WWE's 40 Biggest Current Stars: Are Their Best Years Ahead of or Behind Them?
WWE has employed many superstars over the company's long history. Superstars such as Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock transcended sports entertainment.
Today, the WWE continues to showcase many wrestlers. Some are achieving their potential and others are under-utilised.
Who are the 40 biggest superstars of the current era, and are they past their prime? There are current superstars who have far more to offer the WWE, whereas others are beyond their best years.
40) Santino Marella
A year ago, Santino was the top comedy act in the WWE as a Tag Team Champion. He debuted in the WWE winning the Intercontinental Championship, and over time became a comedy act.
He soon became the focus of all the backstage comedy on RAW. However, since losing the Tag Team Championships, Marella has been rarely seen and has lost much of his star power.
I believe he is past his prime in the WWE.
Verdict: Past his best years.
His Prime: Holding the Intercontinental Championship as part of Glamarella.
39) The Usos
The Usos debuted as the tag team rivals of the Hart Dynasty. However, they have struggled with the lack of tag team competition in the WWE.
A month ago, I thought they were getting a tag team push. However, once Kingston and Bourne won, they became non-existent.
The Usos have it all: a cool entrance, flashy in-ring style, decent mic skills and they are a true tag team. They should be bigger at this point.
Verdict: Their best years are ahead of them.
38) Justin Gabriel
Justin Gabriel, like many other superstars on the roster, would flourish with a Cruiserweight division. He has a flashy in-ring style and honestly isn't that bad on the mic. He gets matches regularly but seems to be directionless.
Gabriel was highlighted in the Nexus due to his finishing move: The 450 Splash. Given a storyline, we may actually see Gabriel's potential.
Verdict: He needs a direction, but his best years are definitely to come.
37) Jinder Mahal
Jinder Mahal is a new superstar on SmackDown, and from what I've seen, he could be better. I was incredibly disappointed to see the WWE stick him with a racial gimmick.
He has a good look and is decent in the ring. He should be relegated to the lower card, working a program that the crowd doesn't particularly react to anymore.
Verdict: We've barely seen anything yet, his best years have to be ahead.
36) Jim Ross
Jim Ross in arguably the greatest commentator in wrestling history. We were overjoyed when Ross made his return as a regular commentator two months ago.
However, it is clear that with age Ross is slowing down on commentary like his partner Jerry Lawler. While he is still great, Ross is not as good as he once was.
Verdict: J.R.'s best years are behind him, but it's great to have him back.
35) Michael McGillicutty
Michael McGilllicutty is the son of the great Curt Hennig, and thus the expectations for him are high. Unfortunately, he got stuck with a terrible name, and like many in the Nexus, wasn't given a real character.
He is decent in the ring, but he needs a gimmick overhaul if he is going to make a connection with the fans. He has only been in the company for a year, so expect more from him.
Verdict: McGillicutty has far better years ahead of him.
34) The Great Khali
Khali as an in-ring wrestler is beyond limited. In fact, us internet fans despise his existence on TV. However, Khali reaches a region other wrestlers can't: India. He is insanely popular in India.
His initial run in the company saw him win the World Heavyweight Championship. He has struggled since. Khali soon became a comedy act. However now, he is feuding with Jinder Mahal.
Verdict: His best years are behind him.
His Prime: Winning the World Heavyweight Championship in 2006.
33) Booker T
While Booker's in-ring career has winded down, he is now a commentator on SmackDown. As a wrestler, his best years are obviously behind him. However, as a commentator, Booker has much more left to give.
Save me your insults, I'm in the minority: I love Booker T's commentary. Deal with it.
Verdict: As a wrestler, his best years are behind him. Commentator? Booker has much more left in him. "Awwwww Shucky Ducky, Quack, Quack!"
32) David Otunga
David Otunga was looking to be the second breakout star from the Nexus. He had charisma, and more importantly for the WWE, has a link to pop culture: He is married to Jennifer Hudson.
Joking aside, Otunga could be bigger by now if he were better in the ring. He always appeared green in the ring, as if his development period was rushed.
He has won the Tag Team Championships with Michael McGillicutty. However, they never did much with the belts. They served as placeholders until Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne came along.
