Mikes Top 50 Favourite Wrestlers – 25 to 21
By Michael Fitzgerald on 19th October 2022
Happy Wednesday Everyone!
We continue on from last week as we pick up the countdown of my Top 50 Favourite Wrestlers. I should reiterate here that this isn’t supposed to be an objective list on who I think the best wrestlers are but rather a subjective list of the wrestlers that I personally find entertaining for one reason or another.
For those of you who weren’t here last week, please check the archives to get yourself updated on the first 25 selections if you feel like doing so.
The Match: Vs Adrian Neville, NXT Takeover (11th December 2014)
Whether it was as El Generico or Sami Zayn, Rami Sebei has competed in some of my favourite matches and, at his peak, was one of the best underdog babyfaces the world of wrestling has ever seen. Even as a cowardly stooging Heel he’s managed to glean some decent mileage in WWE, but to me the best years of Sebei’s career came when he was either the masked generic luchador or the babyface version of Zayn in NXT 1.0, as well as the period where he worked as that character on the main roster as well.
I first became aware of Sebei during the Generico years of his career, when he would pop up in places like Combat Zone Wrestling and Jersey All Pro, usually fighting with or against fellow French Canadian Kevin Steen. The careers of both men would end up being inextricably linked, as they not only teamed and feuded on the indies but eventually did so in WWE as well. El Generico’s skinny faux-luchador look elicited a bemused chuckle from me when I first saw it, but once I’d actually had a chance to watch him wrestle I soon looked forward to seeing his matches, especially when he started regularly getting booked for ROH in the second half of the 00’s.
It’s sometimes forgotten that Generico’s Brain Bustaaaaahhhh move was one of the very first wrestling MEME’s, with the clip of Generico giving an unfortunate opponent a Brain Buster from the top rope into the top turnbuckle getting played everywhere both on YouTube and in gif form on a website called My Space (younger readers may want to ask their parents about that one). For a lot of people it was their first introduction to Sebei, although it’s not surprising that the move didn’t make the journey with him to WWE when he eventually got signed. Steen and Generico, or “Steenerico” as they were known in some quarters, were a successful tandem in ROH, facing off in numerous great matches with the likes of The Briscoe’s, American Wolves and Age of the Fall. The combination of hot moves and well-executed tag team formula led to Steenerico being one of the hottest acts on the indies, with Steen’s eventual turn on Generico leading to an epic long running feud between the two.
Like all good feuds, the Steen Vs Generico rivalry didn’t just help both wrestlers but it also provided avenues for other wrestlers to join in and get some momentum from it as well. Steen brought in fellow Canadian Steve Corino to be his lackey and back-up, whilst Generico enlisted the assistance of real life friend Colt Cabana, leading to a series of great singles and tag matches as the feud ebbed and flowed, usually with Steen coming out the better. Eventually the two clashed in a brutal fight in the main event of ROH’s Final Battle show in 2010, with Steen’s career up against Generico’s mask, where Generico finally managed to get a measure of revenge and pick up the victory after a wild brawl/spot-fest. Generico would remain in ROH until 2012 but this fight at Final Battle was pretty much the zenith of the ROH run for him personally, as his battle with Steen had received a lot of hype and had probably contributed to quite a few viewers slapping down the cash in order to get the show. Steen would eventually return to ROH and win the World Title, whilst Sebei decided to hand in his luchador mask and make the journey to WWE.
Debuting in NXT 1.0 as Sami Zayn, Sebei quickly got himself over to the Full Sail crowd by engaging in a thrilling series of bouts with Claudio Castagnoli. In what would become a trend for most of his WWE career, Zayn ended the feud in gallant defeat, but his performances had been so good that he was a star to the NXT audience and thus a long drawn-out quest for the NXT Title began. I’m sure some will disagree, but to me Sami Zayn’s odyssey to win the NXT Title was probably the best storyline of the 2013-2015 era of NXT 1.0, with Zayn coming up short countless times but seemingly becoming more over with every failure. It helped that Zayn was engaging in great matches with the likes of Tyson Kidd, Tyler Breeze and Adrian Neville. With every near-miss the audience would become increasingly more desperate to see Zayn capture the Title, which he would eventually do in December of 2014 when he managed to defeat Neville after yet another series of near falls, twists and turns.
