Every week, millions of viewers around the world tune in to Monday Night Raw, SmackDown Live, NXT, or other WWE offerings. Of those millions, an increasingly high volume are “smart” fans. Smart fans don’t just watch the shows and, in particular, don’t accept what they see at face value, much less as real. These fans are fully conscious wrestling is a work, built around written storylines and predetermined outcomes to matches. These fans clamor for backstage news, rumors, and stories.
There’s never been an easier time to be this sort of fan. A proliferation of podcasts, documentaries, and tell all books all but invite fans behind the scenes with insights straight from the source. Additionally, there have never been more or more accessible dirt sheets. Where print publications that fans had to pay for and await in the mail, like The Wrestling Observer were once the only remotely reliable source of behind the scene information, the Internet has blown things open both in terms of volume of information available and ease of sharing it.
So what is going on behind the scenes at WWE right now? The answers might surprise you, but there’s always a push and pull between different talents, as well as between talent and management. Even the powers that be aren’t always on the same page, and Vince McMahon and Triple H in particular tend to butt heads on particular pressure points. This article takes a look at 15 recent, unexpected goings-on behind the scenes at all levels of WWE.
15 The Locker Room Rallied Behind Finn Balor
Finn Balor is widely regarded as one of the best in ring talents in the world today. Indeed, the Irishman caught WWE’s attention via his work with New Japan, and the fact that his match quality was more than good enough to transcend cultural and language barriers. He spent most of his time in NXT either reigning as champion, or actively pursuing the belt, and it made all the sense in the world when WWE pushed him as the first Universal Champion upon his debut on the main roster.
Balor got injured in his title-winning match, however, and has been booked unevenly since returning. He finally got the better of a program with Bray Wyatt and, when Wyatt was incapacitated, was booked into a dream match and instant classic opposite AJ Styles for the TLC PPV. Finally, it looked as though WWE was ready to run with Balor again, and perhaps line him up as a credible challenger to Brock Lesnar. However, immediately after the Styles match, Balor was booked to lose cleanly to Kane.
While Kane is a legend, he’s also well past his prime and near retirement. While Balor did the honors nicely, the locker room reportedly rallied to his side, complaining that Balor shouldn’t have taken that loss.
Beyond supporting a respected colleague, the support may have also been representative of full time talents being wary of a less than extraordinary part timer being booked to beat them more generally.
14 Sami Zayn Is Annoying Everyone
Sami Zayn was a well liked face whom a lot of pundits felt was under utilized in his first year on the WWE main roster. Recent months have seen him step into the spotlight, teaming up with Kevin Owens as a featured heel duo on SmackDown Live.
For as much as he entertains fans and is undeniably talented, though, the truth is that he gets on the nerves of a lot of his colleagues.
Owens has spoken openly about this dynamic in interviews, suggesting Zayn is such a perfectionist and control freak that—while he is often right—he tends to drive his co-workers crazy. His tendency to think he knows best played out in higher profile fashion in the fall, when he purportedly made the call for him and Owens to bail on a fight with The New Day, when management intended for them to get beat up more before they retreated. While Zayn’s view made logical sense, word is that it got him heat, and was the reason why both of the men were sent home from the European tour early.
13 Luke Gallows Is Mr. Congeniality
Luke Gallows has worked most of his WWE career as a bruising heel. After a face stint as dimwitted farm boy Festus, he portrayed a heater for CM Punk in the Straight Edge Society, and has more recently teamed with Karl Anderson in a villainous tag team. Despite making his living playing a mean spirited bully, by most accounts he’s actually one of the best liked guys backstage.
Word from a variety of shoot interviews is that Gallows is very funny and known to be selfless and kind with his colleagues in the locker room. For someone with his size, skill, and a likeable personality to boot, it raises questions about why he hasn’t garnered much of a push in WWE. His and Anderson’s recent teaming with Finn Balor may hopefully mark a turn as the three some threatens to grow into a featured act on Monday Night Raw.
12 Management Is Trying To Cut Off Daniel Bryan’s Popularity
In the final years of his in ring career, Daniel Bryan grew into one of the most organically over WWE Superstars of all time. In this day and age, critics make a lot of noise about chosen ones—for example, that Vince McMahon hand picked Roman Reigns to be the face of WWE and will continue to push him no matter what. Bryan was that talent who transcended management’s expectations and even intentions, willing his way to a top spot, if only for a period of months.
Bryan remains popular in retirement. Words is that he intends to get back in the ring—hopefully with WWE, but if they won’t clear him, he will take his talents elsewhere when his contract is up. Bryan is enough of an icon at this point that he could easily get booked by his choice of other promotions. Whether WWE management is simply looking out for Bryan’s own good, or is being more arbitrarily controlling, word is that Bryan’s more heelish antics of late have been booked by design to lessen his popularity so that he’ll be less in demand elsewhere.