Verdict: Otunga's best years are ahead of him.
31) Ted DiBiase
Ted DiBiase Jr., son of the Million Dollar Man, was said to be the breakout star of Legacy over a year ago. It didn't turn out that way, and Cody Rhodes was the more successful of the two.
Ted suffers from a lack of charisma, a problem many young wrestlers are afflicted with. With a little improvement, Ted can achieve more than he has. I feel he is destined to win a mid-card title or two.
Verdict: Ted has better years ahead of him.
30) Beth Phoenix
Beth Phoenix has always been one of the top diva wrestlers in the WWE. However, with the division struggling for years, Beth has never been showcased.
She was in a comedy duo with Santino Marella and has held women's championships. However, I have the feeling she will really excel when Kharma returns.
Verdict: Her best years are ahead, just wait for Kharma.
29) Michael Cole
Another announcer, Michael Cole has gone from a hated commentator to a commentator who was meant to be hated.
Cole has always struggled to fill the shoes of Jim Ross, as he was never quite great at play-by-play. However, over the last year, he has revived the heel commentator role and taken it to new heights.
As a commentator, Michael Cole is a star. While once it could be said that he was taking the heel comments too far, I believe right now he is hitting the sweet middle point.
Cole has never been an extraordinary talent on commentary, thus his best is ahead. He could be remembered as a great heel commentator if he keeps going this way.
Verdict: His best days as a commentator are soon to come.
28) John Morrison
JoMo should be higher on this list. However, he has gone from a world championship prospect in late 2010 to someone rumoured to be getting fired. It hasn't been a good year for Morrison.
He has all of the in-ring tools. However, he is seriously lacking in charisma. Many current superstars are stuck in that same position, though the WWE seems to be content with making him a Shawn Michaels-esque figure. Without charisma, he has no chance of ever being like Shawn Michaels.
I'll stay optimistic on this one: John Morrison's best years should be ahead. He has already achieved great feats in the tag team division and in the mid-card.
Verdict: His best years should be ahead of him.
Personally, I feel the original Kane character has been on a downward spiral since his mask was taken off. However, he has proven to be a loyal workhorse for the WWE over the years.
He was rewarded with a long World Heavyweight Championship reign last year, which I loved seeing.
Kane had one of the best debuts of all time, interrupting the first ever Hell in a Cell match. From that point on, he was taken seriously as a monster heel. However, that original gimmick has been misused over the years.
He has a lot more to give from a backstage perspective. However, Kane is long past his prime, and his best years are behind him.
Verdict: Kane is past his best years.
His Prime: His initial run as the monster Kane.
26) Alex Riley
Alex Riley was part of NXT season 2, and from there became The Miz's accomplice. Riley received exposure under the tutelage of The Miz and was given a big face push following his turn on Miz.
He got a good reaction from the fans for a few weeks. However, he has failed to capitalise. He's currently the main face challenging for the United States Championship.
Riley is green, but improving, and as he hasn't been in the WWE long, has to have better years ahead.
Verdict: Riley has better years to come.
25) Ezekiel Jackson
Ezekiel Jackson was a decent Intercontinental Champion earlier this year. He was criticised for his small move set and his mic skills, but he was a good babyface for Cody Rhodes to go over to win the championship.
Jackson has gotten over with the fans with his incredible power. He put The Great Khali in a torture rack—that's just impressive.
He needs to improve overall if he is to achieve greater things. However, for now, his best years are behind him.
Verdict: Best years behind him.
His Prime: Winning the Intercontinental Championship on SmackDown.
24) Evan Bourne
Evan Bourne has had a decent run with the WWE. He currently holds one half of the World Tag Team Championships with Kofi Kingston.
Evan is a typical babyface in his mic skills. However, he excels in-ring with his high-flying skills.
He suffers from a lack of a Cruiserweight division in the WWE. However, I can see him achieving more in his career. There's more to come from Evan Bourne, especially if the Cruiserweight division is revived.
Verdict: His best years are ahead of him.
23) Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger rose up in the WWE through ECW, where he won the ECW championship. He followed this up by winning Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 26, and a week later winning the World Heavyweight Championship.
