All seems quite sunny in the land of WWE at the present time. Outside of some pesky and ill-timed injuries to superstars like Dean Ambrose and Samoa Joe, the general feeling these days is one of optimism with anticipation building for debuting indie stars, the Mixed Match Challenge, the women-infused Royal Rumble and the approaching Road to WrestleMania.
Now, allow me to douse water on all that positivity. You see, new signings and the return of big names can tend to knock current superstars further down the pecking order. Especially come WrestleMania season, even a roster of superstars filling three main shows and six hours of weekly television (plus PPV’s) can quickly come to feel bloated and excessive. As talent new and old bolster WWE’s ranks in the first quarter of the year, cutting jobs ultimately becomes a necessity.
And it’s not like there aren’t ample candidates. Plenty of superstars find themselves either out of favour or perilously close to being on the wrong side of the company’s powers that be. Vince McMahon can be notoriously impetuous and temperamental, so it doesn’t necessarily take much for a once-pushed talent to either land in the doghouse or simply fail to maintain the Chairman’s interest. In fact, some of the biggest current stars – even present champions – may not be long for WWE.
15. Dolph Ziggler
The only reason to question Dolph Ziggler’s inclusion on this list is that he might already be done with WWE. The Show-Off’s future with the company and his desire to stick around have been long-standing topics of conversation. In fact, Shinsuke Nakamura might have let the cat out of the bag by suggesting that Ziggler may “soon” be Japan-bound on Talking Smack. Speculation has been such that the recent storyline of him relinquishing the US title and ‘quitting’ seemed less surprising and more like a confirmation.
Reports suggest that Smackdown still has a storyline lined up that will see Ziggler return to confront the winner of the current US title tournament and claim that he remains the rightful owner of the belt. One more WrestleMania match might be a nice send-off for a wrestler that many fans have felt has been constantly under-utilized.
14. Enzo Amore
The strange tale of the Certified G tells a story of a guy who carried such nuclear level heat within the locker room that the PPV match in which he was stipulated to be trapped in a cage hovering over the ring was said to be borne out of a personal vendetta based around his fear of heights. He might be the first person to transform his toxic backstage reputation into a successful on-screen heel persona.
The push of the “realest guy in the room” was supposedly a key component of Neville’s walkout late in 2017. He remains the cruiserweight champ, but it’s difficult to imagine that he has gained many supporters. No matter how high up the ladder he goes, Amore still feels like he is one slip-up – or, even worse, one lost bit of interest from Vince McMahon – away from being future endeavoured.
13. Baron Corbin
Known as the Lone Wolf, Corbin essentially lives his gimmick, reportedly boasting few locker room allies and choosing to keep to himself. While being a loner isn’t enough to draw heat, the one-time NFL practice squad player has shown a troubling trend of behaviour that includes engaging in silly Twitter spats with fans and reportedly being uncooperative with fellow wrestlers in planning out matches.
Granted, stories of Corbin earning heat for openly challenging the company doctor during a talent meeting and a supposed chewing out by John Cena haven’t been proven. However, proof of heat against the 33-year-old comes in his on-air booking. After looking like a mega-star in waiting after winning the Money in the Bank briefcase and entering a feud with Cena, Corbin’s push came to a screeching halt when he cashed in the briefcase unsuccessfully and lost a high-profile SummerSlam match to Cena.
If you meet Paige’s inclusion on this list with some degree of skepticism, you probably aren’t wrong in your disbelief. After all, the leader of Absolution returned in 2017 amid much fanfare and with her own stable to boot. But just because her and WWE have kissed and made up doesn’t mean that the company has completely forgotten a string of no-no’s including two Wellness Policy violations, some unwelcome Twitter activity and a much-publicized romance with WWE pariah Alberto Del Rio.
Paige is not far from being out of WWE’s good graces. In fact, in accordance with the Wellness Policy’s three strikes rule, she could be one slip-up away from termination. Also not working in her favour is the looming question about what becomes of a now-bloated women’s roster after the upcoming Royal Rumble.
