After getting sad about everything bad in WWE over the last decade, let’s pick oursleves up and talk about the best.
As we’ve covered, there’s been plenty to be upset about when it comes to WWE this past decade and given the IWC’s tendency to focus in on the negatives, it can be easy to trick yourself into thinking the 2010s were all bad for WWE, however, given that you’ve read the title of this article, I doubt it will surprise you when I say that this was not the case.
No matter how bad you think WWE has been over the past ten years (and for the record, I don’t think it’s been that bad) a broken clock is still right twice a day and some truly great things have come from Mr McMahon’s playhouse in the 2010s and here are what I think are some of the best.
9 – The New Day: Afterthoughts to World Champions
Imagine telling someone in 2014 that Big E Langston, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods would turn a Gospel Church gimmick into one of the greatest factions in company history.
By all accounts, The New Day should never have worked, like so many other factions that were thrown together in WWE for seemingly no reason, they debuted on TV with all the momentum of a wet fart and precisely no-one cared. It seemed like a way for WWE to give three men they had nothing for, something to do (because let’s be honest that’s what it was). Little did anyone know, they’d secretly struck gold.
The New Day would come out at smiling babyfaces, spouting the virtues of “The Power of Positivity”, which naturally is something all wrestling fans have an aversion to, so it was quickly booed out of every arena. Instead of annoyingly pushing on as babyfaces despite the fact no-one cared, the decision was made to shift the characters. All of a sudden, The New Day would find every way possible to steal any and every win they could, culminating in them winning the Tag Tag Championships from Cesaro & Tyson Kidd in late spring 2014.
From there on, things completely took off for the New Day, their positivity was now an ironic sentiment that they used to hide the fact that they cheated all the time, then claiming they won because they believed in themselves and other nonsense. As the months went on it turned out that these three men had some of the best on-screen and creative chemistry of any wrestlers in decades and every night they’d come out and cut promos that were genuinely funny on a level that we hadn’t seen in WWE since The Rock.
They then experienced the best kind of face turn any wrestler or faction can receive, a face turn simply because the fans just couldn’t stop cheering them. Their accomplishments speak for themselves: Longest reigning Tag Team champions in WWE history, 5 Tag Title reigns over the past 4 years and plenty of great matches and memorable moments.
This brings us to Kofi Kingston, who had one of the most unexpected and brilliant rises in years. The way the fans got behind Kofi and forced WWE’s hand to no only put the WWE Championship on him, but give him a decent sized run with it is something that we very rarely see in wrestling today and it was what happened with The New Day this decade that made it possible and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if at least one of the other memebers of the group reached the same point some time in the coming years.
What’s most impressive about The New Day though, is it took 3 guys who were probably never going to get very far in WWE as singles competitors and turned them into megastars that will be remembered forever in WWE. Xavier Woods and Big E were not in good positions in the WWE heircachy before The New Day came along, but now they’re synonymous with the current product and I can confidently claim that if there was no New Day, Kofi Kingston would never have got the WWE Championship run he’d always deserved.
An act that never got stale, and plucked three men from footnotes in WWE history to staples of the company, The New Day will certainly go down as one of the greatest factions in wrestling history.
8 – The Summer of Punk
And the year or so that followed it, but that’s not as catchy of a header.
You can think whatever you like of CM Punk’s 2014 exit from WWE, that’s not what we’re here to discuss, we’re here to talk about his greatest moments. Before CM Punk came along, it seemed like the smaller, more indie-rific stars would never truly get a chance to shine in WWE, no matter how much we cheered for them and booed the alternatives, WWE would always be a place for the John Cenas and Triple Hs of the world. Enter CM Punk.
Punk captured fans hearts with his in your face, to the point style of promos, weather as a heel or a babyface, Punk could work any crowd to feel any emotion whenever he wanted, combine this with exceptional in-ring talent and you’ve got one hell of a powder keg waiting to blow.
