“Effort without talent is a depressing situation, but talent without effort is a tragedy.”
In honor of Daniel Bryan’s highlighting of a certain wrestler’s under-utilization on RAW this past Monday, I thought I’d look at who else WWE is wasting. I probably could have done a top 25 without much effort, but we’ll do this for now.
10. Curtis Axel
The WWE has more third-generation wrestlers now than ever before. But only one had a father who was perfect.
Curt Hennig was always one of my very favorite wrestlers. No one could have pulled off the Mr. Perfect gimmick like he did. I also understand you don’t want to burden a young wrestler with trying to fill his father’s enormous shoes. That being said, Joe Hennig has been completely wasted. The only thing they’ve done right with him is his theme music (other than putting him with Paul Heyman, which was short-lived).
Let’s start with his name. Axel Curtis would have been better than Curtis Axel, if you wanted to pay tribute to his dad Curt and his grandfather Larry “The Axe” Hennig. His look is boring. He’s got the worst hair in WWE. His finisher sucks. I could go on.
The one time I saw him get a good pop was when he busted out the Perfect Plex. He needs to adopt this as his finisher, keep the music, get some colorful fluorescent singlets, and change his hair. Please, please, change your hair Joe. Also, if you have any of your old man’s abilities, grab a towel and a pack of gum. A vignette of you throwing touchdowns to yourself wouldn’t hurt either.
9. Sami Zayn
WWE isn’t doing the worst job with the former masked man El Generico. He had a great feud with Kevin Owens, including winning clean as a sheet in the middle of the ring after an excellent recent RAW match. But he has an unbelievable amount of natural babyface charisma, and as Enzo would say, you can’t teach that.
This isn’t the 1980s. You can’t just push a shiny salt-of-the-earth good guy and expect the crowd to love and accept him. The men and hardcores in the crowd are especially tough to please with this playbook (see Cena, John and Reigns, Roman). Ever since the advent of cool heels in the 1990s, it’s been harder than ever for promoters to win over fans with protypical babyfaces. These days, you need to find people with the right kind of natural charisma, combined with elite wrestling ability in the ring. Sami Zayn is the purest example of this in WWE today.
To see him is to love him. He’s capable of five star matches. He has indy cred. He could become the biggest face in the company someday.
8. Zack Ryder
It’s hard to believe Zack Ryder has been on the main WWE roster for nearly a decade. He’s been held down virtually the entire time through, let’s face it, no fault of his own. He’s big, athletic, he always looks great, and he’s somehow incredibly likeable despite a Jersey Shore gimmick.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Ryder is how he is so beloved by the most hardcore wrestling fans, despite lacking any sort of notable indy career. He’s got that same natural charisma Sami Zayn has. Ryder has had some cool moments in WWE, including an excellent video where his dad (who has the exact same smile as Zack) talked about how proud he was of him. His Internet Championship, and winning the Intercontinental Title this year in WM32’s ladder match, were both cool but were left incomplete. The night after WM32, Ryder lost the IC Title to The Miz on RAW. Former WWE World Champions like The Miz shouldn’t be allowed to win secondary titles. What a waste.
7. Tyson Kidd
What a great guy TJ Wilson is. The only thing I miss about my Facebook account is every year on December 12th, TJ would wish me a happy birthday. This despite barely knowing him and not seeing him in years. I only met him a few times, mostly bumping around in the Hart dungeon or in their backyard in 2001 and 2002. He’s just a quality person; it’s obvious when you meet him.
“The last graduate of the dungeon” was given the last name Kidd in what I feel confident was Vince’s way of saying, “You’re small and shouldn’t be taken seriously.” But TJ is smart, he fundamentally understands the art of wrestling, and he’s got the right pedigree. He’s been out of action for over a year due to taking a bad bump on his neck from Samoa Joe’s Muscle Buster, and I don’t know if he’ll ever come back. His injury was apparently similar to Christopher Reeve’s. If he can’t wrestle anymore, I hope the WWE finds a use for him. I think he’d make a great color commentator or analyst.
Next on the list is Tyson Kidd’s wife, and fellow Calgarian, Nattie Neidhart. I promise this isn’t a Calgary bias, these two 100% deserve to be on this list.
The daughter of Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart is far and away the best technical wrestler on the main WWE roster. She is totally wasted right now, and really always has been. If WWE is smart, they’ll make her the SmackDown Live women’s champion and have her keep the title for a long time. She’s easily the best bet for dragging decent matches out of the questionable collection of women on the SL roster, almost none of whom have any sort of impressive technical wrestling credentials, amateur or pro. But please don’t put her in the ring with Summer Rae; I don’t want to risk seeing Nattie get a catastrophic neck injury like her husband.
5. American Alpha
When trying to parlay your elite amateur wrestling career into professional wrestling superstardom, you’re more likely to end up looking like Alex “The Pug” Pourteau than Kurt Angle. However, an exception to this rule would be the second coming of Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin with American Alpha, Chad Gable & Jason Jordan.
WWE may still use them correctly on the main roster, but once The New Day is done with their run, these guys should anchor the tag team division with a long reign full of great matches. It’s nice to see some singlets, too. WWE needs to tell the stories of these two men. I’d recommend an in-depth documentary. Also, now that Shelton’s back on the roster, please bring back Charlie for a WGTT vs. AA feud.
“The Man That Gravity Forgot” is a unique blend of thick muscle and high-end gymnastics. His execution of quick strikes and flying in the ring stands out even against other world-class wrestlers. Everything he does in the ring has a big-match feel to it. This is exactly the type of guy who should have a championship.
Neville had an excellent reign as NXT Champion, but he feels like an afterthought on the main roster. I’m sure Vince hates his height.
Neville’s matches should be treated as special.
3. Dolph Ziggler
Only WWE would take an accomplished national-caliber amateur wrestler and give him a gimmick where he introduces himself to people with a ridiculous name.
The great thing about hardcore wrestling fans is how vociferously they support true talent. On the RAW after WrestleMania in 2013, where hardcores from around the world gathered to take over the show for a night as per annual, tradition, they created one of the loudest pops in wrestling history. Dolph, supposedly a heel, cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase against a supposedly face Alberto Del Rio to win the World Title, and the reaction was deafening. These days he’s a dependable mid-carder, used to make others look good.
At least he isn’t a male cheerleader or Kerwin White’s golf caddy anymore.
2. Kevin Owens
The longtime indy darling Kevin Steen was finally signed by WWE in 2014, something I’d been clamoring for forever. In a universe of cookie-cutter pretty people, a chunky guy with a unique look is such a refreshing change. Of course, it only works if he’s athletic and has a world-class workrate, which is not a problem for KO.
Owens can do it all. Need a five star match? Need a tough guy the crowd can get behind? Need a pure villainous heel? Need a hilarious Owen Hart-style heel? KO can deliver at the drop of a hat. I love this guy. He and Chris Jericho have the makings of a great act, but that isn’t using Owens to his full potential.
What can I say? The American Dragon was right. When a guy has everything going for him and no apparent weaknesses, it’s impossible to justify him being anywhere other than the very top of the card.
Cesaro even has the height (listed as 6’5″) and strength Vince covets so much. I’d bet that Cesaro is stronger than many of the guys who look more muscular than he does. Cesaro matches never disappoint, he dresses the part, he has the indy cred, and don’t forget that he speaks five languages. I applaud John Cena for trying to learn Mandarin, but you already have a guy who can represent you around most of the world right now in Mr. Cesaro.
It’s difficult to explain Vince’s reluctance to push him other than by sheer American jingoism and xenophobia.