|Sami made Impact his home and has torn his way to a major spot in the promotion in 2018.|
Anyone watching Impact Wrestling knows that Sami has become something of the MVP for the promotion. He's been the catalyst of multiple storylines, even as he also wrestles regularly for Lucha Underground, multiple independents across the country and his own Pro Wrestling Revolver here in Iowa. Sami's carved out his own career in his post-NXT life and shows no sign of slowing down at all!
34. Joey Janela
Speaking of talents that have made major names for themselves on the independents without setting foot in a WWE ring, Joey Janela has made a name for himself for his insane style and his avant garde shows with Game Changer Wrestling. The Bad Boy showed off in front of an even larger audience at ALL IN. Whether that leads to a future with All Elite Wrestling remains to be seen, but he's got a ton of things ahead whether he's injured or not.
33. Tessa Blanchard
Arguably the most over female talent on the American independents, WWE flirted repeatedly with Tessa but never pulled the trigger on signing her. Their loss proved to be Impact's gain as the company rebuilt much of the Knockouts Division around Tessa in the second half of 2018. With good character work and talent in the ring to back it up, Tessa likely will have a lot more big matches ahead of her in the future.
32. Roman Reigns
The only full time wrestler to hold the WWE Universal Champion in the last calendar year, Reigns managed to put in some good showings even if his Hogan-esque beatdown into huge comeback style has grown stale. Yet it's out of the ring news that most shaped his life this year as he stepped down from the championship when he announced the return of his leukemia that he fought before his WWE career. It's a far greater fight than one in any wrestling ring and here's hoping he proves just as dominant.
|Image credit: WWE.com.|
I don't want Velveteen Dream on the main roster anytime soon. But he's easily the best character worker on the NXT roster and has show at Takeover after Takeover that he's one of the roster's best in ring performers. Though he's fallen short of the NXT title now on multiple shows, he never comes out looking like he wasn't game to win it and he could continue to grow as a major player for the brand for years to come. His character should be able to transplant easily to a WWE ring as well, but if WWE has shown anything in recent years, it is an inability to handle the placement for their call ups. They've fumbled far more often than they succeed and a failed call up for Dream could kill the character dead in its tracks. Velveteen Dream could be the next huge main event star WWE needs, but only if the promotion realizes what they have before it's too late.
30. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura suffered an awful push to the main event in a seemingly endless feud with AJ Styles that answered the question, "Even WWE can't mess this feud up, right?" The two men never really were allowed to just go out and wrestle a great extended match and while none of their five(!) encounters were stinkers, his failure to win the title in any of them derailed his momentum. He did have a strong run as United States champion, but no one needs a brand change on the WWE roster more than Nakamura right now.
29. Marty Scurll
The Villain wrestled Kazuchika Okada to a standstill at ALL IN yet somehow managed to perhaps have the least eventful year of The Elite. He remains the only member of The Elite still active in ROH (for now) with several months still left on his contract in 2019.
28. Finn Balor
Fans of the first Universal Champion and former leader of the Bullet Club had a frustrating 2018. While Finn wrestled very few bad matches, he also received very little significant to do as part of the Raw roster. He could easily be moved back into a main event position for the company, but seems destined to an endless purgatory on the upper midcard of the product.
|Image credit: WWE.com.|
The numbers on this list disagree with my personal opinion, but I believe no one had a better year of wrestling on the main roster than the man dubbed "the Heart of 205 Live." He entered the year as something of a midcarder still on that brand, but his brand rose with the sudden termination of Enzo Amore. His first pay-per-view appearance came at Wrestlemania in a loss to Cedric Alexander for the Cruiserweight title. From there, he consistently put on amazing match after amazing match but never managed to score the title. After making his Smackdown debut in an amazing match with Daniel Bryan, he moved permanently to that roster and now finds his incredible wrestling skills rewarded with a very similar position in a much bigger brand. It may be Sasha Banks' music, but it sure seems like the sky's the limit for Mustafa Ali in 2019.
26. Brian Cage
He's not a man, he's a machine. So goes his catchphrase in Lucha Underground and if you look at the number of matches he wrestled around the world in 2018, you would definitely agree. A regular on both Lucha Underground and on Impact, where he spent several months plowing through the competition on the road to the X Division title, he enters 2019 as the contender to Impact's top title. His size, charisma and amazing abilities make him a talent anyone could build a promotion around, so I won't be surprised to see him at the top of Impact going into their run on Pursuit.
25. Hangman Page
I started 2018 not quite understanding why Adam Page even was a member of the Bullet Club. Sure, he joined mostly so Adam Cole could have a second during his run, but his continued presence proved odd when New Japan had Chase Owens to serve as the Bullet Club fall guy when necessary. It was Being the Elite that cemented Page's place in the wrestling world, starting with a rather silly story revolving around WWE kidnapping him that inadvertently lead to Jimmy Jacobs' termination from his writing job at WWE last year. Since that time, he's cemented himself as the weirdo loose cannon of the bunch while getting himself over with solid matches on cards across the country. His battle with Joey Janela at ALL IN was incredibly fun for anyone that watching the web series and probably terribly confusing for anyone that hasn't.
24. Chris Jericho
The Alpha wrestled only five matches in 2018, yet somehow made the year one of the most eventful of his career. He returned to New Japan in a brutal match with Kenny Omega at the Tokyo Dome in January, but turned his attention towards Naito for much of the rest of the year. A spot in The Greatest Royal Rumble proved his only WWE in ring appearance, but from there he went on to beat Naito for the Intercontinental title and defend it against EVIL. He made a shocking appearance at ALL IN that involved an insane flight schedule just to make a couple minute attack on Kenny Omega after Omega's match with Pentagon before facing Omega again in the six man Bullet Club versus Alpha Club match on his own cruise event. An eventful year with some great matches, proving the 48 year old star is still an expert at reinvention.
23. Ronda Rousey
For a talent that just debuted at Wrestlemania, Rousey's run in WWE can only be described as impressive. She hasn't wrestled a bad match in the promotion despite limited training time in advance. And while WWE has certainly been careful to book her well, she's done it while wrestling a lot more matches than the other current UFC crossover talent on WWE's roster. Her push might be a bit harder than it needs to be, but that only serves to set her up for a greater fall when she does finally drop the title.
|Image credit: WWE.com.|
Kairi Sane was a talent few knew well before she won the Mae Young Classic last year. Since that time, she's put on great match after great match with every appearance on the NXT roster. Yet her career seems defined by her feud with Shayna Baszler, the woman she beat at last year's classic and a woman she's wrestled three times since. She beat Baszler for the title, only to drop it back to the Queen of Spades, which probably is why she falls right behind...
21. Shayna Baszler
Real talk: I think Baszler is an over-pushed talent on NXT. She's very skilled, but her push on NXT television feels like it's at the expense of way too many talents with just as much if not more upside. That being said, only one female talent appeared in every Takeover title match over the year and her name was Shayna Baszler. Her 2019 may be defined by her partners in the Four Horsewomen, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir, as both get their own NXT time as WWE starts the slow build towards Horsewomen versus Horsewomen.
A few names surprised me on this section of this list. Did anyone fall higher than you expected? Or lower? Let me know in the comments below!
We conclude this week and the first four-fifths of the list with the Queen of Spades, but will return Monday with the next ten names on the list!