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. December 2016 was a bit of a weird one for quality and whilst I’ve recently enjoyed Raw more than usual, the general opinion has seen the divide between the red and blue brands grow wider. 2016’s final Raw was a bit of a shitshow whereas the final Smackdown was basically an awesome miniature PPV. Anyway, let’s get into it.
RAW Top 5:
05. Owens & Jericho
The Universal Champion and his “bezzie mate” still hang onto a place in the Top 5 this month despite a few misplaced steps in their story. We had tension for the vast majority of December with Owens sorely trying to win his friend back for a second time and whilst they’ve had their moments (the shark cage thing was actually hysterical, even if it’s utterly stupid) we are beyond treading water at this point. Team Kevin and Chris/Chris and Kevin are now at the stage where breaking these two up for real has lost any shock value and when it happens we’ll be waiting for them to change their minds once again which is a shame. This time of year is always a bit of a clusterfuck whilst the Wrestlemania card falls into place but it’s sad to see these characters suffer because of it.
A surprising return this month and one of the only stand-out moments from Roadblock: End of the Line saw Neville come down to the ring to seemingly congratulate Swann on his victory before immediately taking him out and turning heel in the process. Bad, Beardy Neville immediately kept the fire burning with a killer promo the next night on Raw and ascending to the top of the Cruiserweight division immediately, where he obviously belongs. This no-nonsense, loner character is a strange fit for Neville but a fit it is and he’s pulling it off splendidly. It’s about time he got some of the spotlight on TV.
Perhaps it’s just because it’s fresh but my God is it good to see Charlotte facing off against Bayley. The Banks feud, as I’ve said on numerous occasions, has been one of this year’s worst, ongoing (read: never-ending) things so to see Charlotte get to flex her muscles, literally and figuratively, against someone else has been fun. Moreover, Bayley has been able to come into her own better by interacting with more than just jobbers or being used as a jobber herself. She’ll be a fine competitor for Charlotte to blow past on her way to Wrestlemania and hopefully prominent screen-time will help her, too.
02. Braun Strowmann
Good lord, Braun is good. Two months he was a surprise entry, last month his booking allowed him to move up the list and here we are at the #2 spot. Following his excellent use at Survivor Series, Braun found his way back into his story with Sami with ease. The ten-minute time limit match at Roadblock: End of the Line was a weird one but it allowed Strowman to explode after the next few weeks, demand a rematch with Zayn. Whilst it has shades of Joe in NXT, Strowman interrupting matches and making a mockery of Raw has been a good use of him and he’s excelled in every segment they’ve given him, spoken or ring-work, over the last few months. Not bad for that green member of the Wyatt Family.
01. Cesaro & Sheamus
Following their best of seven series in September, I was cautiously optimistic that Cesaro & Sheamus could work as a team. The two are incredibly hardworking dudes and between them could have a few decent ideas. Well, those decent ideas flourished and the two found themselves getting over in their respective face and heel roles. Nowadays, Sheamus is basically a face that’s fun to boo because of how entertaining their “yay/nay” dynamic is. That’s why, as much as I love The Club, I’m not surprised that the WWE cashed in on them (see also: they’re “WWE guys” more than “NJPW guys”).
Booked very suddenly into a title match at Roadblock: End of the Line, Cesaro and Sheamus winning the titles was a very real possibility but it was still a shock that WWE ended New Day’s run so suddenly. Gifted new belts, this is an example of WWE striking when the iron was hot after the tag division had been so cold for so long.
SMACKDOWN Top 5:
05. Baron Corbin
I’ve always been for Baron Corbin rather than against; stupid wolf shirts, receding hairline and belly-face be damned. Whereas Raw is very rigid, Smackdown Live has a really good way of making it feel as though guys can float around the roster without too much question and one example of this has been Corbin stepping up to challenge for the WWE title on the Wildcard Finals episode at the end of 2016. Was he ever going to win it? Not bloody likely. But did he look like a beast and give you the idea that maybe, someday he might get there? Yup.
04. The Miz
The Miz has had one of his weaker months here in 2016 but even still he lands on his list. Out of all the stars in WWE in this insane twelve months, Miz is one guy you could say stole the show on a regular basis and his match with Ziggler at TLC did just that. Following that, he handily moved into a feud with former WWE Champion Ambrose (see above about guys not feeling out of place) and made the whole thing very interesting with one line aimed at Renee Young. Shocking yet logical promos and storylines like that are a great way to help us forget about that confusing Bryan rivalry (which may be over but who knows?) for one thing but also just to hook viewers. I guess The Miz is must-see after all.
03. Alexa Bliss & Becky Lynch
First of all, congratulations to Alexa Bliss on becoming Smackdown Women’s Champion. Whilst their tables match at TLC was a bit of a disappointment, it was the right decision. Moreover, the two have managed to keep their feud and subsequent rematch storyline pretty interesting with the inclusion of Becky’s apparent alter ego La Luchadora earning her another shot at the end of the year which concluded with a very interesting twist. Who exactly is under the mask is one thing but having somewhere for Becky to go now she doesn’t have the belt makes sense, gives Alexa a month to breeze through an opponent whilst Nikki is feuding with Natala etc. As a whole, the Smackdown’s women’s division is very strong and constantly interesting. Most importantly, Alexa sits at the top of it.
