Welcome back to Part 2 of our year end countdown, looking at Pro Wrestling’s Top 50 players of the year. If you missed yesterday, check out #50-26 here:
2018 Top 50 Players in Pro Wrestling – #50-26
I like to consider this a DEFINITIVE list seeing as how it covers the entire landscape of wrestling’s major promotions, and also uses an algorithm that scores performance based on big event matches, titles held, tournament victories and promotion size.
I’m pretty proud of this Top 50 and hope to make it an annual feature for as long as the Good Brothers are around. It’s an exciting list, and it’ll be fun to give praise to a certain NXT faction, a hard working pair of chicken farmers, a belt collector and several others.
Without further adieu, let’s get on with the Top 25!
#25 THE UNDISPUTED ERA
While the Johnny Gargano/Tomasso Ciampa feud has been the most exciting, no one ran NXT like The Undisputed Era in 2018. Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly entered the year as NXT Tag Team Champions and proved to be formidable titleholders, with big wins over the likes of Authors of Pain and sAniTy. Sadly, Bobby Fish went out with an ACL injury in March, which could’ve spelled doom for any other stable.
At Takeover: New Orleans, Adam Cole became the inaugural NXT North American Champion after a grueling 6-man ladder match. Not only that, but Cole subbed for Fish to successfully defend the UE’s tag titles against the team of Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne. Of course, it didn’t help that Roddy turned on Dunne and joined the Undisputed Era during the match. If retaining the titles wasn’t enough, the win also made the team the winners of the 2018 Dusty Classic.
With three active members again, the UE wreaked havoc on the NXT tag team scene. They came up against resistance in the form of Mustache Mountain, who defeated O’Reilly and Strong at the NXT UK Championship Tournament to win the NXT Tag Titles. Two days later, the Undisputed Era would win back the belts, becoming just the second ever 2-time NXT Tag champions. Strong and O’Reilly closed out 2018 as champions.
Bobby Fish returned in October, adding even more strength to the stable. Unfortunately, Adam Cole lost his North American Title to Ricochet in Brooklyn and has been unsuccessful in getting it back. The UE finished 2018 with a loss in a spectacular War Games match against Dunne, Ricochet and the War Raiders. Adam Cole dipped his toe in the WWE main roster with an entry into 2018’s Royal Rumble. Will the Undisputed Era find more NXT gold in 2019, or will the call come to head up to Raw or Smackdown?
#24 CHARLOTTE FLAIR
This second generation superstar kicked off 2018 as the Smackdown Women’s Champion. Charlotte successfully defended the title against Ruby Riott at Smackdown’s Fastlane PPV, then stole the show with a victory over the undefeated Asuka at Wrestlemania. Sadly, Charlotte’s 147 day reign came to an end on Smackdown Live, after a beatdown from the IIconics and a perfectly timed Money In The Bank cash-in by Carmella.
Flair was unable to defeat Mella at Backlash, and failed to win her own Money In The Bank briefcase in June. A ruptured breast implant put Charlotte on the shelf for several weeks in the summer, but she returned to insert herself into the SD Women’s Title match at SummerSlam. Flair’s friend Becky Lynch, who was set to challenge Carmella, was none too pleased, especially when Charlotte walked out a 7-time champion. Neither were several fans, who sided with the newly heel Becky in what would be one of WWE’s biggest feuds of the year.
Becky defeated Charlotte for the title at Hell In A Cell, and was set to face Raw Women’s Champ Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series. Unfortunately, a broken face and concussion put Becky out last minute, and Lynch named Charlotte as her successor in the match. Charlotte/Rousey was heavily favored to main event Wrestlemania 35, so it seemed odd that WWE would give it away with such little buildup. This turned out to be a non factor, as Charlotte snapped during the Survivor Series match, beating the absolute piss out of Rousey with kendo sticks and chairs and drawing a DQ.
A newly heel Charlotte, Rousey and Asuka are set to face each other in the first ever women’s TLC match this week for the Smackdown Women’s Title.
#23 SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
Nakamura has had an interesting year. He started off by winning the 30-Man Royal Rumble match, challenging WWE Champion AJ Styles at Wrestlemania. The Styles/Nakamura match at Mania was an absolute dream match, and workrate fans expected the two to tear the house down. They…didn’t. In fact, the only notable move was a post-match low blow, which saw Nakamura turn heel on the victorious AJ.
