2018 is almost six months old, and it’s been quite the year in professional wrestling.
We’ve seen the rise of Cody Rhodes outside of WWE with his “All-In” venture; the in-ring return of Daniel Bryan; the emergence of Ronda Rousey; the career resurrection of Seth Rollins; and the Japan adventure of Chris Jericho.
Here are my Top 10 Wrestlers in the world thus far in 2018.
- Daniel Bryan.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Daniel Bryan’s miraculous fairytale has had a glorious epilogue this year when it was revealed that Bryan had finally passed WWE medicals to get cleared for an in-ring return. The Yes! Man had his first match back for the first time in nearly three years at WrestleMania, teaming with Shane McMahon to take down Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in what was a rather deflating effort, but the real story was Bryan’s feel-good return to action.
Since then, Bryan has been saddled with a dud of a rivalry with the recently released Big Cass. Bryan won every match between the pair and also dominated the segments in between. WWE were making their point pretty clear here – Daniel Bryan was the star, not Big Cass. It now seems as if Bryan will transition into a feud with The Bludgeon Brothers which is an odd direction to take, but time will tell on that front. There’s no doubt that the match everyone wants to see Bryan have is with The Miz, but I think we have to be patient with this one. It will definitely happen, and it may even feature the WWE Championship if things go to plan.
- Roman Reigns.
The Big Dog. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying the talent Roman Reigns has in the ring. He rarely has a bad match, that Jinder Mahal debacle aside. But that was more on The Maharaja, who I doubt could even have a good match with Shawn Michaels or Ric Flair. Back to Reigns, and he’s had some year to say the least.
He once again became runner up in the Royal Rumble Match, this time succumbing to Shinsuke Nakamura, before rebounding inside in the Elimination Chamber toppling Braun Strowman to earn a shot at Brock Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania. Despite kicking out of five F-5s, Reigns was unable to dethrone The Beast. This was a complete Vince Russo level swerve by Vince McMahon, as all the fans fully expected Roman to come out on top. As they did at The Greatest Royal Rumble event when Reigns and Lesnar clashed one more time, inside a Steel Cage. Technically Roman won as his feet touched first in what had to be a botch, but Lesnar retained because… swerve! In between, Reigns saw off Samoa Joe in the Backlash main event, and is now feuding with Bobby Lashley which is really a warm up for a summer showdown with Brock Lesnar.
- Braun Strowman.
The Monster Amongst Men has had some year so far. He’s had to come a long way since being buried by Brock Lesnar at No Mercy last October, but he’s done well. At the Royal Rumble he tangled with The Beast Incarnate again, but this time it was Kane who ate the pin. Strowman was protected, as he was the next month inside the Elimination Chamber where he was permitted to eliminate five men before ultimately and predictably falling to Roman Reigns.
At WrestleMania, Strowman was saddled with teaming with a ten-year-old kid to dethrone Cesaro and Sheamus of the Tag Team Championship. Not the best use of Strowman at the biggest show of the year. Things got better for The Monster Amongst Men in Saudi Arabia when he won the Greatest Royal Rumble of all time, and was even presented with the trophy by Vince McMahon himself. Strowman went from strength to strength, winning the men’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match to pretty much guarantee himself as a future Universal Champion.
- Ronda Rousey
What a revelation Ronda Rousey has been since signing for WWE. Many had their doubts about the former UFC Champion, but she has been nothing short of exceptional. She is a complete natural in the ring, and her two appearances in the ring thus far have received high praise and regarded as the best matches of the entire year. She reminds me of when Brock Lesnar broke into the business and was hungry to succeed. Lesnar was also a natural and rose to the top of the business due to his talent, but then got lazy and decided it was all about the money. Let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen with Rousey.
Ronda Rousey made her official WWE debut in the closing stages of the Royal Rumble where she strolled down to the ring, faced off with Alexa Bliss, Charlotte and Asuka, then pointed to the WrestleMania sign indicating she would be gracing the Grandest Stage Of Them All. At The Showcase Of The Immortals, Rousey teamed with WWE Hall Of Famer Kurt Angle to defeat the tyrannical combination of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Many questioned whether Ronda could make the switch from the Octagon to the squared circle but she delivered the answers in emphatic fashion with a show-stealing performance. Next on the agenda for Rousey was a Women’s Championship Match with Nia Jax at Money In The Bank. Yet again the bout exceeded expectations, and Rousey’s selling was outstanding. She came up short due to Alexa Bliss interfering, but she made Little Miss Bliss pay for that with a brutal beatdown the next night on Raw which resulted in her storyline suspension. Rousey will be back for SummerSlam, and one can safely assume her opponent will be Bliss and the match will be a great one.
- Chris Jericho.
Has anyone had a late career renaissance more exceptional and successful than Chris Jericho? I’m not sure. The legendary sure-fire future WWE Hall Of Famer has been at his creative best this year, despite nearing the ripe old age of 50. He’s not only proven his worth in the biggest wrestling companies in the world, but he’s even gone to New Japan, redeveloped himself and made major headlines for what he did there.
