ROH Final Battle and WWE TLC are both set for this weekend. The Wrestle Kingdom card has been finalized. Yep, it must be the end of the year.
We here at Good Brothers Wrestling are just like you – we love end of the year lists. Even though there are a million of them with a million different opinions, we can’t help but click and see how much we agree and disagree.
Well, here’s another one. The definitive Good Brothers Wrestling Top 50 for 2018. Dare I say, the definitive list, period. Why? Because I compiled a lot of data and a tweaked a bunch of algorithms. BECAUSE SCIENCE!
I won’t get into specifics, but the following factors were accounted for: PPV/iPPV matches and main events, titles held, tournaments, and promotion reach. I think that last one is important, since playing in front of 78,000 people at Wrestlemania should count for something more compared to playing for 800 at Bound For Glory.
All that said, here’s a disclaimer – you may not agree with this list. You may think we’re trolling with our number of New Japan and Ring of Honor inclusions. I was right there with you when the list first started taking shape, but I looked at all of the info, and it just couldn’t be denied that this would not be a WWE-centric list. Why?
I think one thing that became glaringly obvious is that NO ONE ruled WWE this year. No one really called the promotion their own, not 100%. For a lot of reasons – Roman was sidelined, Ronda Rousey didn’t really heat up until mid-year, Brock was playing will he/won’t he, D-Bry sat out until Wrestlemania (with questionable booking thereafter). Even AJ Styles was forced to sit out Survivor Series last minute and booked in the middle of the card most of the year. The Face That Runs The Place shouldn’t be showered by 9 PM. Did the big WWE names do well? Yeah, but I think they could have done better. They had the potential to do better, but be it bad booking, injuries or lack of motivation, they just didn’t.
This list IS exciting. I’m excited to see Zack Sabre Jr. bubbling up. I’m excited to see indie guys like Jay White and Austin Aries have banner years. I’m excited to give a certain workhorse WWE tag team their propers. And I’m excited for some certain Elite players to get their due respect.
So let’s get to it – the Top 50 Player in Pro Wrestling for 2018!
#50 MATT SYDAL
We kick things off with the former Evan Bourne, who made his return to Impact Wrestling last year. Sydal kicked off the year as Impact Grand Champion, but bizarrely handed the title over to announcer Josh Matthews in mid-January. At Impact! Crossroads, Sydal defeated Taiji Ishimori for the X Division Title, which he held for the better half of 2018.
Sydal was also part of the Last Chancery triple threat main event, where he was unsuccessful in winning the Impact World Title from Austin Aries. Sydal lost to Aries again in a match that unified the Impact World and Grand Championships. While Sydal has come up short against Aries, no one can deny he’s been a big part of Impact this year.
#49 RANDY ORTON
The 13-time former World Champion has grown something of a sporadic reputation in recent years. The Viper only worked seven WWE PPVs in 2018 and even missed both SummerSlam and Survivor Series. Still, when he shows up, he makes an impact. Orton defeated Bobby Roode for his first United States Championship at Smackdown’s Fastlane PPV, becoming the 18th Grand Slam Champion in WWE history. Randy’s reign was short. He dropped the title a month later at Wrestlemania and then lost a US Title match to Jeff Hardy at Backlash.
After that, Orton was on the shelf for several months thanks to a knee injury. He made his return for a memorable feud with Jeff, which included sticking a screwdriver in his ear lobe, one of the more unsettling visuals in WWE history. This culminated in a pretty great Hell In A Cell match at the HIAC PPV. Randy seems to be having fun in his later years.
#48 WILL OSPREAY
And now a guy who has seemed on the cusp of great things for the last 2 or 3 years. The “Aerial Assassin” became a 2-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion at Wrestle Kingdom 12, defeating champ Marty Scurll, Hiromu Takahashi and Kushida in a Fatal Fourway match. Ospreay held on to the title until June’s Dominion PPV, where he dropped it to Takahashi in an amazing 20-minute match.
In spite of working all of the big NJPW shows in 2018, Ospreay’s top highlight may have been main eventing ROH Death Before Dishonor, taking on ROH World Champ Jay Lethal.
