Hello and welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the second annual AEW Top 10 Wrestlers list. Last year, ahead of Double or Nothing, I revealed my picks for the best acts of AEW Year 1 (May ’19 to May ’20). Since then, three of the Top 10 have been replaced. Cheers to Pac and the Lucha Brothers, who were hindered by pandemic restrictions and otherwise likely would have challenged for repeat Top 10 status. Farewell to SCU, who may have already hit their peak in the company in the inaugural year. I’m actually heading to Jacksonville this weekend for my first live AEW PPV experience, so let’s get to the Year 2 Top 20!
#20 – The Best Friends (Prev.: 12th w/ Orange Cassidy) – The battle for the last spot came down to Chucky T and Trent(?) and their 2020 rivals, Santana and Ortiz. It speaks to the depth of the AEW roster that the Inner Circle members who were just involved in Blood and Guts could not crack the Top 20, but Best Friends earned this spot with incredible mid-card consistency no matter where they were placed on the card. Comedy? Check. A featured main-event title match on a Dynamite 1.5 (Fyter Fest)? Check. An intense pay-off match that garnered top praise from all critics? Check. They have been indispensable on Wednesday nights, popping all over the place and never failing to add value in their spot.
#19 – Matt Hardy (Prev.: unranked) – The value Hardy brings to the AEW team is questionable at times, with singles matches at three pay-per-views and being part of the main-event of a fourth perhaps a little too rich a spot for his age and station. He is an interesting case study here. I personally feel his greatest value would be in a spot comparable to Dustin Rhodes, who I declared last year “AEW’s spot duty all-star.” However, Hardy’s television and pay-per-view time suggest he is far more. That said, if you have a bigger spot, you have to deliver bigger too, and I do not think he has done that often enough to warrant the consistency of his time in the spotlight. It would benefit AEW if someone else was in his Top 20 position a year from now.
#18 – Jurassic Express (Prev.: 17th) – Don’t let the lack of upward mobility year over year fool you; these guys definitely made strides, they just did it in lock step with the rest of the promotion. Jungle Boy is quickly adding a “rising tides lift all ships” dynamic to the group and is fast becoming a legitimate star. Luchasaurus is one of the most versatile big men in the company. Marko Stunt has outkicked his coverage. People love all three guys. They consistently deliver big when given opportunities to shine in either singles or tag team situations. Once they leave featured mid-card status for spot duty headlining, the faction (or individual members like Jack Perry, at least) will pop up much higher on lists like this.
#17 – Sammy Guevara (Prev.: 20th) – Steady progression from last year for Sammy G despite some rocky moments that included a suspension and social sensitivity training and a lot of odd in-ring experiences during his feud with Matt Hardy. For the most part, though, he delivered from bell-to-bell and continued his upward arc as one of the top young stars in AEW, particularly in the character department. He has a natural charisma to him that well compliments his considerable flair inside the squared circle, and that is what I find most intriguing about his long-term potential. Everyone in AEW gets it done on the 20’x20′ canvas, so the real breakout stars will be the ones with the most engaging personalities – Sammy has “it.”
#16 – Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D. (Prev.: unranked) – An argument can be made that she has been the most important member of the women’s division, that her character development has been more important to the steps taken to infuse the division with life than any great match Shida has had during her year-long title reign. As a personality, Dr. Baker has actually been one of the top acts in the company, so I would say that argument holds water. What now needs to happen is she must knock it out of the park on Sunday, take the title (as expected), and deliver the kinds of performances she has at times (i.e. vs. Thunder Rosa, Lights Out) consistently across an extended period. If she can do that, she will have become the complete package and likely be the first woman in AEW lore to become a legit top-level overall star.
#15 – Lance Archer (Prev.: unranked) – A rock solid first 15 months for the Murderhawk Monster. Like many of the big men in AEW, Archer has frequently vacillated between indispensable and underutilized, but as evidenced by his Sting vs. Vader-esque match with Cody at Double or Nothing 2020 and the intensity he brings to every appearance, he will remain a couple of good hype weeks away from getting on the PPV marquee. He would benefit greatly from Tony Khan having an epiphany that one hoss match per PPV should be a must given the modern super heavyweight roster he has amassed. Archer vs. Cage, Archer vs. Wardlow, Archer vs. Luchasaurus. 12-minutes. Slobberknockers. Book ’em! Archer vs. Miro for the TNT Title should be a good start!
#14 – The Dark Order (Prev.: 15th) – Thanks to an enormously impactful six months from Mr. Brodie Lee, the Exalted One, the Dark Order took big strides in Year 2 of AEW. His presence elevated the entire group to the upper echelon and talents like Stu Grayson, John Silver, Anna Jay, and others were given a larger platform to shine. I enjoy a good narrative shift, and perhaps no narrative has shifted to a larger degree during the AEW era than the perception of this once derided faction. Brodie’s career-best work (headlining for the World Title, his feud with Cody Rhodes) made Dark Order a force and his tragic passing transitioned the group into a rather endearing collection of misfits.
