Ricochet, Cesaro and the 10 Best Pure Wrestlers in Today's WWE
Despite a stunning lack of creative direction, WWE's roster is more stacked with star power than ever before. In fact, it seems the company has more talent than it knows what to do with.
Raw and SmackDown Live have been devoid of excitement for many months, but at least the Superstars can always be counted on to deliver in the ring. The effort they put into their matches is largely what keeps viewers tuning in, even when nothing else interests them in the slightest.
At one point, it was rare for WWE to possess so many "pure" wrestlers—in other words, competitors who are known for their exceptional abilities between the ropes and have honed their skills in the many years they have been in the business.
One of the sole positives of there being so much WWE programming these days is the abundance of quality wrestling. In fact, the recent Ricochet vs. Cesaro rivalry on Raw has been the saving grace of the show for the past month, as those two are prime examples of Superstars who can still be salvaged from WWE's questionable booking through their above-average matches.
There are so many incredible athletes in WWE, and it's difficult to narrow down the best of the best. WWE's finest wrestlers deserve to be recognized, regardless of whether they are regulars on Raw and SmackDown.
With this being a top 10, there are bound to be some glaring omissions. But that should speak volumes about the roster's talent. Furthermore, for the sake of space, NXT Superstars will not be included, but you can imagine that Johnny Gargano and Roderick Strong would feature if they were eligible.
AJ Styles was instantly recognized as one of the biggest pickups in modern WWE history when he signed with the promotion in January 2016.
Prior to his debut at the Royal Rumble, Styles spent years refining his craft all over the world and in a variety of promotions, including IMPACT, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling. WWE had a pretty well-rounded roster by the time he joined their ranks, but he still stood out from the rest of the pack in a phenomenal way.
Thanks to his ability to bring out the best of everyone he steps into the ring with, Styles is in a league of his own. During his time in WWE, he has had standout matches with everyone from Seth Rollins to Shane McMahon, in addition to racking up multiple WWE and United States Championship reigns.
Every match Styles has is different from the last. Whether he's flying through the air, smashing Superstars in the face with a Phenomenal Forearm, or mastering his ground game by locking in the Calf Crusher, he can put his opponents away with myriad maneuvers.
Between his in-ring experience and connection with the crowd, a case can be made that Styles is the best wrestler in WWE. His persistent standing toward the top of the card further proves his status as an elite athlete.
Required viewing: Styles vs. John Cena, SummerSlam 2016
Ricochet was widely regarded by fans to be one of the best wrestlers to never join WWE until he finally did at the onset of 2018. And if you watched a match of his from just about anywhere, you would instantly see why.
The aerial artist is a human highlight reel and never ceases to bring excitement to his matches. His style may not be for everyone, but even a curmudgeon would have to admit he's a treat to watch.
After spending so long ripping it up in Japan and Lucha Underground, he was right where he belonged on NXT and wasted no time in showing the world what he was made of.
Although he didn't win, he had the best showing of anyone in the six-way NXT North American Championship ladder match at TakeOver: New Orleans. He then made it a point to steal the show at every TakeOver special from that point forward against the likes of Velveteen Dream, Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano.
There's no doubt he has been toned down since being called up to the main roster, but as previously noted, his series of matches with Cesaro have been nothing short of stellar. His latest string of victories should lead to a championship in WWE before long.
Required viewing: Ricochet vs. Adam Cole, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV
There weren't many great wrestlers in WWE at the time Bryan Danielson (later rechristened as Daniel Bryan) was brought in at the end of 2009. Even the handful of competitors who were talented at the time never seemed to get beyond a certain level.
Many fans feared that would be the case with Bryan, who was immediately labeled a "rookie" on NXT and had to work his way up the ladder. It took his firing and rehiring two months later for him to become a success story.
Both Bryan and CM Punk are largely credited for changing the perception of independent wrestlers in WWE. Before their rises to superstardom, it was rare for anyone from the independent scene to catch a break in WWE, yet they broke that glass ceiling by connecting with the crowd in a way no one else could.
