As wrestling fans we’ve grown accustom to jumping the gun when it comes to determining the fate of a wrestler before the big picture has even had a chance to develop. It doesn’t take a psychic to know if creative and/or management have plans for a particular wrestler when we tune in each week to our promotion of choice to assess win and loss records, storyline quality, gimmick assignments, card placement and crowd reaction. This creating our criteria to determine what we perceive as a “burial” or a “push.” Everyone has new year’s resolutions, especially the wrestlers of WWE who want their blood, sweat and tears to count.
Since 2017 is over and done with…it’s time to focus on 2018. Having just wrapped up the first month of this new year, I think it’s early enough to evaluate the stock of 15 superstars from Raw and Smackdown for fun. Some see the glass half full, some see that same glass half empty. Although being an optimist is good… being a realist is even better. Corporate doesn’t always agree with us nor do they always book according to how we the consumers see fit and if you’ve been a longtime fan like myself or pick up on patterns quickly…you’ll notice the list of 15 WWE superstars I’ve compiled struggling to bring in the new year with the right type of bang. A spot on this list doesn’t signify the end, however, it does shine light on the long stretch of road to the top.
15. Sami Zayn
It’s not everyday a guy gets a WWE championship shot in the midst of a stagnant main roster run dating back to his Royal Rumble 2016 debut. It’s certainly not common to have a world championship shot with the advantage of having your best friend as a tag partner to ensure you much better odds. For Sami, kicking off the year with a loss under this condition added to the fact his bad night at the Rumble continued with an elimination after stealing a number 10 spot proves to naysayers and fans alike that Zayn’s 2018 will likely end up like his 2017 and 2016, all this in spite of his heel turn many believed to be his saving grace. If you saw this oddly booked story leading to an eventual mid-card match involving KO and Zayn yet again… I’d say you know wrestling.
14. Sasha Banks
The 3-time Raw women’s champion Sasha Banks was a part of wrestling history in her participation in the first ever women’s Royal Rumble match starting as number 1. Her biggest highlight of the match was eliminating Trish Stratus. As much of a feather in her cap as that was, Banks came up short due to an odd alliance with the Bellas who threw Banks out, leaving her dumbfounded at the idea of twins narrowing the field as much as possible. Fast forward to the next night on Raw. Banks takes on Rumble winner Asuka where in the midst of their PPV-quality match she gets her face caved in by a kick interrupting a suicide dive, leaving Banks for dead. Miraculously, she’s able to continue, but loses…via submission. With WrestleMania rapidly approaching and there being limited matches for women already, it raises the question where this leaves Banks.
13. Kevin Owens
The other half of the WWE championship challengers duo at the Royal Rumble is former Universal champion Kevin Owens who mere months ago was U.S champ and last year at the Rumble was defending his Universal Championship. Owens currently has more accolades than Sami, which doesn’t make it as urgent for him to make his mark, but one could argue(that one being me)that because of his title reigns, Owens not being able to dethrone Styles with the help of a gifted guy like Sami does no favors to his character. This reminds us further why the Yep movement isn’t remotely close to a serious threat to Smackdown’s authority. Who knows the next time Owens ends up in the world title picture, but for Smackdown’s sake… hopefully it’s soon.
12. Nia Jax
Nia was also another one of the lucky women to be a part of the first ever women’s Rumble match. Jax had an impressive showing as the female Big Show equivalent with a lot of eliminations(4), a powerful showing and being mark as the prime target for elimination. All of that and much like The Big Show…she lost. Nia wasn’t even the last eliminated or even a part of the final 4. This type of match would and should have been Jax’s defining moment to be the dominant beast we’re expecting her to be, heel or face, but much like 2016 and 2017, she’s yet to win a woman’s championship unlike her NXT peers Sasha, Bayley and Bliss who reached the mountain top quickly. On top of that, the little relevance she’s got on Raw being Enzo’s crush was kicked to the wayside with his firing. Poor Jax can’t catch a break, you’d think her expressed displeasure in her booking would be rectified, but so far…it hasn’t.
