Welcome to the second part of the 2011 WWE roster evaluation. This time we'll focus on Smackdown and also close out the column with a ranking of the superstars from both shows. I assume that if you're reading this then you've already read the first part. I will not be explaining the grading process again, so in case you missed that in the Raw roster evaluation the link to that is RIGHT HERE. For those that asked, there won't be anything about NXT or the wrestlers on that show. I'm focusing on those listed on the Raw & Smackdown pages on WWE.com.
The short explanation of all of the grades goes like this: The higher the letter grade, the better. If there’s a “u” or “uu” beside the letter grade it means that person has a big upside (aka a bright future) while if there’s a “d” or “dd” beside the letter grade it means that person is on the downside of their career. It’s explained in further detail in part one, so if you need a refresher check it out. By their name is their age as of September 22, 2011. If I can't find their age I'll leave it blank. Once I'm done writing about the Smackdown talent I'll post a list of the top 25 male wrestlers from both shows. Let's get to it.
Booker T (46)
"OH MY GOODNESS!" "DID YOU SEE THAT RIGHT THERE?!" "Aww shucky ducky quack quack." "WHAT DA HELL!" Those are just four of my favorite Bookerisms. He cracks me up. I've always been a fan of Booker as a wrestler and that hasn't changed since he's become a commentator on Smackdown. They moved him into the role after his surprise return at the Royal Rumble and he's also appeared on Raw & PPVs since then. I think he brings humor to the desk and also credibility as a former World Champion as well as tag team champion. I know some don't like him, but I've always been a Booker fan and think that he's improved over the course of the year. Keep him as the babyface announcer because he's good in the role.
Grade: B- (u as an announcer on the rise)
Outlook: There's a rumor that he'll be stepping back into the ring soon for some kind of angle. I think as a part timer he has a lot of value and he's obviously in great shape still. Why not? Could be fine. Otherwise, I think he has a bright future as an announcer in WWE. He'll be entrenched in that spot for a while I think.
Brodus Clay (31)
He was one of the stars of the 4th season of NXT, filling the role as a power guy on the roster that Vince McMahon is always going to be a fan of. I liked when they used him as a bodyguard of Del Rio in the early part of the year. He left for a few months to film a movie (called No One Lives) and has since returned as a solo heel act on Smackdown. They've yet to really push him on Smackdown, but I think that will happen sooner rather than later. Clay looks like a legitimate badass. The problem right now is Mark Henry is doing such a great job in the same role on the show, so that could hurt his chances of making a big splash right away.
Outlook: I can see him getting a good run although maybe being the bodyguard to a cowardly heel (perhaps Christian) is the way to go to get him a regular spot on TV.
One of my favorite things that has happened in 2011 WWE is the push of Christian as a World Champion and main event level performer. Of course I wish his World Title reigns lasted longer than two days (or five if you want to go off when it aired on TV) and 28 days, but as somebody that watched him since his Christian Cage indy days it's been amazing to see him finally realize his dream. The moment when he won the World Title for the first time at Extreme Rules was one of the best things to happen in WWE this year. Then two days later I remember all the anger when he lost the title. I wrote then that it would likely lead to a heel turn, which it did and since that time Christian has become arguably the best performer in the entire company. The feud with Orton has been the best in Randy's career. I know Orton would never say that, but the feuds with Cena & Triple H were way too boring while producing average matches. The Orton/Christian series gave us multiple four star matches including two match of the year contenders at Over the Limit (a face vs. face type match) and Summerslam (a brawl to end the feud) in two different kinds of matches.
What held back Christian all these years was not a lack of talent. He's always been an elite talker, an excellent in-ring performer and a guy willing to put his body on the line as he's shown in countless ladder & TLC matches over the years. What held him back was the company believing in him as a top guy. That's something you'll see me talk about with Mark Henry too. Lots of people have talent, but if you don't have the proverbial rocket shoved up your ass you'll never make it to the top. I'm glad that WWE realized what they had in Captain Charisma. I remember when he came back from his TNA run (who?) and I noticed he was improved in the ring. His time working as a babyface there did him a lot of good because once he came back he's been arguably the best worker in the company. He's definitely in my top three in-ring workers list with D-Bry & CM Punk being two other guys that are in there for sure. While I don't think Christian's career will end up as legendary as his best friend Edge, a case can be made that they are arguably the most successful tag team ever considering what they did as a team as well as what they did after they broke up. I'm sure people will mention DX, but they didn't start out as a team. Edge & Christian did. They succeeded as a team and on their own. Now with Edge retired, it's up to Christian to carry on that E&C legacy. He's doing a great job at it. The peeps are proud of you, you creepy little bastard.
Outlook: He can do fine in the heel or face role, but he's better as the smarmy heel that always finds a way to win a match. Now established as a top guy, his value will be in elevating others to his level. Hopefully he reaches the World Title again. All he needs is…one…more…match.
Cody Rhodes (26)
I remember being at the Axxess event at WrestleMania 27 in Atlanta and Cody Rhodes was signing autographs. Guess what he had on his face? The mask that he wrestles in. He didn't have to wear the mask at the signing, but he did because he's an example of somebody that is truly old school in the way that he carries himself. Obviously that comes from his dad Dusty Rhodes & his brother Dustin aka Goldust. He's old school in a lot of things he does too. That's what I like. His work in the ring gets better every time I see it. Remember how green he was during his days when he was teaming with Hardcore Holly? He didn't look like he belonged in the ring. Then he joined up with Orton & Dibiase to form Legacy. He got better, but wasn't complete yet. Since he's been on Smackdown he has improved more than anybody on the roster. His matches are better - especially that series with Rey Mysterio - and his promos are different than everybody else because of the slow way he delivers his words. It's almost Jake Roberts-like with a lisp thrown in too. I can still remember the segment where his father helped him attack Rey Mysterio back in February. It was one of the best promos of the year, really. That's when I knew this guy would be a main eventer.
