WWE Mid-Year Evaluations: Grading Each Superstar's 2013 Performance Thus Far

Graham GSM MatthewsFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2013

WWE Mid-Year Evaluations: Grading Each Superstar's 2013 Performance Thus Far

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    As we enter the summer season, we also reach the mid-year point of 2013. With six months now behind us, we can reminisce about what 2013 has both succeeded and failed in doing over the course of the year.

    In the ever-changing landscape that is otherwise known as the WWE, we’ve witnessed amazing spectacles, shocking returns, memorable matches and much more. That being said, it’s only fitting to look back at each WWE Superstar’s performance over the past six months and to guess what the future holds for that certain star.

    In this report card of sorts, I evaluate a class of 20 elite WWE Superstars and Divas based on their successes and failures they’ve endured this year, as well as what areas I believe they could improve upon if they wish to finish the year out strong.

    Whether it’s in a classroom or inside a square circle, wait for the bell to ring and let’s begin!

AJ Lee

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    She may have been removed from her position as Raw General Manager last October, but AJ Lee's time at the time of the WWE was far from over. Entering 2013, AJ became the new valet for Dolph Ziggler and aided him in matches against the likes of John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Kofi Kingston and others.

    Shortly after WrestleMania 29, she resumed her role as an in-ring competitor and chased Kaitlyn for the Divas Championship. The former friends finally faced off at WWE Payback, which saw AJ walk out of Chicago with her first Divas title.

    Due to her association with main event players over the last year, AJ has quickly become the most over woman in all of WWE. Now that she has finally accomplished her dream of winning gold, I expect her to help bring back excitement to women's wrestling for the first time in years.

     

    Final Grade: B+

Alberto Del Rio

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    After having a down year in 2012, Alberto Del Rio realized the error in his ways and bounced back to everyone's surprise in 2013. He may have spent most of last year in the back of the class, but turning a new leaf in 2013 has certainly worked to his benefit.

    On the second edition of SmackDown in the new year, Del Rio defeated Big Show in an impromptu Last Man Standing match to win his first World Heavyweight Championship. He reigned as champion for a total of three months, which included successful title defenses at the Royal Rumble, Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania 29 pay-per-views, respectively.

    Despite losing the strap the night after The Show of Shows, Del Rio remained in the title hunt and eventually regained the gold at WWE Payback last month. In the process of doing so, he turned his back on the WWE Universe and has been flourishing on Friday nights ever since.

    Currently in his second reign as World Heavyweight Champion, I see a very bright future for the Latino star for the remainder of 2013.

     

    Final Grade: A

Big Show

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    Big Show's sheer size has gotten him quite a bit of attention in the classroom the last six months, but it hasn't gotten him much success.

    He ended 2012 on a high note as World Heavyweight Champion, but that reign came to an abrupt halt on the January 11 edition of SmackDown when he dropped the strap to Alberto Del Rio. He attempted to regain the gold from Del Rio in subsequent months, but to no avail.

    After being targeted by The Shield, Show put his differences with Randy Orton and Sheamus aside to rival the rogue trio. However, the three SmackDown stars came up short of defeating The Shield at WrestleMania 29, which led to Show picking a fight with Orton instead.

    Show struggled to get the upper hand in his feud with Orton for as long as it lasted before ultimately losing to The Viper at Extreme Rules. Show lost a match to Chris Jericho the following week on SmackDown and hasn't been seen since.

    This year has been a prime example that very few fresh feuds are left for The World's Largest Athlete to take part in and it might be best for him to hang up his boots while he is still relevant.

     

    Final Grade: D

Chris Jericho

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    Chris Jericho departed the WWE with a whimper after losing a match to Dolph Ziggler last August, but shockingly returned to the ring during the 2013 Royal Rumble match in January. Since then, Jericho has providing some of the best matches of his career to date.

    From CM Punk to Fandango, Jericho has worked with a variety of young talent since making his comeback to the company. Unlike his previous run, he is winning matches in addition to putting others over, which is why he is the best in the world at what he does.

    Although he's won only one pay-per-view match in the last six months, this class clown's most recent run with WWE has been incredibly entertaining and a lot of fun. His face turn worked out for the best and has made for some tremendous television since the start of 2013.

     

    Final Grade: B

CM Punk

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    After having one of the best years in recent history in 2012, CM Punk failed to maintain his spot at the top of the class going into the new year. While all the feuds he had in the first few months of 2012 were enjoyable, Punk was on the losing end of multiple high-profile matches with the likes of The Rock, John Cena and The Undertaker.

    Eight days removed his epic match with The Deadman at The Show of Shows, Punk disappeared from WWE television to rest nagging injuries and take the time off he desperately desired for years on end. It wasn't until June that The Voice of the Voiceless finally resurfaced and defeated Chris Jericho in front of his hometown crowd at WWE Payback.

