Hello and welcome to the Steel Cage Standings where I, Psyniac, go through the past month of WWE TV and rank the situations of the Top 10 and Bottom 3 superstars of the main roster and the Top 3 of NXT to boot. The first month of WWE programming in 2016 was definitely an interesting one that managed to be both pretty run-of-the-mill with very little in the way of surprising story-telling development but exciting in regards to the acquisition of several NJPW talents. The Royal Rumble has come and gone and I think overall everyone was pretty happy. But who looked the best coming out of it?
As I’ve mentioned previously, R-Truth’s Slammy for “LOL Moment of the Year” was pretty well deserved and what helped was the fact that WWE didn’t shove the joke down our throats all year, instead bringing it out now and then. The latest one may have topped the others as R-Truth entered the Royal Rumble PPV and, for some reason, assumed it was Money in the Bank; setting up a ladder, climbing it and then exclaiming “where’s the briefcase?!” in dismay. Who knows if there’s anything more to the “Golden Truth” pairing beyond “remember when Goldust used to freak-out Booker?” but the segments, at the very least, have been amusing.
09. Sasha Banks
To be fair to Charlotte and Becky, their storyline was good enough that I didn’t spend too much time wondering where exactly Sasha Banks had disappeared to but when she returned at Royal Rumble she grabbed every millimetre of the spotlight. That says it all about how fantastic she is at everything. She truly personifies wrestling; great on the mic, great in the ring and her character is so good that you watch wide-eyed to see where she takes the story next.
Last month, Kalisto surprised us all with an incredible spot in the tag team TLC match. What wasn’t a surprise is that this (and an injury for his partner Sin Cara) has lead to some kind of solo push which has gone pretty well all in all. He’s gotten a little bit of charisma out of Alberto Del Rio in their feud, especially by keeping it away from the subpar League of Nations group, and the two have put on a variety of matches to differing quality. Battling multiple times on Smackdown and Raw lead to some great battles (and two very quick, ultimately pointless title changes). Their match at Royal Rumble was pretty botcha-riffic but all in all the overall quality has made Kalisto look like a capable singles performer.
07. The Rock
Quite often, The Rock’s returns to the WWE have been trite and not all that they were cracked up to be. We still don’t know for sure exactly what Rocky has signed up to do at this year’s Wrestlemania. Chances are, THAT will be disappointing. However, this month he promoted this mystery on Raw with a sizeable chunk on the final episode of the month and it managed to entertaining all throughout; with Rock entering the arena, having amusing chats with Big Show and Lana (with continuity in both!) and delivering a great promo from gorilla position all in one single shot. After coming down to the ring he then proceeded to quickly get a bored crowd on his side by acknowledging cosplaying fans before clashing on the microphone with today’s monument to charisma, The New Day. And it was good.
06. Brock Lesnar
It says a lot about a star that he can be gone as long as he sees fit, whilst still technically being regarded as part of the roster, and all eyes will be on him as soon as he returns. Brock Lesnar, despite his absences, is still a big part of WWE. On the lead-up to the Royal Rumble he was one of the most exciting entrants. We started with Heyman logically trying to sneak his client out of the match and automatically into the Wrestlemania main event. When it was clear that this wasn’t the way The Authority was going to swing, Lesnar had some great moments taking out fellow competitors on Raw before succumbing to the numbers of the Wyatt Family, who also threw him out of the Rumble early. Right now he’s an interesting component of the Fast Lane PPV and it remains to be seen if he and the Wyatts will face off for real but either way there’s plenty to be intrigued about.
05. The New Day
For the first time in a while, or perhaps ever, The New Day have had a pretty mixed month. Their verbal spats with Jericho weren’t exactly the sort of quality we’ve come to expect from either and it didn’t really find a proper end point. Y2J did break Xavier’s prized trombone Francesca which, along with the funeral that followed it, was a great moment but instantly reviving the instrument stank out of running in circles. It’s not The New Day’s fault they have next to no opponents either. They put on great matches with the Usos and have done for most of their tenure but it’s nothing new. Kofi, Xavier and Big E need something new to sink their teeth into.
Speaking of factions, the newly formed #SocialOutcasts’ momentum could be an easy comparison but I’m settling into being cautiously optimistic about the union of Adam Rose, Bo “Rider” Dallas, Curtis Axel and Heath Slater. Bizarrely, their clashing non-gimmicks actually work really well together as the group are totally out of sync. Raw overall needs to do a better job of presenting it’s characters because the group have had some great segments on WWE.com and on the Royal Rumble pre-show, talking over each other and generally causing chaos. It remains to be seen what exactly the plan is with these guys, if there even is one, and whether or not WWE will stick with any particular alignment or story but for the time being they’re a highlight of the slower shows.
03. Becky Lynch
Becky Lynch might be the first totally over pure-face of the “Diva’s division” since AJ Lee about three years ago. Her story with Charlotte was so natural that it almost seems like the creative team didn’t bother to do anything with it and just let the wrestlers figure it out. In fact, I’m pretty convinced that’s what they did. Charlotte’s eventual heel turn, reliance on her Father and steadily dirtier cheap tricks caused her some real heat whilst Becky got more and more sympathy before she earned herself a title match by goading it out of Ric Flair in a very convincing promo. Let’s hope, even with Sasha’s return, she isn’t totally out of the picture because it was great to hear a crowd so behind a female competitor.
