Ranking the Top 50 WWE Performers: Bryan, Punk, Cena and More!

John CantonContributor IIIOctober 8, 2012

Ranking the Top 50 WWE Performers: Bryan, Punk, Cena and More!

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    This ranking will take a closer look at the top performers in World Wrestling Entertainment today. For the purposes of this column, I will look at every on-camera performer in the company and rank them from No. 50 all the way to No. 1. 

    I'm writing this in early October because it is about halfway between WrestleMania 28 and WrestleMania 29. It's a good time to evaluate the entire WWE roster as we head into the fall season and into the new year with major events like the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania 29 on the horizon.

    This is a column I have written annually for the last three years. I've written about every episode of Raw for nearly four years on my website TJRWrestling.com, I watch Smackdown every week and I also pay attention to the other WWE shows such as NXT, Superstars and now Main Event also. Of course I watch the pay-per-view events as well.

    The Grading System

    I tried to look at each wrestler's workrate, microphone work, charisma, drawing power and importance to the company as a way to grade them. For a better explanation of my criteria, here's a look at the grading system.

    A+ = Workrate, mic work, ring psychology, charisma are exceptional. If you're wondering about the A+ rating I'd say there have been some in the last decade or so. I'd have given A+ to Chris Jericho in 2008, Kurt Angle in 2002, Steve Austin in 2001 and Triple H in 2000 off the top of my head. There might be some in today's WWE. You will have to read on to find out.

    A = Excels in all of the key areas that I explained above, but may lack one or two special qualities.

    B, B+, A- = A very good performer that needs a little work in some areas in order to improve or may be slipping a bit due to age.

    C, C+, B- = A performer who has not reached his potential or a wrestler who is unable to improve on some areas due to their size and/or talent level.

    D+, C- = A performer that struggles in certain aspects and doesn't appear to have the talent to improve.

    D or lower = I would rather watch paint dry.

    F = The Boogeyman. I don't miss him.

    In addition to the letter grade, I will be including a feature that I've admired in Pro Football Weekly's annual NFL preview issue for many years. They have this feature where they rank the players by position. After their rating (they use numbers, not letters) they have a bonus rating for players that are either on the rise or past their prime. Here's an explanation on that:

    (u) = This means the performer has an upside. It's usually for a new talent that is still growing as a performer.

    (uu) = This means the performer has a bigger upside. Think of Shawn Michaels in 1992 or John Cena in 2003, before he was main eventing.

    (d) = This means the performer is on the downside of his/her career. It's usually going to be for an older performer, or maybe somebody with a long injury history.

    (dd) = Same as above except maybe this person is a little older and a little more banged up. The Great Khali, who isn't in this top 50, is an example of a "dd" type of performer.

    If you don't see any letters in brackets following the capitalized letter grade of the performer then that means I think that person doesn't have an upside or a downside. You should take it to mean that I believe that performer is at or near the peak of his or her talents.

    Notes on the Grading Process

    - Following the letter grade of the performer, I will have a section called Outlook where I will write a few sentences about where I see that person headed in the future. I will also note what I graded the person last year (Raw 2011 roster and SmackDown 2011 roster) if they were a part of that review.

    - Some write-ups will be long while others will be shorter. It depends on the individual, obviously. The grading will be based on their current activity with the company as well as where they might fit in the company in the future.

    - I won't be writing about NXT performers. I do watch the show, so maybe I will write something about the talents on that show in a separate piece at a later date. However, after evaluating more than 80 people and coming up with a list of the top 50, I think I have the roster covered fairly well.

    - I'm not including announcers or referees in this list. While announcers are performers, the list will focus more on the characters. That does include general managers and managers as well.

    Before I have people complaining to me about any of my comments, please remember that I respect every person involved in wrestling. It's a tough, demanding business that requires these performers to sacrifice many other things in their lives.

    While it may seem like I'm "bashing" somebody, it's nothing personal. It's just their work on WWE television.

    I've always considered WWE to be like a favorite sports team. Even though I will criticize decisions made by the company, I am still a fan and always will be a fan. It's the same thing when a sports fan questions a free agent signing or a coaching decision during the game. It's never personal.

    On top of all that, I have been a fan of pro wrestling for 25+ years (I turn 32 years old in November) and as a man that follows this company on a daily basis, I feel like I've gained a lot of experience in evaluating talent.

    Now that I've got that out of the way, let's look at four big name part-time performers and then we'll get to the top 50 immediately after that.

A Look at the Part-Time Performers

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    Before we get to the main roster, there are some part-time superstars that we need to look at because they are likely going to play major roles heading into 2013 especially as it relates to WrestleMania 29 in April. None of them will receive grades because they are part-timers, but they are worth writing about due to their names and stature.

    Brock Lesnar (Age: 35)

    He's not listed on the WWE.com superstars page because he "quit" in the storyline, but obviously he's a big part of plans heading into the new year. I'm not sure when he'll be back on WWE TV.

    The rumor is his contract called for him to work anywhere from 25-30 dates from April 2011 through to WrestleMania 29 in April 2012 and he's already used up about half of those dates, so my guess would be that we'll see him around Royal Rumble time.

    He's proven to be a valuable draw on pay-per-view because the buyrates for Extreme Rules and SummerSlam were up in large part because of his presence.

    I'm a Lesnar fan. I think he brings a lot of credibility with him. He's not much of a talker, but in terms of work in the ring he's very good for a man of his size. You don't find athletes his size doing what he can do. That's why there's so much value in having him around.

    Lesnar is exactly the kind of monster heel WWE needs. It's a shame he has no interest in being a full timer because they could really use his presence on television on a weekly basis. My hope is that Lesnar is a part of WWE past WrestleMania 29 as well.

    I think financially speaking he's worth every penny, so WWE would be foolish to not want to keep him around as long as he has interest in it. Then again, this is Brock Lesnar we're talking about. He changes his focus more than a kid opening presents on Christmas morning.

    The Rock (Age: 40)

    At the Royal Rumble he gets a shot at the WWE Championship. At WrestleMania 29, he'll likely be wrestling in the last match for the second year in a row. I'm glad he's returned to the ring. I know he's only a part-timer and that upsets some people, but I think having some Rock is better than no Rock. He may be the best talker in the history of the business. I would put him at No. 1 personally.

    In the ring, he showed little ring rust at Survivor Series. At WrestleMania 28, he did get winded for a portion of the match before finishing the match strong.

    I think his presence will help the Royal Rumble buyrate significantly and next WrestleMania may top this year's in terms of interest, especially if he walks in with the WWE Championship. I also read recently that he has four movies coming out in the first six months of the year, so he's going to be a very busy man in 2013!

    I doubt we see him on WWE TV until January. I think the first Raw of the year would be a good occasion. He'll need to be on TV for a few weeks to promote his WWE Championship match. I think he'll walk into WrestleMania 29 as the WWE Champion and drop it to…wait for it…John Cena. Not a shock, huh? Once in a lifetime? Not really.  

    Triple H (Age: 43)

    The on-screen Chief Operating Officer that I like to call Hunter Hearst Suit McMahon Helmsley is officially a part time player in WWE. He wrestled Undertaker at WrestleMania 28 where he lost. Then at Summerslam he lost to Brock Lesnar. The first match was a Match of the Year contender while the second was below what I thought in terms of quality, but effective in building up Lesnar as a monster.

    They wrote him out of stories in a way that will make some fans think he's done for good. He's not. I'm pretty sure we'll see him in the new year.

    I'm not anti-Triple H at all. I'm just glad he's not a featured performer anymore. It was the right time for him to move on, so I'm glad he's done that.

    The other big news with him is that his precious long hair got cut.

    He'll be back for WrestleMania 29. The rumor is a match with Brock Lesnar where Hunter would get his win back. That may change, but if he wants it, who can stop it? It's all about the game and how you play it. I'm not talking about the song lyrics, either.

    The Undertaker (Age: 47)

    He's a legendary performer that wrestles once a year and that's it. He did appear on the July 23 episode of Raw, but that was a nostalgia thing more than anything.

    Will he wrestle at WrestleMania 29 to try to go 21-0 at the biggest event of the year? Maybe. We don't really know at this point. There are still another six months to try to figure it out. Good luck with that, speculation mongers.

    He's basically retired without announcing it. If he has another match it's going to be at WrestleMania 29. I'm fine with it whether he wrestles or doesn't because if he wrestles the match is usually great. If he doesn't, then that means more time for the rest of the roster.

    Those are the only guys I want to talk about as far as the part-time performers go. Let's move on to the top 50.

50. Epico

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    Age: 30

    The tag division in WWE has seen a resurgence in 2012. While the team of Primo & Epico isn't getting much of a push now, they did leave WrestleMania 28 as the tag team champs.

    They've worked as a heel team for most of the last year, although they have had a face run as well. I like them better as heels with Rosa as their manager. The dynamic is good. It doesn't seem like this team will be pushed to the front of the tag division, though. They rarely get any microphone time.

    When they had that feud with the Primetime Players, it lasted about two weeks before management forgot about it. There's nothing wrong with Epico as a performer. He does nothing to stand out, though. He's a tag wrestler. It's definitely a role that suits him well.

    Grade: C

    Outlook: The Epico/Primo team will likely continue going forward. I don't see him breaking out into singles. I think they're better as a heel duo. I wouldn't mind if they got a push once again.

49. Primo

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    Age: 29

    What I wrote about his cousin, Epico, earlier applies to him as well.

    The difference is that he's been on the main roster longer. They held the tag titles at WrestleMania, but ever since they lost them, they have been in the mix of tag teams without being a main threat. When they get time, they always have good matches.

    There's no point in repeating myself, so he gets the same grade as his cousin.

    Grade: C (Last Year: C)

    Outlook: Much like Epico, I don't see him breaking out into singles. He's a part of the tag division.

48. David Otunga

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    Age: 32

    I'll be honest with you here. I'm not a huge Otunga fan.

