“In the real world of competition, the players want to compete and they want to compete at the very highest level. They don’t want to be a mid-card, much less in a preliminary match. They’re always fighting for the spotlight and that’s tough to reach…”
- Vince McMahon, WWF RAW Magazine, March 2001
The current WWE lower-to-mid card is packed full of talent. Some are young professionals waiting for their breakout moment (Antonio Cesaro); some are former headliners that are winding down their careers (Christian). Most, however, are simply stuck there—irrespective of ability.
Finding yourself in this group of WWE pro wrestlers is generally an unfavourable position to find your career in. It is usually this group of performers that are constantly walking the tightrope in terms of keeping their jobs, with these athletes often being victims of company cutbacks such as the notorious post-WrestleMania “spring cleans”.
Over the years, numerous stars have been released from the company as a result of an extended period of time in the lower-to-mid card, usually given the dreaded “creative has nothing for you” as an excuse. Shelton Benjamin, Low Ki and John Morrison are notable names on the list of undercard casualties, and you can expect that list to grow over the next 12 months.
In this article, we will take a closer look at 5 characters that this writer believes will be handed (or ask for) their release in the upcoming year.
In the case of Tensai, it seems to be simply a matter of time before he is either shown the door or leaves by his own accord.
It would not be the first time.
Matt Bloom, an incredibly talented “big man” of pro wrestling, was first in the WWE from 1997 to 2004, under the guises of Albert and A-Train. Bloom achieved relative success in his first run, including an (albeit short) Intercontinental title run, before he left for Japan.
Here, Bloom realised his true potential in stints with AJPW and NJPW before succumbing to the lure of a big-money move back to America earlier this year.
Back in WWE, Bloom was saddled with the dismal Tensai gimmick and, after a few decent bouts with the likes of John Cena and CM Punk, was relegated to an enhancement role for Sheamus, Ryback and others.
Bloom, as Tensai, is currently in an unfortunate situation. He possesses great ability in the ring, but is ultimately—for reasons out of his hands—spending his time on B-shows such as the Internet-only Superstars. A change of character could turn fortunes around, however, the WWE creative team has a tendency to stick with gimmicks even when they are clearly failing.
If nothing changes over the next year, this writer believes that either WWE or Bloom will, at some point, cut their losses.
As with Tensai, there seems to be an air of inevitability surrounding the WWE career of Alex Riley.
Upon his promotion from NXT to his angle with The Miz in 2010, Riley initially showed a considerable amount of potential. However, despite being a solid worker, it has become clear that Riley does not own the charismatic spark that could further him in WWE.
Since his series with The Miz (that, incidentally, contained several enjoyable matches) ended in June 2011, Riley has struggled to do anything of note, bar a mini-feud with the always-entertaining Dolph Ziggler. Currently on the injury list, "A-Ry" has had a highly uneventful 2012, with the only moment worth mentioning being the job he did for, ironically, a debuting Tensai back in April—something that can effectively sum up Riley’s situation.
It is also worth noting that Alex Riley was lucky to escape the axe following a DUI arrest back in November 2010, suggesting that he could be on thin ice with company bigwigs already.
When Riley returns from his recent elbow and knee injuries, he will hopefully be complete with an overhaul in gimmick. As previously mentioned, he has enough talent in the ring, but work is desperately needed on his character and presentation.
It might just save his job.
“I was on #RAW… I lost… but I had an entrance… I’ll take it…”
- @ZackRyder, 26/11/12
Zack Ryder’s post-26/11 RAW tweet provides a fascinating insight into his current WWE standing.
Ryder himself seems to realise that his position in WWE is deteriorating at a rapid pace. This time last year, the “Woo Woo Woo Kid” was in the midst of a United States Championship run, and was being primed for a main event programme with John Cena, Eve Torres and a resurgent Kane.
Although the US title reign and the Cena/Kane/Eve storyline were both equally disappointing, Ryder’s status in late 2011 showed that the creative team had faith in his character, and were willing to propel him towards the upper-card.
