World Wrestling Entertainment is in crisis, and from the look of things, it’s only getting worse. Ratings are hitting all time lows on both Raw and SmackDown Live, continuing a downward spiral that could see the company losing sponsors and network support. Granted, this is a worse case scenario, and it’s going to be some time before the McMahon family starts panicking or even admitting there’s a problem.
That in mind, there’s no denying fans are leaving in droves, and the few who choose to stick around haven’t been happy about what they’ve watched for some time now. Truth be told, it wouldn’t be accurate to put the weight of this situation on the shoulders of a few men and women, and yet our goal with this list is to narrow it down to the superstars who deserve the most blame for this current problem.
It should go without saying the wrestlers themselves aren’t even the only ones at fault, as the company’s writers and aforementioned McMahon influence tends to play a significantly larger role. With ratings this bad, though, chances are every single person on the WWE roster could be doing something better, or at least speaking up to the bosses when they get told to do something actively harmful to the business. Keep reading to find out the 15 current WWE superstars most responsible for the company earning record low ratings.
15 Stephanie McMahon
From the moment Stephanie McMahon ascended to WWE’s head writer up to the present day, the company has been slowly doing away with what was once an integral piece of the sports entertainment business. Rather than letting the charismatic WWE superstars speak for themselves during promos and interviews, every last word is being scripted as though it were part of a Hollywood film. Rumor has it Stephanie McMahon was the driving force behind this change, and for that reason alone, she definitely deserves some of the blame for WWE flying off the rails. Unique and original storytelling is what pro wrestling has been about from the start, and sterilizing this to mostly include outdated clichés and painfully corporate terminology has been destroying the concept entirely. On top of that, McMahon drags down the show with her every appearance, making the regular talent work weak at the expense of inflating her ego.
14 Brock Lesnar
Since leaving UFC for a full-time WWE return, Brock Lesnar has without question been the most marketable name the company has to offer. In contrast to the others wrestlers on this list, Lesnar’s name still moves the needle when he’s advertised to appear, more than justifying his status as the WWE Universal Champion. Why, then, is Lesnar nonetheless responsible for the current dip in WWE ratings? Well, he can only raise the numbers when he actually appears, and Lesnar is almost never around these days, despite the fact he’s supposed to be one of the company’s most important champions. Booking the entire show around a wrestler whose contract demands he almost never be on television is proving disastrous, as fans know there’s little reason to tune in 90% of the time.
13 Dean Ambrose
Representing the Lunatic Fringe has turned Dean Ambrose into one of the most popular superstars in the WWE Universe, and if used correctly, he could easily be fixing the ratings problem instead of contributing to it. Unfortunately, like several others on this list, Ambrose is a victim of bad booking pushing him down the card and ruining his potential rather than treating him like the headlining talent he should be. Ambrose is easily the most popular wrestler to come out of The Shield, and yet he’s the one wrestling for the Intercontinental Championship while Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins are in the main events. There isn’t much Ambrose himself can do to fix things, but one small step in the right direction might be speaking up when WWE asks him to feud The Miz over and over instead of utilizing his talents properly.
12 John Cena
As the face of WWE for more than a decade now, John Cena arguably deserves the most credit for whatever happens in WWE positive or negative. The company has been built around him specifically for so long that almost no other superstar on the roster matters to a casual fan. While this strategy has mostly worked, it’s starting to look like the shelf life may be up. More than that, Cena isn’t helping endear himself to the fans getting tired of his act by taking exponentially longer sabbaticals to spend time in Hollywood or other outside endeavors. On the other hand, his actions still generate the most mainstream attention WWE is capable of these days, with coverage of his in-ring proposal to Nikki Bella at WrestleMania 33 attaining headline news status. Cena still has the potential to help WWE, but the fact he’s never around and gets on the fans nerves when he’s there only makes things worse.
Outside of her boss, Naomi is the only female wrestler we’ve decided to put on this list. Regardless of what WWE says about the ongoing women’s wrestling revolution, the female side of the industry simply isn’t promoted highly enough to impact the ratings in a significant way. Individual wrestlers obviously have plenty of fans, but most female viewers are simply happy their gender is being represented at all. All that said, as the SmackDown Women’s Champion, Naomi is supposed to represent the entire division, and she’s one of the weakest choices the company has to offer in that respect. Quite frankly, Naomi has been around for a long time without showing anything special in or out of the ring, and her sudden championship turn has left lots of fans scratching their heads. The fact is, with Naomi at the top, SmackDown’s women’s division pales in comparison to the one on Raw.
10 Triple H
For as bad as Stephanie McMahon can be at making WWE all about her, it’s really her husband Triple H that deserves all the criticism in that regard. Not even getting promoted to the EVP of Talent (and on-air COO) of the company stopped Triple H from booking himself to become WWE Champion and then headline WrestleMania, not that anyone expected it would. Sure, he’s taken himself out of the title scene at least, and monthly sabbaticals are growing longer, but fans know HHH could pop up at any moment and make himself the focus in an instant if he feels fit. Behind the scenes, Triple H’s influence isn’t all that it gets cracked up to be, as he still puts his friends over people who deserve it whenever given the chance. The more power he gets, the worse his instincts will become, and only time will tell whether this kills the company or somehow saves it.
9 Dolph Ziggler
Ten years ago, Dolph Ziggler looked like one of the most promising up-and-coming stars in the WWE Universe. Today, he’s won the World Heavyweight Championship twice, and smaller titles countless times, and yet it almost feels like Ziggler is in the exact same place he was all those years ago. Time after time, fans have shown they connect with Ziggler in a major way, celebrating his biggest victories with enormous reactions. However, WWE choose to do virtually nothing with him except repeat the same old feuds, or waste his talents on midcard matches that don’t really serve a purpose. Like so many others on this list, the problem isn’t with Ziggler himself, rather that he represents a large number of superstars being misused in roles they should have ascended beyond long ago.