    Now that he has seemingly once again reverted back to his face persona, Punk appears to be better than ever, both mentally and physically. I highly anticipate his upcoming feud with Brock Lesnar and hope that it will make up for his first mediocre half of 2013.

     

    Final Grade: B-

Daniel Bryan

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    Many members of the WWE Universe thought Daniel Bryan's career was headed downhill after he lost the World Heavyweight Championship in 18 seconds at WrestleMania 28.

    Well, anyone who thought that was dead wrong.

    He and his foe-turned-friend Kane captured the WWE Tag Team Championships at last year's Night of Champions event and embarked on one of the longest reigns as tag team title holders in modern history. They played a major role in reigniting the tag team division and making the titles feel relevant for the  first time in ages.

    Their loss of the straps at Extreme Rules last month was a blessing disguise. Bryan has been able to return to singles competition and receive some of the loudest reactions in all of WWE.

    As Money in the Bank quickly approaches, I fully expect The American Dragon to capture the opportunistic briefcase and go on to contend for the WWE Championship later this year. However, it's up to WWE to keep him babyface and resist turning him heel.

     

    Final Grade: A-

Dolph Ziggler

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    After winning the SmackDown Money in the Bank Ladder match last July, Dolph Ziggler seemed to be getting more and more momentum each week. From retiring Chris Jericho (for the time being) to defeating the likes of Randy Orton and John Cena on pay-per-view, Ziggler was destined for greatness.

    However, 2013 didn't do him many favors in its first few months. He lost to Cena a number of times in January, failed to win the Royal Rumble, was no longer prominently featured on television and failed to win the WWE Tag Team Championships alongside Big E Langston at WrestleMania 29.

    Despite all that, Ziggler's luck changed for the better no more than 24 hours later.

    The bleached-blonde Superstar cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on a prone Alberto Del Rio to win his second World Heavyweight Championship. The reaction Ziggler received that unforgettable night was monstrous and was a sure sign of things to come.

    Unfortunately, the concussion that Ziggler suffered a month later put an abrupt halt to his strong momentum. Although he was stripped of the gold, he eventually lost it to Del Rio in his return to the ring at WWE Payback.

    It's good to see Ziggler finally turn babyface and continue to chase the prestigious prize, but it's a shame his reign had to end in such lackluster fashion.

     

    Final Grade: C+

Fandango

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    Vignettes began airing for the pending debut of Fandango in late 2012. He finally arrived on the WWE scene this past March, immediately making an impact by setting his sights on Chris Jericho.

    Fandango made his in-ring debut at WrestleMania 29, scoring an upset victory over Jericho. Although he came up short in the rematch at the following month's Extreme Rules event, he was strong in defeat and bounced back nicely from the loss.

    Not only did his impressive outings against Y2J garner him an above average rating, but the fact he practically became an overnight success one day removed from 'Mania played a major factor in that as well. The New Jersey's reaction to his extremely addictive entrance music made him a star and almost instantly made the WWE take notice of him.

    It's was widely believed that he would have been Intercontinental Champion by now had he not suffered a concussion last month, but I'm sure he'll pick up where he left off when he returns to the ring at Money in the Bank.

     

    Final Grade: B-

Kaitlyn

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    Despite winning NXT Season 3 in late 2010, Kaitlyn accomplished little of note the following year and essentially became the unknown Diva on Friday nights. While her backstage altercations with AJ Lee last year were what made her relevant, Kaitlyn's pursuit of the Divas Championship also helped put her on the map.

    After months of attempting to exact revenge on Eve, Kaitlyn finally defeated the manipulative mastermind to win her first Divas Championship in her hometown this past January. She reigned as Divas Champion for a solid five months before dropping the strap to AJ at WWE Payback.

    Of course, she rarely ever defended the gold during her time as title holder, but she was still able to fill the vacant spot as the top face in the Divas division. She may no longer have the title around her waist, but I sense that her raging rivalry with AJ is far from over.

     

    Final Grade: B-

Kane

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    At this time a year ago, Kane was an intimidating monster that no man dared to reckon with. One year later, however, he's the exact opposite.

    Although he's still an imposing figure, Kane has brought out his comedic side in the last 12 months. However, that's no complaint, as it has made for some very entertaining television.

    As noted before, he and Daniel Bryan reigned as WWE Tag Team Champions for nearly eight months, one of the longest reigns in modern history. It was only a matter of time before Team Hell No parted ways, but Kane has still found success in singles competition.

    His various victories over the likes of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and others are proof that Kane still has a lot to offer as a singles competitor. I hope to see The Big Red Monster continue to tutor the up-and-coming kids in class and help lead them to promising futures.

