Thursday, July 25, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Top Ten Cases: Best Current WWE performers (9/4/08) - [a case of the summer]

Guess what!  It's an edition of Throwback Thursday that's ACTUALLY posted on a Thursday!  This week, I look back at a 2008 edition of True or False where I ranked the top ten best performers in WWE.  While obviously analyzing each individual's overall performance, it was also a critique of what each person had to offer.  Using hindsight, I'll let you know if I was on or off the mark in that regard.

As always, my present day comments are in bold italics within parentheses.

Top Ten Cases: Best current WWE performers

This is definitely going to be a subjective list. And, I'll admit, the logic may be inconsistent at times (I may say one person isn't ranked higher because of his spot on the roster, while I may rank another person high because he overcomes his status). Nevertheless, here you go.

I'll warn you right off the bat that there are two notable names that won't be on this list: Triple H and Randy Orton. No, I'm not a Triple H hater (I should say that I'm not a "stereotypical Triple H hater."  I don't particularly like him.  But it's for reasons other than the classic "he holds people down!" argument). To be honest, I just don't think he's all that good. Actually, I think the greatest contribution he can make to the wrestling business is when he retires and takes an office job (How insightful!  In my view, this is ABSOLUTELY proving to be true.  As best as I can tell, he's made incredible contributions to the company and perhaps even the industry since going corporate). I can easily see him being the next Pat Paterson: Somebody who has an incredible mind for the business, who has great ideas and knows the mechanics of a great match (actually, he's gone way beyond that.  He's shown to have a great appreciation for the company's history and has been a great diplomat for the company). As far as Randy Orton goes, while I like him and all, I find both his promos and his matches to be terribly choreographed and robotic (he wouldn't make the list today, either).

Click the "Read More" link to view the top ten current performers in World Wrestling Entertainment (don't know why I went with the full name here)

10. Santino Marella

Yeah, it may be a bit of a stretch putting this guy on the list, but honestly, he's unlike anybody else on any of the three brands (wow, remember when there were three brands?). I daresay that his comedic timing is unmatched, and his broken English routine gets me laughing each and every time. He's also one of the few heels who is willing to make a complete ass of himself, and really never, EVER gets the upper hand in any situation. When he loses, it's usually within minutes. When he wins, it's through VERY dastardly conditions, and he still usually ends up getting his ass kicked afterwards. The fact that they've given him the #2 title on Raw -- their flagship program -- despite the fact that he's portrayed as such a loser is a testament to his abilities. His latest shenanigans with Beth Phoenix has reinvigorated both characters. He's truly one of the main reasons to watch Raw.

Oh, and the Honk-A-Meter is pure comedy gold. Nuff said. (I wouldn't put Santino on the list today, and it's not because he's been out for a significant amount of time, either.  I understand why he turned face, but in the long run I don't think it was a wise decision.  His comedy was far better when the fans wanted to see him get his ass kicked.  And the decision to briefly make him an inspirational hero was, well, questionable).

9. JBL

Yeah, this guy barely made the list. Nevertheless, I think he deserves this spot. Unlike virtually everybody else on this list, JBL won't receive a long winded explanation as to why I included him. The fact is, JBL serves a very crucial role in the company, that of a team player. He's absolutely phenomenal on the mic, and he's adequate -- if a bit rough around the edges -- in the ring. At this point in his career, he's a believable champion, so he's always an option should they decide to give him the strap. But more than anything else, he's pretty much the ONLY person on the Raw roster that has helped establish CM Punk as a credible champion.

Think of it this way: Jericho is on such a roll that losing could slow him momentum (that sentence sounds strange now). Kane is supposed to be a monster, so getting pinned could potentially hurt his character. Randy Orton, in general, needs to continuously win in order to remain credible (I regret saying that). It sounds harsh, but I'm actually paying him a compliment: JBL is the top heel that can be repeatedly beaten but still remain at the top. To me, that's an asset. (He did prove to be a great asset and I stand by his placement on the list.  If he were still in that exact spot on today's roster, he'd probably still fill at least the #9 spot.  He might even rank higher).

