Category Archives: PWO Greatest Wrestler Ever

#01 – Ric Flair (#01)

Overall Ranking: #01

Recommended Matches: 

  • vs. Ron Garvin (NWA – 12/22/1985)
  • vs. Ricky Morton (NWA – 07/05/1986)
  • vs. Barry Windham (NWA – 01/20/1987)
  • vs. Barry Windham (NWA – 04/11/1987)
  • vs. Ron Garvin, Steel Cage (NWA – 09/25/1987)
  • w/ Barry Windham vs. The Midnight Express (Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane) (NWA – 12/07/1988)
  • vs. Lex Luger (12/26/1988)
  • vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW – 02/20/1989)
  • vs. Ricky Steamboat, 2 out of 3 falls (WCW – 04/02/1989)
  • vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW – 05/07/1989)
  • vs. Terry Funk (WCW – 07/23/1989)
  • vs. Terry Funk, I Quit (WCW – 11/15/1989)
  • vs. Bobby Eaton (WCW – 01/07/1990)
  • vs. Brian Pillman (WCW – 02/17/1990)
  • vs. Lex Luger (WCW – 02/25/1990)
  • vs. Brian Pillman (WCW – 04/13/1991)
  • vs. Big Van Vader (WCW – 12/27/1993)
  • vs. Ricky Steamboat (WCW – 04/17/1994)
  • vs. Bret Hart (WCW – 01/24/1998)


To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man” took on a slightly different contextual meaning within the Greatest Wrestler Ever project.

Flair was the presumptive number one coming into the project. At least, that’s how many seemed to view him. Which is interesting because in the 2006 poll, Flair finished in the #8 spot. He has not done anything on his own to help his legacy in the decade since and if anything, he did more to hurt it his reputation by holding on too long as he headed down the long winding road to self-parody. WWE has continued to push Flair as the greatest of all time (at least they did most of the time) but I am not sure how big of a factor that was ever going to play in Flair’s positioning. Flair is the most scrutinized wrestler of all time for a variety of reasons and his warts were/are as well-known as the warts of any other great wrestler. I am not suggesting that Flair wasn’t the favorite for the top spot in this poll before the project got underway, but only that he was never the untouchable guy that his fans refuse to re-examine, which is sometimes how he is portrayed.

In any event, there certainly was an underlying and widespread tone over the past 18 months that Flair would likely finish atop the poll but mainly because not enough voters would properly re-examine Flair’s career and/or properly examine the career of other top spot contenders. The tone was akin to talking politics with an outspoken friend/family member/co-worker who is convinced that his favorite candidate would be elected if only everyone was as well versed in the policies of the candidates as he is. It is insulting and arrogant to imply that your candidate can only lose (or the other candidate can only win) through public ignorance. There was a lot of effort put into stumping against Flair as well as promoting others who might be able to overtake him. All that sounds a lot more malicious than it actually was. Of course people are going to go to bat for the wrestlers they think are great and be out spoken against those who they  feel are overrated, but it is undeniable that Flair’s position as the pre-poll favorite permeated throughout the process. There seemed to be an effort – or at least a strong hope – that someone would beat the champion.

Flair was my working #1 when this project started and I can say with the upmost sincerity that I was open to him being knocked from his perch. I wasn’t looking to knock him from the top spot – why would I? – but if in the course of watching Flair matches and watching the work of other top contenders, my position became solidified. I can only speak for myself (although I imagine this applies to other Flair voters as well) but I feel confident I did adequate due diligence and it lead me to keeping Flair #1.

The problem in assessing any individuals who are at the top of their fields is that the focus is usually on tearing them down; finding out why they aren’t as great as we make them out to be. There is a tendency to build up the challengers and tear down the champions. I have said it before in these posts, but I try to evaluate by looking at strengths rather than weaknesses. I am positive that I am not always successful in doing that but that’s my intent. My thinking is that the weaknesses will fall out in that process. If a certain area is not a strength for a wrestler it is either a weaknesses or it is neutral. Negative and neutral attributes don’t help a wrestler’s case and if we are discussing the greatest 100 pro wrestlers of all times, it is likely that nobody being discussed as just a severe flaw as to offset all their strengths. I would rather build up everyone’s case, look at them from that vantage point, and look at the degree of their weaknesses only when necessary (ie. distinguishing between two otherwise very similar wrestlers).

