The John Report: WWE Roster Evaluation 2011 - Raw
By John Canton
Follow me on Twitter at @johnreport
This is my evaluation of the current WWE roster. I will look at every on camera performer in the company. The list comes straight from WWE.com, so it is up to date and relevant with today's WWE product. The last time I did one of these columns was two years ago. In fact most of the intro below is taken from that because I feel like I did a heck of a job explaining this column. I'm writing this in late September because it is about halfway between WrestleMania 27 and WrestleMania 28. It's a good time to evaluate the entire WWE roster as we head into the fall season with a major PPV like Survivor Series coming up in two months, which will then lead us into the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania 28.
This evaluation will feature Raw only. The second post will feature Smackdown. That second part will also include a summary of all the rankings as well as some general observations on the overall roster.
The Grading System
I tried to look at each wrestler's workrate, mic work, charisma, drawing power and importance to the company as a way to grade them. For the managers or announcers I will just give them a grade based on the role that they play. It's important to note that when a diva gets a B+ for example she's getting that rating as compared to divas in WWE. It's not comparable to the B+ that a male wrestler may get. Keep that in mind, please.
For a better explanation of my criteria, here's a look at the grading system.
A+ = Workrate, mic work, ring psychology, charisma are exceptional. The closest thing to a perfect wrestler. (If you're wondering about the A+ rating I'd say there have been some in the last decade or so. I'd have given A+ to Chris Jericho in 2008, Kurt Angle in 2002, Steve Austin in 2001 and Triple H in 2000 off the top of my head.)
A = Excels in all of the key areas that I explained above, but may lack one or two special qualities.
B, B+, A- = A very good performer that needs a little work in some areas in order to improve or may be slipping a bit due to age.
C, C+, B- = A performer who has not reached his potential or a wrestler who is unable to improve on some areas due to their size and/or talent level.
D+, C- = A performer that struggles in certain aspects and doesn't appear to have the talent to improve.
D or lower = I would rather watch paint dry.
F = The Boogeyman. I don't miss him.
In addition to the letter grade, I will be including a feature that I've admired in Pro Football Weekly's annual NFL preview issue. They have this feature where they rank the players by position. After their rating (they use numbers, not letters) they have a bonus rating for players that are either on the rise or past their prime. Here's an explanation on that:
(u) = This means the performer has an upside. It's usually for a new talent that is still growing as a character.
(uu) = This means the performer has a bigger upside. Think of somebody like Randy Orton when he was first a part of Evolution or John Cena in 2003, before he was main eventing.
(d) = This means the performer is on the downside of his/her career. It's usually going to be for an older performer, or maybe somebody with a long injury history.
(dd) = Same as above except maybe this person is a little older and a little more banged up.
If you don't see any letters in brackets following the capitalized letter grade of the performer then that means I think that person doesn't have an upside or a downside. You should take it to mean that I believe that performer is at or near the peak of his or her talents.
Simple enough, right? This list of talent that I'll be evaluating comes from the WWE.com Superstars list. I am using the rosters effective September 22, 2011. I will talk about everybody from the wrestlers to divas to announcers and whoever else is listed on the site. I won't include referees although I think Scott Armstrong & Mike Chioda are the best at that job. Some write-ups will be long while others will be shorter. It depends on the individual, obviously. The grading will be based on their current activity with the company as well as where they might fit in the company in the future.
Following the letter grade of the performer, I will have a section called Outlook where I will write a few sentences about where I see that person headed in the future.
Before I get people complaining to me about any of my comments, please remember that I respect every person involved in wrestling. It's a tough, demanding business that requires these performers to sacrifice many other things in their lives. While it may seem like I'm "bashing" somebody, it's nothing personal. It's just their work on WWE television. I've always considered WWE to be like a favorite sports team. Even though I will criticize decisions made by the company, I am still a fan and always will be a fan. It's the same thing when a sports fan questions a free agent signing or a coaching decision during the game. (Hey 2011 Boston Red Sox, how you doing?) It's never personal. On top of all that, I have been a fan of pro wrestling for 20+ years and I feel that as a 31 year old man that follows this company on a daily basis I've gained a lot of experience as a fan that has written about it for over a decade.
The list comes from WWE.com and it will be posted in alphabetical order just like it is on their website. Beside each performer's name will be their age (as of September 22, 2011) in brackets. Let's get started.
Alberto Del Rio (34)
I've been a big fan of Del Rio since he debuted in the summer of 2010 and you could say that WWE was a big fan of him too. He won the Royal Rumble, but then he lost the World Title match to Edge at WrestleMania. Most thought he'd win the World Title after Edge retired. He didn't. They moved him to Raw where most believed he would get an even bigger push. He won Money in the Bank, cashed in and won the WWE Title after Summerslam. My thinking was he'd have a two or three month title reign. It didn't even last one PPV as he dropped the title to John Cena and now appears as if he's going to be out of the main event scene going forward. What happened? I think WWE panicked because of house show attendance dropping a bit as well as ratings going down a bit. In terms of having a gimmick that works, being capable in the ring and being a good talker he's somebody that has all those things. I'm also a big fan of the Cross Armbreaker finisher. I'm not sure what he did to cause WWE to lose faith in him. I hope he earns their trust back. Give him some feuds to really let him get over like the Mysterio one, which was his only major feud over the course of a year, and I think he's somebody that can be a huge asset for WWE long term. Grade: B+
Outlook: I think he'll be an upper midcard heel for the next few years. It's unlikely that there will be a babyface turn in his future. I hope he gets the opportunity to be WWE or World Champion again soon although that doesn’t appear to be in the immediate forecast.
