Welcome one and all to another edition of The Steel Cage Standings. This month we’re recapping March 2015 and Wrestlemania 31, ranking the superstars of today and tomorrow within WWE and the developmental territory NXT. ‘Mania this year was pretty much unanimously well-received and as always has set-up a kind of “reset” for the next 12 months. That being said, how did everyone square up in the final runnings of the latest “season”?
10. John Cena
Rusev’s impressive winning streak was only going to end at one man and that’s fine. After going through a fair amount of the face roster, the Superathlete being stopped in his tracks by John Cena was pretty fitting even if it ended in a slightly underwhelming series of moves. The United States title suits Cena and he could do a good job in elevating it, especially if he continues to defend it on TV on a regular basis in hard-fought matches like the one he had on Raw with Ambrose.
09. Ronda Rousey
One of the best and most surprising moments of Wrestlemania 31 was The Rock taking it to The Authority with UFC Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey. There’s been talk for sometime, mostly “what if” fantasies, of her joining the WWE and now it could be a possibility. If she doesn’t, her throwing Stephanie McMahon across the ring at ‘Mania is still a powerful moment. If she does, we could be in for a real treat in an excellent long-play storyline that makes use of celebrity star-power and WWE veterans.
08. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro
It was pretty clear that The Masters of the WWE Universe wouldn’t be dropping the Tag Team Championship so soon especially going up against Los Matadores, The New Day and (one half of) the Usos but what a match. It was a bit of a clusterfuck but the incredible fast-paced bout the four teams had at the grandest stage of them all set the right mood for the evening with Kidd and Cesaro as the icing on the cake. Long live the Uppercats.
Ryback is another character that has really benefitted from backstage video packages; be it his “road to Wrestlemania” training video which expanded on his previous promos about his real-life struggles to make it in the WWE or his interview on Raw’s Backstage Pass. The final Raw of March petered out with a generic six-man tag and Ryback was the only face the bored crowd bothered to cheer before trying to put themselves over instead. With Show taking out Ryback in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royale, hopefully The Big Guy gets back into mid-card singles feuds to reestablish himself.
06. Daniel Bryan
A lot of people are still turning their noses up at this “step down” for Bryan and it proves some people will never be happy. It’s pretty clear that the writers gave him the Intercontinental belt to garner favour with the smart crowd and in doing so Bryan has become one of only six competitors in history who have owned all of the company’s current titles. Like Cena, seeing Bryan defend the title immediately on Raw was a treat and they’ve already set-up a few things for the future with an angry former champion Barrett and returning Sheamus. Can you say tournament? Sure you can.
05. Randy Orton
Orton was red-hot on his exit and re-entry to the company but his “taking down the Authority from the inside” storyline was met with a pretty negative reaction and, to be fair, there wasn’t enough time to pull it off properly. But focusing the last few episodes of Raw before Wrestlemania on Randy and Seth really allowed them to grab the spotlight and soak it up. Orton screwing with Mr Money in the Bank before turning on him was a joy to watch and some of the best mic-work from the two of them in their careers (even Randy’s storied time at the WWE). The blow-off match was nothing to sniffed at but ended in what is being called one of the greatest RKO’s in history.
04. Dean Ambrose
Very few times do I cheer for anyone facing off against Ziggler but I really wanted Ambrose to capture the Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania 31. The storyline started with Dean’s desire to see his face up on the wall of champions at WWE Headquarters and it’s sad to see him fail but he took one hell of a bump crashing through a ladder to take him out of the runnings and allowing Rollins to cash in later that night. Ambrose tapped into his dangerous, risk-taking character the very next night with an incredible United States Championship match on Raw against Cena. It’s frustrating to see him fail but it really just makes me want to see him succeed more and more.
03. Damien Mizdow
Whilst I’m not too happy about Big Show winning the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royale I can totally understand it. The ending of the match was perfectly booked however with Damien Mizdow finally saying “no” to his boss and throwing Miz over the ropes and displaying a crowd-favourite kind of passion we hadn’t seen from him yet as he fought him off as Miz tried to return to the ring. Following this with a close-call battle with Show (which, unlike most Battle Royales, lasted a good few minutes), Mizdow has never been more over. Time to capitalise.
02. Brock Lesnar
The general mood surrounding the upcoming Wrestlemania was greatly shifted when Brock suddenly appeared on ESPN one morning with an important announcement – he was re-signing with WWE and never going back to UFC. I doubted I could love Brock more but he proved me wrong and the face-off with Reigns on the final Raw before the headlining event made it evident there were hundreds of people in the same position. Wrestlemania itself took this to another extreme.
