The past calendar year has been special for wrestling, in the independents, especially. Although WWE continued luring the best and brightest indy stars off to their lair in Florida, other wrestlers answered the call, providing more than adequate replacement for those who had left us.
Here are the five who you really, really, really should have been watching this past year... (If you haven't been, then I'd suggest scouring YouTube, as well as investing in shows they've been involved in.)
1. ACH: Anarchy Championship Wrestling's best kept secret. He blew up in '12, thanks to every company around the country sitting up and taking notice, and then getting him onto their cards. Some companies didn't get the gist of why the Last Dragon of Texas was so special (looking in your direction, Ring of Honor), but mostly everyone, from Absolute Intense Wrestling in Cleveland to Chikara, knew the score. They unleashed him in a cavalcade of spectacular contests which may have redefined what it means to be a professional wrestler.
He dazzled in two 30-minute Iron Man matches against AR Fox in AIW. He introduced himself to Chikara as the counterpoint to the dickish Mark Angelosetti. He helped make people stand up and notice Metro Pro Wrestling in Kansas City with a feud against Jeremy Wyatt (watch this match from episode 73 of their local TV show).
Most importantly, he kept down the fort in his home promotion of ACW throughout the year against a wide array of opponents, with astounding results each time. If you didn't know who ACH was this time last year, no one would blame you. But if you don't know who he is now, then the fault is no one's but your own.
2. Rachel Summerlyn: Like ACH, her native promotion is ACW. Unlike ACH though, she made her mark more by turtling up and staying at home in 2012. Summerlyn eschewed most dates outside of Texas, excepting a few excursions into New York State for Squared Circle Wrestling (2CW); first to win their Girls Grand Prix tournament in February, and second to wrestle Mickie James during the summer. She made such a mark that they're bringing her back next year for several more dates.
However, home is where the heart is, so she decided to be Anarchy's Ace to the highest level. She was entrenched in two major feuds in the early part of the year. One of them, against best friend and sometimes rival Jessica James (and her alter ego Lady Poison), is still going on right now. The other, where she teamed up with Portia Perez, to help end the menace that was Angel Blue, saw the merging of two bitter rivals in order to take down a common enemy-- for the honor and dignity of the American Joshi division they both helped build.
Later on in the year, she would continue breaking down the gender barrier (of which ACW is at the forefront in destroying), by winning the company's top prize. Regardless of opponent or story, you could count on one thing... Summerlyn was going to 'bring it' fiercer in that squared circle than anyone else possibly would, or could.
3. Tim Donst: Donst's year in Chikara took him from being obsessed with proving to Hallowicked that he was the best Young Lions Cup Champion ever, to becoming consumed with exposing Eddie Kingston as a man who embodied the worst aspects of wrestling. The journey cost him his hair, his most loyal lackey in Jakob Hammermeier, and it may even have cost him his sanity.
Regardless, he was one of the many reasons why Chikara was worth watching in 2012. Ostensibly being the top rudo in one of the best companies in America will put you under a microscope: With all eyes on him, Donst's role as an agitator kept things moving just when it looked like they were going to be stagnant.
Conversely, his run in AIW showed he could still play the babyface effectively, even if his foils were a bit below average. Even if I didn't dig Flexor Industries as an effective villainous entity, Donst still held up his end of the bargain more than enough to make the top of AIW's cards worth watching all year. He got better help with the stable of cleansing interlopers in Nixon to bounce off of. Either way, he's been a fine Champion for AIW, and he will make a fine Grand Champion when Chikara finally calls his number.
4. The Super Smash Brothers: When this team stopped appearing for Chikara, I got nervous that they had taken their game exclusively back to Canada. Thankfully for everyone, both Dragon Gate USA and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla decided to feature them extensively. They made a much deeper impact in PWG, where they were given spotlight matches and the Tag Titles. They have yet to disappoint.
If you want to see them at their craziest, check out the three-way ladder match for the Tag Titles featuring them, The Young Bucks, and Future Shock at Threemendous III.
While Dragon Gate has been lagging slightly behind, it's not like they're being featured only in opening matches. The Bros. have been given chances to tangle with the best domestic and imported talent that DGUSA has to offer. Their match against Rich Swann and Chuck Taylor was one of the lone highlights from an EVOLVE 10 show that left a sour taste in many peoples' mouths. Regardless, it was nothing they did, and in fact, nearly every show they've appeared on has been better for their presence on it.
5. Sami Callihan: AAW, DGUSA, and PWG were all stomping grounds for the New Horror in 2012, who made a major play to be considered, along with Kevin Steen and El Generico, among the elite of the circuit. In PWG, he turned heads right away by challenging Steen in a brutal stiff-fest for the World Championship. He also turned heads in AAW by wrestling Davey Richards over the summer and then having been announced to wrestle Ken Shamrock a few months ago. That didn't turn out as planned, as Shamrock no-showed the event, but hey, sometimes crap happens.
He made the biggest splash in DGUSA, where he was involved in an emotional feud with AR Fox for most of the year before turning his attentions towards the Freedom Gate Championship. Callihan has been rumored to be on WWE's radar, but here's hoping we get at least another year of him doing his thing on this level, because his 2012 was damn impressive.
There's your top five you should have been watching in 2012, Cagesiders. Anyone you would like to add? If so, who and why? Sound off in the comments.