WWE’s Annual Spring Slump: Who needs to step out (part three)

< Part #2: Who needs to step back

This week, we’re taking a look at who needs to step up and who needs to step back. Tuesday we noticed three regularly-featured Superstars who could stand to pick up their game and give the WWE Universe a little bit more fire. Yesterday we looked at three guys who the WWE creative team would do well pulling back on.

Finally today we highlight three guys who have all the tools necessary to make it big but have yet to be given the spotlight the deserve. These are three guys who the WWE creative team needs to let step out into a full-blown angle and let them sink or swim. They took a chance on CM Punk in the summer of 2011 and it paid off wonderfully. It’s time to take some more chances and see if they can create a new superstar.

Things aren’t as bad as they were in the late 2000’s when the product was limping along with Triple H, John Cena and Randy Orton main-eventing almost every show to dwindling buyrates. WWE has been pretty proactive about pushing a variety of talent to PPV main events. The problem is their willingness to commit to anyone longterm.

Take a guy like BigE; he was seen to be the future when he won the Inter-Continental championship. On NXT he showed himself to be more than just a big body; he had a big personality and a great character that fans in Florida responded to. In WWE, if you aren’t familiar with the happenings down in Full Sail you probably think BigE is just another in a long line of meatheads. Wade Barrett has, in just one month chasing after and winning the IC title has brought it to a more prominent level than it has had in years. Why? Because they didn’t treat him like a joke and they let his charismatic personality shine through. That shouldn’t be the exception; it should be the norm.

People pine a little too much for the Attitude Era, but one thing the crash-TV days had going for them was a commitment to characters. Everyone who was a regular on WWF TV had a gimmick, an angle, something to make them stand out. They had to; you wouldn’t dare devote TV time to a wrestler who didn’t have a captivating personality lest the viewer change the channel to see what the competition was running. Granted, not every character made every superstar a potential world champion (no one watched a Val Venis segment and said “This guy is going to be the next Stone Cold”), but that’s a moot point, the guys who had all the tools to make it were given characters that allowed them to make it (with a few exceptions).

Today the roster is loaded with “generic wrestler A” and “generic wrestler B.” One guy is a Randy Orton type: “tall, dark and handsome,” cut, bland. The other is a Santino Marella type: goofy, limited in the ring (whether by talent or by demand), basically there to lose to the type-A guys. There’s so little variety, despite there being so much TV time: In the late-90’s fans had a 2 hour Raw and 2 hour SD! for the main stars, and Heat for the jobbers (5 hours a week), today we have a 3 hour Raw, 2 hour SD! and an hour of Main Event for the main stars, and then we have an hour for Superstars for the jobbers, and guys regularly coming down for an hour on NXT (8 hours a week, with something to watch that’s “new” almost every day of the work week).

With all that said there are some guys who have the tools to stand out, they just need to step over the various hurtles put in front of them, whether that be an insistence on having their character highlighted, a change in the way they are used, or a consistency in their push. Here are three guys who need to step over the sea of blandness and claim (or reclaim) the spotlight for themselves…

Cody Rhodes

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There once was a time when it was thought Ted DiBiase Jr. was the future of the company and Cody Rhodes was destined to be Marty Jannetty 2.0. Ted, however, never found a character beyond his last name. He was bland in the ring, though a solid worker, and not at all the bundle of charisma his father was in the 80’s. Cody, meanwhile, slowly improved with each match. He continued to hone his moveset, developing a solid repertoire and complemented it with some good character development. His “dashing” gimmick and subsequent feud with Rey Mysterio won over many critics and the son of the son of a plumber was soon pegged the next breakout superstar.

That was four years ago.

Since then he has teased breaking out but never managed to make it happen. In 2011 he won the Inter-Continental championship and brought back the more classic title-design, restoring some honor to the long-since forgotten belt.  By early 2012 he was working in occasional world title matches, and having programs with veterans like Booker T and Big Show. Still, though, he never broke out and became a top guy. He floated around for the rest of 2012 and most of 2013, remaining popular but not really advancing. In late 2013 he had the memorable feud with the alliance, which saw the return of Goldust and the hopes that the inevitable “brother vs brother” feud would finally be the catalyst to launch his main event career.

