In terms of WWE matters, the first half of 2018 has been marked with a number of major changes and occurrences, some good, others not so much. For this list, we'll focus on the 10 main roster performers I subjectively feel have been the most productive, important, and relevant for the first half of 2018. Those wrestlers whose matches, promos, and overall performances have been a boost to WWE programming at large.
Obviously, this will be a subjective list, with no true concrete parameters in place for determining the value and effectiveness of a wrestler and their performances. But in the words of former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: "I know it when I see it." And that phrase gives me carte blanche to make my own assessments. So with that said, here's one man's personal feelings on WWE's best and brightest over the last six months.
Make sure to check out our other half-year reviews looking at the 10 best main roster, and 10 best NXT matches of 2018 so far!
10. Samoa Joe
In many ways, 2018 hasn't been Joe's year so far. He would miss both the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania 34 due to a serious foot injury, and his match with Roman Reigns at the ensuing Backlash event earned almost universal scorn.
But where Joe has made his biggest mark in 2018 is on the microphone. During the run-up to Backlash, Joe began cutting some especially weighty promos on Reigns that opened many eyes toward his skill level in that category. Often thought of as a technically-proficient brawler and striker first, Samoa Joe has proven both eloquent and intimidating when given a chance to speak. It wouldn't be fair to say that Joe was ever a one-dimensional performer, but he's certainly been delivering on the stick in 2018 better than he ever has, cutting main event-calibre promos over the past three months.
9. Sami Zayn
When watching Zayn throughout his NXT tenure, it was daunting to imagine him ever being anything except for a courageous, determined underdog of a babyface that scratches and claws through adversarial muck in order to claim his desired spoils. When Zayn turned heel at the Hell in a Cell pay per view last year, it was a startling thought, one that begged the question: "How in the hell could Sami Zayn be a heel?"
As it turns out, being a heel might just be the role that Zayn was born to play. His pronounced dickishness, obnoxious ranting, and slop-eating grin have turned the perennial underdog hero into the dictionary example photo of a colossal douchebag. And that's meant with nothing but respect - from the ways in which he makes a show of putting on reading glasses, to the irksome "yepping", the dark side version of Zayn has been quite the revelation.
8. Finn Balor
"Why am I smiling?" Balor once asked with a put-on grin that was more pained than bare-backed plunge onto hot coals. Maybe it's because Balor finds a way to keep crowd interest, even when the creative investment in, and direction of, his character is less than optimal. Really, what is Balor's gimmick, if not 'guy who walks into conversations, smiling at a pigeon that only he can see?'
Despite that one-note presentation, Balor remains an intriguing performer, delivering mightily in his near-hour-long duration in the 2018 Rumble match, as well as in excellent bouts with Seth Rollins throughout the spring. Balor's natural energy and physical charisma could position him as a modern day Sting or Ricky Steamboat, as fans buy into him heavily, even when creative doesn't exactly have much for him. Here's hoping he finds a spot on the card worthy of his one-of-a-kind characteristics.
7. The 205 Live Crew
Before you start, these guys have matches on main roster live events, so they count, OK?!
It's hard to pick just one person from the cruiserweight collective that stands out head and shoulders above the rest, though there are some obvious standouts in the pack. Buddy Murphy, for one, has reinvented himself on the brand, while Mustafa Ali has built a deserved following for both his incredible performances and his genuine likability. Cedric Alexander has become a sterling face for the division, living up to the potential that was evident in his tournament-stealing match with Kota Ibushi two summers ago.
Really, the entire division has been a far cry from the WWE-romanticized mess that 205 Live was when Brian Kendrick was mocking Jack Gallagher, or when the roster members were just thrown into Raw death slots to, well, die. Taking the performers of the Cruiserweight division seriously, and presenting them as something other than a mere diversion, has benefited them all. Their stellar work has done the rest.
6. Ronda Rousey
There were questions about Rousey's ability to live up to her fame and stardom when she came aboard WWE in January. Early on, Rousey struggled in her promos, clearly not all that comfortable with the prefab verbiage that was written for her. All of that would be rendered moot come WrestleMania Sunday, when she had the greatest debut match of any wrestler ever.
