Professional wrestling has undergone a massive overhaul in the past decade. Taking a look back at the weekly content of 2010, your best choices were of course WWE and the second-rate TNA Wrestling, which was about to embark on the infamous Hogan-era. Over the course of the next ten years, the entire landscape of the industry was tipped on its side with the rebirth of NJPW, the BritWres renaissance and the independent revolution. There was a complete change in the status quo within the genre of sports-entertainment, which, in my opinion, makes 2010-2019 one of the most important eras in all of wrestling history.
In this list, we’re going to take a look back through the past 10 years and study the ten most pivotal superstars that helped redesign and redefine Pro-Wrestling. We look through the highs and the lows of the decade; putting the spotlight on those ten superstars that can safely say that they are on the 2010 Mount Rushmore of the business.
Make sure you give the spotlight to your own top ten’s in the comments section below, and let’s celebrate what was a pretty incredible ten years.
10. CM Punk
The Summer of Punk. The Pipebomb. The longest reigning WWE Champion of the modern era. All of these things were history-making instalments of the 2010s; orchestrated entirely by one of the most outspoken and rebellious characters ever seen in a wrestling ring – CM Punk.
‘The Second City Saint’ has of course ended the decade as one of the most talked about people in the entire industry, making his triumphant return to the WWE after a four year hiatus. Punk is now the star of Fox’s WWE talk show, WWE Backstage, but before that he was at the fore-front of a movement that has paved the way for the likes of Adam Cole, Johnny Gargano and Seth Rollins.
CM Punk proved to the world that you didn’t have to fit the typical ‘superhuman’ mold that Vince McMahon has sought after since the Golden Era of the 90’s. He went to the top and grabbed the brass ring in spite of Vince’s ideology. CM Punk developed such an intense following throughout 2011 and 2012 that you can’t help but think of him as one of the best wrestlers of the past ten years. He has well and truly earned his spot on the list.
9. Charlotte Flair
The latter half of the 2010s will forever be looked back on as a time of great social change. Women across all branches of sports and entertainment have been empowered to the point where they are now the focal point of programming. With UFC initially leading the charge, WWE were soon to follow. Doing away with the ‘divas’ of old, WWE welcomed a new breed of women’s wrestlers in the likes of Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley, but none shined as brightly as Charlotte Flair.
The son of legendary ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair, Charlotte was naturally going to find herself at the top of the women’s division in no time. Although it’s hard to fall into the nepotism argument when you watch her matches, as she has proven time and time again that she is that damn good.
Charlotte has seen many of first time evers in WWE. Hell in a Cell, Money in the Bank, WrestleMania main event, all of these historic moments in women’s wrestling have had Charlotte’s face plastered all over it. Flair has indeed paved the way for the many women who are fighting for those opportunities in an industry that was typically reserved for the male superstars. I for one thank Charlotte and the rest of the Horsewomen for finally getting rid of those awful, exploitative stipulation matches, and brought in a whole new standard for both male and female competitors to maintain.
8. Brock Lesnar
‘The Beast Incarnate’ started the decade dominating a whole new field in the UFC. Lesnar was on top of his game, but was reaching the inevitable stage where he just wouldn’t be able to cut it in the Octagon anymore. Lucky for him, Vince McMahon’s door was wide open for a roof-raising return on the Raw after WrestleMania 28.
Lesnar returned and obliterated WWE’s top stars, bringing a totally new style to the squared circle that hadn’t been seen before. ‘Suplex City’ became globally recognised as a place you didn’t want to be, many of WWE superstars had been tossed around in such a convincing fashion that many believed the new Brock Lesnar to be unstoppable. He carried himself in such a manner that blurred the lines between reality and entertainment, making him one of the most must-see talents on the roster.
Brock of course went on to not only break the Undertaker’s precious undefeated streak, but also captured the WWE and Universal Championship numerous times, steamrolling over pretty much everybody on the roster. We’ve seen dream matches, car-crashes and plenty of chaotic moments to make Lesnar one of the most exciting superstars to watch over the past decade.
Lesnar leaves 2019 with the WWE title around his waist, what better way to see out the decade.
