Although many fans have been unimpressed with the WWE as of late, there is no question that business has picked up, and it all started with the TLC pay-per-view. Thanks to an incredible, six-man tables, ladders and chairs match as well as an excellent ladder match between Dolph Ziggler and John Cena, the product is on the ascent.
Naturally, several superstars are moving up the pecking order too. The WWE has brought a ton of new talent into the fold over the past several weeks and it is pushing guys up the card as well. With WWE champion CM Punk still on the shelf, it has opened the door for many superstars to take the next step.
One man in particular who has done that is Ziggler. He assumed the No. 1 position is last week's rankings, but was his TLC performance enough to keep the top spot? With stiff competition from the likes of Cena, Ryback, The Shield and many others, there are no guarantees that The Show Off retained his place at the pinnacle of the WWE.
Here are the top 25 WWE Superstars for the week beginning on Dec. 16. As always, the rankings are based purely on entertainment value and overall effectiveness rather than kayfabe factors such as wins and losses.
Last Week's Ranking: 23
Despite The Great Khali's inability to do anything closely resembling wrestling, he has been used a great deal as of late and has competed regularly on both Raw and SmackDown. Also, he's involved in some sort of strange storyline in which Natalya is his valet or girlfriend.
I can't say I totally understand what the WWE is doing with Khali at the moment, but he has been getting plenty of airtime. As long as he doesn't become a focal part of the show I can tolerate it, though, because I recognize his appeal overseas in a huge potential market like India.
Last Week's Ranking: NR
The Brooklyn Brawler had an extremely long career as a jobber, but his poor win-loss record didn't stop the Brooklyn crowd from going wild when he was revealed as the mystery partner alongside The Miz and Alberto Del Rio against 3MB at TLC. Brawler even won the match for the team as he used the Boston Crab on Drew McIntyre.
It wasn't Brawler's biggest win as he once defeated Triple H in a handicap match with Kaientai thanks to help from Chris Jericho, but winning a pay-per-view match in Brooklyn had to be a great feeling for him. It was just a filler match anyway, so I had no problem with Brawler's inclusion for nostalgic purposes.
Last Week's Ranking: NR
If it wasn't already obvious before Monday night, it is now abundantly clear that the WWE is done with Tensai. He lost a match to Kofi Kingston in about a minute and then appeared later in the night to present a Slammy Award with Santino. He had an ice pack taped to his head and Santino made a joke about his past gimmick of Albert.
There is nothing mysterious or mystifying about Tensai anymore. Now that the WWE itself has made mention of the Albert gimmick, it will be interesting to see if Tensai goes back to it. It's not as if that would lift him to incredible heights, but perhaps the WWE would at least give him a midcard push.
Last Week's Ranking: NR
The WWE has been in return mode over the past couple days as several past superstars have made appearances, and one of the most surprising was Tommy Dreamer. With Raw being held in Philadelphia, it obviously had an extreme flavor, so it made sense to call up Dreamer as he got the crowd excited when he was named the partner of The Miz and Alberto Del Rio on Raw.
Dreamer did some good work in the ring and hit Heath Slater with a big DDT for the victory. Dreamer's night wasn't over, though, as The Shield attacked him backstage later. I have to assume that it was a one-off appearance for the ECW legend, but it definitely made for a great moment.
Last Week's Ranking: 25
Brodus Clay is currently a shell of what he was when he made his debut as The Funkasaurus, but perhaps fortunes are turning around for the big man. Rather than jobbing to another midcard heel on Raw, Clay scored a squash match victory over JTG. Whether it was just a filler match or the start of something bigger remains to be seen.
Perhaps Clay's gimmick limits him, but I still find him entertaining and would rather see him competing for the United States Championship than R-Truth. Clay is still over with the fans and has some good wrestling ability for a man his size, so hopefully he is utilized better moving forward.
Last Week's Ranking: 22
After constant victories over low-end teams like The Usos, Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel and Santino Marella and Zack Ryder, 3MB's push seems to have stalled. They lost a six-man tag match to The Miz, Alberto Del Rio and The Brooklyn Brawler at TLC and followed that up with another loss to Miz, Del Rio and Dreamer on Raw.
If nothing else, 3MB did get some pay-per-view time as they cut a promo and had a match, so maybe there are some plans for them. As I have said many times, though, there is only so much that a low-card comedy act can do before it loses it's luster, and I'm not sure what else can be done with Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre.
