The week that was in World Wrestling Entertainment has come, and gone and we are now one step closer to April 7 and the 29th WrestleMania.
Triple H and Brock Lesnar are now officially set to compete in a No Holds Barred match, in which "The Game's" Hall of Fame-worthy career will be at stake.
Ryback was pulled from the six-man tag team match against The Shield and put into a match against The World's Strongest Man, Mark Henry. Fear not, however, because Randy Orton and Sheamus would find a suitable replacement in the form of a seven-foot, 441-pound giant named the Big Show.
The path to WrestleMania for Chris Jericho and newcomer Fandango was made clear, while Kane and Daniel Bryan found out who they would be defending their WWE Tag Team Championship against.
Which Superstars rose and fell in this week's rankings? Was Dolph Ziggler able to keep his (controversial) spot near the top? Would No. 1 contender Jack Swagger be able to ride momentum to become the first superstar to rank first two times in a row? Or would returns from Triple H and Brock Lesnar, the continuation of the CM Punk-Undertaker saga and the winning ways of the Randy Orton-Sheamus duo switch things up at the top?
Find out inside.
Rankings are based on win-loss record, performance in promos and backstage segments, upward and downward momentum and the overall impact a performer had on that week's programming. If a superstar does not appear on either Raw, Main Event or SmackDown, in a match, promo or backstage segment, they will not appear in the rankings. Consider it "The Rock rule."
LAST WEEK: 18
Team Rhodes Scholars had a less-than-stellar week in terms of win-loss record, but they made up for it by remaining relevant, something that cannot be said for every WWE talent.
Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes both had miserable Monday nights. The former lost, via count-out, to R-Truth in a match that really had no place on Raw. It was meaningless and had nothing to do with anything going on at WrestleMania.
Later in the evening, Rhodes suffered yet another loss against a top WWE Superstar when he tapped to Alberto Del Rio's Cross Armbreaker.
SmackDown's no contest against Brodus Clay and Tensai may very well have indicated what Team Rhodes Scholars will be doing come WrestleMania. With the Funkadactyls and the Bella Twins brawling around ringside, Rhodes, Sandow, Clay and Tensai rushed to pull them apart. It may not be the ideal use of two superstars as talented as Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes, but do not be surprised to see an eight-person mixed-tag match announced for WrestleMania sometime this week or early next week.
LAST WEEK: --
R-Truth returned in February to rescue former tag team partner Kofi Kingston from a two-on-one beatdown at the hands of Team Rhodes Scholars. It appeared as though, maybe, a tag team match between the two would be penciled in for this year's "Showcase of the Immortals."
Then the rivalry was dropped. Rhodes Scholars floated around the card, losing to just about everyone they faced while Truth all-but disappeared from programming.
This week, the sort-of rivalry with Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes was kind-of rekindled when Truth met Sandow one-on-one on Raw. Truth picked up the win, via count-out, and that should be a sign to fans exactly what management thinks of R-Truth at this point. After all, Sandow has struggled to beat anyone as of late but Truth was only allowed to win by count-out?
The former United States Champion's week continued on Wednesday night when he was awarded for his "win" with a match against Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett.
Truth lost the match and returned to the same "status quo" he found himself in prior to his win over Sandow. With no WrestleMania match on the horizon, and no real direction to go in after the event, one has to wonder if he is bound to become a popular mid-card act in the same vein as Koko B. Ware or Tatanka, but nothing more.
LAST WEEK: 17
The Usos continued their winning ways this week, picking up another win on World Wrestling Entertainment's Ion Network program Main Event. This week, they defeated Titus O'Neil and Darren Young, the Prime Time Players.
The twin brothers have long been considered two of the more underrated wrestlers on the roster and their victories on the Wednesday night program have been well deserved. Unfortunately, those wins mean little or nothing because the Usos have been kept off of television and out of the public eye for so long that the audience has no real reason to care if they win or lose.
Can the brothers keep up their winning ways in the two weeks that remain before WrestleMania? More importantly, can they keep it up after WrestleMania, when those who were neglected by the creative team prior to the big show have the opportunity for redemption?
