Power Ranking the 10 Most Successful WWE Superstars of the Decade

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2019

Power Ranking the 10 Most Successful WWE Superstars of the Decade

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The decade that was in WWE saw the changing of the guard as Superstars such as Triple H, Chris Jericho, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels either retired or took on lighter schedules, creating opportunities for younger, fresher faces to establish themselves on Raw and SmackDown.

    Those competitors, along with holdovers from the previous decade like John Cena and Randy Orton, helped change perceptions as to what a Superstar looked like.

    Indie stars such as CM Punk, AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins achieved unprecedented success. Women took on a greater role, lead by Charlotte Flair, and Roman Reigns stepped off the football field and into the industry his family helped make famous.

    Those men and women altered the course of WWE history and, as the decade nears its end, let's relive their many accomplishments and find out who ranks atop the list as the undisputed star of the last 10 years.

10. AJ Styles

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    One of the most enduring surprises of the decade was AJ Styles’ long-awaited debut in WWE at the 2016 Royal Rumble.

    The Phenomenal One walked through the curtain, eliciting an enormous pop from fans, and it became clear that the celebrated competitor was destined for greatness in the company, despite doubts that WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and Co. would know what to do with someone of his talent.

    Almost immediately, Styles found himself in a rivalry with Chris Jericho. Then came a world title rivalry with Roman Reigns. By the time September of that year rolled around, he was WWE champion and the face of SmackDown Live. It was with the blue brand that he would achieve his greatest success, establishing the show as "The House That AJ Styles Built."

    By 2017, his greatness was undeniable and no midcard feud with Kevin Owens or rivalry with Shane McMahon would deny him his true destiny.

    On a memorable episode of SmackDown that November, he defeated Jinder Mahal to become the first Superstar to win the WWE Championship in the United Kingdom. That victory propelled him to one of the greatest reigns in recent history; a period that saw him successfully defend his title for over a year against the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn and Owens.

    A heel turn in 2019 rejuvenated Styles and a move to Raw further freshened him up. Like many others on this list, the likelihood that he is present on a similar countdown a decade from now is not high. However, there may be no other competitor who needed the last four years of his career, and the many accomplishments that came with it, more than the 42-year-old.

    After years of recognition as one of the best wrestlers on the planet, The Phenomenal One stepped out of the Impact Zone, away from New Japan Pro-Wrestling and proved it under the brightest lights the industry has to offer.

9. Charlotte Flair

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    The increase in significance of women's wrestling in WWE over the last decade is undeniable.

    The company went from seconds-long matches featuring "Divas" to pay-per-views main-evented by strong female Superstars whose in-ring abilities equaled those of the men.

    No one competitor was more vital to the success of the sport during this evolution than Charlotte Flair.

    The Queen made the jump to the main roster from NXT in 2015 and immediately established herself as the measuring stick for women's wrestling by capturing the Divas Championship.

    At WrestleMania 32 in 2016, she overcame the challenges of Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch to become the first WWE women's champion in six years. That win, and a subsequent rivalry with The Boss, allowed her to compete inside Hell in a Cell. Not only was that the first women's match held inside the unforgiving steel structure, but it was also the first women's match to headline a pay-per-view.

    In the years that followed, Flair would repeatedly find herself in position to win titles and etch her name in the history books, culminating with her appearance alongside Lynch and Ronda Rousey in the first-ever women's WrestleMania main event.

    Flair's in-ring work, raw athleticism and genes allowed her to establish her own legacy, one that continues to grow and evolve with every passing show. The Queen, a second-generation competitor whose father, Ric, left the biggest shoes to fill, has wowed fans and created a standard for quality in the sport that few have achieved.

    And the 33-year-old is only just getting started.

8. CM Punk

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    To understand CM Punk's impact on the last 10 years is to understand the concept of quality over quantity. The Chicago native was only an active competitor in WWE for the first four years of the decade, but what he accomplished in that time was undeniable.

