A Merry PG Christmas: My Wrestlers of the Decade

So as threatened, let’s get the Wrestlers of the Decade conversation started!  A few things about my list:

  • I went to 25 because I’m a college sports fan and “Top 25” is a college tradition.
  • This is a list of individual wrestlers, although tag team work is taken into consideration.
  • I’ll include a quick paragraph justifying each one as we count down from 25 to 1.
  • This is entirely my opinion and meant to spark discussion; neither Scott nor anyone else gave input.
  • I will not be offended if you think my opinions are wrong.  Hopefully you can provide feedback of your own list in the comments.  That’s what this is about; discussion and pageviews.

So, after the jump, let’s look at my list!

Here we go — ANDY PG’S TOP 25 WRESTLERS OF THE 2010S.  This is for entertainment purposes only.

25. Reinvention is a key to staying relevant in wrestling.  When that re-invention arguably takes a franchise off of life support, even if it doesn’t translate to the best wrestling, that means something.  Matt Hardy was teaming with brother Jeff against Team 3D and the Wolves throughout the early part of the decade, but when he seemed cold, he came up with a plan — and what a plan it was.  Going completely off the deep end and introducing the Broken Universe extended his career by 3-4 years and gave him one last shot at WrestleMania glory.  Not bad.

24. Being a guaranteed highlight is a way to get yourself on this list.  Kofi Kingston started the decade as a Royal Rumble highlight, taking John Morrison’s original parkour idea and topping it and himself every year.  When the New Day became a breakout group, their antics helped Kofi break the Tag Team title reign length record.  But it was the persistence of his style and friends that brought him the final glory: a WrestleMania title win.  Sure, it ended ignominiously, but Kofi’s rise was a story of the decade for sure.

23. Great Britain’s wrestling scene has exploded in the 2010s.  Places like Revolution Pro and PROGRESS have become mainstays and must-see locations in the independent scene.  While this allowed for a renaissance of Drew Galloway/McIntyre’s career and lifted people like Jack Gallagher and Zack Sabre Jr. to national prominence, it was Will Ospreay who made the most of it.  His Mysterio-esque flying skills made him a highlight reel favorite, and New Japan was wise to lock him up as the anchor of their Junior scene.  He appears ready to follow the path of another former junior to heavyweight glory in the 2020s.

22. In-ring talent is only part of the equation; the most important skill is getting the fans to react.  That’s hard to do with one idea.  How about three?  While his Nexus flunky incarnation didn’t work, Husky Harris/Bray Wyatt turned into a swamp preacher with a cult following and captivated imaginations and audiences.  When left to his own devices, he was seen as a threat to WWE’s top stars like Cena, Undertaker, and Orton.  And just when that ran out of steam, he rebuilt himself twice at once — his Mister Rogers/Freddy Kreuger split-personality is atop the WWE as the decade ends.

21. As of 2016, if you’d told me El Generico/Sami Zayn would miss the Top 20, I’d have thought you were crazy.  Injuries have derailed a promising career that never reached its full potential, as he never achieved a meaningful title reign in the big time, NXT or WWE.  Yes, he was NXT champ, but it was as a transition to another, bigger star.  Yes, his matches with Owens and Nakamura were must-see, but he had no momentum out of them.  Still, his verbal skills — a literal non-factor at the beginning of the decade — have kept him a big deal through the end.

20. It says something about how influential CM Punk was that he could miss over half the decade and still make this list.  It’s not just the in-ring success, with several Match of the Decade contenders against John Cena and Daniel Bryan, nor his 434-day title run.  He arguably had the most important promo of the decade, one which was quickly dubbed the Pipe Bomb.  In just five minutes, he rewrote the narrative within the biggest company on earth, and it’s a narrative that, 8 years later, still hasn’t gone away.

19. High fliers usually have short shelf lives, but Ricochet/Prince Puma is just getting started.  As the latter incarnation, he got on just about everyone’s national radar as the ace of Lucha Underground.  Trips to Japan and a series of matches with Ospreay became famous for discussing if wrestling was changing and how.  A trip to NXT saw him steal the show at TakeOvers, and upon his callup earlier this year, he was instantly put into WrestleMania.  The sky is the limit for this man.