If Punk had received any old push from WWE management, there’s a chance his star would’ve faded far too quickly and whatever heel character he had at the time wouldn’t have maintained at the top of the card for as long as it did. Then he announced his intentions for Money in the Bank 2011. One fateful night on WWE Raw, CM Punk announced that on July 17th 2011, the night of that year’s Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View, his WWE contract expired, and he intended to leave with the WWE Championship.
This story was already blending kayfabe and reality in a way we hadn’t seen in a long time, as Punk’s contract was legitimately coming to an end on that date and he legitimately hadn’t decided yet whether or not he was going to re-sign. This was all well and good, but then something historic happened, to end an episode of Raw the next week, Punk sat at the top of the ramp and aired all of his frustrations with WWE in a part-work, part-shoot promo. This move turned many heads in the fandom and many fans who had stopped watching WWE due to its staleness were pulled back into watching thanks to this promo.
Low and behold, come Money in the bank 2011, Punk defeated Cena after a fantastic match, blew a kiss to Vinnie Mac and left WWE with the Championship…for 8 days. It’s an unfortunate truth that the aftermath of this moment was booked anywhere near as well as it should’ve, but the fact remains that it made an enternal star out of CM Punk, so much so that after being removed from our screens for over 5 years, people are still clamoring for his return.
CM Punk provided us with some of the most entertaining WWE TV we’d seen in years at that point and his success opened the door for so many others (who we’re going to talk about in a bit) to reach even greater success than Punk did. No matter what your opinion of him today is, you can’t deny that what he did in 2011 was absolutely fantastic.
7 – Depth of Talent
WWE has more wrestlers under there employ currently than ever before, a number that has skyrocketed specifically in this decade and as much as it creates problems like wasted talent that I highlighted in my “worst” article, it can also be of great benefit to the company.
While things like character work and promo ability can be debated, when it comes to atheltic ability, the WWE roster has never been as talented as it is right now. If WWE got their shit together, using the talent they’ve built upon their roster over the past ten years, they could put on the single best wrestling show in history; and I genuinely believe that. I could sit here and list countless names like I did in the previous list and I’ll be talking about specific examples further on in the list, but I genuinely believe that this is the most talented roster WWE has ever had.
There’s such a huge variety of wrestlers that they have under their belt that there really is something for everyone. You want muscle-bound superheroes who fight for what’s right? Have Roman Reigns. You want guys who can do so many flips you can’t help but be impressed? Ricochet’s got you covered. You want monsters who will destroy anyone in their path? Braun Strowman will hit the spot. You want the best technical wrestlers the world has ever seen? AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, take your pick.
Almost every WWE PPV is a plethora of variety in wrestling, no matter what you like, there’s something for you. If you want to poke holes in the current WWE product, there are plenty of ways to do so, but one thing that you absolutely cannot fault is the wrestlers themselves.
6 – AJ Styles: Mr WWE
Speaking of that talent, let’s look over one of this decade’s biggest, and most unexpected success stories.
For so many years AJ Styles was the exact opposite of a WWE guy. He spent the largest chunk of his career making waves for TNA as the most talented person there, before eventually leaving the company and making his way over to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he would instantly become a star. Styles led the Bullet Club and had 2 reigns with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. So when it was announced in Janurary of 2016 that AJ Styles had signed a contract with WWE, meer hours after he had wrestled at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 10 it absolutely blew everyone away.
I didn’t have much of an idea who Styles was at the time, but I quickly learnt how big of a deal this was and it’s safe to say that I was losing my shit just as hard as anyone else when he showed up in the 2016 Royal Rumble match. No-one was quite sure what kind of career Styles would have in WWE and if the man himself is to be believed, Vince only intended for him to be a mid-carder from the outset.
