy Jacobs. With the help of his husky sized following of fans and friends, Kody Rice realized a dream of competing in a CZW ring at Cage of Death 19 and lived to tell about it.  We also had Minnesota talent travelling across the Midwest to familiar promotions like Fully Loaded Wrestling and Freelance, but also to AAW, IWA-Mid South, and many others. We’ve seen former promotions start back up, former promoters start promoting again, and existing promotions expanding to new towns and new venues.

So with that, this week, I present to you the very first MNDIY 50 and hope you enjoy it. Each day starting tomorrow we will run down 10 wrestlers counting down to the arguable start of every Minnesota pro wrestling year at WRESTLEPALOOZA on Saturday. There’s a lot of amazing talent not on this list. That said, there were votes for 113 different wrestlers over 20 ballots and the final tabulation? Well, we’ll share that when we get to the top 10, but rest assured this was statistically, about a close a race at the top as you can get! Thanks to all those who participated and help read, edit, and comment, and finally to all of you for an amazing year full of amazing shows, great conversations, and doing your part to make the Minnesota pro wrestling scene the best it can be. This may not have been my jam when 2017 started, but I’m glad it is as 2018 arrives full of powerslams and promise.

Cheers,
James

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Header Photo by Falcon Photography

Welcome to the MNDIY 50. For the wrestlers ranked 50-11 there will be short paragraphs including thoughts from those who submitted ballots as well as conversations throughout the year on their achievements and accolades. Direct quotes will be referenced as such whereas the rest is delightful conjecture from yours truly.

50. Sierra
Don’t let the phone fool you, this millennial got it done in the ring this year and is just getting started. Her many matches with Stacy Shadows (especially over the RWA Diamond Championship) Sierra ventured more and more across the border to entertain Minnesota fans establishing her as a can’t miss up and coming talent that can draw across the Midwest. Hopefully we can see more of her this year as promotions start to take note. Just don’t touch her phone. Seriously.

49. Kamikaze Klecker
As one half of the YOLO Bros in Independent Wrestling International, Klecker and his partner Patrick McDaniels dominated for most of the year as their Tag Team Champions before being unseated by Lucha Extreme in their sixth and final attempt at gaining the belts. Solid in tag or singles competition.

48. Spiderbaby
“The world’s wickedest wrestler continued to keep those who would dare to heckle on their toes. His wry and spirited video vignettes bring an element that’s often missing in the MN Independents”. Reigned much of the year as US Champion in IWI and NLW Heavyweight Champion.

47. Bobby Brennan
He didn’t get a lot of play this side of the border, but it was enough to secure him a spot on the list. Brennan is phenomenal babyface and has shone in the opportunities he has had near the top of the card in 7Star Wrestling locally and in home promotion of Fully Loaded Wrestling. Bobby has a lot to offer and hopefully he can show that off more in Minnesota in 2018.

46. Stacy Shadows
“She has an amazing look, and I just want to see more and more of her.” This was a big year for Shadows. From becoming the Steel Domain Women’s Champion after defeating Malia Hosaka this summer to her defeat of Sierra in the inaugural RWA Diamond Championship match. She was also the first female member of the Temple of Terror stable in SDW and has appeared multiple times for Women of Honor against the likes of Mandy Leon, Sumie Sakai, and Kelly Klein.

45. Big Sepp
2017 saw Sepp step up to the plate battling Mitch Paradise and a host of other hosses including more and more action away from his home of the last few years: AWF. Sepp has been instrumental in the development of a number of wrestlers coming out of AWF but also has the skills to be a top draw in any promotion.

44. Craven Knyte
“One of the most talented in ring performers in Minnesota returned to the ring this year sparingly as his interest in wrestling has died down in favor of other passions. However he still delivers everytime in the ring.” Had a number of crowd pleasers with Air Wolf this year but continues to be in and out as an active competitor. Will 2018 see more of Knyte? Fans are Craven it.

43. Travis Cole
The first on the list from the great, frozen North, Cole comes our way predominantly from CWE in Winnipeg. Over the last few years we’ve seen him travelling more and showing up in a number of Minnesota promotions. His improvement has been evident each time he steps in the ring. He and Scott Story had another fan favorite match at Pro Wrestling Battleground this Summer.

