The past 12 months has seen several new wrestlers emerge as stars in the WWE. The members of The Wyatt Family were involved in high profile matches just weeks after debuting, and young superstars like Dolph Ziggler and Damien Sandow had big moments of their own.
Five superstars, though, separated themselves from the rest. Below are the top five WWE wrestlers of 2013.
5) Cody Rhodes
Rhodes has emerged as one of the better midcard wrestlers in the WWE. He and Damien Sandow helped solidify the tag team division, and as good as Rhodes Scholars was as a team, they were even better as enemies. The feud between Rhodes and Sandow heading into SummerSlam was one of the more underrated storylines of the year.
The second-generation superstar, though, really came into his own when Goldust came back to the company. The brothers had some of the best matches of the year against The Shield, and became two of the most popular wrestlers in the latter part of the year. Once Rhodes and Goldust finally split up, he could be headed towards the top of the card and a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight title.
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4) John Cena
He’s the subject of a lot of criticism, and sometimes deservedly so, but there’s no denying that Cena still has many moments where he shows why he’s the face of the WWE. His promos leading up to Pay-Per-View matches with Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton were among the best in 2013. Cena’s matches against Bryan at SummerSlam and CM Punk on Monday Night Raw were as good as any this year.
Cena didn’t have a perfect year. His WrestleMania rematch with The Rock fell flat, and his two-month long feud with Ryback left a lot to be desired. Still, he was involved in some of the biggest moments in 2013 and deserves to be in the top 5.
3) The Shield
Many of the WWE fans were confused when Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns crashed the main event of Survivor Series 2012. Since then, though, they’ve been the biggest force in the WWE. Whether it’s individually or as a group, the members of The Shield seem to never have a bad match. At Money In The Bank, they managed to have the best match of the night on the pre-show, and they stole the show at Battleground and Elimination Chamber.
Signs have been pointing to the breakup of the group. All three are destined to become stars on their own, and Reigns will probably be the first one to get a shot to be a main eventer as a singles wrestler. For more than a year, though, the group managed to stay interesting and never get stale, a feat not accomplished many wrestling stables.
2) CM Punk
No wrestler has been as consistently good as Punk in the past few years, and 2013 was no different. His feuds with Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar may have been the two best of the year, and he continued to deliver the best promos every week, highlighted by his first face-to-face confrontation with The Rock. His in-ring work remains at the top of the industry, showcased by his match with The Undertaker, which was easily the top match at the biggest PPV of the year.
Punk’s worth to the WWE was never more evident than when he went away for from mid-April to mid-June. As soon as the self-proclaimed “Best in the World” took a break, the product went downhill. Without Punk in the main event scene, superstars like Ryback were forced to carry a heavier load, and couldn’t deliver. Punk has been at the top of the card since his infamous “pipebomb” promo, and he’s likely to stay there until the day he calls it a career.
1) Daniel Bryan
There’s no question that 2013 has been Daniel Bryan’s year. It’s been a long time coming for the indie wrestling star, but he finally became a full-time main eventer this year. His tag team partnership with Kane was the funniest thing the WWE has done in a long time, and he elevated himself to a new level when the two went their separate ways. He remains the best in-ring worker in the company, having great matches with the likes of The Shield, Randy Orton, John Cena and The Wyatt Family.
Besides his work in the ring and his improved mic skills, Bryan reached a level of popularity that the wrestling world hadn’t seen in over a decade. His “Yes!” chant has taken over many episodes of Raw, and he probably became the most popular wrestler since The Rock in the early 2000’s. Even as creative fumbled his storyline with Triple H and The Authority, he remains a fan favorite. It’s come to the point where it doesn’t matter what Vince McMahon and the WWE brass think of Bryan. They have no choice but to keep him at the top of the card.