I am very familiar with the criticisms of Flair but find many of them to be little more than the tradeoff associated with a true positive. For example, there is the criticism that Flair is formulaic and repetitive. If you are so inclined, you can easily phrase that has “Flair developed a quality and entertaining routine that allowed him to have an unprecedented amount of great matches on a consistent basis against a variety of opponents.” The positive is that Flair wrestled good matches against a variety of opponents. The negative is to do that, he developed a formula. I am not ignorant of the fact that Flair had a routine; I doubt most Flair fans are. The difference is I see it as a good routine that stood the test of time and led to Flair matches during his prime and just after his prime having a high floor. Likewise, Flair gets criticized because he theoretically could have had stronger matches with certain opponents if he had ventured further outside of his comfort zone. That is a slippery slope. If we held every single wrestler to the standard of “what’s the best he or she could have done?” nobody comes out looking good. As a Flair fan, I have never asked that people ignore his shortcomings but only that they carefully weigh and evaluate them like they would for any other wrestler. There is no wrestler who is close to a “perfect” wrestler, so docking certain guys points because they left room between their actual output and their theoretical ceiling is preposterous.

One point made during this process that I certainly agree with is that discussing Flair’s body of work has become boring and tedious. That is the main reason I have written several paragraphs without listing off all of the many reasons why I consider Flair to be the greatest pro wrestler of all time. All of those reasons are out there. We all know them. That’s not a cop out. If I had not already written 99 of these testimonials, I would probably be more inclined to indulge and go into Flair’s case in-depth. The reasons why people consider Flair overrated are all out there too. This discussion has gone around and around thousands of times over. All of those points – the good and the bad – are public record at this point. Very little new ground is being broke.

I don’t confuse the lack of a desire to write glowing things about Flair or to defend Flair with a negative opinion of his work. I might be totally off base, but I get the impression that is the crux of the hang up for some. There is a reverse “shiny new toy” syndrome thing going on with Flair. When you are discussing the status quo you are either rehashing all of the well-known reasons why the status quo is the status quo or listing reasons why the standard shouldn’t be the standard. The second is much more interesting and we tend to go that route.

Anyway, I have rambled long enough in this post and in all one-hundred of my Greatest Wrestler Ever posts. I voted Flair #1 for all of the reasons people have given over the years for Flair being the greatest wrestler ever. Please do not downplay the level of thought that I and other Flair voters put into our lists just because we arrived at the same “boring” conclusion that wrestling fans have arrived at for years. The opportunity was there during my examination and re-examination of all the top contenders for Flair to beat himself or for someone to beat him and it didn’t happen. In my estimation, Flair has more strengths than any other wrestler in history – including volume of quality matches which is important to me – that even when you factor in his weaknesses, still leaves him a head above the competition. On my poll, I allowed for the chance that someone would beat them man but nobody did.

#39 – Terry Funk (#2)

Overall Ranking: #2

Recommended Matches: 

  • vs. Jumbo Tsuruta (AJPW – 06/17/1976)
  • w/ Dory Funk Jr. vs. Billy Robinson & Horst Hoffman (AJPW – 12/06/1977)
  • vs. Jerry Lawler, No DQ (Memphis – 03/23/1981)
  • vs. Jerry Lawler, Empty Arena (Memphis – 04/06/1981)
  • vs. Ric Flair (WCW – 07/23/1989)
  • vs. Ric Flair, I Quit (WCW – 11/15/1989)


Like with Stan Hansen, my affinity for Terry Funk is not as great as it is for others. Unlike with Hansen, I think I can somewhat clearly articulate why that is the case.

There is a definite footage issue with Funk. We are missing basically all of the early days of his career and have relatively little of his run as touring NWA World Champion. That is a big part of his career and the matches we do have from Funk as the NWA Champion does not improve his case as one of the greatest of all-time in any significant way. If we are evaluating Funk on available footage – as was the intention of the GWE project – we basically have a decade of Funk in All Japan during the mid-to-later stages of his career as a full-time active wrestler. I like Funk in All Japan quite a bit. The Jumbo match is an incredible match. The Funks versus Horst Hoffman & Billy Robinson from ‘77 is one of my personal favorite long matches and a master’s course in keeping the crowd engaged and the action varied over a long period of time. There is obviously a lot more below those two highlights as well. Even liking Funk in All Japan, I would place him comfortably below The Destroyer and Billy Robinson in terms of All Japan foreigners in the late 70’s and 80’s. I am not sure I would have him all that far ahead of Horst Hoffman or even Jack Briscoe. Shifting to a different time period, Hansen’s All Japan run is well ahead of Funk’s in my opinion.

