First of all, please note a number of things about the superstars that I have picked for this list; the criteria for who is on this list consists of a number of things: quality of in-ring work, character work, winning matches and of course being entertaining. Secondly as this is a top 10 list it means a number of people miss out, and some huge names too. With that in mind I feel it only right I offer a list of honourable mentions, so here’s some of the names that just missed out:
- Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Jeff Hardy, Samoa Joe, Ricochet, EC3 and Tomasso Ciampa have all had very few matches in 2018 so far, or have had long periods of the year where they have been inactive in the ring or not on WWE TV and therefore I feel it would be unfair to include them on a list of the best WWE talents for the entire 6 month period so far.
- Finn Balor, ‘WOKEN’ Matt Hardy, the Bludgeon Brothers; Harper & Rowan (yes I will be including tag teams as one single entrant), Asuka, Charlotte Flair, Carmella, Velveteen Dream, Lars Sullivan, Sanity (Eric Young, Killian Dain, Alexander Wolfe and Nikki Cross) and the Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish, Kyle O’Reilly and Roderick Strong) can all count themselves very unlucky. They were the last few names that just missed out on being in the top 10 and had it been a top 20 list they would be on it.
- Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Roman Reigns, Alexa Bliss, Ember Moon and Rusev with Aiden English were all out of contention for me as they simply were booked to lose too many or in particular the big matches they have been in in 2018. Not their fault as performers obviously but it’s a factor I couldn’t overlook.
- Finally, and I’ve mentioned him already, but an extra special mention for Tomasso Ciampa. If you read my week in review blogs you will know how absolutely INCREDIBLE a performer as a heel this man is. If he is as good for the next 6 months as he has been during the last month or so of NXT then he wont just be in the top 10, he’ll be number ONE!
So now that’s done let’s get into it… here is my countdown of the top 10 WWE superstars of 2018 so far… in my opinion…
If you told me 1 year ago just after he first came to the main roster from NXT that ELIAS would be even in the conversation for superstar of the year I’d have laughed at you and then judged you forever for your stupid opinions. But to his credit Elias has got his gimmick over on the main roster after doing really nothing of note in NXT, and with each week that goes by and with every town he runs down during his performances, the cheers get louder and louder, and Elias gets more and more over. He is one of the most entertaining characters on the roster, he is hilarious! He’s destined to be a babyface surely, you can’t get cheered as much as he does and be a heel (well… Rusev would argue otherwise). His feud with Braun Strowman was so entertaining it was absurd, his segment where Braun sung (more on that later in the blog) was one of the best segments of the year, and above all else (think what you want about this) but Elias was the set up guy for the match between JOHN CENA and THE UNDERTAKER at WRESTLEMANIA! If that’s not a big spot I don’t know what is? Tremendous 6 months for Elias so far in 2018, maybe not exactly AJ Styles in the ring but his character work is among the best on the entire roster… to me, WWE may well indeed stand for WALK WITH ELIAS!
9. SHAYNA BASZLER
The current NXT Women’s Champion has been in WWE for less than a year, after making her debut in the inaugural Mae Young Classic last year. And after making an immediate impression in the tournament, getting to the final where she would just lose out to Kairi Sane, Baszler would go on to continue her momentum upon her arrival in NXT. Within no time at all The Queen of Spades pursued the NXT Women’s Championship, then held by Ember Moon. In January at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia Moon would survive a submission based onslaught from Baszler, but wouldn’t escape without an attack as she celebrated her victory. In the rematch at NXT Takeover: New Orleans the 2 were in the un-enviable spot of having to follow one of the best opening matches in WWE history (more on that later) but put on a fine match that again saw Baszler dominate. The finish saw Moon come flying off the top rope for her Eclipse finishing move, only for Shayna to catch her and lock in the Kirifuda Clutch submission that was enough to put Moon to sleep and begin the reign of the Queen of Spades. It’s been a pretty incredible 2018 so far for Shayna Baszler, helped greatly by her fabulous character work. I guess it helps though the fact that her gimmick is that she’s a badass MMA fighter, when in real life she’s a… badass MMA fighter (not rocket science WWE is it? This is how you get people over, LET THEM BE THEMSELVES). Her in-ring work is sound, her promos suit her no-nonsense heel role so well, she’s just really great at what she does and so believable in everything she does. And I have a feeling her dominance of WWE has only just begun…
8. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
IF his ongoing feud with AJ Styles had of been as good as it could and SHOULD be (ie NOT had 1 underwhelming Mania match and 2 more SUCK finishes, and then a 4th match be on regular Smackdown tv) then the 2018 Men’s Royal Rumble match winner (in which he eliminated a couple of jobbers called JOHN CENA and ROMAN REIGNS to win the match) may well have been a lot higher on this list. He’s awesome, lets be honest. In-ring his style is so unique yet so enthralling, his heel turn at Wrestlemania made up for the underwhelming match in how beautifully done it was, and his heel work since then has been sensational. It has brought a whole new level to Nakamura’s character, he looks so much more comfortable in this role. Nakamura is another who may well end the year even higher on this list, FINALLY having that 5 star WWE match with AJ will help, as will holding the WWE Championship, but nonetheless the King of Strong Style remains among the best in the world, and 2018 was the year in which one of the all time great NXT superstars became one of the WWE’s top guys, and long may it continue.
