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The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

Pro Wrestling

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

Who left the biggest marks on the professional wrestling world in the past decade?

It’s the end of the year, and more than that — it’s the end of the decade. It’s a time for reflection, a time for introspection and a time for pop culture sites like us to rank things from this arbitrary time period to stoke arguments on Twitter. Hey, we didn’t write the algorithm and clicks are clicks. Yet as we look back on the past 10 years (what are we calling this decade, anyway? The Teens?), there’s only one question that matters to us nerds at AIPT Wrestling: Who won the decade? Which wrestler made the biggest impact/had the best matches/made us excited to watch wrestling over the past 10 years? To figure it out, we held an internal vote among the AIPT Wrestling staff, where everyone laid out their top 10 of the modern era. What you see here is the cream of the crop, the top voted wrestlers of the 2010s, and while not everyone we voted for made the list (one writer who shall remain nameless cast a vote for Zack Ryder) we think the decade is well represented by these 10 individuals.

Honorable mentions: Charlotte Flair, AJ Styles, Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks

10) Kofi Kingston

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

It took him a while, but Kofi is finally at the top of the card.

Of all the people on this list, Kofi Kingston’s decade probably had the highest highs and the lowest lows. Though he spent most of the decade in the undercard, with years seemingly wasted on semi-competitive feuds with the Miz and Dolph Ziggler, Kofi also spent a lot of 2010-2013 as an also-ran in multi-man matches. Whenever you needed someone to hit a high spot in the Elimination Chamber or narrowly avoid defeat in a Royal Rumble (only to lose anyway), Kofi was your go-to guy. It wasn’t until a shared lack of direction with a couple of NXT cast-offs allowed Kingston’s natural charm and charisma to come front and center that Kofi’s career really took off. 

Oh sure, Kingston had been IC, US and Tag champion dozens of times, but it was the creation of the New Day that finally helped elevate the perennial mid-carder to a beloved position with the wrestling world. We all knew he was talented, but now we saw that he was funny and interesting and someone with friends who invest in him. This meant when he was put back into those very same multi-man matches, the crowd was suddenly invested in him. Suddenly, he was that plucky underdog that we all wanted to root for again. Kofimania was running wild, and his in-ring chemistry with then-WWE Champion Daniel Bryan only served to echo the thematic similarities between their two ascents to the man event scene — culminating in the feel-good moment of WrestleMania 35, when Kofi finally won the WWE Championship in arguably the match of the night. His reign with the title was no fluke either, as Kingston would have great matches with the likes of AJ Styles and Kevin Owens (though the less said about how quickly WWE shunted the belt off of him when Brock Lesnar came back around, the better). Still, Kofi remains one of the most beloved members of the WWE roster, and went from also-ran to WWE Champion this decade. No wonder he made the list.

-Jason Segarra

9) Brock Lesnar

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

Brock would age, but time is too afraid to touch him.

Love him or hate him (who are we kidding, you hate him), there’s little denying that Brock Lesnar made an impact this decade. It hasn’t always been a positive one, but Brock has firmly established himself as the final boss of the wrestling world with his continued dominance in the ring, his frankly terrifying presence, and his panache for big moments. Whether he was taking erstwhile main eventers to Suplex City, returning to UFC and winning his comeback fight (with an asterisk), or maintaining a stranglehold on the Universal Title for more than a year, Brock was and always is a big deal when he comes around. If you had to point to one event that encapsulated Brock’s decade, it would be his defeat of The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX — an event that shocked the wrestling world and placed Brock so firmly atop the mountain that even the company’s chosen golden boys barely put a dent in the Beast’s armor. When he wasn’t busying himself hunting and reading back issues of American Frontiersman (or other, more questionable publications), Brock proved to be one of the more memeable and memorable performers in the WWE. His time with the Money in the Bank briefcase alone humanized The Beast more than any of his visits to amateur wrestlers, or speaking engagements and proved that there may be more to Brock than Eat, Sleep, Conquer, Repeat. Still, even when he wasn’t there, Brock was on the hearts and lips of the WWE Universe at all times, securing him an easy placement on this list.

-Jason Segarra

8) The Shield

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

Odd that the youngest people on this list look the most different.

In terms of impact, few groups have made such a huge sea change in the wrestling industry as The Shield.  Other factions are stronger long-term tag teams or put together from already established main eventers. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose arrived in WWE as a unit (in black turtlenecks, no less!) and immediately dominated the WWE landscape.  Debuting in 2012, the team held the Tag Team Championship and the United States Championship before Rollins’ betrayal of the group in 2014. Going their separate ways in WWE led all three men to numerous WWE, Universal, Intercontinental, and Tag championships.  Even when not acting as “The Shield,” different combinations of the three looked out for each other and feuded over the next four years. Rollins and Reigns have since become foils for one another other, charting parallel courses on Raw and SmackDown, while Ambrose left WWE in mid-2019 to reinvent himself as Jon Moxley and bring his brand of chaos to AEW, further demonstrating the reach of this trio.

