WWE Power Rankings: Week of February 25

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2013

WWE Power Rankings: Week of February 25

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    With Wrestlemania right around the corner, it appears as though the direction of several high-profile WWE  Superstars is becoming clearer.

    Randy Orton appears to be on a crash course with The Shield. Whether Sheamus, Ryback, Big Show or Chris Jericho are his partners in crime remains to be seen.

    Kane and Daniel Bryan are heading toward a showdown after months of dominating the tag team ranks. Mark Henry will look to continue his path of destruction. Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, R-Truth and Kofi Kingston are likely to be involved in some sort of match against each other, while Dolph Ziggler's 'Mania path is still yet to be determined.

    John Cena and CM Punk stole the show on Monday's Raw, while Jack Swagger made headlines for both the right and wrong reasons.

    With Wrestlemania 29 just more than four weeks away, the stars will be jockeying for position on the card. After this past week of exploits, here are the WWE Power Rankings for the week of February 25.

    Rankings are based on win-loss records, upward or downward momentum and important promos or segments on WWE programming.

20. Cody Rhodes

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    The break-up of Team Rhodes Scholars has done nothing but harm Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow in terms of their win-loss records. Neither man has enjoyed much success since the dissolving of their team a little more than a month ago. This week was more evidence of that.

    Raw on Monday night saw Rhodes fall  to R-Truth, who was wrestling his first televised match since suffering an injury prior to December’s TLC pay-per-view. In the long run, the loss could well be beneficial to Rhodes because it could signal the return of Team Rhodes Scholars to take on Truth and former tag-team championship partner Kofi Kingston.

    But Rhodes' loss on the main-event show cannot be construed as beneficial. Once again, the talented, young second-generation performer was defeated by one of WWE’s top stars. While it is clear that Rhodes has great things in his future, constantly having him lose so decisively to top stars will only hurt him in the eyes of the fans who, one day, will be asked to believe that he can be a main-event talent on the level of those same stars.

19. Damien Sandow

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    Unlike his partner, who fell to R-Truth in quick fashion, Sandow had a much more competitive match on Friday's Smackdown against World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio. While he was unsuccessful in his attempt to upset the titleholder, he proved to be suitable competition.

    Like Rhodes, however, Sandow can hardly afford to continue to lose to top stars because fans will not accept him as one of those stars when he finally receives a push up the card.

    With a rivalry underway between Team Rhodes Scholars and Kofi Kingston and R-Truth, it does not appear as though that push up the card is coming any time soon. Damien's performance at Wrestlemania, if he is given a chance to perform on the card, could well dictate where he heads from there.

    Let's hope he is the recipient of a push befitting someone of his in-ring and promo skills.

18. The Miz

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    With "The Marine: Homefront'' about to hit DVD and Blu-Ray, it would seemingly make sense for its star to be featured on WWE television. While The Miz has appeared on top broadcasts, he has been on anything but a roll heading into his motion picture debut and Wrestlemania 29.

    On Raw, he hosted a special edition of Miz TV featuring World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio, his Wrestlemania 29 challenger Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter. Unsatisfied with the way Miz hosted the segment, Colter returned to the Raw stage to confront him about it, ultimately setting up a match between Miz and Swagger for later in the show.

    A solid match saw Miz tap to his opponent’s Patriot Lock submission. On Smackdown, the Cleveland native would revisit his rivalry with Antonio Cesaro over the United States Championship. In a best two-of-three falls match, Miz was only able to defeat the U.S. champion in the second fall, losing the match two falls to one.

17. Dolph Ziggler

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    The questionable, head-scratching manner in which WWE continues to use its future World Heavyweight Champion continued this week. On Monday Night Raw, in a match between rising stars, Ziggler squared off against Ryback. With both men seemingly on the path to heavyweight titles sometime in the near future, fans had every reason to expect something very good from them.

    Ryback and Dolph delivered a very solid match, the first real bout of the broadcast, with each man having the opportunity to shine. Ryback’s already impressive, high-impact offense looked that much more impressive thanks to Ziggler’s ability to bump around the ring.  Ziggler was able to use his in-ring talents to mask his opponent’s weaknesses, making for a better match.

    Ziggler’s loss is the latest in a long line of them. Luckily for him, his in-ring work has been able to mask his win-loss record as of late. At some point, though, he will have to start winning matches if fans are expected to take him seriously once he wins the World Heavyweight Championship.

    If not, he may wind up being a sitting duck champion, not unlike Jack Swagger was when he won his first world title three years ago.

16. Team Hell No

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    The current WWE Tag Team Champions continued their downward spiral toward “splitsville” this week.