02. Kevin Owens & Dean Ambrose
Last month I talked about how Owens has been the most consistently good heel but January he upped that by basically being the most consistently good employee, although it would be hard not to give the same award to Ambrose so this month I’m going to give both the honour of second place. It helps that the past month the two have been so heavily involved with each other. Ambrose/Owens in a Last Man Standing was, unsurprisingly, match of the night at Royal Rumble but it’s what they did next that really showed they care about the show. Both men sold injuries from their previous fight as they made their way down to the ring once more for the One VS All Royal Rumble match and even still into the next night. As for Owens? Extra special mention for his facial expressions as he furiously clashed with Ambrose, Styles and Zayn in the Rumble.
01. AJ Styles
Without a doubt the most exciting thing about January 2016 has been the turn-around of rumour to debut of former TNA and NJPW star AJ Styles. This is one of the guys that, for a while, it was a safe assumption to make that we would never see in a WWE ring. The idea of it would have been laughable even as late as December last year. But suddenly, that belief was blown out of the water as AJ Styles made his very first appearance for WWE as #3 in the Royal Rumble and the crowd and internet both collectively exploded. I, myself, remember vividly screaming “what?” and, even now, just looking at it… it doesn’t seem real..
Styles had a great showing for the Rumble; showing his experience and talent whilst working with guys he never has been and not going so far as to seem forced upon us. WWE have been adamant to really talk up his talents but his placement on the card right now isn’t assured so I’m not too worried. If he was thrown right into the main event I’m sure he’d endure it fine but I want a slow burn. I want to see him face with several long-staying WWE employees along the way as well as other indy darlings. And who better to face in his opening night on Raw than Jericho?
03. Roman Reigns
Or, more specifically, the Royal Rumble booking. WWE should have literally spelt it out for us; “we’re trying our best to make Roman Reigns look like the most important man in the world”. The Rumble PPV was centred entirely on him; Roman defended his title in a match that was based on his “catchphrase”, he would enter at #1 and, to make matters worse and as good as it looked, the graphic design of marble characters was a clear nod to Reigns’ first name. His participation in the match though? Being taken out by the cheating League of Nations would’ve been fine but why not wait until Triple H was ready to come out if he wanted to eliminate him himself? And why did Roman walk to the back when receiving medical attention? If they’re pushing him to be the next Stone Cold, shouldn’t he have been fighting to get back in the match? How can I be sympathetic for any of that?
02. The Usos
The term “charisma vacuum” gets thrown about now and then but The Usos may as well be a “charisma blackhole”. I’ve said it before and no doubt I’ll say it again: in-ring they can really deliver. But who are they? And why should we care? And why do they keep getting tag team title shots? Probably because they’re the only other tag team on the roster. Us-oh no.
01. Vince McMahon
I’m not proud to say I called it, mostly because it was incredibly obvious and because it was dull beyond words. Vince returning to Raw for the first time was at the very least a little intriguing but his repeated appearances got worse and worse as he tried to reproduce the lighting in a bottle of Austin VS Mr McMahon with his beloved Roman and proceeded to just make groan-worthy TV. The tip of this mountain was watching him trying to use a lottery machine to declare Reigns as the #1 Rumble entrant and not being able to open the damn balls holding the names. Depressing.
03. The Mechanics
I’ve been wanting to talk about the Mechanics in a full for a while now. Just before they got a hold of the NXT Tag Team titles I was thinking they made a decent team but WWE managed to surprise again by putting the belts on these virtually unknown heels, just like they did with Blake & Murphy. Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson have done just a good a job by talking trash backstage and working perfectly in-sync. They might not be flashy but, as bad guys, I actually quite like that. They’re cooking some decent heat that’s going to make for a fun pop when they’re finally put down. Sidenote: their music is so bad that it makes me laugh.
02. Sami Zayn
Zayn continued his return to the top of NXT this month by staking his claim to the NXT title. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t the only one and was thrown into a Triple Threat with two imposing heel characters, Baron Corbin and Samoa Joe, that ended in a pretty interesting state of affairs. Sami has been back a very short amount of time. He might not be as over as he was when he went out but he’s already demonstrated why he’s so well-loved: incredible athletic performances, powerful mic work and, most importantly, great story-telling.
I’ve heard more negative opinions about the NXT/Performance Centre reality show Breaking Ground than I expected to but overall I think most people really loved the insight. It warmed some people, including myself, to characters we didn’t expect to like. One stand-out moment for gaining sympathy was the episode that focused on Carmella’s friendship with Women’s Champion Bayley (#Baymella for life) and the injury she suffered at the hands of Eva Marie. After this endeared her to fans it only seemed right that she get her revenge by eliminating the #AllTerribleEverything non-wrestler from a Battle Royal last to become the new #1 contender.
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 Finn Bálor and, occasionally, candy.