Editor’s note: This column originally appeared on LordsofPain.net and was written by staff members Super Chrisss and Mr. Tito. I thought it was really well done…check it out!
It’s the FINAL COUNTDOWN, a column brand offered by Mr. Tito, but for this special edition, fellow LordsofPain.net columnist Super Chrisss, author of the “My Two Centsss” columns, joins the column to discuss the Top 10 WWE In-Ring Workers. This list will speak specifically about in-ring work rate. Even if a wrestler lacks speaking abilities, is a weak character, or struggles in the Main Event scene, it won’t matter because we are looking specifically at how a wrestler performs in the ring. The ones who regularly have great matches or have the abilities to make their opponents look great will apply.
To compile this list, Mr. Tito and Chrisss submitted Top 10 lists. Then, from the population of wrestlers from both lists, the followers of Mr. Tito (@titowrestling) and Chrisss (@ChrisssLoP) on Twitter were then asked via poll who the best WWE in-ring workers were. The combined scores of Mr. Tito, Chrisss, and the Twitter readers created the methodology for this list below. Per each wrestler who made the top 10, both Chrisss and Mr. Tito will add their commentary for your enjoyment. The reader contribution to this list actually served as tiebreakers and actually determined the #1 spot on this list.
Your feedback below is encouraged, as are any directl comments to Mr. Tito (@titowrestling) and Chrisss (@ChrisssLoP) on Twitter. And as always, no “FINAL COUNTDOWN” column is complete without listening to this fine cover of Final Countdown in the background.
TOP 10 WWE IN-RING WORKERS
#10 – RANDY ORTON
CHRISSS: For whatever reason, people never seem to truly appreciate The Viper’s skills as a wrestler. While just like other main-eventers such as John Cena and CM Punk, Orton can wrestle a bad, ugly match once in a while, but more often than not, Orton delivers a solid in-ring performance. His resume for 2013 may seem a bit bare, but that’s because he was too busy competing in non-feuds and going over Wade Barrett or Antonio Cesaro every other week. But whether the IWC wants to admit it or not, Orton is one of the better wrestlers on the entire roster, who has great chemistry with a lot of different opponents, from smaller guys like Daniel Bryan to behemoths like Mark Henry. You can call him Randy [B]or[e]ton when he cuts a promo, but certainly not when he’s wrestling.
MR. TITO: This guy’s talent and experience should land him at a higher spot on this list. However, his own personal traits and who he was taught by have limited his true potential as a WWE superstar. If you watch Orton’s matches, his moves are crisp, he rarely makes errors, and his athleticism is only matched by a few wrestlers. Orton, however, seems to enjoy being too much of a giver than a receiver. He’s too controlling in his matches and never allows his character to show any weakness. He lacks the psychology to effectively sell his opponents moves and he must hit these certain spots in every single match that he has. He’s too selfish of a wrestler and I really worry about Daniel Bryan’s prospects against him especially now that Orton is WWE Champion again.
#9 – TRIPLE H
MR. TITO: As an in-ring worker, few have the ability and the experience to put on a superb match like Triple H. That’s why I included him on my list (#8 for me) and that’s why the fan vote helped keep him on the list. Most will question his matches against Brock Lesnar. Sometimes, the chemistry just isn’t there with certain wrestlers. I would point to Triple H’s Wrestlemania 27 and 28 battles with the Undertaker to prove how good of a worker Triple H can still be. Some don’t like those matches, like Bret Hart, but if you hear the fans in the crowd going bonkers, they know that Triple H and Undertaker were both bringing it on those nights. Triple H, in my opinion, should actually be higher on this list… But he tends to be a DICK towards wrestlers he thinks less of, such as CM Punk during 2011. Triple H continues to forget what made him great during 2000: he sold opponent’s moves and made fans believe his opponents had a chance to win.