#13 – Hikura Shida (Prev.: 19th) – The anchor of the women’s division in Year 2, Shida carried the title in a very Bret Hart-like fashion, working her tail off in the ring and delivering several memorable matches with a variety of stylistically unique opponents. It may not be remembered as her finest outing, but her match at Fyter Fest with Penelope Ford exemplified better than any other the value she brings to the brand, elevating others both in victory and defeat. Nyla Rose was the highest ranked female on the list last year at #14, so it can be tempting to say that the women’s division did not step forward much in Year 2. However, I think Shida was the head of a rock solid class that may have some breakout stars capable of getting into the Top 10 this coming year. If that happens, the women’s division will soar in Year 3.
#12 – Team Taz (Prev.: unranked) – As big a fan of Brian Cage as I am, it has become difficult to separate the accomplishments of the Team Taz members. They have fallen into a nice groove alongside Taz himself, peaking with their match against Sting and Darby Allin at Revolution (a huge opportunity for Cage and Ricky Starks). Cage has yet to fully unleash his skills in AEW, but when he gets the chance to shine, he regularly does. Starks has stolen some of his thunder, complimenting the rants of Taz with his silky smooth microphone delivery, and his in-ring performances have impressed as well, particularly the pay off to his autumn feud with Darby. The competition to break into the Top 10 is stout, but this group has the potential to elevate.
#11 – Eddie Kingston (Prev.: unranked) – Here’s the surprise of the year. From NWA also-ran to the main-event of AEW Full Gear in seven/eight months, Eddie Kingston was arguably the breakout star of AEW in Year 2. He may be the most engaging talker in the game today and being given a live microphone to craft narratives on the TNT stage has put his full potential to the test. It is his verbal communication skills that make you wonder if he can climb higher up the hierarchical ladder, but generally he is proof positive of why AEW needs to exist in the world of pro wrestling today. He used his mic prowess to get red hot, and AEW played the hot hand while simultaneously boosting their World Champion’s profile. Now, he and that former World Champion are challenging for the Tag Team Titles and on the marquee at another PPV. Hats off to the Mad King.
#10 – Orange Cassidy (Prev.: 12th with Best Friends, unranked solo) – The King of Sloth Style has undoubtedly had one of the most unexpected great years of any modern wrestler. He worked his way quickly into AEW consciousness and has produced in every way asked of him. Apparently he moves the needle in the ratings, according to Tony Khan; he had the great match with Jericho at Fyter Fest; headlined All Out with Jericho; and he just keeps remaining relevant no matter where they put him on the card (see his Full Gear bout with John Silver, which was tremendous for what it was and showcased that OC has the skill to elevate others). Now, he is about to headline Double or Nothing 2021 for the World Title. My goodness, right!? Will it be onward and upward? One of the interesting things about AEW is that the competition to get these featured spots has become fierce; friendly in the modern NBA type of way, but fierce.
#9 – “Hangman” Adam Page (Prev.: 6th) – In one of the oddest rankings of the year, Adam Page had a better Year 2 but fell three spots from his Year 1 standing just because so many other stars had stellar 2020/21’s. His story has steadily progressed – although some could argue it has stalled – and he remains, like MJF is for the dark side, the babyface knocking on the door of an incredible star-enhancing shift up the card that offers him that rare chance to become a true legendary figure, perhaps a Magnum TA for his generation. His Eliminator Tournament final against Kenny Omega at Full Gear was one of the best matches of Year 2, destined to climb lists of opening match greatness. He headlined Double or Nothing and was on the marquee at All Out. Page is a bonafide star.
#8 – Darby Allin (Prev.: 11th) – Good enough in Year 1 to lead the second group of ten in the Top 20, Darby moved up and arrived at the top of the upper mid-card ready to make a considerable impact in Year 2. Sometimes, you just have to love and appreciate the chance to see a talent like him blossom. From his personalized videos featuring celebrities to his matches with Moxley and Cody to the pairing with Sting that saw him headline a PPV for the first time to the plethora of awesome matches he wrestled with the TNT Title on the line, Allin has reached a point in his career when comparisons to Sting and Jeff Hardy seem realistic. He is going to continue to rise and it will be interesting to see how much further growth he can make in the next year.
