The writers who cover the WWE for ESPN like to pride themselves on sensing the writing on the wall as the ongoing story that the WWE tells on its airwaves week by week progresses. We, however, like much of the WWE Universe, were undeniably shocked by the result of the Survivor Series main event in which Goldberg absolutely demolished Brock Lesnar in one minute, 26 seconds on Sunday and announced himself as a major destructive force.
His emphatic return to the ring after 12 years out of the WWE, followed by a proclamation on "Monday Night Raw" that he'd be a part of the 2017 Royal Rumble match in January, makes it clear that the final chapter of the story of Goldberg and Lesnar hasn't yet been written. While he may be away for a little while, Goldberg made enough of an impact that he assured himself of his first-ever appearance in the ESPN WWE Power Rankings as well.
Our voting panel, which includes writers Brian Campbell, Peter Rosenberg, Tim Fiorvanti, Arash Markazi, Nic Atkin and Sean Coyle, broke down the fallout from the Survivor Series to compile the latest WWE on ESPN rankings. In addition to Goldberg's debut, there's a second new name on this list, along with another high-water mark for another seemingly ageless (and, coincidentally, another former Goldberg rival) superstar in Chris Jericho. Here's how the rest of the top 10 shook out:
The top 10 is shown by rank (with first-place votes received in parentheses) and how much they've moved up or down from the previous edition of the ESPN WWE Power Rankings.
The face that runs the place also runs this list yet again. Styles is the most well-rounded superstar on either roster, and he continues to prove it with every week that passes. The excitement, energy and innovation he brings into his matches, combined with the consistent entertaining nature of his promos, has him at the top of his game. Somehow, the freshness of the James Ellsworth trial run has not yet expired and even turned into a full-time job for Ellsworth -- and that's a testament to the work of Styles. He can bring the best out of anyone. (Coyle)
Owens can work with the best of them on an elite level in WWE, but his strength on the microphone just might be his best attribute. He can certainly play the vicious, unrepentant heel with the best of them, but he's even better, somehow, in a comedic role. He's been able to showcase that versatility in recent months while paired perfectly with "best friend" Chris Jericho. (Campbell)
The best heels in the world of wrestling, since its earliest days, are simultaneously able to make their opponents look like solid gold while getting the crowd to absolutely hate their guts. Flair is displaying many of the tendencies that made her father the most iconic heel in the history of the wrestling business, but she's doing it in her own way. She's done so for months (years, really) with Sasha Banks, and the launching point for a feud with Bayley was instantly successful; by taking away the spotlight from Bayley, who scored the first major highlight of her main roster career by pinning Becky Lynch and securing the victory for her Survivor Series team by immediately taking her out, Flair established that she's unwilling to share the spotlight and earned major sympathy for the presumptive next contender for her WWE Raw women's championship. (Fiorvanti)
Every time we seem to start running out of great things to say about Jericho, he steps it up to yet another level. He has been consistently praised throughout the year, and rightfully so -- and now he reaches his highest point ever in these rankings at No. 4. He is so valuable to the current product in that he elevates anyone who comes in contact with him, and the go-home RAW show before Survivor Series illustrated the perfect example. Jericho hadn't interacted with Ellsworth on TV (though he did have him on his podcast), and after making a single comment about SmackDown's mascot and adding him to 'The List of Jericho', the crowd instantly exploded and started chanting Ellsworth's name. That's what Jericho does. He finds ways to get talent over, and he does it better than anyone. (Coyle)
Ambrose is the perfect example of how quickly a reclamation project can come together. His work with Styles and Ellsworth has completely rejuvenated his appeal as the top face on "SmackDown Live," and his mid-match conflict with his teammate Styles at the Survivor Series helped illustrate how deep-seated the hatred between the two men is. Look no further than this past week on SmackDown, when Ambrose was kicked out of the arena half a dozen times and kept returning under more and more ridiculous circumstances (including a spell dressed up as '90s WWE superstar The Mountie). While his buddy comedy with Ellsworth has real legs, Ambrose also has been able to sell serious tension with Shane McMahon, and the longer that goes on, the more likely it seems that Ambrose is being positioned as a "Stone Cold" Steve Austin-esque anti-authority figure. (Fiorvanti)
Something is still not right about babyface Rollins. Mainly, it's because he still hasn't got any comeuppance against Triple H for costing him the WWE Universal championship, despite having been betrayed by his former mentor some three months ago. The longer that inexplicable wait goes on, the more Rollins' credibility as Raw's supposed top face suffers. Still, he is a phenom in the ring and is as good as almost anyone in the business -- and the second he gets his hands on Triple H, look for him to return to his formerly lofty position. (Atkin)
It's time for a main event run for The Miz, who continues to shine within this career renaissance year. Whether that opportunity comes on the Raw roster following a trade, or back at home on SmackDown, where he recently reacquired the Intercontinental championship for the sixth time, The Miz's work has proved he deserves it. He could always talk with the best of them, but The Miz's ring work has gotten a lot better over the past 12 months. (Campbell)
So, Vince McMahon and WWE finally figured out how to use Goldberg, 12 years after they messed it up the first time. Sunday's finish at Survivor Series, an 86-second squash of Lesnar, was unprecedented and unexpectedly perfect. In less than two minutes, Goldberg immediately returned to the heights of his WCW heyday and joined the level of Lesnar, The Undertaker and The Rock in terms of WWE part-timers who are positioned on a wholly different plane to the main roster. He's in ridiculous shape for a near-50-year-old, and what's more, he has showcased a skill set on the mic -- honed during his time away working acting gigs -- that simply wasn't there before. It likely will be a brief stay on this list, given his impending inactivity, but Goldberg deserves his moment of recognition for so successfully bringing back a character many thought was finished. (Atkin)
Our panel, much like the WWE Universe, is very hot and cold with Reigns. He had some great moments at Survivor Series, including a triple powerbomb as part of a brief Shield reunion, and his work with Rusev in previous weeks offered some hope that he was rebuilding his reputation among those who never really forgave him for being positioned as "The Guy" a little too early. But in a somewhat sloppy spot that should have been a Survivor Series highlight -- a spear on a flying Shane McMahon -- he injured his opponent and seemingly lost any trace of goodwill he had built up with the "smarky" portion of the audience. Hopefully a Reigns versus Owens feud will do the United States champion some good. (Rosenberg)
The WWE has a history of building up some big men well and others very poorly. When it comes to Strowman, it pulled the trigger in going from jobbers as opponents to main-level talent without skipping a beat on his level of dominance. He didn't feel out of place in the highest-profile traditional Survivor Series match and, in fact, Strowman was the most physically dominant presence in a ring full of stars. He has been built perfectly, but now the biggest test lies ahead -- whether Strowman can consistently prove himself worthy of a prominent position on Raw. So far, so good. (Rosenberg)
Dropped from rankings: Sasha Banks (ninth), Dolph Ziggler (10th)
Honorable mention: Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, James Ellsworth, Brock Lesnar, Bayley