    In my "Twenty Ideas for WWE to Consider" column from August, I suggested that they use him as a manager rather than a wrestler. That would also mean less poses while dripping in baby oil.

    The good thing is he's not in the ring on television much. Occasionally, he'll be booked in a match against a guy like Sheamus or John Cena where he gets beat in short fashion, which is fine with me.

    His lawyer gimmick works. As a talker, he's better than most. I think he has value as a role player. There's nothing wrong with that. You need role players.

    As long as he never gets a serious push as a singles wrestler, I'm okay with Otunga being around. That's a nice of way of saying this: "Hey, Vince McMahon, your roster is really loaded with talent. If you give Otunga a bigger role because he has big muscles, then you have seriously lost your mind."

    Grade: C (Last Year: C)

    Outlook: His lawyer gimmick is a heat magnet. There's no point in going away from it. If he was a part of a tag team, that could work because he can let others do the work. His best role is as a stooge for a heel GM like John Laurinaitis was or as an ally of Alberto Del Rio, which is a role he was in most recently. 

47. Alex Riley

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    Age: 31

    What has changed for him in the last year? A year ago, one of the things I wrote that he was better suited as a heel. I still feel that way. Instead of being a heel like he should be, he's spent the last year as a babyface that barely got any TV time on Raw or Smackdown.

    A few weeks ago on Twitter, he said he underwent knee and elbow surgery. While we don't know as of yet how long he'll be out, it will likely keep him out until the end of the year.

    I still think he has talent because of his build and his ability to talk. He's solid in the ring. While he's not the best in-ring performer on the roster, I think if he had the right opponent he can have good matches. It's just a matter of getting the right story for him.

    Grade: C (Last Year: C+)

    Outlook: A lot depends on when he get back from his injuries. The smart thing to do when he gets back is to bring him back as a heel, possibly in a team, and give him a chance to prove himself, because he's good enough on the microphone to make an impact.

46. Kaitlyn

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    Age: 25

    There are a lot of things I like about Kaitlyn. Mainly, I like that she's young, pretty, energetic and has shown a good personality when she was given the chance on NXT. Plus on Twitter, she has a lot of random Simpsons quotes, so that's huge with me.

    As a worker, she's still very green in a lot of ways. While her look is impressive due to her physique, I think she's having a tough time figuring out if she's a power wrestler or a speed wrestler. I think she should focus on her power more. It could make her stand out a bit.

    With Beth Phoenix on the way out, she has a chance to move up the ranks. It's up to her to improve her in-ring performances.

    Grade: C (u) (Last Year: C-) 

    Outlook: Don't be surprised if she gets a push. It might be a case of the divas roster being so thin that she wins the Divas Title within the next year. I think it's important to build her up more. There's no rush. 

45. Jinder Mahal

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    Age: 26

    Mahal hasn't progressed much in the last year.

    He's still a heel that gets booed simply because of demeanor. He rarely gets promo time. If he does, they have him speak in a foreign language because as I have said many times, when it comes to WWE booking, foreign language means evil.

    The only change for him is the new stable with Slater and McIntyre that is still in its infant stages, so we'll see where it goes.

    He's young enough that I think he has the potential to be featured in the midcard more, but it's going to take time and some more investment in his character. He needs to be more than a rich guy that talks in a foreign language. Is it too much to ask for more with some of these characters?

    Grade: C (LY: C) 

    Outlook: Since he's still in his mid-20s, he'll continue to grow as a performer. The alliance with Slater and McIntyre will hopefully lead to more opportunities for all of them. Obviously, he'll remain in the heel role. 

44. Titus O'Neil

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    Age: 35

    O'Neil is a big man that has a good power-based offense. I think he's the weaker half of his Primetime Players tag team with Darren Young.

    What O'Neil has going for him is he's a bigger guy. Sometimes, though, he gets lost in a longer match. I saw that a lot when I watched him on NXT.

    That's probably why it took him two years of being on that show to become a regular on Raw and Smackdown. Now that he's in a heel tag team, it's the perfect role for him.

    Some people would even say he's unstoppable. Hey, A.W., how you doing?

    Grade: C

    Outlook: I think the Primetime Players will be a team for the next few years. At least they should be. Stick with them, WWE. They have something there. 

43. Curt Hawkins

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    Age: 27

    I was writing this on Thursday, and as I glanced at my Twitter feed I saw this from Curt Hawkins (@TheCurtHawkins):

    I wanted you all to know that I tore my PCL & Meniscus. Had to have surgery. Not sure of when my return will be but I can promise it will be a whole new look & attitude from Curt Hawkins this time around.

    In other words, it's a knee surgery. It will probably keep him out for about six months. That's a damn shame.

    His team with Tyler Reks had potential, but management never really got behind them, so they fizzled out and then Reks left the company.

    As a singles wrestler, Hawkins never got going. I liked a lot of his work on NXT and Superstars in the last year. His in-ring performances are solid. He's an athletic guy that can do the basics very well, but I always thought he needed to add more to get noticed.

    In terms of a character, he basically had that cocky heel gimmick. The problem is there are too many guys with the same character. Hopefully, this time off will allow him to figure out a gimmick that will really work for him.

    Grade: C (u) (LY: C+) 

    Outlook: The injury will set him back, obviously. Hopefully when he's back, he can have a gimmick that separates him from the pack because if he has that, I think he'll get fans to notice him more. 

42. Ted DiBiase

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    Age: 29

    It's been a rough year for DiBiase professionally.

    A year ago, he was a babyface that was doing a great job of interacting with fans at shows with his "DiBiase Posse" idea, which I thought was smart of him. Then he got hurt with multiple injuries.

    He's been on the shelf for much of the year until returning recently with no fanfare. It's not a good sign when your return is during a battle royal and nobody treats it like a big deal. Wade Barrett got video packages. DiBiase got nothing. It shows you where he is on the radar.

    There's still talent there. His matches are okay. His promos can be good. It's just a matter of finding the right role for him.

    Grade: C (Last Year: B) 

    Outlook: I'm not sure if his future is as a heel or face, but I would suggest a tag team with some heel in the midcard because as I have said many times it's better than nothing. It wouldn't shock me if he got lost in the shuffle, though. 

41. Alicia Fox

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    Age: 26

    The former on-screen "wedding planner" debuted on the main roster four years ago. She won the Divas Title in the summer of 2010, had it for about two months and hasn't had a push since.

    If you watch the shows from week to week, it's hard to know if she is a face or a heel. She just floats around the roster while having matches every once in a while. It would be better for her career to stay in one role.

    Her work in the ring is pretty good. She's athletic and has credible-looking offense. What she needs is for the company to get behind her as a cocky heel, because that's the only way she'll make an impact on a show she is on.

    Grade: C+ (u) (Last Year: B-) 

    Outlook: Due to the lack of female talent on the roster, I can see her getting a push again at some point. As weird as it sounds considering she is only 26 years old, she's one of the divas on the roster with the most experience. 

40. Tensai

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    Age: 39

    I don't think the gimmick is working that well for him.

    The concept of the character is okay as a former American wrestling star that went to Japan, changed his look and appearance (at least with tattoos on his head), but the problem is they refuse to say what his name was when he was Albert or A-Train.

    We also have never heard him give any kind of promo about why he did what he did. Shouldn't his character get a chance to explain his change or what the significance of his head tattoo is? That's character development.

    All they did with him was give him an associate in Sakamoto and they expected him to get over with the fans immediately. That's a backwards way of thinking. You have to give fans a reason to invest in a character, whether that's through cheering or booing. With Tensai, he's just kind of there.

    Early on, they gave him big wins over Punk and Cena. Those wins didn't really matter, because generally the crowd doesn't care about this character. 

    He's a good worker for a big guy. I didn't see that much of his work as Giant Bernard in Japan, but I saw enough to see that he improved from when he was A-Train in WWE. As Tensai, though, you don't really see that improvement.

    He's not having longer matches and like I said, there's very little character development. At nearly 40 years old, the end of his career is near. He's serviceable as a veteran heel. I don't know if they had main-event level aspirations for him. I doubt he'll reach that level.

    Grade: C+ (d)

    Outlook: Maybe he'll get a push to IC or US Title level, but I doubt it. A tag team could be possible, perhaps with Sakamoto if they want to go that route. As long as they don't turn him into the "Hip Hop Hippo" again (Google it), he'll be okay.

39. Layla

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    Age: 34

    I think she's miscast in the babyface role. I enjoyed her heel work with Michelle McCool so much a few years ago.

    As a babyface, she's become generic like the other girls that just smile randomly even if bad things are happening to them.

    When she came back from injury, they put the Divas Title because apparently people thought it was going to be Kharma, so she was given the title as a swerve on Internet fans that think they know too much.

    These days, the divas division is at its lowest point, and her title reign didn't help her. I hope that the creative team realizes she's better off in the heel role. At least she had a personality when she was acting that way.

    Grade: C+ (Last Year: Injured)

    Outlook: She's one of the longest tenured divas on the roster, so there is a spot for her. I hope that a heel turn is in her future, because she was a better performer in that role. 

38. Drew McIntyre

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    Age: 27

    A year ago, I complained about how McIntyre was barely being used. Not much has changed this year until recently when he got paired up with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal.

    It's an odd trio, but it's one of those "better than nothing" deals where you just hope for the best. McIntyre's another guy loaded with talent that is still under 30 years old. I think by the time he's 30, he can be a main-event level talent just as long as he's given a chance to prove himself.

    His body type is similar to what Triple H had when he first started in WWE. Yes, HHH was a skinny dude before he "magically" got bigger in 1999 and subsequently became a main eventer.

    I think McIntyre can do the same, minus the "growth spurt." The important thing is an opportunity. Give him a chance and see how far he can go. 

    Last year, when writing about him I said that he has the best entrance music in WWE. "Broken Dreams" is a fantastic song. It's a shame we don't hear it more often. His music is still the same and so is his grade from last year. I haven't seen enough, good or bad, from him to change my mind either way.  