    On Monday, Kane competed with his arm tied behind his back and Daniel Bryan wore a blindfold for their match against the Prime Time Players. It was a mockery of a match, with the Players fooling around with their opponents’ handicaps before Kane caught Darren Young with a choke slam for the win.

    Friday night, in a rematch absolutely no one wanted to see, Bryan and Kane reversed roles and tasted defeat when Titus O’Neil rolled up Bryan for the win. The loss is another in a string of them for Team Hell No, whose impending break-up lacks the fun, imagination and entertainment their initial pairing brought fans.

    Their split, and expected Wrestlemania bout, cannot come soon enough.

15. Wade Barrett

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    Wade Barrett’s week was both uneventful and eventful at the same time.

    On Monday’s Raw, he confronted Sheamus, who continued to poke fun at the Intercontinental Champion’s appearance in WWE Studios’ Dead Man Down. Barrett escaped the ring before the “Celtic Warrior” could do any damage to him, marking the only time we would see the former Nexus leader this week.

    The segment on Raw was another step toward a potential Wrestlemania 29 showdown between Barrett and Sheamus. Two of the more talented big men on the roster, their match at the “Showcase of the Immortals” could determine the course their careers take throughout the rest of 2013. 

    While he experienced no win or loss this week, the continued momentum Wade Barrett is experiencing on the road to Wrestlemania, as well as potential for a match with one of the company’s top babyfaces, has things looking up for the Intercontinental Champion.

14. Antonio Cesaro

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    The current United States Champion continued an up-and-down 2013 with a week of a great loss, followed by a great win.

    Cesaro continued his losing ways against WWE's top babyfaces when he was soundly defeated by “The Viper,” Randy Orton. The loss could have been a major setback for another young star, but Cesaro has been in the situation so many times that it is hard to believe anyone actually expected he would beat Orton in the first place.

    Friday night, during the oh-so-special Social Media Smackdown, the United States Champion squared off with recent rival The Miz in a best two-of-three falls match. It is a rarity to see such a match given away on free television and the competitors did not disappoint. It was a solid match with good storytelling and psychology.

    In fall No. 3, Cesaro rolled up his opponent, grabbed the tights and picked up the win. It was a big win and one that should spell the end of the rivalry between the US Champion and his top contender. Unfortunately, with Miz and Cesaro seemingly on a treadmill heading into Wrestlemania, that appears unlikely.

13. R-Truth

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    On last Monday night’s Raw, R-Truth made his return to WWE television after an injury that sidelined him since December. He rescued Kofi Kingston from a major beat-down at the hands of Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow. This past Monday, he earned the ire of Team Rhodes Scholars once again.

    Monday night, Truth met Rhodes in one-on-one action. What should have been a hotly contested match ended up a two-minute R-Truth win. After the match, Truth cleared the ring of both Rhodes and Sandow, making many wonder why anyone would want to see a tag match between Truth and Kofi and Team Rhodes Scholars when R-Truth was able to take care of the villains single-handedly.

    Truth’s return to the ring was impressive. He remained strong despite facing the threat of two of the top young talents in the company. Whether that translates into a renewed push or momentum for R-Truth remains to be seen. But it most certainly was a noteworthy return.

12. The Big Show

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    After last week’s dominant performance on Main Event, which saw Big Show destroy the Usos, Brodus Clay and Great Khali, the giant former World Heavyweight Champion was once again noticeably absent from Monday Night Raw. After also missing Main Event, the big man made a definite impact on Friday night.

    The main event of Smackdown featured Show taking on Randy Orton in a match that has been done many times in the past. More important than what went on between the ropes, however, was what happened to end  the match.

    As the Shield made their presence known, closing in on Show and Orton, the giant confronted the immediate threat of the three-man assault squad and flattened Roman Reigns with the knockout punch. It was an interesting development for Big Show. He did not appear to make a turn of any kind, but simply chose to fight the greater of two evils. 

    The physical interaction between Big Show, Orton and Sheamus that closed out Smackdown could make for an intriguing dynamic should those be the three men to face The Shield on April 7 at MetLife Stadium.

11. Ryback

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    The once-surging Ryback got back to his winning ways on Raw when he squared off with “Mr. Money in the Bank,”Dolph Ziggler.

    In one of his better singles matches to date, the former Skip Sheffield was impressive, both in terms of his high-impact offense and his ability to hang with one of the best workers the industry has to offer. He never once appeared to be out of his league against Dolph, working hard and, as a result, having a tremendous contest that likely was forgotten in the shadow of a Match of the Year candidate later in the evening.