Ever one to push boundaries though, Styles forced those in charge to take notice of how unstoppably talented he was. A heel turn ended up being the best thing for him as it gave him all the momentum in the world going into one hell of a match with John Cena at Summerslam 2016, where he beat Cena clean as a whistle. Then it happened, against all of the odds, AJ Styles, Mr TNA, won the WWE Championship at Backlash 2016, in a move I don’t think many people expected, at least not so soon after his arrival.
Styles continued this run of success over the next few years winning the United States Championship before winning the WWE Championship a second time, holding it for over a year and being plasted on the front of posters, production trucks and video games in the process. AJ Styles is the story of exactly what can happen when WWE want to stick it to their compeitition in the best way possible. Sure, you could take Mr TNA and make him a joke on your product, or you could take Mr TNA and turn him into Mr WWE and that’s exactly what Styles is now, in the best way possible.
5 – John Cena: Jobber to the Future Stars
Another thing that I don’t think anyone could’ve seen coming at the start of this decade, is the fact that John Cena is now virtually non-existent in WWE. Having gone full Hollywood (and doing pretty well for himself in the process), over the past few years Cena has barely had a presence in WWE, not even having an official match at Wrestlemania 35.
The benefit of this transition, however, is that when Cena does show up to have a match, it’s a big deal and whoever he wrestles is bound to get a great rub, win or lose. Even more so than that, Cena’s in-ring style has changed so subtly over this decade, that it took us all a moment in 2015/2016 to realise that he’s putting on incredible matches all of a sudden. Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan . All of these matche he’s had with those guys over the past number of years have been absolute classics, especially his matches with Styles.
What’s even more amazing (and unbelievable to our 2010 viewer) is that he put all of those guys over. Admittedly he got his wins back from Owens in a major way, but that first match when Owens shockingly pinned Cena was all that was needed to launch him to the prominent status he holds today. This happened with all of the younger talent he’s wrestled since about 2015, Cena would put them over in a high profile match and it would raise that guy’s stock more than any world title win ever could and even when he did get his wins back, it didn’t matter in the long run because a star was already made.
If Cena’s going to be sticking to this one or two matches a year thing, I hope that when he does show up, this is the Cena we continue to see. Everytime he shows up it feels like a big moment and there are so many guys in WWE that could really use his magic touch.
4 – Daniel Bryan: The Best Wrestler in the World
I’ve made this claim many many times on this blog and it’s something I genuinely believe. You don’t even need to go as far back as the American Dragon, or his Ring of Honor days to see it (although they certainly help) you just need to go back to the summer of 2010 and watch from there.
Many people (myself included) claim that the WWE way of doing things can hamper performers in many ways, from a characte perspective and even in the ring there are so many times watching WWE’s product that I feel like things could be better for such-and-such person if they weren’t so constricted, just look at Jon Moxley for living proof of that. Daniel Bryan didn’t suffer from this though, well he did a bit at first, but Daniel Bryan did something which no-one else has really been able to do, at least not to his level, which is take the limitations of the WWE system and use them to his advantage.
“Limitation breeds creativity” is a phrase I’ve heard a number of times when it comes to creating art and that’s exactly what Daniel Bryan did with the limitations he was given. He moved and changed his character to fit the WWE way of doing things without compromising who he was as a wrestler, he was able to feel like a perfect fit for the WWE product, while still connected with the fans on an astronomical level, so much so that when he hit a brick wall that he couldn’t change enough to get through, the WWE fanbase shouted as loud as they could and changed WWE to make way for him.
I gave CM Punk a lot the credit earlier for the shift to the indie style of wrestling because he was the first to do it, but Daniel Bryan’s contributions to this cause cannot be understated either. Daniel Bryan smashed his way through the titanium wall WWE seemed to put in front of him and in doing so, cleared the way for the whole style of wrestling in WWE to fundamentally shift to what was seen in 2010 as a very “indie” style.