Sadly for Zayn he wouldn’t hold the Title for long, as Kevin Steen (now wrestling as Kevin Owens) made his NXT 1.0 debut on the same show that Zayn won the Title and left his former buddy lying once the show closed. This led to a riveting feud between the two that saw Zayn lose the belt to Owens. Zayn then injured himself in a match against John Cena of all people on Raw, meaning he needed time off and the NXT portion of his feud with Owens came to a close. The two would pick the feud up again on the main roster, with Owens usually winning, although Zayn did at least get one big pay per view win over Owens on the Battleground event. Zayn also had time before leaving NXT to have a great Takeover match with Shinsuke Nakamura as well, with the match being one of the best Takeover matches ever and still probably the best match Nakamura has had in WWE.
Even though Rebei is an entertaining Heel and did a solid job when it was time for Zayn to join the dark side in WWE, I still personally think his best work came as a babyface. His ability to mix in psychology with hot moves led to him being an exciting and dynamic performer in the ring. Either as Generico or Zayn, Rebei was not just a “spot monkey” doing MOVEZ, but rather a fully three dimensional worker who could both tell a story and excite the crowd with innovative offence. What he did best was always the standard babyface stuff of selling and timing comebacks, with Steen always being such a good opponent for him in his babyface days due to his penchant for dishing out punishment whilst being a massive jerk at the same time. I must admit that my lack of interest in WWE post-2017 might mean that I’ve sold his Heel run short a bit because there’s a lot of it I haven’t seen, but his babyface work is exemplary in my opinion and I’d happily sit down to watch any of that NXT 1.0 run because it was engrossing viewing.
Zack Sabre Jr
The Match: Vs SANADA, New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Climax 29 (6th July 2019)
I think it should come to no surprise to anyone who has read the Top 50 up to this stage that I’m all about the tekkers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I demand an entire show be made up of the exchanging of holds and counters, but technical scientific styled wrestling is probably my favourite when it comes to all of the styles you can have. For that reason there are probably more “Tech Heads” on my list than there would be on the lists of those who prefer the more showbiz style of a Hogan, or the high-flying style of a PAC, or the luchador style of a Blue Panther, or the hardcore insanity of an Onita, or the hard-hitting of a Samoa Joe. For me though, I love my technicians, which is why it was only a matter of time before Zack Sabre Jr showed up here.
My first exposure to ZSJ was on NOAH’s 2008 show in Coventry here in the UK, as ZSJ competed amongst 5 other local British talents in a pre-show six man tag. I think I had heard the name before but I hadn’t seen ZSJ wrestle yet, and I was surprised to see him get such a reception during the pre-match introductions. Funnily enough ZSJ was a lot more of an indie styled high-flyer back then than he was a master technician, although he did have some smooth technical skills already. Following that six man tag I would see ZSJ pop up across the British scene, noticeably in the FWA where he tagged with Marty Scurll as The Leaders of the New School and feuded with Northern Xposure of CJ Banks and Joey Hayes. Following the slow death of the FWA’s second iteration, I would see ZSJ pop up now and then but I didn’t really start following him regularly until he showed up in New Japan in the 10’s.
What struck me about ZSJ when I saw him in New Japan was both his new emphasis on character work and his in-ring style in general. Firstly he had far more of an attitude in the ring and it served him well, as he actually had a proper character now and wasn’t just “good looking dude who does chain and the odd dive” anymore. ZSJ was now a cruel inflictor of pain who would tie his opponents up in knots and enjoy doing so. I’ve described him in the past as a human anaconda, as he would just latch onto his opponents and constrict them with a slew of punishing holds whilst they hopelessly tried to escape. In fact ZSJ was laser focused on technical wrestling now, with it being the core area of his move-set, with the occasional impact move such as the Michinoku Driver thrown in now and then in order to keep his opponents on their toes.