7. ANDRADE ‘CIEN’ ALMAS
When you have the first Dave Meltzer 5 star rated match in WWE for nearly 7 years, make your WWE main roster debut by entering the Royal Rumble match and lasting just under 30 minutes and its only the end of January, you know you’re well on your way to superstar of the year contention. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas has been enjoying a career renaissance ever since NXT placed Zelina Vega by his side as his business associate in order to revive the fortunes of the former luchador turned party animal in July 2017. An incredible wrestler, a tremendous heel, cocky, arrogant character with a strong focus on achieving his goals. And he’s been turned into this great all rounder in no uncertain terms by the influence of Zelina Vega. And although this entrant is for EL IDOLO solely, Vega deserves a mention for being his mouthpiece with her amazing mic skills and the occasional physical input in his matches. Almas followed up his all time classic against Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia with a brilliant match in losing his title to Aleister Black at NXT Takeover: New Orleans; and with him and Vega recently making their descent to Smackdown Live the world really is the oyster for 2 of the best heels on the roster.
6. BRAUN STROWMAN
If Roman Reigns did not exist then Braun Strowman would probably be the Universal Champion right now. And at Wrestlemania this year he was in fact on standby should Roman (with allegations of drugs use, that turned out to be false, hanging over him at the time) or Brock (who… well… could’ve just not turned up) not be able to make the match then Braun was going to be placed in that match instead. But instead he won the tag team titles with a child, which I hated at the time and I still don’t like it, BUT it did solidify to me that Braun is the guy who WWE want to present to the masses as the top man. And then he won a little match in a big foreign country that WWE were kind of big on, and I cannot remember the last time Braun Strowman ended a match or a segment not standing tall and roaring to the crowd (even at the Elimination Chamber when he eliminated 5 guys but got pinned by Reigns, he ended the ppv strong as he destroyed Roman shortly after). On top of that a big,strong,powerful, scary guy whose as menacing on the mic as he is in the ring is pretty much the antithesis of what a pro-wrestler should be. Oh, AND HE CAN SING! His segment with Elias were he sung a song had me in stitches and only further proved how much a good all-rounder this guy is. Having transitioned from Wyatt Family heavy to one of the top face guys in the company as a charming yet monstrous destroyer; Braun Strowman has become the heir to the red brand throne, and by the time 2018 ends he may will sit on top of Raw… and of this list…
5. SETH ROLLINS
Seth Rollins has long been regarded as one of the best in-ring performers in WWE, but he’d never be the one who people would immediately call the best. He’s well in that conversation now, half way through a year in which he has been as close to the level (and at times in my opinion beyond) when he was WWE Champion. Kevin Owens, The Miz, Finn Balor THREE TIMES, Mojo Rawley… I’ll repeat MOJO RAWLEY have all had good to great matches with Rollins in 2018, add to that an hour plus long performance in a near 2 hour match on Raw (pinning Roman Reigns and John Cena back to back in the process) as well as opening Wrestlemania by winning the Intercontinental Championship and it is safe to say 2018 has been a great half year for Seth Rollins. Monday Night Rollins? INDEED IT IS!