What I like about what he's doing now is that they are planting the seeds for a main event feud with Randy Orton. It's going to happen before the end of the year, I think. He's arguably the #3 heel on the Smackdown brand behind Mark Henry & Christian right now, so with those two already reaching top of the mountain this year it's only a matter of time before Cody gets his chance to shine. They might need to modify the gimmick a bit for the long term future because it's silly to have him wear that mask forever. I'm not saying he needs to go back to the "Dashing Tips" although I found those to be ridiculously entertaining. I'm saying that the nasally voiced guy who thinks his face is messed up might not be a main event gimmick. Whether they modify it or not, Cody's a star on the rise. Get used to him in the main event picture because at just 26 years old his future is as bright as anybody in WWE. The question is what's up with the no kneepad look? Strange.
Grade: B+ (uu)
Outlook: Keep him in the heel role. His main event run is going to happen likely by Survivor Series or around that time. A future World Champion for sure.
Daniel Bryan (30)
"The fave five. The fave five. D-Bry is in my fave five, dawg!" Sorry, I can't help it with the Bookerisms. When you see me write about this guy saying that he's arguably the best worker in the world it's because he has earned that right. He proved it in the indies in America as well as overseas in Japan. It doesn't matter the style; Bryan can thrive in the heel or face role. I like how WWE has booked him as a babyface although portraying him as a nerd hasn't been the best thing. It makes him look weak when you do that. I was shocked that they had him win the Money in the Bank match, but it was a good shock. I'm ecstatic that they have enough faith in him to put him in a World Title match at WrestleMania 28. I like that idea. Since he's won MITB, they haven't done a good job of making him look like a star. He's been on a losing streak. I don't understand why. His submission offense is unique while his kick strikes also make him stand out. He also does the best job in terms of making his offense look believable. When I watch a Daniel Bryan match closely, he reminds me of a Bret Hart or Kurt Angle in terms how flawlessly he executes moves. He has all the tools to be one of the best in-ring performers ever. What he needs now is the opportunity to build his character and to continue to rise the ranks of the Smackdown roster. Poor booking has hurt him post Money in the Bank, but there's no question he's a rising star that is as good as anybody in terms of in-ring performance. Smackdown is more of the in-ring wrestling show, so it's a good spot for him.
Grade: B+ (uu)
Outlook: The losing streak could lead to a heel turn, but I hope not. He's perfect working as a babyface. Fans can easily relate to him, his offense is better suited for it and he's one of the best underdogs in the company. Don't change him. Just book him better.
Ezekiel Jackson (33)
Big Zeke reminds me of those guys from the late 80s/early 90s that McMahon would put out there to lose to Hogan in a blowoff match after they beat him up like never before. Those guys were almost always heels. Jackson has mostly been a heel, but for whatever reason management is content to keep him as a babyface now. I don't understand it. He's one of the most physically imposing people on the roster, yet they want fans to cheer him. For what? His comeback offense is mainly bodyslams. Are you kidding me? Bodyslams! That was his series of moves during his IC title run that was supposed to energize the crowd. It put people to sleep. His moveset his limited, he doesn't make opponents look good and his power moves could be a lot better. I don't mean to be a hater, but he's totally miscast as a babyface. I understand why he's employed. I have no problem with that. I just think the guy with the biggest muscles on the roster needs to actually use them to show off how strong he really is. That's all.
Grade: C- (d)
Outlook: Like I said, there's not much appeal to him as a face. When you're bigger than everybody else, why should the crowd cheer for you? Get him a manager, give him a submission finisher to go along with the Dominator and he could be effective in that role.
The Great Khali (39)
I'm not the guy to tell people when to stop wrestling, but if I was I'd tell Khali to call it a career. See what I did there? They've killed whatever value Khali had as a heel monster by turning him into a comedic babyface. His mobility, which was limited before, is even worse now. There isn't much of a reaction to him when his music hits. His matches are never good. I understand that he's a big name in India and that's a new market for WWE in the last few years, but putting him on TV at the expense of others that are much better performers hurts whatever show he is on.
Grade: D (dd)
Outlook: My guess is he likely realizes the end of his career is coming soon and he'll retire by this time next year.
Heath Slater (28)
I think he's solid in terms of his in-ring performances. He doesn't do anything too flashy, but he's a consistent worker too. He was one of the better guys in the Nexus stable. On his own he hasn't done that much. I'm not sure if the "one man rock band" has a good chance of getting over big as a gimmick. It doesn't wow me. It's just kinda there. His promos, from the few times he's been allowed to talk, are decent. I think he's got room to grow. They just need to figure out some kind of gimmick to differentiate him from the pack.
Outlook: He's probably best suited for some kind of tag team. Maybe they can turn him face to freshen him up too. I just don't see him as a shining star as a singles wrestler.
He's been in WWE for over five years now. That would make him one of the most experienced people on the roster. Weird huh? The former Cruiserweight Champ (he actually retired the title) hasn't had much of a role on the Smackdown brand since moving there from Raw. I'm okay with that. He's there for the kids in a supporting role. I can take him in small doses. I don't approve of heavily using him like WWE did in 2009 during his awful series of matches against Chavo Guerrero. As a sidekick or mascot he's fine. Anything more and you're wasting precious TV time.
Outlook: As long as the product is PG he'll likely have a job in WWE. Use him in small doses or on shows like NXT that nobody watches. Fine with me.
Jack Korpela (29)
He does play by play work on NXT & Superstars these days. He's your typical WWE announcer that says the lines that are fed to him and isn't allowed to show much of a personality. He's not bad, but there's nothing about him that stands out as an announcer.
