Almost a year ago, we ranked the top 30 wrestlers that were currently working in the WWE. A lot has happened between now and then, so let’s run through an updated list to see who moved up, down, or who is completely off the list. One obvious change is only 20 will be ranked this time around as 30 seemed like a bit much – this one will focus on only the cream of the crop.
The criteria for the list will include how they have performed over the past year, including title reigns, feuds, matches, and their skills on the microphone or in the ring. We’ll also consider their potential going forward, a number of wrestlers selected have yet to peak, which ultimately will help their ranking. This list will not include those still in NXT, only those who were called up to the main roster in the past year will be considered. Unfortunately, that leaves out people like Bayley, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, The Revival, and Asuka who all would have showed up somewhere in the rankings.
Just missing the cut was Kalisto, who had a nice U.S. title run and has been a revelation in the ring. Unfortunately, that will probably be his ceiling (maybe Cruiserweight champion, if he gets on the right show) and his mic skills are horrendous; hopefully you saw his recent one when he said “Lucha things” and ran off to end the promo. Another wrestler just missing the cut is Bray Wyatt; his year was incredibly up and down, with really no good booking for The Wyatt Family. Maybe his time on SmackDown will turn things around, even though he’s done nothing but lose thus far.
Enough about those who missed the cut, here’s the best of what WWE has to offer!
20. Alexa Bliss
Alexa just barely makes the list thanks to her recent call-up to the main roster, via the WWE Draft, when she was sent over to SmackDown to show everyone just how “Blissed off” she really is. In terms of improvement, it’s hard to leave Alexa out of the conversation as she became a must-see part of NXT for the better part of 2016.
While managing Blake and Murphy, Alexa was always the most over person in the trio and eventually her star became so bright she had to go off on her own. This allowed her to become an even better speaker (she’s already one of the best in the women’s division) and more importantly, really round out her skills in the ring. With her chokehold STO, standing moonsault double knee drop, and the Twisted Bliss finisher, she’s really made the most out of her aggressive mean girl gimmick since changing from her chipper fairy days.
19. Brock Lesnar
Looking back on his year, Brock really hasn’t had a great one, thanks in part to being a part-time wrestler – his opportunities to shine are much fewer. Honestly, the part-time thing has grown a bit stale among a number of fans with more and more finding him less desirable these days. He finished off Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match at Night of Champions, was number 23 in the Royal Rumble (didn’t win), and then had a lackluster match against Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania 32. Recently, Ambrose called Lesnar out for his laziness, which could be attributed to Lesnar knowing he was going to be on UFC 200 and didn’t want to risk injury.
That’s been about it for him, at this point fans kind of know what to expect from Brock and thus his stock has dropped quite a bit since he defeated The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak. This isn’t to say it’s still not awesome to see him wrestle, his year just hasn’t been that spectacular, but if rumors are true, that could change with a championship run in the near future.
18. Becky Lynch
For a period of time, Becky’s friendship-gone-bad storyline against Charlotte was easily one of the best things going in WWE. Once Charlotte won the title, their friendship went on a downhill slide before Charlotte outright attacked Lynch, ending their friendship and leading to a number of solid matches between the two women. Throughout much of this feud, Becky was given plenty of time on the mic, many of which were WWE.com exclusives that cemented her as the best face talker in the women’s division. Highly recommend you search those out on YouTube as they range from funny to incredibly serious performances.
She then went on to have an amazing triple threat match with Sasha Banks and Charlotte at WrestleMania 32. It was so good most fans pegged it as the greatest women’s WrestleMania match ever, topping Mickie James and Trish Stratus’ WrestleMania 22 match. Afterwards, she started up a potentially awesome feud with Emma, but Emma’s back injury cut that short. Now on SmackDown, Becky is poised to become their Women’s champion in the near future.
17. John Cena
After having a “Wrestler of the Year” performance in the first eight months of 2015, Cena’s wrestling career came to a screeching halt. First, he took about two months off for personal time and to go film the Fox reality show, American Grit. Soon after he returned to the ring in December, Cena went on the shelf with a shoulder injury that would require surgery and keep him out for a number of months. As expected, he returned months sooner that original diagnosed, returning on a May 30th episode of Raw.
Since that time, he’s had a stellar feud with AJ Styles, losing to him at Money in the Bank thanks to interference from Gallows and Anderson. He then teamed up with Big Cass and Enzo to face (and defeat) The Club at Battleground and he’s currently scheduled to face Styles again at SummerSlam. The only reason Cena is this low on the rankings is because he was out for over half of the year, but make no mistake about it, he can still go in the ring with the best WWE has to offer.
