2015 was one of the most memorable years in WWE history. The early portion of the year saw Daniel Bryan return, fans reject Roman Reigns' push, Seth Rollins become a star and Brock Lesnar re-sign with the company. Things progressed with NXT growing at a rapid pace to achieve new highs, Kevin Owens making his main roster debut and rising female stars making women’s wrestling a must-see attraction. Sadly, the year ended on a sour note with injuries piling up. Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, Cesaro and various others are currently on the shelf and the program is suffering without them.
The year saw many new stars step up to become credible main eventers. Rollins and Reigns showed they could be trusted at the top of the company with good showings as World Champion. Owens is likely going to see his star rise if he can keep his momentum going. There are other stars in NXT that can become huge on the main roster with the right debut, such as Finn Balor, Sami Zayn and Bayley. The WWE not only delivered many great matches and memorable shows but they did a solid job setting up the future. A WrestleMania featuring various legends in part-time roles may hurt the ceilings of the young star but the fans that watch weekly know who to appreciate.
With the success stories and new high points of talents, there’s the eventual fall of said stars. One of the most difficult things in wrestling is staying on the top of the mountain once you reach the high. The wrestling business is a competitive atmosphere with things changing on the fly, leading to unpredictable variables. A new star can get over on any given night to cause a shift in plans. Fans can reject a push. Wrestlers can get in political trouble due to the sometimes petty environment they work in. There are plenty of wrestlers that likely plateaued this year and will likely be unable to match their high point of success. We’re going to examine the top twenty wrestlers that we believe peaked in 2015.
The rise of women’s wrestling in NXT saw Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch debut on the main roster for a “Divas Revolution.” The movement has been met with ups and downs but there is at least more positive talk about the female performers. Unfortunately for Charlotte, her hype has cooled down despite becoming the Divas Champion. Charlotte doesn’t have the wrestling skill of Lynch, the character work of Banks or the genuine likability of Bayley. The NXT atmosphere helped make her look better than she was and her main roster run has exposed her to an extent. WWE has put the machine behind her and given her a great opportunity, but it’s hard to see that lasting unless she starts impressing.
19 Erick Rowan
In a bizarre choice by WWE’s booking team, Erick Rowan entered 2015 as a singles face. The Wyatt Family randomly split and Rowan was the choice to turn into a face character. Despite getting into a feud with Big Show, Rowan was just another guy on the roster and failed to progress as a singles act. WWE reformed The Wyatt Family after all three members struggled without each other. Rookie prospect Braun Strowman was added to the faction and it's hurt Rowan more than anyone. The pecking order of the four members clearly shows Rowan is ranked last. Just look at the TLC PPV and Rowan was the only member of the Wyatts eliminated in a tables match.
18 Tyson Kidd
After years of searching, Tyson Kidd finally found a great role in a tag team with Cesaro. The duo, along with Kidd’s wife Natalya as a manager, became one of the best tag teams of the last few years. Kidd was able to showcase his supreme in-ring skills and character development. It looked like he would have a secure spot on television until suffering a serious neck injury. Kidd has been out since June and it’s unclear if he will be able make a return to the wrestling ring. Sadly, his improvements and impressive body of work in 2015 may have been the peak of Kidd’s WWE career.
17 Becky Lynch
Becky Lynch is one of the most talented and beautiful women on the WWE roster, but it doesn’t appear that she has a great shot at being one of the top Divas. In NXT, Lynch was one of the Four Horsewomen and delivered outstanding matches, including a superb outing against Sasha Banks on one of the TakeOver specials. Her call-up to the main roster has been good for Lynch but she appears to be peaking too soon. Currently, the story indicates she will lose a title shot to the newly heel Charlotte. Once that happens, it’s hard to see Lynch not falling down to the second or even third tier of the Divas division.
16 Joey Ryan
The first non-WWE wrestler to make the list is independent wrestling star Joey Ryan. Unlike many other wrestlers on the list, Ryan’s peaking is a good story for him. He recently was all over the internet with the trending video from a match of his in Japan. The match featured Ryan using the strength of his 'privates' to get the advantage over his opponent in comedic fashion. Given his humor and wrestling style, this has to be the high of Ryan’s career and he likely will never get this much exposure again.