LAST WEEK: --
The ballroom dancing phenomenon makes his debut in the rankings.
He has yet to make his in-ring debut, as seen on Monday Night Raw when he refused to compete against The Great Khali. He has accomplished little since appearing for the first time and had little-to-no momentum to speak of.
That changed Monday night when he interrupted a backstage interview Matt Striker was conducting with Chris Jericho. Y2J mocked the newcomer's name, clearly upsetting Fandango. He vowed that Jericho would learn to pronounce his name correctly.
Fast forward to Friday Night SmackDown and the rematch from last week's show between Jericho and Jack Swagger. Chris had grounded Swagger and appeared to be gaining momentum when Fandango's music played, momentarily distracting him. The dancer and his female partner made their way to the ringside while Jericho returned his attention to Swagger. Moments later, Fandango would interfere, kicking Jericho, who would fall victim to the Swagger Bomb.
Fandango's post-match beatdown of Y2J showed a second layer to the character, one that was not all about glitz and glamour but, instead, had a mean and violent streak. It became clear that there is more to Fandango than just pronouncing his name correctly.
A WrestleMania date with Chris Jericho almost assuredly awaits, meaning Fandango's first televised match will take place on the biggest show the sport has to offer. That is incredible pressure to put on a young star. Whether he performs up to the moment may very well determine the course the Fandango character takes in the immediate and long-term future.
LAST WEEK: 15
The star of WWE Studios' hit The Marine: Homefront continued his quest to dethrone Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett, starting with a Triple Threat match for the title on Raw. In a match also involving Chris Jericho, Barrett capitalized on an opening and managed to sneak into the squared circle, roll-up his rival and escape with his title in tact.
Wednesday, The Miz sat ringside for commentary on Main Event and watched as Barrett dispatched of R-Truth in a non-title bout. Following the win, Barrett did not waste the opportunity to boast about his win and insult his rival at the same time. He made his way to the announce position and shoved Miz. This incensed the former WWE champion, who attacked the one-time Nexus leader, sending him to the back.
Ending the week on a high note, The Miz would host "the Most Must-See Talk Show in WWE History", Miz TV, with guests Sheamus, Randy Orton and Big Show, before defeating United States champion Antonio Cesaro in a non-title match later in the evening's broadcast.
The Miz and Wade Barrett appear destined to clash over the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania in a match that would be fresh. According to Michael Cole on SmackDown, the two Superstars have never met in a singles match in their careers.
If given time, they could deliver the first quality Intercontinental Championship match since Chris Jericho defeated William Regal in the opening contest of WrestleMania X-Seven.
LAST WEEK: 7
The Shield was less active this week than it has been in the past, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
The build to their match against Sheamus, Randy Orton and Big Show has been slow and steady and, as a result, the story that is being told between the two trios has had time to evolve. This week, the focus was put on Sheamus and Orton's quest to find a new partner after their original choice, Ryback, was pulled from the match.
The Shield appeared following the team's handicap match win over 3MB on Raw and appeared poised to pounce on two of their favorite victims, when the giant Big Show hit the ring. With the three former World Heavyweight Champions standing tall in the center of the squared circle, The Shield retreated back to where they came from.
On Friday, having just watched their WrestleMania opposition easily handle 3MB in a six-man tag team main event, The Shield once again appeared, hoping to take advantage of the dissension between the new teammates and sneak-attack them. Sensing that they were about to fall prey to the predatory Shield, Show, Orton and Sheamus put aside their differences and united to provide resistance.
The Shield, not willing to take the risk of running into such a potentially dominant trio, retreated just as they did Monday night.
The reluctance to do battle with their newly-aligned rivals is an intriguing development for The Shield. Do they fear the group? Are they sizing them up for their WrestleMania clash? Whatever the case may be, it should be interesting to see what interaction The Shield, Big Show, Orton and Sheamus have in the two weeks remaining until they do battle inside MetLife Stadium.
LAST WEEK: 11
"The World's Strongest Man" falls three spots this week.
