WWE: Who Really Is 'The Best in the World'?
CM Punk recently extended his impressive reign as WWE Champion following a controversial victory over Ryback at Hell in a Cell. And as his reign approaches the one-year mark, it becomes increasingly hard to argue with his title as The Best in the World.
This then became a discussion that served as the inspiration for this article, as simply declaring yourself as the best doesn't necessarily make it so; it has to be earned.
The debate over who is the greatest wrestler on the planet could go on forever, so this list will alphabetically rank eight performers who could currently lay claim to the title of Best in the World.
Note: List only takes into account performances during the last 12 months. Factors under consideration include match quality, promo work and popularity, as well as relevant achievements and accomplishments.
1. Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle had already done it all in the WWE when he joined TNA in 2006, and has since gone on win every title in the company, including a record five stints as World Heavyweight Champion. Despite his many serious injuries over the years, the Olympic Hero still competes to a remarkably high standard today.
Since his record fifth title reign ended at the hands of James Storm in October 2011, Angle has remained largely out of the title picture, yet is still regularly in the match of the night. After a short feud with Storm, Angle went on to feud with A.J Styles, producing some great matches before the two eventually became allies, even lifting the TNA World Tag Team titles in June 2012.
Although they held onto the belts for little more than two weeks, the duo were involved in some high-octane clashes with Christopher Daniels and Kazarian, with the doubles action helpfully limiting Angle's in-ring involvement while also giving him the chance to do what he does better than most: put on a wrestling clinic.
There are few wrestlers in history who have performed to as consistently high a standard throughout their career as Kurt Angle has over his illustrious 13-year time at the top. Destined to be remembered as one of the all-time greats, the 43-year-old is still currently regarded as one of the industry's best.
2. Austin Aries
Since returning to TNA in June 2011, the only two-time Ring of Honor World Champion has gone on to enjoy a record 298-day reign as X Division champion before lifting his first TNA World Heavyweight Championship in July of this year.
After an uninspiring first run with the company as Austin Starr between 2005 and 2007, Aries went back to his native ROH for three years, including his 254-day second reign as world champion, spending a year wrestling for Dragon Gate USA before his return to Florida.
As X Division champion, Aries' lengthy run with the title managed to return some prestige to the belt after it was subjected to a series of short and forgettable reigns in the previous couple of years. Since winning the big one The Greatest Man That Ever Lived has looked at home in the main event, slowly transitioning into a top-line heel. The consistent quality of his matches and much-improved promo work has definitely been rewarded.
Despite losing the belt to Jeff Hardy after only three months, Aries will no doubt capitalize on his recent rise to main event status and remain in the title picture. Joining former ROH alumni CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in becoming world champion in a national promotion, Double A has found himself in the midst of the biggest push of his career.
3. Daniel Bryan
Beginning the year as World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan has since gone on to become one of the most popular stars in the entire WWE. Competing in a world title match at every pay-per-view of 2012 until Summerslam, Bryan has also gone on to create the most popular catchphrase since Steve Austin's "What?" as well as form one of the most entertaining tag teams of recent years with Kane.
Not bad for someone who was constantly buried following his debut on NXT in 2010.
After dropping the World Heavyweight Championship in an 18-second burial at Wrestlemania, Bryan set his sights on CM Punk's WWE Championship. This led to the best feud of the year between the two and produced excellent pay-per-view clashes at Over the Limit and Money in the Bank.
Dropping out of the title picture, Bryan began feuding with The Big Red Machine. This led to some hugely-entertaining anger management segments, and soon, the mismatched duo became the most over act in the entire company, single-handedly reviving the tag team division. Branded as Team Hell No, the odd couple captured the WWE Tag Team titles on September 16.
WWE's breakout star of 2012, Daniel Bryan has taken everything the company has thrown at him and turned it into a success, becoming hugely popular in the process. Improving all the other aspects of his game to compliment his in-ring skill, Bryan has had the biggest year of his career by far.
4. Chris Jericho
Despite a series of high-profile pay-per-view losses, Chris Jericho proved once again following his return to the WWE in January 2012 that he could very well be The Best in the World at What He Does.
Engaging in a feud with WWE Champion CM Punk that ran from January and April, the two produced some great in-ring action. Although the psychological warfare between the two became tedious at times, their matches at Wrestlemania and Extreme Rules were highly enjoyable.
Following the end of the rivalry Jericho made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the World Heavyweight Championship in a fatal four-way match at Over the Limit before an unfortunate suspension after he inadvertently desecrated the Brazilian flag.
On his return to Y2J was the standout competitor in the WWE Championship Money in the Bank match before engaging in a short feud with the latest Mr. Money in the Bank, Dolph Ziggler, that saw Jericho get the win at Summerslam, before his kayfabe contract termination the following evening.
Despite his return lasting less than eight months, Chris Jericho used his status as a talented veteran to put over a number of younger stars while also continuing to demonstrate his supreme talents in the squared circle.
5. Kazuchika Okada
Best remembered in the United States for a short and forgettable run as jobber Okada between 2010 and 2011, the 24-year-old has become one of the hottest properties in the industry since returning home to New Japan Pro Wrestling in January of this year.
