Monday, November 2, 2015

WWE – Roster Rundown

Back in October, just before Hell in a Cell when RAW had been stinking on ice pretty much since SummerSlam, I had the idea to write a comprehensive piece on the current WWE roster. At the time we were still in the midst of 31 Days of Halloween. While a great idea like Demons of the Ring: Supernatural Gimmicks in Wrestling worked for the spooky season, this one didn’t. So I held off until now.

I’m a bit frustrated by WWE again. I think the trigger this time was a commercial.

During the above-mentioned podcast I related one of my favorite moments in wrestling. It was at Slamboree 1998 when Dean Malenko won a battle royal disguised as the Luchador, Ciclope, in order to win a shot at Chris Jericho’s Cruiserweight Championship. Problem one was a commercial for fucking Draft Kings that started playing when I selected the PPV.

I don’t give a hobo’s balls about Draft Kings. I have to tolerate their stupid fucking ads from Marc Maron and Stone Cold Steve Austin, but I deal with it because their podcasts are (for now) free. But I pay… you know damn well how much I pay… for the WWE Network and as far as I’m concerned ads are a deal breaker. I’m sure WWE won’t care about my complaint any more than I care about Draft Kings, but if the ads aren’t gone by the thirteenth, I’m cancelling.

And it’s not just that it’s Draft Kings. It could be a product I actually like and I’d find the practice of selling me advertising unacceptable.

Also, if the product were better right now I might have to put more thought into. Fortunately, WWE is spinning its collective wheels with no promise of future excitement. Yeah – obviously I’ll miss NXT. But I’m looking for ways to cut financial corners right now and saving $120 a year is a good start.

Before all of that happens, I want to take a close look at WWE’s current roster, especially Becky Lynch.

I’m sorry. That was inappropriate. But how can I not love a wacky redhead with a legit Irish accent that makes Monty Python references even though she knows that the vast majority of her viewership won’t get them?

I just want to share a few thoughts about the talent, purely from my perspective and without regard to any sort of politics or other behind-the-scenes nonsense:

Adam Rose – Never clicked with me. He seems like a good talker and he’s okay in the ring, but if he disappeared I’d never notice and I doubt many other viewers would, either.

Alicia Fox – Not a fan. Same artificiality as Orton, clunky in the ring.

Alberto Del Rio – A natural. He was born with “It”. He can work at any level and is a great talker. I don’t understand why he was brought back as a heel or why he’s saddled with the uncharismatic and awkward Zeb Coulter.

Becky Lynch – Wonderful. The person I most look forward to seeing on any show. More Becky Lynch, please.

Big E – I am utterly delighted by everything that this man does. He has – through sheer force of will and “stick-to-it-iveness” – progressed from big man filler to one of the top draws of every show he’s on. I hope he enjoys and long and successful career.

Big Show – “I should be able to count on one hand the number of people that have pinned Big Show”. That’s a quote from dany only and he’s right. Between being used as a prop to put up-and-comers over to near-weekly character turns, Paul Wight has been rendered useless by years of thoughtless booking. He’s a smart guy and a great athlete, but I couldn’t care less when he shows up on my screen.

Bo Dallas – He’s got his character down and I enjoy seeing him get his ass handed to him. I think he has the potential to do more than they let him, but for now I’m okay with his occasional appearances to get beaten down. I don’t think they should ever lump him in with the Wyatts because I think he has more to offer than that.

Braun Strowman – Terrifyingly huge and thus far booked well. It’s going to be bad when they stop hiding his deficiencies, though.

Bray Wyatt – Needs a decisive victory in a feud. Bray also needs to tweak his speeches slightly. They’re all getting really similar and starting to feel put-on. He should watch some Foley, Pillman, and early Austin stuff. He needs to vary his act a bit. He does know how to put on a big match, though. I like his timing and presence in the ring a lot. Comes off as comfortable and a pro. Not everyone does.

Brie Bella – I find her to be the slightly more capable in-ring performer. That said, I’d be happy if she was never on my TV again.

Brock Lesnar – An absolute phenomenon. The biggest and most effective “special attraction” draw since Andre. I wasn’t okay with him ending The Streak, but his booking has been so perfect since then that I can’t complain. Usually WWE will throw a moment like that away by following it with lousy booking. This time they got it right. Lesnar is an incomparable in-ring talent and a true force of nature. I’ll pay money to see him every time.

Side Note: Rick Scaia of Online Onslaught describes WWE’s booking the best in his recent Hell in a Cell recap: “…with WWE's track record the last 10 years, it'll take them 24 hours to turn all that interest and good will from the fans into bored annoyance
If you’re not reading Rick’s recaps on OO, you should be.