That matters to me because Funk in All Japan from the mid-70’s to mid-80’s is where the overwhelming majority of his prime and slightly post-prime work that is in circulation comes from. While Funk did some excellent work in All Japan, I am not sure it is transcendent enough to lift him to such a lofty spot on a list like this. The fact that several wrestlers filling similar roles outpaced Funk in All Japan speaks to that.

The Lawler matches from Memphis are tremendous matches. Same with the Flair series. Both series are representative of the side of Terry that that is most visible. That is the Terry Funk as a great U.S. territorial heel with shtick for days, great bumping, over-the-top selling, and excellent brawling skills. It is the stuff Funk showed off in those two portions of his career – along with his top end All Japan work – that got him into the top 40 on my list. The Flair series especially is remarkable for how well it holds up. Funk played crazy old guy A LOT in his career but never better than that. His entire 1989 is the best I have ever seen a wrestler do the “crazy, out of control” gimmick. Funk was so effective in that role.

So effective that he went back to that well throughout the 90’s alternating between crazy old man and beloved old kook. 90’s Funk had very little positive impact on my rating of him on this list. I get the appeal particularly from a character standpoint and I understand the argument that he adapted to being past his physical prime by turning the cartoonish selling up to a 10 and becoming a garbage wrestler. The ability to adapt post-prime and reinvent one’s self is commendable. Like I have repeated throughout these write ups, I am really only interested in what a wrestler puts in if he gets a good match out of it. There is not one Funk match from the 90’s that I would rate as very good/excellent in WCW, ECW or WWF. Funk kept himself relevant during those years and he was definitely entertaining. I would not say he was anywhere close to a great worker in the 90’s, though as evidenced by a dearth of great matches.

I break Funk’s career down like this in terms of how it impacts his GWE case:

* Debut through end of the 70’s in the US – very little to go off of so irrelevant to this poll.

* 70’s/80’s All Japan – very good worker with several top end matches. Not the best foreign worker in All Japan during those periods.

* 80’s US – two very strong series of matches (Flair & Lawler). Established himself as a great crazy heel. A nothing WWF run that I don’t really hold against him.

* 90’s WCW/ECW/WWF – did well to keep himself relevant and reinvent himself, but a lack of great or even very many good matches hurt him.

Taken altogether, that’s All Japan and the Lawler/Flair matches pushing him up with the rest of his career not really helping or hurting him in my view.

I would argue that Funk is a good example of why looking at output and not getting lost in the weeds is valuable. A lot of people have written and said that “Terry Funk is pro wrestling”. I get that sentiment and see it in the way he wrestles. At the end of the day though, I watch wrestling for the matches and Funk’s output (in terms of what is available) is lacking compared to all the guys above and directly below him on my list. I think if we had more of his 60’s and 70’s US stuff and there were some quality matches in there, he would get a considerable bump for me. It doesn’t even matter much to me what style he worked in those matches, as long as they were good. We don’t, however, so it is either project backwards or consider that period a wash.

#23 – Stan Hansen (#3)

Overall Ranking: #3

Recommended Matches: 

  • vs. Andre the Giant (NJPW – 09/23/1981)
  • vs. Giant Baba (AJPW – 02/04/1982)
  • w/ Terry Gordy vs. Genichiro Tenryu & Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW – 12/16/1988)
  • w/ Genichiro Tenryu vs. Rusher Kimura & Giant Baba (AJPW – 11/29/89)
  • vs. Mitsuahru Misawa (AJPW – 02/22/1992)
  • vs. Toshiaki Kawada (02/28/1993)
  • vs. Kenta Kobashi (AJPW – 07/09/1993)
  • w/ Stan Hansen vs. Kenta Kobashi & Mitsuharu Misawa (AJPW – 11/30/1993)
  • vs. Jun Akiyama (AJPW – 09/03/1994)
  • w/ Maunakea Mossman vs. Masa Fuchi & Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW – 07/23/2000)


As you can tell, I am not as high on Stan Hansen as others. There are reasons for that, mainly not being in love with the style Hansen works and the character he portrays to the extent others are, but am struggling to frame that in the right way while also getting across all the many things I really enjoy about Hansen. So I am going to leave this is as a placeholder for now rather than write a half-ass explanation (like I originally did).