    The more important development in regard to Ryback is that he was distanced from the Shield this week. Since the trio of skilled, former NXT competitors debuted in November at the Survivor Series, it appears as though their next major program may not involve Ryback. Which may be a good thing for the man so often caught chanting “Feed Me More!” Since being programmed against The Shield, he has lost great momentum, thanks to a number of losses.

    Now, with a different direction appearing likely, Ryback may well get back on track toward achieving championship gold.

10. Sheamus

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    The Celtic Warrior had an eventful week with two very different potential Wrestlemania matches teased.

    On Raw, he once again took to teasing Wade Barrett about his decided lack of lines in the new film "Dead Man Down." Their continued interactions seem to point to an eventual match, perhaps at Wrestlemania. But Sheamus’ continued involvement with The Shield may be a more high-profile match worthy of a top Superstar such as Sheamus.

    Either way, it appears as though the former World Heavyweight Champion will be involved in a match that will give him the opportunity to do two things: have a match longer than 18 seconds and be involved in a match with the potential to steal the show. Barrett and The Shield are four of the top young talents on the roster, all of whom could benefit greatly from working with a man who was dominant in 2012 and appears poised to be a top star for the next decade.

9. The Shield

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    Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns had a tremendous two days a week ago and, despite not participating in any matches this week, continued to ride their wave of momentum.

    During a live promo on Monday’s Raw, The Shield issued an open challenge to anyone in the locker room. Sheamus, a previous victim of the group’s assaults, accepted but was merely a distraction. Randy Orton finally managed to gain a measure of revenge against The Shield by dropping Rollins with a crowd-pleasing RKO.

    With retribution on their minds, The Shield rolled into Friday Night Smackdown. Interrupting a match between Orton and The Big Show, they were once again thwarted when Show surprisingly joined in on Orton and Sheamus’ defensive assault.

    Really for the first time, The Shield was made to look susceptible to assault, outsmarted by their babyface opposition. While some would say that would be a mistake, the group has dominated since arriving on the scene in WWE. For a group of top stars to get one over on them, even if for one week, is not a bad thing.

    The key to preserving The Shield’s momentum will be how they are booked in the coming weeks as Wrestlemania 29 approaches.

8. Alberto Del Rio

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    The World Heavyweight Champion did not have an eventful week, but he did have one that stayed the course and added layers to his rivalry with Jack Swagger, which will come to a head on April 7 at Wrestlemania 29.

    A guest on The Miz’s Miz TV talk show on Monday night, he rebutted the anti-immigration insults of Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter. Four days later, he competed in the opening contest of Smackdown against a very game Damien Sandow. He would defeat the self-proclaimed “Intellectual Savior of the Unwashed Masses” before coming to the aid of Jim Ross later in the evening as the Oklahoman was the victim of Swagger and Colter’s ramblings.

    The top-ranked star last week suffers from a lack of in-ring action and, therefore, cannot successfully defend his spot on the rankings. If he can head into MetLife stadium and successfully retain his title against Jack Swagger, however, he may well find himself sitting at the head of the table in future WWE Power Rankings.

7. Brock Lesnar

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    The former “Next Big Thing” returned to Raw on Monday night with the fury of an F5 twister. He appeared poised to pounce on Mr. McMahon, adding injury to, well, injury but had his potential attack thwarted when Triple H made his return and ignited one of the best brawls in recent Raw history.

    After being sent head-first into a steel post, Lesnar bled from the top of his head, creating a grisly imagery that added to the intensity of the brawl and the hatred he and “The Game” have for each other.

    With an impending rematch pitting Lesnar against the “King of Kings” on the horizon, Brock will be hanging around Monday Night Raw almost on a weekly basis. While he will not compete until Wrestlemania, his placement in these rankings will hinge on the build-up to the match, his performances on a week-to-week basis and the momentum he gains as April 7 approaches.

6. Triple H

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    “The Game” returned to Raw and engaged in a bloody, exciting and brutal brawl with rival Brock Lesnar. After losing to the former UFC Heavyweight Champion, Triple H made his presence felt on WWE programming for the first time since August, when he stepped away from the sport and created (fictional) questions about his future in the ring.

    The brawl between Triple H and Brock Lesnar signaled the beginning of a program that will lead them into Wrestlemania 29, hopefully in some sort of stipulation match that will erase their mediocre first match from the minds of those disappointed by it.

    They showed great intensity and had the fans in the palm of their hands Monday night. If they can keep that frenetic pace and energy up, their rematch may prove to be one of the most hotly anticipated at the “Showcase of the Immortals.”

