The Top 30 Wrestlers Of The 2000s

The 2000s was one of the most exciting periods in professional wrestling history for many reasons. In North America, WCW and ECW closed their doors, leaving the now-public WWE as the unquestioned king of pro wrestling in the Western hemisphere. In Japan, both NJPW and AJPW experienced enormous changes and shocks, leading to a new promotion, Pro Wrestling NOAH, rising from the ashes and taking over the Japanese wrestling market for years. Finally, in Mexico, a slew of new stars gained international recognition, and lucha libre was given greater exposure.

Given all of these changes in the wrestling industry, it’s unsurprising that we, as fans, got to watch such an interesting blend of wrestlers perform during this decade. Old favorites, rising stars, outlandish characters, simple and one-dimensional grapplers, big monsters and tiny luchadores, we witnessed all of them during this interesting period.

But who was the best?

This article seeks to answer that question. It will rank the 30 best wrestlers from the 2000s from worst to best, based on a combination of characteristics: technical skill, charisma, drawing power, match record, longevity, and impact on the wrestling industry. To be considered for this list, wrestlers will have to have wrestled for a minimum of two years non-stop during the 2000s, and need to have wrestled in at least one major and high-profile match that garnered them international recognition.

29 Takeshi Morishima



Terrific brawler

Devastating offense

Can be surprisingly agile when he wanted to


He rarely wanted to

Incredibly fat

So fat, in fact, that Vince McMahon likened him to a ‘fat Japanese girl’ during a WWE tryout match

Morishima was one of the few NOAH wrestlers to make a name for himself in the United States, thanks to a series of great matches in ROH against many strong opponents, including Bryan Danielson. It wasn’t hard to see why; despite being one of the most rotund wrestlers active during the 2000's, Morishima was surprisingly agile, capable of backing up his intense brawler style with impressive cartwheels and agility.

Of course, it didn’t help that he hit incredibly hard, which really made him popular whenever he went. Because he hit so hard, he was able to draw in fans who had grown tired of the overly-theatrical style that had become dominant following WWE’s takeover of the wrestling industry. Sadly, his look was his own downfall; it prevented him from being taken seriously as a wrestler when he was given a WWE tryout, and it came back to haunt him in later years as well.

28 Dragon Kid



Mesmerizing cruiserweight

Awesome gimmick, attire, and name

Moved so quickly in the ring that watching his videos requires slow-motion



His appearances were mostly limited to ROH and DGUSA

Stopped using the Dragonrana mid-way through the decade

Dragon Kid was basically Rey Mysterio on steroids. He moved with unbelievable speed and agility, and did things in the ring that few others could even think of doing. Some of his most impressive tricks included being able to run on the ropes before drop-kicking his opponents, multiple-rotation Hurricanranas, being able to execute pretty much any aerial maneuver conceivable, and his always-mesmerizing Dragonrana finisher.

27 Low Ki/Senshi/Kaval



Highly athletic junior heavyweight wrestler

Ridiculously stiff offense

Enjoyable to watch


Subpar promo skills

Has a reputation for starting problems with others

His voice doesn’t match his body

One of the biggest highlights of the independent scene during the 2000's was known as Senshi or Low Ki. He made waves in the smaller promotions as both one of the best all-round wrestlers and especially as one of the stiffest kickers around. It was this legitimacy and "stiffness" that drew fans to him, as they wanted to watch him inflict real punishment in a profession dominated by theatrics and illusions. His realistic approach led to some truly fantastic matches in ROH and TNA, especially in his X-Division matches and his cross-promotional matches with fellow kicking expert KENTA.

26 Keiji Mutoh



Unbelievably popular and charismatic

Had surprisingly good matches despite getting older

Invented the Shining Wizard


Didn’t always put 100% effort into his matches

Seemed to over-rely on said Shining Wizard

Has knees are now so weak that he can rarely wrestle in long matches anymore

In 2001, the man known as the Great Muta re-invented himself in a major way. Keiji Mutoh changed his look, started wrestling under his own name, and created one of the most popular wrestling moves ever in the Shining Wizard. Shortly thereafter, he jumped from NJPW to AJPW and launched the era of ‘Pro Wrestling Love’.

