On WWE television there are heroes and villains. People who fans will cheer until their lungs can't take it anymore and heels who those same fans will jeer. But if we're talking about the bigger picture of the company, not all the heroes and villains are people that we see on television screens.
In spite of the internet's constant criticism of WWE, the company is doing just fine in terms of financial success. Their stock is at an all time high, they just signed a new television deal for SmackDown with FOX and resigned with NBCU for their flagship show Monday Night Raw. However that doesn't mean there aren't people who are holding the company back from reaching even higher peaks. Whether it be champions who don't actually show up for work, superstars who are there but aren't performing to their fullest and dinosaurs from by gone eras who should be gone, plenty of people can be given pink slips and it would only further serve the company.
Thankfully for every "bad guy" in the company, there are plenty of people stepping up to the plate and saving it. These run the gamut from those in the boardroom, the backstage area and even on actual WWE television. So let's get into it; here are 10 WWE employees saving the company and 10 who are holding it back.
20 Holding It Back: Brock Lesnar
When Brock Lesnar was signed in 2012, it made all the sense in the world. His star might have faded a tad because of his UFC losses to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem, but he was still a giant deal to the mainstream public and hardcore WWE fans. His debut versus John Cena at Extreme Rules 2012 was garbage (because of the ending) but eventually throughout dominant booking Lesnar became a must-see act. Nowadays though, he is a giant albatross on the WWE.
His latest reign as Universal Champion has drawn the ire of fans for being boring, predictable and as robbing other RAW superstars of shining as the face of the brand.
As of this writing, Lesnar has only defended the championship seven times during what now feels like an eternal title reign. Only a couple of those matches were worth watching and what's worst of all about Lesnar as champion is that he simply doesn't care about the company he represents. He doesn't do any media, he rarely makes appearances and his move set is what happens when you get lazy in WWE 2K18 and just put suplexes everywhere. He might have once been the next big thing, but now he should be the next big release.
19 Saving It: Triple H
For the longest time, Triple H was the bane of many a WWE fan's existence. As a full time roster member, Hunter was always that guy who the company felt they could give the title to or squash an up and coming superstar at any given time. His track record of engaging in backstage politics also didn't help matters at all for his public relations. However, now that he's stepped away from the ring, save for appearances at WrestleMania, The Game has become quite the Dungeon Master of the WWE.
Under Triple H's leadership, the NXT brand has grown from a laughing stock that was its original incarnation into what is considered by most fans to be the most consistently entertaining show in the WWE's entire lineup. If it wasn't for The Game, stars like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and Asuka might not have been signed. Also as a high ranking executive in the company, he is able to be a public face in ways that Vince McMahon never could, like making appearances on mainstream talk shows and keeping WWE in the public eye. All signs point to Triple H and his wife Stephanie McMahon being the heirs to the kingdom once Vince McMahon lets go and it seems like that would be best for business.
18 Holding It Back: Roman Reigns
It's extremely easy to hate on Roman Reigns and I understand that. Unlike the case of Brock Lesnar, Reigns is a dedicated performer who obviously cares about the wrestling business as it runs in his blood (although his case isn't helped when he makes statements like this). Also unlike Lesnar, he is not beyond saving. The problem is however, he is just too much damaged goods to be of any use to the WWE in his present form.
Because of bland feuds, terrible promos and even worse booking, "The Big Dog" has become such a problem as a babyface that it hurts WWE's programming.
Any time Reigns is booked, he is booed so hard that it makes 2010 John Cena look like Stone Cold Steve Austin. Heck, some fans are cheering Jinder Mahal over Reigns at the moment. The good part though, is that there's a simple fix for this; turn Roman Reigns heel. The brief moments of Reigns displaying heelish behavior on TV or social media have been golden and it could instantly breathe new life into him as a performer. Also it's not like they can't turn him back after a while when he gets his heat back. But for now, Reigns is part of the problem on WWE programming.