    Grade: C+ (u) (Last Year: C+)

    Outlook: Hopefully this "band" with Slater & Mahal can lead to something positive for all of them. I have a feeling it may not happen. If that's the case, it would be nice to see him branch out on his own again. Or give him a manager. Paul Heyman? Vickie Guerrero? He would thrive with either one of them, especially Heyman. 

37. Michael McGillicutty

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    Age: 32

    While he isn't prevalent on Raw or Smackdown, I have seen a lot of his work on NXT over the last year. Believe me when I tell you that he's one of the most improved performers in the company.

    His in-ring work has gone from where I thought he was average to thinking that he can have fantastic matches with the right opponent, which he's done many times with Tyson Kidd on NXT especially. Look it up if you don't believe me. 

    The problem is that such a small audience watches NXT (it wasn't even shown in the US for most of this year), so they have no idea that he's gotten better.

    Personally I hope he is brought back onto Raw or Smackdown soon because he's a talented guy that knows what he's doing in the ring. Now can we just call him Joe Hennig instead of this stupid Michael McGillicutty name? It's silly.

    Grade C+ (Last Year: C+)

    Outlook: His semi-regular tag partner has been Johnny Curtis. They have good chemistry. I'd like to see them used on Raw or Smackdown as a heel team because both guys deserve a chance. A singles run would be nice too. If you need another idea then how about a team with Ted DiBiase simply because both of their dads were awesome? That's enough of a reason for me.  

36. Derrick Bateman

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    Age: 29

    His future is tied to the gimmick known as "The USA Guy," which is a character he's created as far as I know. (Video)

    It looks to be a really campy babyface character. I'm excited to see it on Raw or Smackdown in the near future.

    Bateman's a good talker who has a lot of experience from before his time in WWE, but also as a regular on NXT the last few years. I like him more as a babyface because he's a funny guy that fans are going to like if he is given an opportunity.

    A year ago, when I did the roster evaluation I wanted him to be used on the main roster. It still hasn't happened. Hopefully it does soon. Admittedly this grade is partly based on potential. What can I say? I have a feeling I'm really going to like The USA Guy.

    Grade: C+ (u) 

    Outlook: The USA Guy has a chance to be different and stand out from the pack. I really hope management gets behind him. I may even move from Canada to the US in support of him.

35. Darren Young

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    Age: 28

    Young is a part of the Primetime Players tag team with Titus O'Neil. The two became a team while on NXT when O'Neil went heel to join up with Young, who was already a heel.

    They have developed some nice chemistry while they have been together. Obviously there's been a change recently since their agent/manager A.W. got fired. I liked A.W. with them, but he's gone and now they are on their own.

    Young is the better in-ring performer on his team. He moves around the ring well, his offense looks credible and he has a cool finisher known as the Gut Check where he drives his knees into the ribs of his opponent.

    I hope his team with O'Neil lasts for a few years, because they have the kind of chemistry that is hard to manufacture. When you have something that works, it's important to maintain it.

    Grade: C+ 

    Outlook: I see the Primetime Players being one of the main teams in the tag team division. Keep them as heels. Their act works. No need to change anything. 

34. Booker T

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    Age: 47

    I liked him more as an announcer than I do as a GM.

    I realize that not a lot of people liked him as an announcer, but I enjoyed his hilarious catchphrases like "aww shucky ducky quack quack" and "what da hell" among others. He added some flair to the announce table.

    Now that he's GM, he plays a generic role that anybody could play. It takes away his personality.

    As far as his in-ring career goes, he's pretty much retired. He did have a few matches in the last year with Cody Rhodes, but for the most part that part of his life is over.

    Grade: C+ (Last Year: B-) 

    Outlook: Will he last a whole year as a GM? I doubt it. It wouldn't surprise me if he's back at the announce table on Smackdown within the next year.

33. Jack Swagger

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    Age: 30

    I'm a Swagger fan. Always have been. To me he represents the kind of wrestler that WWE would like because he's got size, he has a legitimate athletic background and he's capable of having good matches, too.

    The problem is he's had the same gimmick ever since he's been a part of the roster.

    Thankfully instead of making him a full-time jobber they've taken him off TV for a break to re-tool him and perhaps bring him back in a different role. As a babyface, perhaps? I hope so. It's worth a shot at least. Either that or put him into a heel tag team with a guy like McGillicutty or DiBiase. Maybe that will work.

    The point is that Swagger's a talent worth investing in, so I hope that when he returns from this hiatus that he gets a chance to show just how good he is.

    Does anybody else miss the Swagger Soaring Eagle? No? Just me? Alrighty then.

    Grade: C+ (Last Year: B)

    Outlook: I'm predicting the babyface run. It has potential to work if they get behind it. There are enough heels on the roster. He'd get lost in the shuffle. Give him a chance to do something new and see what happens.

32. Justin Gabriel

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    Age: 31

    I think Gabriel has been put in a role that suits him well. For the most part ,he's being booked as the babyface tag team partner in the team known as International Airstrike along with Tyson Kidd. I'm not sure how good of a name that is, but if you look at their talent, it has the potential to be a very successful team.

    When Gabriel debuted, he was a heel as part of the Nexus stable. If you look at him in the ring, he's clearly a guy with babyface skills. Not only does he look like a babyface more than a heel, but his fast-paced offense works a lot better as a face.

    He's one of the more exciting in-ring performers in the company.

    As part of a team, he's able to showcase that more often. Gabriel is a good talent. His 450 splash may be the most impressive move in WWE, even if we don't see it as often these days.

    Grade: B- (Last Year: C+) 

    Outlook: I think his team with Kidd will be where he's predominantly featured in the next year. They can gain some steam as a babyface team as long as they are given the opportunity to show just how good they are. 

31. Vickie Guerrero

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    Age: 44

    She continues to do good work although nothing has changed with her in the last year. She was managing Dolph Ziggler last year. She still is this year. Managing Jack Swagger didn't last that long.

    While Ziggler doesn't really need a manager, she does add to the act by being a heel that never gets cheered, which is the whole point of being a heel. Her presence will keep Ziggler from being cheered.

    It will also allow them to turn Ziggler face at one point by turning on her if they choose to go in that direction.

    The question at this point is, has her act gotten stale? I think it has, at least a little bit. Basically she's been portraying the same character for five years now. A babyface turn wouldn't be wise, though, so she's in the role that fits her the best.

    Grade: B- (Last Year: B)

    Outlook: The only change I could see in her is if they make her the GM of Raw or Smackdown. Other than that she'll keep her role as a manager, which is fine with me.

30. Ricardo Rodriguez

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    Age: 26

    I really enjoy the work of Rodriguez. He's one of those underrated talents that makes me laugh when he's out there performing. His character is basically a joke as the ring announcer of Alberto Del Rio.

    The cool thing is this year they've given him some more duties and even put him in some matches. Remember the feud earlier in the year with Santino? It provided some good comedy moments. Their Tuxedo match at No Way Out was one of the worst matches of the year, though. That was his low point.

    For the most part, he's exactly what you want out of a supporting character. He knows his role, he plays his part well in terms of getting the crowd to hate him and when he gets the chance to wrestle, he can be entertaining as well.

    Ricardo's one of the younger guys on the roster that will continue to grow with more TV time. He has a very bright future.

    Grade: B- (u) (Last Year: B-) 

    Outlook: I think he'll have more opportunities to wrestle. More screen time for him will be a good thing. 

29. Zack Ryder

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    Age: 27

    Poor Zack Ryder. That's what I think when I see his name. Here's a guy that worked his ass off to gain popularity with fans using methods other than WWE TV because he was barely on. His YouTube show was a sensation (I admit I used to watch it) and he's very interactive on Twitter.

    Towards the end of last year and into the early part of this year his role on television grew. The problem was he got booked like a complete idiot that got his ass kicked by Kane on a regular basis as a way to build up John Cena as a babyface.

    It was as if Ryder was the innocent woman that Cena had to protect, so that's what Cena did in winning his feud with Kane and where did that leave Ryder? Nowhere.

    He lost the US Title faster than you can say "jobber" and at WrestleMania 28 he got played for a fool by Eve while barely getting revenge on her. Simply put, he has been one of the worst booked characters on WWE TV in 2012. It's been brutal.

    The good news for Ryder and his fans is he's only 27. He signed with WWE six years ago. Most guys don't make it at such a young age, so that means they saw some talent in him. As a worker, he's solid. He has his signature spots that work, although personally I think the Broski Boot should be his finisher instead of the Rough Ryder because it looks much more painful.

    In terms of promos, he's still the goofy kid that smiles way too much when he talks. He needs to show different emotions if he's going to evolve. You're barely on the show, kid. You barely win matches. Stop smiling. You can be angry. That's a problem in WWE. Most babyfaces smile all the time even when they're barely on the show. There's no depth to their characters.

    Ryder still has a bright future. The fans really do like him, so as long as he can keep getting those reactions, management could listen to it and give him another push to that IC/US Title level once again.

    Grade: B- (u) (Last Year: B-)

    Outlook: Ryder's a midcard babyface. Maybe in a few years he'll move up the card, but I don't think management likes him enough to do that soon. Sometimes he teams with Santino. It doesn't feel like a permanent team. He's still a singles wrestler, in my opinion.

28. Beth Phoenix

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    Age: 31

    This will be a lot shorter than I intended to write because recently the news came out that she is leaving WWE when her contract runs out in October. The news is true.

    I think it's a combination of her being burned out from being in the wrestling business for over a decade and being on the road for over five years. It's not an easy life. At some point, you want to slow down, so why not when your contract is up?

    While she had a run with the Divas Title earlier in the year, there was a lack of babyface opponents for her to compete against.

    Perhaps if they had her feud with Natalya it could have been interesting, but instead we had to see her go against Kelly Kelly way too many times. As an aside, I'll miss Beth more than I'll miss Kelly. In case you forgot, Beth did have a 204-day Divas Title reign from October to April.