11. Jason Jordan
It seemed like Jordan and tag partner Seth Rollins were starting out the year strong, they were tag champs and Jordan could say he’s been a tag-team champion on both Raw and Smackdown, which is sure to make daddy proud…until the Rumble hit…the Rumble match he wasn’t in. So much for creative not throwing Jordan in like his partner Rollins and foes later on, Cesaro and Sheamus. Even more odd than having a Rumble match in the middle of the show if it’s gotta take a backseat for a night is having 3 of the 4 competitors wrestling next for the tag titles. Anyway…Jordan lost. From December 25-January 28, barely over a month reign, something that news sites such as The Wrestling Observer, speculate had to do with a nagging injury of Jordan’s that’s too serious to ignore. If that’s the case…then this is a terrible way to bring in 2018.
10. Tye Dillinger
If you saw what I did here then you can just consider me as creative as WWE, which could be an insult these days…depending on your perspective. Dillinger made his debut last year at the Rumble, fast forward a year…the so-called “random” drawing of the same number 10 spot being his to claim again was this year stolen by none other than a frustrated Sami Zayn. Dillinger took his blows and wasn’t seen that night, which I’m certain received some sort of outcry of how mean and terrible WWE creative was for “burying” Tye who’d be lucky to get an elimination let alone make it to the final four. Whether you like him or hate him, you can’t deny being removed from the Rumble to do Santino’s comedic bidding hurts what little momentum Dillinger had, which further diminished in a loss to another stagnant star…Baron Corbin 2 days later.
9. Roman Reigns
WAIT…before you adjust your screens, let me address the question I know many of you are asking…why is the guy set to headline Mania on a list like this when he’s “shoved down our throats?” Well, easy. Since Reigns is competing against Lesnar at Wrestlemania as rumored for a while, on top of his protected booking as a top guy already, he needs to remain as formidable as an opponent to Lesnar as he did at Wrestlemania 31 when he ran through the competition. Booking your unclaimed number 1 contender to lose to the likes of the Miz twice! Once for the title and although not clean, way less convincing for the guy we’ve been conditioned to believe could kick out a gunshot, hurts his credibility. That and being eliminated by a more tired Nakamura makes Reigns look like the guy who should be losing to Lesnar, not defeating him. 2018 has not been looking good for a man positioned to be champion.
From the moment it was announced that Kane was joining Strowman and Lesnar in a triple-threat Universal championship match, fans immediately pointed to Kane being the one to take the pin to protect Strowman who was already pinned by Lesnar. It’s no secret Kane has political aspirations and will likely be Knox County mayor before getting a run for any kind of world championship, so his pin due to an F-5 was no surprise, but one thing that was happened the night after in a last-man-standing match with Strowman who gave his back a break tipping over cars to tip over tables…right on the monster! Not only was Kane down for 10, it looked like the Hell was knocked out of him, so Corporate Kane could handle business off-screen, which sucks for fans hoping to see as much of Kane as possible knowing the fire will soon be extinguished.
7. Jinder Mahal
Ever since Mahal lost the WWE championship to Styles on Smackdown in November, he hasn’t been booked nearly as prominent on the blue brand, which hurts not only Mahal who was a jobber turned champ who logically needed the constant momentum, but Smackdown as a whole, as weird as this will sound, given their lack of main event guys. Jinder was a top guy in the making and now in 2018, he’s returned to the depths of jobber Hell having under performed in the Rumble, being eliminated by Big E and losing the U.S championship finals to Bobby Roode. And furthermore, to add to Mahal’s terrible start to 2018 is the injury of henchman Samir Singh, which to Jinder’s viability is like losing a lung.