25 Christopher Daniels

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‘King of the Indies’

Could work both as face and heel

Performed the Best Moonsault Ever


Never won a World title in a major promotion, despite deserving it

Was overlooked in TNA in favour of ‘ex-WWE guys’

Only had one 5-star match in TNA

Christopher Daniels was a fantastic wrestler from the first moment he stepped into a wrestling ring. It was unbelievably versatile, as demonstrated by his ability to adapt to any wrestling or booking situation. Whether he was working as a face or a heel, under his own name or under a different gimmick, in singles or tag team competition, Daniels rose to the occasion and delivered.

24 Claudio Castagnoli



Unbelievably strong

Highly charismatic

Throws the best uppercuts in the world


Has more tag team accomplishments than singles achievements

May not cut the best promos

History as a comedy wrestler may have worked against him in some respects

Long before Cesaro was swinging people around and showing his amazing strength to the world in a WWE ring, Claudio Castagnoli was doing the same on the independent circuit. Not only that, he was able to showcase his charisma and adaptability by playing a wide variety of characters.

23 Naomichi Marufuji

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One of NOAH’s most exciting junior heavyweights

Fantastic move-set

Capable of working with pretty much anyone





For many years, Naomichi Marufuji’s career was linked directly to KENTA’s. Marufuji was Misawa’s protégé at the same time that KENTA was Kobashi’s, and the two of them spent many years teaming together and fighting each other. These led to some of the greatest matches in NOAH’s history which, given how impressive NOAH was during the first half of the 2000's, says a lot.

22 Rob Van Dam



Unorthodox wrestler that stood out from a crowd

Excellent hardcore & high-flying style

Ridiculously popular


Suffered from backstage politicking

Made several critical mistakes during important pushes

Did little to adapt his gimmick in later years

Rob Van Dam stood out like a sore thumb in WWE. Where almost everyone followed a strict and easy-to-follow style, RVD was unorthodox and did things differently. When others were strict and passionate in their personalities, RVD was laid-back and easygoing. These things made him very popular with the WWE audience, especially since his popularity carried over from his old ECW days.

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Ridiculously popular wrestler

Unmatched ratings draw and merchandise mover

Outstanding finisher and charisma


Left WWE in 2002 under controversial circumstances

Had his last match at WrestleMania XIX

Appeared sparsely thereafter

Steve Austin was the megastar that catapulted WWE into the future. From 1996 to early 2002, he was the unquestioned king of WWE, the man who could always be relied on to draw in the big crowds. He was the ideal superstar in every way, and it was hoped that he would carry the company form nay years during the 2000's.

21 Samoa Joe




Can execute jumping and diving moves despite his size

Legitimacy from martial arts background


Lacks the ‘superstar’ physique

Wildly underused in TNA

No, I mean REALLY underused in TNA

It didn’t take long for Samoa Joe to become a huge draw wherever he went. Despite being built like a large brawler, Joe quickly became a far more credible athlete by using a wide variety of submission holds and diving attacks that were quite unexpected for a man his size. He quickly made a big name for himself in Ring of Honor with his outstanding rivalry with CM Punk and his excellent match with Kenta Kobashi.

20 Jun Akiyama



Incredibly stiff offense

Impressive amateur wrestling background

Long catalog of excellent matches


Never became the huge main event draw everyone hoped he’d become

Spent over a decade in Kobashi’s shadow

Experienced booking problems while in NOAH

Known as one of the ‘Famous Five’, Jun Akiyama was one of the most outstanding wrestlers of the 1990s, and that reputation followed him into the 2000s. Akiyama was the wrestler around whom NOAH was initially built, and he proved his worth as a draw by out-wrestling virtually everyone.

