So that is it for another year. In the last 12 months, WWE has waved goodbye to some veterans, given new stars their chance in the spotlight and seen their flagship show taken over by a group of upstarts collectively known as ‘The Nexus’.
But amongst all the in-ring combat and verbal gesticulation, which performers have stood out from the crowd? Here is my dectet that has made WWE worth watching in 2010…
10. Michael Cole
Okay, strictly speaking the Raw announcer is not a ‘Superstar’, but he has been one of the most prominent figures on screen this year. Previously disliked as a face for his annoying commentary terms such as “controlled frenzy”, “vintage” and “this could be the turning point in the match up”, Cole has upped his game since switching to the dark side. The former war reporter – as he often reminds us – has gone all Fox News; not just explaining what is occurring in front of his eyes, but putting his own warped, heelish and biased spin on it as well – and that has been extremely enjoyable to watch.
Cole’s hatred of Indy wowmonger Daniel Bryan – and subsequent exchanges with him on the inaugural season of NXT – has been inspired, as has his unerring man-love towards new WWE champion The Miz, and his constant bickering with Jerry Lawler in the Monday-night announce booth. Cole’s other job as reader of the anonymous Raw general manager’s e-mails has garnered him tremendous heat from the audience; he is detested to almost Vickie Guerrero-esque proportions. This time last year Cole was an irritating, over-the-top commentator; he still is, but due to his new-found nasty streak, he’s now compelling with it.
9. Alberto Del Rio
John Bradshaw Layfield with a Spanish accent has made a tremendous impact since he debuted on Smackdown this past summer. Del Rio’s catalogue of vignettes in which he swaggered around a pristine mansion detailing how he was better than the rest of us wore a little thin after a while, but once he showed up in person, winked, masqueraded, enunciated, smirked and made his fellow luchador Rey Mysterio tap out on his introductory night, the arrogant Mexican has not looked back.
Del Rio’s pompous idiosyncrasies and excellent in-ring ability – highlighted most by his spinning flying armbar finisher and stunning high kick while his opponent is perched on the turnbuckle – has won him many plaudits, and his constant battles with Mysterio have been a notable bright spot on a less-than-top-notch Smackdown since the show was massacred by the annual WWE draft. Dos Caras, Jr. has become a big player in 2010, emphasised by his cavalcade of expensive motors and rotund, R-rolling personal ring announcer, but 2011 could be even more profitable. Should I have the time or inclination to compile this list again at the end of the next annum, the gold-trunked superstar will surely be a lot higher up it.
Having been WWE champion twice in 2010 and secured the King of the Ring crown, a place at number eight may seem a little lowly for the Celtic Warrior. There was much scepticism when the Irishman won Raw’s ultimate gold at TLC in 2009, but he eased those doubts the following year, with gradual improvement both in the ring and on the mic to supplement his intimidating look.
Sheamus’ on-off feud with Randy Orton impressed me, if not everyone else, as has his year-ending spat – and ladder match – with John Morrison, but the fiery redhead’s definitive moment of 2010 was his interaction with and decimation of Triple H which ended The Game’s career – temporarily of course. That cemented his position in the WWE’s top tier, and although there have been periods this term when Vince McMahon and the other higher ups have been unsure what do with him, Sheamus has still had a superb first full year in the ‘E.
7. Rey Mysterio
While his perennial against-the-odds victories can cause the IWC to groan, you cannot deny that Rey brings his A-game to almost every match he competes in, usually whilst injured, and over the years he has also become more adept at building a feud outside the ropes as well. The masked man’s rivalry with CM Punk was one of my favourites of 2010, and although not a patch on that, Rey’s summer jaunts with Kane, Jack Swagger and, for a short phase, the World Heavyweight title were still pretty decent.
Mysterio’s aforementioned altercations with the supercilious Del Rio have been of the highest quality and although the ‘Essence of Excellence’ has all the tools himself, he has been aided no end by the workmanship of the 619-delivering fans’ paramour. God knows how Rey is able to perform to such a high standard with all the ailments he has, but thankfully he does. It may be difficult to call Mysterio the best wrestler in the WWE, but he is certainly one of the most consistent.
6. Randy Orton
I can hear it now. “You heathen. You idiot. You know nothing about wrestling. How can you put the most over superstar in the company at number six?” I’ll tell you why. For all the vociferous crowd reaction and the excitement you feel when The Viper hits top gear in his matches, he has not had a vintage year. The face turn, forced by the audience’s want rather than the WWE’s, has worked tremendously, but his in-ring escapades have not quite hit the heights – through very little fault of his own mind you.
His year-opening feud with his former Legacy cohorts Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes was a massive let down script-wise and culminated in a less-than-stellar WrestleMania meeting, while a potentially captivating series with Edge was, for some reason, cut off in its prime. Orton’s still had some high points; his programme with Sheamus, his part in the WWE Title storyline involving John Cena and Wade Barrett, his spectacular mid-air RKO on Evan Bourne, and his recent encounters with The Miz. The Viper remains possibly the most captivating member of the roster, and it is testament to him that despite some shoddy writing, he has had a year that nearly every other superstar would have relished.
