WWE's Best Wrestlers In 2018: From The Man To The Pirate Princess
By GameSpot Staff on
This year was an interesting one for WWE. In many ways, it was a year of rebuilding, as for the first time since his debut, John Cena was largely absent. His schedule has been shrinking in recent years, but he was more of an afterthought than ever in 2018.
In his absence, though, so many have stepped up to potentially become the new face of WWE. The world of professional wrestling is different now than when Cena rose to stardom--just as his arrival was different than when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was announced as the top star--and what fans expect from the king--or queen--of the hill has changed. It's not just character that matters nor is it simply technical wrestling ability.
Instead, it's a hybrid of the two being found under the exact right circumstances that finds viewers flocking to certain superstars. Becky Lynch's character is on fire, even with a broken face, but if she couldn't deliver "The Man" in the ring, would anyone care? AJ Styles may consider himself "the face that runs the place" on SmackDown Live, but if he wasn't able to deliver intense and compelling promos, in addition to his stellar in-ring work, that show could wind up faceless.
So who had the best 2018? Luckily for you, GameSpot's intrepid wrestling nerds--Mat Elfring, Chris E. Hayner, and Kevin Wong--have watched far more WWE than you'll ever need to and have figured out exactly who won the year. Take a look at our 10 best WWE wrestlers of 2018 and sound off in the comments with who you think should take top honors this year.
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10. Shayna Bazsler (tie)
While there is a lot of focus on Ronda Rousey's transition from MMA into WWE, what Shayna Bazsler is doing in NXT is what every former-mixed martial artist should strive to be. 2018 was a huge year for her, as her televised in-ring debut was in early January--aside from her appearing on 2017's Mae Young Classic. Her character was well-defined from the get-go: she was ruthless, attacking other competitors in and out of the ring and cold-hearted. After a few matches, which ended with Bazsler attacking her opponent afterwards, the Queen of Spades won the NXT Women's Championship from Ember Moon at NXT Takeover: New Orleans.
Then, Bazsler began her ongoing feud with Kairi Sane. The two couldn't be any more different as competitors inside and outside the ring. They are polar opposites, but the feud works exceptionally well. While Bazsler did end up losing the title to Sane, she regained it back at WWE Evolution, in one of the best matches on the card that evening. When Bazsler eventually gets called up to the main roster, she's going to bring and intenseness and level of character work the women's division hasn't seen yet. -- Mat Elfring
10. Kairi Sane (tie)
You cannot talk about Shayna Bazsler's year without mentioning what a great year Kairi Sane had as well. The two faced each other in 2017's Mae Young Classic, in which Sane won the tournament. While Bazsler is an MMA fighter, Sane is a pirate. No, really, she's a pirate. After she first won the NXT Women's Championship from Bazsler at Takeover: Brooklyn IV, Sane kept the title in a treasure chest. Stylistically, the two couldn't be more different, which makes the rivalry work exceptionally well.
While she has been--before she got sick--competing weekly on NXT, her match of the year came from the WWE PPV Evolution, the company's first-ever all-women's PPV. Sane turned heads during that match, but that wasn't her only appearance on this year's main roster. She also had a spot in the women's Royal Rumble match and in the Women's Battle Royale at Wrestlemania. More than likely, we'll be seeing her on the main roster, which is great because she brings so much to the ring. -- Mat Elfring
9. AJ Styles
You don't hold the WWE Championship (the real one, not the fake one) for 371 consecutive days, and not make it on this list. Not since The Rock has a wrestler so thoroughly made WWE Smackdown his own; it truly is, in 2018, the house that AJ Styles built.
Styles began 2018 with a feud against Shinsuke Nakamura, whom he wrestled in a legendary match years ago, when both men were signed to NJPW. It culminated in a Last Man Standing match at Money in the Bank, which he won after kicking Nakamura in the balls (he had it coming, followed by a Phenomenal Forearm from the ring to the announcer's table to the floor.
He recently lost the WWE Championship to Daniel Bryan on Smackdown, which is a shame. Such a winning champion deserved more closure, a bigger stage to lose it on, than that. -- Kevin Wong
Elias followed a reliable playbook to become one of the top babyfaces on raw; he started as a heel. His character was an rude, entitled singer/songwriter, who would only be fit for the worst dives and coffee shops along Route 66, Elias even released an album's worth of music, just to get himself and his opponents over
And slowly but surely, despite Elias insulting people's hometowns and telling the audience to shut their mouths, fans started rooting for the drifter. And now that he's a babyface with some great skits (he began singing songs about his opponent instead of the hometown), he needs some great matches to go along with them. A run at the Intercontinental championship could be a good start. -- Kevin Wong
7. Alexa Bliss
SmackDown Live may have The Miz as its best heel, but Raw has "The Goddess" herself, Alexa Bliss. Miss Five Feet of Fury has proven time and again to be one of the most effective villains in all of WWE. She's a cheater, a bully, a "mean girl," and also one of the more dominant WWE Women's Champions of 2018. Not bad for the woman who spent the beginning of her NXT career championing "glitter, glitz, sparkle, Bliss."
