Sadly, Goldust does not make the final edition of this list. I won’t apologize for spoiling that for you right off the bat. But I will make it up to you by offering a bonus listing.
Since Austin Aries got run out of town while this list was being put together, I’ve decided to replace him in that spot with another talent, albeit one who provides the same amount of value in the ring.
Whatever number Austin Aries was – Daniel Bryan
Look, I understand that DB is retired from in ring perpforming in the WWE. But the key word/acronym there is WWE. It’s no secret that Bryan is willing to risk his health to get back into a wrestling ring and f you want to be the person that allows him to do that then you’re getting a guy that legitimately could be number one on this list if he weren’t hurt. It’s a huge value. But it’s a big risk. If he returns and ends up hurting himself further then it’s on your hands.
Originally, I didn’t include him on the list because I had ruled out the fact that anyone else would sign him, but with rumors buzzing that he wants to bolt back to Ring of Honor after his WWE contract expires I get the feeling that a return to the ring is plausible indeed. Someone might as well make money on it if he’s determine to do so.
Let’s get back into the list.
10. Charlotte (31)
The Queen begins our top ten as (more spoilers) the only woman to make it this highly on the list. Though I’m sure that’s going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, I’d point out that it’s been an awfully long time since any woman has made it into a situation where she’s one of the ten most valuable performers in the WWE. You’d have to go all the way back to Trish Stratus or Lita to find someone who fits that bill. That’s ten plus years.
Male or female, Charlotte has it all. Her father is the legendary Ric Flair, perhaps the greatest wrestler of all time, and having spent all those years watching him work have clearly rubbed off on her. She gets it. It doesn’t matter what kind of character she’s playing, she’s going to give you a top notch performance.
We know Charlotte can anchor a women’s division – we’ve seen her do that on Raw and Smackdown. But she’s so physically imposing I think she opens the door for a promotion to start doing legitimate intergender matches. In a time when girl power is on the rise, this could be a big draw. You know the first time she slaps some big brute in a figure eight and he taps out, well, the crowd is going to eat that up.
9. Finn Balor (35)
Finn Balor just might be the coolest performer the WWE has going today; everything about him oozes charisma. That is, at least for me, until he steps in the ring. It’s the same song and dance every time. A bunch of stuff happens, we see a slingblade, there’s a dropkick into the corner, and then we see a coup de grace. If that doesn’t happen, someone interferes and we get a screwy finish. Maybe that’s just bad booking on the WWE’s part, but between that and his recent shoulder surgery at the age of 34 and he gets downgraded to the fringe of the top ten.
I see his potential to draw money, but I’m not totally sold quite yet. If he has a compelling angle with Bray Wyatt and can build some solid momentum heading into next years Wrestlemania he could climb into the top five. Hell, maybe even to the top spot. Right now, I don’t see it. Not yet.
8. New Day (Xavier 30, Big E 31, Kofi 35)
Let’s start by saying this: every single member of the new day would have probably made this list on their own. Individually, they’re that good. But together they’re one of the best teams we’ve ever seen in the WWE. Because of their wide range of skills, they can do it all like few others on this list. Whether you need a host for wrestlemania, a comedy segment, a five star PPV match, a throwaway on RAW, whatever, they can do it.
They’re also one of my favorite examples of showing just how valuable a little time can be. When the New Day first debuted people hated them. At the Royal Rumble in Philly in 2015, we booed the shit out of these guys. A few months later at Summerslam, they were the talk of the town. The lesson here: sometimes patience is the greatest virtue.
7. Sami Zayn (32)
I love Sami Zayn. Let’s get that out of the way. I understand that are a lot of people that don’t, but he’s extremely compelling to me because he’s one of the few guys left that’s a believable underdog type character. He gets a good match with pretty much anyone. And, somehow despite being in the indies for what seems like forever, he’s only 32.
He does have a few marks against him: he’s had an injury requiring surgery recently and he’s never been given a run at the top of the card.; we have no idea how the crowd is going to react to him holding a major championship. That’s a pretty important factor for someone to be a top guy on this list. His character lacks definition.
I might be projecting my own fandom here, but I see the crowd popping for Zayn regularly and in the right program, big title or not, they’re going to respond to him. I think letting him overcome Corbin this year after he cashes in his money in the bank contract would be a great way to give him a trial run as a champion. If it doesn’t work, he can drop it at the Royal Rumble.
Either way, we’re getting off track. Everyone in the top ten of this list can work for you night in and night out, can put on great matches, can connect with the fans and are stars you can build a promotion around. Zayn fits that bill, and so do the guys in front of him.
6. Seth Rollins (31)
We’re really pumping some major star power now. Rollins has been the backbone of the WWE ever since the Shield broke up in early 2014. He just might be the best in the business right now, but I think at this point you really have to start splitting hairs. Rollins is only 31, which is a good thing, and he’s incredibly over. However, he did just suffer a major knee injury and seems to have had a tough time bouncing back to his usual incredibly athletic self.
That might be changing now, as his story with Dean Ambrose (where’s he at?) is just starting to heat up in time for a run at Summerslam. If he can turn this into the success I think, it’ll give him some credability as a major top level face that’s capable of carrying a promotion. I already know he can work as a heel.
And when said I was splitting hairs, I meant it. I probably shuffled this part of the list a good four or five times before I landed where I am now. It wouldn’t surprise me to see any of these next few guys at the top spot next year.
