Come one, come all to The Steel Cage Standings where each month I rank the Top 10 and Bottom 3 Main Roster Stars and the Top 3 NXT Stars! And, if it’s anything like last month, crazy coincidences happen. In our April 2015 instalment I said Zayn would be huge on the Main Roster and the next week he was on Raw. In our April 2015 instalment I said Ambrose didn’t have enough to do and the next week he was put in the title picture and now look at him. So before we go any further: this month someone who isn’t Paige or the Bella’s will get the Championship, The Ascension will actually stay on TV and keep destroying folk after their decent Chamber showing and, I dunno, Hurricane comes back?
10. Zack Ryder
Let’s get this one out of the way early. The joke of Ryder’s bi-annual Raw appearance is a pretty obvious one because it’s actually depressingly accurate but with a show in Long Island this month, specifically in a stadium with so much wrestling history closing it’s doors, it was a nice send-off to have him face John Cena for the US Title. The match wasn’t exactly all that special but he pulled off a hefty Broski boot and found himself on the random pre-show match for Elimination Chamber soon after so maybe things are looking up? Jobbing on Raw would at least be something, rather than moping on Twitter from the catering table.
09. Prime Time Players
OOHRAH OOHRAH OOHRAH. I was genuinely pretty surprised to find out that the Prime Time Players had been picked for the Elimination Chamber tag match and I was stoked for them too. I’d always been a fan and recently their occasional comedy pre-tape promos had been a highlight of Raw so when they ran down to clear the ring and came out on top, to the biggest pop too, I was seal-barking inside. It was not at all surprising, then, to find that they went until the end of that six-team Chamber match until the numbers game beat them. Titus looked monstrous and Darren’s in-ring work has definitely improved to be an entirely different compliment to it. This feud with The New Day isn’t over so it’ll be interesting to see where it goes because both teams have a great sense of humour.
Unfortunately it looks like the current Rusev storyline may be screeching to a halt due to injury but that hasn’t meant that he hasn’t delivered up until this point and even after. The “I Quit” match at Payback, I felt, was fairly uninteresting but the connotations of him yelling “I quit” in Bulgarian and Lana giving up for him created a new path to go down to separate them from Cena. Insert Ziggler stealing away his woman. It was logical story-progression and it gave us character development. Rusev has had much more time to speak for himself and he’s shown that he’s incredibly capable. He became the obsessive but sexist pig of an ex-boyfriend who thinks violence will get back what he wants. His promo this week on Raw; defeated, on crutches, was yet another side of him we haven’t seen. And here we all were afraid they’d drop the ball. Who knows how long he’ll be out but it’ll be a welcome return when he is.
I’ve always been a Big Guy mark in some respect and I couldn’t even tell you why it started but I can tell you that right now it’s because he’s made a crazy amount of progress in the time he’s been with WWE. Sure, he’s not the most dynamic worker in the company (or perhaps even the safest) but he’s come a long way in-ring and this goes doubly for the microphone. When he was inserted into the chamber match he completely stole the opening segment from The Authority which is not an easy feat and managed to get a good jab at Steph whilst doing it. Now, finally he’s holding his first title ever and it represents his progress.
06. The New Day
Kofi, Big E and Xavier continue to be on fire with this new gimmick and have delivered basically every week from the ridiculous antics such as spending an entire show celebrating in every backstage segment to their incredible 2-out-of-3-falls match. Sure, the Xavier/Kofi Ref mix-up thing was a totally backwards moment but it’s easy enough to just pretend it didn’t happen and move on. Them continuing to complain about having to defend two weeks later against five teams when they have greater numbers than any team was fun and Kofi being put in the Money in the Bank ladder match makes for a very new dynamic. Scarcely have we seen a tag-team involved with any other kind of storyline like this and it makes you wonder just how far the writers will let them go.
