11th Sep2020

The 2nd Annual Nerdly WWE Top 50 – Part One!

by Chris Cummings

Welcome, one and all, to the second annual Nerdly WWE Top 50! I began this idea last year. Our version of such established ranking lists as the “PWI 500” and the like, but just with WWE in mind. I mean, I watch other products and promotions, like AEW, New Japan, Ring of Honor and NWA, but… sticking to one promotion, the promotion I tend to watch the most, makes sense, and makes this one-man-job a lot easier to do. This list will cover the last twelve months, from September 2019 until August of 2020.

Like last year, this will take into account work-rate, match-quality, visibility of the workers on television, their promo work, but also… and this is important to note, the way that they’ve been used. You see… there are men and women in WWE who, if they were used more often and booked in a more substantial manner, would rank way higher than they likely will on this list. I can’t really rank Ali at number three here, but that’s not because the guy isn’t one of the best in the company. So, now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get going. The Nerdly Fifty: Year Two…

Nerdly Top 50 of 2019 – Number One: SETH ROLLINS

Close-Calls (A long-list of Men and Women who almost made the cut, but didn’t because of various reasons, ie; they haven’t been on TV much for whatever reason, they weren’t booked well, or they didn’t have the best of years in WWE): Liv Morgan, Drew Gulak, Ricochet, The Velveteen Dream, WALTER, Kay Lee Ray, Austin Theory, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, Bronson Reed, Dolph Ziggler, Bobby Roode, Elias, The Viking Raiders, Fandango, Tyler Breeze, Humberto Carrillo, Isaiah “Swerve” Scott, Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, Fabian Aichner, Marcel Barthal, Killian Dain, Santos Escobar, Drake Maverick, Oney Lorcan, Mia Yim, Ricochet, Sheamus, KUSHIDA.

50) Brock Lesnar

“The Beast Incarnate” cracks the top fifty because of how strongly he was booked during the past twelve months. Lesnar only actually competed in six matches over the period, with a handful of those (Kofi Kingston, Ricochet, Cain Valasquez) being very short squash match affairs. Had a dominant showing in the early stages of the Royal Rumble match, eliminating thirteen participants before being ousted by eventual winner Drew McIntyre. His seven-second win over WWE Champion Kofi Kingston in October 2019 was an insulting one. Brock kept hold of the belt until eventually losing it to McIntyre at WrestleMania this March. At 43 years old and having done everything there is to do as a top-liner in WWE, it’s time for Lesnar to hang up the boots and move on, in my view. We’ll see what happens now that he’s a free-agent, but history has taught us that he tends to land back on Raw or SmackDown.

49) Apollo

Apollo spent the latter half of 2019 and the first couple of months of 2020 floating around the low-card, working matches on Main Event if he was lucky, and dark matches. Finally was given more of a push on television in April, where he teamed with Kevin Owens, Rey Mysterio and others in various tag matches against gatherings of heels. Defeated Andrade in May to win the United States Championship. Had successful defences against the likes of Shelton Benjamin, Andrade and MVP before dropping the title to Bobby Lashley at Payback in August. Apollo is a talented wrestler who is in need of a character change, so he isn’t merely a smiling babyface who is “happy to be there”. A heel-turn and alignment with “The Hurt Business” could help him, or even a run with a manager as a pissed off flying machine. Either way, things have improved for the former Uhaa Nation, so here’s to a better twelve months ahead for him in WWE.

48) Jeff Hardy

Brother Nero spent the back-end of 2019 out of action, not returning to WWE until March of 2020, after almost a year away. Began a feud with Sheamus upon his return that included urine being splashed around, and a bar fight on SmackDown in July. Defeated AJ Styles for the Intercontinental Title in August, but at time of writing hasn’t defended it, only really having the odd match with the likes of Shunsuke Nakamura. Hardy is 43 years old and 26 years into his pro-career. It’s likely the sun is setting on his run, so hopefully he remains healthy and is able to shake any demons he may still be holding onto. He’s a talented tag-team legend in the business and one who could offer a lot to the younger collection of talent if he took his skills into a role of agent or trainer at the PC. Time will tell, but hopefully Jeff has a fun run before he hands up the facepaint pot for good.

