We’re almost halfway through the 2017 calendar year, and much has already changed in WWE. The rosters have been shifted around, wrestlers have been injured, the championships have changed hands several times, and the booking has been inexplicable on several occasions.
In this chaos, some wrestlers have found success while others have suffered for one reason or another. A lot of WWE superstars are at the mercy of the whims of one man, one that wields ultimate power in shaping WWE’s creative landscape. This man is notorious for going in one direction one day and then making an abrupt decision to reverse all of it shortly thereafter.
In other situations, this same man has laid out plans for only a handful of chosen top guys, leaving everyone else to their own devices. And in some cases, when these remaining wrestlers have tried to get own with their own devices, they have been admonished for not involving the WWE machine in that process.
Today’s WWE roster is stacked like never before with top-tier talent. There are so many qualified and skilled wrestlers on both rosters, in every division, just waiting for the opportunity to steal the show. And yet, only about half of these wrestlers experience any success, while the other half is left to suffer.
Here we’ll look at eight examples of both.
16. Succeeded: Cesaro & Sheamus
Last year, many people were wondering why Cesaro and Sheamus were paired together in the first place. Sheamus was a former World Champion while Cesaro was and still is a wrestler that should’ve been one by now. It was argued that this was a downgrade for both men, especially Cesaro.
Fast forward to the present and both men are actually doing very well for themselves. The oddball pairing has turned into one of the best tag teams on RAW, and although they’re both heels, they still put on great matches on a regular basis. Furthermore, they both enjoy consistent booking and are obviously earmarked for an important position on RAW, as seen with their recent RAW Tag Team Championship victory.
15. Suffered: The Entire Cruiserweight Division
Last summer, the Cruiserweight Classic was what everyone was talking about. The WWE Network-exclusive tournament was a resounding success and featured several outstanding matches and excellent booking. When Triple H introduced the new WWE Cruiserweight Championship, there was hope WWE might finally be accepting that smaller wrestlers could be equal draws to the heavyweights.
Such has not been the case in 2017. The entire division has suffered from ‘main roster syndrome’, as Vince McMahon and his inner circle have effectively stripped the division of what makes it unique.
The actual cruiserweight wrestling has been toned down significantly, and the wrestlers are often shoehorned into short squash matches without stories. Worse, most of the actual wrestlers in the division aren’t given characters that the audience can get interested in.
Finally, the entire division has become over-saturated in a sense through the addition of 205 Live on top of the cruiserweight wrestling already seen on RAW ever week. This is definitely not the same cruiserweight from 1990s WCW that set the world on fire.
14. Succeeded: The Hardy Boyz
Who would’ve thought that, in 2017, the Hardy Boyz would be back in WWE and winning a match at WrestleMania?
The Hardys’ surprise return at WrestleMania was met with an explosive pop from the audience, as the duo have become one of the most unique and exciting teams outside of WWE. Matt’s ‘Broken’ character and ‘Brother Nero’ were both among the most entertaining wrestlers in 2016, and there’s still both hope and a genuine chance that we’ll see these interesting characters on WWE programming.
Despite being old by most wrestling standards, the Hardys are still among the most popular wrestlers on RAW. They get loud reactions every week, even though they have yet to embrace their famous gimmicks they mastered in TNA.
13. Suffered: Gallows & Anderson
There might not be a single team in WWE that have been booked worse than Gallows & Anderson. Despite debuting on RAW last year to much fanfare, especially after their high-profile run in NJPW, G&A soon found themselves forced into bad comedy skits and the dreaded 50/50 booking.
In fact, last year they were part of the single-worst segment of the 2016 calendar year with that dreaded ‘Old Day’ skit, which made only one person on earth laugh.
This year, G&A have suffered just as much, if not more. Time and again, they’ve been fed to Roman Reigns as fodder (both in one-on-one and in handicap matches), and have lost so many matches in convincing fashion that they’ve lost virtually all of their credibility.
Not even the over-the-top commentary praising their efforts in NJPW can save them.
It would take a monumental victory against a major legend of top star for Gallows & Anderson to ever be taken seriously again. They’d have to pin someone like Roman Reigns, John Cena, or Triple H cleanly and decisively and without any shenanigans for them to have any chance of finding any success in WWE going forward.
12. Succeeded: The Fashion Police (Fandango & Tyler Breeze)
Both Fandango and Tyler Breeze have spent a long time as perpetual jobbers losing to bigger stars. Now that WWE’s creative department have come up with something that fits both of their characters, the duo, now known as the Fashion Police, have become one of the most entertaining acts on SmackDown.
Their antics are normally wacky and over-the-top, which is something the audience has actually embraced. In fact, their popularity is growing so much that, at Backlash, there was genuine hope among fans that the Fashion Police would defeat the Usos to win the SmackDown Tag Team Championships. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
Although this is only a minor setback right now, it’s likely they’ll continue teaming together for the time being. They’ve proven to be very popular with the crowd, and their segments are executed well more often than not. This is definitely an improvement from where both men were last year: as another jobber team on RAW without much of an identity.