7. Roman Reigns
To follow in the footsteps of John Cena is no easy feat, but for Roman Reigns, he makes it look easy. Showered in fame and glory since his first appearance on the main roster, Reigns has become the WWE’s poster-boy and rightfully so. Where many in the WWE Universe spent years trying to sabotage his road to prominence, Reigns nevertheless found himself in WrestleMania main events, achieving the highest of highs in his still early days.
Whether you respect the guy or not, Reigns has proven himself as a very capable superstar in the ring. He has put on excellent matches and held down some impressive feuds that have captured the hearts and minds of fans across the world. Just being at a live event and hearing the almighty support from the younger fans is enough to warm your heart a little. He’s an everyday hero that has overcome many of battles inside and outside of the ring.
Reigns has simmered over the past year but there’s no doubt that he is WWE’s top guy. Reigns will forever be considered one of the best of the modern era, and should easily find a place in all of our lists, even if you are one of the haters.
I look forward to seeing how WWE bring Roman back to his former glory, and just how much more he’ll grow as a megastar over the next ten years.
6. Kenny Omega
‘The Cleaner’ took the wrestling world by storm in 2017. Kenny Omega’s series of phenomenal matches with IWGP World Champion Kazuchika Okada brought millions of new eyes to the New Japan product, which ultimately led to the promotion’s meteoric rise, generating a newfound confidence across all different independents. Omega was the quintessential ‘indie guy’, he was the edgy character that most ‘cool’ wrestling fans would name-drop to make themselves seem more cultured. His name alone rejuvenated that scene, which eventually gave way to the development of AEW and the Wednesday Night Wars.
Omega has been in some absolute wars overseas. Even before his trilogy of 5-star classics with Okada, Omega was killing it as the leader of the Bullet Club in matches with the likes of Tomohiro Ishii, Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi. He was putting in the work to develop a new genre of professional wrestling, one which was innovative and, above all, exciting.
It’s safe to say that he could have easily ended up in WWE when his contract ran up in Japan, but Omega chose to bet on himself and remained as part of the independent scene. Omega along with Cody and The Young Bucks all ushered in a new era for indie stars, giving them the confidence and ability to make more money than those signed to big-time contracts.
Kenny has since returned to the United States and relished in his popularity as part of the AEW roster. Who knows where Omega will end up over the next decade, but one thing’s for sure, he’ll most likely earn a few more stars to his name.
5. AJ Styles
It’s crazy to look back on the timeline of AJ Styles’ career and think that this time at the start of the decade, he was simply getting-by as part of the TNA roster. Since making a shock departure from the company and heading to the land of the rising sun, Styles redefined himself and took his rightful place as one of the most talked about athletes in the industry, taking over the Japanese scene and competing all over the world.
AJ was best known for his work as the leader of the Bullet Club, forging key relationships with the likes of Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, who he would later go on to form The O.C faction with in WWE. Styles put on impeccable matches with New Japan’s best and brightest, generating a level of hype unbeknown to most wrestlers at the time.
When 2016 came around, Styles made his debut as part of the WWE roster at the Number 3 spot of that year’s Royal Rumble. That will forever go down as one of my favourite moments of wrestling history; I’m fairly certain we all marked out more than WWE expected us to. Styles fought through the barriers of the mid-card and proved himself to be an asset to the mainstream scene. AJ became one of WWE’s biggest stars in less than a year and still holds the ‘it factor’ of being one of the best wrestlers in the world today.
Styles jumped ship at the exact right time, taking advantage of that developing fascination with the independent scene and forging a legacy of his own. AJ deserves every bit of success he continues to have in WWE.
4. Kazuchika Okada
Many might trade this spot with Kenny Omega, but I personally believe that ‘Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada needs to go down as one of the very best of this generation. For a guy that isn’t signed to WWE to get this much praise is insane. Outside of New Japan, he’s barely made ripples in puddles, but because he’s so damn talented and consistent in the ring as part of NJPW, he’s managed to become a legend across all corners of the industry.
You watch any match involving the IWGP World Champion and you’ll know why this guy is a certified superstar. He holds himself in such a manner that everyone in the audience is attracted to him. He has such grace and composure that there’s no way he can have a bad match, even with Bad Luck Fale.
Okada should never go to WWE, nor should he venture outside of NJPW affiliated promotions. He’s the Ric Flair, the AJ Styles, the Harley Race of New Japan, and that’s where he should remain. If he goes anywhere else, the magic will be lost.