Bubba Ray Dudley – Personally I think Bubba is one of the most valuable acquisitions of the last five years. The tag team division is as hot as it’s been since 2002 and they need veterans to help it not just stay that way, but develop further. Right now New Day and the Dudleys could Main Event a RAW and nobody would bat an eye. And they’d probably give us one of the best MEs in recent memory. Note: Never forget that Bubba had a credible #1 Contender run against HHH years ago.

Cameron – I’m not even sure who this is.

Cesaro – Another fantastic worker. He can talk and is possibly the best in-ring worker WWE has right now. The crowd loves him to death and hangs on his every move. I don’t know what magic convergence of events creative needs to happen to get Cesaro to the next level, but I’m hoping – along with every other WWE fan – that it happens for the guy.

Charlotte – Phenomenal talent. One of the best in-ring performers in the company. Not bad on the mic. With experience I’m sure she’ll get better. And she’s by no means bad – just getting comfortable, I think. Plus, she exudes Champion. She’s elevating that stupid butterfly belt, which is what a Champion should do.

Chris Jericho – Currently inactive, but worth mentioning because he used to be my favorite wrestler and is now someone that I dread seeing because he’s probably in a spot that I’d rather ten other guys be in. His talk is stale, his in-ring work is serviceable at best, and he seems like he doesn’t particularly care anymore. I wish this guy the best, but I don’t care if I ever see him wrestle again.

Curtis Axel – Duller than dull, but there’s something I like about him. He has the look and he’s solid in the ring, but he just does not have “It”. Also a shame that the Hogan thing derailed his silly Axelmania gimmick.

Damien Sandow – I love him as Damien Sandow. I’d be thrilled if they’d just let him be Damien Sandow. While he’s great at the silly gimmicks, he’s even better as that superiority complex guy. Now I’m halfway expecting (dreading) him to turn up as Damien Sandudley to even out the Xavier Woods factor.

Daniel Bryan – I hope that Bryan can combine his passion for the sport with good decision making. And I hope that WWE goes out of their way to facilitate this. Any joy I might get from seeing Bryan in the ring again would be dulled if it was accompanied by the knowledge that he was putting himself in peril of permanent disability or worse. We’ve lost enough talents too early. Just today I got misty thinking about Eddie Guerrero. People mock WWE for the “PG Era” or whatever, but if it’s making things safer for the boys, I’m all for it.

Darren Young – Another guy that I have an inexplicable soft spot for. He and Titus are a great team. I have no idea why they got bumped down from the spotlight. The tag division should have plenty of room for the Dudleys, New Day, the Prime Time Players, and more.

Dean Ambrose – Has a great future ahead of him as long as he can stay healthy. Another natural that has “It”. I don’t like him as Reigns’ sidekick, though – let’s get this guy in his own program. And on the mic more. Note: Enough with the middle rope clothesline. It’s dumb and it makes your opponents look stupid.

Diego – Los Matadores are fun. We need talented enhancement tag teams. Eventually I hope to see them lose the masks and get serious. The Colón boys could be great.

Dolph Ziggler – Dynamic, high-energy worker. I don’t buy his mic work. I feel like there’s a good character struggling to break through whatever act he’s doing right now. He needs to slow down in the ring and find himself. Once he does, definite future Hall of Famer. He’s got “It” in spades. He just seems a bit uncomfortable right now.

D-Von Dudley - Super hard worker that has a lot to teach the younger guys and still a lot to give the industry. He doesn’t yell the whole time he’s in the ring like Bubba (which I love and forgot to mention), so D-Von isn’t as in-your-face good. But he’s damned good and puts guys over like crazy.

El Torito – Exciting worker with a fun gimmick. Kids love him. My wife is scared of him.

Emma – Great since the heel turn. I found her intolerable before, now I’m always interested when she shows up on TV. Not happy with her playing second fiddle to fitness girl.

Erick Rowan – Intimidating big man that doesn’t work as a face. But his tag work with Luke Harper was awesome and a big part of why we’re getting such good tag wrestling right now.

Eva Marie – Awkward. Artificial. Not entertaining.

Fandango – His gimmick got modified too many times. I like the guy, but he needs something new.

Fernando – See Diego. Ten years ago I could have told you which was which and who the better worker was, but I’m not that guy anymore.

Goldust – Future Hall-of-Famer for sure. One of the best workers in the industry for the past two decades. Always entertaining, no matter what he’s doing.

Heath Slater – Who says they don’t have enhancement talent anymore? Slater is perfectly good as that.

Hornswoggle – He’s good at what he does when there’s a reason for him to be doing it. Note: I want to see Hornswoggle Dudley even less than I want to see Damien Sandudley.

Jack Swagger – I truly like Swagger and want him to be the love child of Kurt Angle and Charlie Haas, but he just never has been. I think my feelings are best summed up by my reaction to his music hitting at the HIAC PPV: Really? Oh, well.