One of the most indelible moments of the past decade is the “Heist of the Century” at WrestleMania 31, where Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract during the main event of the show, defeating both Brock Lesnar and his former Shield teammate Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.  With Rollins now leading Raw as its top heel, Reigns as SmackDown’s top babyface, and Moxley as AEW’s most dangerous competitor, the legacy of The Shield is solidified beyond WWE across the entire industry. Where the three go over the next decade is uncertain, but they will continue to dominate wherever they are.  Believe in The Shield.

– Brian Clements

7) Triple H

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

Honestly, I prefer boardroom Trips.

Triple H started this decade as a wrestler in the twilight of his career as an in-ring competitor, but he ended it leading a revolution. In 2012, Triple H began a project called NXT, with the goal being to create a WWE minor league so to speak, a farm team that WWE could use to bolster the rosters of Raw and SmackDown. To that end, NXT’s been a great success — WWE has effectively created their own feeder system. But to the surprise of many, NXT became something much bigger than that — NXT is a main roster brand in its own right, presenting a stark contrast to the slick production and hokey angles of Raw and SmackDown. Think about it: thanks to Triple H, WWE successfully offers an alternative to itself. Triple H is the guiding force behind arguably the hottest brand in pro wrestling, and it’s just a matter of time before he inherits the keys to the kingdom that is WWE proper. If NXT is any indication of Triple H’s vision for the future of pro wrestling, WWE will be in great hands.

And that’s just what Hunter has accomplished behind the scenes. He’s still a semi-active wrestler, and in the past decade he’s had two WrestleMania classics with The Undertaker, wrestled Sting in a match most fans thought they’d never see, and helped make the likes of Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns main event talents in torch-passing moments. Oh, and in 2016, he tacked on another world title reign to his resume by winning the WWE Championship in the Royal Rumble match, just the second man to do so. So yeah, both in the ring and in the boardroom, you could say The Game has had a good decade.

-Patrick Ross

6) CM Punk

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

10 years and still no ice cream bars.

WWE’s 2012 documentary CM Punk: Best in the World starts with a voiceover where Punk says, “I feel I have a responsibility to the younger wrestlers on the roster, the ones who aren’t signed yet, and the future of pro wrestling as a whole to help make this place better and to change this place. I certainly can’t change it by sitting on my couch in Chicago.”

Punk may have only stuck around for another two years, and his acrimonious split with WWE is one of the most infamous company exits in history, but change this place he did. CM Punk is the architect behind the era we find ourselves in now; without Punk proving there was a path to success for “indie darlings” like himself in the big leagues, there may have never been a Daniel Bryan. Independent stars like Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens may not be headlining major WWE brands. NXT as we know it today — essentially PWG with a higher budget — likely wouldn’t exist. Punk may not have gotten his WrestleMania main event, but he absolutely changed WWE for the better.

-Patrick Ross

5) Becky Lynch 

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

The Man’s come a long way from her Riverdancing days.

Becky Lynch is by and large the story of the final 18 months of the decade.  Originally signed to WWE developmental and NXT in 2013, Lynch was the only member of the vaunted Four Horsewomen to never hold the NXT Women’s Championship.  She arrived on the main roster in 2015 and quickly became the inaugural SmackDown Womens Champion in 2016. While her in-ring talent was never in question, it was a sudden turn on friend Charlotte Flair at SummerSlam 2018 that catapulted “The Man” to superstardom.  Within eight months, Lynch would defeat Flair and UFC legend Rhonda Rousey in the main event at WrestleMania 35 to win both the Raw and Smackdown titles. Lynch’s meteoric rise saw her become the most popular figure in WWE, surpassing Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and other men on all three brands.  No matter where she goes, “The Man” is a top draw and put women’s wrestling at the forefront of all wrestling conversations.  

-Brian Clements

4) Cody Rhodes

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

Cody went from ashy to classy in the 2010s.

The son of the son of a plumber, Cody Rhodes had a transformative decade. Starting off as a mainstay in WWE’s mid-card division, Cody set himself apart from his cohorts thanks to his ability to portray a wide range of characters and his crisp ring work. The peak of his time in WWE came in 2013, when he teamed up with his real-life brother Goldust to capture the Tag Team Championships as their father Dusty looked on. A couple years later, it was time to forge his own path in the wrestling industry without the WWE machine behind him. This led to 2019 and the birth of All Elite Wrestling, where Cody looks to carry on the legacy of The American Dream not just as an in-ring competitor, but as a booker and executive as well. The Elite have certainly lived up to their tagline — when it comes to wrestling, they have Changed the World.

