Despite RAW's status as WWE's flagship brand, Monday Night RAW the TV show hasn't always been up to standards in the post-2016 draft era. That's a pity, since the brand is loaded with talent, mainly due to its larger roster. But that uneven programming has also exposed a good many wrestlers as lacking a certain something. It may be a push, it may be their ability in the ring, it may be a bad gimmick, or it may be stumbling, bumbling misadventures on the microphone.
Who's made the most of their raw talent, and who's given fans a raw deal? We'll be ranking them in this new list, as we look at the eight best and seven worst wrestlers on the RAW brand at the moment.
NOTE – This list includes all RAW wrestlers who have competed on Monday Night RAW or Superstars since the July 2016 brand split, and are still listed on the brand’s roster as of the first week of October 2016. Wrestlers are “graded” based on their in-ring and promo ability primarily, but their push and gimmick/persona (or lack thereof) is also taken into account. And unlike my earlier NXT list, this doesn’t consider expectations upon being called up from NXT.
15 The Worst
It would often appear as if WWE doesn’t like giving serious pushes to wrestlers named Rotunda. Mike (a.k.a. IRS) was a gimmicky midcarder, Windham (a.k.a. Bray Wyatt) is that guy who always loses in PPVs, and Taylor (a.k.a. Bo Dallas) is that guy who loses a lot, period. And while the original Bo Dallas “motivational speaker” gimmick is still one of my recent favorites, as I’ve alluded to in previous lists, there’s something about a wrestler reading poetry before matches that makes me want to change the channel. Suddenly, it’s Lanny “The Genius” Poffo and Heidenreich all over again.
Dallas still has considerable upside – he’s only 26 and isn’t a bad worker or promo guy, whiney voice notwithstanding. Maybe other pundits have a point – maybe it’s time to reunite Bo with his real-life brother Bray, and give the Wyatts a cleaner-shaven Family member for a change.
14 6. JINDER MAHAL
It’s obvious why Jinder Mahal was brought back to WWE two years after the former 3MB jobber was future-endeavored. And that's so they wouldn’t rely on James Ellsworth and other “locals” all the time when someone needs a jobber to squash. While he technically isn’t a bad in-ring worker, he doesn’t have the charisma to pull off the outlandish gimmicks he’s given, including the pseudo-pacifist (at least we think that’s what it is) gimmick he’s been using since September 2016.
At least in 3MB, Mahal had Heath Slater and Drew McIntyre (a.k.a. Galloway) around to help make the rock star wannabe gimmick work. Without any stablemates or manager, he’s lost in the RAW shuffle and destined to count the lights most of the time he steps into the ring.
13 5. TITUS O’NEIL
Wrestling fans refer to 2002’s terrible Jackie Gayda/Chris Nowinski vs. Trish Stratus/JBL match as “That Jackie Gayda Match.” They may soon refer to Titus O’Neil’s awkward, dead air-filled promo from the August 25, 2016 RAW as “That Titus O’Neil Promo.” As part of The Prime Time Players with Darren Young, Titus was funny, energetic, and entertaining enough to make up for his lack of big man skills in the ring. But as a singles wrestler, he’s O’Neil the Generic Heel, often lost on the mic as we saw in the aforementioned promo, and not interesting enough to warrant a better push.
O’Neil seems to have gotten another gimmick change after his feud with Young and Bob Backlund ended with a whimper. But it doesn’t seem to be working either, and the 39-year-old former Florida Gators football star may soon find himself out of a wrestling job. He does deserve a lot of kudos, however, for his charitable work for WWE outside the ring.
12 4. MARK HENRY
It's never easy when you have to rank a future Hall of Famer as one of the worst wrestlers in any given brand. Not just because Mark Henry outweighs me by at least 250 pounds, but because he's evidently past his prime, and still making occasional in-ring appearances, often doing the job to younger stars. Once you reach the former Sexual Chocolate's current age of 45, that's what you do.
Henry's diminished mobility (not that it was a lot to begin with) and eroded skills suggest that he should have made good on his ostensible promise when he cut that memorable faux-retirement speech in 2013.