2018 has not been a banner year for Bushi, but his association with Los Ingobernables de Japon has at least kept him relevant. Bushi was relegated to the New Japan Rumble at Wrestle Kingdom this year, but did make it to the finals of the Super Junior Tag League with partner Shingo Takagi. Unfortunately, Roppongi 3K would walk out with the victory.
As part of LIJ, Bushi main evented several of the ROH/NJPW crossover shows this year. He made his US debut in a main event against The Young Bucks at War Of The Worlds in Lowell, MA.
#46 BECKY LYNCH
Unless your last name is Flair, the transition from NXT golden girl to the main roster has been a rough road. While Sasha Banks and Bayley are still trying to find footing, let 2018 be known as the year that Becky broke out. All it took was a bad lass heel turn against a champion that fans may have gotten a little too familiar with and “The Man” was off to the races. Throw in the Smackdown Women’s Title, a bloody cross-brand fight, and a teased match turned Twitter war with Ronda Rousey and you’re looking at the present and future of the WWE women’s division.
Don’t let the low ranking fool you – it took Becky a little while to get going this year, but she’s on fire now.
#45 SHAYNA BASZLER
There hasn’t been a big NXT event this year without Shayna Baszler. No other woman can say that, and actually, only 2 or 3 men can. Baszler won her first NXT Women’s Title at TakeOver: New Orleans and hasn’t stopped killing it since. She dominated the NXT women’s division until coming up against her former Mae Young Classic rival Kairi Sane. Sane was able to wrestle Baszler’s title off of her, but only temporarily.
At WWE Evolution, the first WWE all-women PPV, Baszler defeated Sane to become the first and only 2-time NXT Women’s Champ. With her UFC 4 Horsewomen sisters joining her, Baszler may be unstoppable in 2019.
#44 ZACK SABRE JR.
ZSJ made his debut in New Japan in 2017 and has really stepped it up this year. Zack participated in the New Japan Cup in March and would go the distance, becoming only the second ever gaijin (meaning not Japanese guy) to win the tournament. He’d go on to main event the Sakura Genesis PPV, taking on IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. Unfortunately, Zack would come up short in the match, but it would go a long way toward cementing his place in the company.
Sabre is due to make his Ring Of Honor debut at Final Battle against Jonathan Gresham and will face Ishii for the British Heavyweight Title at Wrestle Kingdom.
#43 SILAS YOUNG
Milwaukee’s Last Real Man has quietly become one of Ring Of Honor’s go-to talents in 2018. Young won his first ROH Television Title at Final Battle last year, but lost it in February during a great feud with Kenny King. Silas would ultimately win the title back to become a 2-time champ. That reign ended in the main event of ROH State Of The Art: Dallas, where Young lost to Punishment Martinez.
Silas also took on Jay Lethal for the ROH Title in the main event of Glory By Honor, but couldn’t get the victory. Young recently signed a new 3-year deal with Ring Of Honor, which means 2019 could be a banner year for the grizzled vet.
#42 TOMASSO CIAMPA
The Sicilian Psychopath is one of those heels that’s so bad they’re good. Ciampa spent the first quarter of 2018 on the shelf with a knee injury, but managed to keep his feud with ex-partner Johnny Gargano alive thanks to an on-point Twitter game (and a savage beating with a crutch). Ciampa returned to main event NXT TakeOver: New Orleans in an UNFORGETTABLE match with Gargano.
The two would clash twice more in an epic Chicago Street Fight and a Last Man Standing match at TakeOver: Brooklyn. But the highlight of Ciampa’s 2018 had to be in July, when he defeated Aleister Black for the NXT Title. During all of this time, the Blackheart has gone from being the most despised man in maybe all of WWE to a near anti-hero.
#41 SAMOA JOE
The Samoan Submission Machine started 2018 out rough when a foot injury sidelined him for several months, causing him to miss Wrestlemania. Joe would return, however, and challenge Roman Reigns in the main event of the Backlash PPV. Joe’s time on Raw would be short – he was sent to Smackdown Live as part of the Superstar Shakeup.
In July, Joe finally got his big main roster break when he kicked off a long, brutal feud with WWE Champ AJ Styles, which includes a show-stealing SummerSlam match. While Joe came up short for the WWE Title, his brutality and mic work put all of Smackdown Live on notice. He’s currently taking his frustrations out on Jeff Hardy.
