Judging which wrestlers are the definitive “best” so soon into the decade may seem premature. But as with any era in pro wrestling, so many talents deserve praise in this new decade.
With how many wrestling promotions there are floating around nowadays — from the number one wrestling company, WWE, to its chief rival, AEW — it can be almost daunting determining which wrestlers are at their absolute best right now. However, it's also tough to ignore the popularity, in-ring performances, and rising stardom of several wrestlers who have accomplished so much within just a few years.
From WWE's main stars to high-flying wrestlers working in NJPW and AEW, here are some of the greatest wrestlers of the 2020s we've seen thus far, ranked from best to worst.
Given his status as one of the founders of AEW, you'd expect Kenny Omega to push himself to the head of the company, a la Triple H, amidst his infamous Reign of Terror. Thankfully, that wasn't the case for Omega, who settled for a more lax upper midcard position by the end of the 2010s.
At the beginning of the 2020s, fans witnessed the return of NJPW's Best Bout Machine of old, culminating in Omega winning the AEW World Championship from Jon Moxley in December 2020. From there, Omega elevated himself to the top of AEW's programming, appearing alongside his continuously repopulated Elite faction. It was a return to form for the Cleaner, punctuated by a nearly-year-long title reign and memorable feuds against Moxley, Christian Cage, and former tag partner “Hangman” Adam Page.
Few wrestlers have had the journey Bryan Danielson has had. Making a name for himself in various indie promotions by the latter 2000s, Danielson used his technical wrestling skills and popularity among fans to climb the rungs of WWE TV, winning the WWE Championship on multiple occasions.
Hypothetically, Danielson could have taken the predictable route regarding his career, staying in WWE and regularly competing in the world title picture. But, instead, Danielson chose to return to the hard-hitting matches he'd left behind in ROH, signing with AEW and once again becoming the “American Dragon,” Bryan Danielson. Instantly cementing his place in the company, his first match against Kenny Omega earned rave reviews from fans and critics, serving as the greatest televised AEW match in the company's short history.
As great as he was in WWE, Jon Moxley has been having the time of his life as AEW's reliable top talent. An amalgamation of Mick Foley, Steve Austin, and half of ECW's classic roster, Moxley has been AEW's workhorse since signing with the company in 2019, carrying the promotion on his back with minimal rest or recovery periods in-between.
Winning the AEW World Championship on three separate occasions in the latter half of 2022 (amidst some serious backstage issues in the company's locker room), Moxley proved himself a wrestler fans could depend on even in the worst times. Like Danielson, he could've taken the easy way out, cashing his paycheck and enjoying some vacation time at home; instead, Moxley gave it his all, regularly competing in some of AEW's most brutal matches, all for the sake of AEW and entertaining the fans at ringside.
Cody Rhodes has had an incredible career. Joining WWE at an incredibly young age (he was only 22 when he debuted on Raw), Rhodes had numerous highs and crippling lows during his nine-year stint with the company. Displeased over the creative direction of his character, Rhodes opted to leave, reinventing himself in Impact, ROH, and NJPW as the “American Nightmare” we know today.
Using his position as one of the foremost minds behind AEW, Rhodes helped elevate the promotion from behind the curtain and inside the ring. While Rhodes might've stayed in AEW, working with owner Tony Khan to ensure it continued to run as efficiently as possible, he opted to return to WWE, making his triumphant comeback at WrestleMania 38. Looking to make his father (the iconic Dusty Rhodes) proud, Rhodes has consistently appeared as a top performer on Raw, making his intentions to win the WWE Championship crystal clear from the off-set finally.
If Jon Moxley is AEW's dependable workhorse, the same can be said for NJPW's Kazuchika Okada. Building off the momentum he'd built throughout the previous decade, Okada has continued to have an impressive track record into the 2020s, serving as the company's star attraction (a position he's held since his amazing feud with Hiroshi Tanahashi in the mid-2010s).
Commonly considered one of the best wrestlers in the world today, Okada's matches in NJPW have continued to be some of the finest in the promotion's lengthy history. His storyline and subsequent bouts with former protege Will Ospreay have been nothing short of fantastic, as have Okada's matches against the likes of Kota Ibushi and the various members of Los Ingobernables de Japón (specifically Tetsuya Naito and Shingo Takagi).
By the late 2010s, it was apparent that NJPW's future was Will Ospreay. The English wrestler, not yet out of his twenties, could perform athletic feats straight out of The Matrix. By 2020, the stage was set for Ospreay's ascension to the top of NJPW, leading to him turning his back on his mentor, Kazuchika Okada, and setting out on his own as the leader of the United Empire.
Quickly winning the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, Ospreay has been a rising star in NJPW. He's one of the rare wrestling talents who elevates every performer he competes against, making himself and his opponent look outstanding in the process. For clear evidence, look at his long list of five-star matches. His bouts against Okada, Shingo Takagi, Hiromu Takahashi, and Kenny Omega ranked among the best wrestling matches ever.
It's no secret that fans hated Roman Reigns when Vince McMahon was pushing him to fill John Cena's place as the face of WWE in the 2010s. Months into 2020, though, Reigns finally embraced his critical lack of popularity among fans, becoming the villainous Tribal Chief in the process.