05. John Cena
You can tell how Cena feels about certain talent by the level of hard-work he puts into his matches with them. In May 2015 we were witness to two United States Open Challenge matches with former or current NXT talent who Cena helped to elevate excellently, each match totally different in style but each hard-fought: Neville and Zayn, the latter of which shook the Earth. The following week who should arrive and tear the roof off the place but Owens. After one hell of a war of words and a Pop-Up Powerbomb, Cena and Owens faced off against each other in an insane struggle of a debut match. Everyone is so excited about Owens right now; rightfully and myself included, but we shouldn’t forget that Cena putting him over, and how well he did so, is what made that moment so great.
I’m sure it’s out there but I want to point out something I didn’t see enough praise for. A few weeks ago, following Payback where Lana quit Rusev’s match for him, we saw an intense moment between the two where they almost reunited if not for the fact the Bulgarian Brute demanded Lana admit she was wrong. After being explosively angry at her and screaming at her he suddenly decided to apologise and make her feel welcome, then immediately put her down like an abusive spouse. The best part? Lana stood up for herself. I was so expecting WWE to book Ziggler making the save but he watched from a distance as Lana verbally dismantled her ex and walked away like a boss. It was the first positive pro-woman thing I have seen on Raw in some time. Will her and Ziggler work as characters? We’ll see. But for this month, Lana has come out on top.
03. Seth Rollins
Kane creating the Fatal Four-Way for the Payback main event was a stroke of genius for Rollins’ character. In the last month he has gone through a wealth of situations that have let him showcase emotions: he got to throw his weight around again about it being unfair before realising in the closing moments (although admittedly on Smackdown when it should have been Raw) that he could turn all three of his opponents against each other and steal the win; demonstrating his twisted, opportunist ideals. Of course he got away with it and his evil smirk was more prominent than ever as The Authority was set to celebrate “The Architect of a Dream” before Ambrose weaselled his way into another title match. Eventually, Rollins told his back-up to stand down and that he was going to show everyone he could do it by himself. He could have done too, if not for a disqualification which caused Ambrose to run away from the event with the belt and for Rollins writhing and screaming in terror.
02. Kevin Owens
It’s hard to think of a debut this strong that everyone actually liked: usually it’s an unnecessary push for someone not ready or something that totally changes the aspects of the character that everybody enjoys. Owens has been nothing if not true to himself upon arriving at the Main Roster by answering Cena’s Open Challenge and then telling him he doesn’t want to fight that night before surprising everyone with a huge Pop-Up Powerbomb and breaking the internet. If you didn’t know who he was before you knew now, especially because he followed it up with arranging his first ever Main Roster match being at a “special event” against the biggest guy of the last ten years.
He would then go on to destroy this guy. Rightly so, it wasn’t a squash: it was a hard-fought battle between the two of them that was essentially twenty minutes of massive manoeuvres and close-call pins. At one stage, despite the Owens fan I quickly became, I had to question everything when all I saw everywhere was fans losing their minds and praising him as though he was the one true God of wrestling. But then he goes out there and does what he does and you remember that he is the absolute tip of the mountain. Every time he opens his mouth, you listen. It’s no wonder he’s made it to Raw already and it’s also no wonder they trust him with both shows.
01. Dean Ambrose
It was a tough pick but when it comes right down to it, Owens beating Cena was something people were clamouring for that seemed a possibility. Ambrose beating Rollins for the title? Unthinkable. I don’t think I saw that prediction at all. It seemed pretty strongly like they were building to Reigns screwing Dean especially when during the show it was announced any interference of any kind would get him disqualified. As such, it was all down to Ambrose and he and Rollins yet again put on a mesmerising, exciting match complete with a confusing dusty finish and Dean running away with the belt. I wasn’t sure at first how okay with that I’d be until I saw it.
Ambrose is the most over guy on the roster right now bar none and I’m not entirely sure where that came from. Everybody always loved the guy but when he was randomly inserted into the Payback main event he became the shining star of it and it was smart to continue down the road with him. Now he’s made away with the champ’s belt, he’s given the fans a little victory over mega-heel Rollins and given himself a chance to stay on top for a long time. Let’s drag this out until Summerslam, please?