8. The Undertaker

The Undertaker is truly a marvel. Somehow, some way, he's gotten better with age (and while he only wrestles a handful or less times a year, I'd argue that might still be true). And not just a little better, either. I remember when I was younger and I'd watch his various encounters against big (Kamala, Yokozuna, Giant Gonzales, etc) and small (ummmm, Jake the Snake and Superfly Jimmy Snuka?) competitors, and his matches would always be slow and plodding. Admittedly, you're not watching Rey Mysterio when you see Undertaker in the ring now, but the pacing and psychology of his matches have changed astronomically. Somewhere along the way, seeing an Undertaker match on the card guaranteed at least one good, solid match. Not bad for a guy who's in his mid-40's. It still impresses me whenever he whips out that plancha over the top rope. (I'm not sure he's still capable of doing that move, understandably).

I'm sure people will credit Undertaker's opponents for the vast improvement in his matches, but I'm not sure that's entirely fair. I mean, this guy had some really good to great matches with Batista. While Batista is certainly competent in the ring, I wouldn't put his abilities any higher than the Dead Man's. Hell, he's gotten some surprisingly passable matches out of Mark Henry. Combined with his great matches with Edge, and the Undertaker has been a stellar performer for the past few years. It's just too bad that they won't grant him a lengthy title reign and let him spread his wings with who he feuds with.

On top of that, he's majorly over. And they've handled his role as a "special attraction" exceptionally well. Virtually every encounter he's attached to has a "big match" feel. (I wouldn't rank the Undertaker at #8 today, but I would probably put him at #10.  Yes, he only appears once a year, but he still plays a really important role in the company).

7. John Morrison & The Miz

It's incredible. These two were seemingly put together by accident -- and, once again I assume, their pairing was supposed to be temporary -- yet they managed to find the proper chemistry to become the best tag team we've seen not only in the ring, but behind the mic, in quite some time. Their in-ring work is exemplary, as they're one of the few teams that actually utilize tag team maneuvers. (I would have loved to see them compete against our current crop of teams -- Team Hell No, Rhodes Scholars, Usos, Shield, etc.)

This team has also been mutually beneficial for both competitors. Before they began teaming, The Miz was nothing more than a comic foil, of sorts. He'd appear, say something obnoxious, and then some face would beat the snot out of him. Yes, they were beginning to make him a little tougher when he initially moved to ECW, but he still hadn't found his niche. I daresay that had he never been paired with Morrison, few people would consider The Miz a threat in the ring. Meanwhile, Morrison was being removed from the ECW Championship picture, and without a secondary title -- or a vast roster of credible faces -- the former Johnny Nitro could have easily wandered around aimlessly.

Instead, they won the tag team championship -- which was really more about the MVP/Matt Hardy storyline than anything else -- and went on to carry the titles for longer than anybody else in recent history. They'd defend the championship virtually every week, oftentimes appeared on both ECW and Smackdown, exhibiting their unique styles while putting on some damn fine matches.

And, of course, there's The Dirt Sheet. Not only is this without a doubt the finest program has ever broadcast, but it's actually one of the funniest shows I've seen, period. These two have great on-air chemistry, that's undeniable. In my opinion, these two are THE reason to watch ECW (especially after CM Punk was removed from the show), and to trade them to another program would be a huge hindrance to the Land of the Extreme. And while Morrison has a huge upside, I think these two are far better together than they are apart. As such, I hope they resist the temptation to split them up. (Ultimately, they were wise to separate these two as they went as far as they could as a team.  And they did both find great success as singles competitors.  Unfortunately, they also found a lot of failure, with both going through lengthy and humiliating losing streaks.  At their peaks, Miz probably would have found himself in the top 4 or 5 on this list, and Morrison probably in the top 5 or 6.  Right now, honestly, Miz would probably rank in around the same place -- if that.  I think WWE missed the boat with Morrison and I think they're misusing Miz.  Both have shown they have a lot to give -- WWE would be wise to let them do what they do best).

Click here for The Dirt Sheet episodes (really, you should watch...) (Obviously, the link doesn't work anymore.  Zack Ryder takes a lot of credit for WWE's success with their YouTube web shows, but I think the Dirt Sheet really paved the way for these shows).

