Top 20 Best Wrestlers of the Century (So Far)

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Top 20 Best Wrestlers of the Century (So Far)

VOICE OVER: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
These are the wrestlers who've dominated the ring since the year 2000. For this list, we'll be ranking the wrestlers who started their careers at or around the turn of the century, so for fairness, legends like Stone Cold, The Rock and Chris Jericho will be left off this list. Our countdown includes Roman Reigns, John Cena, CM Punk, Jon Moxley, and more!
Transcript

Top 20 Wrestlers of the Century So Far


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Wrestlers of the Century So Far.

For this list, we’ll be ranking the wrestlers who started their careers at or around the turn of the century, so for fairness, legends like Stone Cold, The Rock and Chris Jericho will be left off this list. We’ll also be saving female wrestlers, like the Queen, Charlotte Flair, for another list!

Did we leave out your favorite? Let us know in the comments!

#20: Adam Cole


Pro wrestling fans love to pontificate about the next big thing. Those once-in-a-lifetime performers who help push the business forward for a new generation. Adam Cole might just be one of those wrestlers. Favorable comparisons to Shawn Michaels fit the athletic and charismatic Cole like a glove, but his success in the squared circle is really about much more. For starters, the former NXT Champion and current AEW star knows how to tell a story in the ring. He’s also effortless on the mic, and more than willing to put his body on the line to deliver a five-star match. Simply stated: Adam Cole IS the future.

#19: Finn Balor


It doesn’t matter whether Finn Balor was killing it in NXT, WWE’s main roster, or back in Japan, he could always be counted on to connect with his audience. Balor just possesses a magnetism, one that translates equally as both babyface and heel. Longtime fans will likely point to his founding of the Bullet Club in New Japan Pro Wrestling as a career highlight, but Balor has also delivered standout matches in the more commercial product of WWE. Granted, his time on the injured list after becoming the first Universal Champion was a bummer, and definitely stunted his push, but we’re always rooting for this Demon Prince every time he hits the ring.

#18: “The Bastard” PAC


We’re not saying that “The Bastard” PAC can’t play a good babyface, but he truly shined when he debuted on AEW television as a tough, no-nonsense heel. Although he’s still awaiting main event status as a major player, PAC is all work and all business. His move set feels intensely physical, even when he takes to the air, while his promos seethe with a palpable menace. His current membership in Death Triangle has seen PAC take over more of a dark face role rather than full heel, which works really well in presenting the Man That Gravity Forgot as a legitimate badass.

#17: Roman Reigns


It sure took a while for Roman Reigns to turn heel, but when that moment finally came? Man, was it worth the wait! Reigns’ “Head of the Table” gimmick fits like a glove, protecting the character’s unstoppable aura while also giving the audience a reason to care. The fact that Roman’s real-life family The Usos were also folded into the storyline just gave it that much more pathos. In the meantime, Roman is arguably doing the best work of his career as a heel, putting in great matches and telling worthwhile stories, while never coming across as an unstoppable force, keeping younger talent down. We humbly bear witness.

#16: Tetsuya Naito


The world of Japanese wrestling possesses a long pedigree of greatness, but recent years has seen the country’s modern profile crossover in a major way around the world. No longer is Japanese wrestling history the subject of a small network of VHS tape traders, but rather stars like Tetsuya Naito are becoming household names everywhere they go. And why not? As the leader of Los Gobernobles de Japon (say that five times fast), Naito finally reached the top of the mountain in 2020, when became New Japan’s Intercontinental and Heavyweight champion over the course of two nights at Wrestle Kingdom 14. Validation? Sure, but it was also well deserved, after years of kicking ass and taking names.

#15: Randy Orton


They’re three of the most dangerous letters in the pro wrestling alphabet: R. K. O. And truth be told? We’re still not over seeing Randy Orton’s killer finisher over and over again. Oh sure, we know that it’s basically a modified version of DDP’s Diamond Cutter, but the fact that Orton continually finds new and exciting ways to hit the moves keeps us up on the edge of our collective seat. Beyond this, Orton is also something of an underrated workhorse, a man who knows the business inside out, thanks to his father “Cowboy” Bob Orton. A match with Orton is intense, physical and, perhaps best of all, safe, because The Viper, quite simply, knows what he’s doing in the ring.