It was great to see a wrestler who made being a technician the core part of their wrestling style. ZSJ wasn’t just throwing in holds and counters because a certain stage of the match called for it. Locking guys in holds and torturing them was the point of the whole match from start to finish, with the story being that ZSJ was there to wrestle technically and the onus was on the opponent to find a way around it. Sometimes an opponent like Okada would try and use lucha as a way to get past the bone breaking holds, whilst someone like SANADA would actually try going hold for hold with the master. And then you had big blokes like Bad Luck Fale and Lance Archer who would just try to brute force their way through it, often to mixed results. Regardless of how the opponent wrestled though it added an element of storytelling and psychology to every ZSJ match as his opponents tried to find a way around the wrestling octopus.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the G1 Climax every year was seeing who ZSJ would get in his block and then ponder how each match would go. Sometimes you’d get wacky finishes like ZSJ choking Fale out in the crowd before breaking the count back in, or great technical classics where SANADA would actually succeed in beating ZSJ at his own game in a match that resembled a British bout from the 70’s in all the best ways possible. Regardless of whom he was wrestling though I always looked forward to a ZSJ match, and I still do whenever he works today. His Forbidden Door match with Claudio Castagnoli was utterly superb and ZSJ still delivers on New Japan shows as well. ZSJ does seem to have bonked his head on New Japan’s glass ceiling with them being happy to have him on the cusp of being a top guy without ever pulling the trigger, but he’ll always deliver in the ring and that’s a big reason why I’m such a fan of his
The Match: Vs Rob Van Dam, ECW Arena (17th September 1999)
Jerry Lynn was possibly one of the earlier examples of me realising that someone was a good wrestler and it being the core appeal of them for me. When I first started watching wrestling I just wanted the good guys to win and the bad guys to lose, with match quality being something I hardly noticed. However, as I watched more and more wrestling and my enjoyment became a bit more nuanced I started to notice the wrestlers who were good at their craft, with Jerry Lynn near the top of the list. It helped that the first Lynn match I ever saw was one of his battles with Rob Van Dam at Living Dangerously 1999.
The match had been hyped pretty heavily in the wrestling mags over here in the UK, so when ECW finally got their pay per view events released on VHS and DVD on this side of the pond I quickly picked up Living Dangerously and was soon in awe at the incredible counter wrestling and high spots of the Lynn Vs RVD contest. I still believe almost all of the Lynn/RVD matches hold up, even the quickie match they had on WWF HeAT in 2001. The two just had magical chemistry together and their characters complimented each other with Lynn being the gutsy and more humble personality whilst RVD was more cool and cocky.
Probably the best match the two had was a pulsating bout at the ECW Arena, where Lynn entered the match with injured ribs and bravely tried to wrestle away RVD’s coveted World TV Title, with the Philly fans biting on every big near fall and almost losing their minds when it looked like Lynn might pick up the victory. The only real issue with the feud was that RVD won so many of the battles, with Lynn getting comparably few ticks in the win column by comparison. It didn’t seem to effect Lynn’s popularity with the ECW audience though, as they appreciated his great wrestling and he would regularly get good reactions, including a superstar one when he finally won the ECW Title in October 2000.
Lynn’s time in ECW is probably what I most fondly remember, but he also had good runs both in the GWF and TNA, with him also being one of the linchpins of TNA’s X-Division during its early years. Lynn also competed in ROH, and would win the ROH World Title at one stage, but that run never really connected in a way his run in ECW did. You always kind of felt that Lynn looked a little out of place with the ROH World Title around his waist, even though his in-ring work was still impeccable during that period. Conversely his ECW Title run was shockingly brief and they probably should have let him hold it for a little bit longer just so it didn’t feel like such an afterthought.
What Lynn brought to the table as a wrestler was not just sound technical skills but also exciting high-flying and excellent bumping and selling. Lynn’s only real issue was his somewhat unremarkable look. He was in fantastic physical shape compared to the average person on the street, but he lacked height and in an image obsessed business like wrestling that often meant he had a ceiling wherever he went. He still bridged different era’s though and had great matches in the 90’s, 00’s and 10’s with opponents such as Sean Waltman, Lance Storm, Justin Credible, AJ Styles, Nigel McGuinness and others.