6. CM Punk

This guy is money. For the life of me, I don't know why they're so reluctant to get behind him fully, because this guy can easily hold his own as the champion of the flagship program (I probably could've written this exact sentence a year ago). He's versatile: exciting in the ring and more than competent on the mic (wow, remember when Punk was just "more than competent"?). While he's not Jericho, Edge, Shawn Michaels, or JBL when it comes to mic skills, he's solid (again -- wow). He speaks with confidence, and he never comes off like he's reciting memorized lines. On top of that, he appears very natural -- he doesn't act like he's playing a character (unlike, say, Randy Orton). This makes him somebody your audience can relate to, and, as such, an easy person to rally behind. (Obviously, Punk would make a huge jump in this list today.  Actually, all things considered, I'd probably put him at #1).

While he's toned down his ring style, he still provides us with something different. While Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista, John Cena, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, and Edge all fight the same style -- to varying degrees, of course -- CM Punk's knees and kicks is a refreshing change, reminiscent of RVD (still true to this day).

I do hope that they don't pull the plug on his title reign this Sunday. While it hasn't been ideal, seeing him with the belt over his should on Raw has been a breath of fresh air. Basically, since the creation of two distinct World titles, the Raw title scene has been dominated by Triple H and Cena, with brief detours with Randy Orton and Edge. In a perfect world, CM Punk will retain Sunday and eventually drop the gold to Jericho, perhaps at Survivor Series. (in an extremely strange turn of events, Punk did lose the title that coming Sunday.  To.....CHRIS JERICHO!  Who wasn't even scheduled to be in the match)

5. MVP

While I will attest to the fact that Edge IS Smackdown, MVP's contribution to the blue show should not be overlooked. Indeed, it was MVP who kept the entire midcard division alive. His feuds with you-know-who and Matt Hardy were long-lasting and surprisingly complex. I loved how he repeatedly came up short against Benoit, only to defeat him in two straight falls in a 2/3 falls match, leading some to believe that he didn't continually lose because he wasn't as good. Instead, he was simply studying his opponent to best determine how to beat him (I still love that booking.  I actually wish they would use it again). He went on to hold the United States Championship for nearly a year, having a memorable feud -- and brief alliance -- with Matt Hardy. Actually, I think the nuances of their tag team title reign went unnoticed by the announcers. Early on, if you recall, MVP would grab both titles and act as if he was the sole champion. However, through time, the two actually started working well together. In fact, there were instances in which MVP would actually come to Hardy's rescue. During this period, MVP would actually hand Matt Hardy one of the titles at the conclusion of the match. I thought that was a great, subtle action -- so subtle that the announcers seemingly ignored it. But, of course, all the while, people were left wondering: Is he just befriending Matt Hardy to protect his United States Championship? (They essentially redid this booking with Daniel Bryan and Kane, to awesome results!)

Unfortunately, MVP's greatest feud was cut short due to Matt Hardy nearly dying a few times in succession. But nevertheless, he's persevered as one of the true highlights of Smackdown, which says a lot considering that he was brought in with much fanfare, only to disappoint most people. He's pulled a complete 180, and I can easily see him capturing the WWE Championship within the next year or so. He's teased a face turn and possible feud with Vickie Guerrero and La Familia, showing that he's able to play both roles. (This proved to be the peak for MVP.  I dug him during this time, and even enjoyed the roundabout way they turned him face.  I think he could have found more success, but it became obvious that he was only as interesting as the company made him.  While somebody like Daniel Bryan could make lemonade out of lemons, MVP failed to be engaging when he was thrown into random tag teams and midcard face feuds).

4. John Cena

I have absolutely no problem whatsoever admitting that I'm a John Cena fan. Ever since his uprising on Smackdown as a freestyling bad ass, I knew he was going to be the next big thing. Yes, his character was neutered -- terribly so -- but nevertheless, I still find him entertaining behind the mic and in the ring. No, he's not the best wrestler in the world, but he's one of the VERY few top guys who actively tries to improve his game (compare him to The Rock, who greatly diminished his moveset once he realized a catch phrase is all he needs to be over).

And honestly, how can you not consider this guy one of the most valuable assets WWE currently has? He's exceptionally well spoken (which helped them a lot during the Chris Benoit backlash), he appears to be very likable and genuine, and he works his ass off to keep WWE in the public's eye. Under the WWE banner, he's released a CD and he's starred in a movie. He also appears at virtually every WWE oriented press conference or event, no matter how big or small. More than anybody else, this man is THE face of World Wrestling Entertainment. (I'd rank him higher now.  If I put Punk at #1, I'd probably put Cena at #2.  I'd MAYBE put him at #3, but definitely no lower.  This guy is a company's dream).

