|Image credit: WWE.com.|
Ever since he made his return to the main roster after Wrestlemania, Drew McIntyre clearly seemed set for bigger things in WWE. His run in NXT felt odd, a short babyface title run in the main event ended by injury. But as Dolph Ziggler's ally and partner, he started to show a lot of the fire fans saw from him on the indies and in Impact. As poor a storytelling tool as it was for Braun, his alignment with McIntyre and Ziggler also increased the tag team's profile.
And while McIntyre ranks fifteenth this year, he could very well have a better 2019, as it seems clear he's being groomed to be one of the top heels for the company in the new year.
|Image credit: WWE.com.|
14. Daniel Bryan
Bryan's position at number fourteen on this list is an example of how much WWE can botch their storytelling. His return at Wrestlemania to team with Shane against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn should have lit a huge run for him. Instead he was mired in a feud with Big Cass in the aftermath, the purpose of which no one seems to understand. Though Cass took him out multiple times on television, their pay-per-view clashes were complete destruction for the big man. The last battle came with the news just hours later of Cass's release. Team Hell No made the Extreme Rules poster but their match started with an awful backstage angle and basically involved Bryan being beaten down by both men and slinking off from the tag division after the match.
Everyone thought the feud with The Miz would reignite the fire. Instead it felt like an average Kurt Angle feud in Impact with dirty trick shenanigans ending the matches instead of clever storytelling. His Crown Jewel match was moved to television after he refused to fly to Saudi Arabia and he lost the title to AJ Styles. Bryan's return was an absolute mess, leaving him as a lackluster upper midcarder.
But what a change a heel turn out of nowhere can make. Say what you will about WWE, but Smackdown offered a few brilliant storytelling points in the second half of the year and Bryan's heel turn to win the title was everything Shinsuke Nakamura's was not. Though he lost to Lesnar at Survivor Series, his heel role made that far more acceptable and he can enter 2019 on far more secure footing as Smackdown's top villain.
|Cody and wife Brandi Rhodes, before his US title match at Wrestle Kingdom.|
Image credit: @CodyRhodes on Twitter.
I'm personally a bit surprised at how high Cody made it on this list, until I remember that we might have a few old school NWA fans in this voting pool. He did have several significant matches over the year, but far less than he did in the previous year. Yet he made those matches count, with an ROH win over Kenny Omega, his US title victory over Juice Robinson and of course, his winning of the NWA title at ALL IN.
Of course if out of the ring achievements were part of this list, his production of ALL IN alongside the Bucks should have put him in a three way tie for first place. ALL IN proved a ton of naysayers wrong and helped increase the three men's cred enough to form an entire promotion around it in 2019.
That being said, Cody has promised he will miss a significant part of the early year with a desperately needed knee surgery, which puts a lot of his 2019 into question. But he's still in his early thirties, so his recovery should offer him a lot of years to keep doing what he does best and AEW could vary well reduce his schedule to a level that can maintain his health for years to come.
|Image credit: WWE.com.|
Samoa Joe is the teflon man of WWE. Because it doesn't seem to matter how many losses he's given, he still comes out with high marks and in a good position. Of course, a lot of that can be put to his brutality in the ring. Joe makes everything look real and painful. At 39 and 280 pounds, he still moves like a Cruiserweight a decade younger. The man can go.
And he certainly wrestled his share of great matches in 2018. In the matter of a few short weeks, he faced Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and AJ Styles. His feud with Styles would get highly personal as he would cut some of his best heel promos ever. After that feud though, his year seemed to fizzle as he left the Survivor Series match in short order and has since been mired in a go-nowhere feud with Jeff Hardy.
Joe may never make it to the World or Universal title, but it's clear he's placed to be a major player whenever WWE wants him to be. Honestly, that's a pretty great place to be right there.
|Photo credit: Impact Wrestling on Twitter.|
11. Penta El Zero M
Call him Penta El Ciero Miedo, Pentagon Jr, Pentagon Dark or just Pentagon, he's now a dominant force in professional wrestling. He entered the year as just a Lucha Underground star and an indie mainstay for places like AAW and PWG. But Alberto El Patron's own idiocy over Mania weekend cost him a job at Impact and opened a door for his scheduled opponents at the Impact / Lucha Underground crossover show he missed. Fenix and Pentagon both immediately made their presence known and in his second ever Impact match, Pentagon beat Austin Aries for the World title. He would drop it back to Aries soon enough, but he cemented a spot on the Impact main roster that has listed since. He's since feuded with Sami Callihan and OVE and the LAX.
After leaving AAA in somewhat controversial fashion in 2016, he returned to that company as well, with his Mexican bookings featuring him in The Crash, AAA and CMLL, basically every major company in the country.
And yet still his most significant appearance might be as one of the hired talents at ALL IN, where he faced off with Kenny Omega in a certified dream match. Though he failed to pick up the W, even more people now knew about Cero Miedo.
Pentagon and his brother Fenix have been rumored targets of WWE for months. But with AEW in the mix, it looks like Penta may have two major promotions looking to sign him very soon.