Alex Riley (30)
Riley has two things going for him that Vince McMahon loves: he's big and he can talk. What he doesn't have is enough skill in the ring. It's obvious. I'm not trying to insult him when I say it, but I think the audience can tell too. He was over as a babyface when he turned because he was against The Miz. Since then? He's barely getting a reaction. I actually like the SAY IT TO MY FACE song, but once the music dies down what does he have to offer? He appears to be a good athlete, so hopefully he learns some of the mental aspect needed in order to "up his game" so to speak. Physically he appears to be gifted. He just needs the right angle to get over, stay over and put on better matches too. Grade: C+ (u)
Outlook: To me he's better suited as a heel. The cocky jock gimmick is currently being used by Jack Swagger, but I thought Riley was a natural at it during the second season of NXT.
Anonymous Raw General Manager
The Raw GM isn't listed on the Superstars page, but I had to say something. Thank God they have completely forgotten this storyline even though they still bring out the podium with the laptop to Raw every week. To the anonymous Raw GM I say I wish you the best in your future endeavors and hope that you too suffer from ANAL BLEEDING~! That is all.
Big Show (39)
It's crazy to think back to when he debuted in WCW as "Andre's son" in the mid-90s. He was so much thinner back then with a lot more hair. He had a lot of ups and downs in his early days in WWE, but he found his niche in the mid-2000s and has been a solid contributor ever since. Currently he's out on vacation. I guess that's what we can say. He was taken out by Mark Henry, so they sent him home for a few months. It's a good idea because for a character that was on WWE TV for the majority of the last decade, he needs a break once in a while. Now he's one of the few veteran legends on the roster that is basically used to put over talent on their way up the ladder. Due to his age I doubt he's going to be getting another WWE or World Title run although as we've seen with Mark Henry they aren't afraid to push veterans late in their career. He can still cut good promos, have passable matches as long as they are kept short and as long as he can yell while putting that hand up in the air he's going to get that big reaction. You need guys like Show around to help the young guys. He knows his place on the roster and he generally does a good job. Grade: B- (d)
Outlook: He's turned babyface and heel so much that I've lost count over the years. I think because the roster has more young heels that he's better long term as a babyface. The question is how many more years does he have left? I think two or three years will likely be it and he'll call it a career. It's amazing that he's lasted this long, really.
CM Punk (32)
He wears a t-shirt that says: "Best in the World." Is he? In my opinion he is. I think he's unquestionably the best talker on the roster since The Rock isn't a full timer. Even if Rock was, Punk can hold his own with him. He's shown amazing mic skills when he was a heel, when he was doing his shoot promos and now that he's more of a babyface. When he speaks everybody listens. Like he once said: "Do I have your attention now?" Yes he does. Pipe bomb! In terms of in-ring performance, he is in the upper echelon as well. The match with John Cena at Money in the Bank was as intense as any match he might have in his career and he delivered a five star performance that is arguably the match of the year (with Taker-HHH). Most of his TV matches are really good too if they're given time. There really is no weakness to him. My concern is that there are a lack of true top heels for both he and Cena to feud with on Raw, so long term that's something WWE needs to fix by elevating some of them. Punk is in the prime of his career, he's got a brand new contract, he's the best talker in the company, an elite worker and maybe one day he'll be responsible for those delicious WWE Ice Cream bars returning too. It doesn't get any better than CM Punk in today's WWE. Best in the world indeed. Grade: A (uu)
Outlook: I think he'll be firmly entrenched in the babyface role for the foreseeable future even though he was arguably the best heel in the company during his peak heel run in 2009. The hope is that they can turn him into one of the biggest babyface stars in the company. In many ways he already is, but can he sustain it? I think so. There's no reason to turn him heel now. He makes everybody around him better. I'd love to see the match with Steve Austin at WrestleMania if Stone Cold is willing, as well as a feud with a returning Chris Jericho and other heels like Ziggler, Miz & Swagger, who would benefit from working with Punk.
Curt Hawkins (26)
If you watch Superstars or NXT then you'd know that Hawkins' current position is as a heel tag team wrestler along with Tyler Reks. I think it's a role that suits him fine. He's a good athlete that has a lot of potential and is still young enough to break out as a singles star in the coming years. Hopefully they get behind the team a bit. They will need some kind of gimmick, but the fact that WWE is pairing up midcard guys to form a tag division is an encouraging sign. Grade: C+ (u)
Outlook: The Hawkins/Reks team seems to be permanent for now. It's all about opportunity. If they're given a chance to succeed they could have a bright future as a team. If they are left to toil on the .com shows then he could hit the future endeavors line even though he's too young to be given up on.
David Otunga (31)
This week on Raw we saw the "new" side of David Otunga, as WWE is finally playing up the fact that he's got a law degree from Harvard. He worked as a lawyer before pursuing his wrestling dream. I think as a talker he's slightly above average. He impressed me on the first season of NXT with his promos. In ring? He's below average. For somebody that's been in WWE's system a few years he hasn't improved a whole lot. He works like a random indy worker. He does nothing to differentiate himself from the pack. Does having a high profile wife like Jennifer Hudson help him? I'm sure it does. That's not to say he should be fired. The lawyer role might work for him. It will show off his talking skills and earn him heat because lots of people hate lawyers. Grade: C
Outlook: I don't see him taking off as a singles star or even a tag team wrestling star. His tag team run with Michael McGillicutty was mediocre at best. He's a role player in today's WWE and I don't think he'll ever be more than that.