11 The Company Has Given Up On Bayley
Bayley had a terrific run in NXT, and at one of momentum when she transitioned to the main roster. Her time on Monday Night Raw has been uneven. While she did get a title reign—and even successfully defended her strap at WrestleMania 33—her tenure has been otherwise been less even. Bayley decisively lost a feud to Alexa Bliss, and has since become more of a women’s mid-carder, trading wins and losses with other female stars.
Rumor has it that management has given up on Bayley. Her inauspicious booking supports the theory.
At best, Bayley is pretty clearly booked as secondary to Asuka and Alexa Bliss on Raw, not to mention that the rise of Absolution has only lowered her stock further on the red brand. A switch to SmackDown live in the spring could help her standing, but even there, Charlotte Flair and The Riott Squad would present formidable obstacles for her to overcome to reattain a truly featured position with the company.
10 Big Cass And Enzo Had Real Heat
After spending much of their time in developmental, and their first year on the main roster as a tag team, Big Cass and Enzo Amore split up in kayfabe the summer of 2017. Cass always seemed to have his partner’s back in shoot interviews, albeit in a bit of a reserved fashion. He would famously cite that Enzo was always on—that he consistently ran his mouth and acted like a big shot whether or not the cameras were rolling, For Cass’s part, he always walked the line of finding this endearing and acknowledging at as an annoyance.
When the two split, they transitioned into a feud with each other that Cass mostly dominated. Their last match, however, saw Cass get injured in a Street Fight, and Enzo be awarded the victory by default. In follow up to the match having to stop early, Enzo commented on Cass’s lack of commitment, in a moment that walked the line between real statement and kayfabe. Footage came out of Cass responding, seeming to be out of character as he called Enzo classless. Enzo had no apologies to offer in his Straight to the Source interview with Corey Graves, and while we can certainly chalk some of this up to storyline and character work, there does also seem to be some real animosity between the two. With Enzo now released, we wonder what kind of experience Cass will have going forward.
9 Vince McMahon Is Letting Matt Hardy Do His Thing
Vince McMahon is famously a micromanager who makes no bones about telling wrestlers how to play their characters, and shaping WWE’s creative direction around his vision. It came as a surprise to many fans, then, when news broke about him allowing Matt Hardy to steer the direction of his own new Woken gimmick.
Reports suggest that this is a matter of McMahon not really “getting” Hardy’s character, but trusting that he got it over big time working elsewhere, and giving him a wide berth.
This is probably a fair assessment, as it was Hardy’s previous work in his Broken Universe that made him and his brother Jeff not just a rock solid veteran tag team, but quite arguably the hottest independent act in the world before they returned to WWE at WrestleMania 33 last spring.
8 Cesaro Can’t Get The Powers That Be To Believe In Him
Cesaro has a lot of the tools to be a break out star in WWE. He has super human strength as demonstrated by body slamming The Big Show out of the ring to win the first Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. He’s athletic, and a sound in ring worker. His giant swing maneuver got over huge as a throwback to olden times, and he’s an above average talker. He’s proven his toughness more than once, most famously finishing a match despite nailing a ring post and impacting his teeth. On top of all of these pieces, Cesaro is generally well liked by his colleagues, including earning the respect of sometimes work out partner John Cena.
For everything Cesaro has going for him, he hasn’t been able to transition to a true top guy spot. Rumor has it that Vince McMahon feels the Swiss Superman doesn’t really connect with the crowd. Whatever the case may be, despite growing into a veteran role and succeeding with just about every opportunity WWE has given him, the guy simply can’t seem to get management to fully bite on him for a big push.
7 Dolph Ziggler Is Considering A Run On The Indies
Dolph Ziggler is a polished veteran worker. Despite his remarkable work ethic, athleticism and charisma, WWE has never truly given him the ball and let him run with it. Yes, he had a couple world championship reigns, but one title win was via a technicality (winning via disqualification under funky rules) and the other via Money in the Bank cash in. Neither reign survived past the two month mark.
Ziggler has worked essentially his entire career with WWE, and has demonstrated signs of dissatisfaction, including commenting recently that if he had been a few inches taller he would have been a long time world champion. The general perception now is that Ziggler is slipping past his prime, or at least past the point when WWE would ever push him as a legit main event talent.
Rumor holds that he may ultimately follow the course of Cody Rhodes, who had a lot of similarities, and left to pursue a more fulfilling career on the indies and abroad.
The Show Off’s recent storylines have played with this rumor, as he walked and vacated the US Championship just after winning. It’s yet to be seen exactly what the future will hold for Ziggler.