At one time, Moose was seen as a future big time player in the wrestling world, but when he made an early jump from Ring Of Honor to the floundering TNA, it left a lot of people scratching their heads. Over two years in and Moose is showing the benefits of being a REALLY BIG fish in a little pond. The former NFL player won a Feast or Fired match in March, where he grabbed a briefcase with an Impact World Title shot. Unfortunately, Moose would lose the briefcase before he could use it. Moose would finally get his shot at the Impact Title at Slammiversary, but lost to champ Austin Aries in the main event.
This summer, Moose turned heel by aligning himself with Aries and Killer Kross, taking out his tag partner Eddie Edwards in the process. Edwards and Moose faced off at Bound For Glory, a match Moose lost by DQ thanks to interference by Kross. With hardcore veteran Tommy Dreamer now in the mix of this feud, it’ll be interesting to see where the still-growing Moose goes in 2019.
#39 NIA JAX
Let’s get this out of the way – she’s not like most girls. Nia Jax has been the source of a lot of controversy in 2018, but she’s used it to become one of Raw’s most solid heels. A Raw Women’s Title win at Wrestlemania over former friend Alexa Bliss set the tone for Nia’s year, but it’s been her feud with Ronda Rousey that’s gotten Jax the most press.
Nia’s tenure with the title was cut short thanks to a Bliss-ful Money In The Bank cash-in, but she’s managed to score a few notable victories like her Battle Royal win at the WWE Evolution PPV, which earned her another shot at Rousey. Nia’s recent teaming with Tamina Snuka could also spell Women’s Tag Team gold in 2019, if that ever becomes a thing. Nia’s new nasty attitude and her sheer size in a land of small girls make her a threat any time she steps into the ring.
#38 JUICE ROBINSON
It looks like Juice Robinson’s bet on himself is starting to pay off. Does anybody even remember CJ Parker anymore? Juice has been a constant at New Japan shows in 2018. He had a good showing in the New Japan Cup and his team with David Finlay performed well at the recent World Tag League tournament. But Juice’s shining moment this year was at the G1 Special, where he defeated Jay White to become the IWGP United States Champion – his first New Japan title.
Juice held the belt for just over 12 weeks before dropping it to Cody at Fighting Spirit Unleashed. Robinson will face Cody for the title again at Wrestle Kingdom.
#37 RONDA ROUSEY
Where to begin on Ronda Rousey? Let’s start with this – everyone thought she would suck at Wrestlemania. Surprisingly, she didn’t at all. Rowdy Ronda teamed with Kurt Angle in her debut wrestling match to defeat Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Unfortunately, Rousey’s “full time WWE contract” had a strange definition of full time. Rousey would go weeks at a time between appearances, and wrestled even less during the first half of the year. That “suspension” during her movie promotion was lucky timing, huh?
Anyway, something happened around SummerSlam – Ronda actually became part of the show. Love her or hate her, you cannot deny the UFC Hall of Famer’s dominance in the back half of 2018. Highlights include winning the Raw Women’s Title from Alexa Bliss at SummerSlam and main eventing the first ever all-women’s PPV at Evolution against Nikki Bella. She’ll defend the title against Nia Jax at TLC. If Ronda remains this committed, she could be topping a lot of lists in 2019.
#36 FLIP GORDON
If there’s been a theme for 2018 for this former member of the Army Nation Guard, it’s coming up from behind. Flip became somewhat of a punchline for the multi-promotion All In PPV, where promoters Cody and The Young Bucks constantly teased that he would not be booked, in spite of his best efforts. At ROH Honor For All, Flip faced Nick Aldis in a match for the NWA Title, only to be beat down by Bully Ray afterwards. Flip got his revenge, entering the All In Pre-Show Over The Budget Battle Royal under a mask, where he tossed out Bully to earn a shot at the ROH Title later in the show.
Flip’s feud with Bully Ray would be one of the highlights of ROH TV in 2018, and it’s brought out a side of WWE Hall of Famer Bully we haven’t seen in years. Flip also heads into 2019 with a guaranteed ROH Title shot after winning the Sea of Honor tournament. 2019 could be Flip’s year.