18. Surprised to see Seth Rollins this low?  It’s a case of being overexposed and underprotected.  2015 may have been his year, but it was one of the biggest disaster years in WWE, and the fact that he has had no traction in the top flight works as a hard mark against him.  His carelessness leading to injuries to Finn Balor and Sting also hurt his cause.  Still, he and his Shield brethren redefined tag team action at the beginning of the decade, and the Heist of the Century may well be the single Moment of the Decade.  The first ever NXT Champion and two-time WrestleMania world title winner should be much higher, but he’s been weighed and measured thoroughly.

17. So what do you do if your presence in the main event of the biggest show of the year is so controversial it stops being the main event?  You learn to stop caring and fight only for yourself.  A trip to Mexico turned Tetsuya Naito into the Ingobernable we all know and love, and with his newfound apathetic attitude came a resurgence in popularity.  It finally clicked; with his own faction and a second G1 win under his belt, he got his Tokyo Dome main event.  He may have another one in 2020 if the stars align.

16. Perhaps no one has had his finger on the pulse of when it’s time to freshen it up like Chris Jericho.  Over the course of the decade, he became the silent antagonist, the fun-loving sidekick, the keeper of an enemies’ list, New Japan’s alpha, your drunk uncle, and the AEW’s headliner.  Every time it seems like he’s run out of ways to be different, he thinks of a new one.  He’s maintained his spot as a big deal in the business at an age where it was thought he’d be thinking of retirement.

15. The latter half of the decade was defined by respectability for women’s wrestling at the national level.  While women always had a place on the card, it was usually as a sideshow or cooldown.  The first time that change appeared to matter was in 2015, as Sasha Banks was part of a sea change.  She’s main evented both an NXT big show and WWE big show, and no matter what happened on -screen, her fanbase never wavered.

14. However, Charlotte Flair moves ahead due to main eventing WrestleMania in addition to WWE shows.  The two were joined at the hip throughout 2016 and became instant ratings highlights when they squared off.  But Flair has gone from championship to championship, strength to strength.  She was the straw that stirred the women’s division drink, and she’s the one who stands alone atop the list of most reigns and longest reign in the Women’s division.

13. Give AAA a shot in the arm?  Check.  Appear on US TV and become the dark horse breakout?  Check.  Dominate the US independent scene?  Check.  Move to Impact and win their gold right away?  Check.  Jump to another national promotion and be a highlight of their tag scene?  Check.  Make all this headway in the US without speaking a word of English?  Now that’s impressive.  Is there any doubt Pentagon Jr. (Cero Miedo) was the most important luchador of the 2010s?  Lucha Underground wouldn’t have been the same without him.

12. Speaking of people who are able to connect with audiences based just on physical charisma, Shinsuke Nakamura may have been overlooked due to his paycheck phase in the WWE main roster.  However, he’s a G1 winner back in 2011 before finding the rock star persona that carried him to new heights in New Japan.  Upon moving to the US, he tore up NXT, announcing his presence emphatically with an instant classic against Sami Zayn.  He went on to win the Royal Rumble, joining Hulk Hogan as the only wrestlers to win both New Japan’s and WWE’s kingmaking events.  He even made low blows a big deal in his heel turn!  Not bad for someone phoning it in.

11. What could have been.  One of the most dominant Royal Rumble performers we’ve seen, Roman Reigns finished in the Top 3 of his first five Rumbles and parlayed that into being the last match of four straight WrestleManias.  By all rights, he should be higher, but every time he gains even a little momentum, it gets derailed, either by being overexposed or by things out of anyone’s control.  First a hernia, then fan backlash, then a Wellness violation, then leukemia kept him from having a sustained burst of momentum.  Even so, there’s no doubting his spot as a top power wrestler and a big deal in the WWE.

10. Has anyone ever dominated wrestling by NOT being around?  You could make the case that Brock Lesnar, despite never being more than a special attraction, did just that.  He announced his presence in a wild, brutal brawl in his 2012 return, and from there, was a hurricane of energy.  Ending the fabled Streak saw him become the big deal in WWE, and no one has done more with less than Lesnar and his arsenal of suplexes.  In an era where matches are often viewed through a prism of length, Lesnar made the sprint a big deal again when against Goldberg and Samoa Joe.  Even off-screen, he’s the specter that looms over every show he’s on.

