Hello and welcome to the Steel Cage Standings where I, Psyniac, go through the past month of WWE TV and rank the Top 5 Raw and Top 5 Smackdown superstars, Top 3 NXT superstars and then highlight three stars or teams that have been wasted or have been straight-up terrible. September saw the first set of brand-exclusive pay-per-views so we definitely have a lot to talk about. Here we go.
RAW Top 5:
The women’s division on Raw this month has been shaky at best and cracks have begun to show over the last few weeks in the strength of the roster as a whole but also in their individual talents. Sasha’s fake retirement speech was at best confusing and I’ll go into Bayley’s issues a little later in this article; it hasn’t helped that there’s no secondary storyline for the girls on Raw so week in and week out we see the same combinations of talents. Through it all, however, Charlotte has been doing some of her best heel work yet. Her last reign was rocky at times but since reclaiming the belt she has been unexpectedly on top of her game. I don’t see her holding it past Hell in a Cell but it does give me hope that she’ll be a strong heel for years to come.
04. TJ Perkins & The Brian Kendrick
The cruiserweights have finally arrived on Raw and it’s… kind of odd. I mean, it’s cool but, as has already been pointed out on the podcast, they’re not doing anything we don’t see throughout the rest of the show considering Raw is SO wrestling heavy these days. Still, I’m happy to see them pushing my absolute favourite dude ever Rich Swann, and Perkins and Kendrick leading the division with an actual storyline makes a lot of sense. It’s good use of both guys. Perkins is the young, upstart champion and Kendrick is the disgruntled veteran clawing at his chances to get back to his former glory. So far, so good and I’m looking forward to more. Also Perkin’s music, am I right?
03. Cesaro & Sheamus
From what started off as a kind of boring feud to the groan heard around the world when it was booked as a “best of seven” (discounting the previous two matches) to… the best match on the Clash of Champions card for my money. To be honest, nearly every week Sheamus and Cesaro managed to outdo themselves until their pay-per-view bout which grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. Well, until the bullshit ending. It’s hard not to feel like we were cheated out of something and yet again when it seemed like Cesaro was going to ascend from midcard hell he gets pulled back down. BUT the idea of the two teaming makes some sense and it looks like it could honestly be entertaining, not to mention useful for the lacking Raw tag division. I’m cautiously optimistic.
02. Chris Jericho
I’m pretty sure I’m on the List of Jericho and that’s okay. I’ll happily put him on the Steel Cage Standings. Ask anyone anywhere and they’ll probably tell you the same thing: Jericho is one of the most entertaining things in the WWE right now. But what’s so remarkable about that is the evolution of his character. Even just in recent months; his latest heel run has changed and morphed subtilely over time. Just try and list all the little things and catchphrases he’s gone through already! Currently, he’s the perfect sidekick to Kevin Owens with his constant “my best friend” remarks and the occasionally questionable “we’re the Universal Champion”. He may have been in the WWE for over 15 years now but he still has… it.
01. Kevin Owens
Excuses, excuses but last month’s Standings had to come a little early so I didn’t get a chance to expel my happiness about Owens grabbing Raw’s major title from out of nowhere. Without a doubt the best possible scenario coming out of the sad injury of Finn Bálor; Owens has made a fun champion for the first month of what is sure to be a memorable reign. Sure, we don’t really have any true justification of why Triple H threw Rollins under the bus and gave the title to Owens and it seems as though he’s just replacing Seth’s former role buuuuut it’s hard not to be excited by this sudden, fresh change. Owens has been one of the best heels in WWE since he joined the company and he goes out there and proves his worth every night by turning Raw into the Kevin Owens Show.
SMACKDOWN Top 5:
05. The Usos
On the list of things I never thought I’d do, putting The Usos in the top 5 of anything (beyond “most boring human beings”) is pretty high up there. I was so glad to see that after they turned heel on American Alpha this month they changed a little more from week to week. Their wrestling slowed down from the Uso-crazy (kill me) suicide dives into rest holds and submission finishers, their gear lost all of it’s bright colours and this final week on Smackdown the pair came out to music much more befitting their current state of mind. Call me impressed and, for the first time ever, actually interested in Uce #1 and Uce #2.
04. Heath Slater & Rhyno
#IGotKids. Apparently. DOUBLE-WIDE, BAYBAY. And so on. Getting to the point… what the hell happened? Turn the clocks back a mere two months and explain to your average smart WWE fan that the company would crown the One Man Band Heath Slater and freaking Rhyno from ECW inaugural Smackdown Tag Team champions and they’d laugh in your face. It sounds like nonsense. And yet, it happened and, more to the point, it should’ve happened. There’s no denying that this is the logical end point to the #SignHeathSlater storyline and he and Rhyno have milked it for all of it’s worth throughout by being wonderfully entertaining and a highlight of a show with very little to dislike anyway. Do I see it having legs beyond this? Not especially. But it doesn’t mean it wasn’t one of the best things on Smackdown this month. Lunacy.