47) The Miz/John Morrison

The Miz has had a very up-and-down career in WWE, but he’s damn good at persevering and ending up in a prominent position on the card. He’s had a pretty low-key twelve months though, working a feud with The Fiend at the end of 2019 which wasn’t the best thing on TV but wasn’t exactly bad either. John Morrion returned to WWE in January of this year, and immediately began teaming with his old tag team partner, The Miz, upon his comeback. The duo defeated The New Day for the SmackDown Tag Titles in February at Super Showdown and held them until May. The two had a weird Universal Title opportunity in a handicap match with Braun Strowman at Backlash in June. Since June, they haven’t done much of note, but they’re both talented and very experienced, and have a definite chemistry together. I do hope, however, that we see the two continue their singles careers soon. It’s a bit of a step down to be working low-card tag matches at this point in their careers.

46) King Corbin

King Corbin isn’t a very popular man as far as fan response, but he’s actually a damn fine heel. It’s a shame then, that he was in a feud that lasted way too long for much of the last twelve months, with Roman Reigns, and had a lackluster match and feud with Elias around WrestleMania season. Feud with Chad Gable last year featured a couple of fun matches. Falls Count Anywhere bout with Reigns at Royal Rumble was the best part of their long rivalry. Has floundered somewhat since WrestleMania, where he’s worked some random bouts with guys like Matt Riddle, Jeff Hardy, Drew Gulak and Otis, but hasn’t really been featured in a prominent feud. A decent talker and a guy who can work some good matches with the right guys, Corbin is in need of a shake-up character-wise, and a feud that accentuates his strengths.

45) Timothy Thatcher

Debuted on the NXT brand in April and jumped into an enjoyable odd-couple tag team with Matt Riddle for a while, before they split and entered a short-but-fun rivalry which culminated in a “Fight Pit” match on NXT TV in May. Had some great matches with Oney Lorcan in July and a really good bout against Finn Balor at TakeOver XXX. Thatcher is a throwback wrestler with no-frills, and yet he still has a charisma and sarcasm to his style that really sets him apart. Could do some really good things in WWE if given a chance. With wrestler names like Lorcan, Daniel Bryan, Chad Gable and Drew Gulak around, it would be very interesting to see Thatcher mix it up with names like that. It’s early in his WWE run, so time will tell, but Thatcher is very good, and I am excited to see what happens in the next year.

44) Sami Zayn

I never enjoy placing Sami Zayn this low on a list, but due to his lack of appearances on WWE television, and his inconsistent booking, he ends up here anyway. One of the most talented and exciting underdogs in WWE history, he had one hell of a run in NXT and some fine matches when he first hit the “main roster” too, against Kevin Owens and others, but he’s floundered since, for whatever reason. I wish they’d do more with Zayn. He’s one of the few workers who can be equally as good as heel and face, is a tremendous in-ring talent, and has 16 years of pro-wrestling experience under his belt. Won the Intercontinental Title from Braun Strowman at Elimination Chamber in March but only had one successful defence against Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania before being stripped of the title in the Summer. Had been inactive for a while in 2020. Sami is one of my favourites, so it’s frustrating that he doesn’t get more of a chance to shine. I hope we do get to see that eventually, I truly do. Ole.

43) Bobby Lashley

44 year old veteran has had a shaky run since returning to WWE back in April of 2018. His 2020 has been more on-track however, and since joining forces with MVP has been much more enjoyable as a character. Became a member of new faction, “The Hurt Business”, this Summer alongside MVP, Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander. Lashley competed in an okay match with Aleister Black at WrestleMania, which the Dutch Destroyer won. Spent much of the past few months in random mini-feuds with guys like Kevin Owens, Rusev, R Truth and others, until his pairing with Lana dissolved and MVP came into his life. Competed for the WWE Title at Backlash against Drew McIntyre. Became United States Champion once more when he defeated Apollo at Payback this August. Lashley isn’t the most charismatic or entertaining of WWE Superstars, but his newly-formed stable and dominant run has breathed some new life into the 17 year vet.

42) Shinsuke Nakamura/Cesaro

These two fantastic workers began teaming regularly together in November of 2019, so they make the list as a tandem here. Separately, they did a few things prior to hooking up. Nakamura worked feuds over the IC Title in September and October of 2019, holding the belt and wrestling guys like Ali, The Miz and Roman Reigns. Cesaro didn’t do as much, working random one-off bouts with the likes of Ricochet, Shorty G and Mansoor. Once they teamed-up, they’ve had some fine scraps with teams like The New Day, Daniel Bryan & Drew Gulak and others. Won the SmackDown Tag Team Titles in July at Extreme Rules after beating The New Day. Still have the belts at the time of writing. I’d love to see these two superb athletes do more as singles talents in WWE, but the team is still enjoyable when we get a chance to see them on TV.