When Wrestling Observer guru Dave Meltzer recently addressed the status of Bayley by saying, “They [WWE] have already given up on her,” the news wasn’t so much surprising as it was sobering and kind of sad. For anyone who has seen the company’s booking of the Hugger ever since her return from injury, and especially those who saw how much of a star she was in NXT, it is evident that management just isn’t behind her.
So how did we get here? Well, Bayley’s shoulder injury didn’t help, nor did an alleged lack of support from Vince McMahon. She won the women’s title on a random Raw just six months into her run, completely undermining the underdog narrative that defined her NXT character. In place of the genuine Bayley, her arrival on Raw brought out an over-the-top kid-friendly variation that has failed to catch on.
That’s Mayor Big Red Machine to you. Much has been written regarding Kane’s outside-the-ring political passion, mostly drawing on the amusing contrast between the real-life Glenn Jacobs and his real-life libertarian views and his monstrous in-ring “devil’s favourite demon” persona. But Jacobs’ political career is no joke – not after officially announcing a run for the mayoral office of Knox County, Tennessee as the Republican candidate.
Such is the strange and remarkable position that Jacobs currently finds himself in. As Kane on WWE TV, he is currently enjoying a main event push and will be vying for the Universal Championship against Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman at the Royal Rumble. Outside the ring, he is campaigning ahead of the May 1st election that could bring a sudden end to his pro wrestling career. At the ripe old age of 50, Kane might be bidding farewell to the WWE Universe.
9. Shinsuke Nakamura
It’s been a little over nine months since the “King of Strong Style” made his much-anticipated debut on the post-WrestleMania episode of Smackdown Live! and it would be something of an understatement to say that Shinsuke Nakamura’s run has underwhelmed to date. While the not always inspired Japanese mega-star isn’t blameless, the primary culprit of his disappointing run has clearly been the booking team on the blue brand.
WWE clearly sees something in the 37-year-old, so a company-influenced release is far from imminent. But is Nakamura content to stick around? As Cody Runnels and other talents have proven, the indie circuit is a financially viable option for wrestlers and NJPW has enough weight behind it – as recent Wrestle Kingdom shows have proven – to fill the Tokyo Dome and make WWE take notice. If Nakamura leaves WWE, he would assuredly find work in a hurry.
8. Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan wants to get back in the ring and is sufficiently frustrated with the refusal of WWE’s medical staff to clear him that he would be willing to leave the company if it meant a chance to wrestle again. The leader of the “Yes!” movement has been very vocal in interviews, on social media and even on the Total Bellas reality show about his desire to wrestle again, even if it means leaving WWE.
If their doctors won’t clear Bryan, they would look reckless for letting him wrestle anyway. There are hints that the company is at least entertaining the idea of letting Bryan wrestle, from an off-screen attack by Kane leading up to Survivor Series to his current, developing feud with Shane McMahon. In any event, it looks like 2018 is shaping up to be the year Bryan returns to the ring or leaves WWE – or both.
Dustin Runnels is fast approaching the “golden” era and his in-ring days could be soon coming to an end. The man behind the iconic Goldust persona will be 49 years of age in April and there has been speculation that his recently cut short heel push may have amounted to something of a last meaningful run.
For his part, the son of the late Dusty Rhodes has never spoken publicly about retirement, except to deny rumours and claim on Twitter that he would retire “when I’m dead”. Still, Runnels is amazingly entering his 30th year as a pro wrestler and the writing is on the wall. It only stands to reason that he and long-time running buddy (and fellow 40-something) R-Truth will both call it a day in the ring soon. Whenever that day comes, it’s easy to see Goldie following in his father’s footsteps and transitioning into a backstage role.