Dolph Ziggler (31)
In terms of people on the roster that I think need to be elevated immediately, Ziggler tops the list for me. I think he's somebody with all the tools to succeed if he gets the opportunity to show it. Thankfully, it appears as though he is getting that chance. Sure, he had a World Title feud with Edge earlier in the year that saw him hold the prestigious title for about an hour, but it has largely been forgotten. In late 2010 he also had a feud with Daniel Bryan that produced some of the best matches in the company. He's another guy that I'd put in that list of top five workers too. The 167 matches with Kingston (I made the number up although it's close!) were fine, but it's been good to see him move on. Like Punk, he's in his prime right now and he's showing a lot of poise on the microphone now too. He used to be nervous. You could tell. Not anymore. My biggest gripe with him is that I think the name Dolph Ziggler is not one that works as a threatening, evil type of name. It's not a major thing, though. The key is presenting him like a top guy, giving him key wins and finding a way to incorporate him in the stories of those at the top of the roster. My hope is that between now and WrestleMania 28, he's somebody that gets elevated to that upper echelon just like The Miz did late last year. They need heels to be in that spot. He's ready. Grade: B+ (uu)
Outlook: They should push him up the ladder. Keep him in the heel role because he's very good at it. I think a long term feud between Punk & Ziggler could be incredible. He also hasn't had that many matches with John Cena, so that's a fresh opponent for the champ.
Drew McIntyre (26)
When I looked up McIntyre's age I thought "wow he's still only 26." They pushed him at such a young age that you forget he's not even in his wrestling prime. I mention that wrestling prime a lot. I'd say it's between years 28-33 or so. After being billed as the "Chosen One" of Vince McMahon on Smackdown, his push came to screeching halt on the blue brand and he was moved to Raw where he has barely been used. I'm not sure what happened. I doubt it was because of his real life marriage to ex-diva Tiffany (they are now divorced) because she ruffled some feathers apparently. There was apparently an incident during a party a few years ago that didn't go over well with management. That shouldn't matter, but maybe it did. Sometimes wrestling can be like high school because of who you date or what that person might do or say. I still think he has a bright future. He's tall, he's built well and he's had some pretty good matches under his belt. You know what I really like about Drew? His theme song. Best in WWE right now. I just miss hearing it…when he is actually used. Grade: C+ (u)
Outlook: I think staying in the heel role is natural for him. Perhaps a tag team could help get him out of a rut or move him back to Smackdown where he had more success. It would be foolish to give up on him and I don't see WWE doing that unless he does something stupid.
Evan Bourne (28)
They have finally found the perfect role for Evan Bourne as the tag team partner of Kofi Kingston. He is far too good to be the jobber to the heels that he was for most of his WWE run, so now they're using him as a backbone of the tag division. I like it. He's an exciting underdog type of babyface who is one of the best sellers in the company. He also possesses the Air Bourne Shooting Star Press as a finishing move, which is as impressive as any finisher in the company. Seeing it up close makes you appreciate it even more. He's also got a lot of appeal for the younger audience because he's smiling all the time and appears to be a likable guy. You don't get to hear him talk very much, though, which makes me think WWE has little faith in him in that role. That's okay, though. Use him as the energetic babyface that everybody can relate to. He's perfect in that role. Grade: B (u)
Outlook: Hopefully the tag team with Kingston lasts for at least a year or more. There's no need to break them up anytime soon. They need to be the featured team in the division because who else is there? A heel turn is not in his future. He is one of those guys that needs to be a babyface forever.
He's listed on the Raw roster page even though he hasn't appeared on Raw as Goldust in 2011. I'm including him because maybe somebody from WWE.com will read this and have him removed as a regular performer. He works backstage these days as an agent/producer for divas matches. Read his book, by the way. Pretty damn good. Grade: NR
Outlook: I think they could use him on TV in bit roles if they need him, but I'd assume that his in-ring career is over now.
Jack Swagger (29)
Here's one of my personal favorites. What I like about Swagger is he's got a legitimate athletic background (not as glamorous as what WWE says) and he's mobile for a big man. That's the key. While Vince McMahon can hire dozens of big guys that he enjoys watching as they put on their baby oil, how many of them can have good matches? A select few. Swagger isn't big like a bodybuilder, but he's big enough to the point that he's believable. That is wrestling at its best. You have to make the audience think they're watching a legit fight even though they know better. Swagger brings credibility to a "fake sport" that not a lot of others do. Why not capitalize on that? Instead, they book him like an idiot that does his run around the ring like an eagle. His World Title reign in 2010 was a complete joke and then he got buried after it was over. For what? I still don't know. You can't build up talent if you refuse to pay attention to the gifts that they have. Swagger's a big body, he can work and he's good enough on promos to warrant a serious push. If he's a heel, put over his Ankle Lock finisher as a deadly maneuver ("WHAT A MANEUVER!" - Vince McMahon) and do what you did with Mark Henry except do it for somebody that can actually have a good match. If he's a heel, play up the patriotism aspect and tweak his character a bit. He's been doing the same thing since he debuted. It's time for something fresh. I hope the future is a bright one for Swagger. He's too good to be on the sidelines. Grade: B (u)
Outlook: I've been saying for months that they should turn him babyface. While I'm not sure where this angle with Ziggler is going, I feel like Swagger turning face will be the end result.
Jerry Lawler (62)
I have a lot of respect for Lawler as an announcer. During the mid to late 90s and into the early 2000s he was probably the second best heel announcer ever after Bobby Heenan. He was funny, he supported the heels no matter what they did and the fans hated him for it. Then he went soft, got boring, became less funny and now has lost whatever appeal he had. When he does PPVs it's obvious that he doesn't watch Smackdown. They need a fresh voice on Raw. After nearly 20 years on the job, though, you know that Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn trust him more than anybody. He's the old guy that's hung around too long now. Plus, now he'll forever be known as the ANAL BLEEDING~! guy. That can't be a good thing! Grade: C+ (dd)
Outlook: Apparently he signed a three year deal earlier in the year. He's not going away. Hopefully he realizes it's time to hang it up at that point. I'm not being disrespectful. It's just that there comes a time in everybody's life when they have to move on. His time has arrived.