Last Week's Ranking: 18
It wasn't long ago that The Prime Time Players appeared to be closing in on a run at the Tag Team Championships, but they have lost a lot lately and haven't been featured as prominently as they once were. The suffered the ultimate humiliation when they lost as part of an eight-man tag match on SmackDown with The Great Khali and Hornswoggle on the other side.
Although neither Titus O'Neil nor Darren Young are great in the ring, they have some personality and actually seem like a throwback tag team with matching attire and the like. The WWE is likely biding their time with The Prime Time Players for now, but they'll almost certainly be back in the title hunt at some point.
Last Week's Ranking: NR
Apparently the WWE has a new talent initiative in place as many NXT stars have been moved up to the main roster over the past month. The most recent made his debut on Raw as Big E Langston interfered in the main-event match between John Cena and Dolph Ziggler. Langston attacked Cena and hit him with his Big Finish maneuver before standing over him to close the show.
Langston recently defeated Seth Rollins for the NXT Wrestling Championship, but that didn't stop the WWE from calling him up. I haven't seen a ton of Langston, but from what I have witnessed, he's incredibly impressive physically, but still a bit green in the ring. More than anything, I'll be interested to see how he is linked to A.J., Vickie and perhaps even The Shield.
Last Week's Ranking: 17
Randy Orton was in an obvious holding pattern prior to the events of last week's SmackDown, but now his place within the company is even more questionable. Orton separated his shoulder during Tribute to the Troops and he was written off television for the time being on SmackDown as The Shield attacked him and put him through a table.
Apparently the injury isn't long term, so The Viper could be back in a couple weeks, but I doubt there will be anything waiting for him when he does return. A feud with Big Show over the World Heavyweight Championship is possible; however, Sheamus attacking Big Show suggests that their rivalry isn't over. Whatever the case, Orton needs a change. Whether that means a new guy to feud with or an entirely different persona remains to be seen, though.
Last Week's Ranking: 16
The fact that R-Truth continues to challenge for the United States Championship just goes to show that the WWE is lacking when it comes to midcard faces. Truth is a solid veteran who is good in the ring, but his character has run its course and it was blatantly obvious that he was going to lose to Antonio Cesaro once again at TLC.
Truth controlled much of that match, but he was never a threat to come out on top. Now that he has lost to Cesaro at consecutive pay-per-views, Truth figures to wallow in midcard obscurity for the foreseeable. There isn't much for him to do right now, and while I realize the WWE is thin in terms of faces as it is, Truth could use a character shift toward what he did as a heel last year.
Last Week's Ranking: 14
Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara remain one of the top tag teams in the WWE, but their loss to Team Rhodes Scholars in a tables match at TLC means that Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow will get the next crack at Team Hell No's Tag Team Championships. Even so, Mysterio and Sin Cara will continue to be a huge part of the division as they will assume the top face role when Kane and Daniel Bryan ultimately part ways.
Despite their loss at TLC, both Mysterio and Sin Cara performed well in the ring and made it a very fun opening match. Also, Mysterio and Sin Cara performed individually on Raw with Mysterio beating Sandow and Rhodes beating Sin Cara. The fact that Mysterio won the singles match tells me that they'll be competing for the Tag Team Championships soon enough, so hopefully they remain together as a unit.
Last Week's Ranking: 13
Kofi Kingston may have retained his Intercontinental Championship against Wade Barrett at TLC and made short work of Tensai on Raw, but he has failed to impress me as of late. I don't necessarily have an issue with Kofi holding the IC title as he's a safe guy to put the belt on and is strong in the ring, but his matches have become formulaic and his total lack of charisma holds him back.
If I have to hear about Kofi being a wildcat, a storm, thunder or some other ridiculous thing again, then I might just scream. There just isn't anything particularly interesting about Kingston anymore. His act has been done to death and his supreme athleticism is negated by the fact that all his matches look the same. I'm not sure what he gained by defeating Barrett.
Last Week's Ranking: 12
As a huge Wade Barrett fan, it has been very difficult for me to watch the creative team mishandle him since his return from injury. Barrett could have been injected into the world title scene immediately, but he has waywardly moved from superstar to superstar and suddenly settled into a feud over the Intercontinental Championship with Kofi Kingston. Rather than winning the strap at TLC, though, Barrett lost to Kingston.
Apparently the rivalry isn't yet over as Barrett attacked Kofi following his match against Tensai on Raw. Barrett is the total package and is most definitely above winning the IC title, but if he isn't going to be main-eventing, then the WWE might as well put the belt on him and let him restore some prestige to it until a spot opens up higher on the card.