42. Chainsaw King
Keep Looking Up. It’s not only his slogan, it’s where you’ll find him after he knocks you flat on your back. Never one to pull punches or be normal, King has performed for 7Star and MIW this year as well as tagging with Duke Cornell as Copper Teeth in Heavy On Wrestling in a pair of slobberknocker matches.

41. Aaron Corbin
Former Steel Domain Wrestling Heavyweight Champion, the self-proclaimed “Peak of the Temple of Terror” has been using Ed Hellier’s stable to prop up his title reign throughout the year before being unseated by Mitch Paradise. Corbin has vowed to regain the title in one of the feuds of the year.

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Header Photo by Wayne McCarty

40. Ricky Noren
“When you look at the future of the old school heel you’re staring at the reflection of Ricky Noren’s face in the gloss of a perfectly poached egg lightly drizzled with hollandaise. He is a wonderful combination of a talker and a shit heel that knows how to take the crowd and hold them in the palm of his hand.” ‘Nuff Said. Actually, keep on with that social media game. That’s some #GalleryReady work that should be getting more attention.

39. Prophet
Starting the year as the IWI Heavyweight Champion and forming a new faction in Pro Wrestling Battleground, an ankle injury caused this veteran to fall in the rankings. Rumors abound that he may resurface in some capacity soon which has us not only chomping at the bit to hear a familiar “WHAT NOW?” but to ask, “what’s next?”.

38. James Tapia
A super promising graduate of the Academy, Tapia has been seen around town most recently in Showtime Championship Wrestling where he showed off not only his wrestling skills but differentiating himself from his peers as he refused to follow the cheap tactics of ESQ IV and Rylie Jackson. He certainly has all the talent to blaze his own path on our local scene and 2018 should be a breakout year.

37. Aiden Wake
It turns out that all Aiden Wake needed was a little time by himself. After splitting (for the most part) from the managerial services of Tom Butterman and ending his tag team with Joseph Wayne, Wake has rejuvenated himself in MIW with a series of comedy-based matches that have been huge crowd pleasers. We would love to see him #SoInTheRopes for other promotions creating fresh matchups in the new year.

36. Kyle Pro
Cheese Louise! The Academy sure made a big splash in the middle of the rankings. With the third graduate going Pro this year and tackling the local scene whole hog, a lot of people have remarked on his focus and acumen in the ring and huge babyface potential moving forward. If he keeps getting ring time, there’s no doubt he could measure up with Minnesota’s top bananas in the next couple years. Add in a bit of development on the mic and Kyle Pro could be the total package.

35. Ty Cooper
“Mr. Entertainment” is the reigning Lion Open Weight Champion in MIW and always gets a great pop wherever he shows up. He and Giant Griffin were responsible for one of the most innovative spots this year at Inn Kahoots this summer when Ty programmed his Power Glove to win the battle of the chokeslams and force choke the 6’-9”, 240 lb Giant to the mat for the three count. A big defense of the Lion Championship over Ryan Cruz sets Cooper up for a big return to Murzyn Hall this Spring.

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34. Angry Dragon
Ric Flair may still have the corner on the “Dirtiest Player in the Game”, but in the fair state of Minnesota, there are non dirtier than Angry Dragon. From his alliances with Prophet and Stonehenge in Pro Wrestling Battleground, to his penchant to start a congo line where the sun don’t shine, Angry Dragon sows discomfort and discord wherever he lands. Word to the wise: keep his hands away from your face. You don’t know where he’s been.

33. Sterling Bond
“In 2017 Sterling Bond has solidified his persona as the resident nut-case in Minnesota indie wrestling. Just don’t let him hear you say that…”. There is no doubt that this year saw Bond grow by leaps and bounds from his video promos to his in ring prowess. His match with Air Wolf at Battleground was one of his finest of the year. If he can maintain that level of focus we wouldn’t sleep on the King of Psycho Style in 2018.

32. Rylie Jackson
“The Young Gun” may not have the most experience of the trainees making their way onto local cards but he has done a great job of creating visibility wrestling for Battleground, MIW, Fully Loaded, and Showtime. Time is the great determiner in refining your craft and continuing to improve in the ring and on the mic, but recognition is sometimes enough to get you on the card. Now we’ll see if the same drive can keep him there and see him become a regular fixture.