During the next several months, Nakamura took out the nuts of AJ Styles and anyone else at every opportunity. A Greatest Royal Rumble rematch ended in a double count-out, and another rematch at Backlash ended in a double cockknocker no contest. Styles finally definitively beat the King Of Strong Style in a Last Man Standing match at Money In The Bank.
Nakamura took a few weeks off after being bitten by a police dog in the summer (WTF?), but returned to defeat Jeff Hardy for the United States Title at Extreme Rules. Nakamura has since held on to the US Title, though low blows, interference from Randy Orton, and his refusal to defend the title against the unworthy has helped. This may not be the Shinsuke we hoped to see when he came from New Japan, but 2018 has added an interesting layer to his tale in Naka-Merica.
#22 TETSUYA NAITO
Naito jumped into 2018 by challenging Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Title in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12. Though he was unsuccessful, his biggest surprise was the next night at New Year’s Dash, when he was attacked by Chris Jericho. The Jericho/Naito feud would become Japan’s most heated rivalry of 2018.
Tetsuya defeated Minoru Suzuki in the main event of Wrestling Hinokuni to capture his second IWGP Intercontinental Title, but Naito would lose the title to Jericho in a huge match at Dominion. The two are set to square off again for the IC title at Wrestle Kingdom 13. Naito was also a standout in the 2018 G1 Climax tournament and was featured during the ROH/NJPW Global Wars tour.
#21 KEVIN OWENS
KO kicked off 2018 reunited with his best friend/worst enemy Sami Zayn in a hot feud against Smackdown authority figures Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan. Owens and Zayn were unable to defeat WWE champ AJ Styles in a handicap match at the Royal Rumble. KO went on to compete in the 6-Pack Challenge main event at Fastlane for the title, but again came up short. Owens and Zayn blamed all of these failures on the authority holding them down. This all culminated in a Wrestlemania tag team match featuring the in-ring return of Daniel Bryan.
The loss sent Owens and Zayn packing to Raw, where they were forced to beg for jobs. Owens competed in the 50-man Greatest Royal Rumble match, and was one of the final four men remaining in the ring. Braun Strowman would go on to win the match, and the two would feud for the rest of the summer, with KO rarely coming out unscathed. Owens even attempted to befriend Braun when Sami Zayn was sidelined by an injury, but that didn’t work. KO was part of the Money In The Bank main event, which was again won by Strowman. Owens faced Braun for the MITB briefcase at SummerSlam, but was soundly defeated.
After losing a Raw Intercontinental Title match to Seth Rollins, KO announced that he was quitting. This lasted for all of one week, when he returned to take out Bobby Lashley. Baron Corbin re-signed Owens, with the caveat that KO could “do anything he wanted without repercussions”, which may be the dumbest contract clause I’ve ever heard. Owens joined Elias to bash the defunct Seattle Supersonics in one of the most heatseeking live segments in Raw history.
At the Australian Super Show-Down PPV, Kevin & Elias took on John Cena and Lashley in a losing effort. Unfortunately, Owens went down for double knee surgery shortly after and will remain on the DL list into 2019.
It might sound on paper like KO had a very bad 2018, but the fact is that he was slotted against the company’s top names, including John Cena and the returning Daniel Bryan. This shows a faith in Owens by WWE, and hopefully it translates to greater in-ring success upon his return.
#20 FINN BALOR
The leader of Bálor Club had a great performance in the 2018 Royal Rumble, entering at #2 and lasting over 57 minutes to make it to the final four. Bálor also lasted over 30 minutes in the February Elimination Chamber match, but, like everyone else not named Roman Reigns, was squashed by Braun Strowman.
Finn went on a hunt for the Intercontinental Title, competing (but losing) in a great triple threat match with Seth Rollins and The Miz at Wrestlemania. Finn faced another IC Title loss against The Miz and Samoa Joe, this time in a ladder match at the Greatest Royal Rumble. Bálor defeated Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn to qualify for the Money In The Bank ladder match, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
Over the summer, he began a feud with Baron Corbin, which led to a match at SummerSlam featuring the surprise return of his Demon King persona. Ludicrously, Corbin would say the match wasn’t fair because he wasn’t prepared to face Finn in facepaint. Bálor would bounce around Raw aimlessly during the fall, but lately has rekindled his feud with Corbin.