It was announced during Monday's Raw that Mark Henry would face fellow dominant Superstar, Ryback. The match has been brewing for a few weeks now, ever since the two beasts stared each other down in the aisleway during Raw. Henry's attack of Ryback last week, which included three World's Strongest Slams following an attack by The Shield, added the emphasis for the match to be made official.
Four days later, with the match official, Henry would look to reinforce his status as not only the strongest man in the world, but one of its most dominant. Unfortunately for Zack Ryder, he caught the former World Heavyweight champion on a night when he had something to prove. Henry dominated "Long Island Iced Z" in a match that was shorter than his entrance.
Post-match, Ryback came to the ring and the WrestleMania opponents once again exchanged stares and words. This time, however, it was Ryback that left the Friday night program standing tall. He delivered the Meat Hook clothesline to Henry, knocking him off his feet. Mark retreated from the ring and, for the first time since returning, truly looked rattled.
The Mark Henry-Ryback match at WrestleMania has all the ingredients to be one of the hardest-hitting, most high-impact bouts in the history of the show. If "The World's Strongest Man" can thwart the offense of Ryback and defeat him on the biggest stage of all, there may very well be nothing stopping Henry from once again standing atop WWE as its World Heavyweight champion.
LAST WEEK: 10
Y2J's week was one of great disappointment. Entered into a Triple Threat match for the Intercontinental Championship on Monday's Raw, he appeared to be moments away from capturing the secondary title for the 10th time when he was caught by The Miz's finisher, the Skull Crushing Finale, and essentially eliminated from the match. He could do nothing to prevent champion Wade Barrett from retaining his title by rolling up The Miz.
Things got worse for him on Friday.
During a rematch with Jack Swagger from last week's phenomenal main event, he was distracted by a man he had encountered earlier in the week. Prior to the Intercontinental title match against Miz and Barrett, Jericho insulted and poked fun at newcomer Fandango's name, clearly angering him. That would come back to bite him.
Fandango appeared during Jericho's match with Swagger, kicking him in the face and costing Chris the match. After the bell, Jericho was the recipient of a vicious assault by the ballroom dancer, who clearly sent a message that he was not to be messed with.
With his WrestleMania opponent seemingly set in stone, Jericho is finally given some direction for the first time since returning at the Royal Rumble in January. Always one of the most entertaining performers in WWE, the journey to East Rutherford, New Jersey should be a fun one as Y2J gears up to meet one of the most polarizing characters in sports-entertainment.
LAST WEEK: Daniel Bryan, 16; Kane, 6
The current WWE Tag Team champions took on the team of Epico and Primo, who have fallen quite a long way since their tag team title reign, on Monday's Raw and looked absolutely dominant en route to a victory. That is despite attempted distraction from AJ Lee, who skipped to the ring, wearing the red and black outfit she did while attempting to woo Kane last summer.
Later that night, following an impressive win by Dolph Ziggler over Kofi Kingston, Kane and Daniel Bryan once again made their presence felt. After words were exchanged, AJ took the microphone and issued a challenge for a WWE Tag Team Championship match at WrestleMania between Team Hell No and Dolph Ziggler and Big E. Langston.
Kane and Bryan accepted and the match was made official.
The development of Team Hell No has been interesting in that there was such dissension that it seemed as though it was only a matter of time before they lost the titles and exploded. Then they got over and the crowd totally bought into their latest character developments. But, as is the case most of the time, things began to get stale and the clock was ticking on the Kane-Bryan experiment.
Now it seems as though WWE creative is hitting the refresh button, having them unite over a common enemy: AJ. It is a development that makes sense and gives the tag title match at WrestleMania a story, rather than having it simply be a thrown-together match just to get all four guys on the card.
LAST WEEK: 2
(Author's note: Ok, so last week's jump to No. 2 for Dolph Ziggler may have been a bit much. My bad.)
This week, Dolph Ziggler continued his winning ways—to the surprise of many—by defeating an old rival in consecutive matches.