At Wrestlemania 34, Charlotte Flair and Asuka competed in an epic match for the Smackdown Women’s Title, ending when Charlotte handed the Empress of Tomorrow her first loss in over two and a half years. It was one of the most anticipated matches on the stacked Mania card and just may have stolen the show. So imagine how far the wrestling world’s eyeballs rolled back in their heads when, two days later, Carmella cashed in her Money In The Bank briefcase and defeated Charlotte on Smackdown Live to win the title. With help from The IIconics, no less.
While an unlikely champion, the Princess of Staten Island lived up to her own lofty swagger, by hook or by crook. She defeated Charlotte in a rematch at Backlash, and then kept Asuka away from her title with multiple defeats. Carmella would lose the championship in a SummerSlam triple threat match, but Mella wasn’t even the one who was pinned. Since then, we’ve seen a Carmella face-turn as part of The Fabulous Truth with R-Truth. It’s a comedy act, sure, but it’s brought out a new side of Carmella on the main roster that could be beneficial to her character when she decides to get back in the title hunt. DANCE BREAK!
#34 MINORU SUZUKI
The leader of Suzuki-gun started the year out rough, losing his NEVER Openweight Championship to Hirooki Goto in a Hair vs Hair match at Wrestle Kingdom 12. The newly shorn Suzuki bounced back, though. He defeated Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Title in the main event of the New Beginning in Sapporo show on January 27th. Suzuki would hold the title until Wrestling Hinokini, dropping the belt to Tetsuya Naito in the main event. He was unsuccessful in a rematch at the main event of Destruction in Beppu.
Surprisingly, Suzuki is not booked for Wrestle Kingdom 13 as of press date.
#33 KOTA IBUSHI
Ibushi’s stock soared in 2018, thanks to the reunion of the Golden☆Lovers, his tag team with special friend Kenny Omega. The reunion of Ibushi and Omega would cause tension within the Bullet Club, one of the hot storylines of 2018. Ibushi faced Omega and Cody in a triple threat match for the IWGP Title in the main event of the NJPW King of Pro-Wrestling show, but came up short. He also teamed with The Young Bucks to defeat Bandido, Fenix and the legend Rey Mysterio in the frenetically paced finale of All In.
Ibushi notably made it to the finals of the 2018 G1 Climax tournament, where he lost to Tanahashi. The match made Kota the first wrestler to ever compete in the finals of G1, Best of the Super Juniors and the New Japan Cup. Ibushi defeated Goto for the NEVER Openweight Championship on the last day of the grading period. He’s set to defend against Will Ospreay at WK13.
#32 JAY WHITE
Jay White seemed full of potential a few years ago – and now he seems to be fulfilling it. Switchblade defeated Kenny Omega back in January to win the IWGP United States title and spent nearly half the year as champion. White defended against the likes of Hangman Page and Punishment Martinez, ultimately losing the belt to Juice Robinson at the G1 Special show. White went on to do well in G1 Climax, with the distinction of being the only man to defeat eventual winner and Chaos-stablemate Tanahashi in the tournament.
At Destruction in Kobe, White memorably turned heel and aligned with Bullet Club after taking out both Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada, with the help of Okada’s own manager Gedo. White will take on Okada at Wrestle Kingdom next month.
#31 SO-CAL UNCENSORED
The Addiction act had gotten a little stale in 2017, but that all changed with a new friend and a new name (and a new chant). Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and Scorpio Sky have been Ring Of Honor stalwarts in 2018, bringing it show after show. The trio defeated the Hung Bucks at ROH 16th Anniversary to win the ROH Six-Man Tag Titles, which they held for 106 days. Kazarian and Sky would go on to capture the ROH Tag Team championship, which they’ll defend at Final Battle in a hotly anticipated Ladder War against The Briscoes and Young Bucks.
Daniels has been no slouch this year either. The former ROH Champ and 25 year veteran teamed with Kaz to main event the Honor For All iPPV, and nearly won the Survival of the Fittest tournament. He’ll face Marty Scurll for an ROH Title #1 Contender spot at Final Battle. Whether the future finds them in front of or behind the 8-ball, 2018 was a great year for the men from beautiful southern California.
#30 DALTON CASTLE
At Final Battle 2017, Dalton Castle defeated Cody to capture his first ROH World Title. Unfortunately, keeping that title would be a much greater battle. Dalton’s reign on top of Ring Of Honor was plagued with injuries – injuries which the Party Peacock tried his darndest to work through, carrying the heavy burden of the promotion on his shoulders. Castle main evented 16th Anniversary, Supercard of Honor and Masters of the Craft, but the matches did his body and legacy no favors.