    He began the decade as the cult-like leader of The Straight Edge Society. A preacher of the drug-free ways, he recruited big Luke Gallows, Joseph Mercury and Serena Deeb as his followers and waged war on the likes of Rey Mysterio and Big Show.

    When that faction disintegrated due to poor booking, frustration understandably set in and it appeared as though the tattooed Superstar was on his way out of the company.

    Then June 23, 2011 happened.

    On that night, Punk cut an epic promo that will go down in wrestling history alongside "Austin 3:16" as the most significant in WWE history. Raging against the machine and voicing his frustrations with the industry, the fans and his place in the company, he left fans stunned—and excited.

    Punk would parlay the momentum and mainstream attention he received as a result of that promo into a new deal and a monumental victory over John Cena for the WWE Championship in his hometown of Chicago the following month.

    From that moment on, he would be a legitimate main event star for WWE and, beginning with his title win over Alberto Del Rio at the 2011 Survivor Series, go on a historic run with the gold that had not been seen since "Macho Man" Randy Savage in 1988-89.

    Frustration would rear its ugly head again, though, as Punk felt creatively underwhelmed and professionally exhausted. Despite an all-time-great match with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2013, he departed WWE early in 2014, leaving on less-than-great terms.

    He would not return until 2019, signing a deal with Fox as an on-screen analyst as part of the WWE Backstage program.

    Despite his lengthy absence, Punk remained one of the most popular and beloved Superstars in the sport, with his name being chanted in arenas across the country by fans hopeful he would return someday to break up the monotony of the sports-entertainment landscape.

7. Daniel Bryan

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    There is no Superstar who had as tumultuous a journey to this countdown as Daniel Bryan.

    His decade kicked off with him being fired from WWE for choking ring announcer Justin Roberts with his necktie.

    When he returned to the company after a few months away, he captured the United States Championship from The Miz but was deemed too small to really succeed at a level beyond that.

    However, his popularity with fans and his ability between the ropes, forced WWE's hand, and he won Money in the Bank in July 2011. He would successfully cash in and win the world heavyweight title, only to lose it in eight seconds in the opening match of WrestleMania 28.

    The fan uproar surrounding his treatment at the event sparked the Yes Movement that would carry Bryan over the next two years, right into the main event of WrestleMania 30.

    Riding a wave of momentum established by fans hellbent on ensuring their favorite wrestler had the opportunity to excel, Bryan defeated Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista in a Triple Threat match, to capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

    The dream turned into a nightmare, though, when he was forced to relinquish the gold to a serious neck injury and concussion history. So severe were the injuries that he retired from the squared circle in 2015 and assumed the role of SmackDown general manager. Determined to get back in the ring, he continued to work off-screen and in 2018, he got his wish.

    It was a heel turn later that year that led to some of his finest work. As The Planet's Champion, Bryan was the vegan environmentalist who lashed out at fans for disregarding the health of the earth. He rode that character all the way to WrestleMania 35, where he would put over Kofi Kingston in an emotional Match of the Year candidate for the WWE title.

    As the decades draws to a close, Bryan finds himself back atop the company, feuding with Bray Wyatt over the universal title, his persistence and passion for the industry still being his greatest asset.

6. Sheamus

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    Four world titles. Two United States titles. Five tag team title reigns. 2010 King of the Ring. 2012 Royal Rumble winner. 2015 Money in the Bank briefcase. Possessor of the quickest heavyweight championship victory in WrestleMania history.

    Taking all of those accomplishments into consideration, it is safe to say Sheamus is the most low-key Superstar great of the decade.

    Like Randy Orton, The Celtic Warrior flies under the radar because of his quiet consistency. A bruiser of a competitor, he is not a flashy worker. Since 2010, he has routinely beat people up, won in big-match situations and added to his resume at every turn. Unlike others on this list, he has also proved adaptable.

    Sheamus has excelled both as a singles competitor and in tag team competition. He has succeeded at the top of the card, against John Cena, Triple H, Big Show and Orton, and in midcard programs against Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler and Mark Henry.