Jim Ross (59)
The Jim Ross that is at the announce booth today is not the same guy that manned that spot on Raw through the 90s and most of the 2000s. He's more of a supporting cast member since Michael Cole handles much of the play by play work. It's a waste of Ross' gifts. He's the best play by play man ever. Nobody gets people excited for matches better than him. Nobody puts over a big spot better than him. I'm glad that WWE thought enough of him to put him back at the desk, but I wish they allowed him to be the JR that we know and loved. The announce booth is better with him in it than it is without him. That I know for sure. Grade: B
Outlook: Who knows? Vince seems to change his mind on Ross every few months. He could be written out next week and it wouldn't surprise me. I hope he's there for another five years, but it's hard to forecast how WWE will use him.
John Cena (34)
I know there are a lot of John Cena haters out there, but I don't think I'm one of them. Do I like everything that he does on screen? Absolutely not. I think some of his promos are too silly when they need to be serious and I think sometimes when he has TV main events he goes through the motions too much. However, when he's on the big stage like at Money in the Bank or Summerslam against a quality opponent we see the real talent that this guy has. He can put on a good show for 40+ minutes when he has to. It seems like sometimes he gets even better after the crowd boos him too. I can remember hearing from Cena haters after MITB that were telling me they were actually impressed by him. The problem is when he opens his mouth they have him spout his stupid toilet humor jokes that only people with Vince McMahon's warped sense of humor find funny. When Cena was cutting promos on The Rock & CM Punk this year he was great at times. It made us realize how good he can really be. One of the most popular questions I get is: "When will John Cena turn heel?" I have no idea when that will happen, but I think that when it does it will be a massive angle. It may never happen, though, because Cena's merchandise numbers destroy the rest of the roster to the point that I've read that 1/3 of total merchandise sold is John Cena gear. I don't know how factual that is, but after seeing a half dozen shows live in the last year I definitely believe it. He's still ridiculously over especially with kids and females. Obviously a lot of guys don't like him, but they're the hardcore fans that keep watching anyway. Cena works hard, he represents WWE as well as anybody, he does a ridiculous amount of charity work and he does it because of his genuine love of the business.
As for the grade, it's tough. Two years ago I gave him a B because I thought he had to get better both in terms of consistency in his matches as well as cutting better promos. Thanks to high profile programs with The Rock & CM Punk, it sure seems like a fire has been lit under his Fruity Pebble ass to the point that he has improved. He's not going to carry a bad worker to a good match, but he is more over than anybody else on the roster. What he gets more than anybody else is a reaction, good or bad. If somebody works with John Cena, people notice. As great as Punk was in the build to Money in the Bank, if he worked with somebody other than Cena it wouldn't have been as important or fun. If Rock came back to feud with somebody other than Cena it wouldn't feel as special. Nobody else has that star power in WWE right now. That's why he gets the A- grade this time around. Grade: A-
Outlook: I think Survivor Series will be a magical night as he teams with The Rock in a 5 on 5 tag in MSG. I don't see the heel turn happening soon. It could be a huge money drawing angle if it happened, but I don't see it now. Cena haters, get used to him. My opinion is we've got another five years of Cena as the top guy while Vince McMahon & Triple H do their best to find a draw that can bring what Cena brings.
John Laurinaitis (49)
He was introduced as an on screen character in the last couple of months. They brought him in as a heel and his gimmick is that of the shady executive that lies to people. He's okay in the role. He's drawing heat so that's a good sign. Grade: C
Outlook: I think his character will continue to grow. It's early. Hopefully his outlook also includes less cigarettes because his throat has taken a beating. Shoutout to Marty Funkhouser (of the greatest comedy on TV - Curb Your Enthusiasm) aka Super Dave Osborne as well. FUNK MAN!
John Morrison (31)
I think in terms of talent he's one of the ten most gifted superstars in the company. Maybe top five. He's a freak athlete who can do everything in the ring and he's had a lot of great matches in his career. At the start of the year he had an impressive match against The Miz on Raw, he had a memorable moment in the Royal Rumble and the Elimination Chamber match. Then he teamed with Trish & Snooki to win at WrestleMania, but he apparently got heat due to giving Trish the cold shoulder. Since then he hurt his neck, came back earlier than expected and he's become the shaman of jobbing. He first won the IC title in June of 2006 (as Johnny Nitro), yet here he sits in the prime of his career and he's below where he was five years ago. I will agree with those that say he's not a great talker. However, in terms of putting on a good match he's one of the best in the company and the crowd is usually supportive of him during those matches. Why the lack of a push? I can't explain it. Maybe they should turn him heel although I think he's a better worker as a babyface. He was better off on Smackdown where they have less people and he was getting more TV time. He's clearly lost in the shuffle on Raw. It's a shame because he's better than where he is on the roster now. Grade: B (u)
Outlook: It's hard to say. On the one hand, I can see them continuing to not use him and throw him out there to lose matches. On the other hand, they could turn him heel to light a fire under him. There are a lot of possibilities for him. I just hope WWE uses him right.
He's still employed? Yes he is. He spends most of his time these days on shows like Superstars & NXT. Currently he's teaming with Darren Young on a semi-regular basis as a heel tag team. He's another guy that I'm shocked is as young as he is because he's been on TV for a few years now. He obviously has room to grow, but I have doubts about how good he can really be. With a big roster of talent down in FCW that needs to be called up soon, some people are going to be on the chopping block. I think he's one of the first ones management will think about. That's not to say he's bad. It just means it's unlikely that he'll be pushed in the near future. Grade: C
Outlook: If NXT ever ends his team with Young could carry over to the revitalized tag division, but I don't see him being a big part of WWE's future. I think he'll be wished the best in his future endeavors sooner rather than later.
