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.
I'm writing this in early October because it is about halfway between WrestleMania 28 and WrestleMania 29. It's a good time to evaluate the entire WWE roster as we head into the fall season and into the new year with major events like the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania 29 on the horizon. My 2011 edition of this column can be read via these links: Raw 2011 and Smackdown 2011 plus final rankings.
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. I know that the brands don't matter in terms of being exclusive to a show anymore, but I wanted to separate them that way because I had to break up the roster somehow. If you're wondering, there are 35 Raw performers listed on WWE.com and 52 Smackdown performers listed on WWE.com. Why is there such a difference? No idea. After all, The Undertaker is listed as a Smackdown performer even though he hasn't been on that show in years. I don't think they check these things very often.
In writing this column I realized that there hasn't been much roster turnover like there have been in years past. While some people have left and there have been some new additions on the main roster, I would guess that over 80% of the roster remains intact.
To give you an idea of the lack of changes to the roster look at this sentence from the conclusion of my 2011 evaluation: "I 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." None of them are regularly featured on Raw or Smackdown. Bateman has been seen briefly while Rollins & Ambrose are still not appearing on television although Ambrose has been on house shows so at least that’s something.
I won't be writing about NXT. I do watch the show, so maybe I will write something about the talents on that show in a separate piece at a later date. However, after writing about more than 80 people in these two columns I think I have the roster covered fairly well.
The Grading System
If you've read my work for years then you should be familiar with my grading of the talent. Here's the long winded explanation.
I tried to look at each wrestler's workrate, microphone 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. 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 for many years. 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 performer.
(uu) = This means the performer has a bigger upside. Think of Shawn Michaels in 1992 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.
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. 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 (includes their grade last year if applicable), 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 have 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. It's never personal. On top of all that, I have been a fan of pro wrestling for 25+ years (I'm 32 in November) and as a man that follows this company on a daily basis I've gained a lot of experience in evaluating talent.
The list of talent 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, 2012) in brackets. Let's get started.
AJ Lee (25)
If you asked me who made the biggest jump from 2011 to 2012 she's somebody near the top of the list. A year ago she was just a regular diva on the roster that didn't have much of a character. They paired her up with Daniel Bryan as his girlfriend that liked him way more than he liked her, then he dumped her and she went crazy because of it. While going crazy, she developed an eccentric personality that made her stand out. She gets more promo time than any woman on the roster (along with Vickie Guerrero) too, so that certainly helps her cause. She's done good work with Daniel Bryan and CM Punk among others. I'm guessing she has impressed a lot of people in WWE management because they "promoted" her to the role of Raw General Manager, which was a shock to many of us.
I want to see more of her in the ring. I think the GM role was a nice surprise, but it's not helping her. Put her in the ring where she belongs. Maybe the fans will get behind the divas matches a bit more if she's involved. A feud with heel Divas Champion Eve seems like a natural rivalry that could be the spark the women's roster needs. Her future is bright at 25 years old. She's not even in the peak of her career and there are a lot of things to get excited about in terms of what's ahead of her. Grade: B (u) (Last Year: C+)
Outlook: I think she has a very bright future. She's in her mid-20s, her character is over and there are a lack of babyface divas in WWE. I don't think her run as GM will last too long. My guess is she'll be holding the Divas Title by the time WrestleMania 29 gets here.
Alex Riley (31)
What has changed for him in the last year? A year ago one of the things I wrote was: "To me he's better suited as a heel." I still feel that way. Instead of being a heel like he should be, he's spent the last year as a babyface that barely got any TV time on Raw or Smackdown. They could have put him in a team to get him on screen. Instead he remains in midcard purgatory. A few weeks ago on Twitter he said he underwent knee and elbow surgery. While we don't know as of yet how long he'll be out, it will likely keep him out until the end of the year. I still think he has talent because of his build and his ability to talk. He's solid in the ring. While he's not the best in-ring performer on the roster certainly, I think if he had the right opponent he can have good matches. It's just a matter of getting the right story for him. Grade: C (LY: C+)
Outlook: A lot depends on when he get back from his injuries. The smart thing to do when he gets back is to bring him back as a heel, possibly in a team, and give him a chance to prove himself because he's good enough on the microphone to make an impact.
Beth Phoenix (31)
This will be a lot shorter than I intended to write because recently the news came out that she is leaving WWE when he contract runs out in October. The news is true. I think it's a combination of her being burned out from being in the wrestling business for over a decade and being on the road for over five years. It's not an easy life. At some point you want to slow down, so why not when your contract is up? While she had a run with the Divas Title earlier in the year, there was a lack of babyface opponents for her to compete against. Perhaps if they had her feud with Natalya it could have been interesting, but instead we had to see her go against Kelly Kelly way too many times. I think part of her leaving is a frustration with the time devoted to the divas although I don't know that for sure. I'll miss seeing her in the ring, but can't blame her for moving on either. Grade B- (LY: B)
Outlook: I don't think of this as a retirement. I also don't think she will go to TNA. I think it's just a case of needing a break and that we will see her in a WWE ring again. Maybe she wants to start a family with her boyfriend, Edge? We don't know. I think she'll wrestle again, though. Whether that's as a full time performer next year or beyond I don't really know.