#14: “Hangman” Adam Page


Everyone loves a feel-good story, right? Well, that’s what AEW fans got when “Hangman” Adam Page achieved the rare feat of a clean win over Kenny Omega at AEW Full Gear 2021. Page’s in-ring style is something of an update to the classic, smash mouth style, an approach that balances elegance with physicality. His finishers, the Buckshot Lariat and DeadEye piledriver, look great and hearken back to the southern rasslin’ greats. But Page can also move quickly, and work the ropes, making him a great mix of the old and new school.

#13: Brock Lesnar


Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that everyone stands up and takes notice when Brock Lesnar hits the ring. And we mean any ring, in fact, since The Next Big Thing has dominated in WWE, New Japan and MMA over the years. We’re particularly fond of Lesnar’s early, hungrier work in the WWE, however, particularly his matches against Kurt Angle. We also love that magical moment when Brock put Eddie Guerrero over at “No Way Out” 2004 for the WWE Championship. More than anything, though, we’re just consistently in awe over how physical Lesnar gets in the ring, while consistently upping the ante of his stock as a main event player.

#12: Kota Ibushi


You could get a head rush trying to rattle off all of Kota Ibushi’s myriad accomplishments in the world of professional wrestling. He’s basically made of gold at this point, having held tag team and championship gold in such promotions as New Japan and the DDT promotion from Tokyo. Fans in the States will likely recall Ibushi from his memorable performance in WWE’s “Cruiserweight Classic” tournament in 2016, but trust us when we say that you GOTTA check out his other work. Ibushi’s ability to meld effortless high flying with bone-crushing strikes and physicality makes him a “total package” type of wrestler, truly a legend in his own time.

#11: Seth Rollins


The Ring of Honor promotion may be on hiatus, but longtime fans can recall the incredible proving ground ROH provided for a generation of young stars. Seth Rollins was one of those professionals, wrestling under the name Tyler Black before moving to NXT and eventually the WWE main roster. His work alongside Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose in The Shield helped define mainstream tag team wrestling during their era, while his “heist of the century” money in the bank cash-in at WrestleMania 31 for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship has become the stuff of legend. Rollins turns high flying into an art, while also demonstrating an incredible aptitude for ring psychology. He’s just one of the all-time best.

#10: Will Ospreay


Fans who follow global pro wrestling naturally have their attention divided largely between countries like Japan, Mexico and the USA, but there’s also an incredibly vibrant and exciting world of wrestling in the United Kingdom. Companies like Progress, Revolution Pro and NXT’s UK division consistently drive home the notion of British wrestling to the masses, proving its greatness year after year. Will Ospreay is just one of the performers doing just this year after year, thanks to his daring acrobatic style. The term “high flying’ doesn’t even do the technique of Ospreay justice, his work in the ring frankly defies the term and begs for something new to describe the hand-over-mouth, jaw-dropping moves this man performs. Will Ospreay just turns it into an art.

#9: Jon Moxley


Talk about greener pastures. We’re not going to sit here and say that we didn’t love Jon Moxley when he was performing as Dean Ambrose in the WWE. His work with The Shield, as we’ve already mentioned, was formative, although his run at World Champion felt too transitional and rushed. A new, re-branded Jon Moxley would eventually make his way to AEW, where he quickly rose to the top after targeting people like Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho. At this point, Mox has nothing to prove: a pure brawler with a chaotic charisma and mic skills that make the audience feel like basically anything could happen. Because it usually does.

#8: John Cena


What else can we say about Big Match John? This Doctor of Thuganomics may have started his career in the late nineties in the indie scene, but there’s no denying how much this century’s wrestling landscape has been influenced by John Cena. Is Cena’s “Never Give Up” credo, unstoppable babyface persona and simple-but-effective move set comparable to eighties-era Hulk Hogan? Perhaps, but Cena’s legacy is much more than that. He’s a lightning rod, a public face for the business who’s also, dare we say, under­­rated in the ring. Cena knows storytelling, and he knows when to call audibles. To watch him work is to watch a master painter change his mind mid-stroke, all the while creating a piece of art that’s simultaneously universal and creatively satisfying.

