Between Raw and SmackDown, the blue brand definitely had the better year. With so much going on, it was a real tough choice picking the 10 best SmackDown Wrestlers of the Year. I even had to leave off great superstars like Samoa Joe, Rey Mysterio and The Usos. But it was an absolute joy looking back on the escapades of the 2018 SmackDown roster, so let’s see who made the top 10.
10. The New Day
Ohhhhh, don’t you dare be sour! The New Day made a fairly good impact on SmackDown this year, so let’s take a look at why they are officially on the SmackDown’s Wrestlers of the Year list.
Neither the Raw nor SmackDown Tag Team division has been particularly hot this year, but The New Day has consistently put on great matches with The Bar, The Usos and The Bludgeon Brothers. After losing the triple threat tag match at WrestleMania, Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston & Big E defeated Harper & Rowan at SummerSlam to become five-time tag champs. It was during this reign Kofi Kingston became the longest reigning tag team champion in the history of WWE. The trio have since lost the SD Tag Team Titles to The Bar, but they continue to battle Sheamus & Cesaro for the championships.
In a year where the importance of tag team wrestling has slipped, The New Day has done its best to keep the division afloat. But after years of being the forefront of tag team wrestling, maybe 2019 will see the rise of a new stable to shock the system on SmackDown.
9. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas
If there’s a single man in WWE who we can all agree is destined for greatness in 2019, it’s Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas. After moving to SmackDown from NXT, El Idolo has done nothing but impress the WWE Universe and the chairman himself, Vince McMahon.
Andrade Almas started his main roster run feuding with Sin Cara, defeating him numerous times on SmackDown and at Extreme Rules. After this short rivalry came to an end, Almas turned his attention to the WWE Champion, AJ Styles.
‘Cien’ Almas’ SmackDown match with AJ Styles is widely considered one of the best free-TV matches of 2018, and it cemented Almas’ status as an incredible wrestler and a threat to the roster. Even though he lost, reports at the time indicated Vince McMahon had high hopes for the former NXT Champion.
Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and his manager Zelina Vega entered into a feud with Rusev & Lana soon after. For all intents and purposes, the Lucha star is considered the winner of the feud, having picked up the most wins and for defeating Rusev & Lana during the SummerSlam preshow. On the next episode of SmackDown, however, Rusev & Lana defeated Almas & Vega in a rematch that saw an end to the rivalry.
Since his feud with Rusev came to a close, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas hasn’t really had anything to get his teeth stuck into. And yet, he put on amazing matches with the likes of Rey Mysterio, R-Truth, Jeff Hardy, and most notably, the current WWE Champion Daniel Bryan of the last few months.
Despite having several break-out matches this year, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas is yet to have that one feud that’ll push him into the limelight. As far as rookie main roster years go though, Almas has done exceptionally well competing with some of WWE’s top stars. As such, El Idolo definitely deserves his place as one of SmackDown’s Wrestlers of the Year.
What day is it? It’s Rusev Day. Well actually, it’s not, but looking back on 2018, the Bulgarian Brute nearly turned Rusev Day into Rusev Year.
When 2018 hit, Rusev Day had already taken a life of its own thanks to the support of the fans and the mic work of Aiden English. When WrestleMania season rolled around, fans were up in arms that Rusev had been left off the card, and WWE had no choice but to add the Bulgarian to the US Title match against Jinder Mahal, Bobby Roode and Randy Orton. Rusev would end up taking the pin, courtesy of the crowd’s least favourite competitor, Jinder Mahal.
In an odd twist of events, Rusev was scheduled to face none other than The Undertaker at the Greatest Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia. ‘Taker defeated Rusev in a Casket match, and he threw Aiden English into the coffin as well for good measure. Symbolically, it looked like WWE had buried Rusev Day, but the fans continued to chant for it.
It looked like Vince McMahon finally caved in to the Rusev Day chants by May 2018. The Bulgarian Brute became a legit threat on SmackDown, defeating Daniel Bryan in a Money in the Bank qualifier match, and then becoming the No.1 contender to WWE Championship the following week after winning a gauntlet match.
Rusev ended up losing his WWE Title match against the champion AJ Styles, and moved onto a feud with Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas & Zelina Vega. After their feud was over, Rusev teamed up with Aiden English to go after the SmackDown Tag Team Titles. The duo won a series of matches against the blue brand’s best tag stars and went on to face The New Day at Hell in a Cell in a losing effort.
