The top 25 Superstars of the new millennium
It has been a long, long time since the year 2000. Wars have begun and ended, technology has completely transformed the way we communicate with each other, and the landscape of WWE has changed more times than is physically possible to count. Ever since the bell tolled on January 1, 2000 and it became clear the Y2K virus wasn’t going to destroy us all, Superstars and Divas seemed to come out of the woodwork in an attempt to claim the top spot in WWE.
What followed was a lengthy exercise in one-upmanship that established legends, won championships and changed fates, and the best part is everyone involved is just getting started. Here are 25 of the best Superstars of this very young millennium.
'Stone Cold' Steve Austin
Yes, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin rose to prominence in the late 1990s, living the blue collar dream of sticking it to one’s boss. But as the new millennium dawned, The Texas Rattlesnake showed there was more to him than, “Austin 3:16,” “Stone Cold” Stunners and throwing back Steveweisers.
In 2001, Austin sent shockwaves through the WWE Universe at WrestleMania X-Seven, when he joined forces with Mr. McMahon to regain the WWE Championship, then turned his back on WWE to join the WCW/ECW Alliance. By 2003, injuries from a career of stomping mudholes forced “Stone Cold” into retirement after one last classic with The Rock at WrestleMania 19, but that didn’t stop Austin from making an impact.
“Stone Cold” enforced his brand of Texas justice on Monday Night Raw as the red brand’s ATV-riding sheriff, took his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame, and became an unlikely star in the world of podcasting. The medium has allowed The Texas Rattlesnake to show off his journalistic side, grilling WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon live on WWE Network, as well as his humor, with shows like the one detailing his battles against a Mexican fly.
Plus, he started that whole “What?” thing the WWE Universe is still crazy about. — BOBBY MELOK
Upon flying onto the scene during WWE’s Attitude Era, Lita helped redefine women’s competition at a crucial juncture, not only reshaping the division in which she competed, but also creating a lasting legacy for the Divas who followed. Utterly unlike any woman who had stepped in the WWE ring before her, Lita was unapologetically punk, but her famous aesthetic — the baggy pants, shoulder tat — was only one of the reasons she transformed women’s wrestling.
There were also the breathtaking risks she took in matches, against men and women both, which included a dizzying array of lucha libre-inspired moves like moonsaults and hurricanranas. Though Lita gained footing as a valet of Esaa Rios, then Matt & Jeff Hardy, her breakthrough came in singles competition, where she won four WWE Women’s Championships. In December 2004, Lita’s duel with Trish Stratus set a new milestone as the first women’s main event in the history of Raw. Factor in her jaw-dropping tenure as Edge’s ally during the tail end of the envelope-pushing Attitude Era, and it’s no wonder Lita is remembered as one of the millennium’s most important personalities. — JOHN CLAPP
The Miz’s story reads, appropriately enough, like a Hollywood script: A kid from Cleveland rises to fame on a popular reality show and parlays his success into a dream career at WWE where, after several stops and starts, he becomes the WWE Champion. Cue credits.
WWE Network: The Miz main-events WrestleMania
If only this was a movie. Few Superstars have had a climb quite like The Miz, who really did go from “Real World” hothead to “Tough Enough” contender to a Ryan Seacrest knockoff to, against all odds, a top-tier WWE Superstar. He pioneered social media before social media existed, thanks to his online show “The Dirt Sheet” alongside his tag team partner John Morrison. He has won every title that he is eligible for. He’s a peerless ambassador for the company. (If there’s a press conference in Dubai, guess who’s hopping the redeye?) And yes, he beat John Cena in the main event of WrestleMania 27, all of which happened before he married a supermodel and began starring in movies. So yes, we admit it. The Miz is awesome. Now if only he’d shut up about it. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Booker T famously claimed to be a “five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time World Champion,” though he actually ended up claiming six, all between 2000 and 2006. The charismatic Superstar was also a vital part of WCW’s historic invasion of WWE in 2001, as well as one of WWE’s most memorable and entertaining King of the Ring winners ever. However, maybe the former SmackDown General Manager’s most notable achievement is his induction into the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame. After all, how many people on this list can also claim to be a part of that elite grouping?