4. AJ STYLES
Right, before I get into talking about the 2018 so far of AJ, I’d like to point out that I believe AJ Styles is the best professional wrestler (in-ring) in the world. Some would say New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Kasuchika Okada or Kenny Omega for that accolade but I would point to the lesser in-ring talents Styles has had to work with (Corbin, Mahal are a couple of names that immediately come to mind). Secondly off the back of that some will argue how on earth AJ is not number 1 in this list? Well simply put the ONLY thing keeping him from number 1 in this list is his feud with Shinsuke Nakamura, or more the somewhat underwhelming matches and shit finishes all but the most recent match between the two have had. I’m deadly serious when I say that if that feud improves in the second half of 2018, and we finally get THE match between the two we’ve all been waiting for, then he could well be the end of year superstar of the year. But simply put he was WWE Champion on January 1, and he’s still WWE Champion now as I write this. He retained the title at Wrestlemania. He’s one of the most over guys in the company, he’s without a doubt the best in-ring performer in the company, so it has been far from a bad year for him, but as with Shinsuke Nakamura both have become a victim of their own expectations, we unfairly expect ungodly-excellence and anything else can come off as somewhat disappointing. But he is PHENOMENAL, and that’s not just a catchphrase, it’s a fact.
3. JOHNNY GARGANO
He had one of the best matches in NXT and WWE history in January against Andrade Almas, he’s fastly become the most sympathetic babyface in WWE since Daniel Bryan 2014-2015, he’s an absolutely first class in-ring performer, he’s great at promos, he comes off as incredibly believable in everything he does and says… Johnny Wrestling (yes, he’s so good he’s often called Johnny WRESTLING) is pretty hot at the moment in terms of star-power, but every great dancer needs a dance partner to shine, and the ying to his yang is his former tag team partner/best friend; Tomasso Ciampa. It is no surprise that Gargano becoming the biggest babyface has paralleled with Ciampa becoming the top heel, and after months and months of Ciampa brutally attacking and tormenting Gargano we finally were gifted to the long awaited grudge match at NXT Takeover: New Orleans. It main evented the show (AHEAD of the Championship match) so we should have known something special was coming, and with this event being 24 hours before Wrestlemania the entire main roster were left with a near impossible task of following this match. In an unsanctioned anything goes match with Gargano’s NXT career on the line we witnessed nearly 40 minutes of one of the most amazingly told story’s pro-wrestling has ever seen. Brutal exchanges of offences and back and forths and nearfalls filled one of the best WWE matches in recent history, and to the delight of the crowd their hero finally got his payoff against his foe. It was a crowning moment for someone who it seems is only a matter of time away from championship gold… surely….?
2. ALEISTER BLACK
The current champion of NXT has had a great 1st year in WWE, and his first 6 months of 2018 have just been fantastic. A superb match to begin the year at Takeover: Philadelphia against Adam Cole under extreme rules, led him to a pathway towards the NXT Championship and Andrade Almas. The 2 went on to put on a tremendous match in New Orleans, with Black hitting his ferocious Black Mass kick for the win. Some people just LOOK the part, and the sight of the mystical, tatoo-filled man from Holland with the glistening NXT Championship belt is something to behold. He’s, much like AJ Styles, capable of getting one of the best matches of almost any opponent’s career’s, his kickboxing based mma style mixed with his incredible athleticism makes his matches fun to watch to say the least, and that added with his great story-telling capabilities make every Aleister Black match must see from start (including his awe-inspiring entrance) to the inevitable Black Mass finish. Aleister Black will no doubt have an amazing second half of 2018, and by this time in 12 months time (with his current trajectory) he could well be on his road to a Championship of a red or blue home brand…