9. Being a pure babyface can be tough in the post-Attitude Era wrestling environment, but upon her callup, Becky Lynch found a way to do it.  A friend to the end, demanding justice, and fighting fair got her near the top, but ironically it was when she took off those restraints that her popularity skyrocketed.  Tired of being the sidekick and showing a fierceness and toughness no one knew she had, this longtime veteran achieved a height only Chyna had scaled before: being seen as equal to her male peers, if not better.  And as the rise of women climaxed in a Mania main event.  It was Lynch, against all odds, who stood tall.

8. The Shield, in many ways, was the most dominant faction of the 2010s, and Dean Ambrose/Jon Moxley was established as its singles star in the early days.  When the group violently split, the fans took to his quest for revenge, a two-year arc that culminated in a cash-in and title win that blew the roof off the building.  While working on top of the early days of SmackDown’s live era, he took a no-name (James Ellsworth) and, albeit with some help, made him into a cult favorite.  And when he tired of the WWE, New Japan allowed him to show he was more than anyone knew, and AEW banked on him getting the eyeballs they needed.

7. Everywhere that Kevin Steen/Owens has gone in the 2010s, the world has revolved around him.  In Ring of Honor, he was the nightmare that the authorities couldn’t control.  In PWG, he became so popular shows were named after him.  When he signed with NXT, he was put into the main event scene on the very first show he wrestled and became its champion within 90 days.  On the main roster, his first win was over John Cena.  He was trusted with the Universal Title in Finn Balor’s absence and with Daniel Bryan’s big return match.  His skills, both in-ring and storytelling, have guaranteed he’s been many things, but irrelevant was never really one of them.

6. People have come and gone from New Japan, but they’ve stayed afloat and turned around their fortunes (things weren’t looking good for a while at the beginning of the decade) in large part thanks to the efforts of their Ace.  Hiroshi Tanahashi put New Japan on his back, It was his record that Okada broke, and he was one of the first to defend the G1 victory on the road to Wrestle Kingdom.  Over the course of the decade, he won two G1s, is on an astonishing EIGHT IWGP title reigns, and was named the MVP of New Japan in 2018.  What John Cena is to WWE, Hiroshi Tanahashi is to New Japan.

5. So why is John Cena higher?  Well, for one, being WWE’s franchise player is a bigger deal globally than being New Japan’s.  But also, his versatility shone through in various forms throughout the decade.  He played the reluctant heel against CM Punk in Chicago in a contender for Match of the Decade.  He had to carry a yearlong hype against The Rock more-or-less on his own, and in doing so smashed box office records at WrestleMania.  His crossover appeal built up the image of WWE as more family-friendly than in the Steve Austin days, and although he could still get ugly (his brawl with Lesnar in 2012 proves it), he held no ego as the top dog, allowing himself to be squashed at SummerSlam 2014 and WrestleMania 34.  Even when moving down the card, his US Open Challenge produced TV highlights and made an instant star out of Kevin Owens.  He’s earned his trip to Hollywood.

4. His was the longest “World” title run of the decade, and you can’t argue that Kazuchika Okada didn’t earn every day of it.  Gedo’s golden boy proved capable of putting on an incredible performance against anyone, anywhere in New Japan.  His series of matches up top redefined what made for an instant classic, and his stamina and storytelling made him what he says he is — the Rainmaker, the money man.  He’s signed to New Japan’s richest contract ever (the first man to top 10 million in overall money), and he main evented FIVE of the ten WrestleKingdoms of the decade (with a sixth coming up).  No one has made the most of his in-ring time like Okada.

3. For many years the only reason TNA didn’t go extinct, it took until 2013 for AJ Styles to leave for greener pastures.  Inheriting Bullet Club from Prince Devitt, he became an instant IWGP Champion and proved he was more than a big fish in a small pond.  Considered one of the last big names never to go to WWE, he changed that in a huge way at the 2016 Royal Rumble, as his debut set off a thousand reaction videos on YouTube and caused an eruption unheard-of for a supposed unknown.  Since then, he has had a one-year title reign, charged with restoring the title to its glory after the Jinder experiment failed, and has had amazing stories with Ambrose, Nakamura, Cena, and Reigns.  He called himself The Face That Runs The Place.  Given how he’s been in just 4 years, it’s kind of hard to argue.