Jey Uso & Jimmy Uso – I don’t know why I didn’t combine Los Matadores like this. I guess because their names weren’t right next to each other. I love the Usos. They’re old school, good time babyfaces that are mad over with the fans. I look forward to their return and seeing how they will impact the revitalized tag division.

John Cena – How can anyone still deny Cena? Not only has he spent most of this year having consistently the best matches on the card, he’s done it by putting over the likes of Owens, Zayn, Ziggler, and pretty much the entire undercard. Sure he won those matches. But he’s been the biggest superstar in WWE for a decade. Having a lengthy, competitive match with him is better than beating any ten midcarders. Note: Weird that the match with Del Rio wasn’t more spectacular. But it sure was decisive.

Kalisto – Absolute spitfire, a modern Rey Mysterio. I’m excited every time he comes to the ring.

Kane – I haven’t always loved Kane, but I do now. More than that, I respect the heck out of him. He’s performed at a consistently high level for almost twenty years now, always doing his best with whatever he was given.

Kevin Owens – The most natural professional wrestler on the roster. Nobody comes across more real than Owens. He’s fantastic in the ring and on the mic – the ultimate storyteller in both areas.

King Barrett – Floundering. I can’t pretend to be interested in Barrett, despite his solid mic skills and powerful ring presence. I feel like there’s something there, and he definitely has talent. It’s just rare that Barrett has been used in an interesting way.

Kofi Kingston – A fantastic and versatile performer that doesn’t get to do enough and yet is a highlight of every show he’s on. Remember when he brushed up against the Main Event in that feud with Orton’s NASCAR car? As hot as Kofi is now, he has the potential to be hotter. If WWE can get past the fact that he’s a smaller black guy, a World Title run could happen in his future. It’s not always to see beside the ridiculous antics of Xavier and Big E, but Kofi has tons of charisma and charm waiting to be cheered.

Konnor – I think this is the big one that actually looks like the gimmick they were going for at first. I don’t mind these guys. They’re solid in the ring. They just had the wrong gimmick. Hopefully teaming up with Stardust will be fun.

Luke Harper – One of my favorite workers on the roster right now. He has had great tag matches, great singles matches, and nobody else has a presence like he does. His limited mic work has all been good. His matches against Ambrose were awesome. The chemistry they had could have carried them into the Main Event.

Mark Henry – He’s been abused just as badly as Big Show. It just hasn’t affected his standing as much because he isn’t a giant, height-wise and also because he’s played well with others in the past. Henry has been part of some fantastic tag teams and that’s humanized him in a way that Big Show hasn’t ever managed, despite his charm and wit. I’d say Henry is still a valuable asset, but he should definitely lose fewer matches.

The Miz – Sometimes he’s golden, sometimes he’s my least favorite person on the roster. I don’t think I’ve ever see-sawed as much on someone as I do on Miz. Right now I don’t care if I ever see him again. Next week he might get involved in an exciting angle or turn a phrase just the right way and I’ll be convinced they should put the WWE Championship back on him. I don’t know what to do with this guy.

Naomi – I want to like her. I hate her entrance music. And as soon as Sasha Banks hit the main roster she felt like second fiddle. She just hasn’t clicked for me, yet.

Natalya – Gorgeous and powerful. Loads of natural in-ring talent and good on the mic. Very real and charismatic. Utilized for shit ever since she debuted. Shame on WWE for what they’ve done with Nattie.

Neville – Spot monkey. Of course, we all know he’s not a spot monkey and that he can have brilliant matches and cut effective promos. But on the main roster he’s just a spot monkley.

Nikki Bella – I have to begrudgingly admit that she is great at her character and has had two very good matches in a row, though I think her opponents should start legit beating her ass to make her fucking sell. I’m sick of her prancing around after a hard-fought match, no-selling her opponents’ efforts. The sooner her and her sister are off my TV, the better.

Paige – The best female superstar on the roster. Sick promos, amazing in-ring. Always real, always impactful. Knows how to WORK.

R-Truth – I love Ron Killings and I wish everyone knew the Killings that I know – the man that legitimized the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in TNA back in 2002. He was one of the best in the company and cut some amazing, ground-breaking promos. He’s still fun in the ring and seems happy with his spot in WWE, but I miss the old, angry Truth.

Randy Orton – Artificial. I don’t and never have bought a single thing this guy says or does. Every second he is on my TV seems like some kind of act. I don’t buy his intensity, his rage, or his fan service. He doesn’t hurt people and that, to me, is his sole positive attribute. Otherwise I have zero use for him.

The Rock – He’s the fucking Rock. Next.