Exclusive interview: Booker tells all on his new book
Let’s also not forget that Booker T is the master of the Spinaroonie, and if that doesn’t make him one of the most influential Superstars of the new millennium, I don’t know what does. Now can you dig that …sucka?! — SCOTT TAYLOR
There are opinions and then there are facts. Declaring Trish Stratus as the most dominant Diva 15 years into this millennium is an unadulterated fact.
Take away the eight WrestleMania appearances, the seven Women’s Championship reigns and that little nugget about the 2013 Hall of Fame induction, and you still have a woman who was one of the biggest stars in all of WWE from 2000 to 2006. In her career, the quintessential WWE Diva main-evented Raw four times, delivered stinging, solo in-ring interviews and prevailed in countless high-profile matches, doing all of it with her own distinct swagger and charisma.
The likes of Paige, Sasha Banks or Charlotte all certainly have the potential to eclipse her as the all-time greatest, but as it stands today, Canada’s greatest export was a Diva who indeed got a chance, and ran with it to the Stratusphere and beyond. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
Watching the skinny kid in flower print tights get demolished by Razor Ramon and a number of other Superstars in the 90s before becoming a total megastar seems to be the unlikeliest of sports-entertainment tales. Yet, Jeff Hardy made it happen.
Beyond the Ring: See Hardy's unbelievable story
The Charismatic Enigma, along with his brother Matt, reinvigorated tag team wrestling in the new millennium with their daredevil in-ring style. Hardy’s high-flying ability served him well as a singles star, as well. The Rainbow-Haired Warrior shocked the world when he defeated Triple H for the Intercontinental Title in 2001, only improving on his own from there. While developing a personal style of tattered armbands and body paint that the WWE Universe loved to emulate, Jeff Hardy grew as a competitor, eventually winning both the WWE and World Heavyweight Titles. —BOBBY MELOK
To follow Eddie Guerrero’s ascension from cult-favorite underdog to WWE Champion was to experience true wrestling nirvana. The undersized, second-generation Superstar struggled tirelessly to break free of his mid-card status, and accomplished that with a euphoric title win over Brock Lesnar in February 2004.
Guerrero boasted plenty of other new-millennium championships, but his importance in the 21st century extends beyond the overwhelming joy that accompanied big wins. Following the split of SmackDown and Raw, Guerrero became a blue-brand pillar. Alongside the likes of Edge and Kurt Angle, he fought in countless classics, legitimizing SmackDown as bona fide competition to WWE’s flagship program.
Eddie’s charisma was never in doubt, but because his wrestling mechanics were so flawless, so effortless, the potential of his persona always took a backseat to his reputation as a technician. With the embrace of Latino Heat, however, Guerrero silenced any doubt that he was one of the most influential personalities ever, further cementing his claim as a top Superstar of his time. — JOHN CLAPP
If you were a Superstar who stepped into the ring against The Shield between 2012 and 2014, you knew you were probably going to lose. If you were the WWE Universe tuning into a Shield match during that same time, you knew you were about to get a master class from three young upstarts who didn’t care what the rules were, or whatever “top guy” of the day was standing in their path.
To the collective of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns, every Superstar was simply a body waiting to be Triple Powerbombed into the mat, every potential victory a statement that had yet to be stamped and every crowd just believers waiting to be converted. There’s a reason they didn’t take a true blue loss for almost a year: Nobody, outside of outrageous circumstance or baffling good luck, could manage to beat them. And yes, it’s a shame Rollins had to betray his brothers to fast-track his own rise to the top, but there’s also a certain kind of logic to it. For these three marauders, there were truly no worlds left to conquer. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Rob Van Dam
When WCW and ECW stars invaded WWE in 2001, one stood out from the pack. Rob Van Dam became the second leader of The Alliance, behind only “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He was trying to bring about the end of WWE, but you couldn’t help but root for him as he broke out some of the most unique moves ever seen in WWE.