41) Kairi Sane

Kairi returned to Japan in July, stepping away from the bright lights of WWE. She had a fine run, though, especially during her time in NXT. The past twelve months have been a little less scintillating, but have still shown how good she is. Worked most of the year with Asuka in tag-team bouts, holding the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles from October of 2019 until March of 2020 where they eventually lost them to Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross at WrestleMania. Suffered some injuries, including concussions, during the past twelve months, which was scary to witness, and even scarier to experience, I’d reckon. Team with Asuka had tons of chemistry and potential, and we will always question just how good an entrance at WrestleMania could have been if it had taken place at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. Pirate ship? Kairi Sane? Tag Titles? Coulda been awesome. The talented Hikari native had a memorable yet not perfect time in WWE, but fans will still fondly remember her time in the company.

40) Tommaso Ciampa

Ciampa hasn’t been active for certain parts of the past twelve months, which is why he isn’t way further up the list. His booking also hasn’t reached the heights of the previous year, sadly. He’s one of my personal favourites in the World, so I do hope to see him gain more momentum soon. Still… he worked War Games in November of last year and appeared on SmackDown to face The Miz in a match that, to me at least, felt very odd. Was on the losing team at Survivor Series. Had a fantastic match at World’s Collide in January, teaming with Johnny Gargano to face Tyler Bate and Trent Seven. Teamed with Gargano for a while in early-2020 before slowing down and not appearing on TV all that much. Returned as a regular face in NXT in June and July, working a match with Karrion Kross at TakeOver: In Your House. Was part of the four-way to determine a new NXT Champion in September, but didn’t get his hand raised. One of the most entertaining and technically savvy wrestlers in the company, Ciampa is way better than his booking, and I hope we see him back on top in NXT soon. A feud with tweener Finn Balor over the NXT Title has a nice ring to it.

39) Tegan Nox

“The Girl with the Shiniest Wizard” is, when injuries aren’t plaguing her, one of the best women in wrestling. A natural babyface, she could be a huge star in WWE if she can avoid injury, which I’m certain she can. Spent some of the latter-side of 2019 in a babyface tandem with real-life buddy Dakota Kai, before the latter turned on her at TakeOver: WarGames, and a rivalry between the two began. Had a fantastic Street Fight at TakeOver: Portland with Kai, which Nox lost. Appeared in the Royal Rumble match in January. Feud with Kai is ongoing, really, picking up and dropping off once in a while like many of the best feuds do. Has yet to really score a massive victory that gives her that look of being one of THE women in NXT, but I’m hopeful that will arrive over the coming twelve months. Competed in a great six-person ladder bout over number-one contendership to the NXT Women’s Title in April. Was also involved in a really fun four-way scrap with Candice LeRae, Dakota Kai and Mia Yim at The Great American Bash, in July, which Nox won, giving her a shot at Io Shirai and the NXT Women’s Title, but she would come out on the losing end of that eventual bout. Massively talented, she has the world at her feet, she just needs more opportunities to climb those stairs.

38) Big E

Big E is one of those guys who you can easily look at and imagine being a top main event name in the company. It’s likely we’ll see that one day, too. Talented, agile for his size, and hella charismatic, E is capable of great things. Has worked mainly tag team bouts over the last year with his New Day brethren. Won the SmackDown Tag straps in November after downing The Revival, and held them until February. Regained the belts in April before losing them again in July. Has worked predominantly with Kofi Kingston due to Xavier Woods being out with an injury (and thus not appearing on this list, this year). When Kofi went down with an injury in July, E began receiving a singles push on SmackDown, defeating the likes of The Miz, John Morrison and Sheamus in one-on-one encounters. I’m not sure if this is the start of a proper singles run for the big man, but if it is, I hope he gets an opportunity to show what he’s capable of. Could be a major singles star in the same way he’s a part of the most successful and popular WWE tag team in a long, long time.

37) Roderick Strong

Roddy has had a pretty good year in NXT, though perhaps not as great as the year prior, but that could be more to do with our peculiar global circumstances. Won the NXT North American Title in September after beating The Velveteen Dream. Had defences against names like KUSHIDA, Austin Theory, Keith Lee and others, before losing the belt to Lee in January. Had a fun mini-feud with Dexter Lumis in June and July of this year, culminating in a strap match at TakeOver: In Your House. A damn fine wrestler, Roddy is a veteran who can make anyone look good, and a valuable member of The Undisputed Era. It’s hard to predict the next twelve months for Strong, though. Will the Era split? Will they move to Raw or SmackDown? Will they continue dominance in NXT? There are many possibilities, but whatever happens, I hope we see Roddy land on his feet and keep tearing it up, because he’s bloody brilliant.