31. Tomahawk Kid
“Another young wrestler with a heart of fire, I can see him getting better and more confident every match.” The Kid is another person that has benefited from polishing and developing many different aspects of his character over the last year. There are certain aspects that have been turned up and others that have been cut that benefit Kid overall. A reviewer commented he “has a grit and determination that should see him go far.” We are inclined to agree.

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Header Photo by Wayne McCarty

30. Gerard Castle
“Solid crisp moves and someone I’d like to see travel more and get more bookings.” We’ve seen Castle show up and make an impact in promotions like Pro Wrestling Battleground and there’s been flourishes of a in-ring personality emerging. The more that he can marry that with his high flying move set, the more success he may find.

29. Jacob Savage
“A young talent with a great rapport with the crowd. High energy as a face and the kids can’t get enough of him. Nice technical moves… with the look and ability to become something special.” Reigned as AWF Champion and started to venture out to other promotions such as MAW and MIW this year growing his Savage Nation of fans.

28. Angel Dorado
Shedding his former mask and leaving the Angel Caido persona behind, Dorado has achieved gold in 2017. Angel and Lucha Extreme tag partner Air Wolf finally overcame the YOLO Bros to claim the IWI Tag Championships this fall. Being featured heavily in Showtime Championship Wrestling and making his F1rst Wrestling debut at the Kabooze the sky (and often higher) is the limit for one of the youngest wrestlers on the list.

27. JD Bandit
“What can you say about a man who inspires a crowd to both hate and love him simultaneously? He is a local John Cena. The kids and ladies love him and the back row smarks boo him with reckless abandon.” Feuded heavily with Scott Story over the MIW Championship and made a handful of appearances in other promotions. Hopefully in 2018 Bandit can stay healthy and continue to be a consistent presence in the local scene.

26. Leonard Literacy
“Leonard is a true workhorse in the Minnesota Indy scene who gives it his all every match… a fun gimmick and his crowd engagement is off the charts.” An up and down year for Literacy but certainly one that featured new twists on his character including the appearance of Dewey Decimal as a partner/manager. He is ever present across the state on and with cards. A kind and generous veteran with plenty to offer.

25. Rob James
Another wrestler whose stock took a slide due to a series of injuries this year, 6% Body Fat continues to be one of the best at riling up the crowds wherever he is on the card. “The body fat measurement may have expired, but his butt based offense is still as effective as ever and Rob remains one of the best heels on the Minnesota scene.” Making his return toward the end of the year at Battleground against Petey Brown, he looks to rebound up into Title contention in 2018. Children with candy, beware.

24. Brandon Gore
“Since coming onto the scene after becoming the second graduate of the Academy, Brandon has wasted no time in making his presence felt. The confidence from this young blue-chipper is far beyond his experience.” Working in almost every metro promotion, Gore has really shined in matches with his coaches including Arik Cannon and Shawn Daivari as well as against the Anarchist in solo action. A fantastic match against former amateur rival Kal Creed was a suplex sensation that we look forward to seeing more of moving forward.

23. Josh Price
“He doesn’t just wreck his opponents bodies, he wrecks our hearts. He is if Arn and Tully had a love child that only lived to spit on your dreams.” Whether in tag action or hossing solo, “The Minnesota Wrecker” has established himself as a favorite throwback that can give it as good as he can take it. Based in Northern Minnesota he has found both singles and tag team gold in Fully Loaded Wrestling with Fargo native and Minnesota regular Scott Story as the “Freak Machines”. For the record, they’re both his bad side.

22. Danny Duggan
“Such a well traveled wrestler, he makes the list for top Minnesota wrestlers and he isn’t even from here. The Canadian star appears more frequently here than some local wrestlers and for good reason. A throw back to yesteryear, Danny Duggan has that old school work ethic and his build shows it. All around he is in the conversation for best wrestler in the region. He also runs his own successful promotion in CWE.” And that doesn’t even mention his Fanny Pack Championship.

21. Petey Brown
“2017 was the year of the Petey Party. Does a great job of connecting with the crowd but he may have more dance-off wins than pinfalls… not the most extensive in ring repertoire but makes up for it with his fun and dance moves.” Brown is another wrestler that rises in the ranks through sticking to his character and pumping up the volume to 11. A continued commitment to refining his grappling and striking can only help “Down Town” keep this party popping.