Unfortunately, his reign left a lot to be desired and he was subsequently buried for the rest of the year. Only now is he recovering.
He is in a managerial triangle with Vicki Guerrero and Dolph Ziggler and is competing for the United States championship. He is good in the ring, but average on the mic, and I think he is past his best years.
He's probably stuck in the mid-card unless he can make himself relevant.
Verdict: His best years are behind him.
His Prime: Winning the World Heavyweight Championship.
22) Vickie Guerrero
An exception on this list, Vickie Guerrero is highly successful as a manager.
It's been great to see Vickie thrive as a general manager and a manager since Eddie's death. You could say she revitalised the manager role.
She's been managing Dolph Ziggler for over a year, and seems to be managing Jack Swagger now.
While she still garners heat with her "excuse me" line, her best years as an on-air personality are behind her.
Verdict: Past her managerial prime.
Her Prime: When she was general manager of SmackDown and wife of Edge.
21) Kofi Kingston
Kofi Kingston burst into the WWE three years ago and ever since has become one of the WWE's most beloved faces. He is fantastic in the ring.
He has spent most of his tenure stuck in the mid-card, and is currently one half of the Tag Team Champions.
He tasted the main event for a short while in late 2009 in a feud against Randy Orton. However, that ended abruptly and controversially.
I desperately want to see Kingston in a world championship position, and he deserves it. However, I don't think WWE has faith in him.
Verdict: His best years are behind him, but optimistically he may have more to come.
His Prime: His main event feud with Randy Orton.
20) Sin Cara
The Sin Cara character has been shrouded in controversy since its inception earlier this year. Mistico was said to be overly cocky, and he was botching spots in the ring. He was also suspended for 30 days for violating the drug policy.
Hunico has since stepped in, and now we have a Sin Cara vs. Sin Cara feud on our hands. The character has also been a merchandising priority for WWE, trying to get the character over with the kids.
There's an upside to Hunico, but I don't believe Mistico suits the WWE style.
Verdict: Better years ahead if WWE stick with Hunico for the character. Otherwise, Mistico will need drastic improvement to suit the WWE style.
19) Big Show
Despite being on leave from the WWE at the moment, the Big Show is still a star. Due mostly to his size, Show achieved instant success in the wrestling business, in WCW, and then WWE.
However, he was criticised for his work ethic and was subsequently buried.
Since then, he has become a beloved character in wrestling and has won numerous championships.
With age, he has gotten even slower in the ring and really can't have good matches anymore. He isn't good for anything other than kids when he is a face and the WWE seems content with using him to sell merchandise.
He can still have programs with younger stars, but he has become limited recently and is well past his prime. I assume retirement isn't too far away for Show.
Verdict: Best years behind him.
His Prime: Probably around 2003 when he was a constant presence in the SmackDown main event.
18) Wade Barrett
Wade Barrett burst onto the scene on the first season of NXT, and followed that up by leading the Nexus.
Barrett showcases excellent mic skills and it was predicted that he would be world champion within a year.
Unfortunately, the Nexus storyline fell apart, as did the Corre, and so Barrett has been misused. He is devoid of a storyline on SmackDown and hopefully the WWE will soon realise what a talent it has. If all goes well, he should win a world championship, but you never know with the WWE.
Verdict: Best years are to come.
17) Zack Ryder
Zack Ryder is one of the few superstars who made himself relevant. He did this through his internet show Z! True Long Island Story. Before his self-made relevancy, Ryder was an Edge-head with Curt Hawkins, a role which eventually faded with the storyline.
Ryder built his fanbase online and translated it to TV. The WWE had no choice but to give him TV time. Now he is the assistant to Teddy Long and regularly gets matches on RAW and SmackDown.
He is decent in the ring and definitely has charisma. The WWE is testing the waters with Ryder, and eventually he should achieve something greater.
Verdict: His best years are still to come. Woo Woo Woo, You Know it!
16) Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan entered the WWE a year ago with huge expectations from the smarks. He had a huge reputation as the best in the world, and since then has proved it.