    Perhaps most impressively, though, is the fact Sheamus has not achieved his many accomplishments in a single chunk of time. Instead, he has shown an innate ability to heat up at certain points, overcoming lackluster booking to re-establish himself as a key player in the WWE Universe. 

    As the decade comes to a close, he is poised to make yet another run as a member of the SmackDown roster at age 41. Given the course his career has taken to this point, do not be surprised if he Brogue Kicks his way to another WWE or Universal Championship at some point.

5. Seth Rollins

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    The Architect of The Shield, Seth Rollins built a reputation for himself as the glue that held the storied faction together.

    Alongside Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, he wreaked havoc on WWE, defeating every team put in front of them, including those featuring Superstars such as John Cena, Randy Orton and CM Punk.

    In April 2014, though, he would undergo a drastic career change, betraying Ambrose and Reigns and becoming the handpicked face of The Authority.

    Suddenly, Rollins became the heel around whom the show was built. Not since Triple H earlier in the Millennium had a heel enjoyed such a profound run. He won Money in the Bank in June 2014 and cashed in at WrestleMania 31, defeating Reigns and Brock Lesnar to claim his first WWE Championship in one of the truly shocking conclusions to the event.

    That win established Rollins as a legitimate star, but a major knee injury in October threatened to burn it all down. Determined to get back, The Architect put in the work and returned, quickly winning a second WWE title. From 2017 through 2019, he would excel in the midcard as intercontinental champion, restoring credibility to that title while working with some of the best and brightest young competitors on the roster.

    The final year of the decade solidified his spot on this list and his status as the face of Raw. At WrestleMania 35, he defeated Lesnar in the opening match of the night to capture the Universal Championship.

    After losing the title back to The Beast after a successful Money in the Bank cash-in, Rollins rolled into SummerSlam and defeated Lesnar clean in the center of the ring to regain the gold.

    However, overexposure turned fans against Rollins and set up a heel turn that has him poised to enjoy another stellar year with WWE.

4. Randy Orton

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    There is something to be said about the steady consistency of Randy Orton over the last decade. No matter the profile of the program he found himself involved in, The Viper could be counted on to use his considerable star power to elevate its overall profile.

    Over the course of the last 10 years, the third-generation star realized his full potential by capturing the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships by defeating the likes of John Cena, Christian, Sheamus, Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt. He captured the 2013 Money in the Bank briefcase and even now, finds himself amid a significant rivalry with AJ Styles on Raw.

    That Orton could weave seamlessly into and out of the main event scene, working with Cena one week and a younger competitor like Wade Barrett or Jack Swagger the next, made him invaluable to a WWE constantly looking to develop the next big star. When a pet project failed, Vince McMahon and Co. could lean on The Viper to get them through until the next up-and-comer presented himself.

    Perhaps that is Orton's lasting legacy this decade. He was the selfless competitor who did what was presented to him and with a quiet consistency that helped him earn the status of one of WWE's better, more psychological workers. 

    At age 39, and with a lighter schedule than in years past, it is unlikely we are talking about Orton on a similar list 10 years from now. Thus, the decade that has been is even more significant in determining his place in wrestling history.

3. Roman Reigns

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    To really understand how big a star Roman Reigns became after breaking free of The Shield and embarking on a singles run that would take him all the way to the WWE Championship, you must look no further than the fact he headlined four consecutive WrestleManias, a feat accomplished previously by only Hulk Hogan.

    Reigns dominated as the powerhouse of The Shield, and upon winning the Royal Rumble in January 2015, he kicked off a singles career that would take him to the highest of highs.

    He captured four heavyweight titles, an intercontinental belt, the United States championship and the tag team titles with Seth Rollins. He was the ninth Grand Slam champion in WWE and won the 2015 Royal Rumble match.