Justin Roberts (31)
The ring announcer on Raw does his job well. They don't use him for angles, which is fine by me. After all the last time he was part of something it was the tie choking that caused Daniel Bryan's firing. No grade or outlook for him. Keep announcing, fella.
Kevin Nash (52)
He's not on WWE.com's page because he's "fired" in storyline, but he should be back soon. Nash doesn't have much value as an in-ring competitor anymore due to injuries and age. I don't think his promos have been very good, or at least as good as you'd expect from somebody like him. What he does have is name value as a former World Champion, but some of the audience barely knows him. Bringing Nash back has been a failure up to this point. No question about it. Grade: C- (dd)
Outlook: He seems like a short term TV character. It will be hard to keep him relevant going forward. I'm sure he'd love to hang around until WrestleMania, but will they be able to tell enough fresh stories for him? I'm not so sure about that.
Kofi Kingston (30)
Big fan. I remember writing this column two years ago and thinking he was on the cusp of being a main eventer. A few months after that they put him in a feud with Randy Orton, who was a top heel at that time. I remember him putting Orton through a table in MSG in a big spot. What happened? The infamous STUPID~! incident where Kofi screwed up a finish that was supposed to be a punt, so Orton RKO'd him and was furious about it. Since then, Kingston went back to the midcard level, spent much of his time around the IC Title on Smackdown, had many matches with Dolph Ziggler and has now found a spot teaming with Evan Bourne. As I wrote earlier, I'm a big fan of the "Air Boom" team although the name isn't great. It works, but I don't love it. I think he's one of the better workers in the company, his promos are just okay and he is definitely over with the crowd. It would be interesting to see him in a heel role just because it would be different. However, his babyface persona is very over with the crowd, so it's wise to keep him in that role. Grade: B (u)
Outlook: I think teaming with Bourne is a permanent thing. I like it. The chemistry is there and they have the skills to carry the tag division for the next year or however long they intend to team together. Due to his age there's plenty of time for him to continue his singles career. For now, focus on the team. It is working.
Mason Ryan (29)
He's back from his injury as a babyface now after being underwhelming as a heel. He's impressive physically, but once the bell rings he bores me. He doesn't have the athleticism required to move around the ring or to bump in a way that makes me want to see him wrestle. I also wonder how he can pass the Wellness Test because he looks ridiculously big these days. Grade: C
Outlook: I think long term he's better off as a heel. Why should fans be sympathetic to a guy with more muscles than anybody else? Big guys should be heels until they're established at least.
Michael Cole (42)
Boo! Sorry. Natural reaction when I see his name. I think Cole's better as a performer now than he was two or three years ago, but there are times when he's truly awful to the point that it hurts the show. I think the best thing for him would be to be a heel manager. I doubt it happens now since McMahon loves him in the role where he agitates Ross, Lawler, Booker or whoever else is out there with him. Get used to Cole, folks. He's a McMahon favorite and I doubt he goes away anytime soon. Grade: C
Outlook: I think he'll continue on Raw through the next decade. They may take him off Smackdown because they're always changing that team, but he'll be entrenched as the "voice of Raw" for a long time.
Michael McGillicutty (31)
It's the genesis of McGillicutty! Um, no. Remember that awful promo he did on NXT season two? I wish I could forget it. He seems like a hard worker who, despite being given a terrible wrestling name (WWE likes to own the names of their talent), might have singles success if he's given the right opportunity. His promos are just okay and in-ring his serviceable although does not stand out. I read a rumor saying there's a possibility that they will turn him into Mr. Perfect II like his dad. I hope not. He's not the worker his dad was. They do need to find a role for him, but that's not it. I think he'd work well in a tag team just not with somebody like Otunga. They didn't have very good chemistry, really. He's in limbo at this point. I don't think he's in danger of being fired. It's just a matter of finding the right thing for him to do. Grade: C+
Outlook: I think he'll be a lower midcarder for the foreseeable future unless they find him a tag partner or give him some kind of gimmick that's different than having no gimmick like he has now.
Mr. McMahon (66)
He's listed on the Raw roster page despite the fact that he got ousted as the storyline Chairman of WWE. Of course he's still in charge behind the scenes. At 66, it's smart for him to not be on TV all the time. I do expect him back soon to counter Triple H's babyface persona although if he continues to stay out that's fine too. He's better if he's only around for special appearances. No rating due to not being active enough.
The Miz (30)
He's fired. Not really. At least WWE.com took him off their list, yet they left Goldust on. I know they're not related to eachother, but I'm fascinated with Goldie still being on there. Anyway, The Miz has come a long way and I'm definitely a fan of the guy. His promos are among the best in the company, he's a true old school heel in everything that he does and he does more media appearances than anybody in WWE, even Cena. I know that doesn't mean a lot to the average viewer, but you know McMahon and the office are big fans of the guy that can handle himself so well on interviews. His work in the ring is as good as it has ever been. He's no longer the most improved. He's a proven commodity that delivers the goods on a regular basis. While I'm still waiting for a true classic singles match (he came close with Bryan & Morrison), I think that day will come once he's able to have a long term feud with a similarly skilled babyface. This year hasn't afforded him that opportunity thanks to feuding with the likes of Lawler (too old), Cena (too clunky) & Riley (too green). Feuding with CM Punk or a returning babyface Chris Jericho are the two rivalries I want to see. Grade: A- (uu)
Outlook: Even though he's firmly entrenched in his heel role, I think he would thrive as a babyface too. They don't need to rush it because he's only 30, but when they pull the trigger on the babyface Miz he's going to be an even bigger star.