Outlook: I doubt you'll see him at the Raw or Smackdown table soon. Cole & Mathews seem like they will be in those spots for a long time.
Jey Uso (26)
I've been impressed by the Uso brothers of late. They turned them babyface, gave them a unique entrance on the ramp before their matches and the crowd is reacting well to them. As the sons of Rikishi, they come from a family that is rich in wrestling history. They're on the smallish side, but they have a lot of speed, agility and explosive offense. The crowd likes them. They have a bright future as a team.
Grade: C+ (u)
Outlook: They are still very fresh as a babyface tag team, so obviously that's where they will be going forward.
Jimmy Uso (26)
What I wrote about his brother applies to him obviously. I'm writing this just as I'm reading about how he got arrested for a DUI in Tampa. He was over double the legal limit when he got pulled over and was driving on the wrong side of the road. Not a good sign. I don't think that he'll be fired for it, but they could face punishment in terms of getting less TV time as a result of that. It's not like they're getting a lot of time on Smackdown to begin with. This just hurts the chances of getting more TV time.
Grade: C+ (u)
Outlook: Same as above.
Jinder Mahal (25)
I doubt a lot of people know this, but Mahal is actually from Calgary. Of course they gave him an evil foreign gimmick because that's what WWE does. I thought he had a lot of potential upon his debut. A few months later, after he had turned the Great Khali heel, he got beat up Khali and now he's cutting promos on NXT about how this is the new version of his career. In other words, he'll be a part of midcard purgatory. He has youth on his side, so hopefully with a little more seasoning he gets another opportunity to move up the ranks. It's hard to get over when management cuts your legs out from under you…metaphorically speaking.
Grade: C (u)
Outlook: He'll stay heel. Teaming with Khali looks to be over although I thought it had potential.
Johnny Curtis (28)
He won his season of NXT and was supposed to get a tag team title shot with R-Truth, but that never happened because Truth went heel. Curtis didn't appear on Smackdown, despite winning NXT, for months. Then they had him do these promos filled with clichés. He's since been on the show a few times as a jobber. He's been in WWE's system for five years now, yet he's new to a lot of us. I watched much of his season of NXT and you could tell he was polished in terms of having good charisma, the ability to cut quality promos and he's solid in the ring. The problem is like a lot of guys he has no gimmick. He's just another guy that looks like so many of the other guys with short black hair, a tan and muscles. The question is what makes him stand out? Right now there's nothing. He needs to work on that. So does the creative team.
Outlook: I assume he's a heel although they haven't given him a chance to establish himself. Perhaps a tag team could help him.
Josh Mathews (30)
Two things I learned about Mathews while reading about him. His middle name is Matthew - not a shock considering how WWE likes to pick names of their talent - and he was just 22 when he started as an announcer in WWE. That's really impressive when you think about it. Now at 30, he's become very comfortable in his role as the voice of Smackdown. He also spent a lot of time on Raw in the last year as Michael Cole became more of a TV presence. I like his announcing. He gets excited when he should, he'll argue with Cole at times although not to the point that it hurts the show and you can tell he has a general love of the business. I enjoy his work.
Grade: B- (u)
Outlook: I think he'll be firmly entrenched as the voice of Smackdown throughout this next decade.
Justin Gabriel (30)
A great athlete who is now a babyface, Gabriel is a "new" talent with a lot of experience under his belt. I like where his career is headed. That 450 Splash that he does is as exciting a move as there is in WWE. To WWE's credit, they did an awesome job of establishing that move during his run with the Nexus. Now that he's a babyface he should have the opportunity to thrive. The problem is that he's obviously not a big guy, so that means he'll have to work even harder to get over. I hate having to keep writing that, but this is WWE and that's the reality of the business. In terms of promos they don't let him talk too much, so he's a bit of an unknown commodity there. In the ring I like his matches. He has creative offense while also having the ability to make opponents look good. If management gets behind him he could really take off.
Grade: C+ (u)
Outlook: He'll be a babyface going forward. Perhaps a team would work if they could find a partner, but he's already done that. A push to the IC Title level would be nice to see.
I think it's fair to say that Kane's career is winding down. He's been out for a few months selling injuries after Mark Henry attacked him. It's been a nice vacation for him, I'm sure. In the Raw evaluation I wrote that Big Show has turned heel & face so many times over the years. I think Kane has turned more times than him. They don't even try to change his character much when they do it because the fans know what he is. I've read a rumor that he might put his mask back on when he returns because WWE is interested in selling more masks to their young audience. I'm sure that for some it's a good idea, but if a guy has shown his face for this long there isn't much mystique in wearing a mask. I enjoyed his work a lot in 2010 even though the "there will be vengeance" promos got annoying at times. I'm glad he got a legitimate World Title run considering his first one only lasted a day. He deserved a second reign. I remember the long promos he would do by himself that were longer than most monologues you see on a wrestling show. He was great at them. Then he feuded with Edge over his "dad" Paul Bearer, which was an awful feud and Kane's become a babyface again.
I can't honestly remember much from him in 2011 as he's become a support player again. That's fine because he's one of the few "legends" left in the company. Mark Henry taking him out meant something because Kane is one of the most legitimate badasses in WWE history. That's how you use a veteran to make somebody else look great. I'd also guess that behind the scenes he's one of Vince McMahon's most trusted employees since he's been there for over 15 years. Isaac Yankem & Fake Diesel, how you doing?
Grade: B (d)
Outlook: He probably has two or three years left in his career, then he's off to the Hall of Fame for sure. I won't even guess if he'll be a face or a heel because that's a pointless endeavor.