    I think part of her leaving is a frustration with the time devoted to the divas, although I don't know that for sure. I'll miss seeing her in the ring, but can't blame her for moving on, either.

    Grade B- (Last Year: B)

    Outlook: I don't think of this as a retirement. I also don't think she will go to TNA. I think it's just a case of needing a break and that we will see her in a WWE ring again. We don't know. I think she'll wrestle again, though. Whether that's as a full time performer next year or beyond, I don't really know. 

27. Sin Cara

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    Age: 29

    Here's one of the most polarizing figures on the roster. He's either really liked or really hated by fans. There doesn't seem to be an in-between although if there is, then I would be in that place.

    While he's not my favorite performer, I do like him more than a lot of people that will point out every little "botch" he does in a match. A lot of wrestlers make mistakes, though. It's part of the business. If it was easy to be a good wrestler, then more people would do it.

    In his case, it's partly because he wrestles a different style than most American wrestlers and when you mix that in with the fast pace he works at, how many people can keep up with him? 

    What I like about Sin Cara right now is that he's tied at the hip, so to speak, with Rey Mysterio. The idea is that Mysterio is his mentor and is trying to help him out. I don't think a heel turn is imminent for either guy.

    Instead of that, they will likely win the tag team titles at some point and hopefully have a match at WrestleMania 29 in a face vs. face setting. "The Battle of the Masked Marvels" could be a lot of fun.

    Until we get there, he needs to keep up his consistency in the ring so that he can gain the trust of the higher ups that will decide his future.

    He was one of the first big signings when Triple H got his job as the head of talent relations, so you know they're going to stick by him for as long as they can. I think that's the right move.

    Even if he doesn't botch any moves, he'll continue to have his haters. That's just how fans are. He needs to fight through it. The former Mistico was a huge draw in Mexico for a reason. He has talent. Whether he can continue to adapt and improve is up to him. I hope he makes it. I really do.

    Grade: B- (Last Year: B-) 

    Outlook: Like I said, a lot of his future is based on where things go with Rey Mysterio as his current partner and a potential opponent down the road. It's the smart way to book both of them at this point in their careers. Tag gold is likely. Perhaps a IC or US Title run may be in his future too. Main eventer? Doubt it ever happens. 

26. R-Truth

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    Age: 40

    It will likely surprise some people to see that R-Truth is 40 years old. He's one of the few regular WWE performers that's in his 40s. Unfortunately, my interest in his act is not where it was last year. 

    A year ago at this time he was an entertaining heel that I really enjoyed and I gave him a grade of B+, which seems really generous in hindsight.

    He turned face towards the end of the year, then he turned into more of a comedy wrestler with the "Little Jimmy" stuff and he's had an entertaining run with Kofi Kingston as a regular tag team.

    I enjoyed him more as a heel. His work in the ring is solid, his promos are goofy and he's above average in terms of getting a crowd into his match. Plus, the kids love the "Little Jimmy" thing (from what I've seen), so that's not going away anytime soon.

    You need veteran babyfaces like R-Truth on the roster. There is definitely a role for him.

    Grade: B- (d) (Last Year: B+)

    Outlook: I think being a midcard babyface tag wrestler is the right role for him. As an older wrestler, they can use him to put over younger heels. I don't see him getting any kind of significant push for the rest of his career.

25. Santino Marella

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    Age: 33

    The funniest man in WWE is Santino. That's my opinion, but I'm sure it's shared by millions around the world too. Funny guy. That's his role. I love all the little things he does during the course of a match like the cobra, the trumpet and the awkward way that he speaks.

    His act appeals to kids, it makes adult males like me mark out because of how silly it is and it has seen him become a popular babyface with the fans.

    The best showing of his career came in the Smackdown Elimination Chamber match when he finished as the runner up to World Champion Daniel Bryan. It was the biggest moment of his career in terms of being taken as a serious competitor. The crowd really got behind him. Yes it was even better than the "Santina" character. Even a Boogeyman match was better than that. Okay so maybe i went a little too far there.

    This year he also won the US Title, barely defended it and lost it. Now he's back to being a comedic midcard guy, which is the role best suited for him. No complaints here.

    Grade: B- (Last Year: B-)

    Outlook: Of all the people on the roster, he's the easiest to predict. He'll remain in the same role he's been for the majority of his career as a babyface. Remember the old saying: "If it ain't broke don't fix it." Sorry for the double negative. It had to be done.

24. Heath Slater

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    Age: 29

    The one man rock band has made an impression on me this year. Throughout this evaluation you have seen me say that people have to do things to differentiate themselves from the pack in order to stand out. Look at Slater.

    He looks different than anybody on the roster. He's got this "one man rock band" gimmick that allows him to be an over the top heel that makes fans want to see him get his ass kicked. Aside from the brutal segment with Cyndi Lauper, I thought having legends destroy him week after week this summer was a lot of fun.

    It allowed him to show his personality, which is what character development is all about. I've also taken notice of his work in the ring. The guy always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Also unlike some people on the roster his offense actually looks good. 

    I realize that the general consensus is that he's an annoying heel, but the thing is he's that annoying heel that knows what he's doing! The crowd hates him because he does all of the little things right to make them hate him.

    Now that's he's in this stable with Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre perhaps he'll slowly climb up the roster to show what he can do. Slater's easy to make fun of, but he's also doing his job well. With experience he'll continue to grow. I'm glad he's getting the opportunities to improve. He's earned it.

    Grade: B- (u) (Last Year: C) 

    Outlook: Heel is definitely the role for him. Don't be surprised if he's in the hunt for the IC or US Title over the next year. 

23. Tyson Kidd

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    Age: 32

    I see the term "underrated" used when people talk about Kidd, who is a favorite of mine.

    I don't think he's underrated by his peers in WWE who probably know he's one of the best workers in the world. The ones doing the underrating are WWE management because they are not using him to the best of his abilities.

    The thing is he has had a lot of chances to show his skills over the last year with a lot of matches on shows like NXT and Superstars, but it's rare to see him showcase that talent on Raw or SmackDown.

    My opinion is that if he got the chance to have a 10 minute match with another good worker he would wow the crowd and it would raise his status in the company.

    Remember Money in the Bank? He was a participant in that match. He earned a good reaction from the fans during the match. Then what? Back to barely getting TV time.

    The good thing is he's paired up with Justin Gabriel as a tag team with a lot of potential. While I would like to see more from Kidd, it is an improvement on where he was last year. Hopefully by this time next year he's even more of a presence on WWE TV.

    Grade: B- (u) (Last Year B-)

    Outlook: The tag team with Gabriel feels like a permanent thing. I have no problem with that. Keep it going. 

22. Kofi Kingston

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    Age: 31

    I think the days of predicting a major superstar push for Kofi Kingston are over.

    It's unlikely that he'll reach "top dog" status in his career. His role is that of a tag team wrestler or upper babyface midcarder and I think he's cemented in that spot.

    Like I always say, there's nothing wrong with that because you can always use role players. He's a babyface that's locked into his role. It's not like he does a bad job at it. It just feels like nothing changes from year to year with Kingston. 

    I like his work in the ring although I think sometimes he can be too repetitive in his matches. Every wrestler has routines that they do in their matches. I feel like in Kingston's case he's too reliant on doing the same moves over and over and every match just feels the same with him.

    In my Twenty Ideas for WWE to Consider column from August, I suggested that he turn heel. It would be different for him. I don't think it will necessarily happen, though.

    Grade: B- (Last Year: B)

    Outlook: Not much has changed in his five years on the main roster. He's a midcard babyface that's also a part of the tag division. I don't see any changes for him although if it was me I would definitely try the heel turn just to see what he can do in that role.

21. Eve

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    Age: 28

    I think there's no question that Eve is considered the top diva by WWE management. She is all over WWE programming and I don't think that's a bad thing.

    She is one of the most improved people on the roster this year. She went from a diva without much of a direction last year to somebody that has improved a lot thanks to a heel turn. Do you see why I suggest turns for a lot of people that are stagnant? They freshen the character up.

    As a heel I actually notice her now and even look forward to seeing her because she has good presence on camera. It also helps that she's very easy on the eyes too.

    In the ring she's definitely improved over the years, but she doesn't have consistently good matches. If she's in there with one of the few elite in-ring performing divas then she can. That improvement will likely continue as she gets used to being a heel.

    Her other role in the company is as the assistant to SmackDown GM Booker T. That position allows her the opportunity to get even more TV time and show off her heel characteristics even more. It also means she gets to walk around in skirts more often, which makes her appearances that much more enjoyable as well.

    Thank you to Eve for going from somebody I got bored by very easily to somebody I now look forward to seeing. Also thanks to the creative team for giving her something new to do after all five years of being boring. Heels just want to have fun.

    Grade: B (Last Year: C) 

    Outlook: I think she'll have a long reign as Divas Champion. Her biggest opponent will likely be AJ Lee. Don't be surprised if that rivalry simmers going into WrestleMania 29 season. 

20. Natalya

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    Age: 30

    If you've read my work in the past few years then you know that my favorite diva is definitely Natalya. She represents what I want to see in a WWE Diva.

    Not only is she easy on the eyes and loaded with a strong personality, but she's the most skilled women's wrestler on Raw or Smackdown. Whenever she has a match she finds a way to make it entertaining.

    Often times I see her in matches with the younger, less experienced girls and she makes them look credible. She is the perfect combination of speed and power without overshadowing anybody she is in the ring against. I love her offense with the Natty By Nature spinning clothesline, the Pinup Strong submission hold and of course the Sharpshooter that she uses to finish off her opponents.

    Personally my favorite role for her is as a heel. She's so good at being a jerk. It's funny because personality wise it seems like she is one of the nicest people in the business, but that's what being a performer is all about. Be different. Make yourself stand out. I think she does that.