CHRISSS: I have to ask – are the readers voting based on all-time criteria or current? Because if they voted Triple H as the ninth best WWE in-ring competitor in 2013, then that’s laughable. You know what’s the last great match Triple H had? It was a year and a half ago at Wrestlemania 28, when he faced The Undertaker inside Hell in a Cell. Since then, what great matches has Triple H wrestled? Against Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam? Decent match at best. Versus Lesnar at Wrestlemania 29? Yeah, right. Another match with Lesnar at Extreme Rules? God, no. HHH’s mini-feud and ‘matches’ with Curtis Axel were simply forgettable. Truth be told, if we’re discussing current in-ring all-stars, Triple H has no business being on this list.
#8 – CHRISTIAN
CHRISSS: I remember doing a tournament-style column a year or two ago where I allowed my readers to vote for who they felt was the best wrestler in the current WWE. The final round came down to CM Punk vs. Christian, with Punk barely edging out the win. What has happened to Christian’s stock since then? He’s still a great wrestler (especially at his age and after all those injuries) and one of the most reliable workers on the roster. In the past week and a half, he’s put on two fantastic matches with Alberto del Rio, and added another epic match with Randy Orton to their series of classics. Keep in mind Christian is the same man who once carried Ezekiel Jackson to a decent match at the 2010 Royal Rumble. If that effort alone isn’t worthy of shooting Christian up the list, then I don’t know what is.
MR. TITO: *Facepalm* I just don’t get the Christian love by the IWC. Sure, he can wrestle a good match… But he’s been in this business forever now. My issue with him as a worker is that he hasn’t done anything as a veteran to change up his style or enhance him as a worker. It’s like he peaked after he turned on Edge and just never changed as a worker since. Other wrestlers get better with age so that by their mid to late 30’s, they have some of the best matches of their careers and are great world champions. I don’t see that with Christian. I see the same spots, the same moves, and the same in-ring storytelling. He can put on good matches, but he hasn’t evolved much as a wrestler. In fact, he’s looking older as a wrestler at a time when the roster is getting younger and faster. I question what the IWC is watching, but maybe they love reliving those Attitude Era years with Christian?
#7 – JOHN CENA
MR. TITO: Thank you, fan input, for pulling John Cena down on this list… I had him at #3 on my list and for good reason. Most will call him the modern day Hulk Hogan… But if you give John Cena GOOD opponents, he’ll turn them into stars. Go ask CM Punk from 2011 and now Daniel Bryan from 2013. John Cena not only sold like a champ for both wrestlers, but put them over clean to make them stars. Sure, he’s a subscriber of the “Sports Entertainment”, but he has to be. The McMahons want him on top and book him as such. When Cena has to put on a great match and is called upon to do so, he brings it. CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, and Brock Lesnar can each point to their best career matches being against John Cena and that says a lot to me about John Cena, the in-ring worker. Go watch Money in the Bank 2011 (or any match against Punk), Extreme Rules 2012, and SummerSlam 2013 and tell me how Cena is not a good worker. Then, I’ll call you crazy and a hater.
CHRISSS: Whoa, whoa, whoa! I know the IWC hates John Cena with a passion, but this countdown is based on a wrestler’s in-ring skills, NOT their character. And Cena is one of the better wrestlers on the roster. Hell, his matches with Dolph Ziggler, CM Punk, and Daniel Bryan are all in the running for best match of 2013. Sure, his matches with The Rock and Ryback were a pain to get through, but for years, Cena has been wrestling one high-quality match after another. Those morons who tell him he can’t wrestle don’t know a shit about wrestling. Cena deserves to be WAY higher than number seven – he’s without question a top five wrestler.
