This is part two of my roster evaluation one year after the draft took place. The first part covered superstars whose names began with letters A-C, this part looks at the D-N section of the roster. Let’s get to it!
Dana has thus far made a career as a lackey on the main roster, first as Emma’s sidekick reuniting a successful NXT pairing, then as Charlotte’s “protégé”. She never looked up to much in the ring during that period though, made all the more obvious because she was often up against Sasha Banks and Bayley. But since splitting from Charlotte she has been missing for all intents and purposes, though there have been hints she will reunite with Emma once again in the near future.
A year ago Young was managed by Bob Backlund in a story that people quickly stopped caring about if they ever did in the first place. He got injured in a tag team match back in January and hasn’t resurfaced since. It’s just more madness looking back on it to see that he was picked ahead of Naomi, Alexa Bliss and Braun Strowman.
On paper, 12 months ago Dean Ambrose was on top of the wrestling world. He had just won the Money in the Bank ladder match, and cashed in on the same night to beat Seth Rollins for the WWE Championship. He was heading into a triple threat match against his former Shield brethren, which he won. But as the leader of the blue brand, he just never really caught on. He was supplanted by the phenomenal AJ Styles at the top of the card, and even by the time that feud was done he was getting overshadowed by James Ellsworth. He moved on to become Intercontinental Champion for the first time, but that was an underwhelming reign to say the least, his defence at Wrestlemania not even making it onto the main show. His move to Raw in the Superstar Shake-Up was a chance to start anew, but instead we got a continuation of his rivalry with The Miz from months earlier that nobody was clamouring for. He lost the IC title, and just seems incredibly stale. In all honesty, I can’t remember the last time his stock was as low as it is right now, and I’m not sure anyone has fallen so far down the totem pole in the last twelve months. It’s a shame, because when he’s hot he is on fire, but it feels like it’s going to take something drastic for the lunatic fringe to reach the top of the card any time soon.
In between spells of putting people over, Ziggler has managed to challenge for the WWE Championship on two separate occasions. He faced Dean Ambrose at SummerSlam last year, and was in a triple threat match in December against Baron Corbin and the defending champion AJ Styles. His feud with The Miz over the Intercontinental Championship was one of the best of the year, but that doesn’t hide that he has spent the rest of his time losing to Apollo Crews and Kalisto, the debuting Shinsuke Nakamura and most recently was the first one eliminated in the Independence Day Battle Royal. Dolph has had his moments, and he is as good as ever in the ring, but interest in him has sunk lower than it has for years. He is a credible win for someone WWE are looking to push, and not much more right now. He didn’t have much momentum as the draft was made last summer, coming off losses to Baron Corbin, and he’s gone full circle in the time since. That’s not really a good thing at all.
The Dudley Boyz
The legendary tag team had returned to WWE just short of one year before the draft, and their deal was up around a month after the draft. They went out essentially putting over Gallows & Anderson, and with D-Von’s retirement a couple of months later, it was the last time The Dudley Boyz would have a run in WWE. They had a quiet time of things post-draft, only losing to the team of Sami Zayn & Neville on the SummerSlam pre-show before finishing up their run.
The Drifter drifted his way to Monday nights in the aftermath of Wrestlemania, and has since been paired up with Finn Balor. He hasn’t had too much to do inside the ring, but despite his look and gimmick having potential his in-ring work just isn’t exciting enough. Maybe that’s the wrong way to put it seeing as he’s a heel, but there’s something missing during matches. That will limit him going forward, but there’s always the chance he’ll get better. So far though, we haven’t seen enough from him inside those ropes.
Or should I say Emmalina? That gimmick was promoted for 17 weeks, and resulted in about a minute of airtime for the character before she made the switch back to Emma. Since then, she’s only wrestled a couple of matches due to injury, but has gotten next to no reaction whenever she’s out n front of a live crowd.