Jericho shocked the wrestling world when he announced he would be facing Kenny Omega in New Japan earlier this year. Some questioned whether Jericho could still hang with someone who many regard as the greatest wrestler not in WWE, but he blew those doubters away with a five-star brutal classic, even wearing a crimson mask during it. Jericho continued to make history in New Japan by capturing their Intercontinental Championship in another barnstormer of a bout. Jericho has said he’s having the most fun he’s had in a long time and has no intention to return to WWE anytime soon, but he did make a cameo for the company at their Greatest Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia. His most recent gimmick was all about him referring to himself as the Best In The World, and if you don’t agree then…. You’ve just made The List!
- Johnny Gargano.
The next Shawn Michaels. That’s what pretty much everyone has already labelled Johnny Gargano, and for good reason. The NXT talent is awesome, no question about that. His rivalry alone with Tommy Ciampa this year has become legendary, and one of the matches even garnered a five-star rating from WWE-hater Dave Meltzer.
Gargano is small, but so was Shawn Michaels and that didn’t stop him from becoming the greatest in-ring performer of all time. Gargano has a long way to go before achieving that, but he’s certainly going the right way about it. He’s already created a niche following for himself, and those same fans are waiting with baited breath to see him make his main roster debut in WWE. Just imagine the classic encounters he could have with the likes of AJ Styles, Seth Rollins and even Roman Reigns.
- Alexa Bliss.
This might be a controversial one, but for my money there hasn’t been a better female performer in WWE all year than Little Miss Bliss. She has her character down to perfection, her mic skills are second to none and her in-ring work has improved no end. She has become the cornerstone of the women’s division in WWE in 2018.
Alexa Bliss opened the year by successfully defending her Raw Women’s Championship in the first-ever women’s Elimination Chamber Match, knocking off Sasha Banks, Bayley, Sonya Deville, Mandy Rose and Mickie James. The bout was stellar, and Alexa’s fake face turn promo afterwards was priceless. Alexa then moved onto a program with Nia Jax which unfortunately had a bullying story attached to it. In 2018, WWE don’t need to resort to such cheap heat. Alexa would ultimately lose the bout, but would get the last laugh after capturing the Money In The Bank Briefcase and cashing in on Jax to become a five-time Women’s Champion. Not bad for someone people said was too small to be anything other than a ring valet in wrestling.
- AJ Styles
AJ Styles is truly Phenomenal. Despite being in the latter stages of his career he keeps churning in classic after classic. He may not be the best on the mic, but he certainly makes up for that with his in-ring quality. 2018 hasn’t been his most vintage year by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s still not many in the world on his level. He’s the WWE Champion for a reason. He’s earned Vince McMahon’s trust which would’ve been unfathomable to think just three years ago.
The year opened with AJ Styles successfully defending his WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble in a Handicap Match against the comedy pairing of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The bout could’ve been better, but it did its job in advancing the narrative of the authority figure (Shane McMahon) holding down Owens and Zayn, and also keeping the title on Styles so he could face Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania in a WWE dream match. Sadly for the purists, Styles and Nakamura simply could not replicate the chemistry they had in New Japan, and constantly let fans down with their mediocre battles. Try as he might, AJ Styles just could not get anything good out of the broken down body of Nakamura. Styles will next defend the WWE Championship at Extreme Rules, this time against Rusev in what promises to be a sleeper contender for match of the year.
Not a lot of wrestlers become more famous after leaving WWE, but Cody Rhodes is proving the exception to that rule. He’s become an internet darling with his sensational performances and character development in ROH, regularly having four-star battles. It shows what a waste WWE made of him. However, having said that, Rhodes has never looked like a WWE main eventer to me. His style is also all wrong for WWE PPV main events, which is why he excelled in the mid card, but he wanted more and credit to him for taking that risk and making a success of it.
Despite all of his accolades this year for his in-ring credentials, the most praise has to go to Cody Rhodes as a promoter. His “All-In” event sold out in a matter of minutes, and promises to be an unforgettable PPV. The likes of The Young Bucks, Rey Mysterio, Magnus, and more will be on hand to help Rhodes deliver something very special indeed. WWE are reportedly not happy about Rhodes’ success outside of their domain, but there’s no denying Cody’s talent in and out of the ring. He’s certainly The American Dream’s son, that’s for sure.
- Seth Rollins.
No contest here. Seth Rollins wins this one hands down. He’s been by far the best wrestler in the world in 2018. It’s looked as if he’s made it his mission to have the hottest match of the night, every night, and he’s succeeded in a huge way. He deserves a lot of credit for coming back from a serious knee injury, being relegated to the mid-card and still managing to be the best thing about WWE.
He opened the year in a nondescript tag team with Jason Jordan which was apparently set up for the pair to clash at WrestleMania, but an untimely injury to Jordan scrapped those plans, thankfully. Moving back into the singles scene, Rollins made history by wrestling the longest sustained period in Raw history during a highly-charged Gauntlet Match where he defeated both John Cena and Roman Reigns. No mean feat at all.
At WrestleMania, Seth Rollins became a Grand Slam Champion when he captured the Intercontinental Championship in a sterling Triple Threat opener opposite The Miz and Finn Balor. Rollins began issuing open challenges for the title, knocking off the likes of Mojo Rawley, Jinder Mahal, Elias and more in very competitive and entertaining bouts. Following his shocking loss to Dolph Ziggler, Rollins now has the opportunity to segue back into the main event scene and clash with Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam. If anyone deserves such a push, it’s The Architect.