He became an accomplished champion in the years that followed, winning three Tag Team Titles, six Intercontinental Championships, and becoming the last European and Hardcore Champions. Come 2006, though, RVD had the dreaded “can’t win the big one” label.
His luck completely flipped when he won the second Money in the Bank contract. RVD transformed from very talented to top star, defeating John Cena for the WWE Championship at ECW One Night Stand, simultanteously holding the WWE and ECW Titles,and leading the rebirth of the extreme brand. He truly is, dare we say it, one of a kind. — JEFF LABOON
CM Punk’s fuse was always on a quick burn. It wasn’t until the June 27, 2011 episode of Raw, however, that the brash Superstar truly exploded. That night in Las Vegas, Punk unleashed an unforgettable rant against WWE’s upper management and the WWE Universe itself that spawned the phrase “pipe bomb,” forever revolutionizing sports-entertainment.
Although always whip-smart on the mic, Punk’s skills in the ring were equally adept. The Second City Saint has laid claim to a host of accolades, including a near-unmatched 434-day run as WWE World Heavyweight Champion that spanned from 2011 to 2013. His triumphs hardly stop there. He also became the first and, thus far, only Superstar to win back-to-back Money in the Bank Ladder Matches – at WrestleMania 24 and the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania.
An iconoclast since his 2006 WWE debut, Punk’s influence continues to flash across the WWE landscape, even more than a year after The Straight Edge Superstar made the decision that clobberin’ time was over. — GREG ADKINS
Appropriately enough for a giant, Big Show has some pretty immense achievements to his name over the last decade-and-a-half, from winning a plethora of championships to his Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal victory at WrestleMania 31. The World’s Largest Athlete has also participated in some of WWE’s most memorable matches and moments, including his WrestleMania 24 showdown against undefeated boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather.
Yet even with all of this giant’s titles and accomplishments, it may be his longevity that separates him apart from other titans on this list. The 7-foot, nearly 500-pound Superstar has been a main event mainstay for the past 15 years, still dominating the competition to this day.
Since 2000, The World’s Largest Athlete has embedded his footprint on WWE. And considering his size 22 EEEEE boot and Hall of Fame-worthy career, you can bet he has left a massive mark. — SCOTT TAYLOR
It’s near impossible to sum up the past 15 years of Kane’s career in 150 words. Try explaining how The Devil’s Favorite Demon went from a mute, masked monster to a corporate barbarian who wrestles in slacks without the aid of footnotes and reference page. You had to be a dedicated Kanenite to witness the evolution of a Superstar whose ability to be menacing and then sympathetic, powerful and then vulnerable is rivaled only by Mick Foley. WWE has had bigger names, but none more reliable than the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion who proved to be as valuable in the opening match as he was in a main event. Whether he was fighting for his identity against a depraved Triple H or arguing over the tag titles with Daniel Bryan, Kane has been a constant source of entertainment for nearly two decades. Let’s be thankful those hellfires are still burning. — RYAN MURPHY
With his “Three I’s” of Intensity, Integrity and Intelligence, the squeaky-clean Kurt Angle was an odd fit for the down-and-dirty Attitude Era, but for some reason we can’t picture WWE’s most controversial era without him. Emerging in 1999 as an egotistical goofball who talked down to the WWE Universe, the Olympic Gold Medalist, with his unmatched amateur wrestling background, soon cemented himself as one of the most technically sound competitors of the day, racking up impressive victories over the likes of Chris Jericho, The Undertaker and The Rock.