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Header Photo by Knocked Out Entertainment

20. Rob Justice
I know we just said last year was the year of the Petey Party, but it was also the year of Justice. Officer Rob showed up all over the metro and put on some of the best matches of his career. One ballot commented “Is there any gimmick more relevant in 2017 than Rob Justice?” Whether he’s emphatically fending off chants of “Paul Blart” or utilizing his arsenal of underhanded offense, when you’re in the crowd for a Rob Justice match, you can’t help but respond to the long arm of the law.

19. Stonehenge
“Stonehenge is a rare breed as a big man on the independent scene. His over the top wild man persona and promos are a throw back to yesteryear”. Ironically, a man that has worked most effectively in tag team action, his personality has come through in solo efforts this year before teaming up with Heavy Metal Lore to form Black Plague. His split from Aiden Wake in MIW propelled him to refine his character and ring work and his promo for the Bar Luchador Birthday party was extra-dimensional. “The Twin Cities scene needs some new big guys, and while he’s still green, he’s putting in the effort and I expect really good things from him in the future.” Keep ‘Henging, bruthur.

18. Giant Griffin
This 6’-9”, 420 lb behemoth had an amazing year winning the Pro Wrestling Battleground Tag Team Titles with Kody Rice in the inaugural Tournament defeating Famous Trash and then recaptured them at the end of the year to become the first two-time Champions. Always draws a crowd comparable to his size, Griffin made his F1rst Wrestling debut this year to great fanfare. “Griffin really come into his own this year. His teaming with Kody Rice is an interesting one and is about as pro wrestling as it gets. He may be even bigger than he thinks he is in 2018.”

17. Kal Creed
Creed is a wrestler that is poised to become a threat to anyone wearing gold in Minnesota. The Suplexing Superman showed off his robust amateur background in a match with Brandon Gore which featured tremendous amount of in-ring chemistry and future match potentials. Late in the year he also seized an opportunity to shine challenging Scott Story for his MIW Heavyweight Championship. While Creed came up short, he showed that in 2018, he belongs near the top of any card.

16. Chadwick Wentworth III / Black Stallion (tie)
To be gifted with two amazing wrestlers so similar in stature and appearance but obviously cut from different cloth is a rare treat but Minnesota has just such men. You can find CWIII spending his weekends in MIW teaching the plebs and sound techs of the world to respect his Iron game or teaming with Brick McCarthy as 3 Under Par to dominate the Tag Team division of Steel Domain Wrestling. Meanwhile, Stallion is straight wrecking anyone stupid enough to cross him at Heavy On and Prime Time Wrestling. If these two ever team up, woe be to their opponents. Be forewarned.

15. Venom
“Had a stronghold on the Pro Wrestling Battleground Championship for most of 2017. Has a killer right hand that will knock anyone smooth out.” Whether it was winning three times in one night or defending his Title against multiple opponents, Venom rose to the top of the heap and stayed there this year by laying opponents out one swift fist at a time. The King of Throwdown’s battle cry of ‘Let’s hear it for me!’ is both the perfect bit to get the crowd riled up and an accurate reflection of a veteran who deserves recognition. As someone commented “How can you not enjoy someone who feels both like something fresh, but also a throwback to the best parts of the Attitude Era?”

14. Joey Avalon
Making it all the way to the finals of the Battleground 10th Anniversary Tag Team Tournament before losing in the finals, Avalon and his Famous Trash partner “Gorgeous” Jordy Lee have firmly entrenched themselves as the heels you love to hate. Eventually defeating the inaugural Tag Champs and enjoying a few defenses of their own Avalon is an imposing figure serving as the big heavy of his Tag Team and the perfect compliment to Lee. They expanded into action with MIW as a tag this year and judging by their popularity, promotions would do well to keep putting them on their cards in 2018.

13. Orin Veidt
“One of the most unique personas on the Minnesota scene and one of the most talented prospects, Orin is driven and focused. A must see, future star type feel.” This year the Dark Prophet expanded from his regular bookings with AWF and has “grown by leaps and bounds”. His work in Fully Loaded Wrestling in North Dakota and travel to IWA-Mid South and the Evolve tryout this December have certainly expanded his visibility beyond his debuts in PWB and MIW. If that wasn’t enough, check out the clip of his Witch Hunter (Gotch Style Piledriver Destroyer) on Jacob Savage. When you pull yourself away from your screen find a promotion that’s booking him and catch it in person.

