Curtis Axel's plane will veer downward now that his co-pilot Ryback is at home healing up.
Axel's biggest opportunities as of late came by way of the tag team division. Without his partner, he's destined to fall lower on the card, as evidenced by what WWE has asked him to do since he's reentered singles competition.
RybAxel has to be temporarily shelved. Half of the duo just underwent surgery.
Ryback addressed his fans from his hospital bed, telling them that he needed to repair some nagging injuries:
His absence removes Axel from the tag team division unless WWE seeks out another partner for him. That's bad news for the third-generation Superstar.
Being in a tag team has been good for him. Before Monday, Axel had appeared on five straight Raws and 10 of the previous 13 episodes:
- 8/18-Rob Van Dam, Roman Reigns and Sheamus vs. Randy Orton and RybAxel
- 8/11-Roman Reigns vs. RybAxel
- 8/4- Stardust and Goldust vs. RybAxel
- 7/28-Dolph Ziggler and The Usos vs. The Miz and RybAxel
- 7/21- Big E and Kofi Kingston vs. RybAxel
- 7/14-No match
- 7/7-No match
- 6/30-Goldust and Stardust vs. RybAxel
- 6/23-No match
- 6/16-Goldust and Stardust vs. RybAxel
- Money in the Bank Qualifying Battle Royal
- 6/9-Goldust and R-Truth vs. RybAxel
- 6/2-Goldust and Sin Cara vs. RybAxel
Axel and Ryback were a go-to option as a pair. When Goldust and Cody Rhodes were going through their struggles, they faced RybAxel. When WWE was set to introduce the faction featuring Xavier Woods, Kingston and Big E, they first faced RybAxel.
Those chances aren't coming for Axel anymore.
Heath Slater and Titus O'Neil are the duo most likely to take their place. It may have been Axel and Ryback tangling with Los Matadores rather than Slater-Gator on Monday's Raw had it not been for Ryback being out of action.
The tag team division was a good place for Axel. It allowed him to lean on his strengths (in-ring work) and didn't ask him to do much in terms of talking or character.
The division's lack of depth also benefited him.
The Usos haven't had many heels to challenge them. The Rhodes brothers needed rivals to serve as catalysts for Cody's transformation into Stardust. RybAxel was one of WWE's few options in each of those cases.
Axel and Ryback took on the Rhodes boys at Elimination Chamber, Payback and Money in the Bank. They were also a part of the tag team title match at WrestleMania.
It's hard to imagine WWE working Axel into those four pay-per-views as a singles star.
Axel had his peak, a four-month run with the Intercontinental Championship, in an alliance with Paul Heyman. He didn't do enough in that time to better his place in the WWE hierarchy. There were no classic matches during that span, and he didn't catch fire in terms of popularity.
The tag team with Ryback at first just felt like a thrown-together idea, but both men made it work.
While not a top-tier team, they earned the right to be on TV on a regular basis. Axel's screen time is set to decrease now that he is flying solo.
WWE has already made that clear with how it has booked him.
Axel didn't appear on Monday's Raw. He's not competing on Friday's SmackDown either, per ProWrestling.net's spoiler report.
His workload instead consisted of a clash with Adam Rose on Tuesday's Main Event and another match against him on Thursday's Superstars.
He lost both bouts. Falling to a struggling star like Rose on the little-watched Superstars is not something that happens to stars on the rise. WWE is not putting Seth Rollins or Rusev in that spot.
Superstars is the place for men like R-Truth, Fandango and Justin Gabriel. It's a filler show, and the men who work it are treated as such.
That's Axel's fate for the near future.
WWE is going to be busy building the feuds between Brock Lesnar and John Cena, Roman Reigns and both Randy Orton and Rollins, Sheamus and Cesaro, and The Miz and Dolph Ziggler. The company will want to continue to showcase Rusev. Where does Axel fit into that picture?
With Ryback, he could at least be in contention for the tag titles, perhaps in a four-team bout at Night of Champions.
Now, making the pay-per-view card is a long shot. WWE has too many other options for singles feuds.
Axel is going to be asked to sit on the bench often as he waits for The Big Guy to come back.