The writing was on the wall for Dalton, and, after an against-all-odds victory against Cody and Marty Scurll at Best In The World, he dropped the ROH Title the next night in a Fatal Fourway match to Jay Lethal. With time off to heal, Castle seems to have returned with a new spring in his step. Hopefully a return to glory and an injury-free 2019 are in his future.
#29 HIROSHI TANAHASHI
The former 7-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion had another great year in 2018. Tanahashi entered 2018 with the IWGP Intercontinental Title, which he successfully defended at Wrestle Kingdom 12 against Jay White. His 230-day reign was ended at The New Beginning in Sapporo when he lost the belt to Suzuki.
The legend returned for the New Japan Cup, making it to the final round, but coming up short to Zack Sabre Jr. Tanahashi clashed with then-IWGP Champion Okada, facing off at Wrestling Dontaku, but Okada came out with the victory, braking Tanahashi’s own record for successful IWGP Title defenses. Tanahashi wasn’t done yet though – he’d go on to win the G1 Climax tournament for the third time in August, which earns him a shot at Kenny Omega and an 8th IWGP Title reign at WK13.
#28 THE BAR
The unlikely pairing of Cesaro and Sheamus has gelled into the biggest workhorse tag team in all of WWE and it’s time they were celebrated for it. The pair kicked off the year by winning the Raw Tag Team Titles from Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan at the Royal Rumble. Not only that, but both guys were in the Rumble match as well. We won’t mention that Sheamus was eliminated in 3 seconds – he still got paid. The team went on to lose the titles at Wrestlemania in a very fun match with Braun Strowman and, well, a little kid named Nicholas. Silly? Yes. But who else would you trust in the ring at Wrestlemania with a LITTLE KID?
The team challenged for the vacant titles at the Greatest Royal Rumble, but fell short. The Bar got moved to Smackdown Live as part of the Superstar Shakeup and laid low for a while. Later in the year, they feuded with The New Day and, at Smackdown 1000, The Bar captured the Smackdown Tag Team Titles with help from The Big Show. Though the alliance with Big Show was short lived, the 5-time tag team champs continue to dominate the SD Live tag scene.
The Empress of Tomorrow may have peaked early in 2018. Asuka won the first ever 30-woman Royal Rumble match, which main evented this year’s show. Unfortunately, her victory would be overshadowed by the debut of Ronda Rousey at the close of the PPV. Asuka would go on to challenge Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair at Wrestlemania 34. It was a hotly anticipated and contested match, but in the end, Asuka would see her long undefeated streak come to an end. Asuka remained in the title hunt, challenging Carmella for the title many times, but failing to gain the title thanks to shenanigans.
Asuka then floundered for a while, teasing a tag team with Naomi, but ultimately making no gains. She was part of the Evolution Women’s Battle Royal, which had to be seen as a demotion for the formerly dominant superstar. Luckily, Asuka won another battle royal, earning her a spot in the first ever women’s TLC match at the upcoming PPV. She’ll face Charlotte and Smackdown Women’s Champion Becky Lynch for the title.
#26 JOHNNY GARGANO
Johnny Wrestling. Johnny TakeOver. Call him what you want, but this man IS NXT. Johnny kicked off the year with an epic 5-star classic against Andrade “Cien” Almas at TakeOver: Philadelphia. Gargano didn’t win, thanks to interference from his best friend turned arch-rival Tomasso Ciampa. It’d be the first of many emotional hardships for Johnny, like being forced to leave NXT in February after another loss to Almas. Luckily, that didn’t last long.
Johnny main evented all but one TakeOver event in 2018, including a victory over arch-nemesis Tomasso Ciampa in New Orleans that got him reinstated. The Gargano/Ciampa feud was maybe the hottest wrestling feud of the decade, and it left Gargano a changed man. His recent change of attitude led to an awesome clash with Aleister Black at WarGames. It’s hard to envision 2019 without that NXT Title around Johnny Gargano’s waist.
That’ll do it for today. Come back tomorrow as we continue the countdown of Wrestling’s Top 50 Players of 2018!