16. Big Cass & Enzo
Even though Cass and Enzo never captured the NXT Tag titles, they still became the most over tag team, thanks to their endless catchphrases and improved in-ring abilities. It was only a matter of time before WWE called them up as they were basically can’t miss prospects, and sure enough, they didn’t miss. Since coming up back in April, these two have done nothing but entertain the fans with not only Enzo’s funny promos, but Cass’ long lists of things (he really knows his cheeses) and fiery ring work.
When Enzo got legit injured (concussion) during a match against The Vaudevillians, Cass was given the opportunity to show what he could do on his own and he didn’t disappoint. Rather than slow their momentum, Cass fighting for Enzo’s honor only boosted their popularity with fans. Enzo eventually returned and has been literally on fire with his promos, his creativity has put him already up with the elite talkers in the promotion. Give it a few more years and he could be considered one of the best all-time. With a few solid feuds these two should easily climb up the rankings next year.
15. Roman Reigns
Talk about a roller coaster year for Roman Reigns. It was clear WWE was pushing him to the moon and tried their best to get him over with the fans. They tried giving him a story of always coming up short for the title, even winning it for a few minutes before having Sheamus cash-in and take it away from him. Thanks to a slew of injuries, they had to get Triple H in there to help get Reigns over for his WrestleMania win, unfortunately the match didn’t work and was incredibly long.
He got the title, put on some great matches with AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose, but unfortunately he failed a drug test that led to a 30 day suspension while he was champion. The title was taken off of him, later he put over Finn Balor (who will take on Rollins for the Universal title at SummerSlam), and seemingly has been bumped down the card a bit. He’s feuding with Rusev at the moment, which should make for some great matches, but ultimately the Reigns train has slowed down for the time being. Maybe it’s for the best, Reigns is not the next Cena, and it’s clear he can’t be crammed down fans’ throats, but could still become very popular if WWE just lets him gain fans more organically in his current role.
14. Finn Balor
At number 14, some might feel this is a bit low for Finn, but his year will vary depending on how much you enjoyed his time with Samoa Joe. The two actually worked together for awhile as they teamed up to win the Dust Rhodes Tag Team Classic tournament with Joe later turning on Balor, kicking off their extended feud which took up most of his year. He had a great match against Shinsuke Nakamura before getting drafted over to Raw where it’s clear he’s getting pushed right to the top.
Since he’s 35, it’s a good move by WWE to not waste any time with his talent, he’s proven himself in the ring and his gimmick should work just as well with the masses. He’ll be going up against Seth Rollins for the Universal Title at SummerSlam, and has a really good chance of winning it. Balor is another candidate who could be much higher on the list this time next year.
13. Rusev (and Lana)
This ranking is based more on the past three or four months and the potential Rusev has going forward, now that he’s back with Lana. For the first chunk of the year things were rough for these two as they were separated and put in some really dumb storylines, thanks in part to Lana receiving heat for putting their engagement photos on social media. After a Rusev/Summer Rae vs. Ziggler/Lana feud was cut short due to Lana’s injury, Rusev was stuck in a League of Nations stable alongside Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, and Wade Barrett.
Individually, these guys have a good following, but as a group it just didn’t really click, WWE attempted to throw them together, expecting magic to happen, and it never materialized. After a long downhill slide, the group was finally broken up and Rusev got back with Lana. He was able to win back the US title and has resumed his dominate monster heel gimmick, the sky is the limit with these two, hopefully they got a shot in the main event over the next year.
12. American Alpha
Gradually changing to a babyface tag team was probably the best thing American Alpha could have done for their careers. The fiery tag team was all too easy to cheer for as long-timer NXT wrestler Jason Jordan was finally able to find a solid partner in Gable. Thanks to some fantastic matches against Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, and The Revival, these two became incredibly popular with the Full Sail crowd.
Gable and Jordan were able to win the NXT Tag titles at NXT TakeOver: Dallas and hold them for 68 days before dropping them back to The Revival. The only reason their reign was on the shorter side was because they were drafted to SmackDown to kick-start their tag division. At the moment, they are considered the top dogs and should be pushed as such over the next year, so expect to see them a few spots higher next year with a title reign or two under their belts.
11. Seth Rollins
Now some of you may be saying “Why is he this high, he missed just as much time as Cena did!” The difference is potential, with Rollins eight years younger and Cena’s schedule easing up due to outside commitments. Plus, he’s got Cena beat in the ring at this point in his career, so we can expect some incredible matches right around the corner, starting at SummerSlam, where he might win Raw’s biggest title against Finn Balor.