02. The Wyatt Family
We were all very skeptical, fair to say, about Orton joining the Wyatt Family but when they shockingly took the belts off of Slater and Rhyno I think we were all made believers. That moment, post-match, was enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand-up as Randy and Bray handed Luke their belts and posed before the lights went out. Even still they played with us by teasing a break-up which I sincerely hope isn’t coming despite taking the belts off of the three. Hopefully that’s just a way to crown somebody two time champions and also to help American Alpha not fall away into obscurity. Either way their match at the end of the year show was fun and if it means we get more of that I’m down for it.
01. AJ Styles
WWE really has an issue with it’s heels sometimes by overbooking the turd out of them. Every match either has to have an over-the-top cheat finish or they’re booked to lose clean every damn week. I was getting a little worried about Styles losing to Ellsworth so many times so to see him get his own back so viciously put my mind at ease. Furthermore, he successfully defended against two guys who going into the match didn’t look like they had a chance and yet AJ made them look like a million bucks.
With Cena returning, the course was clear and the two still produce one hell of an energy when they’re in the ring together. Considering the quality of the matches they put on earlier this year, colour me excited for their rematch at Royal Rumble. It’s possible Styles will surprise us by retaining yet again but if he doesn’t then there’s no qualms here with his run with the belt this year. 2016 was truly the year of AJ Styles.
03. The New Day
“The bad” list this month may seem familiar to those of you who checked out last month’s list since it’s entirely the same. December is a good month for WWE to spin wheels and Raw has suffered the most with it. Hell, The New Day have practically defined the term over the last six months. Even so, losing the belts almost immediately after passing the record we were all waiting for them to break was a bit of a unceremonious way to do it. I suppose the bright side is that it’s over now. Move along, people.
02. Roman Reigns
Last month I was tearing my hair out over the fact that Roman was given the midcard title for Raw and proceeded to head straight back into the main event with it like it was an accessory to hang off his Big Cheater Vest. Roman is a fine wrestler but it seems like they keep making decisions with him specifically to piss off fans. Following Roadblock: End of the Line where he lost, Roman has another shot at the Universal Championship at Royal Rumble still whilst holding the United States Championship which is (at the time) not up for grabs. Utterly stupid, utterly infuriating, utterly indicative of Reigns’ booking.
01. Sasha Banks
We have a winner! Of the biggest loser award. For the third month in a Row Sasha Banks struggles to evolve from the utter garbage she’s become. After winning the Raw Women’s Championship for a third time this year (and third time crying about it, if I recall correctly), she went on to drop it back to Charlotte again in a poorly booked 2-out-of-3 Falls match at Roadblock: End of the Line. Instead of doing the right thing and taking her off television, she came to the ring on Raw to proclaim “I no longer feel like The Boss” (no shit) and then got attacked by Nia Jax, turning her even more into “sympathetic white meat babyface”. What a waste. Get off my TV and into the bin, Sasha.
I have to admit that during her reign I’ve gotten a little tired of Asuka and it’s not really her fault. With the women’s division all but cleared out before her debut, she was left with very little to do. That’s why this month’s bout against Nia Jax made me remember why we were all so excited to begin with. A much longer match that allowed Asuka to sell, making her opponent look super powerful; I almost thought for a moment that she might finally drop the belt. Two more months however, and WWE can clear Paige’s name off the record so you know that’s where this is going.
This second half of this year has been a bit of an odd time for NXT with the show finally getting a lot of criticism for it’s shallow roster. Losing it’s lead writer to Smackdown hasn’t helped either. Gladly, this month saw some development in the newest faction SaNiTY. Whilst we’ve been spoilt with the cream of the former-TNA crop coming through WWE already, Eric Young is still a good get for NXT and his faction presents some intrigue with the whack-job Nikki Cross, the suddenly very missing Sawyer Fulton and the interruptions by Big Damo. It’s hard to know what exactly is happening but fingers crossed. And heads bopping to that totally screwed up Primus-esque theme music they have.
01. Bobby Roode
Just because it’s not surprising doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Bobby Roode being crowned #1 contender for the NXT Championship is the right thing to do, especially as he’s one of the most over individuals in NXT if not WWE at large. Whether or not his opponent should be Nakamura or Joe is up for debate since chants of “GLORIOUS” may actually drown out support for the NXT Champion and King of Leaving Horrible Marks on Austin Aries’ face. Similarly, whether or not Roode will take the title or suffer his first loss makes for an interesting point of discussion and something to look forward to next month. Either way, the crowd reaction in San Antonio will be nuts and this you can all but guarantee.
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.
Photography credit (C) WWE.com