12. Wildcat
“MEOW, MEOW, MEOW! Whether it’s with the little ones or a room full of rowdy 21+ fans at First Ave, people love and go wild for the Crime Fighting Feline. His cat like quickness hasn’t diminished a bit.” There are few wrestlers that are as over as Wildcat and whether it’s tagging with Thunderfrog or in solo action, from Prime Time to Heavy On to Wrestlepalooza, “he might be the hottest anthropomorphic animal wrestler right meow….I mean now.”

11. Jordy Lee
Almost sneaking in the top 10 when Minnesota isn’t even your regular state is an amazing feat. As aforementioned Lee and his tag partner Joey Avalon have been a highlight of Pro Wrestling Battleground’s tag team title scene and their appearances for MIW and solo appearances in RWA and 7Star have the crowd tearing away their pants. Okay, maybe not quite. But there is great love for the “Gorgeous” one in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. He’s a damn good Deech.

10 - GACJ.png

Total Ballot Appearing: 18 // Ballot Points: 704 // Highest Rank: 3rd

Commitment. It’s a trait that all wrestlers need to become successful. Whether that means physical or mental fitness, a relationship of reliability with promoters, or the consistency to go out every night you step through the curtain and give it your all. It’s something that rarely can silo between personal and professional endeavors. While MNDIY desires to keep the boundary between the two intact, you can easily see how a wrestler like Chris Jordan could find success on a larger stage, even here in Minnesota. His commitment to helping develop talent and the MIW promotion that has featured him is something that “kept him from being higher on the list” and that “didn’t see much of him outside of MIW” could be considered a knock on the veteran. Though when you see “The Genuine Article” at an MIW show, whether it be in Chanhassen, Columbia Heights, Forest Lake, the annual New Hope show, or outside over their Summer Beers and Bodyslams tour you realize that he goes all out every night and exudes a commitment to the sport of professional wrestling and its next evolution in MIW. That commitment makes their cards consistently entertaining and a top of the card that produces can’t miss match ups with anyone who steps in the ring with him. Whether that is a resurgent Ryan Cruz, the seemingly everywhere at once “Anarchist” Arik Cannon, or developing talent such as the Black Plague or Tomahawk Kid, GA has delivered show after show in 2017 a level of excellence that puts him squarely in the top wrestlers in the State.

9 - Lore

Total Ballot Appearing: 18 // Ballot Points: 762 // Highest Rank: 5th

In his 3rd full year of competition, 2017 was a breakout campaign for the 6’-5” 300 lb. bruiser. “Heavy on technical, every move is well calculated. Without a doubt an undeniable force to witness squaring off against any opponent.” Lore is someone who has continued to hone his craft by seeking out additional instruction and polishing from his start training under Ian Xavier to the Prime Time Camp, over the last year at the Academy, and even under the evil Master Quinn. The hard work and tutelage has certainly paid off. Capturing the Pro Wrestling Battleground Breakout Championship as well as reigning as the current IWI Heavyweight Championship, and a grueling series of matches including an outdoor Cage Match with Mitch Paradise are among his singles accomplishments, but he has also established himself with fellow big man “Stonehenge” Joseph Wayne as a tag team that can go toe-to-toe and blow-for-blow with any other duo in the State as they have run through opponents in promotions from MIW to Showtime Championship Wrestling to Northern Lights. With an upcoming slug fest with the Beer City Bruiser on tap at Prime Time Wrestling’s Annual Big Show, “continue to expect big things from him moving forward.”

8 - Story

Total Ballot Appearing: 19 // Ballot Points: 773 // Highest Rank: 2nd

“Always ready to try something new, Story is constantly learning and improving. Paired with Pete Huge in MIW, they have a fantastic chemistry and the crowd either absolutely hates or loves them”. A Never Ending reign (briefly interrupted) with the MIW Heavyweight Championship, Story looked at home at the top of the card. “Before the arrival of Air Wolf, the top prospect everyone was talking about was Scott Story. Since then he has delivered on his potential becoming one of the best wrestlers in Minnesota”. He found addition success outside MIW with a run as the Pro Wrestling Battleground Breakout Champion and recently won the Rice Street Rumble to wrap up the year, earning a shot at the Heavyweight Title at their 11th Anniversary show. Travel also brought singles and tag gold with Josh Price in his home state of North Dakota for Fully Loaded Wrestling. Finally, if you blinked you may have missed Minnesota’s third favorite Corbin brother trying to bring about the End of Days for Scott when WWE RAW was in town. Fortunately for Story, his story is Never Ending.