11. Suffered: American Alpha
When the 2016 Draft Lottery was over, American Alpha were drafted to SmackDown. Once there, they were expected to become the faces of that brand’s tag team division, as they were one of the best tag teams in NXT.
Yet strangely, American Alpha have barely been seen on SmackDown in a major capacity at all. Despite being one of the most popular and gifted tag teams in all of WWE right now, American Alpha have barely been shown on SmackDown in a competitive capacity. Most of their matches have been either one-sided squashes or losing efforts against more established teams.
As 2017 rolls on, American Alpha is now in a questionable situation. The former SmackDown Tag Team Champions are currently involved in a rivalry with perpetual jobbers Primo and Epico, instead of challenging for the tag titles. Meanwhile, the actual tag title scene is dominated by the champions the Usos and the recently-returning New Day.
With competition like that at the top of the tag team division, American Alpha’s likely to struggle in the coming months. Which is a shame, considering their incredible chemistry together and history of great tag team matches.
10. Succeeded: Naomi
Naomi was once one of the most underrated and forgotten performers in the women’s division in WWE. She was too reminiscent of the ‘Divas’ presentation and, in terms of in-ring skill, lagged far behind the women in NXT. But she persevered for years, and in 2017, she finally reached the top of the mountain.
Naomi won the SmackDown Women’s Championship for the first time earlier this year, and was genuinely emotional when she won it. For her, this was her crowning achievement after years of toiling away and being pushed to the back-burner as more women came to the main roster.
Though she might not be as strong a grappler as other women on the roster, she has nonetheless become one of the most popular women on the SmackDown roster. As a result she has had several opportunities to shine and has done a great job as Women’s Champion so far.
9. Suffered: Becky Lynch
The Beatles had George Harrison. The SmackDown Six had Chavo Guerrero. The Four Pillars of Heaven had Akira Taue. And The Four Horsewomen of NXT have Becky Lynch.
Lynch was originally supposed to be the woman around whom SmackDown’s women’s division was supposed to be built. She was, and to some extent still is, a great worker and has had some great matches so far. However, she hasn’t set the world on fire as much as her compatriots Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Charlotte have on RAW.
Becky’s feuds on SmackDown have been lackluster, especially since she hasn’t had that many strong opponents. She didn’t have someone with whom she had history in NXT to have great matches with, despite several great efforts from the likes of Natalya and Mickie James.
As a result, Lynch had become something of a background character on SmackDown, no longer the focus of the division. Her reactions haven’t been as strong as they used to be, her promos still aren’t the best, and her overall impact on women’s wrestling is far weaker than that which has been seen on RAW.
8. Succeeded: Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe had spent such a long time in NXT that there were concerns that he wouldn’t ever make it to the main roster. Now that he has, it’s safe to say that he has been a success thus far.
Joe debuted the night after the 2017 Royal Rumble PPV and entered into a feud with Seth Rollins, as Triple H’s new attack dog. Joe has since then looked more dominant than almost anyone else on the roster, winning decisively and losing on very rare occasion. His overall booking has been, on the whole, positive.
At WWE Extreme Rules 2017, Samoa Joe became the new #1 Contender for the WWE Universal Championship. Joe will therefore be challenging Brock Lesnar for the top title on RAW at Great Balls of Fire in a few short weeks. This is a good sign for Joe, as he’s definitely a world-title-caliber athlete.
7. Suffered: Roman Reigns
It’s official: Roman Reigns is going to be booed for the rest of his wrestling career.
Reigns spent all of 2016 being booed mercilessly at every opportunity, owing to a combination of factors. Fan rejection of Vince McMahon‘s handpicked favorite has been amplified by what amounts to desperation on Vince’s part to get Reigns over and silence this opposition.
From muting the crowd, to confiscating and censoring fan signs to downright reaction to fan manipulation, WWE are trying harder than ever before to get fans to like someone they’ve decided to hate for eternity.
2017 hasn’t been that good for Reigns, either. His feud with Braun Strowman was meant to get Reigns over, but it was Strowman who became an impromptu babyface instead. Worse, it was Roman Reigns who got to wrestle the Undertaker at WrestleMania 33 and not John Cena, which deprived WWE’s fans of the one dream match that everyone, regardless of age or opinion, wanted to see.
Fan reaction to Reigns defeating the Undertaker was downright vicious, and since then the audience has continued to hope for Reigns to lose as much as possible. Though WWE isn’t likely to lose a lot of money by continuing to push Reigns as they have so far, the sad thing is that the backlash against Reigns has, essentially, become a more entertaining story than any of Reigns’ actual wrestling feuds.
6. Succeeded: Finn Balor
Some might think that Balor’s main event run so far has been underwhelming. However, such is not the case. Despite being one of the smallest wrestlers on the roster, Balor has not been shoehorned into the cruiserweight division, nor has his small stature caused him to lose more matches than he has won.