The mixed tag team match pitting her and Kurt Angle against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon is what some might call an overachievement, but in reality, it was a match in which everybody played their roles perfectly. For Rousey, her pronounced killer instinct and incredible athleticism were sharpened to a fine point. Her later match with Nia Jax, and subsequent beatdown of Alexa Bliss on Raw, reveal plenty of mileage is left on Rousey's odometer, the breakthrough women's wrestler of WWE's dreams.
5. The Miz
At the time of Miz's explosive tirade on an August 2016 episode of Talking Smack, fan sentiment toward Mike Mizanin wasn't as grand as it would become. That defensive outburst showed a different side of Miz, a deathly-serious, aggressively-manic side that would win the respect of many in WWE's fanbase. Suddenly, his bug-eyed goofiness on The Real World was as ancient as hieroglyphics.
The Miz we see in 2018 has built upon the foundation of that newfound admiration, becoming the consummate upper-card villain whose main event potential now is far greater than what it was eight years ago when he toted around the Money in the Bank briefcase. His match with Seth Rollins at Backlash saved the show from being a total loss, and the inevitable feud with Daniel Bryan will only mine more gold from an ascendant performer who, at one time, few people thought had that sort of mettle.
If you ever want a good laugh, find some old social media threads from 'The Drifter' Elias Samson's time on NXT. The developmental-brand's diehard fans seemed to have little time or patience for the hairy troubadour, much in the same way they didn't much care for Bull Dempsey or CJ Parker. Of course, we all know it's been a much different story since Elias showed up on Raw in 2017.
"WHO WANTS TO WALK... WITH ELIAS?!" Apparently, a lot of arena-goers, as his egotistical musings and acoustic malice have not only made him a standout character, but one that fans will routinely invest in whether through cheers or boos. His in-ring performances have also perhaps been better than those armchair critics would've ever expected, affording Elias a well-roundedness that will only continue to serve him well.
3. AJ Styles
It's perhaps fair to say that despite holding the WWE Championship over the past eight months, Styles' reign on top hasn't exactly felt all that monumental. Part of that can be attributed to him not being treated as a show-ending main eventer, as well as the fact that his feud with Shinsuke Nakamura didn't quite satiate the fans who were most anticipating it.
I would counter by noting that Styles' matches with Nakamura were quite underrated, and would even go as far as to say that their Last Man Standing match at Money in the Bank is the best main roster match of 2018 so far (their WrestleMania match is the realm of 'great, but a hair shy of excellent'). Styles continues to be fantastic in the ring, whether it's against Nakamura, or in multi-man pay per view matches (vs. Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens at the Rumble, or the Six-Pack Challenge at Fastlane). If he got to finish more shows as the high-flying equivalent of mid-nineties Bret Hart, his 2018 run would be held in higher esteem.
2. Braun Strowman
Even when WWE goes goofy with Braun (port-o-potties, giant cello playing, acting as his own twin brother, teaming with Nicholas), the fans still buy into him as the coolest beast in the land. A big part of that is Braun's delivery as he finds the snuggest compromise between 'comically over-the-top' and 'deadly serious', and the way in which he makes even the silliest bits work (while still maintaining his sheen of looming danger) has helped him resonate with a wider spectrum of fans.
Yes, the booking protects Strowman because he gets to put his utility pole-thick muscles to good use, whether he's flipping vehicles or breaking metal ladders in half. Sometimes protective booking can turn fans against a wrestler, but Strowman backs up that protection with compelling performances, either in the ring or on the mic. His energy and natural charisma are rare for a monster, helping make him the strongest card in WWE's deck.
1. Seth Rollins
As much as Strowman's been positioned (and positioned well) as the unique face of WWE programming, it's Rollins that has won increasing amounts of love and respect as a workhorse Intercontinental Champion. Although Rollins had long been regarded as one of the better athletes and performers on WWE's roster, he turned many heads with his tireless 65-minute performance in a seven-man gauntlet match back in February.
Rollins has evoked the spirit of Shawn Michaels in his show-stealing performances throughout the year, especially when his run as IC Champion all but guaranteed that at least one Raw match would make the show worth our time. Many suggest that Rollins should be the one to end Brock Lesnar's interminable reign, instead of company favourite Roman Reigns or even fellow 'obvious' choice Strowman. When you're one of the best reasons to tune in on a week to week basis like Rollins is, the fans will only want the best for you.