When the 2000s began, WWE was arguably at its hottest point, as what's known now as the "Attitude Era" was in full swing. But, by the middle of the decade, due to the departure of both The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the company had sunken down to one of its least popular periods, as they regularly struggled to sell out their live events while they tried to build a new top star.
By the end of the decade, WWE had found their top star in John Cena, who had proven to be one of the hardest working top guys in history, and while he was polarizing in the position, the company might be worse off now if the former 16 time WWE World Heavyweight Champion had not risen to the top. So with most of the top "Attitude Era" stars stepping out of the spotlight, and with new stars coming in, the 2000s saw a diverse cast of top characters who all performed at a high level.
From 2000 to 2004, The Rock competed in arguably the most important matches at WWE's biggest show of the year, so it's hard to not put him on this list. But the only problem with him in this decade is that he just wasn't around long enough to be considered as the best of the 2000s.
After WrestleMania 20 back in 2004, The Rock decided to completely leave wrestling as he was fully devoted to his movie career, and he didn't return to the company until 2011. But his contributions to the company prior to his exit were certainly notable, especially his WrestleMania 18 match against Hulk Hogan back in 2002.
Eddie Guerrero had an incredible run in WWE prior to his unexpected death in November of 2005, and while it only included one World Championship run, it also included a ton of classic matches that will be remembered forever.
Of course, his two most memorable matches of the decade were when he defeated Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship back at WWE's No Way Out event in 2004, which is where he won his first and only World Title. The other is his match against Kurt Angle back at WrestleMania 20, which ended up being his second to last appearance on WWE's grandest stage.
While he started out the decade as a fantastic tag team wrestler alongside Christian, the "Rated R Superstar" ended the decade as one of the company's top guys, as he won multiple World Titles, and really cemented himself as a top guy in WWE. In fact, he was one of the key players in helping John Cena become the company's new main superstar.
What's incredible is that Edge was still able to have great matches despite the fact that his neck was in really rough shape, to the point where he was forced to retire just one year after the 2000s had concluded. But during the meat of his run during the decade, he might've been the best heel in the company.
Even though he was never treated as a true main event star throughout the 2000s, Rey Mysterio was able to accomplish far more in WWE than anyone thought he could. Obviously, Rey had the ability to be a top guy, but his lack of size led most to believe that the company wouldn't end up doing much with him.
During the decade, Rey not only delivered inside the ring, but he was one of WWE's top merchandise sellers, and he had a gigantic following, especially in the Hispanic community. So while WWE never really allowed him to be a true main event star, he was still able to overcome the odds, and become someone who was at least in the conversation as one of the most talented guys the company had to offer.
The beginning of the 2000s featured Chris Jericho beating both Steve Austin and The Rock in the same night to become WWE's very first Undisputed Champion, and while the title reign may have been a bit underwhelming, it was still a notable accomplishment. But Jericho's best work of the decade came when he turned heel back in 2008 after somewhat floundering as a babyface.
When he turned heel against Shawn Michaels, fans finally began to view Jericho as a true main event level superstar, even if they didn't like him very much at the time. Since then, "Y2J" has consistently changed his character, which has allowed him to stay at a top level throughout the years, and his heel turn back in '08 was the first example of his willingness to change with the times.
Back in the summer of 2004, Randy Orton won the first of what would be many WWE World Heavyweight Championships, as he became the youngest World Champion in company history. He then followed that up with a short babyface reign, and then quickly turned back heel and became one of the company's top bad guys.
In fact, he was so effective at his role that the fans began cheering him, and there was even a bit of a "Stone Cold" Steve Austin comparison for a short period of time. Sure, he never quite became as big of a star as the "Texas Rattlesnake," but you can't argue against the fact that Orton was one of the most successful stars the company had during the decade.
The beginning years of the 2000s were owned by Triple H, as he was pretty much the top guy on the Raw brand before John Cena got there. Some argue that "The Game" was allowed to be the main guy on the main show simply because of his relationship with Stephanie McMahon, which probably didn't hurt his chances of regularly being pushed as WWE's top man, but he was clearly World Championship material beforehand.
No one took advantage of the fact that both Steve Austin and The Rock were no longer full-time guys than Triple H, who finally had the opportunity to be the biggest star on every show until the rise of the aforementioned John Cena.
After taking a four year hiatus due to a back injury, Shawn Michaels made his return to WWE in the summer of 2002, where he had an all-time classic match against Triple H, who would go on to not only be his fiercest rival during the decade, but also his strongest ally, as the company reunited D-Generation X several times in the 2000s.
Even though he was no longer in his physical prime when it came to age, Michaels was still able to perform at a high level, and some would argue that his second run with WWE was far better than his first. Even though he only held the WWE World Championship one time during the decade, he was regularly involved in key storylines, and he was always having great matches with a wide variety of opponents.
Whether it was in WWE or TNA (now Impact Wrestling), there was no one who consistently had better matches than Kurt Angle. Sure, he had a ton of personal issues during this time, and some of those issues were big reasons why he left WWE when he did, and why the company was trepidatious about bringing him back.
If it weren't for the personal issues which clearly hindered his potential, Angle might've been looked at as the best wrestler overall of the 2000s. Also, the bulk of his classic matches were during his time in TNA, which unfortunately means that a lot of people didn't see them. But despite his various issues, Angle was incredible throughout the decade.
It's hard to argue against John Cena being the top wrestler of the 2000s, especially when you consider the fact that he was main eventing most of WWE's major pay per views during that time. His in-ring skills weren't as polished as they'd end up being during his US Title open challenge days, but his matches were still extremely heated due to the polarizing nature of his character.
The former sixteen time WWE World Heavyweight Champion pretty much owned this decade, as there really wasn't anyone else who was able to command the attention of the WWE fans, and there certainly wasn't anyone in the company during that time who produced more memorable moments than John Cena.