With WWE Tag Team, Intercontinental, European, WWE and World Heavyweight Championship reigns to his credit, Angle went on to become one of the ruthlessly aggressive cornerstones of the SmackDown brand until his WWE departure in 2006. Looking back on the myriad of accolades garnered by this American hero at the turn of the century, it’s clear that there will never be another Superstar like Kurt Angle in this or any other millennium. It’s true. It’s damn true. —JAMES WORTMAN
If it’s on TV, chances are Chris Jericho had a hand in shaping it. Some would say he even invented it. Big debuts? Jericho invented it. Unifying World Championships? Jericho invented it. Freaky, apocalyptic vignettes? Jericho definitely invented that. Claiming to be the best in the world? Jericho didn’t invent it, but he sure as hell perfected it.
What we’re trying to say is, Y2J has quietly and efficiently amassed a resume without equal in WWE history. You may never guess it because he’s not front and center on the novelty cups, but the kid from Winnipeg blazed a trail that continues to this very day, where he has reinvented himself as a Live Event attraction and reality-show host ( most recently on WWE Tough Enough). Jericho never saw a rule he didn’t break or an audience he didn’t win over in a way you didn’t expect. Only an “A—Clown” would deny The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla a well-deserved spot on this long list — which, by the way, Jericho invented, too. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
When debating the top WWE Superstars of the new millennium, you can’t have a serious discussion without considering Batista. With unbridled intensity and raw power, The Animal proved a force to be reckoned with even in his earliest days – winning the World Tag Team Championship with Ric Flair and the 2005 Royal Rumble Match were just warm-ups. At WrestleMania 21, Batista defeated his former ally Triple H to win his first of six WWE World Heavyweight Championships.
Exclusive interview: The Animal opens up about his 2014 return
For the next five years, The Animal remained dominant and was embroiled in legendary rivalries with The Undertaker, Rey Mysterio and John Cena. Success followed Batista after he took his talents to Tinseltown in 2010, where he eventually stole the show as Drax the Destroyer in “Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy,” one of the highest-grossing movies of 2014. That same year, Batista returned to WWE, once again winning the Royal Rumble Match and reforming Evolution alongside Triple H and Randy Orton. Although a rift with The Game drove him from WWE a second time, Batista will once again grace the silver screen as a villain in the James Bond film “Spectre.”
Batista’s accomplishments in and out of the ring undoubtedly make him one of the new millennium’s top stars. Add in his impeccable fashion sense and he might just be number one. — KEVIN POWERS
Size matters, huh? Tell it to Rey Mysterio. Since the turn of the century, WWE’s “Littlest Big Man” has captured the WWE World Heavyweight Title once, World Heavyweight and Intercontinental Titles twice, and WWE Tag Team Title four times. From his legendary battles with close friend Eddie Guerrero to, arguably, one of his most memorable bouts, a triumphant turn in a Mask vs. Intercontinental Title Match against Chris Jericho at The Bash 2009, Mysterio’s performances have always proven larger than life.
Case in point: Mysterio’s effort during 2006’s Royal Rumble Match. The 5-foot-6 Superstar kicked off the contest as the No. 2 entrant and lasted longer than any Superstar has in Royal Rumble Match history. Mysterio managed to outsmart, outmaneuver and, finally, outlast 29 opponents in a record-breaking one-hour, two-minute and 12-second show of endurance.
That WWE Hall of Fame-worthy feat is just one of many that encapsulate the grit and determination of WWE’s Ultimate Underdog, and proves Mysterio has long since earned his place among the 25 biggest Superstars of the new millennium. — GREG ADKINS
You hear a lot about Superstars who “changed the face of WWE,” but Daniel Bryan’s the only one who took on the machine and won without lifting a finger to do so. A soft-spoken, normal dude who happens to be wicked good at wrestling, Bryan’s skills gradually built him a furious fan base among the WWE Universe that – to put it lightly – booed the hell out of every contender paraded in front of them until their guy was next in line to win the big one.
