Top-10 Pro Wrestlers of the Decade (2010-2019)
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Monday, December 30, 2019
Another decade is coming to a close and as we look back, it was one that certainly had ups and downs in terms of quality programming, companies transitioning to a new era, and new companies starting up and providing talent with more options to develop their skills and showcase their talents.
As the decade wines down, a hot debate amongst wrestling fans has been who deserves to be recognized as the wrestler of the decade (2010-19)?
Since there have been many wrestlers that have come and gone and achieved a great deal of success throughout the decade, there should be somewhat of a strict criteria—how many years was the wrestler active during the decade? How many championships did the wrestler win? How much interest did the wrestler’s feuds generate? Which company/companies did the wrestler compete in during the decade?
Before we get into the top-10 of the decade, there are many notable names I left off the list, but I feel they should still get recognition for their work throughout the decade:
With that in mind, here are my top-10 pro wrestlers of the decade.
#10. CM Punk
Yes, CM Punk may’ve wrestled a little over four years in the 2010s, but I believe he’s done more than enough to be recognized as one of the top wrestlers of the decade. Punk started off the decade as the leader of the Straight Edge Society, where he was involved in feuds with Rey Mysterio and The Big Show, before then going on to be revealed as the new leader of The Nexus, where he began a feud with John Cena.
2011 was a monumental year for Punk as it was when WWE really invested in him as a legitimate main eventer and was given time to cut promos, which was an area he excelled at.
The Summer of 2011 has since been refereed to as The Summer of Punk, which began with the infamous shoot promo that garnered plenty of interest on social media and on WWE’s YouTube channel because Punk had aired his grievances on TV and as a result, mentioned that he wouldn’t be renewing his contract with WWE and intended on capturing the WWE Championship and taking it with him.
In addition, Punk also went on to have one of the longest WWE Championship reigns of the modern era---434 days--- before losing it to The Rock at the Royal Rumble in 2013.
Punk left WWE following the 2014 Royal Rumble and ultimately retired from pro wrestling. It wasn’t until this year where Punk returned to the wrestling business however, this time as a broadcaster, where he can be seen giving his opinions on WWE’s product on the FOX show: WWE Backstage.
#9. The Miz
The Miz being #9 or even on this list at all may surprise a few people, but once fans take a closer look at everything he has accomplished during the decade, I think he belongs on the list.
Miz started off the decade as the WWE United States Champion, which would be a steppingstone to superstardom in the WWE. With Miz rising up the ranks in WWE, he was then assigned as Daniel Bryan’s mentor on NXT, which is significant because the two would go on to have one of the best rivalries of the decade.
In addition, Miz went on to win the Money in the Bank ladder match and successfully cashed-in his briefcase on Randy Orton to become the new WWE Champion. Miz’s title reign was quite successful and longer than fans probably thought it would be; he main evented WrestleMania XVII, where he defeated John Cena and would then go on to play a key role in The Rock’s return match at Survivor Series later that year.
Much like CM Punk, Miz had a shoot promo of his own on Talking Smack, which was a talk show that aired after SmackDown on the WWE Network. During the promo, Miz went off on Daniel Bryan and voiced his displeasure for being left off the show, even though he was the reigning Intercontinental Champion. The promo was successful as it reminded fans just how good The Miz is on the mic and ended up making the Intercontinental title relevant again.
Miz closed out the decade with a Universal Championship storyline with Bray Wyatt and an excellent number-one contender match with King Corbin and Daniel Bryan,which was fitting considering the history between Miz and Bryan during the decade.
At the end of the decade, Miz is tied with Kofi Kingston for most championship reigns during the decade; 14.
#8. Daniel Bryan
Yes! Yes! Yes! The leader of the Yes! Movement Daniel Bryan at #8 on this list.
Daniel Bryan started the decade wrestling FCW, which had been WWE’s developmental territory at the time, before moving to NXT as The Miz’s rookie. Bryan made a name for himself and quickly gained a following with the WWE fanbase, who may have not known about his work on the independent scene.