Big Show (40)
It seems like every other year WWE really gets behind Big Show and gives him a big run as a heel main event player. Earlier this year he turned heel in a very obvious way (unless you're John Cena) and received a huge push as a result of it. I like him a lot more in the heel role. I understand why they turn him face as well because he's a veteran that the fans can get behind due to his decade plus run as a top guy, but clearly he's a better performer in the heel role. He's bigger than everybody he competes against, so he's perfect in the role of a bully that knocks people out. Unlike a lot of heels, he doesn't have to be cheap either. He can kick your ass while he's standing right in front of you and he obviously has the credibility to back it up too. It's not a complicated gimmick. It works.
Right now Show is being positioned as the top contender to Sheamus' World Title aka the Smackdown Title. This is on the heels of another feud with John Cena. Once the Sheamus feud is over, what's next? There aren't that many top level babyfaces on the roster for him to feud with. I wouldn't be shocked if he turns babyface again by the time I wrote this column next year. He's in the tail end of his wrestling career when you consider he's been doing this for 17 years and just turned 40. I'm surprised he's been as durable as he is, which is a testament to his work ethic. Grade: B (d) (LY: B-)
Outlook: I don't see him beating Sheamus for the World Title. He's a role player near the top of the card. Even though he's better as a heel, a face turn wouldn't surprise me just because the roster is loaded with heels and they need veteran babyfaces to beak, so he fits the bill in that regard.
Brock Lesnar (35)
He's not actually listed on the WWE.com superstars page because he "quit" in the storyline, but obviously he's a big part of plans heading into the new year. I'm not sure when he'll be back on WWE TV. The rumor is his contract called for him to work anywhere from 25-30 dates from April 2011 through to WrestleMania 29 in April 2012 and he's already used up about half of those dates, so my guess would be that we'll see him around Royal Rumble time. He's proven to be a valuable draw on pay-per-view because the buyrates for Extreme Rules and SummerSlam were up in large part because of his presence. I'm a Lesnar fan. I think he brings a lot of credibility with him. He's not much of a talker, but in terms of work in the ring he's very good for a man of his size. You don't find athletes his size doing what he can do. That's why there's so much value in having him around.
I won't give him a grade because he's a part timer, but when he's around and on his game he's definitely in that B+ range with the potential to be higher depending on who he is feuding with. Lesnar is exactly the kind of monster heel WWE needs. It's a shame he has no interest in being a full timer because they could really use his presence on television on a weekly basis. My hope is that Lesnar is a part of WWE past WrestleMania 29 as well. I think financially he's worth every penny, so WWE would be foolish to not want to keep him around as long as he has interest in it. Then again this is Brock Lesnar we're talking about. He changes his focus more than a kid opening presents on Christmas morning. No grade due to inactivity.
Outlook: The heavy rumor, which seems to be legit, is that he'll lose to Triple H at WrestleMania 29. I would have preferred a match with The Undertaker. Who is going to tell Triple H no though? It would be nice to see him work with some of the more current stars like Punk, Sheamus, Bryan and guys like that just because it would be very fresh. I hope it happens. The more that Lesnar is around, the better.
CM Punk (33)
The best in the world. That's what CM Punk calls himself. Is he right? Last year I gave him the top spot. If he's not first he's very close and I have a tough time considering anybody else for the top spot. While this column is not written from the perspective of wins & losses being important, he has had the WWE Championship for over 300 days. That means something as far as being the top guy in this evaluation. There is somebody else in consideration, but we'll get to that in part two of this column when you see the final rankings.
I'm glad he's turned heel. Last year I had concern about his future as a babyface after writing this: "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." They didn't elevate enough of them. Punk feuded with Alberto Del Rio who was already the WWE Champion, then Chris Jericho who is a legend and then they elevated Daniel Bryan, which was a great thing. Then it was back to being a heel while feuding with John Cena once again. He's better as a heel, in my opinion. Yes he's a likable performer and I understand why fans wanted to cheer for him, but the WWE needs a heel like him who does everything he can to get booed by the audience. His reasons for turning heel made sense too. Adding Paul Heyman to the mix was a smart move as well. He doesn't necessarily need Heyman to get booed. It's just something to make fans hate him even more, which is the whole point of being a heel in the first place.
When you look at an elite talent, you try to pick things out in terms of what they can't do. With Punk, what can't he do? His promos are top notch. He's one of the best talkers ever. I'm not afraid to say that. He's able to deliver memorable promos whether he's in the ring with somebody else or if he's simply talking to the audience. He's also funny too. As a heel he tries to be less funny, which is again what heels should do.
In terms of his in-ring performance, Punk can work any style. He's had great technical matches with Bryan, he had a really awesome brawl with Jericho at Extreme Rules and he might be the best opponent John Cena has ever had. He's even had good TV matches with bigger guys like Show and Henry. When you can work any style with any kind of opponent and have great matches all the time you are a special talent in the ring. There may be nobody better at eliciting a reaction in WWE right now, either. Whether cheered or booed, there's always going to be noise when Punk is out there. His hard work has paid off.
Punk is not ascending or declining. Nearly 34 years old, he is in the prime of his wrestling career. He has over a decade of experience, he's a leader on the roster and he makes everybody around him better by associating with him. It may have taken management a while to truly make him one of their top guys, but I'm sure glad they did. I'm a huge fan of this "CM Punk era" if you want to call it that. He makes watching the shows fun and certainly helps the quality of a three hour broadcast that I wish was two hours instead. Last year I gave him an "A" grade. This year he goes up to A+ because I think he's even better as a heel. It's the role best suited for him. Grade: A+ (LY: A)
I'm not an easy grader, but he's earned that A+ rating. He's the total package. To me he's the first A+ talent that WWE has had since Chris Jericho in 2008 during that magical feud with Shawn Michaels.
