Years from now, when wrestling historians look back on this period in retrospect, they’ll refer to it as either ‘the Injury Era’, for all the top wrestlers put on the shelf or ‘the Ignorance Era’, for the sheer lack of intelligence and foresight on the part of the powers-that-be in the company.
Since the fall of 2015, WWE has been decimated by injuries that has seen one big name picked off after another. From top guys and key merchandise movers like John Cena and Randy Orton, to internet favorites like Cesaro and Neville, WWE’s roster has become uncomfortably thin as we approach WrestleMania.
Normally, when such things happen, WWE switches to a plan B to make up for injured wrestlers. This is why, when ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin went out with an injury in 1999 and wouldn’t return until after WrestleMania 2000, Vince McMahon had a backup plan and put the Rock and Triple H in the main event, which ended up being a success. So why isn’t the same philosophy being used now? Why isn’t WWE making up for the loss of Cena, Orton, and others by elevating the other guys to fill the gap caused by those superstar injuries?
Given the lack of big names for WrestleMania this year, WWE should be pulling all the stops to ensure that their current roster of healthy superstars fill the void caused by their injured brethren. Since wrestling careers tend to be short to begin with, why not make the most out of who’s healthy on the roster now in order to ensure better payoffs in the future?
Here are ten guys whom WWE absolutely should be pushing into top spots, but aren’t because of the WWE's ignorance.
10 Alberto Del Rio
Does anyone else remember when Alberto Del Rio was a World Champion-caliber athlete in WWE? No? Well congratulations, WWE, you’ve officially made Del Rio feel irrelevant, despite his great skill in the ring. This is a guy who, from the moment he returned, should’ve been white hot and pushed back to the position he was in before his sudden departure.
Instead, WWE put him in a ridiculous storyline with Zeb Coulter about ‘MexAmerica’, and he lost what little momentum he managed to gain. No one seemed to give him any legitimacy, even as he crushed Cena at Hell in a Cell 2015. Now, he’s floundering as part of the League of Nations and has a new (and downright stupid) finisher that makes little logical sense, if that.
With so many stars injured, WWE needs a top heel for the faces like Reigns and Ambrose to work with going forward and Del Rio fits the bill perfectly. He needs to stop making the same jokes in Spanish and start acting like a no-nonsense fighter with legit fighting skills.
9 Finn Balor
Balor’s an interesting case. On one hand, he’s an excellent and internationally-recognized wrestler with the perfect look, an outstanding gimmick, and widespread popularity. These traits would make him ideal for the main roster, especially given his ‘Demon Balor’ alter-ego and its unique presentation.
On the other hand, Balor’s continued presence on NXT is the direct result of the main writers’ (and Vince’s) inability to grow former NXT stars further once they ‘graduate’ to the main roster. One doesn’t have to look far to see the evidence: Tyler Breeze, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Neville and even Owens have all been ‘watered down’ by the main roster, and have found themselves putting far more underwhelming matches when compared to their NXT contests.
This is why Triple H is ‘protecting’ Balor; he’s keeping him safe in NXT where Vince and his ‘creative’ staff can’t touch him. The sad thing is, Balor will eventually be called up to the main roster (because he’s simply too good and popular to stay in NXT forever), and when he does, one had better hope that they don’t screw him up the same way they did Breeze.
8 Damien Sandow
WWE cut Damien Sandow’s legs from under him without any real justification. He was doing quite well with the intellectual gimmick, and he struck gold with the stunt double gimmick in late 2014. By the time the 2015 Royal Rumble came about, he was one of the most popular men in the match. For WWE to not capitalize on this organic rivalry whatsoever is a clear example of sheer ignorance and/or laziness on their part.
Imagine if WWE didn’t capitalize on Mankind’s ‘Mr. Socko’ when it first came out; Foley wouldn’t have been as popular without the over-the-top addition to his gimmick. But that’s exactly what they’ve done with Sandow: they didn’t let his gimmick and feud develop itself, and effectively punished him for getting over without management’s direct involvement.
All they have to do is put him back on TV screens and give him a taste of the old gimmick. He’ll have the audience in the palm of his hand in no time. Yet for them to continue to ignore his talent without a real explanation shows just how little faith WWE’s management has in its own roster.
7 Apollo Crews
Just look at that man. He has everything Vince would want in a top star: an excellent physique, impressive power, a cruiserweight move-set that totally contradicts his size yet one he manages to make work perfectly, and a dedication to improving his craft. Though not as tall as some other top guys in NXT or WWE, Crews is definitely a top prospect for future World Champion.
Given how the Roman Reigns project is on thin ice right now, it would be a good idea for them to start thinking of a back-up plan for the ‘muscular guy who will be top champion in WWE’ position that’s been held by Cena and Reigns. Though he lacks the more advanced promo skill, it’s not like that issue can’t be fixed by giving Crews a manager. Who knows, maybe Paul Heyman might need another client?