Two of my favourite moments involving the WWE Championship this past decade were thanks to Daniel Bryan, when he won the title at Wrestlemania 30 is was the most incredible feeling in the world, this amazing and lovable man has finally reached the highest point it’s possible for him to reach in his career. Then there was the sad affair of his forced retirement thanks to injuries, which was truly heartbreaking, but luckily it has a happy ending.
Daniel Bryan’s return speech is something that still makes me tear up and the line “If you fight hard enough for your dreams, eventually your dreams will fight for you” is the most motivational sentence I think I’ve ever heard. So imagine thinking that less than a year later he would be one of the most detestable heels in the entire industry. Daniel Bryan’s 2018 heel turn was an unexpected stroke of absolute genius, not did it let him work a more mat-based technical style that he’s absolutely exceptional at, but it provided us with what, to my mind at least, is the best world title reign we’ve seen since CM Punk’s 434-day reign in 2011/2012/2013.
Bryan has never remained static as a wrestler, his ability to constantly reinvent himself as a character while sticking true to his in-ring style and performing it all to absolute perfection is something that very few in the industry even come close to, let alone WWE. I could probably do a whole article about why I believe Daniel Bryan is the best wrestler in the world right now, but we don’t have that much time and this is only entry number 3. So to cut it short, he’s really freaking good and this decade has been all the example you need as to why.
3 – Brock Lesnar’s Return
When I was putting these two lists together, I couldn’t decide where to put Lesnar’s return because it had so many highs and lows to it, so in the end, I decided: why not both? In my “Worst of WWE” post, I talked about all of the crap that came from Lesnar’s return, but it’d be remiss of me to go without mentioning the many positives that came from it to.
Firstly and perhaps most importantly, is the fact that we got a lot of great matches from him. While it’s true that Lesnar’s put on no small amount of stinkers since his 2012 return there are an equal amount of fantastic bouts to go alongside them. His matches across the decade against guys like Cena, Punk, Bryan, Styles and so many others have all been barnburners that show just how valuable of an asset Lesnar is to WWE.
On top of that, there is the simple fact of “moments”. Lesnar is perhaps the best wrestlers for creating these moments because he has a feel to him that no other wrestler on the planet has. Wrestlemania 30, Summerslam 2014, Wrestlemania 31, Survivor Series 2016 and Wrestlemania 35, all of these are moments that have left a lasting impression on me and are some of the best/most shocking moments in wrestling from the past decade. You could argue that these moments are all down to the person that Lesnar was facing at the time, but that’s just not true, in fact, I’d argue the exact opposite: that these moments were only possible because it was Lesnar doing them.
Lesnar has been so consistently booked as an unstoppable monster that there came a point where, for a good 5-6 years, he felt truly undefeatable, which is a feeling that no other wrestler has had in decades. The fact of the matter is, when Lesnar loses, it’s a HUGE deal and whoever does it is instantly a star and there isn’t anyone else like that in WWE, not anymore.
Fans have spent this whole decade begging for WWE to be consistent in their booking, but the truth is there was a prime example of that staring them in the fact the whole time and his name is Brock Lesnar.
2 – NXT
I mean come on, there’s no way you can have a “best of WWE” list and not have NXT somewhere in the top 3.
At the start of the decade, NXT was nothing more than a bad reality TV show where some of the best independent wrestlers of the time (and David Otunga) were humiliated on a weekly basis and I think if you’d have told anyone that over the decade, NXT would become the most consistently brilliant wrestling promotion on the planet, they would’ve reported you to some sort of mental institution. At yet, here we are at the end of 2019, looking back at the best WWE matches of the decade and almost all of them come from the brand of yellow and black.
Despite switching from reality show to wrestling promotion in late 2012, most people didn’t take much notice until 2014, when the brand’s first special event “NXT Arrival” took place, featuring fantastic matches between the likes of Ardian Neville, Bo Dallas, Paige, Emma, Sami Zayn and Cesaro. That roll continued with what would become quarterly events known as NXT Takeover, where the best wrestlers NXT had to offer (which were more often than not, the best indie stars of the time that WWE had bothered to sign) had the best matches they possibly could and it was always pure gold.