Finn Balor was, and still is, one of Triple H’s pet projects, so one can assume that Balor won’t suffer the same fate as many NXT call-ups. This can be shown through his booking since he was first drafted to RAW last summer. He was thrust into the world title picture immediately, and was the first-ever WWE Universal Champion. Had he not been injured in his coronation match, odds are Balor would’ve held the championship for quite some time.
Even though he still hasn’t regained the championship he never lost, Balor’s still in main-event matches and feuds. It’s highly likely this’ll remain the case for the long-term, as Balor was a major draw for NXT and has popular crossover onto the regular audience.
5. Suffered: Bray Wyatt
It was once believed that Bray Wyatt could become the next Undertaker. That’s how cool his gimmick was and how popular he was with the audience.
But WWE messed up his booking time and again, including so far in 2017.
Wyatt won the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber 2017, which was met with a roaring cheer of approval. Less than a month later, he lost it to Randy Orton in what was hands down the worst match on the WrestleMania 33 card, and one of the dumbest matches of the year. His over-gimmicked ‘House of Horrors’ match with Orton shortly thereafter wasn’t that much better, especially since Wyatt needed help from Jinder Mahal to score a victory.
Since then, Wyatt has found himself lost in the shuffle on the RAW roster, a big fish in a big pond. His promos, which were once unique and captivating, have become too similar to one another. Worse, he still loses more than he wins which has turned him into a ‘all talk, no action’ sort of character.
4. Succeeded: Jinder Mahal
Jinder Mahal’s transformation from jobber to the stars to WWE Champion is one of the most radical changes in recent WWE history. No one ever expected Mahal of all people to become WWE Champion, especially after how he has been booked in the past 12 months.
Last year, Mahal was involved in comedy segments and squash matches almost exclusively, and rarely won any matches. Then in December, he returned with a new look and physique, which many people have since criticized.
At Backlash, Mahal shocked the world by defeating Randy Orton for the top title on SmackDown, despite being still relatively inexperienced in major feuds. However, he has thus far been interesting, to say the least. It’s still too early to say how well SmackDown’s doing with Mahal as its top champion. For now, we can only hope that the blue brand does indeed live up to its reputation as the ‘land of opportunity’.
3. Suffered: Kevin Owens
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Last year, Owens was wrestling in hot feuds with Sami Zayn and later became the second-ever WWE Universal Champion. He was one of the biggest stars on RAW, especially in his segment with then-best friend Chris Jericho. It seemed like his stock was on the rise in WWE.
This year, however, everything has turned around. Owens was squashed by Goldberg at Fastlane 2017 in 20 seconds, destroying almost all of his credibility as a performer. Even though he won at WrestleMania, he has been shoehorned into a rivalry over the WWE U.S. Championship, a title that is, quite frankly, beneath him at this point.
Finally, Owens’ booking since WrestleMania has left him as something of an afterthought. His matches and feud with A.J. Styles should be works of art, but are instead forgotten due to lackadaisical booking.
2. Succeeded: Braun Strowman
One year ago, Strowman was just another big guy that was being compared negatively to other big men that had come before him. Since then, however, Strowman has improved arguably more than any other wrestler on the main roster.
Not only has he adapted being an actual wrestler in terms of ring presence and personality, but he has also improved in terms of promos and charisma. He has succeeded thanks to Brock Lesnar-like booking: he’s a monster that destroys everyone in his path and the audience loves him for that.
But unlike other giants, Strowman has improved in the ring as well. His offence is more diverse, his finisher has become believable and devastating, and he can do a Shawn Michaels kip-up, despite weighing almost 400 pounds. Not even the legendary Undertaker could do that in his prime.
Currently, Strowman’s sidelined with an injury that might keep him on the shelf for up to six months. If he does end up away from WWE for that entire period, it’ll be a huge blow to WWE. Strowman has experienced the biggest, most organic rise to the top out of anyone else on the main roster. He’s someone that the audience cheers for despite being a heel because he’s the dominant monster that’s actually booked how one should be.
And let’s not forget his now-hilarious one-liner, ‘I’m not finished with you!’ Somehow he managed to get a great reaction out of that, which speaks volumes to how over he is with the audience right now.
1. Suffered: Bayley
It takes a special level of creative incompetence to screw up a character as simple and relatable as Bayley. In NXT, she was the perpetual underdog with a dream of becoming a pro wrestler. She was also a child at heart, which made her relatable to the younger members of the WWE audience.
On the main roster, this translated into Bayley being the female equivalent of a man-child, and she was made to look like a complete fool more often than not. She was made to look even worse after that now-infamous ‘This is your life’ segment, which harmed her character beyond repair.
What little redeeming qualities the Bayley character had before that segment went out the window, to the point that few WWE fans would ever think of supporting her, much less buying her merchandise.
This was proven at Extreme Rules, when the audience BOOED Bayley at times. Bayley, one of the purest babyfaces since Daniel Bryan, was booed by the audience because her character was tweaked too much from how she was presented in NXT.
At this point, one cannot be sure she’ll even recover, unless she were to jump to SmackDown.