11 3. BRAUN STROWMAN
Remember that list where we ranked Braun Strowman as one of the worst products of NXT since it became WWE’s developmental brand? Turns out we may have been a bit too harsh on the big lug, as he can cut a halfway decent promo after all, as evidenced when he demanded that RAW GM Mick Foley stop feeding him jobbers and start giving him some real competition. But that doesn’t make his workrate any better, and that doesn’t remove him from the bottom seven of this new list.
Once again, Strowman’s got smart booking working in his favor. But we fear what would happen when he finally gets that serious competition he’s been demanding, which would entail longer matches and more of the finer things that make a longer match watchable. Things like selling and psychology, you know.
10 2. CURTIS AXEL
Unlike his late father Mr. Perfect, Curtis Axel is far from “perfection.” In fact, he’s more like an average Joe, just like his real name. He may be even worse than that if you consider how useless he is without a manager (e.g. Paul Heyman), a fluke gimmick (e.g. Axelmania), a charismatic tag teammate (e.g. Damien Sandow), or a stable (e.g. Social Outcasts). These days, you’re more likely to hear “CM Punk” chants on RAW than get a Curtis Axel sighting on the program, and when he does appear in the ring (mostly on Superstars and on house shows), he’s always flat on his back. And when we say "always flat on his back," we mean NO WINS since Fastlane 2016, which was in February.
Axel is a classic example of a next-generation wrestler who isn’t as good as his dad. And at 37 years old, the clock may be ticking on his run in the WWE.
9 1. DANA BROOKE
Dana Brooke is supposed to be a bully and a lackey, and we’ve seen her play that role with Emma in NXT (and briefly in WWE), and more notably, with Charlotte on the main roster. She’s supposed to catch heat for her actions, and we’re supposed to cheer when she taps out of the Bank Statement or gets pinned by the Bayley-to-Belly. But she grates on fans for other reasons than being a heel, such as her tendency to botch, her inability to deliver lines when she isn’t supposed to be angry, and her inability to sell. Oh, and she’s been a mainstay of most RAW episodes since the brand split, which means we get to see her almost every week.
If Brooke doesn’t show marked improvement in those problem areas mentioned above, she could soon be doing jobs to the other women on RAW, if not sent back to NXT.
8 The Best
What was that supposed to be? We still don’t understand why the Cesaro vs. Sheamus best-of-seven series was booked as a draw, and why both RAW upper midcarders have to work an “odd couple” tag team angle. Cesaro’s no longer a young man at 35, and the fact that he hasn’t been able to make the main event in four and a half years on the main roster is almost criminal. He’s one of the strongest pound-for-pound wrestlers on the RAW roster, is technically-gifted for a man with his style of wrestling, and has a devoted fan following – the “Cesaro Section.” Still, that main event push remains elusive.
We understand that Cesaro’s promo ability has not been one of his strong suits. But he’s just too good to toil in a midcard role at this point in his career. Push. Cesaro. Now.
7 7. CHARLOTTE
Speaking of promo skills, Charlotte still remains average in that regard. And she wasn’t a very convincing babyface either when she was just fresh off NXT. But the “Genetically Superior” two-time Women’s Champion (and last-ever Divas Champion) has improved quite rapidly in-ring from her NXT days to her 2015 WWE debut to her present-day status as the alpha female heel on the RAW brand. And as we’ll revisit a little later on, she’s partly responsible for the boom period women’s wrestling has enjoyed within WWE since last year.
Not too many women debut in wrestling at the rather late age of 27 and become credible talents in such a short period of time. Despite that, Charlotte has pulled it off, and still has a long run as a main eventer in the Women’s Division ahead of her.
6 6. FINN BALOR
We'd probably be having Balor higher up on this list if he wasn't injured. But it's not everyday that you see someone win a main event belt after less than two months on the main roster. Prior to WWE, Balor was a huge star for several years in New Japan and the co-founder of the Bullet Club (as Prince Devitt), and he didn't let anyone down in his NXT and brief-thus-far WWE runs. Aside from some minor problems with selling and promos, the complete package is there.
