The Unpopular Opinion: The Top Ten Wrestlers of the 2010s: Introduction

One of the most memorable moments of the decade, from The Festival of Friendship. Now enjoy the list of Jacobus... (YouTube/WWE)

2019 is soon coming to a close, meaning the end of the 2010s is approaching. What a way to close out the decade than with figuring out who the best wrestlers over the past 10 years in this edition of the Unpopular Opinion?

Over the past 10 years, wrestling saw new faces come into the spotlight from all over the globe. The rise of social media and independent wrestling made the sport more visible than ever before, allowing aspiring superstars several chances to make names for themselves in various ways.

The journey from unknown wrestler in a bingo hall to main eventing some of the biggest shows of the year is what the sport is all about. Thanks to the rise of the internet and the establishment of new places for wrestlers to become known, these superstars have new ways to fight for their dreams.

The 2010s continued to revolutionize professional wrestling. Let us dive in to figure out everything that has brought us to the present day.

WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment)

In the 2000s, the WWF had just won the war against WCW (World Championship Wrestling), it “Got the ‘F’ Out” and became the WWE and was looking to continue its dominance of the professional wrestling world.

The WWE was still the dominant wrestling company in professional wrestling. However, in late in the 2000s WWE moved to a TV-PG rating,  attempting to create a more wholesome family entertainment product. Yet the turn to the PG rating displeased many.

Many believed this felt like a return to an era like the 80s where it was bland black and white morals of good guy versus bad guy. The 18-34 demographic was no longer the target. The target was the younger generations with the face of WWE, John Cena, front and center.

John Cena became the face of WWE for over a decade and had no look of stopping. Until someone from year’s past looking to reclaim the throne and change the face of WWE. In 2011, The Rock returned and went straight after John Cena. The two went head to head in back to back WrestleMania main events.  The matches between the two gained massive exposure for the WWE, even going as far as helping the WrestleMania of their first matchup become the highest-grossing WrestleMania of all time. The WWE was gaining back success and looked to continue the momentum.

One of the many classic matches of the decade, John Cena vs CM Punk. (YouTube/WWE)

However, there were stars in  WWE who felt they were being overlooked and they felt there needed to be a change.  Guys like Daniel Bryan and CM Punk were workhorses for the WWE. The two were well known around the world, but in the land of giants,  they were overshadowed. Until, CM Punk created a pipe bomb that was heard around the world. The pipe bomb shook the wrestling world to its core and created a permanent change in WWE. 

If it was not for CM Punk’s drive for change, guys like Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Kofi Kingston and others would have never been given opportunities to show why they are some of the best wrestling has to offer.  But this drive or change not only changed the landscape for the men.

During the 2010s, there was an outcry from the WWE Universe for a change in Women’s Wrestling beginning with the GiveDivasAChance hashtag trending worldwide. Women’s wrestling became an afterthought and was not getting the respect it deserved. But, thanks to women like AJ Lee and Paige, the WWE Divas became the Women’s Division. This led to women like Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, Asuka and Bayley to help bring in the Women’s Revolution which evolved into the Women’s Evolution.

The Women’s Championship returned and helped bring back the statement that women can compete on the same level as the men. The Women’s Evolution peaked with the inclusion of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) Hall of Famer, Ronda Rousey. Rousey attracted mainstream attraction from media all over the world and gave the women a platform to show the evolution of women’s wrestling. The Women’s movement led to them having the first-ever women’s only PPV, Evolution.

The success of the PPV continued to drive the Woman’s Evolution all the way to the ultimate pinnacle, the Main Event of WrestleMania. For the first time ever, women main evented WrestleMania 35. The last decade has seen a complete shift in the presentation of women’s wrestling, from being an afterthought to being the main event of WrestleMania. 

The WWE forever changed because the company began focusing on the future of wrestling.  WWE shifted its focus on the athleticism of wrestlers, and gave them a new platform to learn and grow with the addition of their Performance Center in Orlando Florida, and the creation of a third brand, NXT.