Bryan's hard-nosed wrestling style contributed to his in-ring career's abrupt end in 2016, relegating him to an on-air authority figure role for two years. When WWE finally cleared him to compete again in 2018, fans rejoiced in knowing one of the best wrestlers to grace the ring was back in action.
Few Superstars have submissions that are as effective as Bryan's. With William Regal and Shawn Michaels playing roles in his development, it's far from a shocker that his wrestling skills are as pure as they come.
Required viewing: Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista, WrestleMania XXX
There was plenty of buzz surrounding Asuka's arrival in NXT in 2015, and rightfully so. Widely recognized as one of the greatest women's wrestlers in the world during her time in Japan, she was a huge pickup for the black-and-gold brand.
What makes her so special, especially in WWE, is that there isn't anyone else like her. The presence she has about her in the ring is one thing, but its her hard-hitting strikes and crisp wrestling manuvers that make her such an intimidating force between the ropes.
It's rather odd that the undisputed greatest female wrestler in WWE today has been missing from SmackDown Live for some time.
That isn't to say she hasn't achieved great success on the main roster, though. She went undefeated for more than two-and-a-half years, won the first women's Royal Rumble match and reigned as SmackDown Women's champion for a short period earlier in 2019.
Nowadays, she finds herself in a tag team with Kairi Sane that has the potential to be amazing if booked properly. So far, they have barely featured on WWE TV, but hopefully she's given more chances to showcase her skills sooner rather than later.
Required viewing: Asuka vs. Ember Moon, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III
While promos aren't exactly Andrade's strong suit (that's where business associate Zelina Vega comes in), he manages to make up for his lack of skills on the microphone with his outstanding in-ring abilities.
Andrade wrestled under a mask as La Sombra in the years preceding his NXT debut. While in Japan and Mexico, he reigned as IWGP intercontinental champion and gained notoriety for his in-ring repertoire's sharpness.
He journeyed to NXT in late 2015 and initially struggled to find his footing as a character. However, his skills between the ropes were never questioned, and when he turned heel the following year, he was promptly promoted to the brand's main event scene.
As NXT champion, Andrade produced some of the best WWE matches of 2018 with Johnny Gargano and Aleister Black. He never failed to back up his confidence inside the squared circle, which resulted in his main roster call-up following WrestleMania 34.
Unfortunately, El Idolo has hadn't had a strong sense of direction since then, but any time he has mixed it up with an equally excellent talent such as AJ Styles or Daniel Bryan, he has knocked it out of the park. More matches like those will only cause his stock to skyrocket.
Required viewing: Andrade vs. Gargano, NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia
Cesaro was among the group of esteemed independent wrestlers to sign with WWE shortly after CM Punk and Daniel Bryan achieved superstardom. Despite largely being known as a tag team specialist, he was given the opportunity to run on his own as a singles star down in developmental and did not disappoint.
The Swiss Superman became a notable name on the main roster almost from the get-go when he clinched the United States Championship a matter of months removed from his debut. However, his biggest downfall was his bland personality, which led to management curtailing his television time drastically by 2013.
It wasn't until he formed a partnership with Jack Swagger that Cesaro's greatness started to shine through again. His Cesaro Swing electrified audiences, while his midair uppercuts put away a number of elite opponents.
At WrestleMania XXX, he reached the pinnacle of his career when he won the inaugural Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and aligned with Paul Heyman the next night on Raw. Although it was all downhill from there for him, that period of his career was when casual fans realized what he was capable of in the ring.
It's unlikely he will ever reach to the level he deserves to be at, but if he can continue to contest the type of instant classics he's been having with Ricochet and Rey Mysterio, he'will never lose his status as one of Raw's finest exponents.
Required viewing: Cesaro vs. John Cena, Raw (July 6, 2015)
Who would have guessed that one of the alternates from the Cruiserweight Classics would become the most believable babyface in all of WWE?
As popular as megastars such as Seth Rollins and AJ Styles are, Ali has a genuine likability about him and always incorporates a sense of realism into his promos. His amazing backstory, combined with his flashy in-ring style, make it easy for fans to rally behind him.
Ali started out on 205 Live and was relegated to enhancement status until he began chasing the WWE Cruiserweight Championship in early 2018. He was never able to win the title, but his matches with Cedric Alexander and Buddy Murphy put him on the map.