5. Kevin Owens (33)
I have to admit, when I first saw Kevin Owens on screen at his debut at NXT Takeover R: Evolution, I didn’t really get the appeal. He didn’t really have the look, his finishing move was a power bomb, and his name sounded like something I’d read at an Amish farm in Lancaster, PA. And then I saw him drive Sami Zayn into the ring apron.
Then I was immediately sold. I bought a Kevin Owens shirt. And then I bought another. I think I have like, five of them now… it’s really gotten out of control.
Everything about him just feels so “professional wrestler”. From his in ring psychology to his move-set, it’s all incredible. His feud with Zayn is already great and could be legendary and his feud with nearly everyone else he’s encountered has been some of the best stuff on whatever show he’s been on.
True story: when he threw Chris Jericho through the Jeritron 6500 at the festival of friendship (if you’re not a WWE fan, that probably made no sense) I got worked so hard I refused to wear his TV shirt until Goldberg pinned him at Fast Lane.
Owens is special, and he shows that the WWE isn’t afraid to go to put a guy at the top that, a few years ago, they probably would’ve considered too unconventional to even sign on their roster.
4. AJ Styles (39)
If we didn’t believe the WWE wasn’t afraid to push an unconventional guy to the top when they strapped the rocket on Owens’ back, we had no chance but to do so when they put the championship on AJ Styles less than a year after signing him to their main roster.
Styles is, well, he’s phenomenal. If he weren’t 39, he’d be an easy number one on this list. In less than two years, he’s shown an incredible range of being able to do anything. He made James Ellsworth into a superstar for god’s sakes, what else do we need to see?
3. The Miz (36)
I’ve been considering writing a piece about the Miz for a long time. As stupid as this sounds, he’s one of my heroes in life. He knew what he wanted to do and he went out and did it. He got on the Real World, got signed by the WWE, busted his ass despite everyone in the locker room hating him, and worked his way into being in the main event of Wrestlemania. That’s a big fucking accomplishment. He did what everyone told him he couldn’t do and he achieved it in the face of extreme adversity. That’s admirable.
So other than my own personal admiration, why is he this highly on the list? Easy: everything the Miz touches turns to gold. He’s the measuring stick of the WWE. If you want to push a guy to the top, you put him in a feud with the Miz first to see how he plays as a main event type performer. If it doesn’t work with Miz, it probably won’t work with anyone. Hell, this guy turned career nobody Damien Sandow into one of the hottest acts in the WWE.
I had Miz at number one for a long time, largely in part because he’s such a workhorse who never gets injured and never injures an opponent, but his big strike is that he really falls flat as a face. And, with him, there’s nothing wrong with that when you’re able to generate the true, visceral hate that he drums on a nightly basis. Nobody does it better. And that’s awesome.
Before we get to the latter part of the final installment of the list, a word from our sponsor.
This piece is brought to you by my pet theory that Roman Reigns will do the job for John Cena at Wrestlemania for his record 17th title victory. As April 2018 approaches, you’re going to hear a lot more about it. Speaking of Roman Reigns…
2. Roman Reigns (32)
Love him or hate him, Roman Reigns has become a cornerstone of the WWE since his arrival as part of the Shield in late 2012. It’s been less than five years on the scene for the Big Dog, and in that amount of time he’s done the following:
- Won the WWE Tag Team Championship (with Seth Rollins)
- Won the US Championship
- Won the Royal Rumble
- Won the WWE Title (3 times)
- Main evented Wrestlemania three times (Only Hulk Hogan, John Cena, and HHH have accomplished this)
- Retired the Undertaker
So, yeah, whatever any smark opinion has towards the guy he’s got a lot of star power built up in him already. If you hate how the WWE is booking him, that’s fine, bring him on your show and do it the right way. In addition to already being a megastar, he’s still very young, has a great look, never gets injured, and is related to Dwayne the Motherfucking Rock Johnson. How is he not on top of the list?
1. Dean Ambrose (31)
Because of the lunatic fringe, that’s why. Although, I can’t quite put my finger on why. It might be the fact that Dean Ambrose is a workhorse, wrestling more matches than anyone in 2015 and 2016 (and is on pace to do it again). It might be the fact that Ambrose too has built some major star power, holding nearly all the titles you’d need to be a Grand Slam champion (minus the tag belts, which he’s competing for this Sunday). It might be the fact that he, like Reigns and Rollins, is still very young. And, like Reigns and Rollins, he has experience being the top guy on a brand.
All of that looks good on paper, but it’s not why Ambrose tops the list. All of those reasons are good, but they pale in comparison to when the engine starts revving. When that music hits, I suddenly remember why I got the idea for this list by realizing I’d rather have Ambrose over anyone else in the company if I were doing a draft.
He’s mega over. Everything he does is captivating. Whether it’s a throwaway segment backstage or the main event of a pay per view, I’m interested. Hell, he made a feud with Bray Wyatt interesting, stupid ending and all. I love watching him perform, and if I were starting things from the ground up, I’d take Ambrose and I wouldn’t look back for a second.
And speaking of Summerslam, lets do a quick preview of this weekends show with a few quick hitters.
MATCH FOR WHICH I’M MOST EXCITED: The aforementioned Tag Titles match, I’m very excited to see how far they push the re-union of the Shield.
MATCH OF THE WEEKEND: Bobby Roode vs. Drew McIntyre should follow in the footsteps of the last two NXT Takeover Brooklyn main events and steal the show.
BIGGEST DUD: Big Cass vs. the Big Show promises to be a BIG disappointment. See what I did there?
BREAKOUT PERFORMER: Samoa Joe made some noise at Great Balls of Fire. Now is the night he officially arrives.