I could honestly say that Okada has changed wrestling for many people. He restored the pride and prominence of New Japan Pro Wrestling and is one of the few megastars of this generation. He is without a doubt one of the best of the decade, and I highly doubt he’ll be usurped anytime soon.
3. Daniel Bryan
One word transcended the entire wrestling fandom in 2014, and that word was “Yes”. A movement that changed the status quo of wrestling forever, pushing the idea that smaller performers could draw just as much as the titans and giants, all started by one man – Daniel Bryan.
Daniel Bryan became the people’s hero, as his rise to the top was parallel with that of Steve Austin and John Cena. The world was behind Bryan as he traversed through the typical obstacles of an Authority feud, eventually forging his legacy at WrestleMania 30 by defeating Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista all in the same night.
Bryan started the decade with WWE as part of the first intake of rookies as part of the NXT that’s a far-cry from what we know and love today. Bryan was met with various controversies in his first year, but eventually settled as part of the main roster, developing mid-card feuds with The Miz, Dolph Ziggler and Ted Dibiase Jr. None really got Bryan off the ground but it did cement him as one of the more dependable wrestlers of the age, much like what Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero were just a few years prior.
Daniel Bryan eventually found himself at the top of the card but suffered a very unfortunate neck injury that took him out of action indefinitely. In what seemed like a complete miracle, or a clever ploy depending on which way you look at it, Bryan returned to active competition in 2018 at WrestleMania 34. He went on to capture the WWE Championship and continues to wow audiences across the world with his diverse abilities and uncanny likeability.
Without a doubt, Daniel Bryan deserves to be on this list. He changed the wrestling world for the better and stands alongside the likes of CM Punk and AJ Styles, indie guys that proved themselves worthy of the spotlight, picked up the ball and sprinted with it.
2. John Cena
If you believe for a second that John Cena hasn’t been a vital part of WWE this past decade, you are definitely wrong. Even though Cena has very much winded down his wrestling career since the midway point of the 2010s, Cena has been an insurmountable member of the wrestling world, shaping the day-to-day happenings of the industry and setting the bar for what it means to be a professional wrestler in today’s ever-changing society.
Cena fought in the business’s most iconic feuds: CM Punk, The Rock, AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar, all very bitter rivalries that defined wrestling during the times they were taking place. Cena was able to make everything he was involved in seem like a box-office attraction. You could just tell that Cena was giving it his all in every single one of his programmes, even whenever he had to be brought in to the stagnant Total Divas show, Cena cared.
The mark that John Cena has left on not only professional wrestling but now modern cinema has been legendary. This was and forever will be known as the decade that Cena built. Why is he not number one, I hear you ask?
1. Chris Jericho
If an inanimate object can be over in the 2010s and not be questioned, then there has to be a genius at work. Chris Jericho has gone from strength to strength throughout his career, but never quite like he has in this decade alone. Jericho has maintained his on/off relationship with WWE, but whenever he stuck around for more than a couple of months, he made sure the world was talking about him.
Whether it be in his fantastic series of matches with CM Punk, his beautiful friendship with Kevin Owens or his recent cameos overseas in NJPW, Jericho has absolutely killed it and continued to prove that he is the most creative and charismatic superstars of this age. These days it seems like whatever Jericho happens to say will get over and become a best-selling T-shirt — that’s the power he has as a performer.
At the age of 49, Jericho is ending the year on top of the AEW roster as their inaugural World Champion. Since departing WWE and making waves with Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 13, Jericho has once again become a top-billed star on the independents. Jericho has used his star-power to put AEW on the map, shocking the world by appearing at their first press conference to announce his intentions to become a full-time member of the roster. Jericho has since given it his all in matches with up-and-coming stars like Darby Allin, Hangman Adam Page and Scorpio Sky, making himself one of the most enticing veterans to watch in the ring.
The guy has even organised two sell-out rock and wrestling themed cruises to the Bahamas. If that doesn’t prove that Jericho is the total package when it comes to professional wrestling then I don’t know what is. All in all, Jericho has made this decade his, whether that be as part of WWE or his expeditions elsewhere, he has followed the trends and kept himself relevant in a world that is quick to chew up the has-beens.
I hope we can say the same about ‘Le Champion’ this time next decade.
– Kofi Kingston (and The New Day) – Hiroshi Tanahashi – Will Ospreay – The Young Bucks – The Undertaker
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