Mark Henry (41)
What can you say about the current World Heavyweight Champion Mark Henry? It feels weird writing that. I think the best way to explain this push of Mark Henry is by pointing out how important it is for management to believe in you. Like he's said in his promos, he's been in WWE for 15 years and he never got a legitimate shot to prove how good he can be. He did have a World Title match against Kurt Angle at the 2006 Royal Rumble and he got to wrestle the Undertaker at WrestleMania, but he was not seen as somebody that could be the World Champion. They moved him to Smackdown earlier this year, they turned him heel immediately and had him run through everybody on the show. The biggest move was having him take out Kane & Big Show, putting both guys on the shelf for several weeks. When he got his first shot at Randy Orton's World Title he beat him clean at Night of Champions. Orton doesn't lose clean very often. It's rare. They booked Henry in a way that they need to book heels that aren't 400 pounds in size. Book them strong, give them clean wins over popular babyfaces and all of a sudden that heel will look like a star. His promos have also been better than at any point in his career.
Does he deserve the World Title? Sure, based on his push. What hurts him in my eyes are his matches. They are boring. There was no crowd reaction during his title win over Randy Orton and I don't see that getting better. He stands in the middle and his opponent bounces off him. That's a Mark Henry match. It's fine to put him in the top spot, but after months of seeing classic title matches between Cena/Punk & Orton/Christian people are going to get tired of him in the ring. I'm not sure how much longer his title reign will last, but I am genuinely happy for the guy. He's come a long way from being a THREAT TO WIN~! the Royal Rumble and the guy that chased the Nexus by running ahead of them. Now he can add World Champion to his resume, plus you could say that he's the leading cause of ANAL BLEEDING~! Quite the accomplishment, really. Give him a hand. Yes, a hand joke to end it. Had to.
Grade: B (d) - (Grading him was hard. His promos and his beatdowns warrant an A- or so, but his matches are below average in the C+ range so I went in the middle to give him a B.)
Outlook: He's way better as a heel. Keep him in this role for the rest of his career. I doubt he has more than two or three years left as an active competitor.
Matt Striker (37)
He went from being a regular on Smackdown to being the host of NXT and commentating on Superstars. I'm not sure why WWE decided to de-push his career as an announcer. Apparently he didn't do well when paired with Cole & Lawler especially on PPVs, so that's when he got removed. I thought he was pretty good at it especially when they let him be a heel. It doesn't seem like he'll be back in that spot in the near future. We wish you the best of luck in your NXT endeavors. What about a managerial role? That could work for him too.
Outlook: With Booker T. sitting at the Smackdown table as an analyst I doubt Striker will be back there anytime soon. Enjoy the career of hosting NXT, I guess.
Randy Orton (31)
I remember being in the third row at Raw in August 2004 the night after Orton won his first World Title at the age of 24. The infamous thumbs down episode, if you'll recall. Seven years later he's held the World Title three times and the WWE Title six times for a total of nine. Guess what else? This might be the best year of his career. Feuding with CM Punk and Christian, my top two performers in the company, has done wonders for Orton in terms of giving him some of the best matches of his career. I don't care that he feuded with Christian for four months. They entertained the hell out of me during every match they had. He'll always be compared to John Cena, but he's not as bulky as Cena is and he carries himself in a different way. Orton's not the type to show the same kind of excitement as Cena, which is why I laughed so hard during Smackdown in May when he celebrated in a weird way after hitting the RKO on Henry. WHAT DA HELL!
Anyway, he's impressed me as a babyface and there's no denying that he's ridiculously over with the crowd. I've been to a few shows since he's been a top face. The building gets really loud for the guy. It's one thing to hear a pop on TV. It's another to experience it live. Orton is as over as he's ever been, which is a testament to his skill as a performer. That's not easy to do, especially when you've been a main eventer for over seven years now. His promos aren't the best in the company, but they are good enough. In ring, he's gotten better and I think he's more natural in the babyface role because his comebacks are great. Plus, the RKO out of nowhere is always going to generate a massive pop. I've become a fan of Orton more this year than any other year of his career. He's impressed me. Last year I wrote that he needed to have a defining feud to become even more of a legend. He did that this year with Christian and I have faith in his abilities to do it again. Randy Orton's at the peak of his powers right now. It's been a lot of fun to watch him this year.
Outlook: When he first turned babyface I doubted that it would last long. He's into the second year in that role and doing a good job. The RKO is still over, fans pop for him and it will likely continue going forward. He's still young enough to turn heel down the road. I just don't think it will be anytime soon.
He's listed on the Smackdown page even though he was written out as a character a few months back. His real name is David Kapoor and he's been a part of WWE's creative team for several years now.
Fella! I remember when Sheamus first got the big push a few years ago. The word got out that he had become close with Triple H. They had become workout partners. Then there'd be jokes (I admit I told them too) about how if you want to get a push you should find out what gym Triple H is working at. The thing is, if you watch Sheamus from the time he debuted on ECW where had a very solid feud with Goldust to the time he got pushed to the moon on Raw you could see that he knew how to put on a good show. His look is unique with the orange hair, the beard, the pasty white skin and the thick Irish accent. Plus you know I love saying "fella." Early on, because he was feuding with John Cena, the matches weren't great. They work a similar style, so it was tough to him to find a groove. Then, as we get into 2010 and he made the transition to Smackdown in 2011 it was obvious that he improved in the ring. I'm not sure if there was any one match or feud where it was noticeable right away or if it was a gradual thing.
When I first heard about Sheamus being a babyface I didn't know if it would work. Then I saw how they did it with him confronting Mark Henry after Mr. Kool Aid had taken out two top babyfaces and I thought it was perfect. Just like Henry's heel turn has been successful because of good booking, so has Sheamus' turn as a babyface. The cool thing here is that Sheamus can work really well in the babyface role. Yes, he's bigger than most of his opponents, but he's excellent at making his babyface comebacks. He's gone from badass heel to badass face in a smooth way. He's not somebody that loses clean very much because of how he's been built up, which again is a credit to good booking. All the stories I've read about him being a tireless worker appear to be true too, which makes me like him even more. At age 33, he's an established top guy already that has another five years or more as a main event level player. They've got a special talent here in Sheamus. I'm glad that they know it and I hope the people watching at home know it too, fella.
