Best of the 2010s: Top 10 Wrestlers
Up with the next list of the series! Best of the 2010s. Honestly, the first one of these, sorting through the top moments, was fairly easy. The moments listed clearly stood out, and I don't feel that I left out many, if any, worthy contenders for those top spots. It's symptomatic of the shift in pro wrestling. In the 80s wrestling boom, in the Attitude Era, hell, even in the Ruthless Aggression Era, there were a ton of big moments, promos and angles to capture the attention of wrestling fans worldwide. But in the 2010s- well, honestly it probably began in the mid/late 2000s- the idea of "workrate" became more prevalent than anything else. Having a killer match became more important than delivering a fire promo. Bookers and writers became prone to filling time on wrestling shows by sending great workers out to bring down the house with top-notch wrestling action for 15-20 minutes rather than scripting a segment or big angle.
I could get into the pros and cons of the modern wrestling approach, but I won't here and now. I bring it up simply to say that the Best of the 2010s posts get tricky from here on out. WWE is full of tremendous wrestlers. So is New Japan. AEW are building a strong roster of guys that can go in that squared circle. I can see myself editing this list a bunch of times before I hit publish, but here we go, from 10 to 1, the best wrestlers of the past decade!
10. Roman Reigns
Let's start with a bit of controversy, shall we? A large segment of the Internet Wrestling Community detests Roman Reigns. They think he's a subpar worker, and the epitome of everything that is wrong with WWE today. He spams moves, he's booked to be Superman... hell, I even recently criticised the booking of Reigns at TLC. It was mindnumbingly bad. But there lies the crux of the matter- his booking. The treatment of Reigns as the anoited top guy is what puts many people off him. Vince's "subtle as a sledgehammer" approach to making Reigns a star is off-putting, but if you put that to the side... Roman Reigns himself routinely has quality matches. From shining in hot tag sequences with The Shield, to his breakout year as a singles star in 2015. 2015 Roman Reigns is where I make my case for the Big Dog's inclusion in this list. Let's look at Roman's PPV opponents that year- Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar, Big Show, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, the Wyatt Family, Sheamus. A wide variety of opponents, with various shapes, sizes and wrestling styles to go with it, and Reigns had great matches with them all. If you can have a high quality match with the 2015 version of Big Show, you're an extremely good wrestler. I feel that the 2015 PPV run of Roman Reigns is one of the best and most consistent runs of any wrestler in a single year. The following year, great PPV matches with AJ Styles, then working with a green Braun Strowman in 2017 for some top notch hoss battles, and some honest to goodness wars with frequent rival Brock Lesnar. You can hate Roman's push, his character, his booking, but bell-to-bell, the man delivers with anyone you put him in there with. Except 50 year old Triple H and Undertaker.
9. Will Ospreay
Now for someone who is the antithesis of Roman Reigns, and another polarising figure in his own right- the Aerial Assassin, Will Ospreay. A star on the independent scene, and a man who calls New Japan Pro Wrestling his home, Ospreay rose to prominence with a match against Ricochet during the 2016 Best of the Super Juniors tournament. It went viral for its jaw dropping athleticism and counter wrestling sequence, which were unlike anything we had really seen in a wrestling ring before. Reactions ranged from high praise for the innovation of the action, to old school purists dismissing it as overly-choreographed and seeming like a gymnastics performance more than a wrestling match. Will Ospreay can move and flip in and out of a ring like no one else I've seen, and does it all with little regard for his own safety. He's also heard the criticism- these last couple of years, he's reigned in the flippy-floppy spots a little, and started selling more and incorporating psychology into his matches. That adjustment has led to some truly stunning matches, especially this year against the likes of Kota Ibushi, Shingo Takagi, Robbie Eagles and El Phantasmo, to name a few.
8. John Cena
Back to another polarising figure in WWE- John Cena took much of the same criticism that Roman Reigns does over being the chosen one, being booked as a superhero. But when it comes to high level main event action, Cena has mastered that WWE style. The only reason he doesn't rank higher is his limited schedule since around 2016. Hard to put a man at the top in the 2010s when he's been chasing that Hollywood dream for half a decade. If you truly look at Cena's body of work, putting aside the smarky, "Boo Cena sux" mentality, his resume of classic matches speaks for itself. At Money In The Bank 2011, he had the first 5 star rated match in WWE in years with CM Punk. A lot of that was Punk, but hey, it takes two to tango. Then the huge Wrestlemania box office attractions with The Rock. Then welcoming Brock Lesnar back to WWE and putting him over as the Beast Incarnate. Then putting over Daniel Bryan in a Summerslam classic. Then revamping his style to keep up with the younger guys from the indy scene in the US Championship Open Challenges, going balls to the wall with guys like Cesaro and Kevin Owens. Then a couple more classics with AJ Styles. We really don't see him much anymore, but John Cena is one of the best ever at delivering in those big match situations.