Primo is another guy that's on the list of talent that is used more on NXT/Superstars than on Raw. I bet there are people reading this that didn't even know he was still in WWE. I never understood why they broke up his tag team with brother Carlito and then fired Carlito soon after. Maybe Carlito asked to be let go. I'm not sure. I thought they were a good tag team that could have worked well in the heel or babyface role. Since then they haven't done a lot with Primo. I doubt they will in the future. He's a good worker who is mostly used as a jobber to put over the rising heels on the roster. Will he ever be more? I doubt it. Grade: C
Outlook: I think it's unrealistic to expect Primo to be used much differently than he is now. A tag team pairing could help him big time, but again I'm not sure if that's on the horizon for him. Any time there are cuts his name will be at the top of the list. It's hard to justify keeping people around that barely make the TV shows.
Rey Mysterio (36)
I've always been a fan of Mysterio. He was one of my favorite people to watch in WCW in the mid to late 90s and then when he went to WWE I continued to support him. He's consistently had some of the best matches in the company and I particularly loved his work in the SD Elimination Chamber match with Edge back in February. That was classic stuff. In his nine WWE years he's missed significant time dealing with knee injuries. I'm glad that he was able to become WWE & World Champion in his career because he deserved it. Of course the reign on Raw this year didn't last too long, which is a shame. There will be no grade for him due to the severity of his knee injury as well as the surgery & rehab that he will have to go through. At 36 years of age with reconstructed knees how many more years will he compete? He's definitely near the end of his legendary career. Grade: NR (d)
Outlook: He's going to be out until after WrestleMania 28 most likely. He'll obviously return in the babyface role.
Ricardo Rodriguez (25)
The ring announcer for Alberto Del Rio is an entertaining character thanks to the elaborate introductions and his hilarious facial expressions. When he's not on the road he's training to be better in the ring at FCW. This guy's a rising star who is only going to improve by being a part of the main event scene. His chemistry with Del Rio is great, his ability to generate heat is already there and he's one of the youngest people on the main roster. Keep an eye on this guy. Bright future. And if I'm ever crazy enough to get married, I'd like him to do the introductions even in Spanish. He's great at it. Grade: B- (u)
Outlook: I think over the course of the next year you'll see him in the ring more as he continues to gain confidence as a performer. His future is as a wrestler, not an announcer.
I think in terms of biggest improvement via turn, heel or face, nobody in 2011 can top R-Truth. He went from a boring, clichéd babyface that did very little to stand out from the pack (aside from rapping on his way to the ring) to this over the top heel that reached the main event level for a short time. Guess what? He deserved it. His promos improved, he figured out how to generate massive heat by being a crazy heel and through his association with The Miz you could say he became an even bigger heel. The "Little Jimmy" thing is hilarious. The C-O-N-spiracy thing cracks me up too. I like how he's got the dumb guy gimmick, yet he still maintains the street cred and thug attitude that helps his heel persona. Before, he was always somebody that I didn't care to see too much. Now he's somebody that I enjoy seeing anytime he's on camera. That's an example of a gimmick change being a huge benefit to a performer. His work in the ring is fine too. I'd say he's slightly above average in that department. At age 39, the clock is winding down on his career although I think he's doing the best work of his career so there's no reason for him to slow down now. Grade: B+
Outlook: The heel role is where it's at for him. His association with Miz is a benefit to both of them. I doubt he'll ever be WWE or World Champ, but I can see him holding either tag gold or the US/IC Title at some point. He's solidified his spot as am upper midcard heel. I hope it continues.
Santino Marella (32)
The funniest man in WWE is Santino. That's my opinion, but I'm sure it's shared by millions around the world too. Funny guy. That's his role. "Am I clown here to amuse you?" Yes Santino you are. I love all the little things he does during the course of a match like the cobra, the trumpet and the awkward way that he speaks. It appeals to kids, it makes adult males like me mark out because of how silly it is and it has seen him become a popular babyface with the fans. I don't see much changing when he returns from his shoulder injury, which shouldn't keep him out too much longer. My favorite Santino segment of all-time? Tea Time with Kozlov & Sheamus. A classic. Grade: B-
Outlook: Once he gets back from his injury I see him continuing the comedic role he's been in for the majority of his career. He can wrestle, but I think a change at this point would be foolish. He's good at his role. Let him keep doing it.
He's currently in the role of Superstars announcer, backstage interviewer, studio host and of course being a part of Zack Ryder's internet show. He's very comfortable on camera with the booming sports announcer voice that television shows love. Stanford has a good sense of humor too, which always helps an announcer. The ones that fail tend to take themselves too seriously. Hey Mike Adamle, how you doing? Grade: C
Outlook: I don't know if there's a future at the Raw or Smackdown desk anytime soon. Everybody that's in place seems secure in their job. He's fine on Superstars when I watch that, but it's not like he's the next JR as a PBP guy.
Skip Sheffield (29) He broke his ankle at a house show in August of 2010. Thirteen months later he's still not back after having three separate surgeries on it. I'm not sure what his status is or when he might return, but before he got hurt he seemed to be well liked by management. When the Nexus gave people beatdowns, they made sure to feature him. He's not tall, but he's powerful and we all know that Vince McMahon is a fan of that. On the microphone I thought he was pretty average. He still needs some work, but if he comes back from such a major injury it's hard for me to root against that. I hope he succeeds. Grade: NR
Outlook: Not sure when he's due back. When he does return I'd expect a decent midcard push although I don't see him as a main eventer.