6. Braun Strowman
Since August 2017, Strowman has received 3 Universal Championship shots. His latest being the triple-threat Universal championship match where he didn’t get pinned as predicted by fans who get how these things work, but ultimately lost yet again. I’m sure most of us see Braun as a future world champion, but as of now in the first quarter of 2018 we haven’t been showed he can do it either alone or with the advantage of being able to pin another man besides Lesnar. At The Rumble Braun got his brains scrambled in a shoot punch by Lesnar who was accidentally kicked in the head and kayfabe wise was on the receiving end of having his body crushed by an announce table, something that has become Strowman’s thing. Sue me if I feel that out of all the rapid pushes going on that Strowman should be included on that list, looking stronger by the day, in and outside the ring.
5. Shelton Benjamin
It was a buzz within the WWE Universe when it was announced in 2016 that Shelton Benjamin was returning. A shoulder injury set him back. Now, on Smackdown we can see all the impressive athleticism and showmanship associated with him has returned, however, his success seemed to have stayed at home. I’m sure returning to his home brand to replace his own ripoff wasn’t what he anticipated nor was being on the receiving end of back to back losses to the Usos, one of those wins being a result of a referee mistake where the decision was reversed on the first Smackdown of 2018 and even worse, at the Rumble losing 2 back to back falls, which is a rarity itself given the concept is the easiest to enable 50/50 booking. Benjamin so far couldn’t even achieve that, which is no way for a guy of his caliber to be reintroduced to the fans.
4. Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins sure has taken a few steps back having at one point held the mantle of WWE champion and WWE’s MVP before the brand split. Even with the brand split returned, on Raw Rollins was still booked as the central heel turned face throughout 2016. At WrestleMania he defeated Triple H and at this very moment carries no championship having just lost the Raw tag titles after a decent performance in the Rumble where he was eliminated by his Shield brother Roman Reigns. Creative would serve Raw well if they bumped Rollins back up to the forefront as one of the main eventers. Rollins said himself on Twitter quote… “back to back matches. Back to back losses. Something needs to change.” This proving The Architect knows his blueprint for 2018 isn’t drawn to scale.
3. Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler won the United States championship at Clash of Champions 2017 in a match most didn’t see him leaving as the victor. On Smackdown he vacated the title, thus creating the U.S title tournament for the belt. Ziggler’s real-life frustrations have been known for sometime and are comical and painful to listen to. The U.S title is not the gold Ziggler had in mind and therefore took a hiatus in which he returned in the Rumble at the number 30 spot that has been speculated to be his return date with a theory creative decided to finally cave into his demands. In a storyline revolving around the mystery behind Ziggler and if he quit, where he went and who he’d be when he returned…it was ruined the moment he was set to return and lose with all that anticipation. Not only a bad way to kickoff 2018…an embarrassing one with nothing to showoff.
If there’s a wrestler who overcame enough adversity for the entire women’s division and John Cena to be proud of…it was Paige. From neck injury to a leaked sextape, she found her way back to PG WWE in spite of their newfound image. She was given her own stable called Absolution, leading newcomers Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, all of which planned to participate in the first ever woman’s Rumble. Unfortunately for Paige, that dream came to a halt as a real-life injury exacerbated preexisting neck issues, forcing Paige to not only open this new year with the bad news of not being a part of history, but the worst type of news any wrestler could hear at anytime…that being a career threatening injury. Sad to say that a career that made such an impact to a new era of fans, particularly females, might end when it was just beginning.
1. Finn Balor
One of the fastest rising stars in the last 3 eras of wrestling saw not only a SummerSlam world championship match while undefeated in 2016, but his first ever main roster title reign of the newly created Universal championship… in less than a month. July 25 to August 20. As quick as he came, as quick as he left, which saw his 2017 return as a downgrade to many who remember how hard Balor was pushed. In a creative tug of war over what to do with Finn, Vince as the boss not deeming Balor over has won. So far in 2018, Balor’s relaxed booking results in a clean loss to Seth Rollins before the Rumble, an elimination by Cena and not just a loss to John again on Raw, but a removal out the title picture and Elimination Chamber PPV altogether. This all being a classic definition of a fall from grace.
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