Roman Reigns – See Orton. Same words. Though I feel like Reigns can learn and – more importantly – wants to. I get the feeling that he knows his limitations and wants to improve, which is not a feeling I ever got from the entitled Orton. I’m pulling for Reigns, for real. I just hope they don’t push him too far before he can get the skills he needs.

Rosa Mendes – She’s still around?

Rusev – I want Rusev to succeed. Once he got out of doing nothing but squashes he had some badass matches. And as far as I’m concerned he doesn’t need a mouthpiece. His accent just adds to his character and isn’t hard to understand.

Ryback – I don’t care for his character, but he certainly has his place. Every promotion needs a powerhouse meathead. And WWE has done a surprisingly good job of keeping him from getting stale. He has just the right kind of won/loss record to stay interesting.

Sasha Banks – Real deal. Great talker, smart worker with an astounding grasp of how to work the crowd and how to fill the spaces in between moves. Revolutionary.

Seth Rollins – So good it’s almost dull. And I mean that in the best possible way. When Rollins cuts an amazing, weasely promo that makes me want to see him get his face smashed in I’m like, “Well, yeah – it’s Rollins”. When he has an amazing match that steals the show I’m like, “Well, yeah – it’s Rollins”. He’s so good and it comes so naturally that you almost don’t give the guy credit for it. He’s the guy that makes it look easy. You know how good he is, so it’s almost like you unfairly expect more of him. “Oh, it’s just another five-star match? Whatever.”

Sheamus – Great look, dull as a butter knife. Him and Barrett together are Team Nyquil, which makes it a damn shame that they’re the King of the Ring and the Money in the Bank… uh… guy. No – I am not entertained.

Sin Cara – Perfect partner for Kalisto. Not spectacular on his own, but solid and fun to watch.

Stardust – Electric. I feel a little bad that he’s essentially stuck with his brother’s gimmick, but he’s so damn good at it. And I truly believe that Cody will be able to transcend this character one day and we’ll marvel over how he used to be this wacky villain.

Sting – It’s a shame if we don’t get to see him compete again, but that match with Rollins was awesome. He’s Sting. He goes into the Hall of Fame and regardless of what he does from here on out, he had one of the biggest careers in the industry. Even if he did spend that last ten spinning his wheels in the indies.

Summer Rae – I don’t get it.

Tamina – I’d love to see her used like Kong was in TNA, minus the concussions. I hear she’s hurt people, though, so maybe not.

Titus O'Neil – I love Titus. He’s still a little shaky, comfort-wise, but I think he’ll get there. Dude has charisma for days. One of the guys I’m always happy to see on my TV.

Triple H – One of the all-time greats. No matter what you think, you have to respect his love and knowledge of the business. And always remember – NXT is what it is because of this guy.

Tyler Breeze – Excellent. I can’t wait to see what he does on the main roster, but I’m terrified that they’re going to book him poorly. Starting him off with Summer Rae was a bad call in my opinion. It’s removed some of the ambiguity that made the character so interesting.

Tyson Kidd – In-ring talent on a whole other level. I hope he’s set for life, whatever his health may be. He went through a lot to get to the level of success he and Cesaro were at and it’s tragic that it might be as big as he gets. He had the tools and the talent, I think.

The Undertaker – There will never be another. A bona fide sports legend.

Viktor – Small Ascension guy. Seems to have talent.

Xavier Woods, PhD – It would be inappropriate for me to comment on how gifted a close, personal acquaintance is and how I think once New Day (sadly) runs its course the world will see exactly what this future Main Eventer has to offer.

Zack Ryder – How can you not love this guy? What a work ethic!

Other On-Air Personalities

Lana – Nice to look at. Not sure how much else she has to offer.

Paul Heyman – The best manager in the history of the business, as well as the best talker. Can control the crowd like nobody else.

Stephanie McMahon – Has really learned to play a character as face or heel. I like her.

Zeb Colter – I’ve always felt he’s awkward and not particularly good at turning a phrase. He feels like someone’s uncle that they pulled off the street. I had no idea until he’d been around for a while that this was Dutch Mantel.

Booker T – One of my favorite wrestlers. There was a time when he was good on commentary. That time has passed.

Byron Saxton – At first I thought he was terrible, but he got good quickly.

Jerry Lawler – He’s so bad he makes me want 1998 Lawler back.

John "Bradshaw" Layfield – He, too used to be good. He still is on occasion.

Lilian Garcia – Sings the National Anthem better than anyone.

Michael Cole – Only one announcer is worse than Michael Cole, and that is Mark Madden.

Renee Young – An absolute delight in everything she does.

Stone Cold Steve Austin – Makes up for his lack of interview skills with charm and honesty. And by being Stone Cold Steve Austin.

This ended up way longer than I anticipated because the roster is HUGE right now! Come back next Monday for my thoughts on NXT.

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