03. Becky Lynch
Speaking of inaugural champions, Becky Lynch deserves a mention. After the draft it seemed like Becky had her own little island; like she was being cast away from Sasha and Charlotte to “make do” with the B-show and Bayley heading to Raw not long after didn’t help. However, as it turns out, the Smackdown women’s roster is far superior and better written and thus Becky jockeying for the new belt was far more interesting. It’s pretty cool that she gets to be the first to hold the Smackdown Women’s Championship since she never got the chance to win the Raw or NXT belts and her developing feud with Alexa Bliss looks like the kind of thing we’ll look back on fondly in a year or so’s time.
02. AJ Styles
The face that runs the place. The champ that runs the camp. AJ Styles is WWE World Champion. In who’s imagination are we living right now? Styles first few months in the company were definitely exciting but it’s only recently that he’s hit his stride; beating Cena, wearing his arm-band on his head and stepping up to take on Smackdown’s first draft pick Dean Ambrose. We all saw it coming, because most often Smackdown books predictably but logically, but that makes it no less important that Styles is the champion because he’s one of the best workers in the WWE right now. The best part is that he has so many fresh potential feuds between now and WrestleMania.
01. The Miz
This list seems to be a list of the surreal but I suppose the point is that Smackdown has made absurdly good use of bright sparks. In a month where AJ Styles is WWE champion, The Miz still ranks higher. That’s how good he was this September. His ongoing feud with Ziggler has been excellent for both of them, from start to finish. Hell, even this week when Dolph said he’d put his career on the line at No Mercy it felt exciting and like it still had life in it. Both of them played their role perfectly.
But Miz has been the star among stars since that Talking Smack promo and there’s been endless discussion about his ongoing spat with Daniel Bryan. Lord knows where it leads to but whatever the case I’m sure Smackdown’s writers have at least a few good ideas and, surprising myself, I trust them. And I trust Miz to pull it off superbly.
03. Daniel Bryan
I’m expecting to get a lot of heat for this but… where all my homies at that were moaning about The Authority opening up Raw every week when they were in their so-called prime? Out of the eight or so episodes of Smackdown since the draft, I’m pretty sure half of them have opened up with Daniel Bryan and the “yes chant”. Just… because people like it I guess? Don’t get me wrong, him being out there usually serves a purpose and he’s not doing intentionally but can we have a little more focus on the stars and not the management, please?
02. Darren Young & Titus O’Neil
The last two weeks of Raw have been pretty decent and that’s partly because it seems like whoever was pushing this boring ass feud has finally surrendered or been shut up. Week to week it was the same schtick with Darren and Titus facing off in a generic match with a dusty finish that involved Bob Backlund in some way with zero progression and zero intrigue. Where both of these guys have had their moments, Young’s new gimmick never really had a chance to get off the ground after being immediately thrown into this yawn-a-thon. Shame.
01. Bayley & Sami Zayn
God damn Billi. He’s always saying what we’re all thinking, even if some of us don’t want to admit it. Bayley’s main roster stint so far has been hugely unfulfilling; her character hasn’t really been established at all and so far she’s been “colourful girl who hugged Foley once and now LOSES EVERY WEEK”. And whilst that’s been discussed plenty, nobody has really addressed that the same thing has happened to Sami Zayn. He’s had his moments since joining Raw earlier this year (particularly in his rivalry with Owens) but both of these characters have had their stories told in NXT so on the main roster they both seem to be playing the role of “ambitious underdog babyface” and little else. Less time wrestling and more time establishing a new journey would help but don’t look now, Jericho needs to be made to look strong. Could we use enhancement talent? We did, and his name is Sami Zayn.
03. Hideo Itami
Since returning at Brooklyn, Itami has been warming up the engine. After a year off, it’s tough to find your footing as well as your place in the show when it’s changed so much but it only took a handful of appearances to really feel like Hideo was getting back into the swing of things. With him now finally using the GTS as a regular finisher and a much better grasp on English, as judging by this week’s promo, Itami may now be in a better place. I did have and still have my fears that he’ll “do a Neville” and be entirely forgotten on the main roster but at least now he has a better chance, especially since his debut wasn’t lost in the shuffle of so many others moving up.
02. Bobby Roode
September 2016 saw the in-ring debut of Bobby Roode at Full Sail University and his incredible entrance was at least as good, if not better, than his appearance at NXT TakeOver Brooklyn II. Every time we see the guy he just looks like he’s living his gimmick. He looks insanely confident in his character and that’s the kind of thing we need at the top of NXT. Admittedly, he might be too good for the show but if nothing else a megaheel like Roode will give an up and coming hopeful babyface someone to knock off to better establish themselves. And pairing him with Tye for the second Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic? Interesting stuff that may reaffirm the readiness of both guys.
01. Samoa Joe
I had hoped that immediately following the most recent TakeOver special that we’d see Samoa Joe moving straight onto Smackdown. I suppose I was worried that he may have peaked and had little else to do. I’m happy to report that I was wrong and that Joe continues to be one of the most engaging parts of NXT. Working us all by pretending to swallow his pride, admitting his respect for Nakamura, setting up his rematch and then – WHAM – catching the champ off guard? Excellent. Joe is the perfect fit for essentially “minor league Brock Lesnar”; causing damage and then disappearing or holding the show hostage. It’s all very interesting and is leading up to something clearly memorable.
You can find Psyniac on Twitter at Raw is Psyniac where he tweets about Raw and Smackdown 18 hours after they’ve aired, how much he loves Carmella and, occasionally, candy.