However, over the course of the last 12 months (and for reasons never truly explained), Ryder has slid back into irrelevancy with his 2012 highlighted by a meaningless week-long reign as SmackDown General Manager.
It is clear that Zack Ryder’s "Long Island" gimmick has become outdated. Inspired by MTV’s Jersey Shore, Ryder’s character has lost its relevancy when compared to the gimmick’s popularity in 2011. Therefore, mileage could be found in a character shake-up, possibly in the shape of a heel turn.
Openly denouncing his former crowd-friendly gimmick and reverting to a serious role would portray him as a talent to be considered, instead of his current position as a mere afterthought.
Mason Ryan has been labelled, somewhat unfairly, as a performer that has little talent between the ropes. Despite this, it does appear that Ryan’s unique selling point is not his in-ring capabilities.
It is, quite obviously, his physique.
A firm believer in the Adonis complex, Vince McMahon is renowned for being a keen advocate of the 1980s wrestling mindset of “body over ability.” While this attitude seems to be waning in recent times with the emergence of talent such as CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, Mason Ryan acts as proof that McMahon still, to a degree, believes in this mentality.
However, in the modern era of professional wrestling, physique does not equal star power; and every athlete needs the ability to perform in the ring. For example, Batista possessed an incredibly built body but was still able to deliver five-star matches (see the Batista/Undertaker showdown from WrestleMania 23).
As for Ryan, he simply has not had a suitable platform to show his skill. The New Nexus used the Welshman solely in the bodyguard role, with little chance for him to showcase his in-ring ability. This trend has continued into 2012 and, despite sporadic appearances on Superstars and the promise of a role in the now-fired AW’s “All World” faction, Ryan’s future within WWE looks considerably bleak.
Mason Ryan desperately needs the opportunity (i.e. a solid storyline) to prove that he is not all physique and no talent.
That opportunity needs to arrive over the next 12 months, or it may not come at all.
WWE’s newest stable, The Shield—a controversial selection— contains three members with almost unbelievable potential.
WWE’s track record with factions, however, is far from spotless.
Starting with the astronomical success of the Four Horsemen in the NWA, the professional wrestling stable is an effective model used to create new stars. However, over the course of WWE history, it seems that for every D-Generation X or Nexus, there is an abundance of groups like The Spirit Squad and The Corre.
It must be stressed that Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns are exceptionally talented, and are potentially future headline material. Standout performers in the developmental system, it was purely a matter of time before these men were called up to the full-time roster.
Their future, however, lies firmly in the hands of the often unreliable WWE creative team, and that alone makes The Shield worthy of inclusion in this article.
WWE is somewhat inconsistent when it comes to elevating talent in the shape of a faction. For example, upon their arrival in the WWF in 2000, The Radicalz consisted of four solid performers (Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn) who were hotly tipped to be the future of the pro wrestling industry.
Bar the obvious success stories of Guerrero and Benoit, the company squandered the opportunity to expose the extraordinary talent of both Malenko and Saturn, eventually relegating them to roles that were, effectively, beneath them (Malenko became a James Bond-type character whilst Saturn was saddled with the ridiculous Moppy gimmick).
Hopefully, when the storyline of The Shield reaches its natural conclusion and the trio inevitably go their separate ways, creative does not fail to capitalise on the talents of Rollins, Ambrose or Reigns, as they did with half of The Radicalz.
The opportunity is there for The Shield to fulfill its potential in WWE, but do not be surprised if this fails to come to fruition.
Undoubtedly, the performers mentioned in this article are extremely talented individuals.
By its very nature, however, professional wrestling is a cutthroat industry in which not everyone can be successful.
Ultimately, the stars of the undercard need to invest in the rejuvenation of their characters in order for the "WWE Universe" to take note. In turn, the creative machine will notice too.
Damien Sandow recently exploded out of obscurity. Zack Ryder briefly achieved it. It is possible.
For Tensai, Riley, Ryder, Ryan and The Shield, they need to do it now—before they no longer have the opportunity.
Thank you for reading!
Comments welcome below or on Twitter: @matthewtsquires