2. The story of WWE in the 2010s is tied to the story of Daniel Bryan, so much so that his career became a video game story mode.  Most of the big moments throughout the decade have his fingerprints on them, from the Nexus Riot to the rise of the post-Mania Raw crowd reputation, to turning a simple interjection into the hottest catchphrase of the decade, to his crowning glory at WrestleMania 30, to not one but two crowd revolts at the Royal Rumble, all the way to a heel turn no one thought possible and a coronation of Kingston.  Through sheer force of will, ring skill, and character development that the crowd has been invested in seemingly over anyone else, Bryan became the star you never thought WWE would have.

1. But at the end of the day, the Wrestler of the Decade did more than just wrestle.  He started in the junior ranks and worked his way up.  He took over Bullet Club in Japan and took them to mainstream heights — not just crossing over to US Wrestling, but to mainstream T-shirt stores.  His in-ring abilities were the toast of reviewers, and his eventual IWGP title win was the clubhouse favorite for Match of the Decade.  As if that wasn’t enough, he got into the business side; when his friends bet they could sell out a stadium independently of the big boys, he went All In and helped make it happen.  Then, he rode that momentum to co-founding his own promotion, which ascended to being #3 in the world basically overnight.  A wrestler, a businessman, a producer, and a visionary — no one did it all like the Wrestler of the Decade, Kenny Omega.

*****

HONORABLE MENTIONS: There were lots of people I considered for this list, but who fell just short.  Tomohiro Ishii proves to be an ageless warrior in New Japan, making hard hitting fashionable.  Alberto El Patron/Del Rio rose to the top of WWE, AAA, and Impact over the course of the decade.  Johnny Morrison/Mundo was one of the heroes of Lucha Underground and a big sign that Impact was leaving their TNA past in the dust.  Zack Sabre Jr. is the current British heavyweight champion, and his grappling style has been his trademark around the world.  Bully Ray/Bubba Dudley showed his main event skills in TNA before ending the year as ECW’s first ever WWE Hall of Famer.  Nick “Magnus” Aldis blossomed from tag wrestler to singles star in TNA and is now carrying the NWA Title in its revival.  Adam Cole was a Ring of Honor champion, carried that to an appearance at WrestleKingdom, and is the Ric Flair of NXT as we speak.  Randy Orton‘s willingness to be Bryan’s foil aided in Bryan’s ascendancy, and his finisher has become a mainstream legend.  Psycho Clown led AAA’s most popular trio before headlining consecutive TripleManias in Apuestas, winning both.  Kurt Angle was seemingly on fumes for most of his TNA tenure, but still managed to carry the title with distinction before a late WWE comeback and Hall of Fame induction.  Prince Devitt/Finn Balor was Bullet Club’s founder and became a superstar in both NXT and WWE, but injuries have kept him from his full potential.  Samoa Joe in NXT was a godsend, providing the foil for both Nakamura and Balor, and he’s clearly been underutilized in both TNA and WWE.  The Miz has a WrestleMania main event win this decade and has been one of WWE’s most reliable heat-seekers the entire time.  Kota Ibushi was the superstar in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic and took that momentum to a G1 Climax win.  Dolph Ziggler‘s finish to the decade has taken the luster off, but his 2013 title win was one of the feel-good moments in Raw history.  Abyss held every title TNA had over the decade and, whether part of Immortal or Decay, was a strong hand in faction wars.  Adrian “PAC” Neville went from independent darling to NXT Champion, to the cornerstone of 205 Live, to an AEW blue-chip signing.

For the record, some people’s actions in the ring disqualified them from this list.  Otherwise, Jeff Hardy would have made the Top 25 and Sexy Star would’ve been an honorable mention.

There are my thoughts!  If this is TLDR, I’ll leave a summary list in the comments.  Feel free to tell me where you disagree (there’s no way you agree with all of this).  Merry Christmas and see you tomorrow for the Morning Chat Thread and the Indie Report!