#03 – Mitsuharu Misawa (#4)

Overall Ranking: #3

Recommended Matches: 

  • w/ Kawada & Kobashi vs. Jumbo & Taue & Fuchi (AJPW – 10/28/90)
  • w/ Kawada & Kobashi vs. Jumbo & Taue & Fuchi (AJPW – 4/20/91)
  • w/ Kawada & Kikuchi vs. Jumbo& Taue & Ogawa (AJPW – 10/15/91)
  • vs. Stan Hansen (AJPW – 8/22/92)
  • w/ Kobashi vs. Kawada & Taue (AJPW – 6/1/93)
  • w/ Kobashi & Akiyama vs. Kawada & Taue & Ogawa (AJPW – 7/9/93)
  • w/ Kobashi vs. Kawada & Taue (AJPW – 12/3/93)
  • w/ Kobashi vs Kawada & Taue (AJPW – 5/21/93)
  • vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW – 6/3/94)
  • w/ Kobashi vs. Kawada & Taue (AJPW – 6/9/95)
  • vs. Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW – 7/24/95)
  • w/ Akiyama vs. Kawada & Taue (AJPW – 11/29/96)
  • w/ Akiyama vs. Kawada & Taue (AJPW – 12/6/96)
  • vs. Kenta Kobashi (AJPW 1/20/97)
  • vs. Kenta Kobashi (AJPW 10/31/97)
  • vs. Yoshihiro Takayama (NOAH – 9/22/02)
  • vs. Kenta Kobashi (NOAH – 3/1/03)


People often pin the “best ace ever” tag on Misawa and use it as support for why he is an all-time great wrestler. The label “ace” in wrestling is rather nebulous distinction because the definition of an ace, the difficulty of succeeding in that role, and how necessary an ace is to a promotion’s success are all very contentious points. It is the same deal with labeling pitchers as aces and non-aces in baseball. Ultimately, it is a meaningless platitude that attempts to wrap up all the tangible and intangible qualities of a “really great/valuable pitcher/wrestler” into once neat little package. The underlying attributes that put a wrestler in the “ace” discussion are ultimately more important.

You don’t have to look very hard or long at all to see how Misawa’s tangible and intangible qualities place him atop that discussion.

Starting with the obvious, Misawa was an excellent offensive wrestler. His often imitated but never duplicated diet of lots and lots of elbow strikes stands out. A lot of wrestlers high up on my list and the overall list displayed an ability to utilize a relatively simple move to bridge between the bigger offense in their matches. Flair with chops, Lawler with punches, and Steamboat with arm drags being a few examples. Misawa’s elbows were a similar move in that he was able to utilize those strikes in both a basic “filler” way and as a momentum altering move. They looked good and were effective. Misawa’s offense was not dynamic to the same extent that Kobashi’s was, but it was still pretty dynamic. Although he was miscast as a junior early in his career and his days as Tiger Mask yielded little in the way of memorable matches, I think the flashy offense he cultivated during that period of his career served him well during the 90’s All Japan heyday. It gave him some high impact moves (dives) to use in certain situations. The ability to rely on those junior moves while working Taue in order to create a unique and interesting match is one of those things that separate that excellent workers from the borderline best of all time workers. Misawa was a polished and tight offensive wrestler – very little of his stuff ever looked bad and/or weak.

He does not always get credit for being a good “subtle” seller. Hs had a great pained expression when he needed it. His ability to take a little move or injury and give it more meaning than you could imagine was a real strength of his. All that makes his decision to take some dangerous neck bumps all the more sad. Misawa was a big bumper which led to a steep decline as he grew older and ultimately to his untimely death. There is little need to go into the downside of neck bumps because they are painfully obvious (in part because of how Misawa’s career/life ended up). They were certainly effective. The issue here was that Misawa kept going to that well and sometimes went to it more often in his post-prime, particularly when was “forced” into a more prominent position with NOAH than what was maybe originally planned. His willingness to eat a suplex by landing on the back of his head and neck added much drama to many big matches even if he paid a major price for them. I would imagine that someone who places a premium on “smart work” would dock Misawa for his very unwise neck bumps.