19 Brock Lesnar



Unmatched combination of strength, agility and amateur wrestling experience

Capable of performing power, aerial, submission and any other kind of wrestling moves

Finished the decade as an internationally-recognized badass


Ended his first WWE run prematurely

Failed in his attempt at pro football

Caused many legal problems for both WWE and NJPW

Brock Lesnar was the ideal combination of everything that Vince loved in an athlete, and was unbelievable when he wrestled in WWE from 2002 to 2004. During that short period, Lesnar demolished the likes of Hulk Hogan to The Rock to the Undertaker to Ric Flair and even Steve Austin. As if destroying some of the biggest names in WWE history wasn’t enough, Lesnar also became the youngest WWE Champion in history, and worked several fantastic matches opposite Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, and others.

18 Chris Benoit

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Awesome technical wrestler

Ridiculous workhorse

Was committed to helping rookies in WWE improve their in-ring skills


Was sent back to the midcard by 2005 without any explanation

Was then send to ECW, despite being a popular draw

Has become persona non grata in WWE

For many years, Chris Benoit was one of the pillars that held WWE’s locker room together. A time-tested workhorse, Benoit wasn’t just one of the most technically-skilled wrestlers in WWE; he was also very old school and respectful of WWE’s traditions, and took athleticism and keeping in shape very seriously. This made him one of the most respected figures in WWE by both his peers and by his fans.

17 The Rock



Outstanding talker with unbelievable charisma

Fantastic chemistry with many different wrestlers

Strong worker when it was required of him


Was more interested in Hollywood than wrestling by early 2000's

Over-rated finisher

Caused a massive talent shortage upon departure

There wasn’t a single person more charismatic or savvy with a microphone during the 2000's more than The Rock. Even though he only lasted in WWE until 2004 (and after 2002 he was there mostly on a part-time/short-term basis), his influence on WWE cannot be ignored. He was unbelievably popular, and always got an enormous reaction from the audience, regardless of whom he was sharing the ring with.

16 CM Punk



Excellent, versatile wrestler

Natural charisma and ring presence

Very comfortable with a microphone


Has a notorious attitude problem

Also has an image problem in WWE

Must have broken many women’s hearts given his reputation as a ‘Casanova’

If there’s one wrestler who really showed passion, determination and commitment to pro wrestling, it was CM Punk. He truly started at the bottom, working in IWA-Mid South and in TNA as a mid-card wrestler. But over time, he became a wrestler worth watching. Though not as chiseled as other top stars, Punk made up for his shortcomings with his amazing promo skills, natural heel persona, and excellent technical wrestling against the top stars of the independent circuit.


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Excellent kickboxing-centered wrestler

Wildly popular both domestically and internationally

Kicked people HARD


Kicked people HARD


May have p*ssed off some people for his style

KENTA was the most bad-ass rookie in the 2000's. Booked as having a little man complex, KENTA made up for his short stature by hitting people as hard as possible and executing a lot of impressive moves that many of his larger compatriots couldn’t. This made him one of the most popular draws in NOAH and abroad, but it also garnered him some controversy. KENTA hit people extremely hard almost all the time, and even by Japanese standards, that can become a liability more than an asset.

14 Randy Orton



Third-generation wrestler

Excellent physique and technical skill

Outstanding natural heel


Disappointing babyface

Not the best at promos

Had an attitude problem backstage

WWE pushed Randy Orton to the moon early on for very good reason: he had the ideal combination of family ties, physical attributes, and personality needed to thrive in professional wrestling. He had the look that Vince wanted, he was a fantastic heel, and he seemed to make everything in the ring look easy, hence JBL’s constant repetition of those words. These assets led Orton to considerable success in WWE, including him becoming the youngest-ever World Heavyweight Champion.