7 - Paradise

Total Ballot Appearing: 19 // Ballot Points: 779 // Highest Rank: 2nd

Celebrating his 20th year in professional wrestling, this is a testament to his toughness and tenacity. One of the best big men ever in Minnesota pro wrestling, “big Mitch remains one of the top talents in the ring. When Paradise dishes out offence, it is with such force that fans feel it. He’s old school. You don’t walk out of a match against Mitch without a reminder of who you stepped in the ring with.” 2017 was, as for a number of other talents on the list that saw their stock rise, a year of reinvigoration and reinvention. From his year long feud chasing Aaron Corbin in Steel Domain Wrestling and finally recapturing their Heavyweight strap, to a series of matches with the HOSS set to maximum in MIW with Lore, Stonehenge, and CWIII, to promoting a show in which he took on Big Sepp in a bonafide slobberknocker, Paradise turned up the volume on the G&R and never looked back. His Ox Baker look after he shaved his head complimented top notch heel work to start the year in MIW was a revelation after a long run with the same babyface actions that make the fans love him. Like many of the best talents on this list, his exceptional crowd work allowed him to become a fan favorite based on who he was facing and where the show was taking place. Just make sure if he offers to shake your hand at ringside before the match that you know where it has been.

6 - Cruz

Total Ballot Appearing: 18 // Ballot Points: 803 // Highest Rank: 1st // 1st Place Votes: 1

The saying you use steel to sharpen steel may be truer for no on on this list moreso than Ryan Cruz. After the breakup of the North Star Express at January’s Wrestlepalooza IX, it felt as though Cruz was on a mission to prove that he belonged at the very top of the Minnesota scene by taking on the best the state had to offer. “Ryan didn’t get to quite the heights that Darin did after their breakup” but he proved after a year that included holding the Heavyweight Championship in IWI, flirting with Scott Story’s title over the Summer on the Beers and Bodyslams tour, and putting on a match of the year candidate with Arik Cannon in Forest Lake, that NSE was more Hollywood Blondes than Rockers and he was no man’s Marty Janetty. “Possibly the flyer in Minnesota, Ryan is much more than just one dimensional and can beat opponents in a variety of fashions. One of the most interesting wrestlers to watch in ring with a style all of his own, Cruz continues to entertain and elevate his game.”

With a new look and pants so loud you hear coming before you see them, Cruz has been on a redemption journey that finally culminated this Saturday at Wrestlepalooza XI at what is certain to be on this year’s best of lists when he and Darin Corbin finally got their hands on each other in a brutal one-on-one in a No DQ match for the F1rst Tag Team Championships. Who will he choose to be his new tag team partner and does a return to the tag ranks make sense for someone who has worked for all of 2017 to re-establish his presence and a singles wrestler? One thing is certain, if Cruz keeps performing at the level he has established this year, “he should be looking forward to adding some gold back to his collection in 2018″. The end of the steel proverb says that “one friend sharpens another”. While there may be no love lost between Cruz and Corbin following a year of feuding, you can’t deny that Cruz has come back stronger and more committed to solidifying his place in the conversation about the best wrestlers in Minnesota.

5 - Thunderfrog

Total Ballot Appearing: 19 // Ballot Points: 844 // Highest Rank: 1st // 1st Place Votes: 1

What a year for this froggy sex god! While he has always been a perennial contender for any Tag Team Championship, holding gold this year in Prime Time Wrestling with his anthropomorphic partner, Wildcat, this was the year that Thunderfrog established himself as a top tier singles star. “The ALWAYS Rocked Up Amphibian is the current reigning Pro Wrestling Battleground after winning a vicious Frog Collar Match defeating Venom” in what was on a lot of year end lists for 2017 Match of the Year and the celebration at Bar Luchador afterwards was a magical moment where our wild world of wrestling fandom intersects with the rest of the world and absolutely sweeps them up in the excitement and glorious strangeness.