-Patrick Ross

2) Daniel Bryan (tied)

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

Few people’s stories are as emotionally resonant as that of the American Dragon.

In 2016, Daniel Bryan retired from in-ring competition following a career of punishing injuries.  If his story had ended there, he still would have made this list. Bryan began the decade as part of the Nexus invasion, only to be fired after choking Justin Roberts with his own tie.  Later that summer he was rehired and brought on to defend WWE against Nexus alongside John Cena, and went on to win the United States Championship, Money in the Bank, and his first World Heavyweight Championship by the end of the following year.  While feuds with CM Punk and a tag team with Kane are memorable, what really made Bryan one of the best of the decade was the “Yes! Movement” and his journey to winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX, defeating HHH, Batista, and Randy Orton all in the same night.

After his retirement, Bryan never left the WWE spotlight, creating buzz through his interactions with The Miz on Talking Smack and as the GM of SmackDownWhat truly makes Bryan one of the greatest wrestlers of the decade, however, is his comeback in 2018. After years of fighting, testing, and medical treatments, Bryan was cleared to compete and immediately returned to thunderous reaction.  He went on to win the WWE Championship after a surprising heel turn, ultimately facing Kofi Kingston at WrestleMania 35, losing in one of the most impactful moments in WWE history. Daniel Bryan will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame when things are all said and done, and his decade of ups and downs have solidified him as one of the all-time greats.

-Brian Clements

2) John Cena (tied)

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Cena seems to have gained hair over the past 10 years.

Fun fact: John Cena is the only wrestler that every AIPT Wrestling Contributor included on their list for this piece, and it’s not hard to see why. The Face that Runs the Place has been at the top of the largest professional wrestling company in the world since 2005 and only added to his legacy over the past 10 years. Sure there were dark patches, like the burial of the Nexus back in 2010, and the “LOL Cena Wins” years — but in between his “Once in a Lifetime” feuds with The Rock and his continual charity work, something happened: fans started to like the Doctor of Thuganomics again. Whether it was putting on bangers with the likes of CM Punk and AJ Styles, or cutting promos exposing the myriad faults the WWE Universe had with ill-received McMahon projects like Roman Reigns and Baron Corbin, John Cena proved to be one of the most entertaining performers in the ring. As that charisma started to take him away from the ring and onto the big screen, ala his erstwhile nemesis The Rock, John did what every aging wrestler on their way out of the sport should do: he started putting over younger guys, and grooming a successor. He ultimately didn’t really find one (though Roman, post-cancer, is coming along nicely), but Cena has accepted his position as the elder statesman of WWE gracefully, and has become, once again, a must-watch performer.

-Jason Segarra

And the Winner is….

1) Chris Jericho

The 10 most impactful wrestlers of the 2010s

Jericho has aged like a fine bit of the bubbly.

What can you say about Le Champion? The Elder Statesman of AEW could have easily been on this list for any of the past three decades, and yet is somehow now MORE integral to the modern wrestling world than he’s ever been. This decade saw Jericho wear a number of hats (and scarves, and jackets) — whether he was claiming to be the “best in the world,” touring with his band, adding stupid idiots to his list, or making pain for the top stars of New Japan, the once and future Y2J has earned the respect of the entire wrestling world by constantly reinventing himself in new and fantastic ways. His current role with AEW is more than a greatest hits tour, it’s a seasoned vet — one of the few Hall-of-Fame-worthy performers still working a full schedule — lending his considerable clout and credibility to an upstart promotion in need of some legitimacy. As Le Champion, Jericho has shown a willingness to work with and put over young talent in need of exposure. From the members of the Inner Circle to one-off challengers like Scorpio Sky and Jungle Boy, Jericho is helping usher in the next generation of stars, and helping to establish AEW as the young, vibrant and fresh alternative to the sleek but cold corporate entity that WWE has become. In the past decade the man has gotten over a scarf, a list, the Big Show, a lazy spinning elbow, his dad band, some Clockwork Orange face paint under a fedora, and his own line of champagne. No wonder he’s the wrestler of the decade; the man is clearly magic.

-Jason Segarra

Do you love wrestling? Do you have strong opinions on AEW, WWE, NJPW, Impact, ROH, and the independent scene? Do you like to write about wrestling? Then we want you on our team. AIPT is currently recruiting wrestling writers. Apply to write for AIPT today!

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