    They need to be consistent with her character. Either stay heel or stay face. Her gimmick changes are too frequent. At least she's not booked to fart anymore right? That's one of the most awkward questions I've ever asked. Just leave it alone, please.

    Do not confuse a lack of a push with a lack of talent. This evaluation is about the talent of the performers. If you watch a match with Natalya in it chances are she's going to be the one making her opponent look better than normal because of how good she is. It's what the wrestling business is all about.

    Hopefully with a thinning divas roster she can be elevated to a position where she can win the Divas Championship. Nobody deserves it more, in my opinion.

    Grade: B (Last Year: B) 

    Outlook: A run as Divas Champion? I hope so. Also, I would love to see newly signed Sara Del Rey used on Raw or Smackdown for a match with her. Right now Sara is working as a trainer in NXT/FCW, but they could definitely use her. I know they've wrestled in the indies before Natalya was in WWE. I would love to see it on a bigger stage. 

19. Christian

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    Age: 38

    I know that the "I'm a Heyman guy" thing is overplayed, but I have to start this off by saying I'm a Christian guy. I have been since I saw him wrestling in the indies here in the Canadian province of Ontario back in 1997.

    Last year when I did this column he got a rating of A, which made him first on the Smackdown roster and second overall to CM Punk. That's because 2011 was the best year of his career in terms of the push he received, the character he had (I loved his heel turn) and the number of quality matches he had.

    What about this year? As much as I hate to state it, his status has dropped significantly. 

    Even though he's been durable for most of his nearly 20 year career, he got hurt late last year and for much of 2012 he was off television.

    The most notable things he did this year was turn babyface (ill advised in my opinion) and win the Intercontinental Title, but that was only so they can get the belt from Cody Rhodes to The Miz and needed a transitional champion to do it.

    As a babyface Christian is just another guy. As a heel, he can be a main event player like he was in 2011. The reason for him going face is simply because there's a greater need there due to all the young heels on the roster. He's one of the best in-ring performers in the company, so it makes sense to put him in there with a heel because he makes them look great.

    You know what else he deserves? One…more…match. I loved the way he would say that.

    Grade: B (d) (Last Year: A) 

    Outlook: I don't see a main event push happening again. He's likely a midcarder for the rest of his career. If they paired him up with a younger wrestler they could make a good tag team too. A guy like Christian is important to have around. 

18. AJ Lee

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    Age: 25

    If you were looking at making a list about who made the biggest jump from 2011 to 2012 she's somebody near the top of the list.

    A year ago she was just a regular diva on the roster that didn't have much of a character. They paired her up with Daniel Bryan as his girlfriend that liked him way more than he liked her, then he dumped her and she went crazy because of it. While going crazy, she developed an eccentric personality that made her stand out.

    She gets more promo time than any woman on the roster (along with Vickie Guerrero) too, so that certainly helps her cause. She's done good work with Daniel Bryan and CM Punk among others.

    I'm guessing she has impressed a lot of people in WWE management because they "promoted" her to the role of Raw General Manager, which was a shock to many of us.

    I want to see more of her in the ring. I think the GM role was a nice surprise, but it's not helping her. Put her in the ring where she belongs. Maybe the fans will get behind the divas matches a bit more if she's involved.

    A feud with heel Divas Champion Eve seems like a natural rivalry that could be the spark the women's roster needs. Her future is bright at 25 years old. She's not even in the peak of her career and there are a lot of things to get excited about in terms of what's ahead of her.

    Grade: B (u) (Last Year: C+)

    Outlook: I think she has a very bright future. Her character is over and there are a lack of babyface divas in WWE. I don't think her run as GM will last too long. My guess is she'll be holding the Divas Title by the time WrestleMania 29 gets here. That is if WWE actually has a Divas Title match at WrestleMania, which doesn't happen that often.

17. Antonio Cesaro

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    Age: 31

    The current United States Champion is a "new" talent on the main WWE roster this year.

    Of course before he was in WWE, he had a lot of success in Ring of Honor as Claudio Castagnoli. He's fared well in his first year on the main roster in WWE too.

    He presents a different look because he comes from Switzerland, which makes him unique in that he doesn't sound like everybody else. Of course in WWE if you don't sound like everybody else that makes you a heel because that's just how it is. 

    Right now his gimmick is the guy that speaks five languages. He does it in a way that makes him look smarter than the average person, but he's going to need more for his gimmick than that.

    I'm surprised they dropped Aksana as his manager because I think she added to his act in terms of being a distraction for his opponents. He can be successful on his own, though.

    Like most people, he needs a quality opponent to go up against that elevates both of them. Most titles are props. What really matters is having feuds and matches that people remember. Is that right opponent out there? I sure hope so. I want to see Cesaro having 15 minute matches on PPV. Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.

    Grade: B (u) 

    Outlook: His former ROH tag partner Kassius Ohno (formerly Chris Hero) will likely be called up to the main roster soon. Would they pair them up? Might happen. I think it's more likely that Cesaro will have a long reign as the US Champion to try to elevate him to another level, but like I said having a memorable feud is what is really important. 

16. Ryback

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    Age: 30

    The wrestler formerly known as Skip Sheffield has had quite a presence on WWE programming in 2012.

    After suffering an ankle injury in 2010, he was held out all of last year and returned this year as Ryback. He hasn't lost a match on television or pay-per-view. The "feed me more" chants grow week after week. There are also "Goldberg" chants due to his resemblance towards the former WCW & WWE Champion.

    It's taken a while for his career to take off considering he first signed with WWE seven years ago, but I think Ryback is really becoming a big name in the company that will have a major role going forward. He's the perfect example of what I say a wrestler can be if management gets behind the gimmick and shows some faith in the performer. 

    What I like most about Ryback is that he's an ass-kicking machine. He walks to the ring, he destroys his opponents, he chants "feed me more" and then he leaves. There are a no boring promos. There are no poorly acted sketches. He just kicks ass. Sometimes that's all you need. It's simple, but it works.

    Too many times in wrestling things get complicated when they don't need to be. Ryback stands out because he's simple.

    Where the issues arise is what do you do when he has to wrestle a top guy (possibly CM Punk) and his match will go 15 minutes instead of two minutes? Will fans care then?

    I saw him wrestle Jinder Mahal at a house show a few weeks ago. The match went about ten minutes. The crowd died during some of it. They were not used to him selling that much. It's something he will have to work on in the weeks and months ahead. That will be the test for him.

    Grade: B (u) (Last Year: Injured) 

    Outlook: Nothing would shock me about how far he gets pushed in the future. I think he's a pet project of Vince McMahon that will benefit from WWE knowing they need more babyface stars. The WWE or World Title is likely. A potential match with big name heels like CM Punk and Brock Lesnar are very possible too. The future for "The Ryback" (as Daniel Bryan calls him) is bright. 

15. Wade Barrett

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    Age: 32

    Barrett is a permanent main eventer waiting to happen.

    The broken elbow injury he suffered back in February was a terrible thing that happened live on Raw. He was out of action for half of the year partly because of the recovery from injury and partly because they wanted to wait for the right time to bring him back.

    Now that he's back they are pushing the idea that his "Barrett Barrage" gimmick represents what his life was like before he was in WWE when he was a bare knuckle fighter. His new finisher, a devastating forearm to the face called The Souvenir, is different than what you will normally see as a finishing move. To me it's an improvement over the finisher he was doing before his injury. 

    There are two things that Barrett has going for him:

    1) He's a bigger wrestler. We know Vince McMahon loves that.

    2) He's proven himself to be a skilled talker. That's very important too.

    Because of those skills he has the chance to become a star. Where he needs to improve is in his matches.

    The one thing I notice with him during matches is there are instances where the crowd will die  because he slows down the pace far too much. What he needs to do is keep them more involved. Simplify the offense a bit more. I think he'll improve on that over time and when that happens he'll have all the tools needed to be a main event player.

    Barrett still needs to improve on things, but I think he'll get there.

    Grade: B (u) (Last Year: B) 

    Outlook: I thought he would have been the WWE or World Champion by now. The injury prevented that from happening this year. Next year I think he'll reach that level. 

14. Rey Mysterio

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    Age: 37

    This year marks twenty years for Mysterio as a pro.

    He's not booked as an underdog as much as he used to be due to accomplishing so much in his amazing career and he still resonates well with the fans.

    I'll never forget how impactful he was for me as a fan in the mid-1990s when I saw him competing in WCW at a time when their main event scene featured a lot of old guys. He set the standard for cruiserweight wrestling in North America. Now that he's been in WWE for ten years some people may forget his work in WCW, but I never will.

    It's been a rough year for him. He had major knee surgery that kept him out of action for nearly a year. He also failed another drug test, which earned him a 60 day suspension for his second strike in WWE's drug testing program.

    Now that he's back they have paired him up with Sin Cara as a "Masked Marvels" like tag team. They'll likely win the tag team titles before we get to WrestleMania 28 and I think we'll see them in a singles match for the first time ever at that event. It would be foolish to not to do it as face vs. face too. There's no need for a heel turn for either guy.

    It's smart to use him as a role player that is helping out Sin Cara, who is nearly a decade younger than him. Mysterio's time as a true top guy is over. However, he has earned enough credibility to be booked near the top and to help out midcarders that can benefit from working with an excellent in-ring performer like him.

    On another note, I wonder how much money he makes off of mask sales alone. Dude must be making a killing. They are everywhere when I go to WWE shows. That's my way of saying that even though he unmasked in WCW he won't do it in WWE. The mask makes him different. And it puts money into his pocket too.

    Grade: B (d) (Last Year: Injured)

    Outlook: His future is tied to Sin Cara. Hopefully both of them can stay healthy so their team can continue to grow. There's no heel run in his future. I also doubt he'll get a main event run ever again.

13. Kane

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    Age: 45

    Kane is celebrating his 15th year as a character in WWE this October. He's also the oldest full-time member on the WWE roster.

    It's hard to know when he'll call it a career because he's been one of the most durable performers in the last two decades and he's still drawing good reactions from the fans. If you can keep getting people to care about your work then why stop, right?