#6 – BROCK LESNAR
CHRISSS: When I originally sent Tito my top ten picks in order to help create this column, I listed Lesnar at number five without thinking twice. But the more I think about it, the more I think I seeded him a bit too high. If we’re talking about both of Lesnar’s WWE runs, then this is an acceptable position, as he had classic matches with The Rock and Kurt Angle a decade ago, and recently put on MOTY candidates with John Cena and CM Punk. But if we’re only counting his Extreme Rules 2012 match until now, then this ranking makes no sense. Lesnar has a 3-2 record and three of those matches STUNK! Which ones am I talking about? All three with Triple H, of course. None of them lived up to the hype, and none of them will be MOTY considerations. So in many ways, I feel Lesnar out-ranked some people he shouldn’t have.
Mr. TITO: #6 is about right… This is a guy who returns to the WWE after years of Mixed Martial Arts fighting and puts on great matches as a part time wrestler. He could be higher if his offense wasn’t just beating the living daylights out of his opponents. His matches against John Cena and CM Punk were incredible, but I give that more towards his opponents absorbing his violent offense than anything. Brock Lesnar struggled against Triple H, but that was just bad chemistry and Triple H trying to act as a former UFC Champion’s equal. For wrestling just part-time, Brock Lesnar’s portfolio of suplexes are always hit perfectly and the psychology of being the most dangerous human being to ever enter a WWE ring is always there put you on the edge of your seat. I would love to see Lesnar go after other wrestlers on this list that he hasn’t wrestled yet.
#5 – ANTONIO CESARO
MR. TITO Our readers love the guy and helped push him up the list… I would go lower just on the basis that Cesaro is still unproven in a WWE ring as a worker. I was amazed recently by his match against Daniel Bryan, but who hasn’t looked incredible against Bryan? Cesaro, unfortunately, is a victim of BAD WWE booking that has turned him into an enhancement guy for other top level wrestlers. I don’t understand what the WWE is doing with the guy, but then I look at his resume and see the words “RING OF HONOR”, which holds true for other WWE guys that get screwed on pushes. From what I’ve seen, the guy has the talent to do well on a big stage… It’s WWE’s utter refusal to take him serious, at this point, which would hold me back from being higher on my list. How much can you punish a guy by making him lose many non-title matches as US Champion and them have him join “We the People” with Jack Swagger?
CHRISSS: I might get smoke bombs FedExed to my house when I say this, but…I think Cesaro is ranked too high. Now, there’s no denying Cesaro’s talent in the ring and inhumanly strength. I’ve seen the man do things in the squared circle that I’ve never seen anyone else do in history. But I can’t help but feel he’s missing a certain trait that is preventing him from wrestling a classic anytime he wrestles. I know, I know – I’ve seen his matches with Kofi Kingston, Daniel Bryan, Sami Zayn, etc. When Cesaro is on, he’s on. The thing is, there are times when it seems to me that Cesaro isn’t going out there to steal the show; rather, he’s found a level where he can wow the audience with a few cool maneuvers and be content with that. Obviously, there are exceptions, but I don’t think Cesaro is constantly showing us exactly what he’s capable of.
Then again, considering how his post-U.S. title reign push fizzled out, and his teaming with Job Swagger, you can’t really blame the man for not feeling motivated. One year from now, Cesaro should find himself back on this countdown around the same position. At the moment, however, I don’t think Cesaro is quite there…yet.
#4 – DOLPH ZIGGLER
CHRISSS: Now this is a ranking I agree with. Dolph Ziggler has earned the right to call himself the Show-Off because that’s what he does – he steals the show by putting on a breath-taking performance in the ring and leaves you with little desire to see whatever follows his match. Combined with a great aerial and technical ability, Ziggler is one of the best sellers/bumpers on the roster, hands down. That handy skill allows him any of his opponents to look better than they have any right to be. In fact, it was his matches with The Great Khali a number of years ago that put Ziggler on the fast track to superstardom and helped him break out from the undercard. This year alone, Ziggler has already wrestled great matches with John Cena and Alberto del Rio, and even helped Big E look credible. Ziggler can do no wrong in the ring, and the scary thing is – his career is just getting started.