The last year has highlighted how Enzo really is a mouthpiece and not a wrestler. He always gets a reaction when he enters the arena, but some of his matches have been among the worst televised on Raw since the draft took place. He is a great talker, but he’ll find it difficult to move up the card unless his in-ring work improves. A year of failed championship pursuits followed by splitting from Cass has kept Enzo relevant, if not successful. But who knows where he goes from here?
Yet another superstar whose year has been blighted by injury, Rowan was off our screens for eight months due to a torn rotator cuff. When he has been on SmackDown, he was mostly aligned with Bray Wyatt, but is now spinning his wheels as an afterthought whenever he shows up. He worked a lot of house shows against Luke Harper, but whether that’ll translate into anything broadcastable for him is anyone’s guess.
What is there to say about someone who hasn’t had a single match on television in the last year? When Eva Marie returned with a new entrance, and a new gimmick, I actually thought she had potential as one of the few heat magnets left in WWE. Then she got suspended for a wellness policy violation, and she now appears to be finished with the company.
The face of NXT got his long-overdue call up to the main roster as a first round draft pick, and was immediately pushed to the moon. Perhaps that was all about timing, as Roman Reigns had just come back from a suspension and Seth Rollins was still being booked as a heel, so there was a spot open for a top face to lead the “new era” on Monday nights. He became the first ever Universal Champion at SummerSlam – pinning both former Shield members on his way there – but got injured in the process. He had to give up the belt, and has yet to be re-inserted to the title picture on his return in April. He has been lacking a real feud to sink his teeth into, which is something that surely has to be rectified looking ahead to the second biggest show of the year. But his tenure since debuting on Raw is more of a case of “what could have been” than anything hugely substantial.
Gallows & Anderson
Talk about a stop-start run. The Club have been quiet in the post-Wrestlemania season as the entire Raw tag division has taken a back seat to The Hardy Boyz and Sheamus & Cesaro, but let’s not forget Gallows & Anderson actually walked into Wrestlemania as champions. Unfortunately, that accolade probably came a few months too late, as they were used as fodder for The New Day in their record-breaking run. That damaged Gallows & Anderson’s credibility being so new to the WWE audience, and they’ve never managed to regain the level of reaction they were getting when they were aligned with AJ Styles last summer before they were put on separate brands.
Goldust spent most of the year as one half of the comedy duo The Golden Truth. As often happens with comedy acts, the fans become conditioned to think they will lose – it’s often what makes their comedy endearing. So when Goldie turned on his partner, the fans didn’t care, because they were both seen as losers. I think people still respect Goldust for all he’s done in his career, but it’s going to be difficult for people to become invested in him again. His return to the Golden Age appeared interesting at first, but it has already been underwhelming with far too much repetitiveness.
The Hardy Boyz
Before Wrestlemania, it had been eight years since Matt and Jeff Hardy teamed together under the WWE umbrella. But in true Team Xtreme style, they returned with a bang. In a four-way ladder match, The Hardy Boyz became champions once again. It feels like ever since that night they have been facing off against the current champions, only now that their streak with the gold has been broken do they seem to be moving on to new opponents. But in their whole time back, they have been two of the most popular superstars in the company, and have regularly put on good matches. They have proven their worth to WWE, and their return to Raw coinciding with the debut of The Revival has allowed the tag divisions on both shows to be revitalised. Their rating is hurt by virtue of them only being back in the company for the last three months, but make no mistake about how good they’ve been on their comeback.
The only active superstar to go undrafted! First off, brilliant way to define his character for the first weeks after the draft. The storyline where he had to win his way back on to a roster, while predictable in the end, was really well done. The reactions he was getting during that storyline shows that the fans were ready to accept new blood. However, his oddball team with Rhyno did not need to be champions as long as they were, and you have seen that in 2017 they have taken a back seat. He is now a popular guy that the company can throw out in most segments to be entertaining, and his star is shining brighter than it was before the draft, but he doesn’t seem likely to be on TV every week any time in the near future.