Triple H (42)
Considering he's only had two PPV matches in 2011, I think it's safe to say that his days as a full time in-ring performer are over. Not only is he an executive off screen, but he's the on screen Chief Operating Officer, which means he'll be a key television presence going forward. His two months on the job have seen him be both an authoritative hardass and a comedic figure at times. His sharp wit has come along for the ride, that's for sure. I like him in the role although I think he'll be turning heel sooner or later. It's WWE. They love heel authority figures. It's who they are. It's what they know. People like Vince McMahon, Eric Bischoff, Paul Heyman and Hunter's wife Stephanie McMahon all spent the majority of their on screen WWE careers as heels. Hunter will too. It's only a matter of time. Grade: B+
Outlook: He'll continue as the COO, likely turn heel and continue to wrestle a few times per year. It's a wise idea because it's time for the younger guys to get a chance to become stars in the ring.
Tyler Reks (32)
As mentioned during the Curt Hawkins writeup, those two are currently a team. Even though he's been in WWE for a few years, I don't have much of an impression of Reks. He comes across as a decent power wrestler although he has never really stood out from the pack. Maybe teaming with Hawkins will be good for him. What's his gimmick? I have no idea. I've never seen one from him. He's just the dude with the weird hair to me. Grade: C-
Outlook: Team with Hawkins, hope it gets over and if not he's on the future endeavors list.
Zack Ryder (26)
The Woo Woo Woo kid is on a roll. Some people would say finally, but I look at his age and realize dude is only 26 years old. He's one of the youngest guys on the entire WWE roster. I like a lot of things about Ryder. He worked his ass off to get himself over via social media when WWE wouldn't even put him on Raw. Now he's a regular on both Raw & Smackdown. They finally put him into a babyface role where he's a bit of a dumbass, yet he's able to win some matches too. He's got multiple catchphrases, he's good enough in the ring with the potential to be great (a feud with Ziggler will certainly help) and his following is growing. There's a strong wave of Ryder support amongst kids, teens and college age males. I don't think women mind him either. It's not easy to be able to appeal to all those demographics. They may have stumbled upon something really good with Ryder without even putting the effort in because he came up with most of the ideas himself. That's why I like him. He's a lifelong wrestling fan. It's the only thing he ever wanted to do. He went after it, he made it to WWE at a young age and he's been one of the most improved performers this year. Hopefully they continue to give him the opportunity to win over fans because I think he has the talent to go very far. Yes, I am serious bro. Grade: B- (uu)
Outlook: I think he has a bright future. This is just the beginning. He will likely be in the IC/US Title hunt for the next year or two. I'm not sure if he has main event potential or if he'll be a midcarder for life, but he's got the drive and the talent to succeed.
Now we move on to the women of Raw.
Beth Phoenix (30)
She is the class of the Raw divas. Unlike some of the others, she trained in the indies, she worked her way up from WWE's minor leagues and she's developed an awesome persona as the Glamazon. While she's had a few babyface runs, I've always enjoyed her more as a heel. The biggest concern I have is that there aren't enough talented babyface divas to oppose her, which the fault of management. Beth's a great worker with awesome power, excellent timing and shows tremendous fire as a heel as well. She's not concerned with being a smartass or winning over fans. She's good at being the bully. Unlike some of the other girls on the roster, Beth looks natural in the ring. You can see the confidence in every performance. It's nice to see Beth at her best again. Grade: B (u)
Outlook: The heel turn is fresh. It should last heading into the new year and through the WrestleMania season as Kharma likely returns as a babyface. That could be a great match.
Brie Bella (27)
I'm not too impressed by either Bella twin. I think their series of matches against Kelly & Eve for much of 2011 were some of the worst matches on the roster. It was also arguably the worst feud of the year as well. The crowd is usually dead even for their lame "twin magic" stuff because their heel mannerisms don't draw hate. They draw "change the channel" type of heat. If there's a positive it's that the Bellas are still young enough to improve should they learn to become tireless workers. It's up to them. Grade: C-
Outlook: They'll continue to bore us. Heel or face, I've yet to be impressed by the Bella Twins. They've certainly had the opportunity to impress us, yet they've consistently failed.
Oh look it's Eve, the woman with the dreaded one legged dropkick. Much like a Bella twin, she bores me in the ring. The only thing I really like is the way she does that shake before hitting that moonsault. That's skill. I think Eve needs to spend hours watching a DVD of babyface comebacks only. She doesn't have any fire when she is trying to get the crowd excited. She is too busy trying to remember the spot she was told to memorize. It doesn't look or feel natural when she does that. As a result, too often she looks like a diva search winner who shouldn't be running the ropes, which is what she is even though WWE wants you to think she's a wrestler. I know she's a good athlete too. She should have all the tools. It's not there mentally, though. It may never be. That's the problem. Grade: C
Outlook: A heel turn might do her good. Her smiling babyface act is getting old. New hairstyle could mean new persona. Why not?
Kelly Kelly (24)
Oh Yelly Yelly where do I start? Isn't it weird to think that at the age of 24 she already has 5 years of experience and is probably among the top 20 people in the entire company in terms of longevity? To quote Booker T: WHAT DA HELL! Unlike Eve, Kelly does know how to be enthusiastic when she makes her babyface comebacks. She usually does it while yelling really loud and often times botching moves (can she even do a bulldog right?), but at least it wakes up the crowd. What I write about often with her is her inability to run the ropes well. Keep in mind she's been wrestling for five years or at least training to wrestle. It's like she thinks she might break a nail. It makes it look too fake. She has to learn to be more aggressive in there because then it will look more natural. With Beth it looks natural while with Eve & Kelly it's like they'd be lost without memorizing the order of moves. That's the difference. To Kelly's credit, she is really hot and over with the crowd, so that does make me understand why she's had a 100+ day title reign. Grade: C+
Outlook: Keep her as a face. She'd be even worse as a heel. Heels have to be aggressive. She is not. Can she do a facial expression other than a big smile? I'm not sure. COME ON~!