6. Big Show
Joni Mitchell once famously sang that “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone” and the WWE Universe may soon learn how true that sentiment is. February will see the current contract of the Big Show expire, and the ‘World’s Largest Athlete’ has already openly stated that he will be hanging up the singlet. Paul Wight has been a fixture in WWE ever since debuting. Since then, he has assumed a host of roles for the company, from main event star to diaper-wearing sumo to Hulk Hogan impersonator.
In recent years, it’s been easy to take the Big Show for granted and forget just how impressive a physical specimen he really is. But the big shoes that Show will leave behind are both literal and figurative in nature. Simply put, no one WWE has on hand can match his imposing size and unmistakable charisma.
5. Brock Lesnar
The whispers seem to be kicking up again, with rumours of Lesnar’s pending departure coming as early as last summer. Reports of his interest in continuing his UFC career simply won’t go away. This will inspire little more than yawns in fans who have seen Lesnar keep coming back in spite of buzz to the contrary for years. However, the booking of Paul Heyman’s greatest client has offered hints that there may be more to the speculation this time around. The former UFC champ simply doesn’t have many dream matches left at this point and is widely expected to drop his Universal title to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania.
4. Lio Rush
Well, that was quick. One of WWE’s newest signees, a heralded young NXT roster addition from ROH back in August, is already facing the wrath of WWE’s powers that be. Supposedly arriving with a cocky backstage demeanour and a chip on his shoulder, explosive 23-year-old Lio Rush began digging his own grave with a mocking tweet in response to news about Emma’s release in early November.
A comment about Emma “not being ready for Asuka”, in reference to her recent loss at the TLC PPV, drew the ire of just about everyone within the company and reportedly left him perilously close to a release. The attitude issues are likely just a case of a kid with some growing up to do, but how he behaves in the near future will go a long way in determining whether he ever gets the chance to mature in WWE.
3. Apollo Crews
As a number of WWE superstars – most notably The Rock – have proven over the past two decades, you aren’t going to get very far in the world’s largest wrestling promotion as a bland, happy-go-lucky babyface anymore, no matter how talented you are in the ring. Apollo Crews apparently still hasn’t learned this lesson. The physically gifted Crews combines eye-popping strength with an incredible level of agility that he showcases through effortless standing backflips.
As thrilling as Crews can look inside the squared circle, he remains every bit as vanilla outside of the ring. A pairing with Titus O’Neill as part of the Titus Worldwide stable wasn’t a bad idea, but failed to gain any traction for the 30-year-old. It’s unclear where he goes from here. Crews is fast running out of options – with a run on the indie circuit potentially serving as his best option for now.
2. Sin Cara
For many names on this list, it feels surprising and strange to think of them as being on the outs with WWE. When it comes to Sin Cara, however, it seems more curious that the masked luchador hasn’t yet seen his turbulent relationship with the company come to an end. The character of Sin Cara, which arrived amidst great hype in 2011, switched portrayers from the released Luis Urive to Jorge Arias (the former Hunico), but issues surrounding the character have lingered.
While it was Urive who tainted the Sin Cara character with a Wellness Policy violation, Arias has reportedly gotten into numerous backstage altercations with the likes of Sheamus, Chris Jericho and Simon Gotch. Since a brief stint in the US title picture, Cara is back to getting sparse TV time and you have to figure it won’t take much for WWE to cut ties at this point.
1. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
There has often been something of a fine line between real and kayfabe in professional wrestling, particularly given WWE’s penchant for taking real-life backstage drama and slapping it on-screen. The latest example of that, unless you count Enzo Amore, is the strange case of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.
Perceptions of arrogant and entitled attitudes on the part of the real-life best friends came to a head late last year when they were kicked off the European tour after failing to adhere to the agreed upon booking in a house show match with the New Day. Rather that taking a crowd-pleasing beating from the trio, Owens and Zayn merely ambled to the backstage area. Strangely, the two men continue to be centrepieces for the blue brand and will both vie for AJ Styles’ World Championship at the Royal Rumble despite the incident. While they seem to be in good standing now, will one more slip-up spell doom?
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