With his first defense of his freshly won PWB Championship coming up at the 11th Anniversary show, you know that he’s going to keep 2018 ALL ROCKED UP, BABY BOY! “Arguably the most entertaining talker on the list. He can back it up in the ring.” Also travelling outside the state to bring his mighty hammer and unique brand of battle to promotions such as Wrestle Circus or with to team with his good friend Jervis Cottonbelly, one ballot voter summed Frog up perfectly: “He lives it. 1000% hopped up on buttermilk, baby.” WOWEE!

4 - Kody Rice

Total Ballot Appearing: 20 // Ballot Points: 880 // Highest Rank: 2nd

“Rice certainly has to be near the top or at very least in the argument. A big man with great moves. People can’t get enough of the Husky Heartthrob. Willing to travel and fill a car with aspiring wrestlers wherever he goes, the man appreciates hard working talent”. While Kody Rice can always be counted on for an entertaining match and a comedy spot or two, fans who sleep on his speed and athleticism are missing what makes Kody such a versatile commodity in and out of the ring and in 2018 more promoters and fans were able to see that than ever before.

“This year Mr. 305 LIVE took his act around the horn”: Two reigns as Tag Team Champion in Pro Wrestling Battleground, trips all over the Midwest and to IWA Mid-South, title shots in MIW and Heavy On Wrestling with the later being one of the more mentioned matches by balloters, and ending the year with a dream match driven by a social media avalanche of fans and peers in and out of state that connected with his desire to step in a CZW ring. “Most indie wrestlers could be been content with the level of success a character like The Husky Heartthrob had achieved, but not Kody Rice.” His time working out at the Academy has been a learning experience that goes both ways and that desire to learn and continue to grow as a performer and find new and innovative ways to entertain. Stay husky, my friend.

3 - Air Wolf (3)

Total Ballot Appearing: 20 // Ballot Points: 935 // Highest Rank: 1st // 1st Place Votes: 5

10 points. Of the top three spots, all three appeared on all 20 ballots and out of 1000 possible points, the first graduate of the Academy: School of Professional Wrestling at Wrestlepalooza X, fell only 10 points being voted the top wrestler in the state. “Seeing Air Wolf, from his graduation onward to teaming with Colt Cabana and main eventing against Daivari and Arik Cannon is exhilarating, because you know that this kid IS going to make it big.  It’s just a matter of time.  It’s been fun seeing his first steps on the way.” The hype is real and Wolf received a number of other comments that are too important to ignore from the group of voters. “Best rookie I have seen in my 15+ years of following the local scene” just highlights the steep learning curve that Air Wolf has tackled this year. “Talented, crisp, energetic and a quick learner. Airwolf has been working his tail off traveling, self promoting and being a great ambassador for independent wrestling.”

This year has seen Air Wolf capture the IWI Tag Team Titles with Angel Dorado after an extended feud with the YOLO Bros as well as spending time as the Pro Wrestling Battleground Breakout Championship. His challenge to coach Arik Cannon for his Wrestlepalooza Championship may have fallen short, but he will get his rematch this June at Wrestlepalooza XII. In addition to earning other title challenges in Heavy On Wrestling and MIW and regular work all over the state, Wolf has impressed on his travels to IWA Mid-South going up against Kody Rice as well as a spotlight match against Jimmy Jacobs. “Nearly every match he has is the best match of his life. Now granted, he’s only eighteen, so it’s not a long life yet, but he’s made the most of it.”

cannon

Total Ballot Appearing: 20 // Ballot Points: 942 // Highest Rank: 1st // 1st Place Votes: 7

3 points. The most first place votes. You could argue that Arik Cannon got robbed, but that would do both him and the #1 a huge disservice. With such amazing talent at the top of this list who have traveled and wrestled together this highlights the wealth of talent we have right now. Independent wrestling in Minnesota is experiencing an incredible high right now and a The Anarchist is one of, if not the biggest part of that. From his extensive travel and brand building with F1rst Wrestling, to his coaching roles at The Academy helping to build the next generation of Minnesota Pro Wrestling, to his ability to “work with anyone top to bottom and have a great match”, he helps our scene grow every single day. “Wrestling is life for him and his contributions to the Minnesota independent scene are unprecedented.”