After all, let's be honest. Before Ronda Rousey showed up and became the centerpiece of the Raw women's division following WrestleMania, Alexa Bliss was the best thing going on the red brand. Her promos are fiery, she's exciting to watch in the ring, and her real-life love of cosplay has made her one of the best-looking characters in recent memory. And somehow, even after being pulled from active competition due to injuries in late 2018, she's managed to still sit at the top of the mountain, dragging every woman on the roster while having others do her dirty work. Alexa Bliss is a villain in the absolute best way and hopefully that's something that doesn't change anytime soon. -- Chris E. Hayner
6. Charlotte Flair
Over the past couple of years, Charlotte has tweaked her public image in two seemingly contradictory ways. The first is that she went from being called "Charlotte" to being called by her full name, "Charlotte Flair." The second is that she dropped her father's signature taunts and showboating moves. No more "Flair Flops." No more "Flair Flips." No more references to herself as "genetically superior."
In other words, she's learned to emphasize the right things about her lineage: the name, and all the grandeur that signifies, but none of the comedy spots and pratfalls of The Dirtiest Player in the Game. Charlotte is a consummate athlete who can (and should!) physically dominate and win cleanly. She had the best match at Wrestlemania 34 against Asuka. She had the best match at WWE Evolution against Becky Lynch. She might be the showstealer again at TLC: Tables, Ladders, and Chairs when she faces Lynch again.
Charlotte is the establishment's champion; other women will hold the title and take it from her but it will always, in the end, come back to her. -- Kevin Wong
5. Tommaso Ciampa
Who knew Tommaso Ciampa had it in him to be the biggest and best heel going in NXT--and possibly all of WWE? Turning on Johnny Gargano in 2017 was the best possible thing for Ciampa, as he worked his way to the top of the card and has been one of the most dominant NXT Champions ever? What's more, he did it while making the audience absolutely hate him, something that's hard for any heel to do in 2018.
We could talk about Ciampa's incredible in-ring work all day, but what earns him a spot on this list is the character he's created. From his crazy-person beard to his time walking to the ring with no entrance music--while he basked in the jeers from the crowd--to his despicable acts, which include pulling up the mats on the floor to perform moves onto solid concrete, Ciampa is heel personified. And he's the kind of character WWE needs more of. -- Chris E. Hayner
4. Johnny Gargano
When DIY broke up, there was some fear that either Tommaso Ciampa or Johnny Gargano would become the Marty Jannetty of the duo. Thankfully, the answer was neither. Both superstars got exponentially better and more popular following the breakup and, for my money, Gargano just barely edged out current NXT Champion Ciampa.
Seeing this babyface underdog refuse to give up again and again as he got so close to the title, only to be denied was compelling TV. Matched with his in-ring skill, and it's hard to find a bad thing to say about this stretch of Gargano's persona other than something would have to change eventually. Then something changed. His attack on Aleister Black, which is now turning him full-blown heel, adds a wonderful new dimension to Johnny Wrestling and one I can't wait to see taken even further in 2019. -- Chris E. Hayner
3. Velveteen Dream
When the character of Velveteen Dream was first introduced on NXT, I wasn't a fan. He
played too much like a hacky '90s Attitude Era role, I thought. Boy, was I wrong. The Dream has become the most exciting person to watch on NXT and seems destined to be just as big of a deal when he finally makes it to the main roster.
The idea that an over-the-top character inspired by Prince would make sense in the more reality-driven modern era of professional wrestling seems ridiculous. Thankfully, Dream marries a dedication to his persona--from entrance and music to in-ring mannerisms--with wrestling skills that make him second to almost none. When a Velveteen Dream match is on the card, you can bet you're in for something special. Now NXT just needs to give him a title. -- Chris E. Hayner
2. The Miz
While he may not have had the winningest of years in 2018, it's hard to imagine a more important male superstar in WWE at this point than The Miz, which is kind of shocking if you think about it. The Miz was destined to fail from the very beginning when WWE chose to loudly remind everyone he was a reality TV alum. Miz, though, took that identity and turned it into perhaps the best heel persona on the modern era-and one that gets better every week.
While he is criminally underused and isn't where he belongs--in the WWE Championship picture--The Miz is, by far, the most dependable player the company has and is showing no signs of slowing down. That, as they say, is awesome. -- Chris E. Hayner
1. Becky Lynch
No one in wrestling has had a bigger year than Becky Lynch. She kicked off her 2018 losing at the Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, and Money In The Bank, which seemed par for the course for the Lass Kicker. However, her career then took a turn for the better after months and months of losing at PPVs. This led the very babyface Lynch to take on Charlotte and Carmella at Summerslam for the Smackdown Women's Championship, and of course, Lynch didn't win, but she did turn on Charlotte, becoming a heel in the process. Lynch truly realized her full potential in the following months, beating Charlotte for the Women's Championship at Hell in a Cell. Charlotte's father's, Ric Flair, motto was "To be the man, you have to beat the man." After Lynch beat Charlotte, she took on the moniker of "The Man."
In the past few months, Lynch has dominated everything on Smackdown, leading up to Survivor Series, and cut some of the best promos of her career. She could not have been more over, but after her nose was accidentally broken while invading Raw, somehow, Lynch became easily the most talked about WWE superstar, even though she was not medically to participate at Survivor Series. This also lead to the massive Twitter-feud between her and Raw Women's Champion Ronda Rousey, which has really shown just how ahead of the curve Lynch is as a performer and a wrestler that completely embraces her character. There is no one in WWE right now more in-tune with sports entertainment as a whole than The Man. -- Mat Elfring