The RVD feud is probably what Lynn will be most remembered for, but he was a darn great professional wrestler (even if he did hit the ropes weird). I’m happy that Lynn is still part of the business as an Agent for AEW and I always get a kick out of hearing the fans chant “Jerry” whenever he comes down to the ring to try and break up a brawl of some kind. Lynn had to wait a long time until he got to ECW where his talent could really be appreciated in a Main Event setting, but when he got there he absolutely delivered and he has a fantastic collection of great matches to hang his hat on.
The Match: Vs Rey Mysterio Jr, WWE The Bash (28th June 2008)
I’ll level with you, a few months into Chris Jericho’s run in the WWF he wasn’t just my favourite wrestler in that particular company but my favourite wrestler overall. Jericho had a conflicting 2000, as he tore it up in the ring on numerous occasions with the likes of Triple H, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, but he usually ended up the losing side so he was never really able to break out of the chasing pack even though he was killing it both in-ring and on the mic. It was a problem Jericho had faced previously, notably in WCW. Jericho had originally come into WCW as a babyface and the fans hadn’t bought into it, but when he went Heel in 1998 he quickly became one of the most entertaining wrestlers in the entire company and they really could have done more with him.
However, no matter how entertaining Jericho’s feuds with the likes of Juventud Guerrera or Dean Malenko were, WCW only saw him at a certain level and when the kibosh was put on a potential match with Bill Goldberg, Jericho decided he would chance his arm over in the WWF. Jericho was booked ever-so-slightly better in the WWF, and they certainly marketed him a lot better meaning more $$$’s in his back pocket from merchandising, but he once again found himself bonking his head on the glass ceiling even though he was getting great reactions and was generally delivering in whatever role they had earmarked for him. Jericho’s brutal feud with Chris Benoit in particular was one of the very best parts of the WWF product in 2000, as they had countless great matches and the feud actively got Benoit over into a genuine star.
Jericho would finally get to win the top belt in 2001 when he defeated The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same night, but the resulting Title reign ended up getting botched as he was regularly booked as an ineffective goober on par with the Honky Tonk Man during his Intercontinental Title run. The difference of course was that Honky held the secondary belt so it didn’t matter that he was booked so weakly because you can get away with that with the IC belt. However, the World Champion is supposed to be the best wrestler in the whole company and by making them look weak you not only make him look bad but you also take away from the belt itself. It also does no favours for all the other top wrestlers in the company if they can’t find a way to defeat a walking punchline.
Jericho was booked so ineffectively as Champion that his WrestleMania X-8 match with Triple H was met with crickets even though the match itself was very good and Jericho actually entered and excellent performance. However, Jericho managed to bounce back from that disappointment and became a solid Upper Mid-Card star who could be used both in Main Events as well as elsewhere on the card. This led to Jericho having memorable feuds with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Christian and John Cena from 2003 to 2005, with the matches being to a high standard and the storylines often being some of the best parts of the shows they featured on. Jericho eventually lost to Cena and was booted off Raw in 2005, where he wouldn’t return until 2007.
Jericho initially returned as a babyface in 2007 but he would eventually turn Heel in 2008 and have possibly one of the best runs of his career as a Nick Bockwinkel styled Heel World Champion. Jericho not only tore it up with Shawn Michaels again during this period but he also had a fantastic feud with Rey Mysterio Jr that saw them have excellent match after excellent match, with Jericho even unmasking Rey in order to pick up a win at one stage. Jericho would win yet another World Title in 2010 but he wouldn’t have a particularly long reign this time as Jack Swagger took the belt from him at the post-WrestleMania television tapings.
Jericho would return on and off to WWE following the early 10’s, with notable highlights being his team with Kevin Owens and his feud with CM Punk. Jericho did start to feel like a bit of a relic of days gone by as the decade rolled on however, until he managed to reinvent himself by going to New Japan before showing up in AEW as their inaugural World Champion. You can say many things about Jericho the person, but there’s no denying that as a performer he is one of the most versatile the wrestling world has ever seen, as he manged to be not only a World Champion but a genuine ratings mover in the 2020’s after debuting in the 90’s. I also think Jericho is a really good worker even to this day, with his aging body being offset by a sharp mind.