But Rusev still went on chasing gold. In September, Rusev challenged Shinsuke Nakamura for the United States Championship, but a distraction from Aiden English cost the challenger the match. Fearing repercussions, English attacked Rusev first, finally bringing Rusev Day to an end. Although the split between the two became a focal point on SmackDown, their feud ended in a massively disappointing squash match with Rusev coming out on top. The Bulgarian Brute is back chasing Shinsuke Nakamura’s US Title to end 2018.
This has been a rollercoaster of a year for Rusev. Though he hasn’t won any titles, he did compete for every SmackDown Championship this year, he was over as hell with the fans and surely, surely, he must’ve made an absolute fortune with Rusev Day merch. Not a bad 2018 at all for Rusev.
7. Shinsuke Nakamura
It’s been a strange year for Shinsuke Nakamura. I was tossing and turning between giving this spot to Samoa Joe, but on reflection, Nakamura had a little more success, albeit not quite the success we thought it would be.
After losing to Jinder Mahal over and over again in 2017, we thought WWE had finally done right by Shinsuke Nakamura when he won the 2018 Royal Rumble, eliminating the company’s golden boy, Roman Reigns.
Shinsuke went on to have a friendly rivalry with AJ Styles leading up to WrestleMania over who was truly worthy of being WWE Champion. Their match at ‘Mania was good but failed to live up to the high expectations. The saving grace of their bout was Nakamura’s heel turn, low-blowing Styles after seemingly showing the man respect.
The two superstars continued their feud for the WWE Championship going all the way into June with Shinsuke Nakamura coming out the eventual loser. Having been ousted from the WWE Title scene, the King of Strong Style set his sights on the United States Championship instead.
Nakamura went on to become US Champ when he beat Jeff Hardy at Extreme Rules and he successfully defended the title against the Charismatic Enigma at SummerSlam. Shinsuke and the championship have since been sidelined on SmackDown, with Naks only making sporadic appearances and title defences.
Looking back, Shinsuke Nakamura’s year wasn’t the best, but he still accomplished quite a lot. Winning the Royal Rumble, fighting for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, feuding for months over the company’s top title and becoming US Champion; there aren’t a lot of people who can say they’ve done all those things. So here’s to you, Nakamura. Not everyone will agree with me for making you one of SmackDown’s Wrestlers of the Year, but I can see how much achieved in 2018.
6. Randy Orton
Who would’ve thought that we’d have a renewed investment in Randy Orton in 2018? Despite being sidelined between May and June, WWE’s Apex Predator has done some pretty cool things on SmackDown this year.
On the run-up to WrestleMania, Randy Orton made it clear he wanted the US Championship so he could finally become a Grand Slam Champion. Bobby Roode accepted Orton’s challenge, and the Viper went on to claim the title at Fastlane. Roode soon had his rematch for the US Title, but Jinder Mahal and Rusev were thrown into the mix, too. At WrestleMania, WWE’s 18th Grand Slam Champion lost his title when Mahal pinned Rusev. Orton was given a rematch, but lost against Jeff Hardy who had gone on to beat Mahal for the US Championship before Orton got his shot.
It turned out Randy Orton lost the title to undergo surgery on his knee, and he returned as the company’s top heel nearly two months later at Extreme Rules to cost Hardy the US Championship. Randy went on to dismantle Jeff in various sick and twisted manners weekly on SmackDown, leading to their Hell in a Cell match with the now infamous screwdriver spot.
Orton won his feud with Hardy and went on the search for a new victim. At first, the Apex Predator targeted Tye Dillenger, breaking his finger with the help of a turnbuckle. Then he moved onto the retuning Rey Mysterio, and the two have been squaring off against each other ever since.
With his heel attitude, Randy Orton has captured the attention of the fans once more and sickened all of us with his dastardly nature. Arguably, this has been one of Orton’s best years in a long, long while. He didn’t even need to win a boat load of titles; he just needed a drastic character change.
5. The Miz
The promo king himself has made it onto the SmackDown Wrestlers of the Year list and for good reason. The Miz has been on fire throughout 2018, and that’s with me excluding his excellent feud on Raw against Seth Rollins and Finn Bálor for Intercontinental Title.
Most of The Miz’s great work on SmackDown came from his feud with long-time rival, Daniel Bryan. The promos in particular for this feud were one of the main reasons to watch SmackDown. However, the matches between The Miz and Daniel Bryan were a little hit-and-miss.
Their first match at SummerSlam was very enjoyable and the screwy finish through Miz’s use of brass knuckles added more fuel to the fire. Then things went downhill. The Miz and Bryan partnered with their wives, Maryse and Brie Bella respectively, in an OK tag match at Hell in a Cell before the incredibly disappointing two minute match at Super Showdown.