Bryan never fails to work a good match. The only problem is the WWE is stalling in giving him a noteworthy gimmick.
It seems to be going with underdog, and I guess it sort of works. I want to see more from Bryan—possibly as a submission badass.
As he holds Money in the Bank, I see a world championship in Daniel Bryan's future.
Verdict: His best years are still to come in the WWE.
15) Kelly Kelly
One of the few women on this list. Yes, Kelly Kelly is the biggest Diva in the WWE right now. The WWE is portraying her as the John Cena of the Divas division. She has had a long reign, rarely loses, and has a clean-cut American look.
She struggled for a few years establishing herself as a wrestler and is still improving in the ring. I expect and hope she will continue to improve.
Verdict: Best years ahead. She is the face of the Divas division.
14) Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler has been a staple of the mid-card for over a year now. Ziggler has been managed by Vicki Guerrero and has worked countless great matches against superstars such as Kofi Kingston.
He was given a taste of the main event earlier this year with a feud against Edge, and even had a 40-minute reign with the WHC.
However, with his talents, Dolph should end up in the main event and until he does that, he won't be at his prime.
Verdict: Best years ahead, he will be a legitimate world champion.
13) Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes was part of Randy Orton's Legacy. Then he was dashing, and now he is un-dashing. Rhodes has had an interesting three-year journey getting to where he is now.
He is the current Intercontinental Champion on SmackDown in his dark character. Cody has been looming around the main event recently, taking on Randy Orton.
He is destined to become a World Champion in the future. Cody Rhodes hasn't achieved his potential yet.
Verdict: Best years still to come.
12) Rey Mysterio
The second most profitable superstar in terms of merchandise sales in Rey Mysterio. He has made a connection with the fans and is one of the most beloved faces in the WWE.
Mysterio has been impressing fans with his high-flying ability for over decade. However, this high-risk offense has taken a toll on his body, as Rey's knees are shot. His in-ring abilities have become predictable due to his physical limitations.
Rey is past the point where he can be a world champion and should be limited to working programs with the up-and-coming superstars.
Verdict: Past his best years.
His Prime: In-ring: His early days in WCW. As a performer: Winning the WHC at WrestleMania 22.
With over a decade in the WWE and TNA, Christian has a paved a legacy in the wrestling business. He has been an excellent in-ring performer, but for most of his character struggled to connect as a main event character.
He was stuck in the mid-card. However, earlier this year he won his first World Heavyweight Championship and subsequently turned heel. He had a long feud with Randy Orton, but unfortunately is falling out of favour on SmackDown.
He is playing the whiny complainer character well. However, I'm unsure whether he can maintain his presence in the main event. Although I'm hoping he will.
He is past his prime, despite his recent successes.
Verdict: Past his best years.
His Prime: I want to say his time with Edge as a tag team, but I think it may be the time spent in TNA.
With only three years of experience in the WWE. Sheamus is one of the best young talents signed with the WWE. He has already won two WWE Championships and is in SmackDown's main event scene.
He experienced a slight burial last year. However, he has bounced back with a face turn a few months ago.
There is a huge upside to Sheamus and he is the future of the WWE.
Verdict: The best is yet to come.
Truth is current 38 years old, and thus you'd think he would be past his best years. But with his heel turn earlier this year, R-Truth has finally been able to advance up the ladder, as now he is a main-event talent.
He is currently the most entertaining act in the WWE alongside The Miz, and I expect him to stay this way. Is he past his prime? I'd say he has just hit it.
Verdict: He is currently at his prime. This year and the next will probably be his best.
8) Mark Henry
After spending 15 years in the WWE, you'd think Mark Henry would be far past his prime. Six months ago, that would be true.
Now, in the midst of one of the greatest monster heel runs in WWE history, Mark Henry has finally won the World Heavyweight Championship.
He has hit a level no one thought he ever would. He has embraced his new character as it matches up well to his in-ring style. He is wrestling well for his size and is excelling on the mic. He cut a fantastic heel promo after his win at Night of Champions.
I believe Mark Henry has much more left in him with his new gimmick.
Verdict: He will hit his prime this year or next.