Another man you could be forgiven for forgetting was a part of the 2016 draft, Jack Swagger could be claimed as the first victim of Jinder Mahal’s push, losing to him before losing to Jinder was cool way back in September last year. That’s really all there is to say about his year, other than he finally got released in March.
Ahh James Ellsworth. What a love/hate relationship I have with this man. Actually that’s not true, it’s mostly hate. He was a comedy figure that for me outlived his usefulness within a couple of weeks, but he’s still around. He for some reason beat AJ Styles. Multiple times. He was even the number one contender for the WWE Championship at one point. Now at least he’s supposed to be annoying, which he is doing to decent effect alongside Carmella. At the same time, he could disappear tomorrow and I really wouldn’t care.
The maharaja was a jobber for most of 2016, and actually still was for most of 2017, but now he finds himself WWE Champion out of nowhere. He’s not actually doing too bad of a job with the richest prize in the industry, but the illogicality of his path there still rankles a lot of fans. It’s going to take time to forget just how much he lost, but eventually he might be somewhat successful as champ. Never say never in this industry. Jinder will forever be the Leicester City of wrestling, in that whenever anyone says something won’t happen I can turn round and respond “if Jinder Mahal can win the WWE Championship, anything can happen.”
It’s been an interesting year for John Cena, not in the least because he missed half of it. I would argue that his level of performance when he has been around, combined with the rarity of his appearances, has put him close to Brock Lesnar territory. He had fantastic matches with AJ Styles at SummerSlam and at the Royal Rumble, where he became world champion for a (WWE) record tie-ing 16th time, and his build up to his Wrestlemania match against The Miz and Maryse may have been the best build-up to any match on the card. He has silenced his doubters if there were any left, and showed exactly why he has been one of the best for so long. Imagine what he could have done if he’d managed to sustain that quality of performance over the entire year.
Putting Kalisto on SmackDown when he was a more obvious and recognisable fit in the cruiserweight division on Raw was a risky move, but his use on SmackDown completely outstrips his early days on Raw. He had a really good chairs match against Baron Corbin at TLC (which admittedly I almost forgot about despite having already written about it). That feud may be the singular highlight, but it’s still far more than he has done on Raw. Though he did beat Braun Strowman in a dumpster match, he did not walk away looking like the winner. Since, he was used to turn Apollo Crews heel. See? Who even knew Apollo was a heel? He should be able to put on great matches with Neville, and I look forward to their series of matches.
Kane’s only involvement of note since the draft was being a secondary figure in the Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt storyline, as when Orton couldn’t beat the Wyatts and joined them, it was Kane who suffered an RKO. After failing to get his revenge, he took time away from the ring, choosing to focus on other ventures. When – or even if – we see the Big Red Machine inside a WWE ring again remains unclear.
Talk about grabbing an opportunity with both hands. The 18th draft pick overall became your longest reigning Universal Champion to this day, and a two-time United States Champion. Add in that his friendship with Chris Jericho was consistently the most entertaining part of Raw in the latter half of 2016 and it’s been a pretty good year for KO. Sure, he was sacrificed to Goldberg in March, and yes he just lost the US Title to AJ Styles on a house show, but he’s had a pretty great 12 months. I think it’s fair to say that if another draft took place tomorrow, he’d be much higher than the 18th pick. He has displayed his versatility as a heel, being able to be serious when the situation called for it while also being hilarious at other times, and he’s not afraid to go for cheap heat. On top of that, you can bet he’ll back up every ounce of what he says inside the ring. His match with Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble was brutally creative, while his bouts with Chris Jericho were downright clever. He is just a great all-round performer, who suffered somewhat in 2016 by going up against the same opponents too often. Whether his current standing on SmackDown reflects how good his year has been is another matter…
After being the focus of an at times cringeworthy feud between Rusev and Roman Reigns, Lana stepped out on her own on Tuesday nights in 2017. It’s clear that in the ring she’s not at the level of her fellow superstars, but that almost seems to be the point of how her character was introduced. It looks like Tamina has aligned with her, but really there’s just not much to judge Lana on, and so far it hasn’t been that good.