     

    Final Grade: B

Kofi Kingston

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    In 2012, Kofi Kingston captured both the Intercontinental and WWE Tag Team Championships and have decent reigns with both belts. Following his loss of the I.C. title on the New Year's Eve edition of Raw, however, Kingston was back to being an enhancement talent going into 2013.

    For four straight months, Kingston was unable to win a televised match on Raw or SmackDown. Then, out of absolutely nowhere, he surprisingly defeated Antonio Cesaro for the United States Championship on the April 15 edition of Raw and embarked on his third reign with the star-spangled prize.

    Unfortunately, Kingston's time with the title was short lived, as Dean Ambrose beat him for the belt at Extreme Rules. The Ghana native was unsuccessful in regaining the gold and later suffered an injury that has since seen him sidelined for the foreseeable future.

    Aside from that brief run with the U.S. title, Kingston hasn't had an impressive year up to this point. Nonetheless, I hope to see him bring his grade up by year's end by returning with a fresh gimmick of some sort.

     

    Final Grade: D+

Jack Swagger

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    Remember when Jack Swagger won the Money in the Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 26 and embarked on one of the worst reigns as World Heavyweight Champion in modern history? Yeah, I think that's something that most of the WWE Universe would rather forget if they haven't already.

    It's a true shame, too, as Swagger remained directionless for two more years after that before finally taking time off last September. He returned to television this past January with a new finisher, entrance theme, look and attitude, which have all benefited him greatly.

    However, nothing has helped him more than adding Zeb Colter to his act. Swagger was always uninspiring on the mic, so having Colter cut promos for him was a major improvement.

    He quickly won the Elimination Chamber match in February to become the No. 1 contender to Alberto Del Rio's World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 29. Although he remained undefeated in the weeks that preceded the event, he ultimately came up short of regaining the gold on The Grandest Stage of Them All.

    Although he remained in the title picture for two more months, he was no longer a threat to the title. After losing to Del Rio in a No. 1 contender's "I Quit" match at Extreme Rules, Swagger disappeared from WWE programming and hasn't been seen since.

    Many credit the DUI that Swagger received in February as the reason for his fall from grace, but it's possible he could redeem himself with a Money in the Bank victory upon his return.

     

    Final Grade: C

John Cena

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    John Cena has stated on many occasions that 2012 was one of the worst years in his professional wrestling career to date (or so he says). He vowed to make up for it by making 2013 "his" year, and it seems he has delivered on that promise thus far.

    A mere month into the new year, Cena won the 2013 Royal Rumble, which guaranteed him a shot at a world championship in the main event of WrestleMania. He successful in seeking redemption against The Rock and defeating him for the first time to win his record-breaking 11th WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29.

    He recently scored his first ever victory over Ryback and maintained possession of his WWE Championship at WWE Payback. Now, Cena has a new hungry challenger in Mark Henry, who looks to take the title from The Champ at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view in a few weeks.

    The only thing that prevented Cena from getting a higher grade is his lack of character change since the start of the year. Sure, he has shown his serious side here and there in recent months, but the trick is keeping it consistent so fans can buy into him as champion.

     

    Final Grade: B+

Mark Henry

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    Remember how relieved you felt when that the biggest bully in your class moved away and how scared you were when he moved back? Well, that's exactly how the WWE roster felt when Mark Henry returned from injury earlier this year.

    After spending nearly a year of his career on the sidelines, Henry returned to the ring in February and showed no signs of ring rust. He quickly dominated everything and everyone in his wake and targeted Ryback on the road to WrestleMania 29.

    At The Show of Shows, Henry did what no one thought he was capable of doing and soundly defeated Ryback. He went on to feud with Sheamus, who he lost to in a Strap match at Extreme Rules the following month.

    Although he spent a month away from the squared circle to nurse nagging injuries, he came back with a bang by hoodwinking the entire WWE Universe two weeks ago on Raw. He has since set his sights on the WWE Championship and will challenge John Cena for the prestigious prize at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view.

    If the World's Strongest Man maintains the strong momentum going forward, he will be WWE Champion in no time.

     

    Final Grade: C+

The Miz

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    Needless to say, The Miz's fall from grace over the last two years has been an unpleasant one. You can a low grade from anyone who goes from the main event of WrestleMania to its pre-show in two year's time.

    Following a lackluster 2012, Miz decided to change his ways and gradually started to embrace the WWE Universe. His face turn hasn't brought him much success, however, albeit a day-long reign as Intercontinental Champion.

    Sure, he was the lead star in a Christmas movie filmed for ABC Family earlier this year, but what has he been able to achieve inside the squared circle since the start of 2013?

    As a fan of The Miz, I surely hope he finds his footing soon and is placed in some sort of meaningful program in the latter half of this year.

     

    Final Grade: D+ 

Randy Orton

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    Randy Orton spent most of last year out of the world title picture, and 2013 so far has been no different. He spent the first quarter of this year feuding with The Shield, who he lost to alongside Sheamus and Big Show in a six-man tag team match at WrestleMania 29.