#7: CM Punk


We wish we could’ve been in the United Center area for AEW’s “The First Dance” event, just to measure the decibel level on display when CM Punk made his long-awaited return to professional wrestling. Grown men wept with incredulous joy as the Voice of the Voiceless returned to a deafening response. Why? Because we remember how much CM Punk meant to us during the height of his creative powers in the WWE. Punk was a breath of fresh air during a time which often felt mighty stale, an athletic and believable storyteller in the ring, and an undisputed master on the mic. Heel? Face? Punk could do it all, and the AEW faithful welcomed him back with open arms.

#6: Kurt Angle


Kurt Angle is another wrestler who made his WWE debut in the late nineties, but whose quality of work peaked sharply during the new millennium. Angle’s real-life wrestling pedigree and Olympic heroics were well documented before he joined the company, and he served up the perfect sort of annoying heel character for the WWE fans to hate. Angle took to pro wrestling like a duck to water, not only excelling at the physical end of things, but for creating storylines that were unafraid of silliness or self-parody. Seriously, the image of Angle wearing that tiny Cowboy hat alongside “Stone Cold” Steve Austin cracks us up to this day.

#5: Hiroshi Tanahashi


When you’re the best at your field, you don’t really have to seek out work: work comes to you. This is certainly the case with Hiroshi Tanahashi, since this gold star standard has consistently re-defined what it means to be a professional wrestler. His title reigns have crisscrossed continents for promotions like New Japan, Pro Wrestling Noah and Mexico’s historic Lucha Libre institution, CMLL. His move set is believable and hard hitting, melding real life grappling and boxing moves alongside traditional wrestling staples like splashes and suplexes. If you’ve never experienced a Hiroshi Tanahashi match for yourself, then we highly suggest that you seek out his work, pronto.

#4: AJ Styles


As we’ve discussed, it’s not rare for a wrestler to cut their teeth and make their name in another promotion, before taking that recognition to the main stage of WWE. AJ Styles was one of those performers, creating a legend for himself in Japan, but also as a stalwart member of Impact Wrestling, formerly known as TNA. Styles is the total package in the athletic sense, but he also possesses that all-important ability to make all of his opponents (even the worst ones) look good. Seriously, it’s not unfair to say at this point that if you can’t have a good match with AJ Styles, then you can’t have a good match at all.

#3: Kazuchika Okada


Exploring the world of Japanese wrestling can be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated, but we have one name that could serve as a great entry point for those seeking to dip their toes in fresh water: Kazuchika Okada. Specifically, we want to point to his series of matches with Kenny Omega in New Japan Pro Wrestling for proof of Okada’s greatness. Their matches at Dominion 6.9 and Wrestle Kingdom 11 are regarded by many as some of the finest pro wrestling matches of all time, while Okada’s other feuds with Hiroshi Tanahashi and AJ Styles were also incredible. The Rainmaker has style to spare, but also hits hard and can connect with an audience, or keep them at arm’s length. Okada is in total control at all times.

#2: Bryan Danielson


It’s become almost expected at this point for former WWE stars to eventually make their way to what’s quickly becoming the new promised land of AEW. Bryan Danielson is the latest of these big names to make this transition, as the man previously known as Daniel Bryan has returned to the sport that made him a star. What’s great about Danielson’s AEW run is how he’s been unafraid to work both babyface and heel, showing no fear about alienating the audience who once cheered him during “The Yes Movement.” At the end of the day, however, Bryan is just a fantastic wrestler, a born striker who also isn’t afraid to take some serious bumps for the sake of telling a story.

Before we name our number one pick, here are some honorable mentions!

Bobby Lashley
From Wrestling to MMA and Back Again

Drew McIntyre
A Feel-Good Success Story

Shingo Takagi
IWGP World Champion

Cody Rhodes
Went All in With AEW

Darby Allin
A New People’s Champion

Keith Lee
Big Men Shouldn’t Be Able to Move This Quick

Cesaro
Strength Beyond Strength

Kevin Owens
Great Heel. Great Face. Great Wrestler

#1: Kenny Omega


What goes into making a great professional wrestler? Executing dangerous physical activity at an expert level? Telling a story and capturing the audience’s imagination? Creating a character with depth, heart and soul? Well, the best of the best will do all of these things, and the best of the best is Kenny Omega. “The Cleaner” works at an elite level, and has done so for longer than some other wrestlers have had entire careers. Omega has been something of a journeyman, performing for numerous promotions over the years, sometimes at the same time. What can we say? The best is always in high demand, and with Kenny Omega, you always get your money’s worth.
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