Outlook: I don't think the matches with Cena are over. That's fine with me. I also believe he'll hold the WWE Championship until the Royal Rumble where he's likely to drop it to The Rock, which could be the biggest match of his career. I think in 2012 a feud with Sheamus is very likely. They could use him to get some good matches out of Ryback too, which will be a test for Punk. Could a stable be in his future? I wouldn't mind seeing that again. He's exceptional in the leadership role.
David Otunga (32)
I have to follow up writing about an elite talent by moving on to a guy whose most complex moves in a wrestling match are a body slam and a clothesline? I'm not a huge Otunga fan. In my "Twenty Ideas for WWE to Consider" column from August, I suggested that they use him as a manager rather than a wrestler. That would also mean less poses while dripping in baby oil. The good thing is he's not in the ring on television much. Occasionally he'll be booked in a match against a guy like Sheamus or John Cena where he gets beat in short fashion, which is fine with me. His lawyer gimmick works. As a talker he's better than most. I think he has value as a role player. There's nothing wrong with that. You need role players. As long as he never gets a serious push as a singles wrestler I'm okay with Otunga being around. That's a nice of way of saying this: "Hey Vince McMahon, your roster is really loaded with talent. If you give Otunga a bigger role because he has big muscles then you have seriously lost your mind." Grade: C (LY: C)
Outlook: His lawyer gimmick is a heat magnet. There's no point in going away from it. If he was a part of a tag team that could work because he can let others do the work. His best role is as a stooge for a heel GM like John Laurinaitis was or as an ally of Alberto Del Rio, which is a role he was in most recently.
Dolph Ziggler (32)
The big difference between the "show off" this year compared to last year is that he won the Money in the Bank match to earn himself a title shot at the World Heavyweight Title any time he wants it. In terms of his spot on the card, not much has changed. He's still the guy that feuds with faces near the top of the card, yet he's not a top level heel that is main eventing PPVs yet. The big thing that WWE needs to do is give him the opportunity to be that heel because he has all the tools to make it work. It's all about management getting behind you. Look at Mark Henry's push in 2011. Obviously he's not the same kind of talent as Ziggler, but in terms of a push they made him look like a superstar because of how he was presented to the fans. All of a sudden a guy that didn't win the big one was able to get the job done. That's how Ziggler needs to be booked.
If you watch PPVs, Raw and Smackdown you can see that Ziggler is on every show. He's always having great matches. There's no question that he's one of the top three performers in terms of being an in-ring performer. On the microphone he continues to grow. I think his "WWE Download" show on Youtube has been a positive for him because it has allowed him to blossom in front of the camera. He's also been cutting promos more often on television although his manager Vickie Guerrero still does a lot of talking for him. I'd be in favor of him being on his own, but as he has said in interviews she does generate a lot of heat so it's important to use that to your advantage as well. If the split happens I have no doubt that he'll be fine on his own.
The other thing worth mentioning with Ziggler is that he's generating a lot of cheers from the crowd. They appreciate his in-ring performances and are not afraid to show that by giving him support. Could that mean a babyface turn is on the horizon for him? I don't think it would be the best move. With guys like John Cena and Sheamus entrenched as top babyfaces while Daniel Bryan is turning face, it would hurt Ziggler to be another babyface on the roster. It's better if he stays heel where he can positioned as the second biggest heel in the company behind CM Punk if they book things how I would like them to. Stay the course with him. He's in the prime of his career and his future is very bright. Grade: A- (u) (LY: B+)
Outlook: The World Title is in his future. I think he'll win it by the end of 2012. He'll likely defend it at WrestleMania 29 with my choice of opponent being a babyface Daniel Bryan. If a face turn happens it would be later in 2013, but I hope for his sake he stays heel because long terms that's the best thing for his career.
The tag division in WWE has seen a resurgence in 2012. While the team of Primo & Epico isn't getting much of a push now, they did leave WrestleMania 28 as the tag team champs. They've worked as a heel team for most of the last year although they have had a face run as well. I like them better as heels with Rosa as their managers. The dynamic is good. It doesn't seem like this team will be pushed to the front of the tag division, though. They rarely get any microphone time. When they had that feud with the Primetime Players it lasted about two weeks before management forgot about it. There's nothing wrong with Epico as a performer. He does nothing to stand out, though. He's a tag wrestler. There's definitely a role for him on the roster. Grade: C
Outlook: The Epico/Primo team will likely continue going forward. I don't see him breaking out into singles. I think they're better as a heel duo. I wouldn't mind if they got a push once again.
Evan Bourne (29)
It's been a rough year for him, to say the least. He was suspended twice for Wellness Policy violations the first time in November 2011 and then in January 2012 as well. Then in March he broke his foot in a car accident. He's still out of action. We don't know when he'll be back. I really liked the potential of his "Air Boom" tag team with Kofi Kingston at the end of last year, but they never got to take off because of the suspensions. Bourne's role as a high flyer gave him a strong presence on WWE TV. Now he's forgotten by a lot of fans. It will be interesting to see how he's used when he gets back…whenever that will be. No Grade Due to Injury (LY: B)
Outlook: It depends on his health. I think if he can come back soon then pairing up with Kofi Kingston again to form Air Boom wouldn't be a bad idea. In singles how far can he go when he's a smaller wrestler that has two Wellness Policy failures in his history? It's hard to know how much WWE will want to get behind a guy like that.