Ditching his old Shield-era tactical vest and with Paul Heyman by his side, Reigns has been having his most successful run in WWE thus far, holding the WWE Universal Championship for well over two whole years. Amazingly, every month, new, better storylines develop around him (from his leadership of the Bloodline to his feuds with Brock Lesnar, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn).
As with his former Shield stablemates, Seth Rollins has been enjoying incredible success in WWE for over a decade, only managing to continue that momentum into the 2020s.
The modern equivalent of Chris Jericho, Rollins' main appeal as a wrestler has always been his ability to recreate himself when fans were tired of repeatedly seeing the same old gimmick.
Beginning the 2020s as the cult leader-esque Monday Night Messiah, Rollins had some entertaining feuds against Kevin Owens, Drew McIntyre, and Buddy Murphy. After disbanding his fanatical faction, Rollins entered his “Visionary” phase, dressing in colorful attire straight off of a Jimi Hendrix vinyl cover. As you might expect, it's an eccentric character that works well for the chameleon-like Rollins, who's continued to remain exciting and consistently entertaining as the years have passed.
Maxwell Jacob Friedman may have started in the indies, but he's since become one of the mainstay attractions in AEW. Cutting incendiary promos weekly, he has a silver tongue not seen since the likes of Ric Flair and Roddy Piper in the late 1980s.
Regularly referring to himself as the “Devil,” it's hard to dispute the comparison. With a microphone in his hand, MJF has proven to fans worldwide his ability to draw heat from a crowd and get an entire arena booing him so loudly that it's almost impossible to hear his entrance music. It doesn't matter if he's on his own or serving as a group leader; AEW has an unequivocal star in their hands with MJF, who — still only in his mid-twenties — has an extraordinarily bright future ahead of him.
The main thing we can do right now is pray that Big E wrestles again after his potentially career-ending neck injury in March 2022. But even more than that, we can also look back at his career within WWE with fondness and admiration.
Big E will forever remain synonymous with his brilliant faction, the New Day, a group he spent most of the 2010s with. However, when his stablemates Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods were drafted to Raw in 2020, a new era in Big E's career began, leading to Big E winning the Money in the Bank contract and cashing it in to win the WWE Championship from Bobby Lashley.
Holding the title for nearly four months, Big E would enjoy great success as a singles competitor before reuniting with the New Day. Here's hoping we see the big guy follow in the footsteps of Shawn Michaels, Bryan Danielson, and Edge, taking time to mend his body before returning to WWE.
With all the recent controversies surrounding his prickly backstage behavior, it's easy to dismiss CM Punk as a self-seeking glory hound who only cares about his own prominent status in whatever company he wrestles in. Love him or hate him, though, you cannot argue that his momentous comeback to the wrestling world after a seven-year-long hiatus was anything except awe-inspiring.
After all, this is the same man who blew the roof of the United Center when he first debuted in AEW. Punk showed definite signs of ring rust in the ring, having slowed down quite a bit since his peak days in WWE. But on the microphone and in his various storylines, Punk hadn't aged at all, able to manipulate an audience's emotions the same way he had in WWE throughout the late 2000s and early 2010s.
At the close of the 2010s, Adam Cole was essentially the face of WWE's NXT brand, characterized by Cole's run as the longest-reigning NXT Champion. However, even after losing his title, Cole remained utterly enthralling to watch, especially in his feud against former Undisputed Era stablemate Kyle O'Reilly.
A natural entertainer in whatever company he's signed with, Cole left WWE for the seemingly greener pastures of AEW in 2021, reuniting with his close friends Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks in the Elite. He may not have won any titles yet, but his time in AEW has been immensely satisfying to watch, as have his matches with Orange Cassidy and “Hangman” Adam Page.
It's not often you see a wrestler succeed while still relegated to a secondary position in a faction. A prime example of this phenomenon is Shingo Takagi, a supporting member of Los Ingobernables de Japón who won the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship in a surprise victory over Kazuchika Okada.
Combining his impressive physical strength with his high-flying background in the Cruiserweights, Takagi has been a breath of fresh air in NJPW since his ascension in 2021. Unlike his stablemate Naito, he may not have the dramatic flair to win audiences over with this personality. Yet, he demonstrates some first-rate in-ring abilities, making him an outstanding wrestler to see perform in NJPW.
After being treated as a joke for the better part of his initial WWE run from 2008 to 2014, Drew McIntyre successfully reinvented himself in various indie promotions. Bulking up his physique and growing a dark beard, McIntyre went from lower-midcard stooge into full-on Scottish Psychopath by 2017, helping legitimize his return to WWE that same year.
Enjoying decent success in the upper-midcard, McIntyre finally entered the world title picture by 2020, winning the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 36. From there, McIntyre has been at the forefront of WWE programming, feuding against everyone from Seth Rollins to Roman Reigns during his second, more eventful tenure with the promotion.
“Hangman” Adam Page
Within a few years, “Hangman” Adam Page went from being an entertaining but secondary player in the Elite to one of the most popular wrestlers in AEW. Breaking off from his Elite stablemates, Page fought hard to earn a place as a world title contender, falling just short each time he tried in 2021.
However, all that changed at Full Gear 2021 after months of masterful build-up from AEW's creative team. After winning the World Championship from his former tag partner, Kenny Omega, Page jumped to the forefront of AEW, competing against some of the company's top talents (including Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, CM Punk, and Jon Moxley) time and time again.