8 Baron Corbin
Once a wrestler is called up from NXT to the main WWE roster, they need to make an impact fast, lest they run the risk of getting lost in the shuffle. By winning the André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32 in his debut match, Baron Corbin’s chances of getting noticed were pretty good, and according to rumors, this is because Vince McMahon sees big potential in The Lone Wolf as a top heel going forward. If that were really the case, though, this past year would have gone a whole lot different. Almost immediately after his victory, Corbin’s act started wearing thin, and yet it doesn’t seem like McMahon is giving up on him. In fact, rumors about Corbin being groomed for the top have only intensified as his character has dropped down in value. Unless something changes soon, there will be no saving Corbin, and his presence will start to actively hurt the company.
7 Luke Harper
When a stable is formed around the idea of a charismatic cult leader, the risk of his or her followers becoming aimless the moment they split up is extremely high. On the other hand, should the subordinates fight back against an oppressive leader, the potential to make several stars out of the ordeal is likewise through the roof. WWE was hoping to achieve the latter when Luke Harper split from Bray Wyatt and company, but thus far it’s been looking more the former is happening. Harper’s feud against Wyatt was a bust in and of itself, and immediately after the two wound up on separate brands, he pretty much lost all purpose as a character. Considering Harper is supposed to be a pretty big deal now, this doesn’t bode well for the future of WWE, let alone the present.
6 Braun Strowman
In all fairness, Braun Strowman appears to be in much better shape than the majority of this list. Since splitting with The Wyatt Family, the monstrous Strowman has became a major star in his own right, going from the lower midcard to PPV main events in a manner of mere weeks. Unlike some other recent ascents up the card, Strowman’s rise was actually organic, in that he slowly started working his way up the ranks and his crowd reactions grew stronger along the way. For all the good things about Strowman’s slow rise up the card, however, the fact remains the ratings haven’t gotten better since he started headlining; they’ve gotten worse. Strowman is doing pretty well in the ring and during his beatdowns, but there’s still not much going on whenever he speaks, and until there is, casual fans won’t care about this mysterious newcomer.
5 Bray Wyatt
When making this list, in no way was it our intention to pile on The Wyatt Family, and yet here we are with three of the group’s top members all showing up in a row. Of course, the fact former leader Bray Wyatt is the highest ranking of all probably caused a trickle down effect leading to his followers standing behind him here as always. Regardless, the tragedy of Bray Wyatt’s recent career path is how quickly he fell from one of the top names in the business to a complete and total joke, nearly incapable of redemption. The saddest part of all is that the beginning of the end should have been one of his biggest moments: defending the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 33. Unfortunately, though, fans are now aware Wyatt’s match against Randy Orton was a complete and total mess, and the follow-up the month after was even worse.
4 Jinder Mahal
Truth be told, it’s a little early to judge Jinder Mahal’s reign as WWE Champion, as this list is being written barely one week after he won the gold. In fact, if you contrast everyone else on his list, Mahal might ultimately have a positive effect on the company, with his celebration ceremony already earning the highest YouTube numbers WWE has seen since his victory. Nonetheless, Mahal’s sudden ascent up the card is confusing the hell out of people, and the longer a given audience member has been watching WWE television, the more baffled he or she has been at this success. It would be one thing had Mahal spent a few months building himself up from his jobber status, but that’s not what happened—he went from what was basically an extended losing streak dating back to his previous run, to the top name in the company. It's no wonder casual fans have no interest in watching this career loser shoot up the card.
3 Randy Orton
Bland, boring, uncharismatic, and almost entirely free of flash, Randy Orton has been achieving far above his talent level pretty much from the day he made friends with Triple H and Vince McMahon. It doesn’t matter that Orton is allegedly a jerk behind the scenes nor that his every championship reign is met with lukewarm applause at best; the McMahon family are enamored with the guy, Vince especially, and that means he’ll stay on top of the WWE Universe for a long time, despite his veteran status. Granted, there was a point in time when Orton truly was a massive star, but that ship has long since sailed, and his continuing turns with the WWE Championship drag the belt down further each subsequent win. At this point, fans will chant for absolutely anything else during his matches, and those not in the arena are making the easier decision of simply changing the channel.
2 Roman Reigns
Before Roman Reigns, one thing that could be said about WWE writers is that they at least acquiesced to the demands of their audience when push came to shove. Had that been the case with The Big Dog, and WWE turned him into a bad guy when he started getting booed out of the building, the company might not be in the dire shape that it is today. Instead, Vince McMahon has only doubled down on pushing Reigns as his superhero star, despite no one in the crowd over 10 years old buying this reputation in the slightest. McMahon could try and book Reigns slightly differently to fix this problem, but instead, he's manipulating video clips to make crowd reactions more positive, pissing off his paying customer in the process. With that said, rather than turn into broken records ourselves, let’s just cut to the chase and discuss the problem’s true source.
1 Vince McMahon
From 1982 onward, one man has been responsible for the state of World Wrestling Entertainment, and that holds true whether the company is shooting for the stars or falling face first into the gutter. In the WWE Universe, the buck stops with Vince McMahon, as he’s the penholder making all the most important decisions related to his business. Roman Reigns getting pushed as a face? That’s Vince’s choice. Letting Brock Lesnar and John Cena take months off in a row despite being the only true stars left? Vince lets it happen. Failing to push the superstars his fans desperately want to see? It’s McMahon disagreeing with popular opinion and telling writers to follow suit or lose their jobs. Ultimately, should WWE ratings continue to plummet and Vince McMahon’s empire start to crumble, he has no one to blame except himself.