17 Saving It: John Cena
What a difference just a few years makes. If you were to ask fans just five years ago if they were tired of John Cena and wanted to see him gone from WWE, you would have a lot of people that would scream yes. That was for good reason because Cena's character was stale beyond belief and Cena himself seemed bored with the hand he was dealt. But after Cena decided to go into the midcard and take on a part time status with WWE, he has revitalized himself.
The turning point for this new Cena would have to be his United States title reign in 2015. By holding that mid card championship, Cena opened the door for a whole new flock of opponents that he probably wouldn't feud with if he was still in the main event. He would go onto to have a classic series of matches with AJ Styles that made everybody's jaws drop. Cena's promos for years were corporate nonsense drivel. Nowadays his promos are scintillating pieces of work. Stepping away from the company and doing some work in Hollywood was the best thing that Cena could have done. Now fans get excited to see The Champ instead of rolling their eyes.
16 Holding It Back: Michael Cole
No matter how you feel about Michael Cole's performance as an announcer, you have to respect what he's been able to accomplish inside the WWE. An employee of theirs since 1997, Cole went from the awkward geek who got wedgies from D-Generation X in the shower to the company's premier play by play announcer. Even if you respect him, you can still say that Cole's actual performance on the headset has been quite dreadful for a long time.
Back in the days of the original brand split, the announce team of Cole and Tazz was pretty great. But as soon as Cole had to start plugging in WWE's various sponsors and whatever other garbage the company promotes, he turned into such a transparent corporate puppet that he lost credibility with most fans. Cole also suffers from the fact that he's been an announcer for so long that we've just gotten tired of his voice and go-to lines. He just seems tired and bored of doing the same job for almost 20 years. The good part is that Cole has long been rumored to be in the process of transitioning away from announcing into being a backstage producer and scout. In fact, he's the reason WWE became interested in Mauro Ranallo. A change of scenery can make Cole go from one side of this list to another.
15 Saving It: Seth Rollins
In the absence of their Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, the WWE needed a star who can serve as the anchor for the RAW brand and step up to the plate. It certainly wasn't going to be Roman Reigns as at least half of the fan base hates his guts. Not with Lesnar absent the next champion in the hierarchy decided to plant his flag in the ground and stake his claim to the best wrestler on RAW. That man, is Seth Freaking Rollins.
While the injury to Jason Jordan might have come at a bad time to the "son" of Kurt Angle, it worked out marvelously for Rollins. He won the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 34 and has defended it against several worthy challengers including Finn Balor, The Miz and Samoa Joe.
It's rumored that Rollins will lose his title to rising mid card star Elias in the near future and that serves us just fine because there's a good reason why he'll lose it; he's being considered as the man to face Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam.
If he beats Lesnar, fans will be fine with him dropping the I.C belt. To be fair I think people would be fine with Lesnar dropping the belt to a broom stick at this point, but let's move on.
14 Holding It Back: Randy Orton
One of the last vestiges of an era long gone, Randy Orton is one of the longest tenured superstars inside the entire WWE. Including his days inside the developmental league Ohio Valley Wrestling, Orton has been a part of the company since the year 2000. That's a long time by any measure and it gets more and more obvious each passing week that there's nothing more for Orton to do on WWE television.
According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Orton apparently is very happy with his current WWE deal as he takes frequent breaks and is paid handsomely for his contributions. The problem though, is that even when he is on TV, Orton doesn't generate the kind of buzz that somebody of his status should. The closest superstar we can compare Orton to is John Cena but when Cena is TV, it feels like a big deal and it's clear that Cena is putting his strongest effort into whatever he's doing. Orton seems actively bored with whatever creative has written for him and just accepts it for the paycheck. He hasn't added a move, changed something about his character or had a hot angle in years. It's time that WWE just cuts their losses and puts this viper out of its misery.
13 Saving It: Ronda Rousey
When Brock Lesnar signed to the WWE in 2012, it was a big deal as he was a former UFC Champion coming into the WWE thus it achieved the one two punch of attracting "mainstream" sports outlets and having a believable ass-kicker in their ranks. It seems that large swaths of the public are willing to forget her losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes so that's even better for WWE. Ronda Rousey is the female version of this except even better. Let me explain.