7. Brock Lesnar
Why do I feel like some people are absolutely going to loathe this list? Brock Lesnar is yet another WWE main eventer that gets a ton of criticism. He's lazy, he's a part timer, he does the same moves all the time. Yet, even with some of those criticisms holding some weight, he's still managed to have some of the best matches of the last 10 years. His return bout opposte John Cena at Extreme Rules 2012 was mindblowing. It was a spectacle unlike anything we had seen in WWE. He then worked a feud with Triple H that drew mixed reviews, but from there he feuded with CM Punk, culminating in a match at Summerslam 2013. In my opinion, one of the greatest matches in Summerslam history. He went on to have the biggest moment of the decade in being the man to end The Undertaker's legendary Wrestlemania Streak. Due to Undertaker suffering a concussion, it wasn't a great match or even a good match, but Lesnar would go on to rectify that the following year at Summerslam and Hell In A Cell against a healthier Deadman, giving Taker what I believe were the last truly great matches of his career. In between the Taker stuff, Lesnar had what is my favourite Triple Threat of all time against Cena and Rollins, and went toe to toe with Reigns at Mania in a brutal battle before Seth cashed in and won the gold. Brock phoned it in admittedly the following year at Wrestlemania against Dean Ambrose, but it soon became apparent why- Brock was preparing to return to the UFC. After a quick UFC fight in July 2016, Brock engaged in a feud with a returning Bill Goldberg. He put Goldberg over in 1:26 at Survivor Series, before actually having a proper battle of the titans with his old rival at Wrestlemania 33, in what is probably my favourite short match ever. In recent years, Brock has had barnburners with AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan in consecutive years at Survivor Series, and most recently finally had the proper match with Seth Rollins I've been waiting years for at Summerslam. When Brock actually gives a fuck, there's no one like him.
6. CM Punk
Much like John Cena, his inactivity in the second half of the decade hurts his ranking here. The aformentioned 5 star match against Cena at MITB 2011 built on Punk's already stellar reputation for having incredible matches. The "Best In The World" moniker wasn't some meaningless gimmick. From a character/promo standpoint, few, if any, could touch him- we all know about The Pipebomb, and to a lesser extent, his "Box With God" promo opposite The Rock. He had a couple of underrated gems with Daniel Bryan through 2012, carried Ryback to some watchable outings, and did it all as the reigning WWE Champion over 434 days. No big deal. After dropping the title to The Rock and losing the rematch (the only man besides Cena given the honor of going one-on-one with The Great One), he gave Undertaker his last great Mania match. After the Summerslam belter with Brock, Punk dropped to the midcard for the remainder of his WWE run, with his last appearance in a WWE ring being an ironman shift in the 2014 Rumble, lasting a whopping 50 minutes. With Punk being back in the fold, so to speak, with WWE Backstage, I'd be very surprised if we don't see the Straight Edge Superstar wrestle another match in 2020.
5. Seth Rollins
While Roman Reigns was given every accolade under the sun, and pushed to the moon, the real breakout star of The Shield faction was Seth Rollins. While he shone in The Shield's six man tag with his athletic ability, flying around the ring seemingly effortlessly, it was when he turned heel and aligned with The Authority that the spotlight really shone on Rollins. As WWE Champion (and also briefly US Champion), he carried the company, being an absolute workhorse... until his unfortunate knee injury sidelined him. For me, I really sat up and took notice of Seth at the Royal Rumble 2015. He was in a Triple Threat with John Cena and Brock Lesnar, and to me, he shone brighter than both of the established superstars. Once he returned from the knee injury, he continued the run of consistency. You just don't get bad Seth Rollins matches. Ever. Last year, he carried Raw, from a sublime Gauntlet match on Raw, to thrilling clashes over the IC title against people like The Miz, Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. In 2019, he was rewarded for all his hard work with a Rumble win, and Universal title wins over Brock Lesnar at both Wrestlemania and Summerslam. His Twitter game is highly questionable, but his ability as a wrestler certainly isn't. One of the best in WWE for sure.
4. Kazuchika Okada
I'm going to hold my hands up and say that I am not as familiar with Okada as I would like to be. There's only so much time in the day, and I don't keep with with NJPW as much as I would like to. I watch the major events, like Wrestle Kingdom and Dominion, and I try to watch most of whatever Will Ospreay and Robbie Eagles are doing. But Okada is undoubtedly THE GUY in New Japan. He doesn't speak English, but he has an obvious physical charisma that transcends language barriers. His ability to emote gets you sucked into his matches. The matches with Kenny Omega were among the best I've ever seen. I did watch the G1 this year, and Okada's consistency in building drama as the matches in the tournament went on, had me on the edge of my seat. Against Tanahashi, Ospreay, Kenta, Archer, Sanada, Ibushi... Okada was sensational. I'd put any of those matches up against anything done in WWE this year. I'm very excited to see Okada vs. Ibushi again at Wrestle Kingdom at the beginning of 2020!
3. Kenny Omega
Omega's run of excellence in New Japan parallels Okada's, there's very little separating the two in all truth. Omega just has that bit of a flashier style, and I feel it translates better to American audiences. Apart from his feud with Okada, Kenny also had the reunion with his old friend Kota Ibushi as the Golden Lovers- they had one of the best tag matches ever against the Young Bucks. And of course, the feud with Chris Jericho that stole the show in the Tokyo Dome at last year's Wrestle Kingdom. Then Kenny joined AEW, and had another great outing at Double Or Nothing against Jericho, and then the violent spectacle that was the Unsanctioned match with Jon Moxley. Oh, and in between those matches, a last minute bout with Pac that stole the show in Chicago. Omega is definitely finding his groove in AEW after wowing audiences for years in Japan.