One month after his return, the youngster ended the longest IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign in history when he scored a huge upset over Hiroshi Tanahashi. He held on to the belt for four months, including defending it in one of the best matches of the year against Tetsuya Naito,
After dropping the belt, Okada went on to win the 22nd annual G1 Climax tournament, becoming the youngest-ever winner in the process. Emerging victorious in one of the most prestigious tournaments in wrestling only accelerated his rise up the ranks to main event status.
Guaranteed a world title shot on January 4 next year as a result of winning the tournament, to build anticipation for each of his matches, it was announced that Okada must now defend the contract for the match against all comers as if it were a championship in itself.
Since his return to NJPW, Okada has shown previously-untapped charisma whilst also performing to a consistently high standard in the ring. Well on his way to becoming one of the biggest stars in Japanese wrestling, The Rainmaker has enjoyed an incredible return to puroresu after his miserable time Stateside.
6. CM Punk
The man who inspired this article, CM Punk is now only weeks away from becoming the longest-reigning WWE Champion since Hulk Hogan's four-year run with the belt between 1984 and 1988. A slow-burning heel turn over the course of the summer and subsequent alliance with Paul Heyman has refreshed his character, and he is rumoured to be in line for the biggest match of his career at the Royal Rumble against The Rock.
Despite the presence of John Cena frequently denying his title matches a spot in the main event, The Voice of the Voiceless has nonetheless successfully defended his title against opponents as varied as Cena, Chris Jericho, Mark Henry, Daniel Bryan and Ryback.
The creative team pigeon-holed themselves at Raw 1000 with the Punk/Rock/Cena triangle, but Punk's heel turn has nonetheless added a new dimension to the possibilities. However, we all know how much the WWE like to change their minds at the last minute.
Currently embroiled in a feud with Big Hungry, the company's newest superstar, The Second City Saint finds himself as a team captain for the upcoming traditional Survivor Series match. A wise move to extend Punk's lengthy title reign, he will surely defend the belt at TLC against either Cena or Ryback.
Undoubtedly the No. 2 star in the company, CM Punk is also one of the best talkers in the business. Coupled with the regular high quality of his matches and charismatic performances, you can see why he claims to be The Best in the World.
7. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Currently in his record-equalling sixth stint as IWGP Heavyweight Champion, the 35-year-old Pro Wrestling Observer Wrestler of the Year for 2011 is sure to go down as one of Japanese wrestling's all-time greats.
Tanahashi enjoyed the longest world title reign in company history before he was upset by rising star Kazuchika Okada in February 2012 after an impressive 404 days. During this time, he also made the most number of successful title defences with 11. Tanahashi has currently held the belt since June 16 following a highly-contested rematch with Okada.
Since recapturing the title, Tanahashi has retained it on a monthly basis, including an all-time classic against Minoru Suzuki on October 8. All told, The Outstanding Talent has defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on no less than 24 times over his six reigns.
For those of you who recall, forget about his short stints with TNA in 2006 and 2008; this guy is the real deal. At the time of writing, his six title reigns combine for an incredible 1,079 days, proving that Hiroshi Tanahashi is one of the greatest talents in the business.
8. Dolph Ziggler
Praised as one of the best sellers in the business, Dolph Ziggler has seemed primed for main event stardom for some time now, although his win/loss record would initially suggest otherwise.
Since dropping the deadweight that was unfortunately Jack Swagger, Ziggler has solidly established himself as one of the WWE's premier in-ring competitors. Despite regularly ending up on the losing side, The Showoff ends up looking like a million bucks anyway.
His association with Vickie Guerrerro elicits decent heat from the audience, but there are those who recognize Ziggler's efforts and cheer him regardless. Using Guerrerro as his mouthpiece has also allowed him to develop his promo skills as he seeks entry to the main event scene.
A victory at Money at the Bank guarantees a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship somewhere along the line, and since capturing the briefcase, Ziggler has regularly produced top-quality matches with the likes of Chris Jericho and Randy Orton despite losing to both at successive pay-per-views.
And just this week, Ziggler found himself in an altercation with none other than John Cena, the company's undisputed top star. I sense another pay-per-view loss.
Ziggler teased cashing in the briefcase at Hell and a Cell, but it ultimately came to nothing. The inevitable title reign will be the pivotal moment in his career; a solid run as champion will cement him as a genuine main event talent, whereas a short and ineffective reign would kill all the momentum The Showoff has built up over recent months.
So there are the eight names who, in my opinion, are currently the greatest wrestlers in the world. Do you agree?
Personally, my vote would be for Daniel Bryan. It's incredible what he's accomplished in the WWE this year; he's taken every angle he's been given and ran with it, as well as being the most talented worker on the roster. it's not often someone becomes that popular on their own merit. But those are just my two cents.
In your opinion, who is The Best in the World?
Is there anyone you feel should have been included?
I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this one. (This is a debate, so let's keep it positive.)
As always, sound off in the comments below!