    Make as much money as you can while you can and do a job that you obviously love. Good for him for being so dedicated to the business the way that he is. I'm sure that if you asked Vince McMahon about Kane he would have a lot of praise for him because how long he's been a part of WWE.

    As a worker he has slowed down a bit, but it's not that noticeable.

    They've done the smart thing by pairing him up with an elite in-ring performer like Daniel Bryan because that has minimized the amount of work that Kane has to do.

    Over the course of his career he's turned heel and face more times than perhaps anybody in the history of WWE. Remember when he came back with the mask on? It was because the fans liked him with his mask off.

    Then there was that awful "embrace the hate" feud with Cena that eventually led to a face turn. Odd, huh? No, it's just a typical Kane angle. He's still enjoyable though.

    While I don't want to see him pushed to the level of a major championship, I am perfectly fine with using him to raise the status of the tag titles or to build up an opponent. He has value in those roles.

    Grade: B (d) (LY: B)

    Outlook: He's at the tail end of his career. I don't think it's his last year, though. In terms of reliability, he's one of the most trusted employees that Vince McMahon has ever had. It's why he'll be on TV as long as he wants to be. I also predicted a heel turn within the next year because it's Kane and that's what he does.

12. Damien Sandow

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    Age: 30

    Here's another "new" face as far as the main roster goes, but the man formerly known as Aaron "The Idol" Stevens has been a part of WWE for most of the last decade.

    The Sandow role is exactly the kind of thing I mean when I say a talent should try something different.

    Sandow's the kind of character that doesn't want anything to do with the majority of people because he feels like they are beneath him. He's an elitist that insults opponents as a way to avoid wrestling them and of course he uses big words to make fans hate him. It's a sound strategy that works. 

    To this point we haven't seen Sandow in a lot of long matches on Raw or Smackdown. That was until this past Monday's Raw when he had a 15 minute match with World Champion Sheamus that, quite frankly, opened my eyes about him.

    While I don't love his propensity to grab the chinlock to slow a match down, it's obvious that he's very experienced, bumps well and has offense that is definitely good enough to make him a star one day.

    I do wish he got a finisher more painful looking than a neckbreaker where he pulls on the hands of his opponent, but that's hopefully something that can come in time for him.

    He has "future main eventer" written all over him. Don't be shocked if he gets there sooner rather than later.

    Grade: B (uu)

    Outlook: He's in a spot similar to Cody Rhodes except he got there much faster. Sandow is the definition of a heel. There won't be any changes for him character wise. It's just a matter of when he gets elevated to the next level. 

11. Big Show

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    Age: 40

    It seems like every other year WWE really gets behind Big Show and gives him a big run as a heel main event player.

    Earlier this year he turned heel in a very obvious way (unless you're John Cena) and received a huge push as a result of it. I like him a lot more in the heel role.

    I understand why they turn him face as well because he's a veteran that the fans can get behind due to his decade plus run as a top guy, but clearly he's a better performer in the heel role. He's bigger than everybody he competes against, so he's perfect in the role of a bully that knocks people out.

    Unlike a lot of heels, he doesn't have to be cheap either. He can kick your ass while he's standing right in front of you and he obviously has the credibility to back it up too. It's not a complicated gimmick. It works.

    Right now Show is being positioned as the top contender to Sheamus' World Title aka the SmackDown Title. This is on the heels of another feud with John Cena. Once the Sheamus feud is over (I doubt it ends with Big Show winning the World Title, what's next?

    There aren't that many top level babyfaces on the roster for him to feud with. I wouldn't be shocked if he turns babyface again by the time I wrote this column next year. He's in the tail end of his wrestling career when you consider he's been doing this for 17 years and just turned 40. I'm surprised he's been as durable as he is, which is a testament to his work ethic.

    Grade: B (d) (Last Year: B-)

    Outlook:  He's a role player near the top of the card. Even though he's better as a heel, a face turn wouldn't surprise me just because the roster is loaded with heels and they need veteran babyfaces to beat, so he fits the bill in that regard.

10. Paul Heyman

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    Age: 47

    I think it's fair to say that he's one of the best non-wrestlers in the history of the business in terms of being an on-air talent.

    I'd probably rank Bobby Heenan and Vince McMahon ahead of him, but Heenan was a wrestler before managing and McMahon certainly had a number of huge matches in his career although he is not considered a wrestler obviously.

    The reason Heyman is so good is because he makes everybody around him better. It's not necessarily about him.

    He's been in WWE this year as the mouthpiece of Brock Lesnar and also as an associate of CM Punk. He adds to their heel heat. He brings out the best in them. Those were his traits as a booker of ECW and later Smackdown as well. That's why the term "I'm a Paul Heyman guy" exists.

    People love the guy. I'm pleased that he's back in WWE. Don't go away anytime soon, Mr. Dangerously.

    Grade: B+

    Outlook: I don't know what kind of deal he has with WWE. I just hope he sticks around for the long term. I wish he was booking shows again because when he booked Smackdown in 2002 it was a fantastic show. That doesn't seem to be in the cards. He's there as an on screen performer and I would imagine he'll be gracing our TV screens heading into WrestleMania season as well. That's a great thing.

9. Cody Rhodes

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    Age: 27

    I will start this off with a statement: I believe Cody Rhodes will be a WWE or World Heavyweight Champion in 2013.

    Through the end of 2011 and into 2012 he had a significant reign as the Intercontinental Champion that lasted 236 days. It was the longest IC Title reign since Shelton Benjamin's 244 day reign in 2004.

    While I don't want to say that Rhodes made the title more important just by holding it, at least they had him bring back the old IC Title that had the white strap on it. The question is can you remember any of the feuds he had for the title? I remember the Big Show one, but that ended up with Show winning the IC Title at WrestleMania and then dropping it a month later because it really meant nothing on him. It's one thing to hold a championship. It's another to have a meaningful title reign. I don't think the reign of Rhodes meant a whole lot in the long run. 

    There are a lot of elements that I like with Rhodes.

    He carries himself well as a performer with a lot of confidence, his promos are done in a condescending tone that makes the fans want to hate him and he's always improving in the ring.

    The issue is he needs a "dance partner" so to speak. By that I mean he needs to be in a feud with a babyface performer that will elevate both of them.

    Remember his brief feud with Randy Orton in late 2011? It led to a pay-per-view match at Vengeance that Orton won. Ideally the best thing would have been a three month storyline where Rhodes won a major match that would be considered the biggest of his career, but they didn't give that feud that kind of time. Instead it came and went without meaning much for either guy. 

    I think it's fair to say that Rhodes is the best talent under the age of 30 that is on either Raw or Smackdown. He's also had five years of experience on the main roster.

    Obviously, as the son of WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes, he was born to be a wrestler. If he's given the opportunity to move up the ladder I think he will continue to improve and show why he'll be a fixture in the main event scene for the next decade ahead.

    Grade: B+ (u) (Last Year: B+) 

    Outlook: It's heel all the way for him. The current "Rhodes Scholars" team with Sandow is fun although I don't see it lasting too long. Don't be surprised if he wins a Money in the Bank briefcase in 2013. I think it's going to be a big year for him. 

8. The Miz

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    Age: 31

    The last year has been difficult for Miz in terms of finding his spot on the roster.

    He went from being the WWE Champion in 2011 to being a few notches below that once he lost his championship. Remember who The Rock & John Cena at Survivor Series last year? It was Miz and R-Truth, who didn't appear like serious threats to the WrestleMania 28 headliners. He went from somebody to just another guy on the show.

    There's nothing wrong with his work. While he's not an elite in-ring performer, he is above average and he's very capable of having good matches with the right opponent.

    In terms of promos he's one of the best in the company. He's also the guy that does more media appearances than anybody in WWE because he's so good at representing them in public. That's a big thing in the eyes of management.

    As I've written many times, I think his long term future will be very bright as a babyface if they ever pull the trigger on a face turn. He's a guy that doesn't have a rugged look, so there are times when it's difficult to believe him as an aggressive heel that can beat somebody up.

    His current run as Intercontinental Champion has been alright except for when he got destroyed by Ryback in a few minutes as if he was a nobody. That's how WWE books secondary champions. They tend to lose a lot of non-title matches.

    I think he'll always be pushed to some degree. To what degree depends on how much management believes in him at that time. He's consistent and works hard, so he'll be in a good spot on the roster his entire career. 

    Grade: B+ (Last Year: A-)

    Outlook: The face turn is more of what I want to see. Do I think it will really happen? No. He'll likely continue to be a heel. I think he might win the WWE Title again or the World Title one day, but in the next year that seems unlikely just because the roster is loaded with talent that is ready to break through.

7. Alberto Del Rio

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    Age: 35

    I'm a Del Rio fan. To me he's a guy that does all the little things in wrestling right.

    When he's on offense in a match he focuses on a body part while working a safe style that looks credible too. While I wouldn't call him one of the five best in-ring performers in the company, he's certainly better than the average. If I were to be picky I would say that his style can be a bit slow at times. There are times when the crowd dies during his longer matches and that hurts him a bit. It's not a big thing, though. That's more about the style that he works. 

    In terms of promos he does a good job. He's far from an elite talker, but he carries himself well and he's the kind of heel that you can tell has no interest in getting cheered from the crowd. He doesn't make smartass jokes. I like that. We don't need funny heels. Be serious and you will have more credibility.

    Del Rio's very old school in a lot of things he does. That's why he's successful. When you think about what a classic wrestling heel should be, it's a picture of Del Rio. The fancy cars, the confidence, even the scarf around his neck - these are all things done to piss off the fans. And guess what? It all works. 

    His status in the company is secure. In 2011 he won a lot of things including the Royal Rumble, Money in the Bank and the WWE Championship two times.