Man, I really wish things had gone differently for Luke Harper. Going undrafted last year due to a knee injury, he returned to side with Bray Wyatt against Randy Orton in October last year, and played a key role in their alliance/feud through to January this year. He’s pretty much been an afterthought since. An agile and technically sound big man sounds like a recipe for success in WWE, but they seem so reluctant to get behind him. After all this time, you have to wonder if he will ever be given the chance he needs.
Somebody’s gonna disappear from TV, apparently. You can count the number of times we’ve seen Mark Henry since the draft on one hand. He’s still there, but he’s not getting used. I wonder if he’s off getting abs now too?
Mickie had a good return to SmackDown, albeit as La Luchadora. The chip on her shoulder made sense, and it was also logical that she would focus her efforts on the only member of the era-defining four horsewomen on the brand. A rivalry with Alexa Bliss looked to have potential too, before the Superstar Shake-up. Alas it wasn’t to be, and while her veteran status might have been more important on the blue brand, she is presumably filling a teaching role on Raw house shows. We haven’t seen her in any storyline to be able to say she’s doing much else, which is a shame for someone of her undoubted ability.
I love this guy’s theme song, and the character of a guy completely whipped by the love of his life might be able to do something. But we’ve only just seen him in his first match last night, so I can’t give him much of a rating. If his next few matches are against Sami Zayn too, he has the ideal opponent to get him off to a good start, but it’s all in the future for Maria Kanellis’ husband.
If AJ Styles was SmackDown’s MVP in the ring, The Miz was the go-to guy on the mic. He made the Intercontinental Championship feel like the prestigious title it is again, with an uber emotional feud with Dolph Ziggler that was one of the best rivalries of 2016. As already stated, his Wrestlemania match had probably the best build-up on the show because of the level that Miz and Cena’s promos were at. He even nearly made Talking Smack a must see show because of his tirades towards SmackDown GM Daniel Bryan. If he hadn’t swapped brands I think he would have become WWE Champion again before the year was out. Unfortunately, he did swap brands. So now, even if he produces the same kinds of promos he was dishing out on a regular basis, he’ll always be a mid-carder. There’s a much higher glass ceiling on Mondays than Tuesdays, and Miz is falling victim to that. It also doesn’t help that he has been facing Dean Ambrose since the start of the year, to the point people are sick of them wrestling. Miz vs Seth Rollins could have big potential though, and if Miz does what he does best it might give Seth the boost he needs, which might be the most important part of Miz’s work. He has been a stellar performer, blighted by the oversaturation of one pairing.
As one half of the Hype-Bros, Mojo had a decent main roster run in 2016, albeit in the lowest priority division on the show. But when Zack Ryder got injured last December, Mojo became the guy who would appear every couple of weeks, win some match that wouldn’t mean much in the long run, then disappear for weeks again. And I include the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal in that. I would say things are back on track for him with the return of Ryder, but both men have been teasing heel turns in recent weeks. They key thing is that even when Mojo is in the ring, he doesn’t look good, and his matches are generally kept short. If rookie years meant much in WWE when they weren’t championship laden, Mojo would be close to the scrapheap.
Following the brand extension, Naomi set out to make herself stand out, which she has achieved to great effect. Her glow in the dark entrance is unique in WWE, something you can’t say too often, and though it took her a while to build momentum in the early days of the gimmick she has taken full advantage in 2017. She defeated Alexa Bliss for the SmackDown Women’s Championship, though did have to forfeit it because of injury, but returned early enough to become a two-time champ at Wrestlemania. It’s a far cry from where she was at pre-draft, consistently overshadowed by NXT talent, and her current run has established her as credible. She has easily beaten Lana, as she should, but is still waiting for that excellent match that a few of her contemporaries have to their name – that will surely come in time with the talent currently available on SmackDown.
