Daniel Bryan and the Best Pure Wrestlers in WWE and AEW
There is no doubt that storytelling in WWE has been on a steady decline over the last decade, but the pure art of wrestling is not lost as long as athletes such as Daniel Bryan are still practicing their craft.
The war between WWE's NXT brand and AEW has led to an invigorated interest in in-ring acumen, leading to several performers who wouldn't have made it in WWE years ago now shining bright across the industry.
Today, we’ll be judging performers on their ability to perform moves, sell moves performed on them and tell a convincing story. Here are the top 10 pure wrestlers in WWE and AEW.
10. Drew Gulak
While Drew Gulak has been mainly featured in comedy segments surrounding his chase of R-Truth and the 24/7 Championship, he showed earlier this year against Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles just how good he can be in the ring.
Seeing Gulak as the Gobbledy Gooker may have some questioning his placement on this list. But his experience all over the world and his ability to tell a convincing story no matter who is standing across the ring makes him one of the most reliable technicians in the business.
Gulak could be Dean Malenko with the proper booking.
9. Hikaru Shida
As one of the top performers in AEW, Hikaru Shida has not only been the best women's champion in the company's short history, but she is also one of the most consistent performers on the entire roster.
There is no doubt the AEW women's division hasn't reached the heights that should be expected of a major wrestling company, but Shida is not part of the problem. Her bouts are consistently among the Match of the Night contenders, such as battles against Nyla Rose, Big Swole and especially Thunder Rosa at All Out, and she is considered by many to be one of the best pure wrestlers today.
8. Shelton Benjamin
Casual wrestling fans or those new to the sport haven't seen Shelton Benjamin shine as brightly as he should since re-signing with WWE, but that doesn't change the fact that he is as technically proficient as they come.
Whether it was with Kurt Angle during his first run in WWE or in Japan, Benjamin honed his craft and became one of the world's best all-around in-ring performers. Now with The Hurt Business getting a real push, Benjamin will at least have the opportunities in the ring to show why he still has what it takes to be a top performer.
Another WWE Superstar who is impressive in the ring but hardly gets the chance to showcase his talents is Cesaro. Widely considered by fans and other wrestlers to be the best pure athlete in the world, the Swiss Superman is also one of the most intelligent performers and a true student of the game.
After almost 10 years with WWE, Cesaro should be looking to ply his trade elsewhere before his career is over. The veteran could travel to Japan and dominate in New Japan Pro-Wrestling or stay stateside and take over as a top draw in AEW.
Cesaro deserves so much more for being one of the best in the ring.
6. Io Shirai
The current NXT women's champion, Io Shirai, was regarded as arguably the best female wrestler in all of Japan when she made the jump to the United States, and she has lived up to the hype and then some.
From her performance in War Games to singles matches against Candice LeRae, Sasha Banks and Rhea Ripley, Shirai is the Genius of the Sky for a reason.
With the in-ring ability to compete against the best mat technicians in the business and the willingness to go high-risk, as seen at War Games on Sunday, Shirai has become NXT's biggest star and most consistent performer.
5. AJ Styles
When AJ Styles joined WWE, many hardcore fans were concerned he wouldn't be able to show off his unique in-ring prowess. Those concerns were unfounded, with so many unforgettable matches now under his belt on the Raw and SmackDown brands.
Instead, Styles continues to be one of the most must-see wrestlers in the business.
Whether it's going out as the underdog role against bigger and stronger opponents or playing a dastardly heel willing to do absolutely anything to win, Styles has learned to blend his unparalleled athleticism with storytelling to create his own brand of elite wrestling.
The best tag team in all of wrestling is FTR, and they hold that distinction due to their in-ring storytelling and classic style. There are none in this generation that do it better when it comes to pure, old-school wrestling.
While Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler don’t have the flash that some of the other performers on this list possess, they apply holds almost perfectly and know how to sell with the best around. When looking for a great technical match every time, look no further than FTR.
There is no doubt that WWE books Asuka poorly the majority of the time, but when she is allowed to showcase her talents, there is no better woman. When the Raw women's champion has actually got time on a pay-per-view card with elite talent, she put on Match of the Night contenders every time, such as her matches against Sasha Banks at Survivor Series and Bayley at SummerSlam.
Instead of squandering Asuka in a meaningless tag team with Lana, WWE should be building up viable contenders who can take the gold from the Empress and letting her mow them down. Whether it's Charlotte, Ronda Rousey or Becky Lynch, Asuka is more than capable of holding down the women's division from an in-ring perspective until someone returns to give her a viable challenger.
2. Daniel Bryan
When we look back on the world of wrestling 25 years from now, Daniel Bryan will likely be considered one of the greatest in-ring technicians ever. For many, Bryan is the best and everyone else is fighting for second place.
What makes the current version of Bryan so much fun is that he has the same skills as before, but his experience has made him a wiser performer. Add in the fact that he came back after being forced to retire, and Bryan values his ability to wrestle now more than ever.
Look no further than Bryan's matches this year against Drew Gulak, The Fiend and Jey Uso to understand just how great he still is in the ring.
1. Kenny Omega
There is no better pure wrestler on Earth today than AEW world champion Kenny Omega. Whether it's in a singles match or in tag team contests, Omega has proved in 2020 what everyone already knew; he's The Best Bout Machine and a seven-star athlete.
In 2020, Omega stole the show with the likes of Jon Moxley, Adam Page and Penta El Zero Miedo on his own, and he made headlines with Page as his partner against the Young Bucks at Revolution and FTR at All Out.
As if his in-ring performances were not enough on AEW programming, the possibility that Omega starts working other shows like Impact Wrestling and AAA could mean even more displays of his ability moving forward.
The best in the world is about to shine around the globe in 2021.
For more wrestling talk, listen to Ring Rust Radio for all of the hot topics or catch the latest episode in the player above (some language NSFW).