Last Week's Ranking: 15
For the past several months I have been complaining about Alberto Del Rio being stale, so I have to give the WWE credit for making a change. Although it happened quite suddenly, it appears as though Del Rio is suddenly face. He saved Ricardo Rodriguez from an attack at the hands of 3MB at TLC and acted very much like a face when he teamed with The Miz and Tommy Dreamer on Raw, so I suppose that the transformation is already complete.
I never really thought of Del Rio as a face prior to rumors about a possible turn coming out last week. Del Rio needed something to freshen up his character, though, and he can probably pull this off. Mic work isn't quite as important for a face, so if Del Rio just goes out there and performs well in the ring as usual, he can definitely get over as a good guy.
Last Week's Ranking: 11
Much to my chagrin, Big Show retained the World Heavyweight Championship once again at TLC as he defeated Sheamus in a chairs match. The fact that Big Show kept the belt didn't irk me as much as the manner in which he did it. Big Show essentially dominated the match and beat Sheamus decisively. He dealt the final blow with a ridiculously big chair and remained champion.
If the plan was for Big Show to beat Sheamus easily, then the feud between them should be over. Sheamus attacked Big Show on Raw, however, and it nearly resulted in Dolph Ziggler cashing in his Money in the Bank contract, so their rivalry is far from over. Big Show hasn't been a bad champion, but aside from the matches, his program with Sheamus has been repetitive and a bit boring.
Last Week's Ranking: 10
As good as United States Champion Antonio Cesaro is, I can't move him up the rankings until he does something big. His in-ring work is always a highlight and he is definitely getting better on the mic, but his feud with R-Truth isn't doing anything for me. Cesaro has held the title since SummerSlam, yet his current angle with Truth is his biggest to date and there still isn't any heat behind it.
The issue is that Cesaro is being pushed as a big-time, foreign heel, but there isn't a pro-American face to contest him. Truth tried to cut some promos about how great the United States are, but they fell flat and didn't help Cesaro get over. Cesaro himself is great and has a ton of potential, but it takes two to tango in professional wrestling.
Last Week's Ranking: 8
The WWE has focused on trying to get The Miz over as a face for the past couple weeks, and while he has definitely been receiving a favorable fan reaction, his involvement has been inconsequential. Rather than feuding with someone had having an important spot on the card, Miz has done Miz TV segments and wrestled 3MB. He'll never be a top face if he's being treated like a low-card guy.
With that said, The Miz is starting to come into his own as a face. His initial promo with CM Punk was shaky and it wasn't a great start, but he has become more comfortable as a face on the mic and is finding the right balance between pandering to the fans and maintaining his edgy attitude. I believe Miz can be huge as a face, but the WWE needs to put him in a worthwhile feud first.
Last Week's Ranking: 9
Thanks to Cody Rhodes' return to action last week, Team Rhodes Scholars is once again on the fast track to success. Rhodes and Damien Sandow won a fatal four way elimination match on Raw last week and earned the right to face Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara for the Tag Team Championship No. 1 contendership. Rhodes Scholars prevailed at TLC as Rhodes pushed Sin Cara through a table to win the tables match.
Now, whether it happens at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view or at some point before that, Rhodes Scholars will take on Team Hell No for the straps. I love Team Hell No and don't want Kane and Daniel Bryan to split up anytime soon, but it's inevitably going to happen eventually. When it does, Rhodes Scholars should be the beneficiaries as they have developed into a fun team with great chemistry.
Last Week's Ranking: 7
Sheamus and Big Show engaged in another battle over the World Heavyweight Championship at TLC, and Sheamus came up short once again in a chairs match. It was an entertaining encounter, but it marked the second pay-per-view loss for Sheamus to Big Show and it was a fairly one-sided affair. With that in mind, there isn't much reason to continue a feud that is lackluster aside from the in-ring work.
Sheamus attacked Big Show on Raw, however, and it looks like they'll probably wrestle again at Royal Rumble. I guess it isn't the worst thing in the world since Big Show doesn't have many options, but it will be tough to endure six more weeks of build. Sheamus is one of the best in-ring workers in the entire WWE and has brought the best out of Big Show, but he would benefit from a change of scenery and some time away from the world title.
Last Week's Ranking: 5
For the second consecutive week, WWE champion CM Punk was unable to compete in a match. He didn't have to defend his title at TLC, but he was present as he cut a promo from his luxury box. Punk also made an appearance on Raw and did some more great mic work. He interrupted Ric Flair, who had just been given the Slammy for Superstar of the Year by John Cena. Punk claimed that he deserved it and then challenged Flair to a fight.