MR. TITO: I disagree with #4, especially given the others on this list whom he’s ahead of. With Ziggler, I see an incredible athlete who can put on an incredible display of finesse in front of a live crowd. But what makes a great worker isn’t just being an athlete but adding psychology to a match. Ziggler is an impressive bumper and adds a lot of energy to a match, but he just hits move after move after move without any purpose. I guess eventually, his opponent would just worn out from taking excessive offense from Ziggler that they just drop? The psychology is broken because even in the later parts of the match, Ziggler’s motor is still running at high speed. It’s as if any of the moves attempted by his opponent didn’t matter. His inability to sell the effects of a wrestling match limits him from being a stronger worker. Ziggler is the newer version of John Morrison who did the same exact thing… Wrestled as fast as he could, attempting to fit as many spots into a match as he could, yet he couldn’t understand why fans weren’t fully emotionally connected.
#3 – ALBERTO DEL RIO
MR. TITO: I love this guy’s in-ring abilities. This guy brings it for big matches and has offense that I believe would legitimately hurt someone. Highly impressed with his work against Christian at SummerSlam 2013, by example. Those kicks and the arm bar submission are stuff I would not like to take. WWE’s booking, however, is absolutely killing this guy. Had the WWE just kept him on the Smackdown roster for 2011 and kept his World Heavyweight Title chase going, he would be over huge. Instead, they moved him to the RAW roster, had him steal CM Punk’s WWE title at SummerSlam 2011, and then kept switching in brief periods of time from heel to face combined with unhyped World Heaveyweight Title wins. Just a disaster in terms of booking. Had the WWE been patient, this guy would be a mega star by now. Instead, he’s seen as a joke who should stay on the Smackdown brand forever.
CHRISSS: I can deal with Del Rio being in the top five, but number three is far too high for my liking. While his character may be the cure for insomnia, there is no doubt he brings it in the ring. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bad or boring match involving the world heavyweight champion. HOWEVER, that lack of personality carries over to his matches, and so the fan is almost forced to enjoy his matches based solely on the in-ring work at display or invest into Del Rio’s opponent, whoever that may be. A good, recent example of that is SummerSlam – not many people I talked to were the least bit excited for Christian vs. ADR. We knew we’d get a decent match, but Christian was not over enough to be in that position. Well, we were proven wrong thanks to both men bringing their A-game that night and putting on a technical classic, with the crowd solidly behind Captain Charisma, turning him into one of the biggest faces that night.
Del Rio may be an amazing athlete and gifted between the ropes, but until he makes that crucial connection with the crowd, he just can’t be viewed as one of the best overall wrestlers in the WWE.
#2 – CM PUNK
CHRISSS: Just barely missing the number one spot is my pick for the best overall wrestler on the WWE roster today, CM Punk. Honestly, it’s hard to argue anyone on this list (including the man who claims the top spot) being a better ‘total package’ than the Straightedge Superstar. Look at his resume for 2013 alone – he has competed in arguably the best three matches of the year (vs. John Cena on Raw in February; vs. The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 29; vs. Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam). While he has had his share of ‘duds’ – most notably both matches with The Rock, which were HUGE letdowns – Punk possesses a trait no one else has. He is able to get any fan – mark or smark – to invest into his matches as if it was the most personal, biggest match of the evening. THAT is what separates Punk from everybody else. Don’t believe me? Go watch Punk vs. ‘Taker or Punk vs. Lesnar one more time.