That isn’t to say that Misawa was a dumb worker. Quite the opposite. I already mentioned his ability to use a lower level move like an elbow strike in a highly effective manner. What’s so funny (or sad?) about Misawa’s neck bumps is that besides making for some big dramatic moments, they were largely superfluous to why he was over and why he was so great. That difference making element was the way Misawa presented himself in the ring. Few have been better at portraying the character of the best wrestler in a promotion and having that filer all the way down through their rung work. The confident and stoic way Misawa carried himself, his impressive and precise offense, and the way he seemed to have a tailored game plan for all of his opponents helped to shape that image. He was very good at knowing what to do against who and when to do it, including a strict adherence to the hierarchical nature of 90’s All Japan booking. It is not surprising that Misawa’s offense and bumping are his most imitated attributes because those are the most surface level ones. It is disappointing however because what truly made him an all-time great was the way he presented and carried himself, as well as his strong instincts on building and structuring a match to maximize emotion. He was an excellent singles, tag, and trios worker who really understood his role in all of those different environments and understood how to play off of his partners in a way that benefited both of them.

A lot of pundits consider the ability to pitch deep into games, throw a lot of innings, and maintain a high level of durability as signs of an ace pitcher. Misawa was definitely that kind of wrestler. He posted up every day for All Japan during their best all-around period. And he didn’t just show up. He was the guy that the promotion relied on more than anyone else and he consistently produced at a high level for them throughout the decade. He carried a large load for All Japan en route to having as many great matches as any wrestler in history. The 1992 – 1994 segment of his career stands alone in that regard. Misawa was reliable and consistent to a level few other top level wrestlers have ever been.

Misawa dropped on my list during this process but obviously not very far. I originally had him ahead of Jumbo. If I were to do this list tomorrow, I am certain that I wouldn’t move Casas ahead of him as well although that is probably the extent he would fall for me. Ace or not, Misawa is the epitome of what the face of a promotion should be. The fact that he did that in a major promotion during a boom period and accumulated an unprecedented number of great matches along the way make him all that more impressive.

#07 – Bryan Danielson (#5)

Overall Ranking: #5

Recommended Matches: 

  • vs. Low Ki (ECWA – 02/24/2001)
  • vs. Low Ki (ECWA – 07/21/2001)
  • vs. Low Ki vs. Christopher Daniels (ROH – 02/22/2002)
  • vs. Low Ki (ROH – o3/30/2002)
  • vs. Low Ki, Submission (JAPW – 06/07/2002)
  • vs. Paul London, 2 out 3 falls (ROH – 04/12/2003)
  • vs. Jay Briscoe (ROH – 12/27/2003)
  • vs. Homicide (ROH – 04/24/2004)
  • vs. Samoa Joe (ROH – 10/02/2004)
  • w/ Low Ki vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Samao Joe (ROH – 11/06/2004)
  • vs. Nigel McGuinness (ROH – 08/12/2006)
  • vs. KENTA (ROH – 09/16/2006)
  • vs. El Generico (PWG – 07/29/2007)
  • vs. Takeshi Morishima (ROH – 08/25/2007)
  • vs. Takeshi Morishima (ROH – 11/30/2007)
  • vs. Takeshi Morishima (ROH – 12/27/2008)
  • vs. Naruki Doi (DGUSA – 09/06/2009)
  • vs. Sheamus, 2 out of 3 falls (WWE – 04/29/2012)
  • vs. CM Punk (WWE – 05/20/2012)
  • w/ Kane & Ryback vs. The Shield (Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns) (WWE – 12/16/2012)
  • w/ Kane & Randy Orton vs. The Shield (Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns) (WWE – 06/11/2013)
  • vs. John Cena (WWE – 08/18/2013)
  • vs. Bray Wyatt (WWE – 01/26/2014)
  • vs. Triple H (WWE – 04/06/2014)
  • vs. Roman Reigns (WWE – 02/22/2005)


How many wrestlers can lay claim to being among the top several wrestlers in the world three years into this career and again the day their career ended 10+ years later? How many can claim they wrestled a unique, forward-thinking style that helped give rise to a whole new scene at the start of their career and then finished their career by being the most over and best wrestler in the world’s biggest and most well-established promotion?

Bryan Danielson can.

Bryan accomplished a lot in the ring in between those beginning and end points of his pro wrestling career, some of which was just as great and some of which was less memorable. His long stint wrestling for Ring of Honor, US indie promotions, New Japan, and in Europe is full of great matches and full of examples of how willing and able Bryan was to experiment and tinker with his style. However, I think you get a great look at his career by looking at where he started and where he ended up even without diving into the large middle section of his remarkable career.