Jack Swagger (30)
I'm a Swagger fan. Always have been. To me he represents the kind of wrestler that WWE would like because he's got size, he has a legitimate athletic background and he's capable of having good matches too. The problem is he's had the same gimmick ever since he's been a part of the roster. Thankfully instead of making him a full time jobber they've taken him off TV for a break to re-tool him and perhaps bring him back in a different role. As a babyface perhaps? I hope so. It's worth a shot at least. Either that or put him into a heel tag team with a guy like McGillicutty or Dibiase. Maybe that will work. The point is that Swagger's a talent worth investing him, so I hope that when he returns from this hiatus that he gets a chance to show just how good he is. Grade: C+ (LY: B)
Outlook: I'm predicting the babyface run. It has potential to work if they get behind it. There are enough heels on the roster. He'd get lost in the shuffle. Give him a chance to do something new and see what happens.
Jerry Lawler (62)
It's a pleasure to be writing about Lawler because of the heart attack he suffered in Montreal on September 10. It nearly cost him his life. Within a few months he'll likely be announcing on Raw again. He has also said that he thinks he'll be able to wrestle too. Personally I'm fine with him announcing, but I think they should make a three man team permanent on Raw with JBL joining the table on a full time basis. If Lawler's going to stay babyface, as he should at this point in his career, then they need a heel for him to play off of. Lawler's obviously not his best as an announcer anymore, but I think with his new lease on life he's going to motivated to be as good as ever. Grade C+ (dd) (LY: C+)
Outlook: Lawler's been a fixture on Raw for nearly all of its 20 years. I don't expect him to be taken off the air for a few more years. Maybe in three years when he's 65 years old.
John Cena (35)
I like Cena. He's not one of my ten favorites in WWE, but I still like him. To me he's a guy that has worked his ass off as hard as anybody in the business to get where he is and when he has big matches with the right opponents he tends to deliver the goods. While I'm sure WWE would like their fans to stop booing him, it's not something that they need to force. It can happen if he's booked in a cooler way.
It's been an interesting year for Cena. They had him feud with Kane in the awful "embrace the hate" story that really didn't help anybody involved although the intention was to get fans to cheer Cena more. Then he had the build up with Rock for WrestleMania, which generally consisted of fantastic promos from both guys. The match at WrestleMania 28 was very good. It wasn't epic, but it was above average and I think that's a positive thing considering they never had a match before. The Lesnar feud took over the next month. I absolutely loved it. Their match at Extreme Rules was a physical brawl like nothing we had ever seen in WWE. I enjoyed it so much when I watched it on replays. The feuds with John Laurinaitis and then Big Show were both very boring. Thankfully CM Punk turned heel because he brings out the best in Cena, so once again Cena has a great feud to sink his teeth into going into the end of this year. I think feuding with Cena makes Punk a bigger star while feuding with Punk makes Cena a better performer because Punk's the best heel in the business. Punk may be the best opponent of his career. That's why it's such a worthwhile feud for both guys.
His work in the ring is consistent. A lot of it depends on the opponent. When he's in the ring with somebody like CM Punk you can see he has talent. Against bigger guys like Kane or Big Show he's not going to have good matches, which makes it tough to watch. The best way to describe his in-ring work is by saying that he's not an elite worker than can carry poor opponents, but he's skilled enough to hang with the top guys. I'd love to see him work with other top in-ring talents like Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler because I think they will bring out the best in him as well. He'll never be Shawn Michaels or Bret Hart in the ring. We know that. He knows that too. He's a power wrestler that knows what he can and can't do and does it to best of his ability. In boxing different styles can make great fights. In wrestling different styles can certainly produce great matches. Cena is the perfect example of that.
In terms of promos, serious John Cena is one of the best talkers in the company. The problem is that "poopy joke Cena" gets in the way far too often and that hurts him. If you look at his promos with Rock before WrestleMania 28 a lot of them were in a serious tone. Those built up the match well. The same can be said about a promo with Punk before Night of Champions when Bret Hart was also in the ring with them. Cena made fans say "wow that was amazing." That's the reaction you want a main event level talent to receive from the fans all the time. What the creative team needs to do is cut back on the joke promos and allow him to deliver those very intense promos that make people want to spend $45 to order his pay-per-view match. We want to see the Cena that faced Rock, Brock and Punk all the time. That's how you will get people to like him.
It's also impressive to see how durable he is. Aside from the current arm injury that will keep him out of action for about one month, he hasn't missed any time in over four years. Of course that leads to some people hating him because he's overexposed. To Vince McMahon, though, he's the most reliable guy in the company and his biggest draw. Reliability is huge. You think McMahon can trust a guy like Orton in the same manner? Absolutely not. Cena's the kind of tireless worker you want as the leader of the locker room. It may upset some fans, but his spot is justified and he's earned it as much as any top guy. I don't know how many years Cena has left. I think 40 years old might be around the time when he nears the end of his career. Sorry haters, but he's got another five years left at least as long as he's healthy. Grade: A- (LY: A-)
Outlook: To those that are looking for the heel turn, I don't think it's going to happen any time soon. Cena's spot is secure. The question is will they do Rock vs. Cena II at WrestleMania 29? I think so. This time I think Cena wins and he leaves with the WWE Title too.