As she said a few months back, she's pregnant and is at home for the foreseeable future. I'm not sure when the baby is due. I believe it's at the end of the year. She'll likely be back a few months after that because it's obviously not easy to return right after having a baby. I think WrestleMania 28 would be a good time. Heel or face, she has a lot of talent and will thrive as long as she's given an opportunity. I've always been a big fan of hers. I'm excited to see what she can do in a WWE ring. She doesn't have the typical diva look, so I hope that when she is able to compete they use her to the best of her abilities. No rating due to inactivity.
She's been out with an injury the past few months and prior to that wasn't used in the ring very much. I hope that she comes back as a babyface because the Raw roster really could use her. She has a lot of sex appeal and charisma, so I think she'd be fine in that role. It's been a while since she's been the focus of the divas division, so her return sooner rather than later will likely be a good thing for the division. I'm a Maryse fan. Fine looking woman. Canadian too…even though she's from the French part of the country. Can't win 'em all. Kidding! Grade: B- (u)
Outlook: As I alluded to, I think it's time for her to be a babyface. I guess the other option is for her to join the Divas of Doom although I don't think she fits that well.
Nikki Bella (27)
Do I have to write about another Bella? Nah. Just scroll up. Same thing goes here. Grade: C-
Outlook: I doubt we'll see too many new things from them. They're not that talented or creative enough to pull it off.
Vickie Guerrero (43)
She's great. I have no issues or complaints with Vickie Guerrero except that she should steadfastly refuse if they ask her to have a match. Tell them you can't wrestle. That abomination with Kelly Kelly is still fresh in my mind. Let Vickie use her voice to get Ziggler, Swagger and whoever more over. She's skilled at it. Don't ruin her by putting her in the ring .Grade: B
Outlook: Keep her as a heel manager. She's terrific in that role. No change necessary.
Here are the rankings. I've broken it up into male characters and then female characters. There won't be any ties. If two or more people have the same grade I'll choose one over the other based on who I think is that much better. Just because a wrestler has more upside than somebody else doesn't make that person better. The upside/downside aspect is more for showing who is on their way up and who is on their way down.
Here are the male 30 performers with the announcers included:
1. CM Punk - A (uu)
2. John Cena - A-
3. The Miz - A- (uu)
4. Dolph Ziggler - B+ (uu)
5. Alberto Del Rio - B+
6. Triple H - B+
7. R-Truth - B+
8. Kofi Kingston - B (u)
9. Evan Bourne - B (u)
10. Jack Swagger - B (u)
11. Jim Ross - B
12. John Morrison - B (u)
13. Zack Ryder - B- (uu)
14. Big Show - B- (d)
15. Ricardo Rodriguez - B- (u)
16. Santino Marella - B-
17. Drew McIntyre - C+ (u)
18. Jerry Lawler - C+ (dd)
19. Curt Hawkins - C+
20. Alex Riley - C+
21. Michael McGillicutty C+
22. Michael Cole - C
23. Scott Stanford - C
24. Primo - C
25. Mason Ryan - C
26. John Laurinaitis - C
27. JTG - C
28. David Otunga - C
29. Tyler Reks - C-
30. Kevin Nash - C- (dd)
No rating due to injury: Rey Mysterio, Skip Sheffield
Notes: You can make the case that John Cena is the MVP of WWE and I wouldn't argue with that, but to me Punk is the best overall performer…Punk was close to getting the A+ rating, but I need to see more epic feuds & matches. He has the potential to get there…If The Miz thrives when he eventually turns babyface he could challenge for that top spot...I think I'm most excited about the future of Dolph Ziggler because he appears to have all the tools…A year ago I think Truth would have been around 16 or 17. Now look at him. The heel turn did him well…That foursome of Kingston, Bourne, Swagger & Morrison are all about the same to me. The first two are entrenched as a team while the other two have the talent without any direction…Ryder is definitely on the rise…A lot of the workers from 15 and below just need the chance to shine. I see talent in all of them, or at least I understand why they are employed. Without opportunity you can't succeed…I don't necessarily think that Kevin Nash is the worst performer on Raw. He's just not somebody that should be in the spots he's been in at age 52 with a history of injuries. It's not working.
Now for the diva rankings:
1. Beth Phoenix - B (u)
2. Vickie Guerrero - B
3. Maryse - B- (u)
4. Kelly Kelly - C+
5. Eve - C
6. Brie Bella - C-
7. Nikki Bella - C-
No rating due to pregnancy: Kharma
It's a weak "division" on Raw. Smackdown isn't much better, but we'll get to that in the next part. Beth is clearly the best…Vickie has the same rating as Beth although it's a different role obviously…I think Maryse has a lot to offer if she gets the chance…I'd love to say Kelly is improving although she's so inconsistent that I'm not sure if she is…The bottom three have been on TV way too much considering their talent level.
That's it for the Raw brand, which was over 10,000 words of reading if you made it all this way. Yes, I said brand. I know the brands don't matter anymore. I decided to break it up via brand for the sake of this column. The Smackdown part will be posted most likely late Thursday night or early Friday morning depending on how my day goes. I've written the majority of it, but I tend to do re-write a lot too. We'll see how it goes.
I would love feedback on this. Agree? Disagree? I don't expect anybody to have the same order of wrestlers as me, but I'd love to hear some opinions on it.
To read about the Smackdown roster and the final rankings click HERE.