The whole time, all Bryan did was shrug, lace up his boots and win. He won without excessive pomp and he connected without effort. People liked the guy. Understanding the importance of that, Bryan gave them everything he had, and the audience was more than willing to forgive any past misdeeds in return. (Does anyone even remember how ironically the whole “Yes!” thing started? Thought so.) It was a mutual admiration society that happened to change the course of a WrestleMania. For hardware-heads who are counting championships, Bryan has won every title there is, including the one that matters most of all: The hearts and minds of the WWE Universe. Here’s hoping we see him in the ring again. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
There’s a reason Randy Orton is called The Apex Predator. Since debuting for WWE in 2002, the grandson of Bob Orton and son of WWE Hall of Famer “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Jr. has racked up 13 WWE World Heavyweight Championship reigns, second only to John Cena’s 15 and the 16 won by all-time leader Ric Flair. What makes Orton so much different than Cena is that he doesn’t care if he is revered or reviled, how much merchandise he sells or whether or not he appears in mainstream media. The Viper only worries himself with striking “outta nowhere” with his RKO and racking up wins.
WWE Network: Greatest RKO ever at WrestleMania 31?
If more WWE World Heavyweight Championships come for The Viper with the satisfaction of face-planting his hapless opponents, then that’s just a bonus. Though Orton may not be counting, I am. I predict that it will be Orton, not Cena who breaks Flair’s record 16 World Heavyweight Title reigns. — @JOEYSTYLES
Arguably the most dominant Superstar to ever set foot inside any squared circle, The Beast Incarnate will forever be remembered as the 1 in 21-1— the force of nature that ended The Undertaker’s WrestleMania Undefeated Streak. Yet, when Lesnar debuted in 2002, his impact was brutal and immediate. Never before has there been a Superstar with the size, ability and aggression as The Beast. He quickly reached the mountaintop – becoming 2002 King of the Ring and defeating The Rock at SummerSlam that same year to become the youngest WWE Champion in history.
Having accomplished some of the greatest feats in just two years, Lesnar left WWE in 2004 to pursue other endeavors, including UFC. Inside the octagon, Lesnar proved dominant once again, winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship. But the squared circle called and The Beast returned the night after WrestleMania 28 to confront former rival John Cena. Since his return, Lesnar has shown no allegiance to anyone other than Paul Heyman, and became the most dominant WWE World Heavyweight Champion in recent history after ending The Deadman’s Streak.
“BBRROOCKK LLEESSSNNAARR” has been one of the top stars since the dawn of the new millennium. If you disagree, you may end up with a one-way ticket to Suplex City. — KEVIN POWERS
The Rock didn’t just reach the brass ring. He grabbed it from Mr. McMahon’s hands and dropped a People’s Elbow on it. Already a World Champion by the dawning of the new millennium, The Great One captured four more WWE Championships and two WCW World Titles before leaving WWE in 2004.
After years of random “via satellite returns,” Rock returned home in 2011 in one of the most shocking comebacks ever. It became even better when he agreed to a highly anticipated WrestleMania 28 showdown with John Cena. The megastars traded verbal jabs for a year before Rock bested Cena at The Show of Shows.
Rock’s comeback tour culminated in a WWE Championship in 2013 and a WrestleMania rematch against Cena, proving he was as skilled as ever.
When The Rock left, it seemed like there would never be another Great One. When he returned, he proved it. — JEFF LABOON
After Shawn Michaels stepped away from active competition due to lingering back issues in the wake of WrestleMania XIV, it seemed unlikely that we’d ever see this “Sexy Boy” compete inside a WWE ring ever again. Yet, HBK nevertheless re-emerged on the roster full-time in 2002 — the launching pad for what was perhaps the most enduring and celebrated period in HBK’s WWE Hall of Fame career.
