“I think my idea of retirement might be to one day work a 40-hour week,” said Vince McMahon, 71, WWE’s owner, chairman and CEO.
McMahon, a 1968 graduate of East Carolina University who assumed control of his father’s company in the early 1980s, is an extraordinarily diligent individual. Accordingly, largely thanks to his tireless work ethic and keen business sense, Forbes first reported in 2000 that McMahon had become a billionaire. The polarizing McMahon has made many controversial, and ultimately poor, professional decisions over the past three decades. However, the wrestling bigwig’s also made ingenious choices that have elevated his corporation’s overall popularity and financial state.
Although countless factors cause success or failure, the abilities of McMahon’s in-ring personnel fuel his company’s bottom line. Hence, McMahon’s hirings, and subsequent bookings, are utterly vital. The architect behind the Montreal Screwjob has employed countless grapplers since Ronald Reagan’s first term in office. Of those grapplers, McMahon has primarily enjoyed solid relationships with superstars like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair and The Undertaker. On the flipside, McMahon has experienced unhealthy and combative partnerships with personalities like Macho Man Randy Savage, Bret The Hitman Hart and CM Punk.
It’s virtually impossible to oversee an incredibly lucrative enterprise and keep all of its talent satisfied. With that noted, and while strictly based on conjecture, this list will name eight current WWE performers who are displeased with their status and seven sports entertainers who are thrilled with their position.
15. UNHAPPY: THE NEW DAY
Under the “Freebird Rule,” The New Day held the tag team championship for a record 483 days. The New Day, consisting of Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods, initially captured the belts by defeating Tyson Kidd and Cesaro at Extreme Rules in April 2015. The colorful trio trumped all foes and broke Demolition’s 28-year-old mark on a December 2016 edition of Raw. The New Day’s historic streak concluded shortly thereafter when Big E and Kofi Kingston lost to Cesaro and Sheamus at Roadblock: End of the Line on December 18, 2016. Over their nearly two-year reign, Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s 2015 and 2016 “Tag Team of the Year” proved to be considerably marketable fan favorites. Inexplicably, despite their vast accomplishments,
The New Day weren’t booked to compete at WrestleMania 33 in April. Rather than scrapping, the trio served as the event’s hosts. It’s difficult to imagine that The New Day were pleased to watch “The Grandest Stage of Them All.”
14. HAPPY: FINN BALOR
Without ever having entered a WWE squared circle, Raw selected Finn Bálor with the fifth overall pick in the July 2016 draft. The following week on July 25, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Bálor made his in-ring debut and defeated Rusev, Cesaro and Kevin Owens in a Fatal 4-way match. Later that evening, Bálor cleanly pinned Roman Reigns. Bálor’s back-to-back victories secured his SummerSlam 2016 bout versus Seth Rollins for the inaugural WWE Universal Championship. The shredded Irishman overcame Rollins to earn the title in his first pay-per-view showing at “The Biggest Party of the Summer.” Alas, the notoriously careless Rollins executed a running powerbomb to a ringside barricade that caused Bálor to sustain a labrum tear in his right shoulder. The “Demon King” was forced to relinquish the belt the next evening on Raw.
13. UNHAPPY: ENZO AMORE AND BIG CASS
Enzo Amore and Big Cass premiered on WWE’s main roster on The Raw following WrestleMania on April 4, 2016. A phenomenally magnetic duo, the 30-year-old Enzo and 30-year-old Big Cass instantly became one of the promotion’s most popular acts. Although fan favorites, Vince McMahon’s creative team never completely gave the tandem the push they needed to ascend to the top. Enzo and Cass failed to win their first title during a Fatal 4-Way tag team ladder match at WrestleMania 33.
Roughly two months after losing at “The Show of Shows,” Enzo and Big Cass weren’t booked to perform at WWE Extreme Rules 2017. More worrisome than the writers’ angles, the charismatic pair’s gimmick seems to be rapidly dulling. Enzo and Big Cass must be somewhat concerned, and frustrated, with their characters’ direction.
12. HAPPY: SAMOA JOE
Samoa Joe, who finally arrived on WWE’s main roster in January, has been perfectly scripted as an unshakeable badass. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound Samoa Joe was initially cast as a corporate man working as Triple H’s muscle. However, since Mrs. Stephanie McMahon lost to Seth Rollins in a non-sanctioned affair at WrestleMania 33, the 38-year-old “Samoan Submission Machine” has mainly battled for himself. At Extreme Rules, Joe fought Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Bálor and Bray Wyatt in a Fatal 5-Way No. 1 Contender’s Match. Samoa Joe prevailed over his four adversaries when he applied the Coquina Clutch on Bálor and rendered the Irishman unconscious.