The Miz still pokes at Bryan even though their feud is on the back burner, and the Awesome One is currently buddying up with the SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon after a joint effort saw them both take the mantle of Best in the World (sorry, CM Punk, but you have been officially usurped by a sweaty old man and The Miz).
On SmackDown, The Miz has delivered some of the best promos of the year, and he consistently put on great matches with most of the roster. It’s a shame his biggest feud fell a little flat as he certainly performed at a much higher level this year.
4. Charlotte Flair
A lot of people have booed the woo this year as Charlotte Flair managed to wrestle her way into the spotlight more times than any other woman in WWE. However, Charlotte’s moment(s) in the sun have more than been deserved.
Charlotte Flair went into 2018 as the SmackDown Women’s Champion, and after Asuka made it clear she was gunning for the SD Women’s Title at WrestleMania, the Queen went into overdrive. At ‘Mania, Charlotte retained her title by forcing Asuka to tap out to the Figure Eight, ending the Empress of Tomorrow’s 900+ day undefeated streak in WWE.
Despite doing what no one else had been able to do by toppling Asuka, Charlotte Flair was dethroned herself on the next episode of SmackDown, losing her title to Ms. Money in the Bank, Carmella. The former champ failed to regain her title at Backlash and was written off TV for surgery after failing to become 2018’s Ms. Money in the Bank.
On her return to SmackDown, Charlotte Flair was immediately thrust back into title contention, much to the anger of the fans that were getting behind Becky Lynch’s sudden push. The fans’ opinion seemed to count for nothing as Flair defeated Lynch and Carmella at SummerSlam to take back the SmackDown Women’s Championship. That night, Becky Lynch turned on Charlotte and waged war against the Queen, where she was dethroned for the second time in 2018 at the Hell in a Cell PPV.
Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch have gone on to have one of SmackDown’s best feuds this year and it’s still ongoing. Some may think Flair doesn’t need so much TV time, but it’s hard to argue when she’s so damn good in the ring. She even took the fight to Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series in what was my favourite match of the night. When all is said and done, Charlotte more than deserves her place as one of SmackDown’s Wrestlers of the Year.
3. Daniel Bryan
What a rollercoaster of a year 2018 has been for Daniel Bryan. From never wrestling again to becoming WWE Champion, this year has been a big one.
Following his monumental return to the ring at WrestleMania, it looked like WWE was purposely trying to derail Daniel Bryan’s momentum by putting him in a stupid feud over height against Big Cass (a feud that’s since been passed on to Baron Corbin and Finn Bálor for some daft reason). WWE even went as far as having Cass eliminate Bryan at the Greatest Royal Rumble mere minutes after Bryan took the record for the longest time competing in a Rumble match.
Once Cass was fired from WWE, Bryan moved on feuding against The Bludgeon Brothers, causing Kane to come back for a Team Hell No reunion. Again, this rivalry just wasn’t what fans were expecting when Daniel Bryan came out of retirement. It wasn’t until WWE’s Biggest Yes Man reignited an old feud with The Miz that we started to see the Daniel Bryan we wanted.
The two had been in heated promos all the way up to SummerSlam, and when The Miz cheated to win, we were all expecting another great match between him and Daniel Bryan. Instead, we got an average mixed tag match followed by a two minute bout at Super Showdown.
A lot of the initial buzz around Daniel Bryan’s in-ring return had died off when he was finally thrust into the WWE Title picture against AJ Styles. Both men are currently 1-1 in matches with Bryan winning the second match to become WWE Champion. The “New” Daniel Bryan is not only a champion, he’s vicious and calculating, and definitely the man we all wanted to see from the get-go.
Despite everything, Daniel Bryan defied all expectations when he announced his in-ring return. The fact he’s now WWE Champion and was even booked to take Universal Champion Brock Lesnar to the limit shows us that if you fight for your dreams, your dreams will fight for you.
2. AJ Styles
Name any main event superstar on SmackDown and you’ll find that wrestler was beaten by AJ Styles in 2018. Whatever you might think about his record-setting WWE Championship reign, it was certainly one to remember.
Styles started the year off as WWE Champion and had it rough right from the off. At the Royal Rumble, he defeated Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn in a handicap match with the title on the line before going onto successfully defend it again at Fastlane against Owens, Zayn, John Cena, Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin.