Unlike Brock Lesnar who clearly doesn't have any passion for the business, Rousey has been a lifelong fan of pro wrestling. From stories in her autobiography to making appearances at SummerSlam and WrestleMania, it's clear that this is something Rousey has dreamed about since she was a kid. Yes it is true that Rousey has stumbled a bit in promos but her match at WrestleMania 34 showed that when the bell rings she can absolutely go and get the crowd fired up behind her. With a potential victory over Nia Jax looming in the wings, Rousey could easily claim the Raw Women's Championship. Now WWE will have to be careful to ensure that Rousey doesn't get as stale as Lesnar did on top but in the short term she is definitely an asset.
12 Holding It Back: Byron Saxton
Occasionally you look at the WWE roster page and wonder how certain people still have jobs with the WWE. For the longest time I was continually shocked by the fact that Rosa Mendes was employed for as long as she was. But now that she has left, that "honour" has fallen on the dorky shoulders of Byron Saxton. Including his time from Florida Championship Wrestling, Saxton has been employed by WWE since 2007.
A former in-ring performer for the original incarnation of NXT, Saxton never once displayed any form of in-ring talent or microphone skills that would have warranted an on-air gig.
Thankfully, he joined the company's website team and was kept off TV for a while but just like a weed that you can't get rid off, he kept coming back on our TV screens. Despite being a "color" commentator, Saxton is perhaps the most bland voice in the entire company. If it wasn't for Corey Graves and heel guest announcers dunking on Saxton for his dull as dishwater personality, he'd be a complete waste of space at that booth. Perhaps it can be said that Saxton might improve under a two man booth instead of a three man one, but he probably isn't able to grow a personality overnight.
11 Saving It: Daniel Bryan
A dark cloud was approaching WWE fans for the longest time when it came to Daniel Bryan. Despite WWE's doctors not willing to clear him, Bryan was hellbent on still continuing to wrestle even if he had to leave WWE to do so. Bryan leaving the WWE for another promotion would have dealt a heavy blow to McMahon's empire but thanks to The Goat's determination he got clearance from the right doctors across America to convince WWE's medical team that he was healthy enough to compete.
Now it's true that Bryan will likely not become the face of the WWE like he was destined to be before his injury setbacks going all the way back to 2014. He's already in his late 30s and his shaky medical status makes him a giant risk to carry a company but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the time he still has with us. With the current stacked roster, Bryan can have classic matches and feuds with everybody from The Miz to AJ Styles to Samoa Joe. An organic, natural babyface who has unlimited goodwill with fans that is constantly looking to improve his in-ring work? You better believe that he is a savior of the company.
10 Holding It Back: David Otunga
If I'm being perfectly honest, I could copy and paste the slide written about Byron Saxton elsewhere on this list and David Otunga would largely be the same case. Both of them are colorless, bland and uninteresting color commentators who make you scratch your head at how they still hold down a job in Vince McMahon's circus. However, there is one reason that would've explained why he was kept around; his marriage to celebrity Jennifer Hudson. We know how WWE loves their mainstream connections, but now that they've divorced, why is Otunga still around?
Well a few months ago, Otunga stepped away from his commentary duties likely because of his legal drama with his now ex-wife. Nowadays he's a pre-show panelist for WWE's special events but even on there he isn't a dynamic personality or has shown any real growth as analyst. Renee Young is the best host the company has. Booker T is bad but he's the kind of bad that you enjoy because it's just so off the wall bizarre. Jerry Lawler has the respect and good will from fans for all his years as a commentator with Jim Ross. Otunga? He's just kind of there and he shouldn't be.
9 Saving It: New Day
Too often WWE micromanages the hell out of their performers to the point where they cannot have personalities or characters of their own. At first it seemed like the New Day was going to be just that when they debuted as a bland babyface trio with the characters of a black Baptist Church preachers. But after a heel turn which allowed the group to flesh out their personalities further, The New Day quickly became the premier tag team of the entire company.