6 Sami Zayn
If there’s one person that can play the gutsy, never-say-die underdog, it’s Sami Zayn. He’s a lovable small guy with fantastic athleticism who never gives up, no matter how much punishment he takes. Because of these two key elements (small stature and determination), fans cannot help but get behind him. WWE loves making repeating that storyline and creating sympathy for smaller wrestlers. So why don’t they do that with Zayn? Why can’t he be placed in an important rivalry (against, say, Kevin Owens), and let this time-tested formula do all the work itself?
It’s a shame, really. No matter how many veteran wrestlers WWE signs, the powers-that-be won’t push them because they’re not exclusively WWE creations. Even though Zayn could very easily end up in a position not too different from Daniel Bryan’s, there’s considerable reluctance to push him because of the arrogance and ignorance demonstrated by those at the top of the company.
The best nickname for Neville right now is ‘The Man That WWE Creative Forgot’. From how he’s being booked right now, Neville’s one special feature is his impressive aerial maneuvers. Though they’re awesome to behold, doing the same thing over again without any storyline progression gets old quickly.
All Neville needs is a simple storyline that would allow him to transcend from one-trick pony to a more entertaining wrestler. WWE seems to be fully aware of his innate skills but aren’t doing anything to help him progress any further. By now, he should be involved in high-profile feuds or being a top threat in the mid-card title scene. Instead, he’s injured, and before that he was wrestling in nothing singles and tag team matches since SummerSlam. Clearly WWE doesn't know what they’re doing with the guy, and they’re running out of time before the strength and skill he needs to pull off those crazy aerial maneuvers run out.
4 Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt’s fall from grace in WWE is one of the saddest things in the company right now. He was absolutely on fire during his first year, but every time he’d go up against a high-profile opponent on a big stage, WWE would get cold feet and book him to lose, crippling his momentum. Now Wyatt’s not even scheduled to be doing anything at WrestleMania, despite being one of the most interesting characters on the roster.
Given his masterful promo work, impressive agility and excellent in-ring skill, he’s someone that WWE absolutely must push soon. He has the potential to be a tremendous, long-term star if presented properly. He’s a shining example of WWE’s younger talent needing to be pushed as much as possible for the future, and WWE must get behind his gimmick far more if he has any chance of surviving during the tumultuous times ahead.
3 Dean Ambrose
When watching Dean Ambrose’s ‘creative direction’ unfold, one cannot help but feel that he’s being held down because he’s better than Vince’s chosen one, Roman Reigns, in almost every way. Ambrose has considerably more charisma than Reigns, has better and more dramatic matches than Reigns, is more unpredictable (and therefore more exciting than Reigns) and is infinitely more comfortable on the microphone than Reigns.
Given these attributes, WWE should be pushing Ambrose as a top guy alongside Reigns so that the two of them can feud long-term down the road. With WWE still over-relying on the stars of the past (Undertaker, Triple H, the McMahons, Lesnar), they really need to build new stars now so that this issue won’t be present in the coming years. The only way to do that is to elevate several stars at once like they did during the late 1990s, instead of only selecting one top guy and giving him all the attention, while leaving other potential gold mines like Ambrose behind.
2 Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens is the best heel on the roster, and he’s fighting in what’s being presented as a throwaway multi-man match for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania. This is the same Kevin Owens who, last May, made a huge statement by Powerbombing John Cena in his RAW debut and had a series of fantastic matches throughout the summer. Now, Owens is something of an afterthought, forever relegated to the mid-card instead of being pushed to the top like he should be.
WWE is in desperate need of top heels that can elicit a reaction from the crowd, and Owens is the perfect man to do that. Everything from his mannerisms, to the way he talks to the crowd, to all the subtle things he does in the ring, make him a perfect heel. He could have a great feud with absolutely anyone, and would succeed in making others look good as long as he has some legitimacy as a competitor.
But until WWE’s backstage politicians stop playing chess with the careers of Kevin Owens and others, he’ll be stuck in WWE’s bloated midcard forever.
If there’s one person in WWE who really should be flirting with the main event on a regular basis, it’s Cesaro. He has proven time and again that, contrary to Vince McMahon’s nonsensical arguments, he does, in fact, have ‘it’, as seen by his great matches and legions of fans. Yet Vince and company are seemingly adamant to deny these facts, even as they stare them in the face.
Though Cesaro was sidelined with an injury in the fall, he should’ve been doing far more than wrestling in insignificant tag team matches. Cesaro is someone that can easily put on a great match against any WWE Superstar, young or old. In fact, numerous WWE veterans, including Mick Foley, Steve Austin and Ric Flair have all stated nothing but praise for Cesaro, and that he should be in a World Champion-related position.
If WWE doesn’t take such accounts seriously, then it proves that this very well might be ‘the Ignorance Era’ after all.