    He then engaged in a feud with Show, defeating him in his hometown of St. Louis at Extreme Rules. Since then, Orton has been involved in a program with Daniel Bryan, with the two trading victories in recent weeks.

    Although Orton has emerged victorious on pay-per-view only once thus far this year, his winning ways speak for themselves. Orton won every match but one during the month of May and has scored various victories over the likes of Bryan, Kane, Dean Ambrose, Show, Damien Sandow, Cody Rhodes and others.

    Could 2013 be the year we finally see The Viper reclaim a world championship?

     

    Final Grade: C

Ryback

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    Hardly anyone expected Ryback to rise to the top of the WWE as rapidly as he did, but the odds have certainly not been in his favor the last nine months.

    Last fall, he was quickly thrown into a WWE Championship program with CM Punk, who he lost to on three separate occasions in the final few months of 2012. He also made a new enemy in The Shield, losing to them at the WWE TLC and Elimination Chamber events, respectively.

    Many thought WrestleMania 29 would finally be event that Ryback would emerge victorious, but it sadly was not meant to be. Although he hit Henry with an impressive Shell Shocked on The Grandest Stage of Them All, the record books still show that he was on the losing end of their matchup.

    His heel turn also did not do him any favors, as he went on to lose another two pay-per-view matches at Extreme Rules and WWE Payback against John Cena. I expected much more from someone with as much potential as Ryback going into 2013, so it's safe to say he's been the most disappointing student in class so far this year.

    It's possible that a victory over Chris Jericho at Money in the Bank could right the wrongs done to his character in recent months, but is it too little too late?

     

    Final Grade: D

Sheamus

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    After spending all of 2012 in the World Heavyweight Championship picture, Sheamus was in for a major reality check going in 2013. No longer was he competing in the main event scene, but rather against the likes of The Shield and Mark Henry.

    Although he failed to defeat The Shield at Elimination Chamber and WrestleMania 29, respectively, he was able to overcome an enormous obstacle in Henry at Extreme Rules. He has since feuded with Damien Sandow, who he beat at WWE Payback and in a grueling Dublin Street Fight on the latest episode of SmackDown.

    Now that The Celtic Warrior has paid his dues, how long will it be before he's once again chasing a world title? Will the Money in the Bank briefcase be his ticket for glory?

     

    Final Grade: C

The Shield

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    The Shield made their shocking debut at last year's Survivor Series event and have been taking the WWE by storm ever since. In a matter of months, this trio consisting of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns has scored victories over the likes of John Cena, The Undertaker, Randy Orton, Sheamus and many other notable names.

    At Extreme Rules, they added to their already long list of accomplishments by winning the United States and WWE Tag Team Championships. Although their undefeated streak has since been broken, they still reign supreme over the WWE roster.

    To say they've been brilliantly booked up to this point would be a massive understatement. I, personally, believe they are the best stable since Evolution a decade ago, but that's merely my opinion.

    Nonetheless, they've won at four of the five pay-per-views so far this year and continue to dominate any one who dare to step in their path of destruction. It won't be long before one (or every) member of the sadistic stable is gunning for a world championship.

     

    Final Grade: A

Wade Barrett

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    Where there is the top of the class, there is always that one slacker. As a teacher, you realize that student has major potential to be better, but they aren't putting their tremendous talents to good use.

    Wade Barrett fits that description to perfection, as he has fallen far from the days of The Nexus in 2010. He has had his fair share of start-and-stop pushes over the course of his career, and this year was no exception.

    After making a valiant return from injury and defeating Kofi Kingston for his second Intercontinental Championship on the New Year's Eve edition of Raw, the future looked bright for Barrett going into 2013.

    Bespite having gold around his waist, Barrett has lost almost every match he's taken part in since the start of the year.

    From Randy Orton to Bo Dallas, it's hard to find someone on the roster that the British brawler hasn't lost to in recent months. He finally dropped the Intercontinental title at WWE Payback last month, allowing him to move on to bigger and better things.

    As of now, he's my pick to win the SmackDown Money in the Bank Ladder match, which will hopefully elevate him to main event status where he belongs.

     

    Final Grade: D-

Final Analysis

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    While I may not be as attractive of a teacher as Michelle McCool or as easy of a grader as Matt Striker, I attempted to put my bias and favoritism aside for certain students in hopes of providing you were with an accurate evaluation of each WWE Superstar’s performances over the last six months.

    I encourage all students to take my comments under consideration and proceed to finish 2013 with determination and on a high note.

    Class dismissed!

     

    Visit my website at Next Era Wrestling and listen to my wrestling radio talk show SAVE US GSM every Wednesday night at 10 p.m. ET.