His resiliency and unlimited babyface potential earned him a spot on the SmackDown Live roster in December. It's possible he would have wound up in Kofi Kingston's spot at WrestleMania 35 had he not gotten injured, but at least he's beginning to bounce back with recent wins over Andrade.
If nothing else, you are guaranteed to be in for a treat whenever Ali is in action. He isn't often in the conversation about WWE's purest wrestlers because he is still relatively new to the mix, but in a short span of time, he has proved he can hang with the best of them.
Required viewing: Ali vs. Buddy Murphy, 205 Live (July 3, 2018)
Similar to Ali, Buddy Murphy was a mainstay on 205 Live and NXT for several years until recently.
Only a handful of fans were aware of his above-average in-ring abilities when he first appeared in NXT in 2013, but his unremarkable tag team with Wesley Blake held him back. He then spent a solid year off NXT TV before resurfacing on 205 Live early on in 2018.
Murphy made the most of his move to the Cruiserweight division and went to war with everyone from Kalisto to Ali. It took him some time to win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship, but when he did in front of his hometown crowd in Melbourne, Australia, at Super Show-Down in 2018, it was an amazing moment.
From there, Murphy kept the competition level on 205 Live at an all-time high in bouts with Akira Tozawa, Humberto Carrillo and Hideo Itami. Granted, he doesn't look like anything special on the surface, but once that bell rings, he turns into a machine.
It's a shame he has yet to appear on SmackDown Live since being drafted to the blue brand in the 2019 Superstar Shake-up. All he needs is a shot to leave his mark on Tuesday nights, and like we learned on 205 Live, it's definitely best that you not underestimate The Best Kept Secret.
Required viewing: Murphy vs. Alexander, Super Show-Down 2018
There are probably those who didn't know Chad Gable was as good as he is until he wrestled Gentleman Jack Gallagher in his 205 Live debut on Tuesday night.
It's also criminal how underutilized he's been since joining the main roster in 2016. He was part of a few successful tandems with Jason Jordan, Shelton Benjamin and Bobby Roode, but he's always had a higher ceiling on his own.
Gable's hot tags whenever he was part of a tag team were a thing of beauty and injected new life into every outing he was a part of. The key was WWE allowing him to channel that in singles competition and, now he has arrived on 205 Live, so he didn't look nearly as limited as usual. If anything, on his debut, he was as motivated as ever to put on a performance for the ages.
A former amateur wrestler with zero experience on the independent scene, Gable has been in the business the least amount of time of everyone on this list, yet he could be considered one of the best wrestlers under contract in the company today. His charisma, quickness and in-ring intensity are all qualities befitting a future champion.
Now is the time to start taking noting of what Gable brings to the table on 205 Live. He is a one-of-a-kind athlete who might be able to wrestle circles around anyone on this list if granted the opportunity.
Required viewing: Gable vs. AJ Styles, SmackDown (July 4, 2017)
It's refreshing to have one of the best wrestlers in the world in possession of Raw's top prize compared to the one-time box office attraction who held it hostage before him.
Regardless of what you think about his personality, Seth Rollins has always been something special between the ropes. Before he got hurt in 2015, he used to work a certain pace that saw him never slow down and constantly give his opponents his all.
That changed for a year or two after he returned to the ring, but it feels like he's back to being the unstoppable force inside the squared circle. He lit the world on fire with his work in Ring of Honor, created the blueprint for success in NXT and has yet to deliver anything less than a great match on the main roster.
The most exciting part about his Universal Championship reign is that he has the chance to clash with everyone already mentioned on this list, especially with the wild-card rule in effect. Rollins vs. Chad Gable could be a barn-burner, Rollins vs. Ricochet would be a wrestling clinic and another round of Rollins vs. Styles would be phenomenal.
Raw has been abysmal for some time, but to his credit, Rollins tries to end every episode on a high note with his matches. He is constantly pushing himself to be better than the best, and until a superior Superstar comes along, he's bound to be the universal champion for many months to come.
Required viewing: Rollins vs. AJ Styles, Money in the Bank 2019
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.