MR. TITO: We’re splitting hairs at this point between Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, who were tied at #1 until the fans voted for Bryan. CM Punk is #2, potentially #1, because in terms of the Main Event scene, he has brought it like no other wrestler. He has 3 of the top 5 “Match of the Year” contenders for 2013 in his match with John Cena on RAW, Undertaker at Wrestlemania 29, and possibly the best SummerSlam match of all time with his match against Brock Lesnar. That is a very convincing resume for the #1 spot… But I have actual issues with his work against the Rock. Both matches were actual letdowns and based on what I’ve seen Daniel Bryan carry, I’m convinced that Bryan could get a good match out of the Rock. Now, if I were to award “WRESTLER OF THE YEAR”, it’s definitely going to be CM Punk because of his all around ability, character, and delivery in big matches. But this is in-ring worker and my winner goes to…
#1 – DANIEL BRYAN
MR. TITO: In terms of pure in-ring ability, Daniel Bryan is the best that the WWE currently has to offer. Aside from his absurdly great match against John Cena at SummerSlam, consider this… After the WWE ripped the World Heavyweight Title from his hands at Wrestlemania 28, they asked him to essentially carry the midcard on his back. They teamed him up with Kane to form TEAM HELL NO and assigned him with making the tag team division somewhat relevant. He did and actually revived Kane’s career in the process. Night after night on Monday Night RAW, Daniel Bryan carried that midcard. Then, the WWE debuts 3 developmental wrestlers named “The Shield” and Bryan is asked to make them look great. On multiple Pay Per Views no less, Bryan sold like a champ for them and made Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns look great and even laid down for them. They were relevant with Bryan, not so much without him. No matter what the shitty WWE booking has been thrown at him, Bryan has overcome it. Why? Because of his in-ring ability and how it offsets any poor attempts by WWE management to hold him down. This guy is the best in-ring performer and gets over because he excites fans from his in-ring work. They wouldn’t shout “YES! YES! YES!” if he was terrible in the ring. Neither would Brie Bella.
CHRISSS: Well, I can’t say I’m shocked to see Bryan take the number one spot. After all, he is arguably the hottest thing going in wrestling among both the Internet Wrestling Community as well as the general, ‘less informed’ audience. But truth be told, I don’t think Bryan is THE best in-ring wrestler in WWE today – rather, that accolade goes to CM Punk. Neither Punk nor Bryan have ever had a bad match that I can remember, but Punk has had more classic matches than Bryan (so far, anyway). Bryan may be more technically skilled, but I’m able to invest myself much more into a Punk match than anyone else on the entire roster. That being said, Bryan is a great choice for number one, even if I don’t 100% agree.
CHRISSS: –Chris Jericho: The man of 1,001 hiatuses may be out of the picture yet again, but there’s no denying the man’s contributions to the wrestling world over the years. While 2013 may not have been a career year for Y2J, even at his advanced age, Jericho is one of the better in-ring performers WWE has ever employed. He might not be the best in the world like he claims, but he is certainly one of the better wrestlers to ever grace a WWE ring.
–Cody Rhodes: I originally listed Cody as number seven, and I was SHOCKED when he didn’t make the top ten. Cody may not be as consistent of a performer as a Dolph Ziggler or a Christian, but his matches over the years with Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton, and more recently, Damien Sandow at SummerSlam, is an indication to me that Cody certainly has ‘it’ in the ring. Obviously, he’s still very young and has so much time to get even better at what he does, but that still doesn’t justify Cody’s exclusion from this final countdown.
MR. TITO I would probably swap out Christian for Cody Rhodes. The guy might be void of personality or charisma, but he’s quite athletic in the ring. As crazy as I might sound, I could argue putting the Undertaker on this list. His Wrestlemania workrate is amazing and has been in my top 5 “Match of the Year” candidate lists with those matches for the past 5 years. Might be once a year, but he never fails to impress. I suppose maybe Chris Jericho could take Christian’s spot on this list, but I see him more of a sports entertainer than I do as a stronger worker. I would wonder how he’d wrestle if you took the ropes off the ring. I probably like Sheamus‘s in ring work than the next. The guy has been rushed to the main event and overpushed by the WWE Creative Team to notice. I like what I’ve seen so far from Dean Ambrose, although his US Title reign hasn’t been all that interesting. He seems to have “it”, but needs to show “it” more in a WWE ring.
Comments and debates are welcome on Twitter. Bring it on. @titowrestling OR @ChrisssLoP.
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