“If Cena Wins, We Riot.” This phrase was famously placed onto a sign displayed throughout the 2006 ECW One Night Only show that was, a decade ago, meant to restart the Extreme Championship Wrestling brand underneath the World Wrestling Entertainment umbrella. Fortunately for the WWE and for all of the fans attending that show, there was no riot on that fateful night. Rob Van Dam defeated John Cena, with some help from Edge, to win the WWE Championship and also become the first ECW champion of that era. We have since seen numerous other versions of that sign, including one that promised a riot if Cena defeated CM Punk in Chicago at the 2011 Money in the Bank event. Punk beat Cena that night, and the WWE once again did well to put smiles on the faces of customers and avoid a potential ugly scene.
In reality, wrestling fans these days probably wouldn’t actually riot over the ending of a match. If fans in Canada didn’t riot over the “Montreal Screwjob” back in 1997, it’s probably, and thankfully, likely never happening at a WWE event. With that said, we do wonder how fans might react if some of the more popular performers on the current WWE rosters were released by the company for one reason or another. What is humorous is that this imaginary list of wrestlers begins with a performer who was not all that beloved at the beginning of summer. The WWE did well to create a storyline that helped get that individual over and he even won a championship in September. It turns out that WWE still does, in fact, know how to make a babyface a fan-favorite.
15 Heath Slater
Yes, that’s right. Heath Slater, the “One Man Band,” begins the list of WWE stars we’d riot for if they were to be released by the company. Slater has been a comedic character buried on the WWE roster since his early days in The Nexus faction. His gimmick this past summer was that he was so much an afterthought, both Raw and SmackDown “forgot” to select him during the 2016 WWE Draft.
Who among us could have guessed, at the time, the WWE was going out of their way to make us care about Slater so much so that we would rise to our feet at shows to cheer him on and hope that he would receive a contract on SmackDown. Slater eventually earned that contract after winning the Tag Team Titles on SmackDown along with former ECW champion Rhyno.
14 Johnny Gargano
We admit that we may be jumping the gun with this selection. Johnny Gargano was part of the NXT roster up through September 2016 and he featured on the Cruiserweight Classic before earning a spot on the Raw roster as part of the WWE’s new cruiserweight division.
“Johnny Wrestling,” as the Cleveland native is affectionately known among fans in northeast Ohio, is, today, one of the most beloved babyface wrestlers in all of the company. Gargano is a great worker inside of the ring, he cuts solid promos, and he does well to earn cheers from fans as he attempts to fight back from behind during matches.
13 Sasha Banks
The supposed WWE “Divas Revolution” that kicked off in the summer of 2015 has admittedly been filled with ups and downs following the promising first night of this era of women’s wrestling in the company.
Sasha Banks, when healthy and available, has been one of the bright spots on the women’s portion of the roster. Banks is over among pockets of fans even though she worked as a heel throughout her time in NXT and some fans were angered that Banks did not receive her biggest WWE win, to date, at a WrestleMania or other big show such as SummerSlam.
12 Zack Ryder
Sections of WWE fans still love Zack Ryder even though the company has done just about everything possible to make it clear Ryder will never be a World Champion while on the roster. Fans cheer for Ryder when he is wrestling as a singles act and when he is part of a tag team. They chant his name during shows and pop for his entrances. No, fans probably wouldn’t physically riot if it was announced the WWE had released Ryder, but they would experience feelings of disappointment because of the opportunity that was wasted.
11 Becky Lynch
Unlike Zack Ryder, Becky Lynch has remained over and popular among fans even though certain storylines did her few favors. Lynch became a beloved worker as part of the NXT locker room and there were hopes that she would become a big star after she was called up to the main roster in the summer of 2015.
That did not happen right away, though, largely because the WWE chose to push workers such as Charlotte and Sasha Banks ahead of Lynch. Lynch’s moment in the sun came after she was drafted to the SmackDown brand in July 2016. She became the first SmackDown Women’s Champion of what is being referred to as the “new era,” and she is arguably the best female performer on that brand.