It's sad to note that the Demon King (not to be confused with Demon Kane, mind you) will be on the shelf for quite a while with his shoulder injury. But when he gets back, he should pick up where he left off on RAW's main event.
5 5. SAMI ZAYN
Sami Zayn deserves more than just quick jobber squash victories on Monday Night RAW and Superstars. His injury-prone nature may be at the root of his lack of a consistent push, to say little of the belief that Vince McMahon might not be too high on him, but he’s got all the tools required to be a much bigger name on the RAW brand. On top of his versatility in the ring and ability to work different styles, he’s very underrated in terms of his promo skills, and it’s a pity he hasn’t much of a chance to show that off, apart from during his WWE feud with Kevin Owens.
There's still a lot of time to make Zayn a main event star in the big leagues. But fans are getting less and less patient as he continues to toil in the midcard.
4 4. SASHA BANKS
Sasha Banks is all the proof anyone needs that good women’s wrestling isn’t a mostly indies-only thing anymore. After years of Diva Search products who look good but wrestle poorly, Banks, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch spearheaded last year’s paradigm shift, where women’s matches were no longer bathroom break fodder, but legit displays of in-ring skill. And with two Women’s Championships in her resume, the Boss is getting the push that befits her wrestling ability, and her status as one of the most exciting female wrestlers in WWE, and not just RAW.
What makes this more noteworthy is the fact that Banks is just 24 years old, the youngest of NXT’s Four Horsewomen who have since made the main roster. Barring serious injury, she can only get better as a wrestler, and as it is, she’s making some nice improvements on the mic.
3 3. CHRIS JERICHO
We’ve all been very grateful for the Gift of Jericho in recent months, and we’re willing to drink it in as long as he doesn’t have any touring commitments with Fozzy. Even in his mid-40s, Y2J is still one of the most gifted performers in wrestling, pun not intended, and his heel work in 2016 has seen him at his best since his memorable 2008 heel turn on Shawn Michaels. His current “Jeri-KO” partnership with new best friend Kevin Owens has also provided some of RAW’s finest and most entertaining moments, though it probably won’t last too long in the end.
In addition to still having it in every aspect of wrestling, Jericho is mostly utilized these days to put the younger stars over, even if it’s a then-38-year-old AJ Styles. And when it comes to veterans making newer Superstars look better, he fulfills that role perfectly.
2 2. SETH ROLLINS
After being sidelined for several months due to a knee injury, Rollins returned to action in May 2016, and hasn’t missed a beat, though he’s clearly missing the gold around his waist. The former WWE World Heavyweight Champion is, in any case, one of RAW’s best overall talents, with great ring work and great mic work, two memorable finishers (the now-retired Curb Stomp and Triple H’s Pedigree), as well as a natural ability to play the slimy, manipulative heel.
At the moment, he’s still trying to build himself up as a recently-turned face, and doesn’t always act the part, and there have been some complaints that he isn’t the safest worker out there, as evidenced by Sting and Finn Balor’s injuries. But otherwise, the Architect has built himself up as a great wrestling talent, and is rightfully in the thick of the Universal title hunt in storyline.
1 1. KEVIN OWENS
Since WWE fast-tracked him to the main roster in 2015, Kevin Owens has been on a roll. The former indie sensation and NXT champ does not have the muscular, well-proportioned build Vince McMahon still desires to this day, nor the smaller, more agile build that’s far more common in today's WWE. But despite his portly figure, KO is quick and skillful enough to land superkicks on opponents. And he’s obviously one of the best when it comes to high-impact moves, including his Pop-Up Powerbomb finisher. Aside from his in-ring ability, Owens is also among RAW’s finest talkers, an expert at talking down to babyface wrestlers or the audience, and arguably better than anyone RAW has to offer on commentary.
Owens’ WWE Universal Championship win in August 2016 was well-deserved, and so is his spot as the RAW brand’s top talent of the present.
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