His other big match since returning was against Ambrose and Reigns which had a weird build-up, but the match itself was very well paced. Rollins is very comfortable on the mic (even though his segments can be hit or miss still) he has the versatility to turn face at any point. Since coming back, fans have had no trouble cheering him on multiple occasions which opens up the potential for him to switch and feud with guys like Kevin Owens, Rusev, and Chris Jericho.
How has Cesaro’s year gone? Well, “Always the brides mate, never the bride” is probably the most appropriate response since he’s consistently in the conversation, but still hasn’t received that push to get him in the upper part of WWE’s roster. He went down with a torn rotator cuff that kept him out for from November until April, but it did allow for him to develop his James Bond (or Professional) gimmick with an updated entrance that included a tear-away suit.
With the “Cesaro Section” in full swing, fans were expecting him to go up the card, and yet even with all of his fantastic matches, nothing has yet to come of it. After being drafted to Raw (at a pretty low pick) Cesaro decided to shoot on his displeasure of not being picked higher and how he should have gone to a wrestling-focused SmackDown. Even though he went off-script, WWE allowed the angle to continue on, maybe we’ll see a trade down the road? Cesaro has really rounded out his entire gimmick, so here’s hoping he’ll be rewarded in the near future with a title run.
9. The Miz
This is another ranking fans will either think is way too high or too low, but to be clear, Miz is doing some of his best work ever (the whole Mizdow thing was good too, but that was more because of Damien Sandow). After playing hot potato with the Intercontinental title with Ziggler early on, Miz closed out his Mizdow angle in somewhat disappointing fashion, thanks to rushed booking from creative and because he had a film to make.
The big change came on Raw when Miz was able to win the IC title away from Zack Ryder with the help of a returning Maryse, who has been by his side since. This new wrinkle to his gimmick has been wonderful, giving fans just more reasons to boo the hell out of him. Being a true heel in the WWE is a tough thing to be and Miz has found a way to become one of the guys that fans absolutely can’t stand. After 130 days, Miz is still the champ and will be challenged by people like Apollo Crews, Baron Corbin, and Kalisto going forward.
8. Sami Zayn
After being gone for seven months from injury, Zayn got back into the swing of things in NXT before getting a shot at Nakamura at NXT TakeOver: Dallas. If you have yet to see the match, it’s absolutely unbelievable and should be seen as soon as possible. For the first part of 2016, Zayn would make appearances on both NXT and the main roster before making his official move up in March by restarting his feud with long-time rival, Kevin Owens. Depending on how much you enjoy this feud, this ranking could be a bit high, but the anger shown between these two is just so much fun to watch.
Both wrestlers would continue to run into each other over the next few months before finally have two outstanding matches at Payback and Battleground. Their second PPV singles’ match was advertised as their last battle, but if you know their long history, they will fight forever. Currently, Zyan is working the midcard and hasn’t held any titles, but when the end of the year comes around you should expect to see his name pop up in a number of “Best matches” articles.
7. The New Day
Going full Mauro’s random pop culture reference, as Drake would say “Started from the bottom, now we’re here.” Kofi, Xavier, and Big E continued to have an amazing run with a gimmick that was originally dead in the water. The unicorn-loving trio has remained WWE Tag champs for the past year, becoming not only one of WWE’s hottest acts, but leading the way in merchandise sales too. These guys are so popular they have their own cereal (Booty-O’s) – what wrestlers can say they achieved that?
The great thing about these guys is they are always trying new things; some work, some don’t, but they always stay fresh with this mentality. Xavier has become a legend outside of the ring with the help of his trombone, playing away as the action unfolds. The only bad news is New Day could be coming to a close with rumors of a break-up coming at some point in the future. The silver lining from this is that Big E might finally receive that big push fans have wanted to see for awhile.
6. Chris Jericho
Talk about changing things up on the fly! Jericho returned in January to work a full-time schedule and let’s just say he had to kick the ring rust off as fans weren’t really feeling his comeback. “Dad Jericho” started to run around social media, thanks to his tweener vibe that came off pretty corny to fans. Thanks to a feud with AJ Styles, Jericho was able to go heel, and when we say go heel, we mean he went deep into the dark side.
