What a difference six weeks can make. The last time this panel convened, The Shield was riding high, Brock Lesnar was seemingly winding down this run with WWE and Becky Lynch was only scratching the surface of what she'd eventually become.
Now, as the calendar turns over into December, it's a completely different world of WWE. Raw's been thrown into chaos, as Roman Reigns had to step away due to a leukemia diagnosis, the remnants of The Shield dissolved and Braun Strowman went down to injury. Brock's back on top, and the next couple of months of Monday Night Raw seem uncertain at best.
SmackDown, on the other hand, has become must-watch TV on a weekly basis. Daniel Bryan is a freshly evil WWE champion, but he's playing second fiddle at the moment. Lynch's ascent to the top of the WWE (and these rankings, by no coincidence) took the unlikeliest of paths. After a tremendous match against Charlotte Flair that was undeniably one of the best of the year in WWE, Lynch and Ronda Rousey were lined up for a high-profile collision at Survivor Series.
It was the lone cross-branded match with any buildup and culminated with an attack on Rousey and the whole Raw women's division just days before Survivor Series -- only the match never happened, as Lynch took a stray punch to the face during the melee.
The result was one of the most iconic scenes in recent memory on WWE, as a bloody Lynch still laid waste to Rousey and stood defiantly, staring down her opponent-to-be. Only it wasn't to be, as Lynch's injuries kept her from that match; the residual excitement was so much, however, that Flair stepped into Lynch's place and got a defining moment for herself with a late-match attack on Rousey using a kendo stick.
Now that Lynch has been cleared ahead of TLC, SmackDown is striking while the iron is hot, as Lynch will put her SmackDown women's championship on the line in a TLC triple-threat match against Flair and Asuka. It's immediately the most important match on the final pay-per-view event of 2018, and with eyes toward a possible Rousey match in 2019 and the means to do it with the upcoming Royal Rumble in January, almost any outcome is possible in this match.
It's been fascinating to watch the unflinching and ever-growing support that Lynch gets every time she opens her mouth, steps into the ring or even lashes out on Twitter. There's a lot of talk about women main-eventing WrestleMania 35, and Lynch seems to hold the key at this moment. We've seen how much can change over the course of a couple of months, but as Lynch continues to reach more and more dizzying heights, it's only fair to recognize how far she has come in just over two months.
Lynch is the first woman ever to top the ESPN WWE Power Rankings, and she nearly swept the first-place votes. At this moment in time, Becky Lynch is undeniably "The Man". -- Tim Fiorvanti
Rankings are based upon the perceived value of a superstar to the on-screen product of WWE, which is determined by the voting of a panel of WWE on ESPN contributors. Number in parentheses indicates first-place votes.
When you step back and think of Becky's ascent, it's astonishing. We all assumed Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey would take the women's evolution to the next level, but it's the SmackDown champ who has the most ardent and passion fan base in the WWE today, and that includes the men. Her beeline to the top of the summit is one of the best wrestling stories of 2018. -- Matt Wilansky
At a moment when Monday Night Raw is in desperate need of stars, Rollins is the one constant upon which the show can rely on week after week. Yes, his feud with Dean Ambrose has had its ups and downs, and yes, 132 matches against Dolph Ziggler might be excessive, but every time Rollins is out there, you're always going to like what you see. -- Andrew Feldman
The "New" Daniel Bryan came out of nowhere, but it's exactly what Bryan and SmackDown Live need right now. Bryan winning the WWE title from AJ Styles on the SmackDown before Survivor Series felt like the WWE angling to avoid another Styles-Brock Lesnar matchup, but the attack after the match showed it was much more than that. Bryan as part of the "YES" movement was as popular as any WWE superstar, but something about his run since his return felt off. Bryan was given a second life as a WWE superstar, something no one but Bryan expected to happen. With that second life, it was time for Bryan to do something new, something he hadn't already accomplished before he had to deal with a rash of serious injuries.
This is a version of Daniel Bryan we haven't seen in WWE. You'd have to go back to his days as the maroon-trunks-wearing Bryan Danielson in Ring of Honor to find the closest version of the Daniel Bryan we're seeing now. He has an attitude. There's a new aggressiveness to the way he works in the ring. He's completely a different performer. That's the Daniel Bryan fans want to see face AJ Styles at TLC. -- Michael Wonsover
With apologies to Dolph Ziggler, Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin, Bobby Lashley, Lio Rush and whichever random heel WWE pairs him up with next, Drew McIntyre has become a standout performer on a weekly basis -- and he's clearly on the path to gold. -- Feldman
It's not surprising that Rousey ended up as a champion this early into her WWE run, but it's a very pleasant surprise that she already has become so comfortable in the ring. She's continued to combine her judo skills with professional wrestling, and you can see her skill set evolve with every match. Also, much respect for the absolute beating she took with a kendo stick and a chair at Survivor Series. That's not something they teach you (or allow) in UFC or the Olympics. -- Matt Willis
That Flair may not rank among the top two female wrestlers in the WWE might seem like a knock on her, but it isn't. The reality is that Flair's in-ring storytelling has progressed to the point where she helped catapult Rousey to new heights with one memorable match. That skill is a major factor in the women's division taking charge in today's WWE, and will keep Flair in main event contention for years to come. -- KC Joyner
Styles lost the WWE championship a couple of weeks ago after an impressive 371-day title reign. Title or no title, Styles is among the best in-ring performers in the world. As long as he's active, he belongs in the upper half of this list, regardless of where he's ended up this time around. -- Sean Coyle
We've gotten only occasional flashes of it during his six years in the WWE, but when Dean Ambrose has a microphone in his hand and free reign to go where he wants, he's among the best promos in the company. The burning of his Shield vest and the doctor's office visit both seemed a bit contrived on the surface, but if you listen to what Ambrose is saying in those promos, it's clear that his potential will be best realized as the villainous foil to Seth Rollins and whomever is next in line. Opportunities abound on Raw, and Ambrose is in a spot where he can take full advantage. -- Fiorvanti
Orton is at his best when he's allowed to push the limits of human decency. In the current family-friendly WWE, that can be difficult to do and keep being invited back the next week, but Orton is doing an admirable job of pushing the limits, being vicious and brutal and leaving us wondering what he's going to do next to his handpicked victims. -- Willis
It speaks volumes for the state of the WWE today that Lesnar may be the only male wrestler who appears to be properly lined up for a shot at the main event of WrestleMania 35. If only we could find a way to book a Fatal 4-way with Lesnar, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey -- it could be the most memorable main in event in WrestleMania history. -- Joyner