With his final defence before WrestleMania finally over, AJ Styles’ attention turned to his ‘Mania opponent, the Royal Rumble match winner, Shinsuke Nakamura. Their bout at the Show of Shows is universally regarded as good, but not quite up to the hype it had built. The two superstars went on to feud for the WWE Championship until Shinsuke was defeated once and for all at Money in the Bank. Another successful title defence soon followed when Styles beat Rusev at Extreme Rules in a short feud that only existed to bridge the gap to SummerSlam.
When SummerSlam rolled around, SmackDown GM Paige announced AJ Styles would be defending his WWE Championship against Samoa Joe. Styles and Joe went on to have an intense feud out of the ring that led to three decent matches, two of which AJ retained his title in controversial circumstances before submitting Samoa Joe cleanly at Super Showdown.
AJ Styles’ next challenger would end up being Daniel Bryan. Styles would defeat Bryan in an excellent match on SmackDown with the Calf Crusher before taking out Samoa Joe for the forth time this year at Crown Jewel (an event Daniel Bryan refused to work).
AJ would soon find himself back in the ring with Daniel Bryan in a match that cost the Phenomenal One his WWE Championship, but with his scheduled rematch coming up at TLC, Styles could soon have the title back around his waist.
With a WWE Championship reign lasting 371 days, AJ Styles brought a lot of prestige back to the belt. 2018 was a great year for AJ, and if rumours are true, 2019 could be just as good with Styles becoming the next Universal Champion.
1. Becky Lynch
Forget about AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. Forget about Charlotte Flair and Asuka. Becky Lynch went from being a background character in the women’s division to being the only name on everyone’s lips. It’s been a monumental year for the Lass Kicker, so let’s take a look at how she became our SmackDown Wrestler of the Year.
Unlike most of the SmackDown superstars on this list, Becky Lynch wasn’t immediately thrown into the top spot. Instead, she just competed at a high level while slowly garnering support from the fans. She wrestled in several big matches, including the first women’s Royal Rumble, the inaugural women’s WrestleMania battle royal and the women’s Money in the Bank ladder match. She put on a great showing each time, but didn’t win the big bouts.
It was only after failing to become Ms. Money in the Bank that WWE started to push Becky Lynch properly. After picking up an impressive winning streak against the likes of Sonya Deville, Mandy Rose, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay and the SD Women’s Champion at the time Carmella, GM Paige rewarded Lynch with a match for Carmella’s Title at SummerSlam. As we all know, Charlotte Flair would also join that match and go on to become the SmackDown Women’s Champion. It was on that evening we witnessed Becky’s renaissance.
The Lass Kicker lived up to her moniker by pulverising the new champ as the SummerSlam fans cheered her on. Badass Becky began calling herself The Man, kicking ass and taking names. The next month at Hell in a Cell, Lynch defeated Charlotte Flair and took the title with her.
Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair went on to have a series of incredible matches culminating with their Last Woman Standing match at WWE Evolution. In the end, it was the The Man who stood tall to end the feud.
As Survivor Series approached, Becky entered into a new fight with Raw’s Women’s Champion, Ronda Rousey. Before the Survivor Series PPV took place, Becky stormed Raw to take out the red brand’s champion and their women’s Survivor Series team. Badass Becky looked every bit the dominant invader, getting the upper hand on Ronda Rousey and the other Raw superstars, that is until Nia Jax got involved.
As Becky was taking the fight to Raw, Nia Jax smacked Lynch in the face for real, giving the SmackDown Women’s Champion a concussion, and a “broken face”, to use WWE’s words. But even with those injuries, Becky just looked incredible. If anything, the blood smeared all over her face was a testament to how badass she was, even if it did mean she couldn’t wrestle Rousey at Survivor Series. Becky is still waiting for the all-clear from her injuries, but she is scheduled to defend her SD Women’s Title in a TLC match this Sunday against Charlotte Flair and Asuka.
The Irish Lass Kicker gained support from the fans in the most organic way possible, and now she is arguably SmackDown’s biggest superstar. It would be a shame to see her lose her Championship at TLC, but just imagine if Becky Lynch drops the title but goes on to win the Royal Rumble next month, giving us the Lynch/Rousey match we were so cruelly denied at Survivor Series. Whatever happens, I’m sure The Man will continue to dominate 2019 in the same way she dominated this year.
Yes, SmackDown was pretty incredible throughout 2018 and the possibilities for how big the brand can grow seem to be endless. Well done to every SmackDown superstar who made the cut, and of course, a huge congratulations to Becky Lynch; The Man, The Myth, The Legend, and our SmackDown Superstar of the Year.
Who was your SmackDown Superstar of the Year? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments below and tweet us @CultVultures and @I_Do_Things_SC with your answers.
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