With his scarf and no shirt ensemble and “Stupid idiot” line ready to go, Jericho has become one of the best heels in the WWE in quick fashion. After AJ, Jericho had a very entertaining feud with Dean Ambrose that ended with a sub-par Asylum Match, which was basically a steel cage with a bunch of weapons hung all over it. At the moment, Jericho is teaming up with Kevin Owens to take on Cass and Enzo, which should be fun for fans. At 45 and with a bunch of outside ventures, Jericho’s career is winding down, so enjoy his current work while you still can.
5. Sasha Banks
This ranking is probably too low, but her two classic matches against Bayley were counted last year, so technically we’re starting slightly after them. Much of Sasha’s year was spent with Team B.A.D. as WWE’s Divas Revolution kicked off. A hit on her resume this year would be due from missing a number of months partly due to injuries, but mostly because creative wanted to bring her back at the right time.
Once kicking Team B.A.D. to the curb, she went on to have an amazing match at WrestleMania 32 against Charlotte and Becky. After a few months away, Sasha returned to target Charlotte and her Women’s title. She had a number of matches against her (and Dana Brooke) while also bringing Bayley up for a one-time appearance as her mystery partner. Sasha’s big moment came on Raw though when she was able to defeat Charlotte for the WWE Women’s title, much to the surprise of the fans. The two are going to go again at SummerSlam and as long as she stays healthy, Sasha should move up a few spots next year.
4. Kevin Owens
Owens has had a heck of a year, winning the Intercontinental title on two occasions while having a number of great matches along the way. His feud with Sami Zayn continued to impress fans on a larger scale, which took up a good chunk of his year. Now on Raw, Owens has a chance to start working the main event scene, especially with Finn Balor on the same show.
Owens continues to be a wizard on the microphone and has the ability to put on a stellar match with anyone in the ring. His attention to detail is really what sets him apart from the roster, he understands it’s the little things that can really make a segment with a simple action (taunt, cheap shot, facial expression, etc). Not sure if he will hold the WWE title in the next year, but he should be at least fighting for it.
Ranked at 27th last year, Charlotte had one of the bigger jumps in the rankings, thanks mostly to winning the Women’s title (then Divas Championship) away from Nikki Bella last September. Up until recently, she held the title the entire time, becoming a force in the division that nobody could touch. With the help of Ric Flair, Charlotte was able to weasel her way out a number of matches to help build that heel heat for her gimmick.
Once WWE decided to take Ric off-screen, they put Dana Brooke with her to continue the shenanigans outside of the ring. Initially, she was a bit awkward on the mic, but Charlotte has evolved to become a loudmouth confident heel that has no problem shouting at other wrestlers or even the fans. Along with her fantastic feud against Becky Lynch and her WrestleMania 32 match, it’s tough to rank any other women higher than Charlotte at this moment. Depending on how Sasha does over the next few months, those two could be potentially flipped.
2. Dean Ambrose
After losing a stupid amount of PPV matches, fans were starting to wonder if Ambrose was going to be the forgotten Shield member. That notion started to change when he won the Intercontinental title at TLC, and then retained it in a fantastic Last Man Standing Match against Kevin Owens at the Royal Rumble. Ambrose then got a taste of the main event as he was involved in a triple threat match against Reigns and Lesnar at Fastlane. Even though he didn’t win, he was still included in the story when Reigns had to miss a few weeks due to getting nasal surgery.
Ambrose was booked to take on Triple H for the WWE title at Roadblock and received huge reactions that may have shown WWE that Ambrose could become a big player for the company. He then feuded with Lesnar and Jericho, before getting another shot at the WWE title. Ambrose won the MITB ladder match and then cashed-in that very night to defeat Seth Rollins for the WWE title. He was drafted to SmackDown as their top pick and is expected to have a lengthy run for him as he helps carry the show to new heights.
1. AJ Styles
How good has AJ Styles been? For starters, he wasn’t even ranked last year, okay, to be fair, he wasn’t even in the WWE yet, but that still shows what he accomplished in his first year. Styles debuted at the Royal Rumble to a huge ovation that WWE wasn’t really expecting from the man who made his name in TNA and NJPW. Styles started off going against Jericho, where he defeated Y2J at WrestleMania, then taking on Reigns on two straight PPVs for the WWE title. Styles may not have won, but he put on some great performances that showed everyone he wasn’t playing around.
WWE then booked Styles against Cena and the two have put together a fantastic feud with not only great matches but some really awesome promos. With “Beat John Cena Up” as his trending phrase, Styles quickly made himself the top heel drafted by SmackDown, who also grabbed Cena. The two will go against each other at SummerSlam and it’s possible we could see Styles get another win over Superman. Styles’ talent has been so eye-opening that even Vince McMahon himself has said he wished he signed Styles ten years ago.