Daniel Bryan’s crowing moment came at WrestleMania XXX, when he defeated Triple H in the opening match to earn an opportunity to compete for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the main event against Royal Rumble winner, Batista and champion, Randy Orton. Bryan won the match and closed the show by celebrating with both world titles.
Bryan was forced to retire in 2016, which left fans wondering if he’d ever be medically cleared to wrestle again. Fortunately for Bryan and the WWE universe, Bryan was cleared to return to in-ring competition in 2018 and has looked better than ever.
Following his return, Bryan would go on to win the WWE Championship and was part of yet another memorable WrestleMania moment--- this time as the heel-- who was trying to prevent Kofi Kingston from achieving his dream of becoming a world champion.
When you take into the account the criteria I brought up, although Daniel Bryan was one of the biggest stars this decade, his longevity only puts him in the discussion in my opinion as he missed close to 4-years of the decade due to injuries and retirement.
#7. Kenny Omega
The first wrestler outside WWE to make this list is “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega. Omega has literally been all over the wrestling world this decade, wrestling for multiple promotions around the world at both the indy level and major level.
Omega is credited as one of the main reasons for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s successful run the past few years and generating mainstream popularity.
Year after year, Omega has continued to prove why he is one of the best in-ring performers of his generation and a star that can help draw talent to want to work with him. This was evident when Chris Jericho decided to sign with NJPW, as opposed to returning to WWE, because he wanted to wrestle Omega, which speaks volumes to the reputation he’s built among his peers in the industry.
Now in All Elite Wrestling, Omega is one of the biggest names on the roster and heavily relied on to help grow the company.
#6. John Cena
For over 10-years John Cena was the face that ran the place and unquestionably the face of the WWE. Everywhere WWE went, Cena would be front and center and would represent the company from all aspects including in-ring, media, and philanthropic efforts.
For most of the decade, Cena had been involved in the World title picture as well as high profile dream matches, most notably with The Rock in back-to-back WrestleMania main events, with each getting a win. Cena was also involved in another dream match with AJ Styles, who for years was the face of TNA Wrestling.
Some of Cena’s accomplishments this decade include winning the Money in the Bank ladder match in 2012, 2013 Royal Rumble match, and tied WWE Hall of Famer “Nature Boy” Ric Flair’s 16-world title reigns, when he defeated AJ Styles at the Royal Rumble in 2017, which is quite the accomplishment in pro wrestling.
Cena has transitioned to more of a part-time role with WWE in recent years as he has pursued a career in Hollywood, where he has since been casted in many high-profile films.
#5. The Shield (Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose/Jon Moxley)
The one time on this list where I placed a faction and I’m sure many would agree that The Shield were the most dominant faction of the decade. From starting the decade in FCW to the paths each of their careers took, it’s hard not to include all three men as one spot in this top-10 list.
The Shield made their debut at the 2012 Survivor Series, when they came through the crowd and helped CM Punk retain his WWE Championship. From that moment, The Shield became the most talked about faction on the roster as they would continue to attack superstars at random as well as legends like The Undertaker and The Rock.
When it came time for the group to go their separate ways, they were equally as successful as singles competitors.
Roman Reigns main evented 4-straight WrestleMania events, won the 2015 Royal Rumble, multi-time world champion, and was involved in a match with John Cena, that was viewed as being a passing of the torch from Cena to Reigns.
Seth Rollins was the first-ever NXT Champion before debuting as a member of The Shield, simultaneously held the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and WWE United States Championship, Money in the Bank winner, 2019 Royal Rumble winner, and two-time Universal Champion.
Finally, Dean Ambrose won the 2016 Money in the Bank ladder match, multi-time Intercontinental Champion, and lead SmackDown as the WWE Champion when the company went back to the brand-split in 2016. Ambrose, now wrestling as Jon Moxley in All Elite Wrestling, is a top guy that is currently part of the company’s main event storyline and one of the company’s biggest signings to date.
