The Common Denominator “Looking Toward the Future” (WWE, John Cena, The Shield, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, Hulk Hogan, Daniel Bryan, Team Rhodes Scholars)

Sorry for no column last week, my faithful followers in the Common DenomiNation (all four of you). It’s been a busy time at work, plus I’m playing volleyball and softball in my free time (my what now?), so something had to be cut and it was my column. Anyway, like the poet laureate LL Cool J once said, “Don’t call it a comeback!” (Seriously, don’t do that. It’s been like a week).

I sat down to write this and decided I would try really hard not to be negative. It seems like a lot of my columns are basically me bitching about how awesome things used to be and how things suck now. I’m smart enough to realize I might just be forgetting a lot of the crap that I overlooked as a youngster and just let it fade away over time. I also realize that at this point, and I think someone brought this up right after Wrestlemania, I’m not really the target audience for the WWE right now. They are, here in the post-Attitude Era — actually the post-post-Attitude Era – looking for a younger demographic and hoping that their parents see enough of something they can get into to keep watching the shows and going to live events and such. And that’s fine. I guess it’s working. I bought the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania, took my kids to the FedEx Forum in Memphis for a WWE house show last year, and got them a World Heavyweight Championship belt to fight over (I’m a three time champion myself now, by the way).

And, hey, if you really want to still see some of that “Attitude” (that is, more mature) content, TNA really doesn’t do a terrible job at it. It’s sort of like a cross between late 90s WWF and 2000 WCW or something.

This appears very much to be a transitional period in the WWE. While John Cena is still the top guy, as I’ve said before, it’s really by default more than anything else. And let’s face it, Cena’s not an old broken down man or anything, but I think he is on the backside of his career, even if it’s early in that backside. And he’s had a good run. He debuted as a regular old clean-cut wrestler, morphed into the “Doctor of Thuganomics,” who was basically a heel. That persona led directly to “The Champ,” who was super-duper, red-hot over as the top dog, every bit as important to the company as Hogan and Austin were in their time, before “Super-Cena” just, unfortunately, got stale in the eyes of every fan.
And just like when Hogan and Austin began to reach the end of their runs, it’s time to figure out the next guy. There was a recent article up on Pulse Wrestling looking at all of the youngsters with the potential to be “that guy.” (Sorry, I suck at linking, or whatever it’s called. Internets are hard for old people like me). I’d like to take a look at a similar premise, but do it in more of an evaluation sort of way.

You see, at my church, we have a non-competitive (boo, right?) sports league for the little kids called Upward. They do basketball and soccer and flag football, and anyway, to make the games and teams as even as possible, before the season starts all of the kids are evaluated and ranked based on a set of skills drills, then they are matched up with someone of equal ability during the games. I’m going to tweak it a bit and apply it to the WWE roster.

I’m looking at things like future potential, ability in the ring, mic skills, personality and character development, connection with the fans, marketability, and corporate appeal (that last one is especially important, since none of the other things matter if you don’t have it).

So, with all that, here is what I am calling the WWE Upward Power Rankings (in reverse order, for suspense, you know)…

10) Cody Rhodes – Look, for some reason a lot of folks are down on Cody, but he’s very, very solid in the ring, and can deliver on the mic just on facial expressions and exasperation. He’s the Squidward of the WWE if you watch Spongebob Squarepants (which I do). I thought after his big feud with Rey Mysterio a couple of years ago, he was ready to make the leap up to the main event. I still say if he could save Goldust from some kind of beatdown, he’d make a great move into being a face. Unfortunately, he’s seen as more of a joke paired with Damian Sandow and feuding with the Funky Bunch.

9) Damian Sandow – He’s got to get away from Cody, like, yesterday. He was onto something with his “search for an apprentice” thing, sort of like Ted DiBiase bringing people into the ring for unwinnable challenges. People love to boo the smart asshole who thinks he’s better than you. The place where they got it right with DiBiase and are getting it wrong with Sandow, is that Ted won, a lot. Sandow talks big, but then loses in the ring. He’s still got time to put it all together. He’s got to be booked stronger, though, outsmarting the faces and proving he really in crafty and smart and all that. The, when he loses it will be a big deal. Right now, it’s expected.

8) Antonio Cesaro – That a guy like Cesaro is being misused as badly as he is just makes me sad. His strong, stiff style reminds me of William Regal in a way that Wade Barrett wishes he could. His finisher is impressive and I love the very European uppercut. Word is that Vince is unimpressed, which is a shame. Cesaro is certainly still salvageable, but the yodeling thing is just stupid, as in “Farting Nattie Neidhart” stupid. Cesaro is like a badass Jason Statham kind of guy. Let him be that. Let him just beat the living crap out of guys, work his way up to a big title match with Cena and let him stay around the upper card. Strong heels are just few and far between in the WWE.