Grade: B+ (uu)
Outlook: The babyface turn is fresh, so he'll likely continue in that role over the course of the next year and beyond. With Orton entrenched as the top babyface, Sheamus fits perfectly as the number two with the potential to be number one should Orton turn heel in the future.
Sin Cara - Face (28)
I had to break up the Sin Cara's because it appears as though there will be two of them going forward. The babyface version is the original one also known as Mistico. He had as much hype coming in as anybody in recent years, yet most would consider him a flop. He didn't get along with people backstage (the infamous "he's got a big ego" stories), he failed a drug test and they brought in another man to take his spot. Now it looks like he's back in the babyface role. The Mistico I've seen and that I know is an elite worker. The problem is can he fit into the WWE world? It hasn't been easy. I don't know if it will get any easier going forward, but I'm glad that WWE has given him another chance to prove himself. He has the tools. It's just a matter of WWE using him the right way.
Grade: B- (u)
Outlook: I think he'll get it together. His future is too bright. His name is too valuable in Mexico to ignore him. While I don't think he'll ever be a World Champion, he does garner a lot of attention as a midcarder who will hopefully electrify audiences worldwide. He certainly has the talent to do so.
Sin Cara - Heel (34)
In this instance we're talking about the heel Sin Cara, who has wrestled as Hunico in FCW and briefly in TNA as Incognito for Team Mexico in 2006. When the original Sin Cara failed a drug test, they made the call to bring in Hunico to don the blue & gold Sin Cara attire. I'm not sure if the original plan was to turn him heel so that they can feud, or if they just happened to do it as time went on. Here we are now with this version of Sin Cara being a heel while the original is the babyface. This guy is bigger than the other guy, so there is a bit of a difference between them. I've liked the majority of his matches too. He's had some good ones with Daniel Bryan & Tyson Kidd among others. The Senton splash into the Lionsault is a good finish too. He's impressed me.
Outlook: I'm not sure what his long term future is after he feuds with the original Sin Cara. He's good enough in the ring that he deserves a spot on the main roster, though, so hopefully he sticks around.
Ted Dibiase (28)
Now a babyface, Dibiase is somebody with a bright future ahead of him in my opinion. I think they miscast him as a heel playing the junior version of the Million Dollar Man. It's not an easy gimmick to pull off. As fans we saw the original and he was one of the best wrestlers ever. Those are big shoes to fill, as they say. From what I've seen of him in the babyface role, he's pretty good at it. Sometimes he makes these facial expressions where it looks like he's trying too hard, but it's better to oversell than not sell at all. In terms of promos, we need to see more from him as a face. A case could be made that he should have turned face in late 2009 or early 2010 when Legacy was falling apart. That was probably the right time. Instead, Orton turned face and Rhodes took off as a heel on his own while Dibiase struggled. Now he's in the role that he might be best at. With youth on his side, experience working in big matches and Hall of Fame bloodlines, I think Dibiase's one of those guys that could be a big star sooner rather than later.
Grade: B- (u)
Outlook: He turned babyface a few weeks ago, so obviously that's what he'll be doing going forward. I wouldn't be shocked if they put the IC title on him as Cody Rhodes moves up to the main event level.
Theodore Long (64)
I think Teddy Long has become something of a joke as Smackdown GM. It seems like all he ever does is come out when four or six men are fighting to make a tag match. Obviously he's been in WWE as a manager, a referee and mostly as a GM, so you can say he's a lifer in the company. The problem is he's old now. Maybe it's time to put somebody else in that spot or keep Triple H as the guy running both shows. He's fine at what he does, but it's not like they can do anything new with him either.
Grade: C (d)
Outlook: He'll continue to have a small role as the Smackdown GM. Change is needed, but I don't think WWE wants to do it anytime soon.
He left the company to work for ESPN, yet he's still on the WWE.com Smackdown roster page. They obviously keep that page updated huh? Haha.
The long time ring announcer most famous for cracking his voice when he would announce Edge. He's a WWE lifer and will be there until the day he retires.
Trent Barreta (24)
He's only 24? Yep. Dude can flat out work at a high level at such a young age. I don't usually say dude, but as a former Dudebuster I thought it would be appropriate for him. The team didn't work, Caylen Croft got released and Barreta's been relegated to Superstars duty most of the time. He's already really good in the ring, showing a lot of athleticism and being one of the fastest guys on the roster. The problem is he doesn't have much of a gimmick or identity. The Dudebuster thing where they portrayed him as a video game playing guy who just doesn't care about the stress of the world was a nice idea that failed to take off. Now he's a jobber to most people even though if you really watch him in the ring you can tell he has a lot of tools. He's only going to get better too. I think he's a candidate to be in the tag division because of what he can do in the ring and his ability to make others look better. It's better than languishing on Superstars.
Grade: C+ (uu)
Outlook: The babyface role suits him perfectly. He's on the smallish side, so fans can relate to a guy like that. Like I said a tag team would probably be good for him.