Cena will be out of action for the next four months or so due to a broken neck. Upon his return, I don't think WWE should waste any time making him their top star again. The guy returned to a HUGE ovation at Royal Rumble 2008 (January). While he did win the big event, he went on to lose every other major match until his injury at SummerSlam (August). That's eight solid months of doing the J-O-B, and I still fail to see who it benefited, exactly. (Could you imagine Cena doing 8 months of legitimate jobbing now?)

3. Chris Jericho

For a while, I felt bad for Chris Jericho. He disappears for two years and gets people salivating for his return after the release of his extraordinary autobiography. He finally makes a really thrilling return -- after a great deal of hype using viral marketing -- only to be used as a stepping stone to add credibility to Randy Orton's WWE Championship reign. Then he gets thrown into a pretty lackluster feud with a returning JBL. Then he gets saddled with the Intercontinental Championship (yep, I'm sure THAT'S what he envisioned when he imagined his long-awaited return). What's worse is that during this Intercontinental title reign, he was left off of a Pay-Per-View or two.

Meanwhile, guys he was more or less on par with when he left, like Edge and Randy Orton, are receiving main event pushes and are defending World Championships at WrestleMania. Most people were saying, "you returned for THIS???" (that sentence would probably be said about Jericho's 2013 return)

Then came along the Shawn Michaels/Batista feud. Batista, who considered Ric Flair his mentor and friend, was more than a little sour about the fact that Shawn Michaels had retired the wrestling legend. And these two, despite both being babyfaces, managed to carry on a very complex and entertaining feud. Chris Jericho just added icing onto the cake.

And despite his admirable efforts, Batista just couldn't hang with Michaels and Jericho. As such, it wasn't long before these two were the ones feuding with each other. And Jericho's progression during this period was amazing. He started off as a simple pot stirrer. Then he was simply calling things the way he saw it. Yeah, he was accusing Shawn Michaels of faking his knee injury, but he wasn't really doing it in any particular heelish way. Then he was briefly apologetic, when he came to the realization that Michaels might actually be hurt. When he found out that wasn't the case, Jericho became increasingly bitter. And, again, his development was absolutely brilliant. (Re-reading this now, that was a truly epic, awesome feud)

The past few months have shown us one thing: While Jericho has always been great (perhaps even one of the best), he's just SO MUCH better now. For one reason or another, he was never able to escape that sarcastic, snarky, colorful character. And most would argue that that's why he was never considered a legitimate main eventer to the powers that be. Well, I've say he's shaken that character, exchanging his flamboyant, sparkly shirts with designer suits, his smirk with a frown, and his tights with short trunks.

And whether it's been the acting experience he acquired during his absence or the overall storytelling ability he picked up while writing his book, Jericho's promos have been arguably incomparable (probably a combination of both). He's actually quite reminiscent of Jake "The Snake" Roberts, who used to speak in a whisper in order to make everybody truly pay attention to what he's saying.

One thing I've admired about Chris Jericho is his willingness to give up aspects of his character that will garner an easy reaction, if it means his character will be developed (a la Triple H ditching the DX stuff in the late 90's). He ditched the Highlight Reel, all of his catchphrases, and even the highly marketable Y2J nickname. (Compare the success Jericho found giving up all of his "crutches" to Zack Ryder, who gave up his show, his sunglasses, his hair style, his attire, and his headband to absolutely no results whatsoever.  Jericho understood that you not only have to give up these things, but you need to find something different and better.  Ryder hasn't understood that second part yet)

If WWE has any sense, they'll make Chris Jericho the #1 heel on Raw. He brings FAR more to the table than Randy Orton ever will. Ideally, CM Punk will retain his title at Unforgiven, only to drop it to Jericho at the next Pay-Per-View or even Survivor Series. (Again, I was pretty on the mark here.  WWE DID recognize Jericho's awesomeness by awarding him the World Championship just three days after I posted this.  He would go on to have championship feuds with Michaels, Cena, and Batista.  Not too shabby.  Jericho would still make the list today, but following his frequent absences and the fact that each return is just a little less thrilling than the one before, I probably wouldn't put him in my top five, to be honest).