Confession time: I love Adam Cole. He’s incredibly entertaining as a character, in promos and whilst giving his opponents verbal grief during his matches, and as a wrestler he’s fantastic. He was the star of the match despite a losing effort to Aleister Black in an Extreme Rules match at Takeover: Philadelphia, but in this match both men won, such was the nature of the contest. And the next night he made his main roster debut by surprisingly entering the Royal Rumble match to a huge fanfare and ovation. And then… as the pre Wrestlemania Takeover loomed large, the match was set to crown the first ever NXT North American Champion in a ladder match, pitting 6 of NXT’s most over and exciting stars against one another, but despite the efforts of EC3, Killian Dain, Velveteen Dream, Lars Sullivan and the incredible Ricochet it was ADAM COLE BAY BAY who claimed the prize. It opened the show, and it was simply one of the best matches in WWE and NXT history and by far the best show opener we have ever seen. Adam Cole after being the star in the War Games match last year, and less than 12 months after making his WWE debut by attacking the then NXT Champion, Adam Cole was the man chosen to carry this new title. And on top of all that he just so happens to be the leader of the Undisputed Era stable, who collectively are maybe the best group in WWE right now and arguably one of the collective best in all of pro-wrestling. His leadership abilities were put to the test to the highest of levels when he had to stand in for injured stable-mate Bobby Fish and join Kyle O’Reilly in defending their NXT Tag Team titles later on the SAME NIGHT as his incredible NXT North American title win, and it was a 3 way against the Authors of Pain and the team of Pete Dunne and Roderick Strong. And although he was put through a table and taken out by AOP early on, it was the turn of Roderick Strong in joining the Undisputed Era that meant the tag titles stayed put. The sight of Cole, O’Reilly, Strong and the injured Bobby Fish stood on the rampway with all their titles and their newly won Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic trophy was a visual to fit the magnitude of what Adam Cole had accomplished on NXT’s biggest night of the year. Adam Cole is a star. Plain and Simple. And when he comes to the main roster it really will SHOCK THE SYSTEM (again not a catchphrase, this will be a fact).
As an added bonus for you all, I’ve decided to put together a list of both best matches and moments of the year so far. By popular demand I have chosen to focus this blog on the best superstars of the year so far, but just for fun here are 2 more half way point WWE lists for you all.
WWE Matches of the year 2018 SO FAR
10. Seth Rollins beat Finn Balor. Raw, 2/4 – 4.25*
9. Tomasso Ciampa beat Kassius Ohno. NXT, 9/5 – 4.25*
8. Seth Rollins beat Finn Balor to retain the Intercontinental Championship. Raw, 30/4 – 4.25*
7. Aleister Black beat Adam Cole in an Extreme Rules Match. NXT Takeover: Philadelphia, 27/1 – 4.25*
6. Charlotte Flair beat Asuka to retain the Smackdown Women’s Championship. Wrestlemania 34, 8/4- 4.25*
5. Aleister Black beat Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas (with Zelina Vega) to win the NXT Championship. NXT Takeover: New Orleans, 7/4 – 4.5*
4. Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle beat Stephanie McMahon & Triple H in a Mixed Tag Team Match. Wrestlemania 34, 8/4 – 4.75*
3. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas (with Zelina Vega) beat Johnny Gargano to retain the NXT Championship. NXT Takeover: Philadelphia, 27/1 – 5*
2. Adam Cole beat EC3, Killian Dain, Velveteen Dream, Lars Sullivan and Ricochet in a Ladder Match to become the first ever NXT North American Champion. NXT Takeover: New Orleans, 7/4 – 5*
1. Johnny Gargano beat Tomasso Ciampa in an Unsanctioned Match. NXT Takeover: New Orleans, 7/4 – 5*
WWE Moments of the year 2018 SO FAR
10. Adam Cole wins the NXT North American Championship. NXT Takeover: New Orleans, 7/4
9. Sami Zayn and then Kevin Owens’ Montreal entrances. Raw, 30/4
8. Aleister Black wins the NXT Championship. NXT Takeover: New Orleans, 7/4
7. Johnny Gargano beats Tomasso Ciampa. NXT Takeover: New Orleans, 7/4
6. Ricochet’s entrance. NXT Takeover: New Orleans, 7/4
5. Charlotte Flair ends Asuka’s undefeated Streak. Wrestlemania 34, 8/4
4. Shinsuke Nakamura wins the 2018 Men’s Royal Rumble Match. Royal Rumble, 28/1
3. Rey Mysterio enters the Men’s Royal Rumble Match. Royal Rumble, 28/1
2. Undertaker’s entrance. Wrestlemania 34, 8/4
1. Daniel Bryan’s 1st entrance after being cleared. Smackdown, 20/3
SPECIAL MENTION: Titus O’Neil’s slip. Greatest Royal Rumble, 27/4