Finn was part of the successful Raw men’s team at Survivor Series, though he was not one of the three survivors. Finn has acted as a challenger to Corbin’s new authority on Raw and is set to take on Drew McIntyre at the TLC PPV. Unfortunately, that match may be in jeopardy due to a recent injury.
It would be a shame if the injury is serious – it seems like Finn is finally gaining some traction, though another reign with the Universal Title doesn’t even seem feasible at the moment. Unless a certain Demon makes his presence known on a more permanent basis.
#19 THE BRISCOES
ROH alumni turned WWE Superstars like AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins get a lot of credit, but if there’s one entity upon whom Ring Of Honor has rested on the most during its 16 years, it’s Jay and Mark Briscoe. The pair ran the ROH tag division in 2018.
They defeated The Motor City Machine Guns at 16th Anniversary, making them a record setting 9-time ROH Tag Team champions. Their 9th reign would last 219 days, with wins over the likes of Jay Lethal and Hiroshi Tanahashi at Supercard Of Honor, The Young Bucks at Best In The World, and The Addiction at Death Before Dishonor. They also main evented Honor For All with a win over the Bucks and Addiction.
The Briscoes dropped the titles to So-Cal Uncensored in October, but are set to challenge again in Ladder War VII at Final Battle. The brothers faced off against each other in a great semi-finals match during the Sea Of Honor Tournament, with Jay advancing to the finals.
To be honest, it seemed like a business-as-usual year for the Briscoes in ROH, but when your business is running the game, that’s just fine.
#18 THE NEW DAY
One of WWE’s most entertaining acts, The New Day’s biggest issue of 2018 was being a victim of the company’s stale tag division. Gold on the mic and innovative in the ring, the group who brought back the “Freebird Rule” is almost too good for the WWE tag team ranks.
Highlights for this year include Kofi’s performance in the Money In The Bank Ladder match and a short run with the SmackDown Tag Team Titles.
Their biggest accomplishment in 2018 may be longevity – in May they became the longest running faction in WWE history. They’re now nearing 4 and a half years of continuously not being booty.
#17 DOLPH ZIGGLER
Where to begin on the Show Off? Dolph Ziggler started the year as persona non grata on Smackdown, having won the United States Title in December and promptly vacating it. DZ made a suprise return at the Royal Rumble as entrant #30, but was tossed by Raw’s Finn Bálor.
Ziggler was inserted into Smackdown’s Fastlane main event, a 6-Pack Challenge for AJ Styles WWE Title, where he was also unsuccessful. He was relegated to the Wrestlemania pre-show Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal – a true WWE no-man’s land. He was one of 50 faces in the Greatest Royal Rumble match – he didn’t win, but at least he was in the main event.
Lucky for Dolph, the second half of his year was more eventful, thanks to a jump to Raw in the Superstar Shakeup. There he aligned himself with the returning Drew McIntyre and started a hot feud with Seth Rollins for the Intercontinental Title, which led to a handful of great matches. The Show Off won his 6th IC title and successfully retained in the main event at Extreme Rules, defeating Rollins in a 30-Minute Ironman Match. Ziggler would drop the title back to Rollins at SummerSlam after a 9-week reign.
Dolph and McIntyre then joined up with Braun Strowman to feud with The Shield as the Dogs Of War. In September, DZ and McIntyre defeated the B-Team for the Raw Tag Team Championship. It would be Dolph’s first tag team gold since his Spirit Squad days. Ziggler made it to the finals of the WWE World Cup at Crown Jewel, only to lose the “Best In The World” title to Shane McMahon in a complete farce of a tournament.
After teaming together at Survivor Series, The Dogs Of War team disbanded when Strowman grew impatient with their losses. Ziggler and McIntyre’s partnership also dissolved, with Ziggler scoring a victory on Raw over his ex-partner. Most astonishingly (to me), the Good Brothers Wrestling facebook ran a poll to determine if people actually thought Dolph Ziggler was good, which he won by an overwhelming margin.
#16 EVIL & SANADA
The team of Los Ingobernables de Japon’s Evil and Sanada have had an amazing 2018 run. They defeated the Killer Elite Squad for their first IWGP Tag Team Titles at Wrestle Kingdom. The pair teamed with Naito for a loss to Suzuki-gun at Sakura Genesis, but LIJ got their revenge at both nights of Wrestling Dontaku.