NXT was a weekly reality show that put wrestlers in challenges and matches with WWE competitors. However, when NXT moved to Orlando, Florida, it became the new developmental system in WWE. NXT, and eventually NXT UK continued to showcase the best and brightest of the future of WWE.

With the leadership of the NXT brands, Triple H was able to draw some of the biggest names in the wrestling world like: Finn Balor, Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Adam Cole, Ricochet, Matt Riddle, Kairi Sane, Velveteen Dream, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, Neville, Sami Zayn, The Four Horsewomen, Paige, Shayna Bazsler, Toni Storm, Pete Dunne, WALTER and more to be mentioned later. NXT became groundbreaking and created buzz all around the wrestling world. The inception of NXT was able to showcase the future with the creation of one of the greatest inventions in WWE history.
An exciting match from the early days of NXT. (YouTube/WWE)

In the 2010s, on-demand streaming services like Netflix and Spotify continued to gain popularity around the world. With the rise of its popularity, WWE decided to do the same thing by debuting the WWE Network. The WWE Network is similar to Netflix by having an enormous video library. The WWE Network also has original programming and streams weekly wrestling shows. However, WWE also streams every live PPV, including WrestleMania and every live NXT TakeOver event.

The WWE Network is arguably one of the greatest inventions that WWE has ever produced because it allows fans to rekindle memories and watch old shows they grew up with all for a major bargain. The WWE Network only costs subscribers around $10 a month and for new subscribers, it is free. With the rise of the WWE Network, the popularity was coming back to WWE. The exposure to the product was becoming greater and it gave people the more the WWE Universe strived for.

The Network was now the location where moments go to be remembered. Moments like: the legendary undefeated streak of The Undertaker coming to an end at WrestleMania 30, to Sting making his shocking WWE debut, the Hardy Boyz making their thunderous return at WrestleMania 33 and Ronda Rousey making her shocking debut at the 2017 Royal Rumble. WWE has reached major milestones, but have also hit all time lows.  ]But the future is bright, especially with SmackDown moving to Fox and NXT moving to the USA Network on Wednesday nights. WWE has always been able to build on the future, but now it is time to make it happen. Where will the WWE be in the next decade? Will the WWE still be the most dominant brand of the wrestling world?

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NJPW (New Japan Pro Wrestling)

Tanahashi has been called the “Japanese John Cena.” The man is known for keeping NJPW alive during a dark time for the brand. (Wikimedia Commons)

At the end of the 2000s, Japanese wrestling was on the rise. Wrestlers like Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi were the shining stars that were leading the charge to bring back the popularity of New Japan Pro Wrestling.

When the 2010s began, Hiroshi Tanahasi strived to the top of New Japan Pro Wrestling. One of the most accomplished and one of the most successful wrestlers not only in Japan, but in the world. Hiroshi’s success includes winning three G1 Climax tournaments,  two IWGP Intercontinental Championship reigns and becoming the first and only wrestler to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship eight times. The legacy of the Ace of New Japan was flying high, but there were new challenges that looked to stand in his way.

A young, bright young upstart stepped up to the challenge. His name was Kazuchika Okada. Okada stepped up and dethroned Tanahashi from the top of New Japan. Tanahashi continuously attempted to reclaim the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but failed. There was a new Ace of New Japan.

Tetsuya Naito was also on the rise since returning back to Japan. With a new attitude, rebellious mentality, Naito returned with a vengeance. He was driven away by the fanbase and went to Mexico to form Los Ingobernables with ally La Sombra and La Mascara. Naito always saw himself as the top star of New Japan. However, the world did not see it the same way.

That is why when he returned to Japan, he came back with disrespect and hatred for the fans and the front office.  It was his mission to prove to everyone that he is the top star. He finally did so with the forming of Los Ingobernables de Japón. When he won the title, he threw it to the side. His mission was to correct the wrongs that drove him out of Japan. Naito did so, becoming IWGP World Champion, IWGP Intercontinental Champion, and main eventing Wrestle Kingdom.

two of the biggest factions in NJPW facing off. (YouTube/New Japan Pro Wrestling)

Just like Los Ingobernables de Japón, there was another rise of factions in New Japan. Groups like Chaos, Suzuki-Gun, and Bullet Club began to change the landscape of New Japan.  The three groups continuously feuded with one another, especially over championships and bragging rights.