2. Shawn Michaels

Yeah, I know that a few weeks I said that Shawn Michaels is the best -- even better than Edge -- that WWE has right now. So why am I ranking Shawn as #2, and Edge as #1 on this list (SPOILER ALERT!)? It's an important distinction: Without a doubt, Shawn Michaels is the best thing happening on Raw. On the other hand, Edge IS Smackdown. I'll discuss that more when I talk about the Rated R Superstar himself.

While Shawn Michaels' tremendous mic skills is pretty much undeniable, one thing that separates him from the other great talkers is his natural behavior in the ring. I'll never forget one time when he was on Carlito's Cabana, and during a down period, he seated himself on one of the lounge chairs and started drinking from one of the pineapples. How many people would have thought to do that? The only person I can think of off the top of my head is Eddie Guerrero (today, probably only Punk would think of this.  Maybe Daniel Bryan.  And PERHAPS John Cena). Regardless, Michaels just has an innate ring presence that is unmatched by anybody else in the company.  (Of course, Michaels wouldn't make the list today, but it's worth noting that the company STILL relies on him to add intrigue and emotion to their big time feuds.  They've done this the past few years with Triple H, actually.  He's continuing to manipulate the fans with his influence, even though he's rarely on the show anymore).

And, of course, there's his in-ring abilities. Much like the Undertaker, Shawn Michaels has gotten better with age. Perhaps it's because he wrestles "smarter," due in large part to his age and the numerous, career threatening injuries he's sustained. His psychological battle with Randy Orton last year, where Michaels was unable to use the Superkick, shows how versatile the Heartbreak Kid can be. That being said, he's not afraid to whip out his arsenal of high flying maneuvers. However, he's smart enough to reserve those moments for special occasions.

It should also be noted that more than anybody else, Shawn Michaels has the fans eating out of the palm of his hands. How many other babyfaces -- relatively virtuous ones, at that -- can get away with faking a knee injury in order to defeat two other faces, offering no explanation other than "I'm Shawn Michaels...." and still have the fans loving him more than ever? (That was a pretty epic moment)

1. Edge

Yeah, I'm biased. But still, how could you deny that this man has been the absolute MVP of WWE? In my opinion, the Rated R Superstar rescued Smackdown from that dreadful "B-Show" label. Once he moved over to the blue show, he became the absolute center of attention. It was either about his war with Batista, or his war with The Undertaker, or his war with both. After that, it was about his romance with General Manager Vickie Guerrero. Even when the almighty Triple H was traded to the show -- with his WWE Championship -- Edge was still the star. Hell, for a short time he was arguably the top heel on ECW, too. (Edge saved Smackdown from the "B Show" label on more than one occasion.  When they tried to move him back to Raw, the results were pretty lackluster.  He moved back to Smackdown, now as a face, and found some of his best success.  Frankly, Smackdown never recovered from Edge retiring.  It was immediately following his retirement that the World Heavyweight Championship was relegated to opening matches at PPV and stopped even appearing in the opening videos.  I honestly believe Smackdown and certainly the World Heavyweight Championship would be in a far better position today if Edge were still around).

And lets not forget about that romance with Vickie Guerrero. When the angle was first proposed, people were disgusted with the idea of Edge -- the man who had REALLY slept with his best friend's long-time girlfriend -- making out with the beloved Eddie Guerrero's widow (Strange seeing Vickie referred to as a "beloved widow"). Yet, they somehow both excelled to such a degree that fans couldn't help but get lost in the angle.

I'm really intrigued by the idea of Edge returning as a face. If there's one thing that's hindered him, it's the lack of variety of opponents. Since moving to Smackdown, he really hasn't feuded with anybody other than Batista and Undertaker. While the blue show is definitely face-heavy, Edge returning as a heel will definitely have that "same old, same old" feeling to it. I'm more interested in seeing him actually TEAMING with Undertaker to take down La Familia. From there, why not move on to a feud with the up and rising MVP (tension was teased between these two a few weeks ago)?

Back when Smackdown was created, it was dubbed "The Rock's Show," due to the program bearing the name of the Great One's catchphrase. Well, in 2008, people can't argue that it's Edge's Show now. (Look how much things have changed, with Superstars being so closely associated with one of the brands.  Most people probably don't even know which brand a particular Superstar "officially" belongs to these days.  Real quick:  Which roster is Big Show on?  How about the Prime Time Players?  Antonio Cesaro?  The Usos?)

No comments: