The professional wrestling business is unpredictable. Take the trajectory of AJ Styles. As recently as fall 2015, most fans assumed he would go down as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time to never wind up in WWE. Fast forward a few months and he’s on the roster. Look a little further a head and he’s putting on world class main event performances opposite Roman Reigns and John Cena, en route to an excellent WWE Championship reign. Another jump ahead, and Styles is out of the spotlight, largely operating in the United States Championship, but it’s reasonable enough to think he could cycle back into the world title picture again before the end of the year.
The trajectory of a WWE Superstar’s career can be mercurial. It depends on the reactions fans have to his work. It depends on what Vince McMahon, Triple H, and the other powers that be think of her. From there, there are injuries to consider, not to mention how a wrestler performs when he is given an opportunity, or how someone rises above the limitations of booking. Consider Daniel Bryan, who looked locked into the mid-card before he won Money in the Bank, and after his World Heavyweight Championship reign got relegated to a tag team with Kane. That tag run as Team Hell No was one of the biggest surprise smash successes in recent WWE history and set up Bryan to become a main event fixture for most of what was left of his career.
We all have our picks for who will rise to the top of WWE in the years ahead, but it’s also worth considering who won’t make it. From veterans who will fade away, to newcomers who WWE won’t fine much to do with, and top stars WWE is experimenting with now, there are performers who aren’t going to be thriving this time next year. This article looks at fifteen who will be irrelevant by next summer.
15 Apollo Crews
Apollo Crews is one of those guys who seems like he has all the tools to be a major, long term star for WWE. He’s powerhouse with a kill physique. Add onto that that he has striking athleticism, and add on top of that that he’s indie trained and tested, so he has an idea of what to do with his physical gifts.
For whatever combination of reasons, however, WWE doesn’t seem to know what to do with Crews. This dynamic started in NXT where he was an upper carder, but nonetheless didn’t seem to have much in the way of personality or storylines. Since moving up to the main roster, Crews has seemed mostly adrift and it’s telling that, nearly a year into his tenure, he’s got his first angle that builds to more than one stand-alone PPV match. It’s also telling that that angle features Crews working with and against Titus O’Neil, another drifting talent, and one with a lot less natural talent than Crews. There’s little reason for optimism Crews will be in better standing a year from now, and the best he can probably hope for at this rate is to still have a job.
14 Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler is currently working a veteran’s gimmick on Smackdown. He’s a heel bitter that his best days seem behind him while newer additions to the roster like Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles are getting more opportunities. It’s a sound enough story to tell and Ziggler is more than capable of delivering a great match with the right dance partner. The trouble, however, is that Ziggler is a little bit less of a has-been than a never-was. While he got circulated in and out of position as a contender for the World Heavyweight Championship for a time, and even had a couple short title reigns, he was never really treated as the guy. WWE’s reminders now, that he’s a former world champ, feel more like window dressing than citing a guy who really is a credible threat.
Ziggler benefited from the brand split last year, and it’s quite arguably the reason why he got to be in the WWE and Intercontinental Championship mixes this past year, and relevant to the upper mid-card. Ziggler isn’t getting any younger, though, and as the newer arrivals grow more credible and established, Ziggler doesn’t have much of a place left on the WWE roster in the next year.
13 Elias Samson
Elias Samson’s enigmatic drifter character, complete with bad guitar playing and songs, is a fun enough shtick. You have to wonder, however, if or when it will translate to any sort of meaningful angle or character development.
Samson also has the misfortune of working in an era when WWE is so deep in terms of in ring talent. Having a distinctive gimmick is important, and a sign WWE sees something in him, a singing drifter doesn’t exactly have main event written all over him. There are also questions about where and how he can really fit into the mid-card, and if he may have already peaked with a couple of (tainted) wins over Dean Ambrose. Perhaps the most telling sign that Sampson doesn’t have the brightest future is that he wasn’t a huge deal in NXT over the course of a fairly long stay. It’s unclear what he may be able to accomplish as a main roster talent.
12 Becky Lynch
As much as the so called Women’s Revolution led to a number of opportunities for female performers to shine in WWE, there have unfortunately been those who have not prospered in the long run. While Lynch was a featured player early on, including a big time rivalry with Charlotte Flair and a run with the SmackDown Women’s Championship, she has since receded. Today, Lynch is a bit of an afterthought on the Smackdown roster—at the best the number three face behind Naomi and Flair.
Can Lynch turn things around? While it’s possible, she signed with WWE as a relative veteran hand. She’s not getting any younger, and given how WWE has treated her over the last half year, it seems entirely possible that she’ll have faded to total obscurity in WWE by this time next year.
11 The Club
After a sensational run with The Bullet Club in Japan, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows got a big push upon their arrival in WWE. Unfortunately, they arrived at a time when WWE was dedicated to having New Day break the record for longest tag title reign of all time, and so their ascension to the top of the tag ranks was delayed until they’d lost a lot of the momentum of their debut. Since then, the team has suffered from up and down booking, and too much time in comedy bits.
The Club could still have a resurgence in WWE, but with The Revival now on the landscape as badass, no nonsense heels, Anderson and Gallows have more or less lost their spot in the tag ranks. While a brand switch would have the potential to give them new life, for now, things don’t look great for this team.
10 Mojo Rawley
Mojo Rawley was the unlikely winner of this year’s Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. You’d think that’s a vote of confidence for the guy, but the win came out of nowhere and seemed to have far more to do with getting a celebrity moment out of Rob Gronkowski helping Rawley than pushing the Hype Bro.
If you need evidence, just look at what WWE has done with Rawley since—pretty much nothing. He was off TV for several episodes of Smackdown, and arrived at a highlight when he offered competitive cannon fodder for new WWE Champion Jinder Mahal. Now Rawley looks bound for a return to the tag ranks alongside Zack Ryder, which isn’t the worst spot to be in. However, it feels now as though Rawley has had his shot as an upper card singles guy, and that run was basically over before it really got started.
R-Truth has had one of the longest WWE careers of anyone in WWE. His time with the company is deceptively long on account of an often forgotten period working as K-Kwik in the early 2000s, before returning from a tour of the indies and TNA as R-Truth in 2008, for a tenure that has continued to this very day. There was a brief period when Truth was a WWE Championship contender, pursuing John Cena. That time has come and gone.
Truth most recently found some relevance teaming with Goldust, before the two started feuding with one another. It’s all well and good for a duo of highly skilled veterans who are especially adept at comedy at this stage of their respective careers. Given the way they’re now mostly limited working with each other, though, it seems both performers may be edging toward the twilight of their careers. Goldust may have a little more life in him, particularly with a rejuvenated heel run, but if R-Truth is still around in a year, you have to suspect be even more part time, and mostly jobbing to young stars while he mentors them behind the scenes.
8 Dana Brooke
For better or worse, WWE seems to see something in Dana Brooke. She got called up to the main roster relatively early, ahead of more obvious female talents, and she immediately got paired with then entered in a feud with Charlotte Flair, who was the top undeniable star for the division at the time. While Brooke is an impressive athlete, her in ring game, charisma, and skill on the mic are all lacking, particularly relative to brighter stars around her like Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Alexa Bliss.
The pool of talent for WWE’s women’s ranks isn’t getting any shallower. With a new crop of women from NXT like Ember Moon, Ruby Riot, Nikki Cross, and Peyton Royce just waiting for their call up (not to mention Asuka if WWE ever pulls the trigger on her main roster), things won’t get better for Brooke.
7 The Singh Brothers
The Singh Brothers have the unenviable role of playing the hapless stooges for a main event act that isn’t particularly over. They were an NXT act with some promise that didn’t really seem ready to get called up, but when WWE opted to slingshot Jinder Mahal up to the main event, they got the call to play his sidekicks and hapless helpers.
While it’s possible the Jinder Mahal experiment could work out, things don’t look so great for these two who, thus far, have their whole personality revolve around getting beat up on Mahal’s behalf. That might work out for a few months, but it’s hard to imagine either of these guys will be remotely relevant on the WWE landscape after twelve months have passed.
Rhyno is a legit wrestling legend, but the poor guy is way past his prime at this stage. His signature attribute was his explosive power that made the Gore such an awesome finisher in its day. Today, Rhyno is understandably physically softer and slower, and doesn’t really feel like he belongs on the WWE roster.
Don’t get me wrong—I was fan of Rhyno’s work as the bigger, more credible teammate to Heath Slater early on in his current WWE main roster tenure, but the tag team peaked and seems to have more or less run its course. While they may spend a few more months as tag team jobbers to bigger stars, you have to believe Rhyno will get phased back out of the main roster within a year.
5 Tye Dillinger
Tye Dillinger found himself in the unusual and unenviable spot of being an NXT talent everyone agreed ought to have been called up, but whom kept getting passed over time and again. Dillinger has now made it to the main roster, and yet WWE still doesn’t seem to know what to do with him.
The key issue at stake may be how crowded the top of the card is now for faces. With Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and Shinsuke Nakamura on top and Sami Zayn nipping at their heels, and with the US Championship at present being treated at a more or less even level with the WWE Championship, what is there for a guy like Tye Dillinger to do? His size doesn’t make him eligible for the 205 Live roster that made Neville and Austin Aries in WWE—a couple other talents who easily could have gotten lost in the shuffle. If Dillinger doesn’t find a good mid card feud to lock into soon, it looks like he may be adrift for a long time to come.
4 Erick Rowan
Erick Rowan has a unique look that was a startlingly good fit for the Wyatt Family stable. Unfortunately, of everyone in that group, he started green and has shown the least progress. So, he finds himself a scary looking big man with limited in ring skills and limited talking ability, without anyone to play the heater for in the present moment.
There’s always a reasonable likelihood that Rowan (not to mention the more talented Luke Harper) could get drawn back into the Wyatt fold. You, have to wonder, though, if WWE will lose patience with this big man who doesn’t really look destined for anything bigger than he’s already accomplished. The roster’s deep enough that it’s hard to imagine those factors alone will keep Rowan relevant into the next year.
Naomi is the current reigning SmackDown Women’s Champion. In most eras of WWE programming, she’d be a perfectly respectable women’s champ. She’s athletic, has a cool look, is competent in the ring, and passable on the mic. The trouble is that today Naomi is sharing roster space with not only pretty women WWE wants to push, but talents like Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch who are at least as over and significantly better in the ring. She’s also got Carmella breathing down her neck with the women’s Money in the Bank contract, and Natalya as a clearly superior worker.
Naomi’s current run has been fun, it also has an expiration date. While I expect she’ll still be with the company in a year, I struggle to imagine she won’t be bringing up the rear of whichever brand’s women’s roster.
2 TJ Perkins
TJ Perkins got a red hot start with WWE by winning the well received Cruiserweight Classic tournament and thus becoming the inaugural Cruiserweight Champion since the division was relaunched. In the tournament, he proved himself as a really talented worker, including some great matches. Without much character or much in the way of meaningful storylines, he was quickly pushed down the ranks, and was just another guy until a heel turn. Already, he seems to be stalling in that role, too.
Perkins is the kind of talent who would probably benefit from some more indie seasoning and then another crack at WWE. For not, he’s hanging on just filling a roster spot, but it seems likely that he or WWE will tire of that placement before too long.
1 Jinder Mahal
For most of his first WWE tenure, Jinder Mahal was an utterly forgettable lower mid-card guy, who, depending on your perspective, either bottomed out or was marginally redeemed by a comedy run with 3MB. He got released, and wasn’t exactly at the top of anyone’s list of guys they wanted or expected to see come back anytime soon.
When the new roster split happened, however, WWE brought Mahal back into the fold. He quickly went back to his losing ways before quite suddenly finding himself a WWE Championship contender, and then an actual champion.
Is it possible Mahal will stay a main eventer? WWE has surprised us before. The thing is, Mahal got a monster push with no real build and hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since getting this opportunity. I do actually hope Mahal proves me wrong and winds up justifying his current push, but I suspect it’s more likely WWE will tire of his middling performances and reactions from the crowd, and the Mahal-as-main-eventer experiment will draw to a close by autumn.
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