Ziggler and Kofi Kingston have wrestled one another so many times since 2009 that they could probably have a pay-per-view quality match while blindfolded. This week, they continued their polar opposite movement up and down the ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment. Dolph gained momentum heading into WrestleMania 29, while Kofi continued to fade into the background as rumors emerge of a possible heel turn.
Dolph's victories may have meant little considering the fact that Kofi has been anything but hot as of late, but they led to the revelation of what he will be doing come WrestleMania on April 7. As many have guessed since AJ's interactions with Team Hell No began just about two weeks ago, it was made official on Raw that Ziggler will team with Big E. Langston to challenge for the WWE Tag Team Championship.
It may seem like a disappointing place for Dolph to find himself on the card, especially since most expected him to have been World Heavyweight champion by now. But do not forget: He still has Money in the Bank and there may be no better stage for him to cash in his guaranteed title match than WrestleMania. Even if he manages to lose the tag title match, do no be surprised if Dolph does not leave East Rutherford with championship gold in his possession.
LAST WEEK: 8
Alberto Del Rio's week began with triumph but ended in heartbreak.
On Raw, Del Rio became the latest in a long line of World or WWE champions to defeat Cody Rhodes. The win did little to alter how fans see the current World Heavyweight champion and merely allowed him to add a notch to his impressive win-loss record thus far in 2013.
What happened after the match may create the emotion that has been missing from Alberto's rivalry with Jack Swagger.
Following Del Rio's win over Cody Rhodes on Raw, Swagger attacked the champion and tossed him over the announce table. He then set his sights on Ricardo Rodriguez. Sick and tired of being the butt of Del Rio and Rodriguez's videos mocking his "We the People" movement, Swagger grabbed Ricardo by the ankle, applied the Patriot Lock and twisted until it cracked. Rodriguez screamed in agony while Del Rio emerged to check on his friend.
Since becoming a babyface, Del Rio has improved his performances in the ring and on the microphone tenfold. The one and only criticism of him, however, was his need to pander to the audience. With the recent attack by Swagger, expect the World champion to display a rage that we have not seen in him. His top contender has made their rivalry personal, and Del Rio will likely stop at nothing to gain even a measure of revenge.
LAST WEEK: 1
Jack Swagger had another productive week in the world of WWE.
Monday night, despite not having a match, he more-than made his presence felt. Following a match between Alberto Del Rio and Cody Rhodes, Swagger assaulted Del Rio and tossed him over the announce table. He then applied the Patriot Lock to Ricardo Rodriguez until he snapped the personal ring announcer's ankle.
It was a risky move to make because the top contender to the World Heavyweight champion will undoubtedly face the wrath of an enraged Alberto Del Rio come Monday's Raw.
With Del Rio at home, keeping watch over his injured friend, Swagger was able to concentrate solely on his rematch with Chris Jericho on Friday's SmackDown. The talented superstars failed to live up to expectations after their tremendous main event last week, but they still had a very good match, marred by the interference of Fandango.
Swagger would pick up the win following the Swagger Bomb, continuing his winning ways as he prepares for the biggest match of his career.
LAST WEEK: 14
The Intercontinental champion defeated Chris Jericho and The Miz to retain the Intercontinental Championship. In doing so, he defeated two former WWE champions. That is a tremendous feat for a guy who, two weeks ago, could not buy a win with a platinum credit card.
Barrett not only changed his luck with the huge Raw win, he carried the momentum over to Wednesday's Main Event, defeating former US champion R-Truth in a non-title match. After the victory, he took the microphone and wasted little time gloating. He targeted his rival, The Miz, who was seated at ringside. Unfortunately, Barrett ended up on the receiving end of an attack by Miz and retreated up the ramp.
Two days later, he sat ringside and provided commentary during Miz's match with Antonio Cesaro. No blows were exchanged this time. Instead, Barrett simply raised the Intercontinental title overhead to remind his rival just who the champion is.
Wade Barrett will defend his title against The Miz sometime in the very near future. Whether it is at WrestleMania, on the pre-show or the following night on Raw, it is only a matter of time before they compete with the once-prized secondary title on the line. Barrett has been completely rejuvenated since returning from his injury last fall, and it may be time for him to ascend past the level of the Intercontinental Championship and to the main-event scene, where so many believe he belongs.