I wrote this last year: "He's still employed? Yes he is." What's even better is there's a website all about how long he's been employed and he's closing in on six years now. Amazing. It's not like JTG is a bad wrestler. I've seen enough of his work when he's had a chance to wrestle on shows like NXT and Superstars. He's a decent wrestler. It's just that he doesn't do anything to make him stand out from the pack. I thought his old attire made him different. Then they made him dress the same way that most wrestlers dress, so his uniqueness was taken away from him. He seems to be floating in midcard purgatory. Is there any reason to think that will change? Don't think so. Grade: C- (LY: C)
Outlook: Last year I predicted he may get released. It didn't happen even after a rant on Twitter a few months ago. He's really lost in the pack. I don't see him getting out of it.
Justin Roberts (32)
The well-tanned ring announcer has been the voice of Raw for the last three years. He'll keep doing what he does. There's no reason to think anything will change in his career. No grade or outlook for the announcer.
Kane is celebrating his 15th year as a character in WWE this October. He's also the oldest full-time member on the WWE roster. It's hard to know when he'll call it a career because he's been one of the most durable performers in the last two decades and he's still drawing good reactions from the fans. If you can keep getting people to care about your work then why stop, right? Make as much money as you can while you can and do a job that you obviously love. Good for him for being so dedicated to the business the way that he is.
As a worker he has slowed down a bit, but it's not that noticeable. They've done the smart thing by pairing him up with an elite in-ring performer like Daniel Bryan because that has minimized the amount of work that Kane has to do. Over the course of his career he's turned heel and face more times than perhaps anybody in the history of WWE. Remember when he came back with the mask on? It was because the fans liked him with his mask off. Then there was that awful "embrace the hate" feud with Cena that eventually led to a face turn. Odd, huh? No, it's just a typical Kane angle. He's still enjoyable though. While I don't want to see him pushed to the level of a major championship, I am perfectly fine with using him to raise the status of the tag titles or to build up an opponent. He has value in those roles. Grade: B (d) (LY: B)
Outlook: He's at the tail end of his career. I don't think it's his last year, though. In terms of reliability, I doubt there are many wrestlers that Vince McMahon rates higher than him. It's why he'll always be on TV as long as he wants to be. I also predicted a heel turn within the next year because it's Kane and that's what he does.
Kofi Kingston (31)
I think the days of predicting a major superstar push for Kofi Kingston are over. He's likely not going to reach "top dog" status in his career. His role is that of a tag team wrestler or upper babyface midcarder and I think he's cemented in that spot. Like I always say, there's nothing wrong with that because you can always use role players. He's a babyface that's locked into his spot. I like his work in the ring although I think sometimes he can be too repetitive in his matches. In my "Twenty Ideas for WWE to Consider" column from August, I suggested that he turn heel. It would be different for him. I don't think it will necessarily happen, though. Grade: B-
Outlook: Not much has changed in his five years on the main roster. He's a midcard babyface that's also a part of the tag division. It's a role that suits him. I don't see any changes for him although if it was me I would definitely try the heel turn just to see what he can do in that role.
Mason Ryan (30)
He's been off television since the spring. Remember when he was teasing the idea of joining with the now fired A.W., who at the time was managing the Epico/Primo/Rosa team? Since then he's disappeared. At a house show I was at in March he was teaming up as a babyface with Alex Riley. It didn't lead to them appearing on TV together, though. He's got the physique that Vince McMahon loves. We know that. Is he good enough of a performer? I'm not sure. He's somebody that would do fine if he were a part of a tag team or a stable that also had a manager to speak for him. As a singles act there are obviously some concerns. Ryan doesn't impress me much at all. Grade: D (LY: C)
Outlook: The heel role is better for him. Find him a partner or a stable to be a part of. I'd probably release him if I was in charge of talent, but he's too big for McMahon to simply give up on. We know what Vinny Mac likes.
Michael Cole (43)
Thankfully the obnoxious heel act of Michael Cole ended on the September 10th episode of Raw when he did an excellent job of keeping his composure while his fellow announcer Jerry Lawler suffered a heart attack. Since that time Cole has been a generic babyface announcer, which is perfectly fine with me. He's at his best playing off a heel announcer like JBL, which is why I hope JBL is more of a permanent fixture on Raw.
My biggest gripe with Cole is there's too much of him. He's the main voice of three hours of Raw and he's on Smackdown with Josh Mathews too. That's five hours every week. When there's a PPV that means you'll hear eight hours of Cole per week. It's a little much isn't it? While he's not an elite announcer like Jim Ross (who I would have graded at A if this was 1998-2002), Cole is adequate at his job. Do I wish he called matches better? Sure, but he's not instructed to. He does what he's told and he does it well because if he was bad at it do you think he'd be on TV as much as he is? Grade: C+ (LY: C)
Outlook: No changes for him. He'll stay in the babyface lead announcer role. He's been in WWE for 15 years and he's in his early 40s, so he'll be the voice of WWE for at least the next decade if not more. Get used to him.