15 Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe debuting in NXT and signing with WWE was one of the biggest stories of 2015. Following years of hard work and outstanding matches in TNA and ROH, Joe finally made it to the WWE. Between the TakeOver specials in Brooklyn and London, he wrestled in big arenas and proved he belongs on the bigger stage. The issue that will stop Joe from moving on to a more prominent role in NXT or on the main roster is his age. Joe’s bump card is quite high after wrestling hard over a decade and it is unlikely WWE will put a lot of faith in him as a main roster star. 2016 will see him bound to remain in NXT for depth or have a call-up for an irrelevant role, similar to Tyler Breeze.
14 Shinsuke Nakamura
Dear New Japan fans: Please don’t kill me. Shinsuke Nakamura is incredible and one of the most must-see acts in all of pro wrestling but it might be impossible for him to match his stellar performances and momentum from 2015. Nakamura had classics with Kota Ibushi, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada. His presence in Ring of Honor has raised his brand to become one of the biggest foreign stars among American fans, despite wrestling in the States just three or four times per year. Nakamura's appeal will remain but there’s no way he can get even more popular. Despite his youthful in-ring work, Nakamura is nearly 36 years old and has to regress at some point soon.
13 Luke Harper
Many expected Luke Harper to become the breakout star of The Wyatt Family following the separation of the trio. That belief didn’t come into fruition despite Harper having quite a few memorable matches. At the beginning of the year, Harper was feuding with Dolph Ziggler and ended up in a multi-man ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 31. Harper would wallow away in obscurity until he reunited with Erick Rowan and then later joined Bray Wyatt once again. 2015 was likely the last time we’ll see Harper get a singles push or participate in a WrestleMania match for a singles title.
12 Alberto Del Rio
The way Alberto Del Rio peaked in 2015 was different to many of his peers. Del Rio was fired by WWE in 2014 for hitting an employee that allegedly make racist comments towards him. The fire within Del Rio led to great work in Lucha Underground, Ring of Honor and other independent wrestling promotions. Alberto wrestled with excitement and passion and it led to sensational results. WWE re-signed Del Rio at the end of the year and he’s already fallen off his status as an entertaining performer. Del Rio has been completely bland and has been one of the most lackluster members of the roster since returning, and that won’t end anytime soon.
11 Tyler Breeze
NXT growing and touring to new cities with bigger venues led to more names in the promotion becoming big stars. Tyler Breeze rarely main evented and never held the NXT Championship but he matured in the promotion after years of work in developmental. The crowds treated him like a superstar due to his entertaining gimmick, great wrestling talent and overall presence in NXT. Brooklyn’s response to him at the big TakeOver special to open the show was a peak moment for him. While he recently debuted on the main roster with Summer Rae as his manager, Breeze has already fallen into irrelevancy and it’s hard to remember what he’s doing or who he’s feuding with on WWE television.
Paige became one of the main stars of the Divas division in 2015. Along with Nikki and Brie Bella, Paige is the main focus of Total Divas and the golden trio have been receiving television time all year. That’s huge for anyone in the Divas division. Paige also managed to get a rare spot in the WrestleMania Divas match, tagging with AJ Lee against the Bella Twins. Her success was unquestioned but it definitely felt like she plateaued this year. With the NXT women getting called up, fans want to see new talent and the new stars are all more impressive in the ring and on the mic than Paige. The tough competition may sink her stock going forward.
9 Damien Sandow
The story of Damien Sandow peaking came very early in 2015 and ended in abrupt fashion. Sandow’s work as The Miz’s stunt double, “Mizdow,” delivered hilarity as one of the most entertaining acts in the company. Fans were hoping there would be a break up that would lead to Sandow getting a big push as a singles face. Sandow finally turned on Miz in the battle royal at WrestleMania and the crowd responded to it. Unfortunately, Sandow was eliminated and lost the match to Big Show. Sandow spent the remainder of 2015 cosplaying as Randy Savage on house shows and watching other wrestlers play video games backstage on Xavier Woods' YouTube channel.
8 Ethan Carter III
TNA suffered from a severe disinterest from fans over the past year but they had one talent on the rise. Ethan Carter III became the face of TNA and proved to be one of the best signings the company has ever made. Carter had the best TNA match of the year in January against Rockstar Spud and went on to defeat Kurt Angle to win the TNA Championship in the summer. TNA endured more struggles and are moving to a new network with Pop TV in 2016. Carter has likely seen his best days after taking his character as far as he can and the company will probably look to make someone else the champion going forward.