Tyson Kidd (31)
I realize that the majority of people don't watch NXT or Superstars, but I watch the good matches on there. I see just how good this guy is when he is allowed the opportunity to tell a story in a match. Ted Dibiase, Trent Barretta, Justin Gabriel, Sin Cara, & Yoshi Tatsu are just some of the guys that have had great matches with Tyson recently. I saw a bit of him in the indies, clips of matches in Japan, I saw him when he first came into WWE and I look at everybody else on the roster thinking when is he going to have his chance to shine? What holds him back is his height, or lack of it. When CM Punk mentioned to Triple H that they favored bigger wrestlers, a shining example of that is how they don't use a guy like Tyson. Guys like Mason Ryan & Ezekiel Jackson will get multiple pushes before a more talented wrestler does. That's just how WWE has always operated. He proved himself in the Hart Dynasty and then they broke up without ever really having a defining match yet Cryme Tyme got a PPV match when they broke up? WHAT DA HELL! I'm sure there are people within the company that are high on him because they know how good he can work, but they don't have an idea that would work. In my 20 ideas column I suggested a feud with Daniel Bryan that would involve Shawn Michaels & Bret Hart. Why not? It could be huge for all involved. Perhaps some kind of stable where Christian was the leader could work too. There are lots of things they can do. Kidd's an elite worker with experience in the ring. He's one of the most athletic guys in the company and he's competent on the microphone when given the chance to speak. He's not just a high flyer either; he's got the submissions too. Now in the prime of his career, the best time to push him would be now whether it's as a heel or face. He could make it work.
Grade: B- (u)
Outlook: I think long term he'd be better as a babyface. His athleticism, high impact offense, ability to sell and ability to make others look good lends itself to being somebody that the fans can rally behind. If he stays heel the Daniel Bryan feud is what I'd love to see more than anything.
His days as a full time wrestler are clearly over. It appears as though the rest of his career will be as a part time performer. We haven't seen him since WrestleMania. Apparently he shaved his head a few months ago, but I've read that he's growing it back. Does that mean an immediate return? I doubt it. Last year he returned after the mysterious video in February that a lot of people thought was meant for Sting. He competed at WrestleMania 27, had a match of the year contender with Triple H, which is the best match I've ever seen live in person. Then he sold injuries at the end of the match that wrote him out of storylines. What's next? I have no idea. His name is still huge obviously, so when he does come back it will be a big deal. My guess is his return won't be until 2012 either at the Royal Rumble or just before WrestleMania like he did this year. There is nobody in WWE more respected than the Undertaker. I'm glad that he's smart enough to know when it's time to stop being a full timer. Not everybody does. He won't get a rating because he only wrestled once in 2011 and we have no idea when he might return.
Grade: NR (dd)
Outlook: I think he'll be at WrestleMania where he'll likely win to go 20-0. Will that be it for him? Perhaps. The question is who will his opponent be? If it's not Triple H again I'd love it to be somebody like CM Punk even in a babyface match. It could be great.
Wade Barrett (31)
The winner of NXT season one got pushed to the moon in 2010 before falling back to Earth in 2011 as a midcard player on Smackdown. The Corre group didn't work. It was too much of a Nexus knockoff without much success. Now he's on his own trying to find his role. Barrett's got the two things that Vince McMahon loves: height and the ability to cut "money" promos. He obviously has those gifts. In ring he needs the right opponent to have good matches. When he was against Big Zeke the matches sucked. That's because Big Zeke is limited in what he can do. His mini feuds with Daniel Bryan & Sheamus were a lot more fun. They need to bottle that somehow, turn it into a long term angle and allow him to really break out from the pack. Barrett has the right look, excellent facial expressions and the abilities to say the right things at the right time. His future is very bright. Give him an angle he can really sink his teeth into and I believe he can thrive. He's also in Booker's fave five most of the time. That counts for something…right?
Grade: B (u)
Outlook: He's great as a heel with untapped potential. No reason to change that. Keep him away from stables. We want to see how good he can do on his own.
William Regal (43)
I really like him as a commentator on NXT. He mixes in technical analysis with a sharp with that comes together nicely. It's only a matter of time until WWE realizes how good he is and puts him on Raw or Smackdown (if Booker got moved to Raw, I assume). He's said recently that he feels healthy, though, so maybe he will want to return to the ring for one last go around as a full timer. I'd be in support of it because whether he's heel or face he can make his opponent look good. He's also had a hand in training a few people on WWE's current roster as well. Whatever role he's in, William Regal still has value to WWE and I'm glad he's still around because the company needs veterans like him.
Grade: B- (u as an announcer)
Outlook: I think he'll get back in the ring more. The announcing career will always be there. If he feels like he can still go in the ring then more power to him. I doubt it will result in a serious push, but there's nothing wrong with having more veterans in the ring to help out the youth in the company.
Yoshi Tatsu (34)
The majority of his WWE career saw him work as a smiling babyface until he recently transformed into a more serious babyface. What's funny is they still have him come out to his Super Mario Brothers Yoshi style of theme music. It doesn't really fit. He's been a babyface since the beginning. His style of work in the ring is that of a high flyer although he's skilled in a number of different areas. When they let him talk they usually use him as the typical "barely knows English" guy that they do with every Japanese wrestler whether it was Taka Michinoku, Funaki, Tajiri and now him. That's what they do in WWE. It would be nice if they could be creative enough to think of something else for him, but that's unlikely.
Outlook: He's not somebody that I see being pushed up the ladder, but he could be effective as a permanent tag team wrestler. Otherwise he'll likely stay as a lower card guy for the majority of his career.
Now we move on to the women of Smackdown.
She has a good look to her in that she doesn't have the fake boobs or the body where she is out there to specifically show it off. That's not to say she lacks appeal. She's certainly attractive in her own way. I like how WWE books her as a bit of a video game nerd that can appeal to that demographic of fans. Some people are portrayed as larger than life characters with big personalities. She's more of a "normal" person, whatever that is. In ring she's good at taking a beating. When she makes her comeback she knows what she's doing too. It's the difference between hiring a trained wrestler like her and models like they have done in the past. I would give her a last name because A.J. is too bland as a name. I realize they like one name people, but if it's as simplistic as A.J. you need a last name there too.
Grade: C+ (u)
Outlook: She has to be a babyface. She's too tiny to be a heel. It wouldn't make a lot of sense.
