Pro Wrestling Rankings March-22: Bryan is THE villain
One year ago this week, Daniel Bryan's dreams were rescued from purgatory. On March 20th of 2018, it was announced that after months of battling, Bryan was going to be cleared to return as a performer for World Wrestling Entertainment. It was a cause to celebrate for legions of fans.
A year later, Bryan is walking into WrestleMania 35, the biggest show of the year for professional wrestling, as the WWE Champion, as a top villain and as one of the most talked about in-ring competitors in the world.
As Kofi Kingston pursued Bryan, the coin has flipped on the former American Dragon. He who was once the underdog and commanded the surging love of the audience is now the sneering king, looking down from his throne at the would-be underdog. They say you die a hero or live long enough to see yourself as the villain.
Bryan is THE villain for the Smackdown brand and a year after returning to action, stands tall atop the FITE rankings. Job well done.
No matter how enraged World Wrestling Entertainment's creative process has made the company's most die-hard followers, the reality is that Kofi Kingston is in the midst of the biggest and most sustained storyline of his career, a raucous ride that lands him in a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 35.
This past week on Smackdown, Kingston put forth yet another superhuman effort in running the Gauntlet against WWE Smackdown's top competitors, winning the war of attrition. In a move that harked back to pro wrestling's formulative days in the carny circuit, just when Kingston thought he was on solid ground, he was ripped from terra firma as he was then forced to wrestle Daniel Bryan.
Kingston technically has nothing to show for his efforts after losing. Nothing except an audience ready to go to war for the New Day member, another performance that stole the hearts of the WWE audience and a momentum that continues to gain steam leading into the biggest show of the year for professional wrestling.
Once again, the WWE Universal Champion has to do very little in order to create seismic waves.
Lesnar returned to WWE programming this past Monday, looking every bit the monster Champion as Paul Heyman spouted his propaganda. Then, Lesnar didn't even need to get physically involved, instead playing mind games to distract Seth Rollins, causing his loss to Drew McIntyre in the main event of Raw. All of this masterfully adds to Lesnar's reputation as the antagonist, the obstacle that all heroes must run through.
As rumors of his WWE contractual status begin to bubble up again, Lesnar has everyone guessing and talking. That's what a great pro wrestler does, even if he's rarely around. When he is though, everyone sits up and pays attention.
Jay Lethal grew up in the shadow of Madison Square Garden, watching and dreaming as the great World Champions of his era fought their hearts out to prove why they are the best in the world.
This past week, Lethal once again showed why he's the best in Ring of Honor, taking today's generation of dreamers and observers on a sixty-minute journey through professional wrestling excellence against Matt Taven. It was the last thing ROH fans expected at the 17th Anniversary event, throwing all ceremony out the window.
By the time the dust had settled, the stage was set for Taven to enter the ROH World Championship match at the G1 Supercard in NYC's Madison Square Garden. Lethal knows very well the ghosts that haunt the Mecca of Sports-Entertainment. They are the same ones that inspired him to enter the ring.
Now, Lethal gets to add to not just his own legacy, but the legacy of ROH and Madison Square Garden when history is made.
Over the past several weeks, Drew McIntyre has reminded everyone of the sheer intensity and anger he has carried over the last several years of his career.
After stalling under WWE Creative, the Scottish star exploded back to the forefront, attacking Roman Reigns, defeating Dean Ambrose in a crazed Falls Count Anywhere brawl and now, defeating Seth Rollins.
Wiping out two-thirds of The Shield placed McIntyre in Reigns' sights at WrestleMania, but more importantly, it teleports him back to the top-tier of WWE's Raw brand.
Add in that he competed at a stellar level over the past week while fighting off the flu and one has to wonder, what greatness could this madman achieve when he's 100% healthy?
When the former UFC star came to World Wrestling Entertainment, the commonly asked question is why she wasn't presented as the bad-ass, explosive, legitimate fighter that everyone knew her to be.
The reality was that it just wasn't time. Over the past several months, it's appeared WrestleMania was going to be all about the coronation of Becky Lynch. That was, until Rousey unleased the full force of her might. Whether it's mocking fans online, wrecking officials and security, wiping out opponents in second and trying to snap arms, the narrative for WrestleMania has changed.
Now, everyone wonders whether Lynch and Charlotte Flair can survive the onslaught of the Raw Women's Champion. That's the type of once in a lifetime athlete who makes you sit up, makes you fearful and makes you realize you are witnessing something special that will never repeat.
Becky Lynch may claim to be the man. Ronda, however, is something grander. A franchise.
When the former Ring of Honor, WWE NXT and Impact Wrestling Champion became WWE United States Champion, it was a sign that the Samoan Submission Machine had finally been knighted one of the made men for WWE Smackdown.
His timing could not have been better. After two years of being on the WWE main roster, that championship not only meant Joe had ascended to the next level, but now he was guaranteed entry into the WWE time capsule that is WrestleMania.
With Rey Mysterio set at his challenger, Joe will be in the familiar role of monster champion trying to ward off a smaller foe. It's where he thrived.
It's where he wages war. Once again, it's Samoa Joe's ring. It's long overdue, yet Joe is right on time.
Las Vegas is the city where you lay it all on the line and by the end of the gamble, you are either king of the world or just another forgotten lost soul.
This past week, Ring of Honor celebrated their 17th Anniversary live on FITE, but if anyone truly rolled the dice and ended golden, it was Villain Enterprises. Marty Scurll locked in his entrance to the ROH World Championship match at G1 Supercard.
PCO and Brody King shocked the world by defeating Mark and Jay Briscoe in a violent street fight, emerging the new ROH World Tag Team Champions.
Then, the trio shocked The Kingdom and exited with the World Six-Man Tag Team Championship as well.
If anyone should be celebrating their hard work and good fortune, it's Villain Enterprises. They may soon reign supreme at Madison Square Garden as well.
The reigning and defending Major League Wrestling Champion was beaten and bruised by the end of his recent steel cage match against Low Ki in Chicago, yet still emerged triumphant.
Lawlor also survived a post-match attack from the forces of Contra, including Jacob Fatu. Still recovering, Lawlor must set his sights on NYC, where MLW's Battle Riot match, the same battleground that began his own journey to the MLW title means that his next challenger is about to emerge on the horizon.
Matt Taven screams conspiracy, but this past week at the Ring of Honor 17th Anniversary PPV, the real enemy Taven fought was the clock. When the time limit expired on his ROH Championship match against Jay Lethal, Taven had once again proven himself worthy of the top prize in ROH, yet found it slipping through his fingers.
His lone consultation prize was entry into the G1 Supercard ladder match next month, which means that Taven may finally have his moment in the sun and just as important, he may have it in the World's Greatest Arena.
Matt Taven's time may be coming, but what he accomplished this past week is putting all the denials to rest – he's someone who should be in the hunt when debating the best professional wrestlers competing across the globe. Time will tell whether his Kingdom launches a dynasty, but Taven's work ethic has left an indelible mark on professional wrestling history already.
By: Mike Johnson
Every week here at FITE, we feature the Top Ten ranked personalities in the world of professional wrestling. Unlike other combat sports, pro wrestling cannot be measured in just wins and losses, especially when the drama and excitement of the genre is specifically based around not just the physical performance, but the excitement level created by its combatants. Thus, our top ten measures the most newsworthy performers in the business, who's momentum drives not just their own career paths but the promotions they compete for.
Mike Johnson is the lead reporter for PWInsider.com and has been writing about professional wrestling since 1996. He can be found on Twitter @MikePWInsider and MikeJohnsonWrites.com.