Cesaro has been one of the more interesting wrestling stars to pay attention to. In terms of how the WWE views him, there’s varying belief as to whether he should be a midcarder for life or a future world champion. Cesaro definitely has a strong fan base behind him and had been stepping up his game before suffering an injury in 2015. Between his work in a tag team with Tyson Kidd and his incredible singles matches against stars like John Cena and Roman Reigns, Cesaro definitely was at his best. His injury came at the worst possible time after another breakout performance against Reigns with a depleted roster. Tragically, Cesaro’s chances of moving higher up the card in 2016 seem bleak.
6 Dean Ambrose
The three stars of The Shield have all been successful following their split in 2014. Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have been in the upper echelon of the WWE with World Championship reigns this year. Dean Ambrose has not reached that level but he achieved a lot of success in 2015. The Lunatic Fringe is incredibly popular and was in a world title program with Rollins for a few months in the middle of the year. There was even the false finish tease of Ambrose winning the title before the decision was reversed. WWE’s use of Ambrose dictates that the chances of him returning to the title picture are very slim and he will likely continue to be a consistent midcarder.
5 Nikki Bella
Nikki Bella has improved a great deal and had one of the best title reigns by a female wrestler in WWE history. The narrative of Nikki having very little talent and getting an undeserved opportunity due to her relationship with John Cena was decimated as she delivered impressive work. Nikki became the anchor WWE needed to hold over the division until the new breed of NXT female stars arrived to the main roster. The recent injury to Bella has her out of action and many reports state that she won’t be back for a few more months. Between the injury issue and other stars stepping up, 2015 was definitely the peak of Nikki’s WWE career.
4 Bray Wyatt
WWE’s inconsistent use of Bray Wyatt has caused his presence in WWE to become questionable. Wyatt was put in various big storylines against The Undertaker (twice) and Roman Reigns. Having a WrestleMania match against The Undertaker is huge and the prediction here is that it will be the peak of Wyatt’s career. His most recent feud against The Dudleyz and Tommy Dreamer showed just how hard he's fallen in such a short time period. There’s no way to defend going from taking down The Undertaker to end a PPV to a competitive program with Tommy Dreamer in 2015. The Wyatts losing their feuds against other stars will cause Wyatt to lose his luster and he won’t get back to the position he was in during early 2015.
3 Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins is an incredible talent and one of the best WWE signings of the last decade. The young man has blossomed into one of the best wrestlers in the world and was a great champion before an unfortunate injury ended his reign early. Whenever Rollins returns in 2016, he should once again be a big star but there’s no way he’ll get back to where he was in 2015. Rollins was given 2-5 segments per week on Raw and he was the centerpiece of the shows for months. This was also a time when Roman Reigns was being showcased in smaller feuds to gain trust with the fan base. Rollins will be back during the “Reigns era” and his chances of returning as “the man” on the show are not as bright.
Time is relative. In many ways, it feels like the year has gone by extremely quickly but it seems longer when you look at Rusev. The early quarter of 2015 saw Rusev become one of the top heels in the WWE. Rusev was the last man eliminated in the Royal Rumble, defeated John Cena at the Fastlane PPV and had a big follow-up WrestleMania program with Cena. Many forecasted Rusev to become a future world champion and a definite main event performer by WrestleMania 32. That belief was crushed faster than anyone could have estimated. Following his Cena feud, Rusev entered one of the worst storylines of the year with Dolph Ziggler. Lana left him for a few months and it hurt him drastically. Despite the two reuniting, Rusev is not getting back to where he was in the early months of 2015.
1 Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is one of the most dynamic performers the pro wrestling industry has ever seen. His WWE World Championship reign ended at WrestleMania 31 but he had one of the most impressive years of his career. Lesnar delivered two of the best five WWE matches all year against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania and in a triple threat match with John Cena and Seth Rollins at the Royal Rumble. Later in the year, Lesnar went up against The Undertaker and both bouts over delivered the expectations, given ‘Taker’s age. The combination of great opponents in the right situations is hard to repeat again. Brock is bound to step away from the title picture and he’s running out of viable big money opponents. 2015 was the best we will see out of Brock Lesnar and he’s likely peaked as a special attraction.