Michael McGillicutty (32)
Even though he's rarely on Raw he's still listed on the roster. That's because he's usually working the Raw house shows on the weekends. While he isn't prevalent on Raw, I have seen a lot of hi work on NXT over the last year. Believe me when I tell you that he's one of the most improved performers in the company. His in-ring work has gone from where I thought he was average to thinking that he can have fantastic matches with the right opponent, which he's done many times with Tyson Kidd. Look it up if you don't believe me. The problem is that such a small audience watches NXT (it wasn't even shown in the US for most of this year), so they have no idea that he's gotten better. Personally I hope he is brought back onto Raw or Smackdown soon because he's a talented guy that knows what he's doing in the ring. Now can we just call him Joe Hennig instead of this stupid Michael McGillicutty name? It's silly. Grade C+ (LY: C+)
Outlook: His semi-regular tag partner has been Johnny Curtis. They have good chemistry. I'd like to see them used on Raw or Smackdown as a heel team because both guys deserve a chance. A singles chance would be nice too. If you need another idea then how about a team with Ted Dibiase simply because both of their dads were awesome? That's enough of a reason for me.
The Miz (31)
The last year has been difficult for Miz in terms of finding his spot on the roster. He went from being the WWE Champion in 2011 to being a few notches below that once he lost his championship. Remember who The Rock & John Cena at Survivor Series last year? It was Miz and R-Truth, who didn't appear like serious threats to the two top guys. He went from somebody to just another guy on the show.
There's nothing wrong with this work. While he's not an elite in-ring performer, he is above average and he's very capable of having good matches with the right opponent. In terms of promos he's one of the best in the company. He's also the guy that does more media appearances than anybody in WWE because he's so good at representing them in public. That's a big thing in the eyes of management.
As I've written many times, I think his long term future will be very bright as a babyface if they ever pull the trigger on him. He's a guy that doesn't have a physical look to him, so there are times when it's difficult to believe him as an aggressive heel that can beat somebody up. His current run as Intercontinental Champion has been alright except for when he got destroyed by Ryback in a few minutes as if he was a nobody. That's how WWE books secondary champions. They tend to lose a lot of non-title matches. I think he'll always be pushed. To what degree depends on what others on how much management believes in him at that time. Grade: B+ (LY: A-)
Outlook: The face turn is more of what I want to see. Do I think it will really happen? No. He'll likely continue to be a heel. I think he might win the WWE or World Title one day, but in the next year that seems unlikely just because the roster is loaded with talent that is ready to break through.
Mr. McMahon (67)
He's not on the show much anymore, which is a good thing because we don't need to see him unless it's for a special occasion. At least the WWE.com nerds still put him on the Raw roster. I'm sure Uncle Vinny appreciates that.
Paul Heyman (47)
I think it's fair to say that he's one of the best non-wrestlers in the history of the business in terms of being an on-air talent. I'd probably rank Bobby Heenan and Vince McMahon ahead of him, but Heenan was a wrestler before managing and McMahon certainly had a number of huge matches in his career although he is not considered a wrestler obviously.
The reason Heyman is so good is because he makes everybody around him better. It's not necessarily about him. He's been in WWE this year as the mouthpiece of Brock Lesnar and also as an associate of CM Punk. He adds to their heel heat. He brings out the best in them. Those were his traits as a booker of ECW and later Smackdown as well. That's why the term "I'm a Paul Heyman guy" exists. People love the guy. I'm pleased that he's back in WWE. Don't go away anytime soon, Mr. Dangerously. Grade: B+
Outlook: I don't know what kind of deal he has with WWE. I just hope he sticks around for the long term. I wish he was booking shows again because when he booked Smackdown in 2002 it was a fantastic show. That doesn't seem to be in the cards. He's there as an on screen performer and I would imagine he'll be gracing out TV screens heading into WrestleMania season as well. That's a great thing.
I think what I wrote about his cousin Epico earlier applies to him as well. The difference is that he's got a longer tenure on the main roster. They held the tag titles at WrestleMania, but ever since they lost them they have been in the mix of tag teams without being a main threat. There's no point in repeating myself, so he gets the same grade as his cousin. Grade: C
Outlook: Much like Epico, I don't see him breaking out into singles. He's a part of the tag division. When they get time they always have good matches.
It will likely surprise some people to see that R-Truth is 40 years old. He's one of the few regular WWE performers that's in his 40s. Unfortunately my interest in his act is not where it was last year. A year ago at this time he was an entertaining heel that I really enjoyed and I gave him a grade of B+, which seems really generous in hindsight. He turned face towards the end of the year, then he turned into more of a comedy wrestler with the "Little Jimmy" stuff and he's had an entertaining run with Kofi Kingston as a regular tag team. I enjoyed him more as a heel though. His work in the ring is solid, his promos are goofy and he's above average in terms of getting a crowd into his match. Plus, the kids love the "Little Jimmy" thing (from what I've seen), so that's not going away anytime soon. You need veteran babyfaces like R-Truth on the roster. There is definitely a role for him. Grade: B- (d) (LY: B+)
Outlook: I think being a midcard babyface tag wrestler is the right role for him. As an older wrestler they can use him to put over younger heels. I don't see him getting any kind of significant push for the rest of his career.
Rey Mysterio (37)
This year marks twenty years for Mysterio as a pro. He's not booked as an underdog as much as he used to be due to accomplishing so much in his amazing career (I'm a fan) and he still resonates well with the fans. I'll never forget how impactful he was for me as a fan in the mid-1990s when I saw him competing in WCW at a time when their main event scene featured a lot of old guys. He set the standard for cruiserweight wrestling. Now that he's been in WWE for ten years some people may forget his work in WCW, but I never will.