13 Jeff Hardy



Ridiculously popular

Awesome, unorthodox style

Impressive merchandise mover


Struggled with drug problems throughout the decade

Short World Title reigns

Over-relied on high spots and weapons at times

Jeff Hardy’s a rare case in pro wrestling: even after he makes so many mistakes (as seen by his personal choices and substance abuse problems), even after he keeps going through the same storylines, even after he fails to make any major changes to his wrestling style or persona, he stays wildly popular with the audience.

12 Eddie Guerrero



Excellent wrestler

Unbelievably charismatic

Helped change the perception of ‘small wrestlers’ in a big man’s world


Struggled with being World Champion

Sadly passed away far too early

His death was exploited for ratings

If there was one wrestler in WWE who really deserved to be at the top of the ladder, it was Eddie Guerrero. He was a tireless workhorse who worked unbelievably hard and did whatever necessary to get over with the audience. Even when he was supposed to be a heel, or when he was put against bigger stars, some fans still cheered for him because they knew how good of a wrestler he was.

11 Chris Jericho



Outstanding technical wrestler

Impressive charisma and microphone skills

Took part in many memorable moments and matches


Wasn’t taken seriously as a draw during his Undisputed Championship reign

Left WWE for two years

The Codebreaker isn’t as cool a finisher

From January 2000 to December 2009, Chris Jericho could always be relied on to put on a great match, cut a great promo, and make a good rivalry great. Whether it was his excellent feuds with Shawn Michaels in both 2003 and 2008, his many multi-man matches, or his quickly-organized yet well-executed feud with Rey Mysterio in 2009, Jericho was more than capable of excellent matches.

10 Kenta Kobashi



Still an awesome wrestler, despite spending almost two years on the shelf

Put on several outstanding matches during this decade

Had a two-year reign of excellence as NOAH’s GHC Heavyweight Champion


Basically had no more functioning knees by 2006

Became a semi-regular draw by late 2007

Experienced considerable health-related setbacks that damaged his career and NOAH’s success

Kenta Kobashi may have been the best wrestler in the world during his prime. Even though he spent over a year on the shelf with extensive knee surgery, Kobashi still managed to become arguably the biggest wrestler on the entire planet during the early 2000's.

9 Edge



Masterful gimmicks and character work

Evolved from ‘glorified tag team wrestler’ to ‘certified main-eventer’

Easily one of the best heels in recent WWE history


Lost his impressive physique by the end of the decade

Executed one of the least-impressive Spears

Didn’t have that many top opponents towards the end of the decade

Edge was one of the biggest success stories of the entire 2000's. He began the decade as a ‘glorified tag team wrestler’ with a cheesy comedy gimmick, and finished it as the most decorated wrestler in WWE history. 11 World Championships, a staggering 14 tag team championships and numerous other accolades are all testament to his vast skill and abilities. He really matured into a top wrestler by the mid-2000s, becoming one of the biggest and best heels in recent memory.

8 Rey Mysterio



Outstanding cruiserweight wrestler

Amazing draw

Probably made WWE millions in merchandise sales


Suffered from extensive knee problems throughout the decade

Had an abysmal World Title run

Became repetitive towards the end of the decade

Rey Mysterio was the perfect, multi-use tool for WWE. He had an exciting and eye-catching wrestling style that drew in casual and die-hard wrestling fans alike. He was a natural underdog that people loved to gravitate towards, making him a natural babyface. He was a beloved superhero that everyone enjoyed watching, and he made WWE millions in merchandise.

7 Triple H



Excellent physique

Great finisher

Masterful heel persona and ring psychology


Allegations of backstage politicking made people genuinely disinterested in him

Often put on repetitive matches

Spent way too much time in the Title picture

While some might dismiss HHH’s long time in the World Title picture to backstage politics, the fact is that Triple H was a great wrestler in many respects. He had the look of a superstar, without a doubt. He had an excellent understanding of ring psychology, owing to his training from Killer Kowalski. He had, and still possesses, great charisma and comfort with a microphone.