I didn't watch much of NXT season 3 when she was on that show, so I know little about her except that she's Lithuanian. Her gimmick these days is to walk on screen as romantic music plays, have awkward conversations with Teddy Long that feature a lot of sexual innuendo and then nothing happens. I'm sure that eventually they'll put her in the ring, but at this point thecharacter is far too new to truly evaluate. She is hot, though, so I'll give her that much.
Outlook: I assume she'll likely get in the ring soon. No idea if she'll be heel or face although it seems like they're leaning towards the heel role. It's really too early to tell.
Alicia Fox (25)
Most famous for being part of the greatest match ever versus Melina at Summerslam 2010 (Tough Enough reference, people), Alicia's one of the better young divas in WWE. They put the Divas Title on her in June of 2010, which shocked a lot of people because she was still pretty new, but she proved to be ready for it. I like her work in the ring as a cocky heel that showed above average athleticism. Since then she hasn't been used that much and I'm pretty sure she's a babyface now although she's barely been used in that role. Due to her age and talent level at such a young age, I have high hopes for her future.
Grade: B- (u)
Outlook: They'll probably keep her in the babyface role although I think she's better being a heel.
She won season three of NXT even though she was one of the most green workers from that show. Physically, she's pretty good looking with some nice curves on her. I can remember some of her matches there, though. It wasn't pretty. There's a long way to go for Kaitlyn to improve in the ring. I've also seen her wrestling in tennis shoes at times. What is that? If you want to be a wrestler you have to look the part. Unlike A.J., there are no quirks to her character. She is just there. Kaitlyn needs more training in terms of in-ring work, cutting promos and being an actress. There's plenty of time to learn, but I'm not sure if she's ready for the big lights of Smackdown at this time. Perhaps more seasoning in FCW is what's needed.
Outlook: If she stays on Smackdown they need to do something to give her a personality or to differentiate her from the other women on the show. Right now she's nobody. She has the body to become somebody, so let's see what she can do.
When I think of Layla I think of how far she's come in the five years since she won the Diva Search. She is somebody that has worked her ass off (yes I have to talk about her ass) since the day she walked into WWE. I remember the days when she looked lost out there. In the past two years, though, she really grew as a performer. The Laycool gimmick allowed her to show off her personality in an over the top way. I always got a kick out of some of the one liners and facial expressions she would do during the skits they had. I wasn't always a Laycool fan, but it made me appreciate how much Layla improved. As a worker she is not at the level of a Beth or Natalya, but she's believable in everything she does. Her matches are better than most of the other WWE girls too. Promo wise she has a lot of confidence and as an actress she is one of the better girls they have. She's worked hard to get better. I have a lot of respect for Layla. Plus, she might have the best ass in WWE. It's a site to behold!
Grade: NR (No rating due to injury, but if you're wondering she's in the B- range.)
Outlook: Layla's expected to return from her knee injury in January or February, which is good timing as it's right before WrestleMania. I think she'll be a babyface upon her return.
My personal favorite diva in WWE is definitely Natalya. The fact that she's a Canadian like me that's from the amazing Hart family only helps my admiration of this woman. What I like most about her as a performer is that she's always trying to think of new ideas to improve herself. Look at that submission from Raw this past Monday. It made people take notice because typically the divas go through the motions in their matches. Not her. She's got that Hart family gift of being a workaholic, somebody who is constantly making the others around her better (she has carried so many of the rookie girls to decent matches) and evolving as a character too. After a babyface run that went stale, the heel turn was perfect. Now she's against the "Barbie Doll" divas with her best friend Beth Phoenix. The angle makes sense. Like I wrote with Beth, though, they need opponents for her to compete against. She really needs to find the right opponent to give her a defining feud that shows us how good she can be. You know what I'd love to see down the road? A ten minute match between Beth and Natalya. Give them time, tell them to do whatever they want in the ring and let them put on a show. Obviously that won't happen because they've become a duo as the Divas of Doom, but it would be great right? That's something that we can look forward to when DOD breaks up in a year or two. For now I'll enjoy her in her heel role. She's damn good at it.
Grade: B (u)
Outlook: The heel run is still fresh, so I'd expect that to continue through the new year and into WrestleMania. I'd love to see her work against Kharma when she returns from pregnancy. I've seen them wrestle pre-WWE. Both of them are better now. It could be great. I'd also love to see another Divas Title reign. One was good, but she deserves more.
Rosa Mendes (30)
Rosa's a gorgeous woman; the kind of woman that makes Booker spout off his "aww shucky ducky ducky quack quack" line. That's high praise. As a wrestler, though, she doesn't impress me a whole lot. She's been a part of WWE's developmental system since 2006 yet I haven't seen her improve as an in ring performer. Look at how far Layla has come in the same time, for example. She doesn't look aggressive in the ring and there are times when she looks lost as well. I think the best way to use her would be as a manager. She's pretty to look at, so might as well use her in that role. She could be good at it.
Outlook: I'd expect her to continue to be a part of the roster although not used much. It doesn't seem like WWE wants too many managers, which is a shame.
The daughter of Jimmy Snuka is still very green. She's only had a couple of years of experience in the ring, yet they called her up to the main roster where she has shown a lot of improvement during the short time she has had. She's already gone from the manager of the Usos to the love interest of Santino. Now she's mostly on her own without much direction. They need to develop her. I think she's shown enough natural ability already that there are signs that she can be really good in a few years. Due to having wrestling in her bloodlines like so many others on WWE's roster, her future is a bright one.
Grade: C (u)
Outlook: She has a lot of room to grow. I think due to being a taller girl that a heel role is more likely for her long term future.
How They Rank on Smackdown
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.