    In 2012 he didn't win anything major. Much like The Miz, he's a guy that's in the upper midcard that has a lot of credibility and can compete for major titles, but he's not in a position where you expect him to win one of the two big titles five or six times in his career. It may not even happen again. That's alright, though, because I think he is where he belongs.  He gets a B+ just like last year.

    Grade: B+ (Last Year: B+) 

    Outlook: I think where he is this year is the kind of spot he'll be in next year too. There's no face turn for this guy. Why would there be? His gimmick is a heel character and there's no reason to change that. Could he get elevated to win the WWE Title or the World Title? I don't see it happening. He'll feud with babyfaces near the top of the card, but I don't see him being the top guy again. 

6. Randy Orton

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    Age: 32

    I think last year was the best year of Randy Orton's career in terms of his in-ring performances. His feud with Christian was excellent. It elevated both guys, which is what feuds are supposed to do.

    After dropping the World Title to Mark Henry last fall he moved down the roster a bit and never really got back into the World Title picture on a regular basis.

    I was really hoping for a feud with Daniel Bryan, but that never happened. The recent feud with Dolph Ziggler was pretty good although it was far too short. I thought it was a story that could have led to multiple pay-per-view matches. Instead it was just one show. I wanted more. 

    As a babyface Orton's matches have been better, but his gimmick has suffered. I also question how much fun he's having as a babyface.

    Earlier this year when he was suspended for 60 days for his second Wellness Policy violation I thought that it would allow him to freshen up his babyface act. It didn't really happen. He's spoken openly about how he wants to turn heel again.

    Part of the reason it hasn't happened is likely because the babyface side of the roster is pretty thin. However I think with Daniel Bryan working as a babyface in the near future that they should have enough top tier talent on that side.

    It wouldn't surprise me to see Orton back in his heel role, which may be for the best.

    What's amazing to see is how popular the RKO still is. No move in WWE generates a bigger reaction than that move. If he's a heel again will fans boo it or keep cheering? It will be interesting to see what happens there. 

    I think it's fair to say that Orton is at a crossroads. He's been a main event level player for eight years now. What more can he do?

    All there is for him are feuds with new opponents and to win more titles. His promos were never his strong suit. His look has carried him a long way. To his credit, in the last couple of years his in-ring performances have raised his stock in my eyes.

    Will management push him to win the WWE or World Title again? I'm not sure. With two Wellness Policy strikes against him it's a bit of a risk. Hopefully he still has the desire to be the best because he's in the prime of his career and there are a lot of talented guys on the roster that can benefit from working with him.

    Grade: B+ (Last Year: A-) 

    Outlook: I think the heel turn is inevitable. It's likely for the end of the year or Royal Rumble time. Hopefully that rivalry with Daniel Bryan happens because I think it would be excellent. 

5. Sheamus

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    Age: 34

    It seems like the biggest goal of WWE's creative team this year was to make this guy into the "new" John Cena or at least something close to that.

    As we all know, Cena's the top babyface on Raw. Sheamus is the top babyface on SmackDown.

    He's also one of the top babyfaces on Raw too because if you watch both shows he's the guy that is on WWE television more than anybody. How many matches has he lost in the last year? I doubt you need two hands to count that high. It's rare. 

    When he won the Royal Rumble in January a lot of us thought that it was because Chris Jericho was the obvious winner, so the creative team wanted to swerve us by giving the win to Sheamus. Looking back I don't think that was the case at all. Jericho didn't need the win. Sheamus did.

    As a newly turned babyface last year they needed to "shove the rocket up his ass" (a wonderful saying) to push him as a top dog. That's why he won the Rumble.

    Then he defeated Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds at WrestleMania 28 because they wanted to push the idea that he had a devastating finishing move with the Brogue Kick. If you listen to the crowd reactions you can tell that it's worked.

    I was at a house show a couple of weeks ago where he was main eventing against Del Rio and the fans loved this guy. It was a top babyface reaction for him. 

    The issue I have with Sheamus is that he is pushed too strongly. It doesn't seem like anybody can beat him in any match, which I guess is fine if you consider that he'll likely lose the World Title in a cheap manner thanks to a Dolph Ziggler Money in the Bank cash-in. It makes him unlikable at times, though. That's the problem.

    Why should I or anybody cheer for the guy that always wins? He needs some sympathy heat once in a while. Selling an arm injury isn't enough. We like our heroes to be hurt and then fight back to attain victory. It's the simplest story there is because it works.

    The other thing I dislike about Sheamus the character is that the comedy promos really don’t work. I understand wanting to give him a personality, but the jokes aren't connecting as much as WWE probably hopes they would. Scale back the jokes. Let him deliver those serious "I'm going to kick your ass" type of promos because they will be much more effective. 

    I like him as a performer. I think his matches are very entertaining because he's perfected his craft as a brawling style of wrestler.

    His match with Daniel Bryan at Extreme Rules was arguably the best of his career, as I've said. I thought the Alberto Del Rio feud was good at times, but it dragged on a bit. The good thing for him is that potential feud with Dolph Ziggler will be awesome because Ziggler does such an outstanding job of making his offense look deadly.

    There are also other good heels lined up for him to feud with down the road such as Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett and Randy Orton if he turns heel. All of those rivalries would seem fresh. That's why Sheamus has a bright future in 2012 and beyond as he reaches the prime of his career.

    His grade moves up a notch because I think he's improved this year.

    Grade: A- (Last Year: B+) 

    Outlook: Top babyface on Smackdown. Nothing will change too much for him.

4. John Cena

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    Age: 35

    I like Cena. He's not one of my ten favorites in WWE, but I still like him.

    To me he's a guy that has worked his ass off as hard as anybody in the business to get where he is and when he has big matches with the right opponents he tends to deliver the goods. While I'm sure WWE would like their fans to stop booing him, it's not something that they need to force. It can happen if he's booked in a cooler way. More on that a bit later. 

    It's been an interesting year for Cena. They had him feud with Kane in the awful "embrace the hate" story that really didn't help anybody involved although the intention was to get fans to cheer Cena more.

    Then he had the build up with Rock for WrestleMania, which generally consisted of fantastic promos from both guys. The match at WrestleMania 28 was very good. It wasn't epic, but it was above average and I think that's a positive thing considering they never had a match before.

    The Brock Lesnar feud took over the next month. I absolutely loved it. Their match at Extreme Rules was a physical brawl like nothing we had ever seen in WWE. I enjoyed it so much when I watched it on replays.

    The feuds with John Laurinaitis and then Big Show were both very boring.

    Thankfully CM Punk turned heel because he brings out the best in Cena, so once again Cena has a great feud to sink his teeth into going into the end of this year. I think feuding with Cena makes Punk a bigger star while feuding with Punk makes Cena a better performer because Punk's the best heel in the business. Punk may be the best rival that Cena has ever had. That's why it's such a worthwhile feud for both guys.

    His work in the ring is consistent. A lot of it depends on the opponent too. When he's in the ring with somebody like CM Punk you can see he has talent. Against bigger guys like Kane or Big Show he's not going to have good matches, which makes it tough to watch.

    The best way to describe his in-ring work is by saying that he's not an elite worker than can carry poor opponents, but he's skilled enough to hang with the top guys. I'd love to see him work with other top in-ring talents like Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler because I think they will bring out the best in him as well.

    He'll never be Shawn Michaels or Bret Hart in the ring. We know that.  He knows that too. He's a power wrestler that knows what he can and can't do and does it to best of his ability. In boxing, different styles can make great fights. In wrestling, different styles can certainly produce great matches. Cena is the perfect example of that.

    In terms of promos, serious John Cena is one of the best talkers in the company. The problem is that "poopy joke Cena" gets in the way far too often and that hurts him. If you look at his promos with Rock before WrestleMania 28 a lot of them were in a serious tone. Those built up the match well.

    The same can be said about a promo with Punk before Night of Champions when Bret Hart was also in the ring with them. Cena made fans say "wow that was amazing." That's the reaction you want a main event level talent to receive from the fans all the time.

    What the creative team needs to do is cut back on the joke promos and allow him to deliver those very intense promos that make people want to spend $45 to order his pay-per-view match. We want to see the Cena that faced Rock, Brock and Punk all the time. That's how you will get people to like him.

    It's also impressive to see how durable he is. Aside from the current arm injury that will keep him out of action for about one month, he hasn't missed any time in over four years. Of course that leads to some people hating him because he's overexposed. To Vince McMahon, though, he's the most reliable guy in the company and his biggest draw.

    Reliability in wrestling is huge. You think McMahon can trust a guy like Orton in the same manner? Absolutely not. Remember when Brock Lesnar bailed in 2004? Who was a guy that WWE was grooming at the time? It was Cena.

    Cena's the kind of tireless worker you want as the leader of the locker room. It may upset some fans, but his spot is justified and he's earned it as much as any top guy. I don't know how many years Cena has left. I think 40 years old might be around the time when he nears the end of his career. Sorry haters, but he's got another five years left at least as long as he's healthy.

    Grade: A- (Last Year: A-)

    Outlook: To those that are looking for the heel turn, I don't think it's going to happen any time soon. Cena's spot is secure. The question is will they do Rock vs. Cena II at WrestleMania 29? I think so. This time I think Cena wins and he leaves with the WWE Title too.

3. Dolph Ziggler

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    Age: 32

    The big difference between the "show off" this year compared to last year is that he won the Money in the Bank match to earn himself a shot at the World Heavyweight Title any time he wants it.

    In terms of his spot on the card, not much has changed. He's still the guy that feuds with faces near the top of the card, yet he's not a top level heel that is main eventing PPVs yet. The big thing that WWE needs to do is give him the opportunity to be that heel because he has all the tools to make it work.

    It's all about management getting behind you. Look at Mark Henry's push in 2011. Obviously he's not the same kind of talent as Ziggler, but in terms of a push they made him look like a superstar because of how he was presented to the fans. All of a sudden a guy that didn't win the big one was able to get the job done. That's how Ziggler needs to be booked.  