6 WWE Is Trying To Work It Out With Neville
Neville hasn’t been seen on WWE TV since dropping the Cruiserweight Championship to Enzo Amore, and subsequently giving him a righteous beat down on Raw. Word is that Neville had serious creative frustrations with the company, and the general perception is that he left the company over these irreconcilable differences. The funny thing is, however, as of mid-January Neville still appears on WWE’s active roster on their website.
Word is that WWE has still been trying to work it out with the King of the Cruiserweights, and he hasn’t actually been granted his release.
The more time goes by, the more final Neville’s departures seems but, at least according to rumor, the effort isn’t entirely over and there’s still a sliver of a chance that we will see him on WWE television again to at least ride out the end of his contract.
5 Mike Kanellis Is In Recovery
Mike Kanellis made a surprise debut with WWE last summer, along side his wife, the returning Maria Kanellis. Mike was a long time star for ROH who also appeared for TNA, and had often been pegged by pundits as a guy who would fit well in the WWE system. Despite a reasonably strong start, he quickly lost momentum, demoted to the lower mid card before the character ever really got any traction.
In the interim, Maria announced she was pregnant, and then news broke that Mike is dealing with substance abuse issues and working on rehabbing. It’s unclear what the future will hold for the duo in WWE, but Kanellis did make an appearance at the Starrcade house show WWE put on over the holidays. Over social media, he has remained positive, lauding WWE for the opportunities they have given him.
4 The Singh Brothers Are Intimidated By Management
In the thick of Jinder Mahal’s run atop SmackDow Live, his sidekicks, the Singh Brothers, got a lot of screen time, and got to appear as guests on Chris Jericho’s podcast. Anyone who listens to Jericho’s show with any regularity has heard him discuss time and again the importance of WWE Superstars cultivating individual relationships with Vince McMahon if they want to prosper in the long term. More often than not, his guests have readily agreed.
When Jericho asked the Singhs about feedback they’ve gotten from McMahon, the brothers were clearly hesitant before admitting they hadn’t talked to the Chairman much directly. For an act brought in for the Cruiserweight Classic, then quickly demoted from 205 Live to the beginners’ level of NXT, only to be brought back to primetime to fill a specific ethnic niche, you’d think they’d take every opportunity to get in the boss’s ear. The Singhs, however, came across as scared of making waves, and it will be interesting to see if they can remain featured with Mahal out of the main event picture.
3 Rusev Is Getting Set Up For Big Things
Despite his hot start with WWE, bulling his way to the United States Championship and working a WrestleMania feud with John Cena, Rusev has mostly felt under utilized and lost in the shuffle since. He’s a big man sth surprising agility who has even proven his ability to get over based on personality more recently. So could bigger things be in store.
The success of his Rusev Day gimmick—including rumors that he’s move a lot of t-shirts—suggest that management might be willing to give him a fresh look and a new push.
Rumors swirled after Dolph Ziggler vacated the US Championship that WWE was going to use the angle to push Rusev, likely with a face turn and split from Aiden English. While that specific push doesn’t seem to have come through (Rusev wasn’t even involved in the tournament for the vacant title) he may stil be on the rise sooner than later.
2 Sin Cara Is A Bad, Bad Man
Sin Cara is a pretty fascinating figure for WWE. The gimmick was originally portrayed by the luchador known in Mexico as Mistico. Failure to adapt to the WWE style led to an ugly parting of ways between the two sides, only for the man originally cast as an evil version Sin Cara, then billed as Hunico, to take over the gimmick fully.
While the newer Sin Cara hasn’t made waves as problematically as his predecessor, he has proven himself hot headed and an able fighter.
After getting into a backstage scrap with Simon Gotch, Sin Cara would go on to get the better of a fist fight with Chris Jericho. This kind of behavior could get a talent of his stature released. It may be an extra effort to salvage what’s left of the gimmick that led WWE to, instead, mandate that he take anger management classes to get his emotions in check.
1 The Fashion Police Are Taking Advantage Of Every Opportunity
Fandango debuted on the WWE main roster by pinning Chris Jericho at WrestleMania Tyler Breeze put on incredible matches opposite Neville and Sami Zayn in the NXT Championship picture.
You wouldn’t have guessed either of these histories when the two were wedged together in a makeshift, lower card, largely comedic heel tag team as a last ditch effort to derive at least some value from the once bright prospects.
In a fascinating turn, The Fashion Police made the most of their every opportunity on the mic and filming backstage vignettes to get over as an original, oddball face tandem. While the team isn’t exactly knocking on the door of tag title glory, they’ve carved out a unique niche for themselves based on hard work, gumption and thinking outside the box. Unlike their status a year ago, there’s little reason to think Breeze or Fandango will be on the short list of guys to be future endeavored anytime soon.