Punk proceeded to hit Flair with his crutch, but Punk eventually bailed and left Paul Heyman to be decimated by the figure four leg lock. Punk's inability to wrestle isn't ideal since he is so good in the ring, but he is excellent on the mic as well and has remained relevant in that regard. Punk figure to be healed in a couple weeks and can then begin his feud with The Rock, which will be nothing short of fantastic.
Last Week's Ranking: 6
Although Team Hell No hasn't been as prevalent within the product over the past couple months, they continue to play an important role in several respects. For one, they have helped legitimize the tag-team division to the point where there are several viable teams looking to challenge them or the Tag Team Championships. Also, perhaps more importantly, Kane and Daniel Bryan took part in one of the best matches of 2012 at TLC as they and Ryback faced The Shield in a tables, ladders and chairs match.
While most of the focus was placed on Ryback's feud with The Shield, Team Hell No was integral to the match. Kane and Bryan got their licks in, but they took their fair share of bumps as well, including Bryan ultimately being pinned. Kane and Bryan have proven capable of working a hardcore style in the past, and that acumen made for an unbelievable slug fest at TLC.
Last Week's Ranking: 2
John Cena main-evented yet another pay-per-view as he and Dolph Ziggler did battle in a ladder match for the Money in the Bank contract at TLC. While Cena's presence in the final match of the night was nothing new, the fact that he put over an up-and-coming talent was. Despite not holding the WWE Championship in well over a year, Cena has still done his fair share of winning. He did what he had to do at TLC, however, as Ziggler retained and scored a signature victory.
Cena's in-ring work in that match was good, save for the lame hurricanrana he attempted, so he deserves credit for that. The fact that Ziggler needed A.J.'s interference to beat Cena was somewhat disappointing, but it wasn't surprising. Cena only loses cleanly once in a blue moon, so a win of any kind over him is huge. Despite Cena's solid all-around performance at TLC, he still moved down a couple spots this week due to other superstars elevated their game even more.
Last Week's Ranking: 3
I haven't exactly been Ryback's biggest supporter, but with each passing week it becomes easier for me to tolerate him. He was handled incredibly well heading into TLC as he was saved for the closing segment on Raw and it garnered him a huge crowd reaction. What impressed me most, however, was his performance at TLC. There were a lot of eyes on him since he was viewed as the weak link in the match in terms of pure wrestling, but he acquitted himself very well.
He did have a long respite in the middle of the match after he was powerbombed through the announce table, but he proved to have good stamina and looked strong even though his team lost. It took all three Shield members to keep Ryback at bay, but he got plenty of offense in as well and even tossed Seth Rollins off a ladder and through some stacked tables. The tables, ladders and chairs match needed to be a brutal, all-out brawl, and Ryback ensured that it was.
Last Week's Ranking: 4
The Shield has been the most entertaining thing in wrestling since it debuted at Survivor Series, and the trio of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns continues to impress. Prior to TLC, The Shield targeted and attacked top faces such as Ryback, Team Hell No, Randy Orton, The Miz and John Cena. The youngsters proved that they have substance as well, however, with an incredible performance against Ryback, Kane and Daniel Bryan at the TLC pay-per-view.
It was already well know by hardcore wrestling fans that Ambrose and Rollins could go in the ring, and Reigns has the necessary size and look to thrive, but the casual fans needed to see it firsthand. They most definitely did as The Shield was a part of one of the year's best matches in its WWE debut. Each and every member of the group contributed in some way and Ambrose shined in particular. The Shield furthered its reputation as a ruthless, dominant group, and I can't wait to see what they do next.
Last Week's Ranking: 1
Ever since he won the Money in the Bank contract several months ago, it has been obvious that Dolph Ziggler was in desperate need of a signature win. Pay-per-view losses to Chris Jericho and Randy Orton set him back, but he made some progress as the sole survivor at Survivor Series. Even so, Ziggler didn't yet look like a legitimate threat to win the World Heavyweight Championship. After besting John Cena in a ladder match to retain his briefcase at TLC, however, Ziggler is undoubtedly ready to be world champion.
Many, myself included, thought it was going to happen on Raw as Ziggler looked to cash in on a prone Big Show, but Cena stopped him in his tracks. It was disappointing that he didn't win the title, but it's only a matter of time before Ziggler seizes the big gold belt. His in-ring work continues to be impeccable, his mic work has gotten better by leaps and bounds and now he has a resume befitting a champion. Nobody in the WWE is rising faster than The Show Off.