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This was another banner year for Cannon. From appearing alongside THE Bryan Kendrick on WWE programming to unseating current 205 Live star Ariya Daivari at Wrestlepalooza IX and defending the belt against everyone from Air Wolf to Joey Ryan over the calendar year, he was also everywhere on the local scene which we haven’t enjoyed nearly as much in recent years. MIW, Pro Wrestling Battleground, and AWF all benefited in 2017 from having Cannon wrestle up and down their cards producing fresh top notch matches. As a hometown hero, the Official PBR Pro Wrestler had what has been called “one of the best matches in MIW history” by balloters and named MIW Match of the Year against Ryan Cruz in Forest Lake. Local trainer and owner of MIW Terry Fox said it’s one of the best matches he’s ever seen. That sometimes goes unsung with all the things Arik is doing on our scene but as one voter said “he’s one of those guys that is so good at his job that you almost don’t notice it because he’s comes off so natural and fluid in that ring every time he is in it”.

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From the moment he steps in the ring to his trademark clap to get the crowd going Arik Cannon is “arguably the most successful unsigned wrestler in the Twin Cities, Cannon has been everywhere forever. From goofy to hardcore, he’s a consummate entertainer.” There’s so much more that could be said, but I would simply ask that you all show off that beautiful blue ribbon and raise a Pabst and a thank you to “The Anarchist” Arik Cannon next time you see him for being one of the best ambassadors the Land of 10,000 Lakes could ask for in the wrestling world. Cheers.

Copy of 1 - Darin Corbin

Total Ballot Appearing: 20 // Ballot Points: 945 // Highest Rank: 1st // 1st Place Votes: 5

Keep Wrestling Fun. It is a simple mantra and it is important. From the first time you see professional wrestling to the moment that you discover the mechanisms that drive storylines, promotions, and matches, that magic is something that doesn’t have to fade. Darin Corbin has had one of the best years of his career and whether it was on WWE television as security guard or EMT, or back home as a slacks and fringe wearing bad guy or a fun-loving technicolor pantsplosion and “Red Hair, Don’t Care” shirt, he was everything good about professional wrestling in 2017.

“Darin’s heel run with the (F1rst Wrestling) Tag Titles around his neck and those detestable, sensible slacks has been so much fun to hate.  He’s taken the simplest route to being hated and rode it straight up to the top of the list.” It would be hard to argue that his visibility after turning on longtime North Star Express partner, Ryan Cruz wasn’t a big reason for him topping this list. But in 2017 Darin “worked for everyone, everywhere, and against all competitors.” He was also a Pro Wrestling Battleground Heavyweight Champion and was “a man who can entertain any crowd as heel or face. He is a Minnesota gem and one of the nicest guys out there.” It’s hard to argue gingers don’t have souls when watching Darin Corbin ply his trade because he puts everything he has into his wrestling matches and finds innovative means to entertain and interact with the crowd. “Whether it be rated G or NC-17, it is always hilarious.”

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Part of what makes Darin so well loved is a fan’s ability to relate to his motivations. As a face, he wants people to enjoy what he’s doing in the ring and the bad guys to not take themselves so seriously. As a heel, he wants wrestling to be the focus and demands that people have the same respect commitment that he does. To quote the Big Lebowski on Corbin’s heel work, ‘You’re not wrong (Darin), you’re just an asshole)’. And it has worked beautifully.

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“He continues to reinvent himself and has had much success in doing so, like his tactics or not.  He is perhaps the most well traveled and versatile wrestlers from Minnesota.” From the Pacific Northwest to the greater midwest, the Ginger Ninjer spread the gospel of “Keep Wrestling Fun” everywhere he went. In Minnesota it’s harder to name a promotion he didn’t wrestle for. Whether it was documenting a beat down via Instagram or continuing his tradition of great video content, he did it with his usual high grade panache. If you haven’t followed his monthly Gingertag produced by Spot Monkey Media, you’re missing out on the plethora of Unlocked Achievements that vary from the impressive to the absurd. And if the kickoff to 2018 at Wrestlepalooza XI was any indication of the year ahead, we can look forward to another twelve months of wrestling fun and achievement of the highest caliber from your inaugural MNDIY50 #1: Darin Corbin.

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