|Credit for all images for this article: WWE.com.|
Only one champion in WWE can say they held their title for the entire calendar year 2018. And his name is Pete Dunne. Dunne went from little known in the United States to an international superstar thanks to the UK tournament and his subsequent appearances on NXT television. He defended his title in the calendar year thirteen times with names like Zack Gibson, Kyle O'Reilly, Noam Dar, Danny Burch, Morgan Webster and Ricochet in the list of names he's taken on and walked away still champion.
Contributor Christopher Cummings chose Dunne as his personal best wrestler of the year, saying, "He is at the top of his game, and with his young age the sky isn’t even the limit for him." With his now full time status as a WWE-only talent, it's likely he will continue to wrestler for both NXT and NXT UK for the foreseeable future. But it seems like a matter of time before Dunne brings his unique style to the main roster and continues to turn heads for a long time to come.
4. AJ Styles
Styles held the WWE championship for almost the entire calendar year. Every match he wrestled ranged from good to great. But unfortunately for Styles, much of his reign was mired in head-scratching storytelling produced by the WWE creative team.
Early in the year he put on strong showings with a match against both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn and a victory in a six pack challenge that featured all three men plus John Cena, Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler. But it was the dream rematch between Styles and Nakamura that turned much of the rest of the year sour. A slow match kicked off the feud and Nakamura's heel turn did little to light the fire between both men. Styles scored victory after victory against Nakamura as the feud seemed to stretch on forever. Things brightened a bit when he took on Samoa Joe over the summer, but much like Nakamura, the WWE creative team didn't seem to know how to tell the story without stretching it far longer than it should go.
Yet despite the mired storytelling, Styles stayed solidly in the main event of Smackdown for the entire year, even after dropping his title to Daniel Bryan. It seems doubtful Styles will have an any less eventful 2019.
3. Seth Rollins
2018 wasn't a good year for Raw. But if one performer showed he could consistently deliver top level performances on a brand mired in stupid storytelling decisions and ill-advised pushes, it was Seth Rollins. The Architect took the top face position for much of the year, even if WWE creative desperately wanted that role to go to Roman Reigns. He stepped up in a major way after Reigns went on hiatus.
The one dark mark against him was the lackluster Dean Ambrose match at TLC, a poorly paced battle that seemed like anything but a blood feud between two friends turned bitter enemies. But even with that asterisk to end the year, Rollins had a great 2018. It should be interesting to see where he's positioned in 2019 and whether or not the company's interest in doing things differently helps or hinders him to get into the Universal title picture.
2. Tommaso Ciampa
Ciampa entered the year on the injured list. He finished the year as the number one wrestler on several contributor's lists. As a person that backed the skills of Tommaso Ciampa since his days wrestling in Ring of Honor, it excites me to no end to see him finally rise to the level he's always been capable of reaching. With NXT creative behind him, he's become one of the most solid talents the brand has, and ended up a dominant champion in the process.
He started the year attacking his former partner Johnny Gargano. He would go on to fight Johnny at three straight Takeover events and every match can be considered a match of the year contender. Their feud was unarguably the hottest in WWE in the calendar year, and maybe in all of wrestling. They showed that long term storytelling can still work and in the process managed to change the shape of NXT.
His win over Aleister Black secured him an NXT championship. He's since defended the title against both Gargano and Velveteen Dream, with another showdown against Aleister Black assured in the new year. Tommaso seems positioned for a major call up to the main roster when they're ready for it, but the worst thing that could happen to him now is a call up before they're ready for him. He's a one of a kind talent that will hopefully continue to shine in 2019.
We're just a few short hours from the best wrestler in the world in 2018? Who will it be? Stay tuned to find out the man who takes the prize!