“Mr. WrestleMania’s” seasoned status elevated everyone he squared off against during the first decade of the new millennium, including John Cena, with whom he clashed in an unprecedented 56-minute bout on the April 23, 2007 edition of Raw. Alongside best friend/occasional nemesis Triple H, Michaels also re-embraced his raunchy Attitude Era roots during that time, wreaking all kinds of havoc alongside The Game as a rebooted D-Generation X between 2006 and 2010. But HBK countered those sophomoric antics with some truly serious wars with rivals like Chris Jericho, JBL and The Undertaker, who retired The Showstopper — one of the most unforgettable Superstars of all time — at WrestleMania XXVI. —JAMES WORTMAN
How dominant was The Rated-R Superstar from the year 2000 until his untimely exit from the ring in 2011? Let us count the ways: Eleven WWE World Heavyweight Championships. Main-evented WrestleMania against The Undertaker himself. Participated in some of the most defining, boundary-pushing moments in WWE history, from PDA to TLC. Plus, he’s the only Superstar to win a Royal Rumble Match, King of the Ring tournament, Money in the Bank Match and Elimination Chamber Match.
His resume aside, the remarkable thing about Edge was that he was the rare Superstar who seemed to always be on the upswing, no matter how deep into his run he was. Even when The Ultimate Opportunist had to call it a day due to a lingering injury, he had just defended the World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania and left the WWE Universe salivating for more. And yet, he also somehow managed to leave that same Universe with the feeling he had done all he was meant to do. Like the T-shirt says, he’s done it all, won it all, and for a guy who so often asked if we thought we knew him, we’re left with the feeling that we won’t ever forget him. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Has anyone even come close to the dominance of The Game in the past 15 years? Sure, John Cena may have more World Championship victories (Cena has 15 to Triple H’s 11 since the dawn of the new millennium), but has the Cenation leader ever taken over as WWE’s COO? Has anyone else front-manned three dominant super-groups like DX, Evolution and The Authority? The answer to all of those is a resounding “no.”
WWE Network: The future is now in NXT
Time and again, The Cerebral Assassin has positioned himself at the center of activity within the WWE Universe. Whether it be overcoming Cactus Jack in a New York City Street Fight at Royal Rumble 2000, defeating Sting in a historic clash at this year’s WrestleMania or helping shape the future of WWE itself in NXT, no one Superstar has been more influential or instrumental since the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000, than The King of Kings. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
The Undertaker has completely obliterated the concept of three-act structure. If we were to really break it down, The Deadman is probably on Act 14 or 15 at this point.
Think about it. No Superstar has reinvented himself more often, re-emerged more successfully or risen from the ashes to defy Father Time more persistently than The Phenom. Any WWE Superstar would be incredibly fortunate to have one great title victory, comeback or WrestleMania moment in a 15-year span. The Last Outlaw essentially has checked one (or more) off every single year.
The crazy part of it all – The Demon of Death Valley would also undoubtedly be on any and every Greatest Superstars of the ’90s list. Yet, even as all the Legends that would accompany him on those lists begin to cede the spotlight, The Undertaker remains steadfast and center stage. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
When WWE needed someone to show “ruthless aggression,” one kid with a bad haircut stormed onto the scene and changed sports-entertainment forever. His name? John Cena. The then-up-and-coming Dr. of Thuganomics was bold enough to get in the face of venerated Superstars like The Undertaker and Kurt Angle as he gradually clawed his way to the top. Over time, the WWE Universe — half of them, anyway — couldn’t help but love him.
The Cenation leader has been serenaded with “Let’s go Cena!” and “Cena sucks” chants every night, but he always proves he’s the toughest Superstar going. He has been down, but never for long, returning from multiple injuries months ahead of doctors’ prognoses.
Since his 2002 debut, Cena has won 15 WWE World Heavyweight Championships, second only to Ric Flair’s 16. From winning two Royal Rumble Matches and a Money in the Bank contract to four U.S. Championships and four Tag Team Championships, it’s easier to say what he hasn’t accomplished at this point. — JEFF LABOON