7) Alberto Del Rio
Only introduced to the WWE audience one year ago, Alberto Del Rio rose to the main event in a short period of time. He won the Royal Rumble, main-evented WrestleMania 27 and won Money in the Bank.
He only achieved his destiny last month, winning the WWE championship. He is pretty good in the ring and playing his Mexican aristocrat character. Expect much more from Del Rio.
Verdict: He hasn't nearly hit his prime in the WWE.
6) The Miz
Only reaching the main event in December of 2010, The Miz has a tremendous story of rising up through the WWE.
From reality TV to the main event of WrestleMania 27, The Miz has much more to offer the WWE.
With only a short time as a main-event superstar, The Miz undoubtedly has his best years ahead of him. We haven't even seen him as a face. It would be awesome.
Verdict: His best years are still to come.
5) The Undertaker
The Undertaker is still an immensely popular superstar, hence still one of the biggest.
It is well documented that injuries are taking an immense toll on his body, as today he is limited to WrestleMania matches.
He has much to offer the WWE as a backstage mentor to younger stars. However, he is undisputedly past his best years.
He was able to revitalise his gimmick as The American Badass, and once again as The Phenom. However, over that time he has been winding down as a wrestler.
Verdict: Past his best years.
His Prime: The mid-90s as The Phenom. However, he was on top of his game throughout the late 90s and early 2000s.
4) Triple H
Reintroduced to WWE storylines recently is the COO Triple H. He has proven to be one of the greatest superstars in the company's history. He has main-evented WrestleManias and held 13 world championships.
He is past his best years as a performer. However, he is slowly being groomed for a top position in the company. Thus he will inevitably be one of the biggest influences in the business.
He has winded down as a wrestler, stating multiple times that he doesn't want to be on the road full-time anymore.
Verdict: Past his best years.
His Prime: Leader of Evolution from 2003-2005.
3) Randy Orton
Personally, I'm not a big fan of "The Viper," Randy Orton. I favour the "Legend Killer". I must concede he has embraced his new character and made a real connection with the fans.
I do believe he is past his best years as a wrestler. Injuries must be taking a toll on his body. Although I do feel The Viper was at the top of his game as a heel.
He has much more to offer the business though, as he is only 31. So I fully expect Orton to be a main-event presence for years to come.
Verdict: Past his best years, but he has much more to offer the WWE.
His Prime: 2009, when The Viper was the top heel in the business.
2) CM Punk
CM Punk is only scratching the surface of his prime. He has been a fantastic in-ring performer for years. However, only recently has his character hit the iconic point.
He is approaching a revolutionary character, much like Stone Cold Steve Austin. As good as he was as the Straight-Edge Saviour, at that point he was only a sub-main-event superstar.
If he keeps advancing like he has the past few months, he will leave his mark on WWE history and the entire wrestling business.
Verdict: His best years are still to come. Punk has almost hit his prime.
1) John Cena
There is no doubt that Cena is the biggest superstar at the moment and the face of this era. He is also the hardest decision to make on this list.
Is he past his prime? Has Cena given the WWE all he has?
Instinctively, the answer is yes. He has been the face of the WWE for six years, amassed 12 world championships and paved his legacy through "hustle, loyalty and respect."
We are now at the crossroads of Cena's career. His character has stalled due to the lack of change. Cena has played the same character for six years. Normally, this wouldn't that bad.
However, Cena's character is built on overcoming odds. After six years, the mentality of fans is that he never loses. Most of the time, that is true.
That's why, under the current Cena character, his best years are behind him. He probably has four to six more years as the face of the company, and if he doesn't tweak his character, the fans will become further disillusioned.
If Cena changes his character, he will have far more to give the WWE. Mostly because he hasn't been heel in eight years.
Verdict: Past his best years in his current character.
His Prime: The two-to-three-year period between 2006-2008.
If you've made it this far through the slideshow, then thank you. I guess it was fitting that my first article as a featured columnist be a 40-part slideshow.
I had to cheat a little and include announcers and managers. Otherwise, I would be evaluating wrestlers who haven't been around long enough to really achieve anything.
Agree or disagree with my rankings/evaluation of their prime? Feel free to sound off in the comments.