I would stop short of saying that Danielson was an excellent wrestler right away. The reality is that few are and Danielson’s FMW tag work and early Texas Wrestling Alliance matches are not going to blow anyone away. He was better out of the gate than the vast majority of wrestlers based on those matches we have of his but it was really 2001 – 2003 (he debuted in late 1999) where he made his mark as an all-time great young wrestler. The style that Danielson, Low Ki, and eventually others worked was not only fresh and innovative in its day, it also stands the test of time. I got into the indies in 2002 in large part because of the American Dragon, so I can’t speak with authority on how different his stuff was than the average indie matches of the time when he first broke in. We did a thorough re-watch of 2000s indies matches about four years ago and what I can say with certainty is that Danielson’s matches with Low Ki look different and stand out above almost every other match in the early 2000’s including other Ki matches. The fusion of high level submission wrestling, hard hitting offense, and polished flying that they worked is an awesome style that I am uncertain has ever fully been replicated since. Those matches hold up brilliantly today and at least based on what I had seen at the time, it was like watching what wrestling can and should be unfolding before my eyes. Few wrestlers are as good as Danielson was at his age. I seriously doubt any were as good and as progressive at the same time.

Danielson was highly touted at the time, reaching the top of the DVDVR 500 by early 2003. But his early work is now far enough removed and has been revisited enough over the years to state with confidence that we were not just caught up in the moment with him. His stuff holds up. His early work has its faults. Bryan was still finding himself from a character and crowd connection aspect. That was the final piece of the puzzle to drop for him and would take many years to get there. His general style and desire to focus in on the athletic components of wrestling while sometimes missing the bigger picture are legitimate criticisms of Danielson on the indies. He was seen as a big fish – the biggest fish – in a small pond for many years by many people and that was not an unfair assertion. It was fair to wonder how well his style and personality would play elsewhere, even as he continued to prove every week that he was a great professional wrestler.

Which makes it all the more fascinating that Bryan ended his career with a three year run (2012 – 2015) as a the top babyface in the biggest promotion in the world. To some extent, Bryan adapted to WWE and to some extent WWE adapted to him. On the indies he could almost literally wrestler anyway he pleased (style, time, ect.) and that was definitely not the case in WWE. While before he could get over strictly on his wrestling abilities if he had to (I think Bryan was far more charismatic on the indies and a far better talker then he is credited for), in WWE there was more to it than that especially without much promotional weight behind him. He found a way with his annoyingly smug heel character in early 2012. Once he got himself over and got the opportunity to have featured matches, he was able to build on his momentum. I think that was the key to his WWE’s success. Think of all the mid-carders who have gotten over in WWE in the last 5-10 years with a quirky gimmick or with a modest push only to see it go away when the novelty wore off. Bryan got over once and his wrestling carried the day from that point on.

We are far less removed from Bryan’s time in WWE compared to his time on the indies, so maybe it won’t hold up as well 5-10 years down the line. In the immediate aftermath, I would argue that he has a legitimate case for having the best three year in-ring run of any wrestler in the promotion’s history. He succeeded as a heel. He was a great television wrestler. He checked off one of the missing boxes from his indie days by showing he knew how to be an above average tag team wrestler. His hot tag work might have gotten formulaic after a certain point, but it is hard to argue with the success of that formulas. His matches with Sheamus, Punk, Cena, Wyatt, Triple H, and Reigns are among the better major singles matches from WWE this decade. In the end, he forged a natural connection with the crowd – in large part due to what he did after the bell rang – en route to becoming a hugely popular babyface. He had a Sandy Koufax like run with WWE. As soon as he found his launching pad in early 2012, he was the greatest wrestler in the world by a large margin for three years straight. He made such an impact in such a short amount of time as I can recall in a major promotion. He went out as the best wrestler in the promotion, if not the world.

Those two distinct bookends – the incredibly talented guy experimenting on the indies to great results and the polished main event babyface in the world’s biggest promotion – tell Bryan’s story without even delving into the middle of his career. The fact that there was a lot of great stuff there – his junior work, his ability to incorporate European influences seamlessly into his in-ring presentation, the Morishima matches, ect. – only makes a strong case even stronger.

Bryan finished about where I expected him to. Sometime in the next few years when we get a little further removed from it, I want to re-visit this WWE run in-depth. I have the feeling it will hold up well. If it does, it is hard to see him dropping very much the next go-around even if he never wrestles another match.