It's been a rough year for him. He had major knee surgery that kept him out of action for nearly a year. He also failed another drug test, which earned him a 60 day suspension for his second strike. Now that he's back they have paired him up with Sin Cara as a "Masked Marvels" like tag team. They'll likely win the tag team titles before we get to WrestleMania 28 and I think we'll see them in a singles match for the first time ever at that event. It would be foolish to not to do it as face vs. too. There's no need for a heel turn for either guy.
It's smart to use him as a role player that is helping out Sin Cara, who is nearly a decade younger than him. Mysterio's time as a true top guy is over. However, he has earned enough credibility to be booked near the top and to help out midcarders that can benefit from working with an excellent in-ring performer like him. Grade: B (d) (LY: Injured)
Outlook: His future is tied to Sin Cara. Hopefully both of them can stay healthy so their team can continue to grow. There's no heel run in his future. I doubt he'll get a main event run ever again.
The Rock (40)
He's not on the WWE.com Superstars list, but I'll add him because he will be such a big part of what WWE does going into 2013. At the Royal Rumble he gets a WWE Championship. At WrestleMania 29 he'll likely be wrestling in the last match for the second year in a row. I'm glad he's returned to the ring. I know he's only a part timer and that upsets some people, but I think having some Rock is better than no Rock. He may be the best talker in the history of the business. I would put him at #1 personally.
In the ring he showed little ring rust at Survivor Series and WrestleMania although at WM28 he did get winded for a portion of the match before finishing the match strong. I think his presence will help the Royal Rumble buyrate significantly and next WrestleMania may top this year's in terms of interest especially if he walks in with the WWE Championship. I also read recently that he has four movies coming out in the first six months of the year, so he's going to be a very busy man in 2013! No grade due to inactivity.
Outlook: I doubt we see him on WWE TV until January. I think the first Raw of the year would be a good occasion. He'll need to be on TV for a few weeks to promote his WWE Championship match. I think he'll walk into WrestleMania 29 as the WWE Champion and drop it to…wait for it…John Cena. Once in a lifetime? Not really.
He's just the sidekick of Tensai. He's most famous for getting beat up after a Tensai loss. It's quite the career isn't it? I'm sure that one day he'll get a chance to actually wrestle on WWE TV because he's been a pro for nearly ten years (trained by former WWE superstar Taka Michinoku), but it may be a while for that to happen. They could say Tensai's been training him. Perhaps it could lead to them working as a tag team? I don't think that would hurt anybody. It's hard to really evaluate somebody that has yet to wrestle on television or talk. I will give him a generic grade anyway. Grade: C
Outlook: I think we'll see him starting to wrestle on WWE TV sooner rather than later. Getting beat up by a guy you're supposed to be friends with will only get you so far in life. Remember that, kids. Be a star.
Santino Marella (33)
How about a copy/paste job from last year? Not much has changed, so I'd say he deserves it.
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. 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.
That was last year. The only thing worth adding to that is that the best showing of his career came in the Smackdown Elimination Chamber match when he finished as the runner up to World Champion Daniel Bryan. It was the best showing of his career in terms of being taken as a serious competitor. The crowd really got behind him. Then he won the US Title, barely defended it and lost it. Now he's back to being a comedic midcard guy, which is the role best suited for him. No complaints here. Grade: B- (LY: B-)
Outlook: Of all the people on the roster, he's the easiest to predict. He'll remain in the same role he's been for the majority of his career as a babyface. Remember the old saying: "If it ain't broke don't fix it." Sorry for the double negative. It had to be done.
He's been in WWE since 2009 yet he's still the guy that is only on Superstars calling matches. I think it's a mistake. Stanford is a sportscaster on the weekends. He has that booming announcer voice. When I watch Superstars I think he has a good job. The problem is the announcers on Raw and Smackdown aren't going anywhere, so where can they put Stanford? I'm sure it's frustrating for him. Can't say I blame him if he did feel that way. Grade: C (LY: C)
Outlook: I'd like to see him given an opportunity on one of the main shows. I don't think it's likely though.
I don't think the gimmick is working that well for him. The concept of the character is okay as a former American wrestling star that went to Japan, changed his look and appearance (at least with tattoos on his head), but the problem is they refuse to say what his name was when he was Albert or A-Train. We also have never heard him give any kind of promo about why he did what he did. Shouldn't his character get a chance to explain his change or what the significance of his head tattoo is? That's character development. All they did with him was give him an associate in Sakamoto and they expected him to get over with the fans immediately. That's a backwards way of thinking. You have to give fans a reason to invest in a character whether that's through cheering or booing. With Tensai he's just kind of there. Wins over Punk and Cena didn't really matter because generally the crowd doesn't care.
He's a good worker for a big guy. I didn't see that much of his work as Giant Bernard in Japan, but I saw enough to see that he improved from when he was A-Train in WWE. As Tensai, though, you don't really see that improvement. He's not having longer matches and like I said there's very little character development. At nearly 40 years old, the end of his career is near. He's serviceable as a veteran heel. I don't know if they had main event level aspirations for him. I doubt he'll reach that level. Grade: C+ (d)
Outlook: Maybe he'll get a push to IC or US Title level, but I doubt it. A tag team could be possible, perhaps with Sakamoto if they want to go that route. As long as they don't turn him into the "Hip Hop Hippo" again (google it) he'll be okay.