Now I will admit that as of 2018, the shine of The New Day has diminished slightly but considering how long they've been together that is still mighty impressive.
They can still deliver the comedy when they want but as their feud with Usos a few months ago demonstrated, they also can have a serious heated feud when they have to.
The fact that the trio has been able to do this while under the prying hands of Vince McMahon is nothing short of incredible. The end of the New Day may be approaching with one of their members entering the Money In The Bank match so let's hope that if they do break out on their own, their success keeps on rolling.
8 Holding It Back: Jonathan Coachman
When it was announced in 2018 that the WWE had snagged Jonathan Coachman away from the clutches of Mickey Mouse and Disney, nostalgia came flooding into the minds of many fans. During the Ruthless Aggression and Attitude Era, Coach was a fun punching bag for many performers and one of the better backstage interviewers. But from his very first day on the job, it was clear that the Coach of old wasn't present. In its place was arguably the worst announcer the WWE has ever had. I'm dead serious.
Listening to a Raw broadcast with Coach on commentary will cause you to either face palm constantly and/or throw hard objects at your television screens. It's painfully obvious that Coach isn't actually interested in getting the product over but instead is trying to get himself over with obnoxious sports references and horrible jokes. It's also clear that Coach hasn't done his research on who the active performers are, as he constantly makes mistakes about their backstories or characters. Perhaps Coach would work better in his old role as backstage interviewer or as the host of a WWE Network show because it's clear that as a color commentator Coach is trash. #BringBackBookerTToCommentary
7 Saving It: Stephanie McMahon
It may not be something that wrestling fans think about often, but WWE's image in the mainstream is important for the company's identity to sponsors, the media and all that jazz. Vince McMahon was always a hard sell on this end because of the outlandish character he is inside and out of the ring, but Stephanie McMahon has a lot less baggage on that front.
As a member of the WWE creative team, Stephanie never really made a great impact on the company as she just didn't have that booking mindset required for the role. But as an ambassador for the company and as a public relations face, she has excelled. Stephanie is able to make the connections to the mainstream and pop culture that nobody else can. Sometimes that makes the hardcore fans roll their eyes, but you can't deny that it's successful in bringing in new fans and eyeballs to the product. With Triple H handling the creative side of things and Stephanie McMahon being more of the PR and advertising person, this duo can definitely lead the WWE into a new age. Not to mention that she can always deliver a blistering heel promo when she has to.
6 Holding It Back: Kevin Dunn
Something that most fans take for granted when it comes to watching WWE programming is the video production. I'm talking about the camera angles, the way stages and the sets look and a bunch of other technical aspects that go unnoticed by most fans. Well all of those little things that annoy fans fall at the feet of one person; Kevin Dunn.
Dunn has been the Executive Producer for basically all of WWE's programming ever since the 1980s. But his notoriety doesn't exist just for his outdated production style but also for his influence over the product itself.
According to several sources, Kevin Dunn is Vince McMahon's right hand man and one of the people who influences his decisions on the product the most.
He has an intense hatred for the term "professional wrestling" and is one of the leading voices behind it being branded "sports entertainment". Any time over the years you saw dumb comedy segments or Divas fighting in degrading pillow fights, you can bet Dunn was on board and supporting that all the way. Rumors have been flying for years that Triple H isn't a fan of Dunn at all and when he inevitably gets the reigns from Vinnie Mac, Dunn's butt will be out the door. It can't happen fast enough.
5 Saving It: Sara Del Rey
The Women's Revolution is one of the greatest things to happen to the WWE in their whole history and I say that without hyperbole. Prior to AJ Lee's pushing for the company to take their female wrestlers more seriously, the company was stuck in this outdated mindset that the women on their show were designed to be a sideshow attraction used to titillate the male fans and/or to be a bathroom break. But now that they're taken seriously, they need a great trainer to guide the next generation. Enter one of NXT's trainers, Sara Del Rey.