2. AJ Styles
At the beginning of the 2010s, AJ Styles was waving the flag for TNA. He was their homegrown star. I never liked TNA, but when I came across an Styles DVD in the mid-2000s, I was hooked and started following his career, in between the other crap that TNA was serving up, Styles and Samoa Joe were two of the only shining lights. Matches with Joe, Daniels and Kurt Angle caught my attention, and then Styles jumped ship to Japan. Then, he joined Bullet Club. Towards the end of his TNA run, Styles started to find himself as an all-round performer. He could cut a decent promo and play a good character as well as dazzle inside a ring. Then, as a more complete package, AJ Styles finally joined WWE at the 2016 Royal Rumble. He put in a great shift, and then embarked on a feud with Chris Jericho to get himself acquainted. Styles didn't take long at all to ascend to WWE's main event scene, feuding with Reigns and Cena before defeating Dean Ambrose to win the WWE Championship. Summerslam 2016 and Royal Rumble 2017 saw him trade wins with Mr. WWE himself, John Cena. He went on to steal the show at Wrestlemania 33 against Shane McMahon, and he went on to have phenomenal battles with the likes of Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe. AJ Styles has been a star everywhere he's gone, and can go with anyone inside the ring, as he's continued to prove this year against men like Ricochet, Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio.
1. Daniel Bryan
After a long and storied career on the American independent wrestling scene, Bryan made his WWE debut in February 2010, on the original season of NXT. He immediately broke out from the pack with his performance on the first episode against then World Champion, Chris Jericho. From there, he quickly ascended through the ranks of WWE, despite being undersized and being an "indy darling". He won the US Title, he won MITB and the World Heavyweight Championship, constantly wowing audiences with his intense, hard-hitting and high-octane style. He took a comedic turn teaming with Kane to form Team Hell No, which allowed his character to shine and audiences to connect with him on a greater level. This took him to Summerslam 2013, where he was one of the only people to ever pin John Cena clean to win the WWE Championship. Then, after a few twists and turns, Daniel Bryan overcame the Authority, beating Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista in the same night to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion at Wrestlemania 30. And then... he got injured. Then he made a triumphant comeback, winning the Intercontinental Championship. Then he got injured again. Bryan made a retirement speech and his career was thought to be over. He became Smackdown GM, but couldn't engage in any physicality. And then... in 2018 he got cleared! Once again healthy, Bryan got back in the ring and hadn't missed a beat despite being out of the ring for 3 years. He's had amazing battles with The Miz, AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar, Kofi Kingston. The 2010s have been a wild ride for Daniel Bryan in the WWE. We've loved him, we've hated him, we've cheered, we've cried.. but through all the ups and downs, one constant has remained- he's the best inside that ring. No matter who he's in the ring against, Daniel Bryan will deliver.
Well, that's it, guys, thanks for reading- oh wait, I can already hear it. Oh, that guy's ranked too high! Oh, that one's ranked too low! That one shouldn't even be in the list! And where's that guy? He should be in the list! Alright... I can't please everyone. It's just my opinion... but to make a few things right, here's some...
Chris Jericho- Jericho is my all time favourite, and it hurt me to leave him off this list. But my love of Jericho largely stems from his work from 1999-2010, and the bits and pieces I've seen of him in the 1990s. Objectively, he misses the top 10 with his drop in, drop out schedule of the early 2010s, coming in to job to a few people, going to do a Fozzy tour, rinse and repeat. It wasn't until 2016 that he had a sustained run back in this decade, and he struck character gold in late 16/early 17 with the List and the awesome Festival of Friendship segment. He was over again big time, character and promos on point, but it seemed like Father Time got the best of him until Kenny Omega came along in January 2018. And as much as I'm loving Le Champion in AEW and partaking in "a little bit of the bubbly", objectively his performances have been hit and miss inside the ring, he's definitely slowing down. Still far better than many of his contemporaries at 49... Triple H and Undertaker, looking at you.
Kota Ibushi- his body of work is right up there with Okada and Omega, he just hasn't always been at that main event level, and I haven't seen all of his stuff honestly. Loved his WK matches with Cody and Ospreay, and I'll be watching closely his match with Okada in a couple of weeks at Wrestle Kingdom 14!
Randy Orton- there's something to be said for the guy's consistency. He's been a main event presence in WWE for over 15 years, and rarely has a bad match. When's he on, he can do some tremendous stuff. Issue is, a lot of the time, Orton seems happy to coast and just do his regular spots, knowing the RKO will draw reactions for him no matter what. The guy's comfortable and getting paid big money. Every once in a while, he'll step up the tempo when he feels like it- his match with AJ Styles this past week on Raw was fun.
Well, that does it, I don't think there's any real glaring omissions there. If there is, let me know in comments or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time, take care,