Triple H (43)
The on-screen Chief Operating Officer that I like to call Hunter Hearst Suit McMahon Helmsley is officially a part time player in WWE. He wrestled Undertaker at WrestleMania 28 where he lost. Then at Summerslam he lost to Brock Lesnar. The first match was a match of the year contender while the second was below what I thought in terms of quality, but effective in building up Lesnar as a monster. The other big news with him is that his precious long hair got cut. They wrote him out of stories in a way that will make some fans think he's done for good. He's not. We'll see him in the new year I'm pretty sure. I'm not anti-Triple H at all. I'm just glad he's not a featured performer anymore. It was the right time for him to move on, so I'm glad he's done that. No grade due to inactivity. (LY: B+)
Outlook: He'll be back for WrestleMania 29. The rumor is a match with Brock Lesnar where Hunter would get his win back. That may change, but if he wants it who can stop it? It's all about the game and how you play it. I'm not talking about the song lyrics either.
Vickie Guerrero (44)
She continues to do good work although nothing has changed with her in the last year. She was managing Dolph Ziggler last year. She still is this year. Managing Jack Swagger didn't last that long. While Ziggler doesn't really need a manager, she does add to the act by being a heel that never gets cheered, which is the whole point of being a heel. Her presence will keep Ziggler from being cheered. It will also allow them to turn Ziggler face at one point by turning on her if they choose to go in that direction. Grade: B- (LY: B)
Outlook: The only change I could see in her is if they make her the GM of Raw or Smackdown. Other than that she'll keep her role as a manager, which is fine with me.
Zack Ryder (27)
Poor Zack Ryder. That's what I think when I see his name. Here's a guy that worked his ass off to gain popularity with fans using methods other than WWE TV because he was barely on. His YouTube show was a sensation (I admit I used to watch it) and he's very interactive on Twitter. Towards the end of last year and into the early part of this year his role on television grew. The problem was he got booked like a complete idiot that got his ass kicked by Kane on a regular basis as a way to build up John Cena as a babyface. It was as if Ryder was the innocent woman that Cena had to protect, so that's what Cena did in winning his feud with Kane and where did that leave Ryder? Nowhere. He lost the US Title faster than you can say "jobber" and at WrestleMania he got played for a fool by Eve while never getting revenge on her. Simply put he has been the worst booked character on WWE TV in 2012. It's been brutal.
The good news for Ryder and his fans is he's only 27. He signed with WWE six years ago. Most guys don't make it at such a young age, so that means they saw some talent in him. As a worker he's solid. He has his signature spots that work although personally I think the Broski Boot should be his finisher instead of the Rough Ryder because it looks much more painful. In terms of promos, he's still the goofy kid that smiles way too much when he talks. He needs to show different emotions if he's going to evolve. You're barely on the show, kid. You barely win matches. Stop smiling. You can be angry. That's a problem in WWE. Most babyfaces smile all the time even when they're barely on the show. There's no depth to their characters. Ryder still has a bright future. The fans really do like him, so as long as he can keep getting those reactions management could listen to it and give him another push to that IC/US Title level once again. Grade: B- (u) (LY: B-)
Outlook: Ryder's a midcard babyface. Maybe in a few years he'll move up the card, but I don't think management likes him enough to do that soon. It wouldn't shock me to see him reunite with Curt Hawkins as a tag team although I see why they would want to grow as singles. The problem is they barely get TV time. Wouldn't you rather be a team that gets on TV instead of singles wrestlers that are never on?
Here's the list of male and female wrestlers that I evaluated as part of the Raw roster. You will see the letter grade that was given as well as the upside or downside associated with them where it applies. Announcers are not included in this list.
- CM Punk: A+
- Dolph Ziggler: A- (u)
- John Cena: A-
- The Miz: B+
- Paul Heyman: B+
- Big Show: B (d)
- Rey Mysterio: B (d)
- Kane: B (d)
- AJ Lee: B (u)
- Kofi Kingston: B-
- Santino Marella: B-
- R-Truth: B- (d)
- Beth Phoenix: B-
- Vickie Guerrero: B-
- Zack Ryder: B-
- Jack Swagger: C+
- Michael McGillicutty: C+
- Tensai: C+ (d)
- Primo: C
- Epico: C
- Alex Riley: C
- David Otunga: C
- Sakamoto: C
- JTG: C-
- Mason Ryan: D
No grade due to inactivity or injury: Brock Lesnar, Evan Bourne, The Rock, Triple H
Thoughts: That's it? That's what I thought when I started this column because on the Smackdown side there are nearly double that. Again that's just how WWE.com lists their talent…Punk is the clear number one compared to the other wrestlers here. No question about it…Ziggler and Cena are a notch below. I think Ziggler could move up depending on what kind of push he gets as well as how well he performs…Cena's rating is fair I think…Miz has the potential to move up again. He really needs a feud to make him stand out from the pack…Guys like Show, Mysterio and Kane are all in the same boat as veterans that are still valuable contributors…A lot of the guys in the lower half are not people that I would consider to be future main event stars. Maybe McGillicutty or Riley if they get the right storyline, but otherwise those are generally midcarders…Sorry Mason Ryan. Last place for you. But don't worry because the Smackdown roster has a lot of contenders that are ready to compete with you.
That's it for the first of this two part series. It was over 10,000 words. Like I said in the open the Smackdown part has 52 of the 87 overall names, so some of the write-ups for that part might be shorter. What am I supposed to write about the Funkadactyls right? As was the case here the top guys will get more words. That's just how it is.
Thoughts? Comments? My contact info is below. Don't be shy.
Until next time, thanks for reading.
John Canton - firstname.lastname@example.org
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