    The Big Dog has feuded with everyone from former Shield teammates Rollins and Dean Ambrose to industry icons such as Brock Lesnar, John Cena and The Undertaker. In fact, he became only the second man to defeat The Deadman at WrestleMania in April 2017.

    The only thing keeping the 34-year-old from a higher ranking on this list is the leukemia diagnosis that cost him six months from October 2018 through the first quarter of 2019. Had he been able to run with the Universal Championship he worked so hard to wrestle from The Beast, he may have firmly established himself as a threat to take the No. 1 spot. 

    However, Reigns will now set his sights on topping next decade's list.

2. Brock Lesnar

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    Brock Lesnar was unleashed on WWE in 2012, returning to the company that made him a star a decade earlier.

    After a highly successful mixed martial arts career that saw him become one of the most recognizable heavyweight fighters in UFC, he set foot back inside the squared circle looking to make good on the potential he never quite realized during his previous brief stint atop the sports-entertainment industry.

    He did that and more.

    Pay-per-view main events with John Cena and Triple H reintroduced him to the WWE Universe. A five-star classic against CM Punk at SummerSlam in 2013 reminded fans of how good a motivated Lesnar could be. It was not until WrestleMania 30, and the most shocking victory of his career, that he would establish himself as the most unstoppable force in professional wrestling.

    On April 6, 2014, The Beast Incarnate became the first Superstar in 21 years to defeat The Undertaker at The Showcase of the Immortals.

    The stunned silence, looks of shock and awe throughout the Mercedes-Benz Superdome defined the moment, as did the laughter that emerged from Lesnar as he made his way up the ramp. That moment would not only transcend wrestling, but it would also catapult The Beast forward.

    Within five months, he smashed Cena in the most dominant performance in SummerSlam history to capture the WWE Championship. From there, he would engage Roman Reigns in a rivalry that lasted years. In 2017, at WrestleMania 32, he would capture the Universal Championship from Goldberg and embark on a year-plus title reign that erased CM Punk's lengthy run from the record books.

    Putting an exclamation point on the decade, he ended the feel-good story of Kofi Kingston, defeating him for the WWE title on the October 4 debut of SmackDown on Fox in just eight seconds.

    While The Beast's dominance infuriated fans due to his status as a part-time performer, his impact on WWE television has been undeniable. He has bowled over the competition, defeated everyone in his path and established himself as one of the most special attractions in all of WWE.

    As long as the company can maintain his mystique, do not be surprised if the 42-year-old somehow manages to excel for another 10 years.

1. John Cena

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    The biggest, most successful homegrown talent since The Rock, John Cena dominated the first seven years of the decade as he typically did, beating top-tier Superstars and capturing championship gold.

    His nine world titles since 2010 are more than any other Superstar. At Royal Rumble in January 2017, he did the unthinkable, tying the legendary mark of 16 total world titles set by Ric Flair.

    When he was not in the main event title picture, Cena remained a staple of high-profile feuds. Whether he was competing against Randy Orton and Big Show, or working to elevate the stars of Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns, The Leader of the Cenation established himself as the most prominent and prolific star in sports entertainment.

    Perhaps his most underrated contribution to WWE over the last 10 years was his willingness to put others over and establish them as competitors on his level. Sheamus, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan all saw their careers skyrocket after working with, and defeating, Cena in significant pay-per-view matches.

    As the United States champion in 2015, he routinely worked with younger Superstars, elevating them during his open challenge series. His selflessness in those situations helped provide them the legitimacy they needed to move forward, even if WWE Creative managed to bungle their booking afterward.

    As the decade came to a close, Cena stepped away from the squared circle to explore a career in Hollywood, following in the footsteps of The Rock.

    It remains to be seen if the 42-year-old will ever regularly compete inside a WWE ring again or if he will make even more comebacks like The Great One and return for the occasional one-off match, perhaps boosting ratings and buyrates for WrestleMania here and there.

    What is not in question is the indelible mark left by Cena on the decade that established his place in the annals of pro wrestling history.