5. Daniel Bryan
2010 has been an up-and-down year for the Internet darling, but he has ended it in a great place as the United States champion. It was back in February when The American Dragon first showcased the skills that had bowled over the Indy faithful to a wider audience, when he appeared on the premier season of NXT. Bryan’s opening gambit on the show was a suicide dive onto Chris Jericho, leaving his opponent flattened, himself wounded but the watching masses aware that this guy was something special. Any lingering doubts that the former Ring of Honor star could not thrive in the vocal-based world of the WWE were put to bed during some terrifically impassioned tirades towards his critical pro, The Miz, and his arch nemesis, Michael Cole.
Unfortunately his year took a turn for the worse when during The Nexus’ opening night of demolition on Raw, Bryan overzealously choked ring announcer Justin Roberts and was fired for not keeping to the PG edict – quite harsh really when you consider this PG edict allows one man to be buried alive and another to be crushed by 23 chairs. Nevertheless, Bryan was not to be deterred and had me out of my seat when he returned as the surprise final member of the Raw squad that battled Team Nexus at SummerSlam. Having poached the US title from ex-mentor The Miz and indulged in some spellbinding contests with Intercontinental Champion Dolph Ziggler, Bryan has finished 2010 in style, exhibiting to all who watch him that the online adulation he has received is fully merited, and then some.
For years Kane trod water in the WWE, switching from face to heel and back again and acting as nothing but a glorified jobber. That changed in 2010, though, as the Big Red Monster finally returned to the top of the card. After accusing all around him of attacking his injury-stricken brother The Undertaker, Kane was eventually exposed as the culprit himself. A feud between the two readily ensued, but it wasn’t ‘Taker who stole the show, it was his bitter sibling.
World Heavyweight champion Kane was given the opportunity to speak at length, a responsibility he had not been afforded in ages, and how he flourished. His eerie tone, descriptive choice of words and creepy laugh were a captivating listen, transforming his rivalry with The Deadman from one that was bemoaned, to one that, at least on my part, was looked forward to. Kane’s in-ring work was as solid as ever, and coupled with his gripping efforts outside the ropes, ensured he had a terrific year. The only question that remains is why couldn’t he have been handed such a major role more often?
3. The Miz
If 2009 was The Miz’s breakout year, then 2010 was when he became a staple of the upper echelons; tag-team champion, United States champion, Money in the Bank briefcase holder and now the big one, WWE champion. Without trying to sound like Michael Cole, everything the man touches turns to gold. NXT was better for his presence and he has aided the progression of both his rookies; Daniel Bryan, who has already made his mark, and Alex Riley, who should do at some point. The Miz also brought back some credibility to Raw’s midcard belt, making it a prize that people wanted to chase, and his step up to the main-event scene as the year has gone one has been a much-needed fillip for Monday nights.
Miz is one of the most natural orators around, and can deliver the heartfelt and meaningful promos as well as the cocky ones he is best known for, and if you watch his matches carefully, you will see that he has improved infinitely in the ring, too. Miz showed up in the WWE under the guise of a reality-TV-famed-goon, but through an abundance of charisma and a willingness to pay his dues, he has become one of the premier reasons to watch professional wrestling. He says he is a must-see champion, and he is not wrong; he really has been awesome in 2010.
2. Wade Barrett
Perhaps it’s the Englishman in me that has ranked the inaugural victor of NXT so highly up this list, but I don’t think it is, because wherever you are from you cannot contest that Barrett has had a magnificent 12 months. This time last year he was an unknown, a nobody plying his trade in WWE’s developmental system, waiting for his chance to get noticed. Then came the opportunity he had been striving for, NXT. The show was trying to find the ‘next breakout star’ and it discovered it in Barrett. While he was aided by his pro, the multi-faceted Chris Jericho, the Preston grappler was the standout of WWE’s newest brainchild. He had the best concoction of looks, charisma and in-ring capabilities, and rightfully won the competition.
But no-one could have predicted just how successful he would be in such a short time span. He has revelled in his role as leader of the anarchic Nexus and looked liked he belonged at the apex of the WWE as soon as he debuted on Raw. As bold a statement as this is, Barrett has been the best talker in the company this year and has helped turn a group of unheralded, inexperienced punks into a legitimate threat to the WWE establishment, creating with it one of the most intriguing and dynamic angles in ages. With further fine tuning of his wrestling skills, the sky really will be the limit for Barrett. 2010 was a magnificent year him, but it should just be the start of a long and triumphant tenure at the top.
1. John Cena
Considering John Cena is about as popular with most of the IWC as a fart is in a lift, I expect there will be plenty of heavy tutting at my decision to put him at the zenith of my stars of 2010. But I do not care because it is the correct call. His feud with Batista at the beginning of the year was miles better than expected; it had a terrific back story with both men trying to prove they were WWE’s 21st century poster boy, and ended spectacularly when Batista was given an Attitude Adjustment off a car and through the stage at Over the Limit.
However, it was Cena’s seven month-long feud with The Nexus, and the emotional journey that accompanied it, that really set him apart from everybody else. From wanting revenge on the clutch of thugs that had harmed him, to doing his best to protect the Raw brand, through putting his career on the line to expunge the lawless faction, to finally earning liberation by burying Nexus’ former head honcho Barrett under a barrage of steel chairs. The torment he exuded was superb, and was a sea change from the kiddie-friendly persona that had grown stale over the last couple of years. Plenty of superstars shone in 2010, but Cena, both inside and outside of the ropes, glistened brightest.