1 Christian - A
2 Randy Orton - A-
3 Cody Rhodes - B+ (uu)
4 Sheamus - B+ (uu)
5 Daniel Bryan - B+ (uu)
6 Mark Henry - B (d)
7 Kane - B (d)
8 Wade Barrett - B (u)
9 Booker T. - B- (u as announcer)
10 Tyson Kidd - B- (u)
11 William Regal - B- (u as announcer)
12 Ted Dibiase - B- (u)
13 Sin Cara (Heel) - B-
14 Sin Cara (Face) - B- (u)
15 Josh Mathews - B- (u)
16 Justin Gabriel - C+ (u)
17 Yoshi Tatsu - C+
18 Trent Barretta - C+ (uu)
19 Brodus Clay - C+
20 Jey Uso - C+ (u)
21 Jimmy Uso - C+ (u)
22 Matt Striker - C+
23 Jinder Mahal - C
24 Heath Slater - C
25 Theodore Long - C (d)
26 Johnny Curtis - C
27 Jack Korpela - C
28 Ezekiel Jackson - C- (d)
29 Hornswoggle - C-
30 The Great Khali - D (dd)
No rating due to inactivity: Undertaker
Notes: What I notice when I look at this roster is that there more people with upside than there was on Raw - 13 to 10 actually…Christian's been the best performer on Smackdown although Orton is obviously right there too…The Rhodes, Sheamus & Bryan trio are all very similar in terms of being future main eventers although Sheamus has been there before while Rhodes is closer to it than Bryan…Henry's having the best run in his career. He was a C-level performer for the majority of his career before this. I couldn't justify putting him higher than sixth because of the quality of his matches…Kane still has a lot of value. He showed that when Henry took him out…Barrett will get better with a good feud under his belt…Booker & Regal both have great potential as announcers…Kidd is somebody who I'm obviously high on and I think he's ready to break through sooner rather than later…It will be interesting to see if Dibiase improves. I think he will…The Sin Cara's are hard to separate but I put Hunico ahead of Mistico for now although I think Mistico's better long term…The rest of the roster is solid with a good mix of young wrestlers that are working hard to improve. They might need to put some of them into tag teams in order to get them more TV time and familiarize them with the WWE audience.
Now for the divas of Smackdown.
1 Natalya - B (u)
2 Alicia Fox - B- (u)
3 A.J. - C+ (u)
4 Tamina - C (u)
5 Rosa Mendes - C-
6 Kaitlyn - C-
7 Aksana - C-
No rating due to injury: Layla (she'd probably be second.)
It's a really weak group especially after the top two, who are both performers that I like…Natalya needs a really good feud to show us how talented she really is…Layla coming back as a babyface in the next few months will certainly help things...Alicia has improved so much in the past few years and I expect her to keep getting better…A.J. fits the underdog role well. She knows how to bump…Tamina has the bloodlines to be a good talent if she works at it hard like I expect her to…Rosa, Kaitlyn & Aksana all need to improve before they can be taken seriously.
The Top 25 Male Wrestlers in WWE
Now that the rosters are complete, I thought it would be interesting to put it all together to make a final top 25 list of the best male performers in WWE. Note: I’m going wrestlers only here and no announcers. When there’s a tie, I will break it by going with the person that I feel is the best.
1 CM Punk – A (uu)
2 Christian - A
3 Randy Orton - A-
4 John Cena – A-
5 The Miz – A- (uu)
6 Dolph Ziggler – B+ (uu)
7 Cody Rhodes - B+ (uu)
8 Sheamus - B+ (uu)
9 Daniel Bryan - B+ (uu)
10 Alberto Del Rio – B+
11 Triple H – B+
12 R-Truth – B+
13 Mark Henry - B (d)
14 Kofi Kingston – B (u)
15 Evan Bourne – B (u)
16 Jack Swagger – B (u)
17 Kane - B (d)
18 Wade Barrett - B (u)
19 John Morrison – B (u)
20 Zack Ryder – B- (uu)
21 Big Show – B- (d)
22 Tyson Kidd - B- (u)
23 Ted Dibiase - B- (u)
24 Sin Cara (Heel) - B-
25 Sin Cara (Face) - B- (u)
The other B- that would be next were Ricardo Rodriguez & Santino Marella. Everybody else was C+ or lower.
Three quick thoughts on the list:
- Orton & Cena are the most pushed guys on the show and in a lot of ways they deserve it, but Punk & Christian have been at the head of the class for WWE this year. They are the two best all around talents in the company.
- I think between numbers 5-16 you have a number of guys that have either been World Champions, will be World Champions or came very close to being a World Champion at some point in their career. It's a good group in the upper midcard with all of them having the potential to be top guys if management gets behind them.
- The bottom eight names, minus Big Show, are all people I'd love to see get a push up the ladder this year or to begin next year. They are all skilled enough to deserve it. It's just a matter of management having faith in them to deliver when the opportunity is presented to them.
I won't write out a list for the women. Beth & Natalya are the top two for sure. After that it's a bit of a crapshoot. What was evident from looking at the women's roster is that they really need to go after some talented women on the indy circuit to increase the talent level of the females in the company. What they have now after the top two just aren't good enough.
If you missed the Raw Roster Evaluation you can read that RIGHT HERE.
We have come to the conclusion of the column. The first part was over 10,000 words. This one just topped 10,000 words. If you hung around to read all 20,000 words I thank you very much. I'm really proud of how well it turned out.
I felt like this column would be a good way to look at the entire roster from the perspective of an optimistic WWE fan. I'm not the type of person that wants to predict doom or failure. I want to see people shine. I want to see midcarders get a push to show us how good they can be. I also hope that in the near future we see talents like Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Derrick Bateman and others on the main roster. Fresh blood is a good thing.
In a year from now I'll probably do another roster evaluation. We'll see who got better, who got worse and what new wrestlers showed up to entertain us.
As always thanks for reading. It's been a pleasure.