#7 – Cody Rhodes (Prev.: 4th) – You know, it’s a weird dynamic with Cody. Beyond contestation, he is one of the top acts in the game today. Yet, the bell-to-bell production, the promo quality (arguably the best promo in the business), the rivalries with Archer/Mr. Brodie Lee/Darby, his establishment and elevation of the TNT Championship to featured status, the “face of the brand” recognition that he has earned by venturing into a feud with Shaq and getting involved in beyond-wrestling mainstream projects – as significant as all of those things are – he handcuffed himself a bit by purposefully making the upper mid-card the highest he can go – he can make the marquee but not the main-event, if you will, simply because that is just what he decided he needed to do. Take the handcuffs off. I want to see if Cody can really be #1.
#6 – FTR (Prev.: N/A) – I think you’d be hard-pressed to deny the greatness that Dax and Cash put on display since their May 2020 debut. I flirted with slotting them in at #5. Their arrival signaled the next step in the evolution of AEW’s tag division, its stature and what it had the potential to be on the higher end. The bevy of great matches, highlighted by the bout with the Bucks, compliments their high profile initial matches on pay-per-view for the Tag Team Championships, and their division-best character work alongside Tully Blanchard (at least in terms of consistency) has perhaps not been a revelation, but it has certainly showcased that they weren’t ever kidding when they called themselves “Top Guys.” Of all the acts heading into Year 3, FTR is among the most intriguing. Can they maintain their spot?
#5 – MJF (Prev.: 10th) – He headlined a pay-per-view, folks, in a company that takes that spot quite seriously. Go watch the match with Jungle Boy at Double or Nothing. Unreal. One of the best mid-card matches in years. His main-event with Moxley was arguably the best World Title match on an AEW PPV last year, depending on your stylistic tastes. Everything he has done with Jericho, the Inner Circle, and the establishment of the Pinnacle has made for great TV, which is not uncommon for him given his prowess with microphone in hand. This is a big time star and he is slowly coming into his own; soon enough, he will be challenging for the top spot overall.
#4 – Chris Jericho (Prev.: 1st) – The versatility of Jericho was on full display in Year 2 of Le Champion in AEW. Double or Nothing last year was his last main-event match to date, but he has transitioned beautifully into the complimentary role that he played so well for so many years in WWE; that is part of what makes him a legitimate candidate for the Top 10 all-time in the WrestleMania Era. You’ll find few bigger fans of his match with Orange Cassidy than me. I thought it was one of the best TV matches of 2020. He elevated Cassidy to legitimate stardom and is in the process of helping MJF have another huge career feud to bolster his case to be AEW’s future. Let’s try to enjoy Jericho for as long as we can because, at his age, the likelihood of continuing to see him this consistently beyond year end doesn’t feel that strong.
#3 – The Young Bucks (Prev.: 2nd) – The all-timers kept coming – a trait that defined their push for second place in Year 1 – in the form of the Lakers-Celtics game that was their dream match style classic with FTR at Full Gear and the burgeoning classic in the cinematic match genre, the Stadium Stampede (and Bucks vs. Jurassic Express at All Out was a classic early card bout too). I think what we saw from those ranked ahead of them in Year 2 was the character development over a longer stretch of time. The Bucks have been on quite a tear since their heel turn, but prior to that they were inconsistent. So, bless the Bucks and their absolutely captivating awesome match library on PPV and television, they certainly headlined a lot, and they have had a very good title reign, but in Year 3 – both for them and tag team wrestling overall – more personality with headliner’s mystique is in order to boost the division to the very top (if it’s possible for it to get there).
#2 – Kenny Omega (Prev.: 4th) – The timeline under the microscope aids Kenny’s case for the top spot. He actually spent most of Year 2 back into singles Best Bout Machine mode, the men’s eliminator tournament sparking a highly impressive last several months. His tag team peak was substantial, but it actually took place pre-pandemic; his best stuff with Hangman Page fell into Year 1 consideration, so you are basically looking at 8 months of the Omega people expected. Perhaps the swing votes between him and Moxley for the top spot beyond my list would boil down to how you feel about Kenny’s shift in character since becoming AEW World Champion. It has been a fascinating journey, all the mixing going on in the world of wrestling with AEW, New Japan, and Impact collaborating, spearheaded directly by the guard changing from Moxley to Omega and the persona The Cleaner established alongside Don Callis.
#1 – Jon Moxley (Prev.: 5th) – May to May is AEW history’s version of the fiscal year, and nobody has been more important to steadying the good ship AEW than Mox. He held the World Championship for virtually the entire period being discussed in 2020. He did excellent work on the microphone in memorable feuds with Eddie Kingston, MJF, Brian Cage, and others. That he main-evented three of the four pay-per-views and wrestled for the World Title at all of them is an untouchable stat line compared to his peers. He owns a stellar body of in-ring performances in terms of their consistent delivery in a variety of ways, even though it does genuinely seem to lack that one 5-star home-run in a day and age when such things matter more than ever to these discussions. Moxley has taken his already impressive career – he’s the Razor Ramon of his generation in WWE – and elevated it to new heights; it’s been a pleasure to witness it.