Being the first female trainer in WWE came with a heavy responsibility as she had to set a high bar for others to follow but Rey has shown just how good she is a trainer already. Pick out any woman on the roster from Sasha Banks to Becky Lynch to Charlotte and you will see a product of Rey's coaching in action. While some of her students came from the independent scene with experience under their belt already, others came in completely fresh and Rey still turned them into mega stars. Rey may mean king in Spanish, but in this case it is most definitely a queen.
4 Holding It Back: Jinder Mahal
This. This image above these words is an image that no WWE fan ever asked for and hasn't asked for since. Jinder Mahal's reign as WWE Champion was an abject failure by any measure of success as his matches failed to draw any interest and his promos were generic, tired heel talking points which seem completely out of date in modern wrestling. The one thing that Jinder Mahal was supposed do though was help WWE break into the massive potential market that is India on the back of his... Canadian citizenship.
It seems that India wasn't taking to Jinder Mahal like the company hoped they would though. In November 2017, Mahal was set to take on Triple H as the headlining main event for two shows. But for whatever reason, the company condensed their two shows into one and Mahal didn't even make it to the event as champion. To the one market that the Mahal experiment should have worked, his run as a champion was a complete failure. Mahal was given a golden opportunity to make an impact as champion and he didn't take advantage of it. Hopefully next time WWE decides that man makes the belt instead of the belt making the man.
3 Saving It: William Regal
William Regal was once just another guy on WWE programming who had moments of brilliance but mostly would have been forgotten about by WWE fans. Sometimes though it takes a while for you to find your true calling and Regal finally found his place in the WWE when he become both the on-screen general manager of NXT and the WWE Director of Talent Development and Head of Global Recruiting.
While the first role is easy to figure out, the second one might require a bit more time to explain.
Stretching even back to 2014, Regal has been one of Triple H's right hand men to help him scout for talent to recruit to NXT across the world.
Many of the NXT signings that fans salivated about including Kevin Owens and Bayley cite William Regal as the first point of contact between them and the WWE. Regal has connections all across the globe and that is reflected in WWE's roster as every corner of the globe is now represented. Regal always carries himself with class and is one of the company's secret weapons to creating the next generation of superstars. If anybody deserves this honour, it's a guy who once accidentally drank Chris Jericho's pee. In kayfabe of course.
2 Holding It Back: Vince McMahon
This will absolutely be the most debatable entry on this list and I can completely understand why. The very reason I and most other people can write about pro wrestling for a living is because of Vince McMahon. He is the guy who took the business from a niche fandom into a worldwide phenomenon that rakes in money hand over fist. But just like any person who has been atop an empire for so long, it eventually becomes time for that leader to pass on the power to a successor.
Every time you see a superstar being rammed down your throat that you don't like, every time you see a stupid comedy segment that goes nowhere and every time you see a booking decision that makes you scratch your head, the blame lies at the feet of Mr. McMahon. It also seems that McMahon himself is taking his eye off the ball of WWE as he prepares to relaunch the XFL in 2020. With SmackDown going on FOX in October 2019, perhaps that would be a good time for McMahon to relinquish control for good to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. I mean for God's sake, McMahon will be 74 years old by the time that happens. Kick back on a beach already dammit.
1 Saving It: Braun Strowman
Sometimes it's hard to tell who's going to be the next breakout main event player in the WWE. Ultimately it's going to come down to the whims of Vince McMahon but one name that nobody would have thought would have amounted to anything in the company was Braun Strowman. Despite a rocky start in the company as a member of the Wyatt Family, Strowman struck out on his own to massive success and is now consistently one of the most entertaining aspects of WWE programming
WWE has a nasty habit of taking the bite out of anybody who ends up getting over. It seems like as soon as somebody starts to get popular with the fanbase, the company makes whatever stupid decision they could to cool their jets. They've tried it with most, even with Strowman. Miraculously though, that hasn't seemed to faze the giant. Even after being pinned by Brock Lesnar after one F-5 back at No Mercy 2017, fans still clamored for the Monster Among Men. If the company has any sense at all, they will give this man the Universal Championship after he squashes Brock Lesnar in dominant fashion. Or you know, they could keep it on a guy who never shows up on WWE programming.