Natalya has played the veteran role in the SmackDown women’s division, facing nearly all of the women drafted to the brand last summer. She has been a regular fixture on TV, but struggles for real storylines until she ran into Nikki Bella over the winter. Their feud got personal, with Natalya pre-empting some of the comments Maryse would later use in the lead up to Wrestlemania. It was one of the more physical women’s feuds of the past year, with her and Nikki often resorting to brawling instead of having matches, eventually culminating in a falls count anywhere match in February where Natalya was victorious. Having faced just about everyone there is for her to face, it’ll be interesting to see what’s next for her, but Natalya has done herself no harm in the last 12 months.
The king of the cruiserweights was conspicuous by his absence in latter 2016, before eventually bursting on to the scene as a heel in December. Since then, he has taken the division by storm, working better as a heel than I ever believed he could. He has been on a tear inside the ropes, with good to great matches against Rich Swan, Jack Gallagher and Austin Aries, with Akira Tozawa as his next opponent. The talent in the cruiserweight division has never been in question, but Neville has had the most success as a character. Everything from taunting the crowd and his promos, to his aggressiveness during matches has worked. It’s going to take a special wave of momentum for any face to take the purple belt away from Neville, he could hold on to it for a long, long time. What holds him back is that despite the ability on display, the cruiserweight brand itself lacks momentum and interest. At the minute, Neville is a huge fish in a small pond, because you can feel the crowd zone out when the ropes change colour most weeks. Neville is doing his best to keep them focused, but there’s only so much he can do with years of conditioning working against them.
The New Day
The second round picks in the 2016 draft makes for impressive reading – Romain Reigns, John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, and The New Day. Big E, Kofi and Xavier Woods don’t feel too out of place in that list either, which is testament to the work they did last year. However, as with any act that lasts as prominently as they did, things were going to get stale eventually. Once they broke the record to become your longest reigning tag champs, they needed to move out of the title picture to freshen everything up again. That has led to them not actually being particularly active in 2017, only serving as the hosts of Wrestlemania, while an ankle injury to Kofi delayed their first appearance on SmackDown. They’ve reverted to their entertaining selves since arriving, and have had a good feud with The Usos. You do get the feeling that championship glory is in their future on Tuesday nights, and after three years as a group to still be in that spot is no mean feat.
She’s not like most girls. Who knew? Well, everybody. She is the monster of WWE’s women, the one who everyone wants to avoid, the one who can dominate opponents, hurt them, or beat them in 30 seconds depending on what mood she’s in. She has actually caused some problems from a creative perspective, as she is clearly someone who shouldn’t be losing much if at all, but she also didn’t look ready for the title last year. She is getting better every day though, and she was able to carry a Raw main event recently, being in the ring for over 30 minutes. I would be surprised if we’re not able to call her a champion by this time next year. It’s an easy story to tell for anybody to go up against her, it’s always going to be a David vs Goliath story.
Undrafted last year as she recovered from her neck injury, Nikki returned to a great ovation at SummerSlam last year. She then worked with Carmella in a feud that didn’t really do much for either party, before moving on to her intense battles with Natalya and eventually teaming up with John Cena for a Wrestlemania match against The Miz and Maryse. Oh, and she got engaged there. It’s been good to see her back, and she did get better as the year went on, but most recently she just couldn’t compete with the promos of the man standing beside her. In fairness, nobody could have. But it relegated Nikki rather than showcasing her in the way her brawls with Natalya did. I don’t think there’s too much that Nikki Bella did in the last year that will stand out as a lasting memory, despite her having a solid year.
That concludes part two, keep your eyes peeld for part three looking at the rest of the roster, with the full final ratings included too!