The only real marks against him were that his matches and feuds became highly repetitive, and the evidence that supports his allegations of corruption is too prominent to ignore. Say what you want about his flaws; HHH was a tremendous superstar for many years, and his current position as part of the Authority is proof of his commitment to, and understanding of, the wrestling business. 

6 The Undertaker



Outstanding gimmick work

Started putting on better and better matches

Elevated many top stars during this decade


The American Badass gimmick is widely forgotten in WWE

Also took part in many abysmal matches

Was also paired with several failure opponents and partners

There were many reports that The Undertaker planned on retiring several times during this decade, first around 2000 and then again around 2005. Thankfully, that never came to pass, and the Undertaker continued his long-standing tradition of being one of the most entertaining and venerated wrestlers in history. Undertaker managed to re-define himself successfully as the American Badass for a few years, and provided fans with some really interesting moments.

5 Bryan Danielson



Masterful technique and mat work capabilities

Stiff striker

Capable of eliciting a response from the audience by doing very little


Very limited character work

Not the best during interviews


Long before Daniel Bryan was main-eventing WrestleMania XXX, Danielson was considered the best technical wrestler on the entire planet. He had a natural ring presence, and was a certified master of technical wrestling. He could apply and get out of any hold, he could strike incredibly hard (hence fan chants of ‘you’re gonna get your f***in head kicked in’), and he always knew when to use certain moves in the ring. It’s because of those skills that he put on so many breathtaking matches in ROH and Dragon Gate, and why his WWE signing was such an unbelievable moment.

4 Shawn Michaels



Still a masterful wrestler and storyteller

Managed to steal the show despite becoming a part-time performer during later years

Could put on a memorable match with literally anyone


Part-time schedule hurt WWE ratings in later years

Didn’t look like he was comfortable in some DX segments

Short World title reign

Shawn Michaels returned to WWE in 2002 after a four year absence, yet it was as if he never left in the first place. HBK still possessed the same level of skill, psychology and charisma as he had before, with the only major change in his personality. Gone was the prima-donna Michaels from the 1990s. In his place was a born-again Michaels who seemed humbled by his back injury.

3 John Cena



Excellent physique

Considerable natural charisma

Could put on excellent matches when booking demanded it


Booking rarely demanded it

Stale character

Experienced some very boring rivalries during this decade

In the span of a decade, John Cena debuted against Kurt Angle, adopted an entertaining rapper gimmick, won the WWE Championship many times, and became the biggest WWE superstar in terms of drawing power and merchandising since ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. Because WWE wanted to make a ‘new Hogan’ out of Cena, they put him in matches against true technical masters to really help him grow as a wrestler.

2 A.J. Styles



Extremely versatile wrestler

Incredible adaptability

Wildly popular wherever he went


Deserved to be on a bigger stage

Sub-par promo skills at times

The Styles Clash didn’t look that powerful

For a decade, A.J. Styles was TNA. It wasn’t hard to see why; he was an outstanding technical wrestler who could do literally anything; he was an outstanding high-flyer who could also pull off impressive power moves; and he had a subtle charisma that made him both easy to connect with. It’s no wonder that TNA’s fans have long considered Styles to be the biggest name in the promotion, and arguably the biggest home-grown star in that promotion’s history.

1 Kurt Angle

Via WWE Raw


Masterful amateur and professional wrestler

Unmatched skill and adaptability

Can be wacky, serious, face, heel…you name it


Multiple injuries hampered his performance

Had to deal with drug problems on several occasions

Had to deal with drug problems on several occasions

There’s no other way about this: Kurt Angle was the best wrestler during the 2000's. He put on the best matches, was the most consistent wrestler during that entire decade, and managed to put on a clinic with every single one of his opponents. It was rare to see Angle ever put on a ‘bad’ match, and even when he had to say or do something stupid, it was very hard to boo him.

Whether he was in WWE or in TNA, Angle was the most outstanding wrestler of the 2000s, and truly deserved to be called ‘Wrestler of the Decade (2000s’) by the Wrestling Observer.



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The Top 30 Wrestlers Of The 2000s