03. King Barrett
Last month Barrett was my #2 pick and look how far he’s fallen. They’ve really done nothing with him since giving him King of the Ring and we really shouldn’t be surprised but it’s hard not to be aggravated about it. His Payback match ended in a walk-out and then he was immediately thrown into the two-week build for Elimination Chamber. Sure, he had a great showing: mouthing off to everyone in their pods and racing in to catch R-Truth before he could even leave his. But then he got beaten by him: R-Truth, the guy who was just in the match for racial equality and who, earlier that month, was running away from plastic spiders. Yikes.
02. The Diva’s Division
It’s like beating a dead horse but the Diva’s Division really is a state right now. We were lucky to even have five on TV at one point recently but Tamina seems to have vanished and now that the Triple Threat is over chances are Naomi is going back to purgatory with her like so many girls they try using for a month at a time (hi, Summer Rae and Alicia Fox). Nope, that means we have yet more Paige VS The Bellas and that means more flimsy alignment changes because people still like Paige so The Bellas are going heel again which, knowing their track record, won’t be explained. What would it be like to see any other Divas? We’ll never know. These are the only girls they bother to push. I’m not even saying you need to bring the NXT women up (and potentially ruin them), just use more of what you have.
01. Bray Wyatt
Do I really need to explain why Bray Wyatt is in the Bottom 3 again? He lost to a part-timer, never referenced it and seemed to act like he won, feuded with Ryback and now he’s… basically inconsequential. He could have been a great choice for the Chamber or even Money in the Bank. He didn’t even have to win either, it just could have been a great set-up for finding his next opponent. I vaguely remember some entertaining match between him and Ambrose on Raw but I also remember being annoyed that it was not only something we had seen before but had served no purpose for Wyatt who’s goals have vanished just like any believability in him as a character.
03. Samoa Joe
If nothing else, WWE has been good with surprises recently and this goes for NXT also. The latest Takeover event ended with Owens beating down Zayn and throwing everyone who tried to stop him off of him so he could continue until his former friend never came back but a new challenge approached the ring to put an end to the barbaric display. Samoa Joe’s arrival was a speedy one in terms of rumour-to-TV but his slow-walk to the ring was exciting, even for someone who has very little experience with him. So far, Owens has refused him twice but it’s only a matter of time. For now, Joe definitely has contendership for the best NXT arrival (no pun intended) ever.
You guys have been saying this to me for weeks and it’s taken me a little while to really get into it but… Rhyno is awesome. I was hesitant at first to see how they were going to use him but he’s definitely broken up the show’s pacing and brought both a sense of a nostalgia and a freshness to the ring when he goes toe-to-toe with someone. Baron Corbin, for whatever reason, isn’t the most popular guy so it was nice to see Rhyno solidly put him over at Takeover after a series of weeks building himself up as the jobber-killer he should be.
01. Kevin Owens
I think it’s fair to put Owens on both lists. His accomplishments on Main Roster may be vast and almost eclipse the smaller stage of NXT but let’s not forget what he’s achieved in the last month with a terrific build against Zayn whilst still being chased by Riley, having his #1 Contendership be announced as Finn Bálor, potentially being responsible for Itami’s injury, taking out Regal and now facing off against Joe… NXT are putting all the balls in his corner and really working hard to make him public enemy number one. At the end of the day, the more enemies he has the more of a payday it is for him. It’s a role he plays so well, from the subtle to the less-so such as walking out to Zayn’s music after basically killing him wearing a Cena shirt. If Owens is taking over Raw it’s fair to say NXT has been his since the moment he walked in.
You can find Psyniac on Twitter at Raw is Psyniac where he tweets about Raw 18 hours after it’s aired, how much he loves Dolph Ziggler and, occasionally, candy.