LAST WEEK: 4
Ryback continued his dominance this week, destroying David Otunga on Raw and knocking Mark Henry to the mat with a thunderous clothesline on SmackDown.
The former was designed to give Ryback a win, all the while having him in the ring for when Vickie Guerrero and Teddy Long announced that he would be pulled from the six-man tag against The Shield and, instead, would face Mark Henry at WrestleMania.
The latter gave Ryback an opportunity to look strong against his opposition at the "Showcase of the Immortals." A week ago, Henry asserted his will on Ryback, leaving him motionless in the center of the ring following two World's Strongest Slams. This week, he paid Henry back in the form of the Meat Hook clothesline.
By the time April 7 arrives, do not be surprised if the colossal showdown between "Big Hungry" and "The World's Strongest Man" is among the show's most anticipated matches.
LAST WEEK: --
The leader of the Cenation returned to Raw on Monday and wasted no time hyping the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 29 between he and The Rock. Of course, it would have been nice for the champion to be in attendance to do the same but, really, who is counting?
Anyway, Cena would be interrupted by, of all people, the Prime Time Players. Darren Young and Titus O'Neil (dressed in a wig, jumpsuit and glasses and pretending to be "Pancake" Patterson) ran down Cena in a comedy sketch that may have been funny three weeks before Over the Limit, but was decidedly less so on the Road to WrestleMania.
The long opening promo gave way to a match between Cena and Young and, needless to say, the 2013 Royal Rumble winner had no trouble dispatching the former Nexus member.
With The Rock returning to Raw, broadcast from Philadelphia, John Cena should finally have something worthwhile to do, given that one of the biggest matches of his career—a rematch from his blockbuster main event a year ago—is right around the corner. Will the rivals continue to exchange intense promos, as they did three weeks ago? Will they hurl insults at one another, as they did in the buildup to their WrestleMania 28 match? Or will they come to blows with one another?
LAST WEEK: 12
The build to Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania kicked into full gear Monday night when Triple H signed a contract to meet Lesnar, stipulations unknown. When "The Game" physically abused Paul Heyman, it drew out the former UFC heavyweight champion. Out of his mind with anger, he broke a steel chair by slamming it repeatedly on the steel entrance ramp.
It looked like Lesnar was content to have the WrestleMania match right there—live on Raw—until Heyman calmed him down, claiming "we won this one." Paul would then reveal that the match between Brock Lesnar and Triple H at WrestleMania would be No Holds Barred and, if Triple H lost, his legendary career would come to an end.
The incredible rage from Lesnar did a lot to sell just how far Triple H had pushed him by assaulting his one true friend. Brock will likely punish and pummel Triple H come April 7 and will probably get his fair share of it back. One thing is for certain: After his Extreme Rules match with John Cena last April, the bar has been set high, and fans will expect a match as equally brutal and violent.
Can Brock deliver, or will his return to WWE prove to be a one-hit wonder?
LAST WEEK: 9
Unlike Brock Lesnar, who let his anger be known via smashing the Raw stage with a steel chair, The Dead Man expressed his in a calm, subdued fashion.
Undertaker gave Punk the opportunity to return the late Paul Bearer's urn and spare his soul from the punishment he would undoubtedly dish out to his body. The Phenom promised, "I’m gonna hurt you, and I’m gonna hurt you bad.”
Instead of capitalizing on the opportunity to spare himself complete and utter destruction, Punk taunted The Dead Man, juggling the urn and mocking Bearer. The Undertaker's facial expressions told the entire story. They expressed both tremendous anger but also a hint of sadness, sadness that he could not retrieve the urn of his former manager and long-time friend.
The Undertaker—the older he has become—has relied heavily on telling stories rather than performing high-risk, high-impact maneuvers in matches. There may be those who complain about the exploitation of Paul Bearer's death, but it will only help to add to the story being told between the smart-ass, manipulative CM Punk and the respected veteran locker room leader attempting to preserve his legendary undefeated streak.