11. UNHAPPY: RUSEV
Rusev’s character is in disarray. The 6-foot, 305-pound Rusev originally appeared at the 2014 Royal Rumble. Although the mammoth powerlifter didn’t win the annual event, it was evident that Rusev was going to be penned as an extremely formidable grappler. “The Bulgarian Brute” proceeded to overwhelm all challengers for nearly two years. During his stretch of dominance, Rusev conquered Sheamus in November 2014 to become the United States titleholder.
Regrettably for Lana’s man, the breakout star lost his belt to John Cena via pinfall approximately six months later at WrestleMania 31. Rusev is no longer presented as an invincible, or even menacing, figure. Instead, Rusev is now portrayed as an odd form of comic relief. The 32-year-old Rusev is a standout athlete who works as a glorified jobber.
10. HAPPY: KEVIN OWENS
Kevin Owens cleanly pinned wrestling icon John Cena in his first contest as a WWE performer at Elimination Chamber in May 2015. Try to absorb the magnitude of Owens’ victory over Cena and place it in perspective. Owens’ in-ring brilliance continued and, four months later in September, he outperformed Ryback to attain the WWE Intercontinental Championship at Night of Champions.
“Love him or hate him, you can’t deny his impact on the first six months of 2015 – or wonder how high he’ll climb by year’s end,” wrote Kenny Herzog of Rolling Stone. “It’s wrestling, folks. It’s Kevin Owens.”
The 6-foot, 265-pound Owens is the consummate heel who delivers praiseworthy promos and thrives in the squared circle. Presently in his second run as a United States champ, the 33-year-old Owens is a headliner who is living his dream.
9. UNHAPPY: TITUS O’NEIL
Titus O’Neil is one of sports entertainment’s most impressive physical specimens. The 6-foot-6, 270-pound O’Neill is also eloquent, acrobatic, engaging and famously charitable. In spite of all these admirable qualities, O’Neill is consistently handed absurd and pointless scripts. Most concerningly, the former Florida Gators’ defensive end received a 60-day suspension for playfully grabbing Vince McMahon on a February 2016 episode of Raw.
“I made a mistake at an inopportune time,” O’Neill, 40, told Justin Sarachik. “Regardless if it was too harsh or overreacting or whatever people have deemed it, it all stems from my mistake. Whether I agree with it or not, I am owning it.”
O’Neil, who spent the first quarter of the year pitifully trying to become a part of The New Day, is now mentoring Apollo Crews. O’Neil’s an honorable and skillful man who doesn’t deserve such foolish storylines.
8. HAPPY: ROMAN REIGNS
Vince McMahon is determined to make Roman Reigns his company’s next megastar. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Reigns, a member of the Anoaʻi family, emerged on WWE’s main roster as a member of The Shield at Survivor Series in November 2012. Following The Shield’s demise in June 2014, Reigns was booked to main event three consecutive WrestleMania extravaganzas. Much to McMahon’s chagrin, the muscular and agile Reigns is lifeless on the mic and completely incapable of connecting with the WWE Universe. Fans reject The Big Dog and heckle his every movement, both inside and outside of the squared circle.
Unsurprisingly, Pro Wrestling Illustrated named the wannabe babyface the “Most Hated Wrestler of the Year” in December 2016. Jeers notwithstanding, Forbes reported that Reigns pocketed $3.5 million last year. As a marquee and exceedingly wealthy performer, it’s safe to presume that the 32-year-old Reigns is content.
7. UNHAPPY: SAMI ZAYN
Sami Zayn is a lovable underdog who is rarely written as a winner. In essence, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Zayn is akin to David, but he rarely handles anyone resembling Goliath. Zayn has been an aimless long-shot and badly misused talent since leaving NXT in April 2016. The ambitious Canuck participated in April’s André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 33. Per usual, Zayn’s time in the ring was forgettable and he was swiftly eliminated. Zayn is once again just another piece in a match with Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin at Money in the Bank. Once Zayn inevitably loses in the Show Me State, it’s unlikely that he’ll work at SummerSlam in August. The 32-year-old Zayn is already facing a crossroads in his wrestling career.