5. Randy Orton

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    2013 has not gotten off to the best of starts for the former WWE and World Heavyweight Champion, but Randy Orton has made a bit of a rebound in recent weeks. An impressive performance inside the Elimination Chamber, followed by a controversial loss to Jack Swagger last week implied that Orton would not fade into the background on this year’s road to Wrestlemania like he did a year ago.

    He proved that this week when he dispatched of Antonio Cesaro on Raw, delivered a thunderous RKO to Seth Rollins of The Shield later in the evening and competed in a main event against The Big Show on Smackdown that was interrupted by The Shield.

    The interactions with The Shield this week point toward a major Wrestlemania match for Orton. After a disappointing effort against Kane at last year’s show, a return to a meaningful bout could signal the end of Orton’s directionless days in WWE.

    Could Orton be on the verge of returning, permanently, to the top of the card?

    Only time will tell.

4. Mark Henry

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    “The World’s Strongest Man” continues to demolish the competition since returning to WWE.

    Last week, in a bit of a questionable move, Henry bailed out of the ring when confronted by the Great Khali, momentarily hurting his killer persona. Many speculated, and feared, that it signaled a potential match between the two behemoths for Wrestlemania 29. Luckily, their match on Monday’s Raw put an end to the mini-feud and speculation when Henry impressively and unquestionably proved his dominance over his fellow former World Champion.

    Wednesday night, on Main Event, Henry picked up another dominant win, this time over Justin Gabriel.

    While there is no imminent matchup on deck for the creator of the Hall of Pain, there is no question that he will make his presence felt on the biggest stage the industry has to offer. If the rumors that emerged earlier this week are any indication, Henry could have a date with one of his Elimination Chamber opponents, “Y2J” Chris Jericho.

3. Jack Swagger

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    “The Real American” can thank the uninformed, at times idiotic political pundit Glenn Beck that his latest push did not go up in flames (pun intended) with his latest arrest for DUI and marijuana possession, according to tmz.com.

    Beck’s insult of WWE as “stupid wrestling people” upon being exposed to Swagger and Zeb Colter’s new characters halted any potential punishment for Swagger and, instead, led to an eventful Raw and Smackdown.

    As guests on Miz TV on Monday night, Swagger and Colter continued their anti-immigration spiel and confronted fellow guest Alberto Del Rio. Unhappy with the way they were presented on the talk show, Colter confronted the Miz, which set up a big match between he and Swagger. In a fairly solid match, Swagger forced the "The Marine: Homefront" star to tap out to the Patriot Lock.

    Friday night on Smackdown, Swagger and Colter’s rambling continued, this time in an interview hosted by fellow Oklahoman, Jim Ross. The interview would come to a conclusion when Alberto Del Rio rescued Ross from his interviewees' insults.

    Swagger may have only competed in one match this week, but it is difficult to argue that he has as much, if not more, momentum than any WWE Superstar as the biggest show of the year approaches. He survived an arrest that could have effectively ended his career as anything but a midcard act and now has as good a chance to leave Wrestlemania as the World Heavyweight Champion as current titleholder Del Rio does.

2. CM Punk

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    Monday’s Raw featured one of the truly great matches in the history of the program, featuring CM Punk taking on John Cena for the right to go to Wrestlemania and challenge The Rock for the WWE Championship.

    Since losing his rematch to “The Great One” at Elimination Chamber, Punk has expressed his desire for one more match against the in-demand Hollywood actor. He cites the controversial nature in which he lost both matches to Rock and the fact that Rock-Cena has already happened at Wrestlemania and Cena proved he could not get the job done.

    Now that he has been defeated by Cena, ending any chance he had at competing in the main event of ‘Mania, Punk must turn his attention elsewhere. For nearly six months, fans and insiders alike have discussed a potential match with The Undertaker at this year’s Wrestlemania. Considering “the Dead Man” made his return to WWE at a house show over the weekend and Punk is now clear to begin the program, it appears as though CM Punk will have the opportunity to do the one thing that will earn him more respect than even winning the WWE title could:

    End the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania.

1. John Cena

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    There will always be John Cena critics. The arguments have been made been made for the last eight years and the criticisms are clear to all. No great performance or rational thinking will ever change the minds of those who, for whatever reason, dislike Cena.

    Everyone else who enjoys the sport with an open mind, unswayed by what they may read on the Internet, can appreciate the great performance he gave on Monday and that he typically performs up to the level of the situation. His match with Punk on Monday night was the latest in a series of events that have stolen the shows on which they took place.

    Now, with a rematch against The Rock just weeks away, Cena will once again have a ton of pressure on him to replicate, if not exceed, the success of their match a year ago. It will be a tough task, but there are few members of the current roster capable of meeting such lofty expectations.

    Cena is one of them.