Sanada challenged IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada for the title in the main event at The New Beginning in Osaka, but failed to capture the belt. Evil & Sanada took out K.E.S. in a rematch at Wrestling Hinokuni, then dropped the Tag Titles to The Young Bucks at Dominion.
On that same night, Evil saved Naito from an attack by Chris Jericho, which drew the ire of The Alpha Club. At King of Pro-Wrestling, Evil was scheduled to face Zack Sabre Jr, but he was attacked pre-match by Chris Jericho. This led to Evil main eventing Power Struggle in an IWGP Intercontinental Title match with Jericho, easily the biggest match of his career.
Evil was unsuccessful against Chris Jericho, but bounced back when he and Sanada won their second consecutive World Tag League this month, defeating the Guerrillas of Destiny.
#15 DANIEL BRYAN
What a year it’s been for the former Yes Man. Daniel Bryan was forced retire after several concussions back in 2015. Though Bryan claimed in many interviews that doctors had found he no longer had symptoms, WWE doctors would not clear him to return to the ring. Instead, Daniel acted as Smackdown’s General Manager. It was a fresh perspective to the authority roll, which is so often filled by smarmy heels.
Along with SD Commissioner Shane McMahon, Daniel came into 2018 feuding with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, who felt they were being held down on the show. Sometime in March, Bryan was miraculously cleared to return to the ring, and took part in an awesome segment on Smackdown, leading up to a tag team match at Wrestlemania. While a mid-card tag match hardly seemed like the Welcome Back party the former WWE Champion deserved, it was still a great moment to see him back in the ring.
After his win at Mania, Bryan was confoundingly sent into a program with Big Cass of all people. Bryan lasted an incredible 76 minutes in the Greatest Royal Rumble, only to be tossed by Cass. D-Bry got his revenge on Cass at both Extreme Rules and Money In The Bank (ironically sending Cass packing for the indies). Bryan then reunited with Kane to reform Team Hell No in an unsuccessful bid against The Bludgeon Brothers for the Smackdown Tag Team Titles.
After that was over, the WWE Universe FINALLY got their long anticipated Daniel Bryan/Miz feud, though Daniel was unable to defeat The Miz at SummerSlam. Bryan did defeat Miz (surprisingly quickly) at Super Show-Down in a #1 Contender Match for the WWE Title. He was booked to face WWE Champ AJ Styles at Crown Jewel, but decided to pass on the event due to moral differences with the Saudi culture.
Bryan was booked in a surprise WWE Title match with AJ Styles on the Smackdown Live before Survivor Series. The former American Dragon shocked fans when he low blowed AJ during the match, leading him to his 4th WWE Title reign. The win placed Bryan in the ring with Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series’ main event. Even though Bryan lost, he was praised for drawing the best match out of the repetitive Lesnar in years.
With his new heel turn seemingly rejuvenating his character, it’d be great to see The New Daniel Bryan hold that WWE Title all the way to Wrestlemania 35 and beyond.
#14 BROCK LESNAR
How do you spend a good portion of the year as WWE Universal Champion, main event 3 of the Big 4 PPVs, and still not manage a Top 10 ranking? It’s simple, just don’t do anything else.
Brock Lesnar entered 2018 with the buzz being Wrestlemania 34 would be his swan song. Shockingly, Lesnar defeated Roman Reigns at Mania, holding on to the Universal Title. The rumor was Lesnar had extended his contract for one more date – the big money Greatest Royal Rumble show in Saudi Arabia. Again, Lesnar managed to hold on to the Universal Title when his Steel Cage Match was somehow declared a No Contest.
Lesnar didn’t return until SummerSlam, where he finally dropped the title to Roman Reigns in the main event. People thought that was the end of the Beast for sure, who had made a lot of noise about heading back to the UFC.
Instead, Lesnar returned again, challenging Reigns for the Universal Title at Crown Jewel, yet another Saudi event, in a triple threat match with Braun Strowman. Sadly, Roman was forced to relinquish the title before the event, and Lesnar handily defeated Strowman (with five F-5’s and literally nothing else) to capture his second Universal Title.
There is an upside though – Lesnar faced WWE Champion Daniel Bryan in the Survivor Series main event in what would be his longest match since 2014. Maybe the more competitive contest will light a new fire in the beast. Or maybe he’ll just finally leave.