6. HAPPY: JINDER MAHAL
A flabby Jinder Mahal partnered with Heath Slater and Drew McIntyre to form the Three Man Band until he was released in June 2014. Three years later, a suspiciously muscled, 6-foot-5, 220-pound Mahal was reintroduced as a genuine threat. On May 21 at Backlash, Mahal, with Sunil Singh and Samir Singh, upset Randy Orton to become SmackDown Live’s WWE Champion.
“Jinder is a guy who has always worked extremely hard,” COO Triple H said of the WWE’s star of Indian descent. “He trains hard and he’s very intense about what he wants with his career.”
5. UNHAPPY: LUKE GALLOWS AND KARL ANDERSON
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson were wrestling royalty in Japan. Despite their numerous accolades, the 6-foot-8, 290-pound Gallows and the 6-foot, 215-pound Anderson have been terribly presented by Vince McMahon’s creative team since debuting in April 2016. The duo are infrequent victors and seemingly purposeless figures on Raw. Predictably, Gallows and Anderson weren’t requested to grapple at Extreme Rules. As Jake Barnett of ProWrestling.net aptly noted, “Anderson and Gallows have nearly had all the luster removed from them since their debut. They appear to be just another tag team that gets used as fodder whenever a main event story crosses their path.”
4. HAPPY: CHARLOTTE FLAIR
Ever since being called up on the main roster back in 2015, Charlotte has been etched in as the female that the entire women’s division will be built around for years to come. She has the lineage, the look, the skill and the athleticism to be the perfect face for women’s wrestling. She’s accomplished so much in her first couple of years on the main roster and she’s going to accomplish a lot more. Vince McMahon has constantly been rumored to be a big supporter of Charlotte backstage and ultimately it’s his opinion that goes. As long as Charlotte wants it, she will be in prime position to be the company’s top female star. That’s a pretty good spot to have.
3. UNHAPPY: BO DALLAS
A third-generation wrestler, Bo Dallas was seemingly destined to compete in the squared circle. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Dallas first appeared on Raw in April 2014 as an obnoxious motivational speaker. Dallas’ gimmick flopped and he joined Heath Slater, Curtis Axel and Adam Rose in January 2016 as part of a stable of social outcasts. Blackjack Mulligan’s grandson eventually left the trio of misfits and reemerged as a more sinister inspirational lecturer. Regrettably for Mike Rotunda’s son and Bray Wyatt’s younger brother, Dallas’ new persona has also been a dud and failed to resonate with fans. Dallas has battled alcohol abuse and perhaps his unwatchable angles are WWE’s efforts to encourage him to get help. Either way, the 27-year-old Dallas is in wrestling’s version of purgatory.
2. HAPPY: BROCK LESNAR
Brock Lesnar made $12 million as a part-time superstar for Vince McMahon in 2016. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Lesnar, called by ESPN “the most accomplished athlete in professional wrestling history,” finally overpowered Goldberg to recapture the WWE Universal Championship at April’s WrestleMania. Lesnar has been inactive since outdoing Goldberg and he won’t fight again until meeting Samoa Joe at Great Balls of Fire on July 9. “The Beast Incarnate,” a past UFC heavyweight king and defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings’ practice squad, appears in a WWE ring approximately 15 times annually. The remaining 350 days of the year, Lesnar hangs with his Playboy cover girl wife, Sable, and hunts on his farm in Saskatchewan.
“It’s very basic for me,” said Lesnar, 39. “When I go home, I don’t buy into any of the BS. Like I said, it’s pretty basic: Train, sleep, family, fight. It’s my life. I like it.”
1. UNHAPPY: DOLPH ZIGGLER
Dolph Ziggler is handsome, muscular, charismatic and a world-class in-ring competitor. Nevertheless, since debuting as a part of The Spirit Squad in January 2006, the 6-foot, 220-pound Ziggler has been handed a dearth of intriguing storylines. Strangely, whenever actually given a solid character arch, WWE’s suits restrain his push.
As Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer wrote, “Dolph Ziggler has been the victim of as many stop-and-start pushes of anyone in history. The crowds always get behind him for the start, no matter how many false teases there are, and then a few weeks later, the company always takes him back down.”
Ziggler is slated to participate in the Money in the Bank ladder match for a WWE Championship. Unfortunately for The Showoff, if history is any indication, the 36-year-old Ziggler will endure another “false tease.”
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