10 Dolph Ziggler
There is a part of us, as wrestling fans, that would not be shocked in the slightest if the WWE released Dolph Ziggler before the end of 2016. Ziggler became a popular worker among fans years ago due to his in-ring work and also because of the perception that Ziggler could not break through the alleged glass ceiling for whatever reasons. That second part even became part of an on-air storyline involving Ziggler in the summer of 2016, as it was pointed out that the Cleveland native could not win the big one. Unlike the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ziggler failed in his overall goal to become the top champion on the SmackDown brand.
We are trying to understand what the WWE is planning for Asuka as it pertains to her future. There is zero reason for Asuka to be on the NXT roster other than because the touring brand needs a female star who can perform well inside of rings. Asuka is above every other women on the NXT roster and she would arguably be the best overall wrestler in the WWE were she to be added to either Raw or SmackDown before the end of the year.
8 Sami Zayn
“The Underdog from the Underground” is not the best nickname ever created by the WWE writers. Other than that, though, Sami Zayn is, to steal the cliche, a great underdog in storyline. Zayn lacks size when compared with the likes of Roman Reigns, Rusev and Kevin Owens. The WWE wisely continued the feud between Zayn and Owens that played out in Ring of Honor years ago and that feud helped make Zayn a star on the main roster.
Bayley is the best classic babyface produced by the WWE since the company turned John Cena from a rapping heel into the character he portrays today. Kids love Bayley. Grown men wear Bayley merchandise at live events and pay-per-view events. Women mark out whenever Bayley’s music hits before her entrance. Bayley plays a great babyface in peril and her character is relatable among fans.
6 Dean Ambrose
The story behind why we would “riot” if the WWE released Dean Ambrose goes all the way back to when the three members of the Shield originally separated. Some wrestling fans worried, at the time, that Ambrose would fall behind both Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins on cards and in the eyes of certain individuals making booking decisions in the WWE.
5 Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins has deserved so much better from the creative aspect of WWE since he turned heel on the other two members of the faction once known as The Shield. Following the break-up of that group, Rollins was immediately turned into a cowardly heel who needed help to win big matches and who could only win the WWE Championship by cashing-in his Money in the Bank privileges. A title run that was relatively weak was cut short when Rolling suffered a serious knee injury that sidelined him for roughly half a year.
4 Finn Balor
Imagine waking up tomorrow and learning the WWE chose to release Finn Balor before Balor recovered from the injury he suffered at the 2016 edition of SummerSlam. Admit that you would, for a second or two, consider causing a disturbance at a WWE event.
3 A.J. Styles
Here is maybe the hottest take of this entire piece: A.J. Styles has been the best overall worker in the WWE since he debuted at the 2016 Royal Rumble. Styles first appeared in the WWE as a babyface due to the reputation he earned as a great wrestler throughout his career, but the company chose to make him a heel and serve as the leader of The Club before moving him over to the SmackDown brand in July.
2 Kevin Owens
We probably would not have been all that shocked back in March, for example, had we learned at that time the WWE released Kevin Owens. Owens, after all, does not have a physique of a bodybuilder and the perception had by some fans is that the WWE would allow the Owens character to merely exist on the roster until the company moved on from the great wrestler.
1 Shinsuke Nakamura
There may actually be a sect of fans who watched Shinsuke Nakamura perform at the NXT Takeover: Dallas show and at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II who would consider causing a riot at a WWE show if the company released Nakamura before he won a major championship on the main roster.
Nakamura is the most charismatic individual working underneath the WWE umbrella today and he would probably be on either Raw or SmackDown if the NXT touring brand didn’t need him to sell tickets for shows. Passionate WWE fans who watch weekly editions of NXT cannot wait to hear Nakamura’s epic theme on a pay-per-view such as the Royal Rumble or WrestleMania. Nakamura is, simply put, tremendous in every way and the WWE choosing to release him for whatever reason would legitimately infuriate customers.
Breathe easy, though, because we have no reason to think the WWE would drop Nakamura before his contract expires.
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