#13 AUSTIN ARIES
If one man has completely dominated his company in 2018, it was certainly A Double. Unfortunately, that company was Impact, so he’s only ranked at 13. Aries made news when asking for his WWE release last year, but he’s made the most of his heat on the indies. In late 2017, he captured the World Series Wrestling, Defiant, and IPW: UK championships.
He made his return to Impact in early 2018, calling himself The Belt Collector. It didn’t take long for him to defeat Impact Champion Eli Drake, adding that belt to his collection. Aries also captured the Grand Impact Championship in a match with Matt Sydal, unifying both titles.
Aries was set to face Alberto el Patron at the Redemption PPV, but Patron was let go from Impact before the match could occur. Instead, he faced Lucha Underground’s Pentagon Jr and Fenix in a triple threat main event, with Pentagon walking out with the belt. Aries regained the Impact Title at the Under Pressure event, though it took a low blow to do so.
The newly heel Aries also defeated Moose at Slammiversary XVI. Aries appeared at ROH Best In The World, challenging unsuccessfully for the ROH Television Title. Aries then entered into a feud with Johnny Impact which blurred the lines between work and shoot. Aries was able to defeat Impact at the Bound For Glory show, but lost the title the next night in another match that blurred the lines between work and legit.
Say what you will about Austin Aries, but if you were watching, he held your attention in 2018.
#12 KENNY OMEGA
It’s been a banner year for the former leader of the Bullet Club. Omega started things off taking on the unlikely opponent of Chris Jericho at Wrestle Kingdom 12. The No Disqualification Match for Kenny’s IWGP United States Title would be the key talking point of the WK12 PPV and, yes, probably the match that got NJPW the most buys.
Omega then made a misstep, inviting Jay White to join Bullet Club, only to be attacked by White, who revealed he’d already joined Chaos. White and Omega faced off at The New Beginning in Sapporo, with Switchblade coming out US Champion. The match caused dissention between Omega and Bullet Club, with BC’s Cody and Hangman Page ultimately attacking Kenny. Kota Ibushi made the save, reuniting the Golden☆Lovers.
The Lovers went on to feud with Bullet Club, winning matches against Cody & Marty Scurll as well as The Young Bucks. Omega faced Cody in a singles match at ROH Supercard Of Honor, but was defeated. In perhaps the biggest moment of his career, Omega defeated longtime rival IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada at Dominion, making him the first Canadian to hold that title. Meltzer gave it 69 stars.
The Young Bucks and Golden☆Lovers reconciled, forming The Golden Elite. Omega defeated Cody at G1 Special, but Omega was attacked by other BC members after the match. This officially divided the Bullet Club, with Omega and Cody taking the side of The Elite.
Omega successfully defended the IWGP Title against Tomohiro Ishii at Destruction and in a main event Triple Threat match with Cody and Ibushi at King of Pro-Wrestling.
It’s hard not to rank Omega higher after such a successful 2018, but he really didn’t catch fire until the summer, so he kind of split the year with Okada. If Omega has his successor’s longevity, he could be 2019’s #1.
#11 Kazuchika Okada
While all good things must come to an end, it’s still odd to refer to Okada as the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion. The Rainmaker reached his 1,358th day as champion on January 3rd, making him the longest reigning and longest combined reigning champion in the title’s history. Okada successfully defended his IWGP Title against Naito at Wrestle Kingdom and then defeated Sanada at The New Beginning in Osaka.
At Sakura Genesis, Okada defeated New Japan Cup winner Zack Sabre Jr. It was his 11th consecutive successful title defense, which tied the record with Hiroshi Tanahashi. Fittingly, Okada defeated Tanahashi to break the record at Wrestling Dontaku. Okada would face Kenny Omega at Dominion.
Okada and Omega each had a victory over each other, with a third match ending in a draw. In a spectacular 65-minute Best 2-of-3 Falls match, Omega defeated Okada for the IWGP Title at Dominion, ending a 720-day reign.
In the time after his title loss, Okada has undergone a bit of an attitude change. His failure to succeed in the G1 Climax tournament led to a parting of ways between he and longtime manager Gedo. Gedo would turn on Okada after the split, attacking him along with Jay White. Okada is set to take on White at Wrestle Kingdom 13.
While the months after his title loss have been just so-so, you can’t deny that 2018 saw a strong end to perhaps the greatest title reign in pro wrestling history.
And that will do it for Part 2! Join us tomorrow as we look at the TOP 10 Players of 2018!