Not only were the matches always top quality but the storylines usually matched that quality, with feuds like #DIY vs The Revival, Bayley vs Sasha Banks and Tommaso Ciampa vs Johnn Gargano that truely defined this decade in WWE. It’s clear that NXT is a creative environment, where both wrestlers and writers are allowed to work at their full potential to craft nuanced, long-term storylines that we haven’t had on Raw or Smackdown in ages.
While several NXT stars have failed to live up to their potential when called up to the main roster for one reason or another, NXT has provided us with main-stays of the current product, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, Drew Mcintyre, Big E; just to name a few.
NXT has given us some of the best wrestling from this past decade, proving that the “WWE Style” doesn’t have to be seen as a bad thing, because as much as we all like to deny it, NXT is the WWE Style and the show has proven the all-time classic stories and matches that style can produce and will continue to produce for years to come.
1 – Women’s Wrestling
It could never be anything else, could it?
While it’s absolutely true that all of the major wrestling companies in the world could still be doing more to legitimise their women’s divisions, comparing how female wrestlers were treated in WWE at the start of the decade to now is the kind of improvement I’m not anyone ever thought we’d see from a Vince McMahon led company.
At the very first WWE Pay-Per-View of this decade, Royal Rumble 2010, there was only one women’s match broadcast on the show and it lasted 20 seconds of a three-hour show and this was by no means an outlier, it is an accurate presentation of how WWE treated the female wrestlers under its employ for well over a decade. WWE would hire models and teach them basic wrestling moves, while the legitimate athletes were barely allowed to show their skill and were treated pretty much as eye-candy.
By the time 2014 came around, the WWE audience were starting to get sick of it all, people were starting to demand that female athletes in WWE be taken seriously and it was (unsurprisingly) NXT that heeded that call and built a women’s division full of the greatest women’s wrestlers on the planet. Paige, Emma and the four horsewomen were among the first female wrestlers in over decade that were allowed by the company to prove to the world that they’re just as good, if not better than any male star in WWE. But it still wasn’t enough.
Despite getting glimmers of great matches on the main roster throughout 2014, it was clear the company still had no intentions to make any meaningful changes, so as WWE fans always do, they got louder. At the Fastlane 2015 Pay-Per-View between Nikki Bella and Paige, a match that had all the potential to be a show-stealer, got a mere 5 minutes worth of screen-time; this was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Within 24 hours, the #givedivasachance movement had begun and the whole wrestling world puts its foot down and let the company know that this shit wasn’t going to fly anymore.
The change was perhaps a bit slower than we would’ve liked, but sure enough, it happened. While the initial clusterfuck of Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks all getting called up at once causing a 3 on 3 on 3 feuds was, well…awful. Soon after that, the company started to focus on these competitors as singles stars and from that point onwards, there was no stopping them.
Every woman who came through WWE from then on made sure they made as much noise as possible, putting on fantastic matches and making sure they could not be ignored. Soon female wrestlers were main-eventing Pay-Per-Views, getting their own Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank matches and just generally having their feuds and storylines treated exactly the same as any other in the company.
In 2018 we had the first-ever all-women Pay-Per-View in Evolution, which was an absolute hit and a fantastic show, Becky Lynch became the single most popular star in the whole industry and the most prestigious spot in the WWE calendar, the main event of Wrestlemania featured a women’s match for the first time ever.
Like I said at the start, the war is not won yet, but this decade proved that major change can happen in wrestling if we just stop the big companies from getting away with their bullshit for long enough. Genuine, massive and long-lasting change has been established in the way WWE treats its female athletes, which is something that cannot be understated and it is undeniable that it’s the best thing to have happened in WWE this past decade.
And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, please let me know what you thought of WWE this past decade either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back on Saturday for my predictions for WWE TLC!