LAST WEEK: 13
(Author's note: Ok, so last week's rankings were off. A lot. Sorry.)
CM Punk has an uncanny ability to get under the skin of A LOT of people. His promos are second to none and Monday night, he cut a brilliant promo in which he continued to play mind games with the master of them, The Undertaker.
First he mocked the legendary Paul Bearer's high-pitched voice. Then he juggled around the urn as if its importance was minimal. Add in a curse word and some insincerity and you have the makings of a perfect antagonistic performance. He did not say much, nor did he do much, but he did not have to. Everything he did say, everything he did further ate away at The Undertaker, playing with his mind and making the audience want to see The Dead Man finish him then and there.
"I am the '1' in 20-1" was a money-making line that only the very best can come up with.
With two weeks remaining until their match at WrestleMania, it remains to be seen just what else the Second City Saint can do to get underneath Undertaker's skin. Can he manage to do what no one else in WWE history has done? Can he get The Phenom so beside himself that he loses focus on winning, allowing Punk to swoop in and shock the world with a win?
There are just over 14 days remaining for Punk and the creative team to help create doubt in the minds of the casual fans that Undertaker will not simply steamroll over Punk as he has 20 other times at WrestleMania. If they can do that, CM Punk would have further cemented his legacy as one of the great talkers and performers in the sport's history.
LAST WEEK: Sheamus and Orton, 3; Big Show, 2
Sheamus, Randy Orton and Big Show have been linked all week. Ranking them separately would be stupid.
Sheamus and Orton continued their winning streak as a team, beating up on everyone's favorite jobbers, 3MB, on Monday Night Raw. After the match, The Shield appeared and were poised to attack but Big Show came to the rescue, sending them retreating back to wherever it is they came from.
On SmackDown, Randy voiced his support for Show as their partner at WrestleMania while Sheamus expressed great doubt. He said he did not trust Big Show and, after the wars they had late in 2012, there were plenty of reasons why. SmackDown General Manager Booker T gave the trio the chance to rehearse for WrestleMania, as he booked them in a six-man tag team match.
In the main event of Friday's show, Sheamus delivered a Brogue Kick to Jinder Mahal and picked up the win for his team. This irritated Big Show, who had done the majority of the work, only to have to watch the glory go to one of his biggest rivals. They argued while Orton tried to pull them apart. Then Randy caught an elbow and all three men were at odds with each other.
They snapped back into it when The Shield made a surprise appearance. They presented a united front against the dangerous threesome and forced them back into the stands.
Expect there to be dissension between Orton, Sheamus and Show over the next two weeks as they continue to tell the story of reluctant partners coming together to fight a common enemy. It is wrestling booking at its finest and all six men involved are doing a tremendous job.
LAST WEEK: --
Lost in the disappointing crowd reaction for the announcement of the career-threatening stipulation for the No Holds Barred match at WrestleMania was the fact that Triple H was good Monday night.
He was REALLY good.
Any time a someone is asked to portray anger or rage or intensity, it can be either good or bad. On Monday, Triple H snapped and attacked Paul Heyman with great intensity, just as any man whose wife had just been insulted by one of the sleaziest men in the sport would. He brutalized Heyman and taunted him at the same time.
Like Undertaker earlier in the show, "The Game" utilized facial expressions to, well, express the shock he was in when he found out that, if he loses for a second time to Brock, his career will be over.
"The Game" has been forced to carry the rivalry with Brock Lesnar thus far, thanks in part to Lesnar's inconsistent schedule and inability to sell himself verbally. His interaction with Heyman has been vital in helping to tell the story they want to tell leading into the actual match on April 7.
The brawl between Triple H and Lesnar a month ago did a lot to get the fans interested in a rematch. The contract signing started well but ended with a thud. Unlike The Rock and John Cena, who can hold the crowd's attention with words, it may be time to resort to more violence if Triple H and Lesnar do not want to lose the momentum that the bloody, violent brawl gave them.