The Shield reunited on multiple occasions and teamed together for the final time in February 2019, before Moxley left the company.
#4. Brock Lesnar
There aren’t too many wrestlers with the accolades of Brock Lesnar and since making his WWE return on the night after WrestleMania XVIII in 2012, he has continued to provide shocking moments that fans still talk about.
Perhaps the most shocking moment of the decade was when Lesnar defeated The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX to end his undefeated streak at the event. There was silence in the Mercedes-Benz SuperDome as the camera zoomed in on all the fans looking on in shock and disbelief.
When Lesnar is motivated, there aren’t too many superstars that can match what he brings to the product in terms of in-ring physicality, selling for his opponent, and in-ring psychology.
Since returning, Lesnar has been in many excellent matches with a who’s who of superstars. In fact, some of Lesnar’s best matches this decade came against smaller wrestlers like AJ Styles, CM Punk Daniel Bryan, and Finn Balor.
#3. Randy Orton
For the entire decade, Randy Orton has been one of the more consistent talents not just in WWE, but pro wrestling in general. The Viper has been involved in every major matchup possible and has made the most of every feud he’s been involved in.
During the decade, Orton became the Undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion when the company unified the World Heavyweight and WWE Championship and led The Authority, where he represented what was best for business for the McMahon family. He would also win the Money in the Bank ladder match, and 2017 Royal Rumble match—the second Rumble match win of his career.
Orton still has plenty of years ahead of him, so it’ll be interesting to see what he has in store in the 2020s.
#2. Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho is undoubtedly the king of reinventing himself. Jericho has adapted and made many changes to his character throughout the decade that have led to him having the longevity that he’s had.
Jericho has been able to maintain his status in the industry while at the same time, getting something ordinary like a list or a bottle of champagne over with the audience to where it has taken a life of its own.
Jericho also created some memorable moments when he signed with New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he competed in a series of matches with the company’s top stars including Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito, and Kazuchika Okada.
After a successful career in WWE and NJPW, Jericho felt it was time to try something different and prove how much of a commodity he is in pro wrestling by signing a lucrative contract with AEW, where he became the inaugural AEW World Champion.
Le Champion as he refers to himself now, has done a great job in getting young AEW talent like Darby Allin and Jungle Boy over with the fans on their weekly show: Dynamite. Jericho is still going strong and doesn’t look like he’ll be calling it a career anytime soon, so it should be interesting to see how he reinvents himself next.
#1. AJ Styles
When taking a step back and looking at this decade in pro wrestling, it’s hard to argue against AJ Styles being the wrestler of the decade. “The Phenomenal One” has truly done it all this decade and has been praised by some of his peers, who view him as the best in-ring performer of his generation.
AJ Styles began the decade wrestling in TNA, where he was the face of the company and their reigning World Champion. Styles has been synonymous with TNA’s brand and was one of the main reasons the company was able to attract some of the top names in the industry. After being with the company since its inception in 2002, it was hard to imagine Styles ever leaving the company but that ended up being the case in 2014, when failed contract negotiations caused him to leave the company he helped build and take his talents elsewhere.
Styles would thrive on the independent scene before debuting in NJPW, where he replaced Finn Balor, then known as Prince Devitt, as the leader of the Bullet Club. While in NJPW, Styles would have many classic matchups with Okada and Nakamura and became the IWGP World Champion.
The unthinkable would happen again as Styles signed with WWE and made his debut as a surprise entrant in the 2016 Royal Rumble match, where he received a massive ovation from the fans in attendance. Styles has since gone on to achieve a great deal of success in WWE including multiple WWE Championships and WWE United States Championship reigns.
In the 2010s, AJ Styles can say he held the World Championship for three major wrestling companies; TNA, NJPW, and WWE.
Photo and Video Credit: WWE, AEW, NJPW