The Attitude Era version of Jericho will probably always be my favourite, but I’ve been a continual fan of his work ever since, and whenever I’ve gone back to watch his work in places like SMW, WAR, ECW and WCW I’ve enjoyed that mightily as well. His combination of solid wrestling and character work has given him impressive longevity in a pretty unforgiving industry and his best matches really are some of the best you can find.
The Match: Vs Austin Aries, ECW Death Before Dishonour (18th June 2005)
(This was all written prior to All Out 2022 and the associated madness that came with it, so bear that in mind)
CM Punk is probably pretty low on my list compared to others, but that isn’t meant as a knock on him. In fact, for a while Punk was very much “my guy” in WWE, especially during 2006-2008 where he kind of got over by stealth whilst in ECW before finally coming to prominence by winning the Raw World Title. Sadly the eventual Title reign was booked pretty awfully, but Punk’s gradual climb up the ladder had been something that I’d been very much in support of, especially as his look and in-ring style was nowhere near the standard cookie cutter that WWE often demanded.
I had first become aware of Punk during his time in both ROH and TNA, where he feuded and teamed with Raven respectively. Punk’s solid wrestling skills and tremendous promo ability quickly put him on my radar as someone to pay attention to, especially when his feud with Raven in ROH continued to heat up and grow in intensity. Punk’s fantastic promos about how Raven reminded him of his drunken father can still give me chills to this day, and the story intensive matches with Raven provided plenty of violence, twists and turns. Punk could also deliver in more technical based matches as well though, with matches against AJ Styles and Samoa Joe delivering on that front.
Punk was never someone with a lot of natural athletic ability, but he has managed to make up for that with hard work and dedication to being a good storyteller within the ropes. What Punk may have lacked in pure athleticism he more than covered for with things like selling and timing. Even though Punk could, and still can, be a little sloppy, his best matches have always had a story running through them that keep you engaged as a viewer, be it an exchanging of holds with someone like Styles, a bloody brawl with someone like Homicide, or a dramatic story based contest with someone like John Cena. Punk has always had that ability to work pretty much any style of match and make it fit around the story he wants to tell, which has made him one of the best in-ring performers of his generation.
I don’t know how many will be surprised with the match I have suggested, and I must admit that finding just one CM Punk match to recommend was an exercise in difficulty, but I went with this 2005 battle with Austin Aries for a number of reasons. Firstly it’s an incredible match that builds wonderfully to a crescendo. Secondly it has a fantastic crowd who are invested in the action. Thirdly it tells a great story of Punk going for the ROH World Title in what is supposedly his last night in the company, leading to him eventually going Heel and kick starting the original Summer of Punk where Punk threatened to leave ROH with their belt to stick it to them. Punk possibly had better matches but this is the one that I think represented the zenith of his character on the indie scene and it opened the door for one of the best storyline arcs I think you’ll find from any wrestling company.
Punk will likely be best known for the second Summer of Punk in WWE in 2011, where he cut the famous “pipe bomb” promo and then rode the momentum all the way to the WWE Title, although his subsequent reign wasn’t exactly handled as well as it could have been. Punk did eventually bounce back at the end of 2011 to win the belt again and this time embarked on an incredibly long run for the modern era, holding it from November 2011 all the way to January 2013. During that reign Punk had some great matches with the likes of Chris Jericho, Bryan Danielson and John Cena, with his run finally coming to an end at the hands of some guy called Dwayne.
Punk left WWE in ignominy in 2014, but he would eventually return to wrestling in 2021 for AEW and blow the roof off in the process. During his AEW run Punk may be a little bit slower but he’s still had some great matches, with his ability to tell stories in the ring being as good as ever and his promo skills still as keen as mustard. Punk has been part of some of my favourite storylines and has wrestled in some of my favourite matches, so it was only proper that he find his way onto this list in my opinion.