Despite and in spite of everything, Brock was the face of the main event of Wrestlemania 31 and it almost seemed like WWE was entirely ready and okay with that. He lost no momentum coming out of the PPV and made one hell of a statement on Raw by calling out Rollins for his rematch immediately. Add taking out the eternally irritating Michael Cole before being suspended and Brock managed to subtly morph into a crowd favourite without sacrificing any of his character.
01. Seth Rollins
What a fitting end to the year. Rollins carried Raw through some dark times. He made the break up with The Shield intriguing and instantly became a top heel, aligning himself with The Authority and winning the Money in the Bank briefcase which promised some kind of whirlwind of trouble in the future. Seth ending Wrestlemania 31 with the Championship was a much talked about possibility but in what fashion? Who would win and be cashed in on? How would this effect the three characters at the forefront?
What perfect booking it is that all three of them coming out looking no worse and, in some cases, even better. Lesnar is unbeaten and angry and Reigns stood up to the Beast but was interrupted before reaching the peak of the mountain several years too early. Most importantly, one of the most hard-working superstars of the last few years (in particular the last 9 months) comes out with the title, smiling like the slimy bastard heel he is. He’s the Champion smart fans need and the Champion casual fans need to boo and, unequivocally, deserves it.
It should have been one of the most intriguing in-ring debuts in all of professional wrestling history but Sting’s entrance wasn’t all that and was eclipsed by the sheer absurdity of Triple H-1000. But that’s fine, right? The ending of the match is what is going to be shown in clip-shows for years to come. No, not at all. I still cannot wrap my head around why Sting had to lose in his debut aside from smarky answers like “because Vince’s/Trips’ ego” and the inclusion of DX facing off against nWo was a very cool moment but ultimately really had no place. The build went back and forth on what the meaning behind his fight was with Sting finally speaking the week beforehand to say “this isn’t about WWE vs WCW”. Is it not? Because what I just watched looked like WWE saying “remember when we beat you? Yeah.”
02. Roman Reigns
It’s not over for Reigns as long as the company thinks long and hard about how to handle him from here on out. He actually came out of his Wrestlemania 31 main event not looking all that bad. Yeah, he got his ass kicked but of course he did. He would have looked way worse holding the WWE World Heavyweight Championship aloft to the scores of boos which is the only thing he really has going for him right now. He was saved from that fate and it’s down to the WWE rebuild him and reinvent him, using this year to maybe turn his character into someone people want to see succeed. Sidenote: pointless six-man tag matches are not the way to do that.
01. Bray Wyatt
Around this time last year we were all debating what Wyatt going up against Cena at Wrestlemania XXX, and maybe even winning, meant. This excitement hit a brick-wall thanks to the WWE’s superman and Wyatt disappeared off TV not long after, returning with a clear path set before him. Setting free his followers, finding a new solo dominance and being one of the only superstars to get any offensive in during the Royal Rumble; Bray was on a conclusion course with the Undertaker for this year’s Wrestlemania. Which he lost, basically negating all of the build that came before it. So, same again next year?
03. Enzo Amore & Big Cass
They’re trying, bless them, but it’s hard to care about current NXT Tag Team Champions Blake and Murphy even in a heel capacity. Enzo and Cass are somehow killing the other side of this storyline, fortunately. It seems only a matter of weeks before the two grab the titles (we can hope) from the jobber-cum-champions and you can’t teach that.
02. Finn Bálor
Owens and Riley put on a pretty decent match but the exclamation point was what was really exciting with Bálor coming out to make the save at the end of the competition. Bálor VS Owens was a pretty simple build with Finn winning a tournament to face off against the champ but with such complete, understandable and intriguing characters squaring off it was something to anticipate. They completely delivered in a match that made use of half of an entire NXT episode. If you weren’t sure that Bálor was ready for main programming before, are you convinced yet?
01. Hideo Itami
A shocking twist to the four-man tournament at Wrestemania Axxess had Itami, probably the least likely, join the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royale on the Wrestlemania Kickoff. The “Hideo” chants during it were pretty audible which was a great push all in itself and standing off against Big Show was framed perfectly and seems like the kind of storyline Vince likes to see. Add this to him finally pulling off the GTS during Axxess to thunderous applause during the huge, extended NXT show there and it finally seems the indie guy that wasn’t connecting just needed a little more time and a nudge into the spotlight.
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.