    If you watch pay-per-views, Raw and Smackdown you can see that Ziggler is on every show. He's always having great matches. There's no question that he's one of the top three performers in terms of being an in-ring performer.

    On the microphone he continues to grow. I think his "WWE Download" show on Youtube has been a positive for him because it has allowed him to blossom in front of the camera.

    He's also been cutting promos more often on television although his manager Vickie Guerrero still does a lot of talking for him. I'd be in favor of him being on his own, but as he has said in interviews she does generate a lot of heat so it's important to use that to your advantage as well. If the split happens I have no doubt that he'll be fine on his own.

    The other thing worth mentioning with Ziggler is that he's generating a lot of cheers from the crowd. They appreciate his in-ring performances and are not afraid to show that by giving him support. Could that mean a babyface turn is on the horizon for him? I don't think it would be the best move.

    With guys like John Cena and Sheamus entrenched as top babyfaces while Daniel Bryan is turning face, it would hurt Ziggler to be another babyface on the roster. It's better if he stays heel where he can positioned as the second biggest heel in the company behind CM Punk if they book things how I would like them to. Stay the course with him.

    He's in the prime of his career and his future is very bright. It's only a matter of time until he gets a proper run as the World Heavyweight Champion.

    Grade: A- (u) (Last Year: B+)

    Outlook: The World Title is in his future. I think he'll win it by the end of 2012. He'll likely defend it at WrestleMania 29 with my choice of opponent being a babyface Daniel Bryan. If a face turn happens it would be later in 2013, but I hope for his sake he stays heel because long term that's the best thing for his career.

2. CM Punk

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    Age: 33

    The best in the world. That's what CM Punk calls himself. Is he right?

    While this column is not written from the perspective of wins & losses being important, he has had the WWE Championship for over 300 days. That means something as far as being the top guy in the company or in this case the guy in the number two spot.

    I'm glad he's turned heel. Last year I had concerns about his future as a babyface when I wrote this: "My concern is that there are a lack of true top heels for both he and Cena to feud with on Raw, so long term that's something WWE needs to fix by elevating some of them."

    They didn't elevate enough of them. Punk feuded with Alberto Del Rio who was already the WWE Champion, then Chris Jericho who is a legend and then they elevated Daniel Bryan, which was a great thing. Then it was back to being a heel while feuding with John Cena once again.

    He's better as a heel, in my opinion. Yes he's a likable performer and I understand why fans wanted to cheer for him, but the WWE needs a heel like him who does everything he can to get booed by the audience. His reasons for turning heel made sense too.

    Adding Paul Heyman to the mix was a smart move as well. He doesn't necessarily need Heyman to get booed. It's just something to make fans hate him even more, which is the whole point of being a heel in the first place.

    When you look at an elite talent, you try to pick things out in terms of what they can't do. With Punk, what can't he do?

    His promos are top notch. He's one of the best talkers ever. I'm not afraid to say that he's already one of the best ever. He's able to deliver memorable promos whether he's in the ring with somebody else or if he's simply talking to the audience. He's also funny too. As a heel he tries to be less funny, which is again what heels should do.

    In terms of his in-ring performance, Punk can work any style. He's had great technical matches with Bryan, he had a really awesome brawl with Jericho at Extreme Rules and he might be the best opponent John Cena has ever had. He's even had good TV matches with bigger guys like Show and Henry. When you can work any style with any kind of opponent and have great matches all the time you are a special talent in the ring.

    There may be nobody better at eliciting a reaction in WWE right now, either. Whether cheered or booed, there's always going to be noise when Punk is out there. His hard work has paid off.

    Punk is not ascending or declining. Nearly 34 years old, he is in the prime of his wrestling career.

    He has over a decade of experience, he's a leader on the roster and he makes everybody around him better when they are in the ring or on screen with him. It may have taken management a while to truly make him one of their top guys, but I'm glad they did.

    I'm a huge fan of this "CM Punk era" if you want to call it that. He makes watching the shows fun and certainly helps the quality of a three hour broadcast that I wish was two hours instead.

    Last year I gave him an "A" grade. This year he goes up to A+ because I think he's even better as a heel. It's the role best suited for him.

    Grade: A+ (Last Year: A)

    I'm not an easy grader, but he's earned that A+ rating. He's the total package. As I said at the beginning of these rankings, the last WWE performer I would give an A+ to is Chris Jericho in 2008 during that magical feud with Shawn Michaels.

    Outlook: I don't think the matches with Cena are over. That's fine with me. I also believe he'll hold the WWE Championship until the Royal Rumble where he's likely to drop it to The Rock, which could be the biggest match of his career. I think in 2012 a feud with Sheamus is very likely. They could use him to get some good matches out of Ryback too, which will be a test for Punk. Could a stable be in his future? I wouldn't mind seeing that again. He's exceptional in the leadership role.

1. Daniel Bryan

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    Age: 31

    The one person on the WWE roster that made the biggest leap in terms of presence on WWE TV from last year to this year is definitely Daniel Bryan.

    He went from just another babyface wrestler that could have great matches in the ring to a well rounded heel character that can still have great matches in the ring because he is arguably the best in-ring performer in pro wrestling.

    I think Bryan had those skills as soon as he got to WWE. The difference is that in the last year management showed they believed him, put him out there in positions to show his skills and he has succeeded in becoming, in my opinion, the top star in the company. 

    Late last year, after winning the World Title, the decision was made to turn him heel. He went from being a babyface wrestler that cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase against Big Show at December's TLC pay-per-view to an egotistical jerk that thought he was better than everybody because he was the champion.

    I had my doubts about it. Then I went to WrestleMania 28. I listened as over 70,000 people were chanting "yes" all night long in tribute to this guy and I realized that night that the best pure wrestler in the world was on the brink of superstardom.

    I know that everybody will remember his 18 second loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28, but as weird as this sounds I think having that moment made him a bigger star. The next night on Raw, the "yes" chants were even louder and although it seemed like Bryan was on the path to being a babyface they held off on it. His character kept on growing.

    Bryan became a jerk to his girlfriend AJ, who loved him more than he loved her, and he dumped her for it.  It made her into a bigger star too. That's why it worked so well. It benefited both of them.

    If you look at his in-ring performances, he has proven that he is as good as anybody there is. I know that most people hated what happened at WrestleMania and I can totally understand that. I'd rather focus on the best two out of three falls rematch with Sheamus at Extreme Rules because that was one of the year's best matches and maybe the best match of Sheamus' career.

    He followed that up with a classic technical wrestling bout with WWE Champion CM Punk at Over The Limit. It might have been the match of the year. During the feud with Punk, which lasted three PPVs, the story with AJ continued while also involving Kane.

    While I will admit that the story with Kane, which has seen them become tag team champions, has been silly in some ways it's also an example of how multi-talented Bryan is. Look how far he's come since he started on NXT in 2010. There's a massive difference.

    When you watch Bryan, look at him as a complete entertainer. He's not just an elite in-ring performer that is average on the microphone or in backstage segments. The guy can talk. Even though the fans wanted to cheer him earlier in the year, he did such a good job of being a jerk that they kept booing him.

    He's outstanding in terms of drawing a reaction from the fans. It's not just because he says "no" when they chant "yes" at him. It's because of what he does, how he does it and most importantly how he reacts to it.

    It's rare to see a performer that can have a 20 minute mat classic, deliver heel promos that make the crowd want to see him get his knocked off and then morph into a funny character if the situation calls for it. The only other person that I remember being able to consistently do that was Kurt Angle of ten years ago. That's how rare it is. 

    It took ten years of wrestling before Bryan Danielson made it to WWE. Now after three years in the company he has ascended as arguably the best performer in the world. Key word: performer. He's not just a wrestler. He can do it all.

    There have been several good things that have happened in WWE in the last year. However, nothing can top the rise of Daniel Bryan.

    In some ways I am surprised that Vince McMahon would push a "small" wrestler, but it's also proof that McMahon does know talent when he sees it. Now that Bryan is in the prime of his career and he's on the verge of becoming a huge babyface, the best may be yet to come. Yes. Indeed.

    Grade: A+ (Last Year: B+) 

    The rare A+. Not only is CM Punk worthy of that rare accomplishment, but so is Daniel Bryan.

    Outlook: Bryan's a babyface these days for the most part. He's not sucking up to the fans, but he's being booked against heels as the partner of Kane and he's doing things that are more likable than he was before. As a smaller wrestler it makes sense for him to be a face. The roster is also loaded with heels, so that means a lot of talent are available for him to feud with. I think the WWE Title or the World Title are definitely in his future going into next year. My suggestion is Ziggler defending the World Title versus Bryan at WrestleMania 29 with Bryan leaving with the World Title this year. How amazing would that be? 

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    Final Thoughts

    I went Daniel Bryan in the top slot over CM Punk. It was a very difficult decision. I think both guys are performing at a very high level and I found myself thinking about the placement for weeks. I'm sure that will be the most argued about topic amongst the readers, but I want to advise you that I really had a tough time picking one of them. 

    To read my thoughts on the full roster for opinions on those outside of the top 50 you can go here for part one and here for part two. I'm sure you're just dying for my opinions on Cameron, Hornswoggle and Teddy Long among others. You can admit it. We're all friends here.

    The one thing I've taken away from writing this column is that the WWE roster is loaded with a lot of young talent that is ready to break through to the main event.

    There are so many wrestlers in their early 30s that are seasoned pros that are at the age considered the prime of their careers. In some ways that can lead to problems because there are so many guys that deserve a push, but you obviously can't do it all at once. 

    I think a rich roster of talent is a positive thing in the long run, though. It allows you to try different things, turn people heel or face if you feel they are better in that role and hopefully build up the younger guys by using the established guys to put them over. 

    Who will rise next year? Who will fall? As always it will be interesting to see what happens.

    John Canton is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can read more of his work at his website TJRWrestling.com along with his talented staff of writers. He also writes a lot about the NFL at TJRSports.com, so check him out there as well! You can follow John on Twitter @johnreport too.