7) Roman Reigns – I have to say, the WWE has done nothing wrong with The Shield, with the possible exception of their build toward the six-man at Wrestlemania and the confusion over who would actually be in the match with them. Their involvement with the Undertaker is another step in the right direction. I’m singling Reigns out here, because he seems like the first guy who will be featured in singles matches, while Ambrose and Rollins will probably tag for a while. Reigns has the breakout potential to be the next Batista or Goldberg (sorry, Ryback).

6) Zack Ryder – Give me crap for ranking him so high, when the WWE seems to forget that he actually works for them from time to time. What Ryder was able to accomplish last year, going from Most Likely to be Wished Best of Luck with Their Future Endeavors to a red-hot Internet-fueled sensation, pretty much with zero corporate support shows me that he will eventually get back in the mix and get a real push. The over-the-top Jersey Shore gimmick will need to be tones down, maybe into more of a Rob Van Dam-type of persona. Maybe even a heel turn? Like a lot of these guys, just let him win a match or two to give him some credibility.

5) Bray Wyatt – Husky Harris is dead. In his place is Wyatt and his “family,” who have been really entertaining on NXT in several clips I have watched on YouTube. These guys are awesome and Wyatt has the goods. With the current Deep South Duck Dynasty/Swamp People/Lizard Lick craze currently sweeping the nation, now is the time to bring these creepy guys up to the main roster and turn them loose, Moondogs in Memphis style. I don’t know if we’re talking top of the card or anything, but it would be entertaining to see the Wyatt Clan run wild on Raw. Plus I like stables. Keep it small, maybe three or four guys and we’re good.

4) Bo Dallas – I know he’s a Rotunda, but I just see Ricky Steamboat when I look at the guy. For someone who hasn’t been on TV much, he’s ranked pretty high, but I think he’s got Steamboat’s universal “face” appeal written all over his, umm, face. I mean, clean-cut, baby-faced, handsome “good guy” all the way. I honestly haven’t seen him wrestle that much, but I like the clean, old-school running power-slam finisher. If Steamboat doesn’t do it for you, maybe Sting? Is it time to bring back face paint? Maybe not, but Bo’s got the pedigree to have a nice long career, but he’s going to need a character in this day and age. Pure talent just won’t get it. But he’s so young, the sky really is the limit on him.

3) Ryback – You can not ignore how quickly and easily Ryback moved up the ladder. Yes it helps that, as someone on the site put it recently (again, I can’t link), Ryback is exactly what an 8-year-old boy imagines when he’s told to picture a professional wrestler in his head. He’s already had a few WWE title matches and now he’s being programmed with Cena. I say, give him a short reign. Why not? Cena can get it back quick. Maybe they can have a series of matches spanning a few pay-per-views ala Flair and Steamboat back in the day. Have we really seen Ryback’s move-set? He’s shown he can talk, too. I know this is shallow to say so, but if he’s going to be “the man” he’s going to have to get his teeth fixed.

2) Dolph Ziggler – He’s the World Heavyweight Champion (finally), so this can’t be much of a surprise. There are literally no holes in his portfolio. He has every bit of potential to be this generation’s Ric Flair. If he’s handled properly (and that’s a big if, I know), he’s got a solid 10 years at the top of the card left in him. He’s the cool heel of the current era. He’s got to be a credible champion, though, and not a coward, which seems to be the only heel personality the WWE seems to like, but Ziggler and AJ could be the new Savage/Elizabeth. Throw in a dose of Curt Hennig. There I’ve compared him to The Nature Boy, the Macho Man and Mr. Perfect. I believe in Dolph Ziggler.

1) Daniel Bryan – Were he six inches taller, he’d be the new Shawn Michaels. But, even with his smaller stature, he has gotten over on talent and personality, and in this era of trying to avoid anything that might be steroid-related and a tendency toward a more MMA-style of performing (that is, the acceptance that size isn’t as important as ability), the smaller guys are getting a real chance akin to the shift from the Hogans, Warriors, and Yokozunas of the business to guys like Hart, Michaels, and Hennig. Bryan was more over as a face during his heel World Title run than three-quarters of the actual faces. Now that he seems pretty much on the face side, I hope he gets another run with the title sooner rather than later. Maybe a Rumble win after a bell-to-bell run or something. One more real chance to shine (maybe Money in the Bank?) and I think you can put DB at the top of the card for years to come.

Well, there you go. I could easily have included the other two members of The Shield, maybe Kofi Kingston or the Miz. R-Truth or Wade Barrett as well. There are also the already established guys like Orton, Sheamus, and of course, CM Punk, but I think the real future of the WWE is in that list I just presented. I’m still not sold on Fandango, but hey I’ll stand corrected if he can prove me wrong. Big E Langston just doesn’t do it for me either. And I’m sure there are some NXT guys just waiting for an opportunity.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Let me leave you, though, with Bray Wyatt in action.

Feel free to agree with me (or nor) in the comments.

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