With a new Ace now on top of New Japan, the main event scene was seeing new faces. Guys like Prince Devitt, Kenny Omega, AJ Styles, Jon Moxley, Chris Jericho,  Jay White, The Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes. There are also talents that developed and are looking to change the future of New Japan. Talents like Kota Ibushi and returning to Japan after a stint in WWE, KENTA.

After the departure of many of the top stars in New Japan in 2018 such as Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks, the future looks bright for one of the most historic wrestling promotions in the world. New Japan continues to travel the world and looks to bring the fascination of Japanese strong style all over the world, recently announcing the opening of a dojo in the U.S.

TNA(Total Nonstop Action)/IMPACT/GFW(Global Force Wrestling)

The mid-2010s were a weird time, as Jeff Hardy takes on Kurt Angle and Bobby Roode at a TNA event. So many talent from that time now work in WWE or AEW. (Wikimedia Commons)

TNA was on a major roll heading into the 2010s. They had one of the best rosters in wrestling and was a young promotion on the rise. Then, in a move that shocked the wrestling world, TNA signed one of the biggest names in wrestling history, Hulk Hogan.

At first, the show’s popularity continued to rise especially with tons of familiar faces joining the fray. Names like: Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Rob Van Dam, Chyna, Mick Foley, Mr. Anderson,  Ric Flair, Eric Bischoff and more. TNA looked to challenge WWE and try to bring the fight to the higher-ups. However, those familiar faces contributed to a complete shift in TNA’s presentation.

TNA transformed into Impact Wrestling in 2012.  The foundation that built TNA was beginning to become the afterthought of the promotion. Which caused stars like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe and others to grow frustrated.

The mid-2010s were dark for Impact Wrestling. Constant conflicts with cable networks, contract and payment problems, and the morale was continuing to deteriorate. The fanbase of TNA was decreasing and there were constant changes in ownership of Impact Wrestling. Original founder Jeff Jarrett, looked to be closing in on merging Impact Wrestling and his promotion GFW, but no deal finalized. Lacking stability in both the front office and the talent roster, fans predicted the end was near for the promotion that started in 2002.

However; in the late 2010s,  Impact Wrestling started fresh and rebuilt their promotion, gaining new leadership and adding new stars like Brian Cage, Sami Callahan and Tessa Blanchard who are attempting to bring back the legitimacy of Impact Wrestling. With a clear cut ownership and foundation, the company that refuses to die seems to be on the ups once again. Where will Impact Wrestling be in the next 10 years?

ROH (Ring of Honor)

One of the flag bearers for ROH since the beginning, Jay Lethal. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ring of Honor was one of the most underrated promotions on the rise ending the 2000s. Ring of Honor was growing and producing some of the top talents in the wrestling world.

Kevin Steen, El Generico,  Adam Cole, Jay Lethal, The Briscoes, ReDragon and the returning of AJ Styles, and Samoa Joe was making Ring of Honor the talk of the wrestling world. However, when those stars begin to gain exposure, eyes from other places locked on to these talented athletes.

Eventually, most of those names began to find employment elsewhere. However, there are some names that remained loyal and continued to help build ROH, like Lethal and The Briscoes.

The growth of ROH led to a merger with NJPW, mixing the talents of two of the brightest promotions in the world led to some incredible bouts and matchups.

Though the merger was good for both promotions, it began to fade away once the bigger names left for elsewhere. However, ROH looked to be back on the rise with their new merger with the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance).

Under the ownership of rock star Billy Corgan, the NWA once again beginning raising its credibility and gaining more national success with Champions Nick Aldis, and Cody Rhodes. However, the merger did not last long.

Now, ROH continues to put on shows and continues to show they are a legitimate wrestling promotion. However, crowd size and popularity are continuously deteriorating.