36) Dominik Dijakovic

The big Dijakovic feuded with Keith Lee and Matt Riddle at the back-end of 2019, having various top-notch scraps with both men. Part of the winning side of WarGames in November. Had another incredible bout with regular-opponent Keith Lee over the North American Title in February. The two could feud for years and nobody would complain. Has spent much of the past few months wrestling guys like Johnny Gargano and Damien Priest. Hasn’t appeared on NXT or anywhere, really, since July. It’s a possibility that Dijakovic may be revealed as the leader of the new “Retribution” faction on Raw. If so, that could be a big deal for him. He’s agile, exciting to watch, and has size on his side. Maybe we’ll see him pick up where he left off with Lee over the next year, just on a different program.

35) Aleister Black

It’s a shame to say that the Black Mass Master from the Netherlands has had a pretty lackluster run since moving on from NXT. He hasn’t done all that much, and it’s a crying shame. He did, though, have a very good feud for a while with Murphy, which included the two having a handful of fantastic matches on Raw. Began appearing on Raw Underground, the new “Fight Club” style gimmick on TV, in September. Has really been just part of the furniture, though, over the past year, and it’s time things changed for the very-talented martial artist. Has the skills, the look and the experience to go far in WWE, whether as a singles wrestler, or part of a stable. Newly born feud with Kevin Owens could be great if WWE let it grow and allow the two to tell a fun story. He had a really good NXT run, so I do hope Black has a shot at making it on Raw or SmackDown soon. He’s still young, has a ton of ability, he just needs an opportunity to shine.

34) Bianca Belair

Bianca BelAir has it all. She’s athletic, she’s packed with charisma, she can talk, and she’s powerful. It’s shocking, then, that since her “call-up” to Raw, she has hardly done anything of note. Had a fun run in NXT which saw “The EST of NXT” go on an undefeated run, and work some fine bouts with names like Shayna Baszler and others. At the back-end of 2019, worked with women like Dakota Kai, Rhea Ripley, Shotzi Blackheart and others. Competed at WarGames and Survivor Series in November. Was part of the Royal Rumble match in January, having a hell of a showing in the process. Feuded over the NXT Women’s Title with Ripley in early 2020. BelAir debuted on Raw in March, after WrestleMania, and had a small rivalry with Zelina Vega, but hasn’t done much else yet. She really could be, and should be, one of the primary names on the Women’s roster. She only has four years of pro-wrestling experience under her shiny belt, and she’s already THIS good. Come on now… she’s better than the booking is showing her to be. Give her a shot.

33) Candice LeRae

Candice has had a twelve months of two halves, so to speak. She started the period as a sparky underdog babyface, working matches with women like Io Shirai, Shayna Baszler, Dakota Kai and others, before eventually turning heel alongside husband Johnny Gargano. Has been an enjoyable villain since her turn, and has had some really fun matches with names like Mia Yim, Tegan Nox and others. Talented veteran has a lot to offer in NXT, and hopefully she’ll get more time to do so. Was part of the 2020 Royal Rumble match, and the 2019 WarGames encounter. She’s one of those wrestlers who can have really top notch chemistry with most of the women who enter the ring with her, and that’s a huge talent in itself.

32) Bobby Fish/Kyle O’Reilly

It’s a shame to see two of the best wrestlers under WWE contract this low down on the list, but they’ve not done an awful lot compared to previous years in NXT. That’s not to say they haven’t done anything worthwhile though, because they have. Held the NXT Tag straps from August of 2019 until February of this year. During that time they had some incredible matches with teams like The Street Profits, Imperium, Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne and others. Did nothing as a team from March until July and August, but haven’t been that active since early in 2020. Still… their Tag Title reign was superb and they’re one of the most entertaining and talented tandems in WWE for sure. Let’s hope Fish and O’Reilly grab some more WWE gold soon and we see them tear it up with more tag teams.

31) Damian Priest

“The Archer of Infamy” has been getting better and better during his NXT run. Finally got that big nod with an NXT North American Title victory at TakeOver XXX in a top notch ladder match. Worked some great bouts with Finn Balor and Keith Lee in June. Last November, at TakeOver WarGames, had a really fun triple threat match against Pete Dunne and Killian Dain which Dunne won. Has also had some fine contests with Cameron Grimes over the past few months, and hopefully the two will feud over the North American Title, because they do have a nice chemistry together. An agile and super-talented big man, the former Punishment Martinez has “star” written all over him, so it’s good to see him being afforded an opportunity to become a bigger name in NXT now.