As we are close to entering the 2020s, will ROH be there by the end? 

Lucha Underground

A sampling of what Lucha Underground has to offer. (YouTube/El Rey Network)

The promotion that attempted to change the game, Lucha Underground mixed Lucha libre style wrestling with a cinematic aspect. With over the top stories and incredible talents like Pentagon Jr, Prince Puma (Ricochet), Fenix and others, Lucha Underground created noise all over the wrestling world.

Lucha Underground was must-see TV. If you are a fan of Lucha libre style wrestling, you would get to see the best and brightest stars in wrestling. Lucha Underground was also able to show incredible storytelling and show incredible physicality with barbaric and bloody matches, as the production was on par with high end TV shows like “Breaking Bad.” 

Lucha Underground was also able to incorporate Latin American culture within the wrestling and championships. However, there were major problems behind the scenes of the promotion.

Stars continued leave the promotion and Lucha Underground tried to rebuild after each resurrection. Production costs were high and signing new talent was a major expense.

After its first season, there was always an undetermined future for the show. They were able to produce three more seasons, but the future of the promotion is still in the air. Regardless, the legacy of Lucha Underground lives on in the stars that got major exposure there, and are the building blocks of several other promotions in this article.

Will Lucha Underground make a return in the 2020s and will they be able to reach the success again?

Jon Moxley ended his decade as one of he hottest talents in the wrestling business. (Taken by Henry Wolski)

AEW (All Elite Wrestling)

A challenge put on the table, sparked a revolutionary movement in professional wrestling.

The revolution coming is the new promotion All Elite Wrestling. Led by billionaires Shadid & Tony Khan, Cody Rhodes, Matt & Nick Jackson and Kenny Omega, AEW is here to change the world of professional wrestling.

Going back to before the birth of AEW, many believed that there was no wrestling group or organization that would be able to sell out a 10,000 seat arena in the United States.  The challenge was set and boy were the critics wrong. Cody Rhodes alongside Kenny Omega and Matt & Nick Jackson were able to sell out the 11,263 seat Sears Center in Chicago, Illinois in less than 30 minutes for the PPV, All In.

All In was only the first shock to the world of professional wrestling. On Jan. 1, 2019, AEW was born. AEW wanted to be the change professional wrestling needed for many years. All Elite Wrestling wanted to be the alternative to the WWE. 

With stars now like Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson), Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, Dustin Rhodes, The Lucha Bros (Pentagon Jr. & Fenix) and many bright young upcoming starts on the rise, AEW is the boost wrestling has been waiting for.

It has been 18 years since wrestling has last seen a major competition in professional wrestling and now we finally get so see it one more time.

AEW debuted their first official show, Double or Nothing, in Las Vegas, Nevada in front of a sold-out MGM Grand Arena with incredible success. The tickets sold out in record time and the world tuned into watch history be written.

The wrestlers who started AEW, Cody Rhodes, Brandi Rhodes, Hangman Page, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, addressing the crowd after their Double or Nothing pay-per-view event. Source: (YouTube/All Elite Wrestling)

AEW has also signed a television deal with TNT network for Dynamite, a live two-hour show every Wednesday starting Oct. 2. The same network that showcased WCW Monday Nitro has returned to try to create a new battle the wrestling world has been waiting to see.

AEW is the future of professional wrestling. The fans begged for more change in professional wrestling and they now have their change. 

With Chris Jericho as the inaugural AEW World Champion, and veterans SCU and Riho holding the Tag Team and Women’s Championships, respectively, AEW is looking nothing but up from here, with several great matches and respectable ratings since Oct. 2.

Where will All Elite Wrestling be at the end of the 2020s? Will there be a new superior in professional wrestling?

The 2010s have changed the world of professional wrestling. Wrestling continues to grow and there is something for everyone and promotions are easier to access than ever before. Wrestling is growing once again, so come back next week to see who made this decade so impactful, in The Unpopular Opinion.

David Jacobus
Staff Writer

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