30) The Street Profits

Ford and Dawkins spent the latter half of 2019 working in NXT after a reign at NXT Tag Champs ended in August. Worked some top notch bouts with Undisputed Era during that time, among other teams. Debuted on Raw in October. Had a bizarre and somewhat stupid feud with The Viking Raiders this year. A shame that this wasn’t better, because the two teams are very good indeed. Ford is a future mega-star in the making and it’s a matter of time before we see the team split and Montez get that singles push. Became Raw Tag Team Champions in March and have held onto the belts until time of writing. More feuds and tag team opponents are needed for the charismatic Profits to shine more, so let’s hope they get that chance before the curtain falls on their tandem.

29) Finn Balor

Balor defected to his former stomping ground of NXT back in October of last year, and quickly became a heel, which rejuvenated his somewhat stale run. There have been months over the past year where Balor has hardly wrestled, due to injury or taking time away. Has had some great matches over the past twelve months in NXT with guys like Keith Lee, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Matt Riddle, Timothy Thatcher and Adam Cole. Has become something of a “tweener” in NXT now, and became a two-time NXT Champion this September when he defeated Adam Cole for the vacant strap. Balor is a talented and popular act in WWE but can, at times, feel a little repetitive. His heel run was something different but it feels like he’s stepping away from that now, so hopefully he doesn’t fall back into the “same-old, same-old” and become stale again. Can have really good scraps with most folk in NXT, so it should be cool to see “The Prince” throw fists with NXT’s best again, now he’s back on top of the mountain.

28) Dakota Kai

The talented Kiwi has really come into her own in the past twelve months on WWE’s NXT brand. 7 year vet has been an absolute joy to watch as a villain since she turned on her best-buddy Tegan Nox back at TakeOver: WarGames in November 2019. Pairing with bodyguard/muscle Raquel Gonzales has helped Kai’s overall presentation and upped her game as a heel. Matches with Candice LeRae, Mia Yim, Nox, Io Shirai and Rhea Ripley have all been very good or better. Competed in a really enjoyable 6-way ladder battle on NXT TV in April. Hopefully Kai will pick up NXT Championship gold sooner rather than later and solidify herself as a major player in WWE. She’s talented and her villainous character is a hoot.

27) Cameron Grimes

The former Trevor Lee has really taken off on NXT in the past few months. Had a slow start but has quickly become one of the best heels on the roster. Had a small feud with KUSHIDA at the end of 2019 which resulted in a couple of really good bouts. Had had some terrific matches in 2020 with guys like Keith Lee, Bronson Reed, Damien Priest, Johnny Gargano and others. A really talented in-ring wrestler, he’s really become a very fun and necessary part of NXT as a product, and his future is looking pretty bright right now. Was part of the entertaining five-way ladder match for the NXT North American Title at TakeOver XXX. I hope we see Grimes pick up a Championship over the next twelve months and really move up the card further, because he’s a top notch member of the roster, and has years of potential in him.

26) Otis

One of those guys who you can look at and easily see a very strange but magnetic charisma in. Worked mostly tag team bouts with his partner Tucker for the latter half of 2019, wrestling teams like The Revival, Undisputed Era, Cesaro & Nakamura and The New Day. Began receiving a singles push in 2020 during his feud with Dolph Ziggler over the affections of Mandy Rose. A silly but entertaining storyline, this led to Otis competing in, and winning, the 2020 Money in the Bank match to receive a title match of his choosing in the future. Defeated the slimy and eeeevil Ziggler in a singles scrap at WrestleMania and celebrated by smooching with Rose in the centre of the ring. His push has cooled off over the Summer, though, and it seems a little uncertain what the aim is for Otis moving forward, but hopefully the powerful and unique wrestler will get a chance at becoming a champion one day.
_____

So, there we have it. Part One of the 2nd Annual Nerdly WWE Top 50. I hope you enjoyed it. Now… like all lists, and all rankings, you may not agree with the placing of certain wrestlers, you may not agree with those who made the long-list but weren’t on the main list, either. It’s all fine. This is subjective, and we’re all allowed to agree, disagree and discuss. Either way… come back for part two, and the Top 25 on Monday!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.