So far we’re still waiting.

Cody has all the tools to be successful: The look, the charisma, the promo ability, the in-ring chops, a rapport with the crowds, and he certainly has paid his dues. Whatever the hold up is, now is the time to dive in. A feud with Goldust should begin within the next several weeks, culminating in a match at SummerSlam. Whether he comes out of it a heel or a face, Cody should definitely be in the main event picture this fall. Even if all he gets is a one-off  reign like Mark Henry had a few years ago, he’s more than earned it and might surprise some people with how well he fits in at the top of the card.

Dolph Ziggler

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Once upon a time Dolph Ziggler was one of the three most popular superstars on the roster. That ancient, long ago era was LAST FREAKING YEAR.

One the night after WrestleMania he cashed in his money in the bank contract to win the title, eliciting the biggest response of the night. It was akin to the cheers Daniel Bryan had received a year earlier on the Raw-after-Mania show, which began his slow ascent to main-event status.

This was supposed to be Ziggler’s year. Despite all the odds, all the bad gimmicks over the years, the many wasted feuds and losses to less-deserving opponents, he had managed to remain popular. On the night he cashed in he looked like a made man.

It’s been all downhill since then. A concussion soon after winning derailed his momentum, forcing him to miss a title defense at Extreme Rules. He would then drop the belt back to Alberto Del Rio at the Payback PPV in June and lose the rematch in July. SummerSlam saw him in a mixed-tag match, Night of Champions saw him winning a match on the preshow. For Hell in a Cell and Survivor Series he was missing in action. He made his PPV return at TLC in December, losing on the preshow to Fandango. He was in and out of the Rumble without a single elimination, skipped Elimination Chamber and managed to be in the final five of the Battle Royal at WrestleMania.

His calendar from Mania to Mania could not have gone worse.

And yet, though his star has dimmed, it has only diminished in the eyes of casual fans. Hardcore fans have not given up on Dolph, only perhaps on our hopes that he will get a second chance to be a top level guy. If they give him that chance the casuals will jump right back on board. Dolph is a tremendous talent that is being wasted as a jobber to the stars. He’s so good in the ring he makes everyone else look like a million bucks, because of that he’s fed to guys like Batista and Sheamus instead of being given his own programs to work. Guys like Shawn Michaels and Rey Mysterio had Hall of Fame (or future Hall of Fame) careers despite being dwarfed by their contemporaries; they were over because they were allowed to be dangerous despite their size.

Ziggler, by all accounts, should have walked away from the night after WrestleMania 29 the next breakout superstar. It was not his fault that Jack Swagger can be sloppy and unsafe, which led to a concussion right as Ziggler’s championship reign was beginning. Take that concussion away and who knows where Ziggler is. He’s probably not main-eventing PPV’s but he’s probably not losing on the preshow either.

It’s time for Creative to get back on board with Dolph Ziggler. It’s time for him to step out and prove that he is a valuable player beyond someone who looks good losing.

Sami Zayn

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It might seem strange to lump a current-NXT superstar in with two longtime WWE vets (Rhodes has been on the main WWE roster since 2007, Ziggler since 2005) but consider this a precursor to the inevitable call-up for the former-El Generico. NXT guys have had quite a hit-and-miss track record when it comes to breaking out on the big stage. Teams like the Wyatts and Shield as well as Paige have made the transition smoothy. Other guys, like Adam Rose, are having trouble gaining traction.

Sometimes the move to the A-show fails because Creative decided to fix what wasn’t broken; in NXT Emma was a quirky Diva that could really go in the ring. In WWE she’s a corny Diva that’s paired with Santino and lost in the shuffle without any time or opportunities to display her talents in the ring.

Sometimes the move fails because the gimmick itself really wasn’t conducive to the big arena crowds Raw and Smackdown play host to. That seems to be a big part of what’s plaguing Adam Rose; the Full Sail arena is very small compared to a typical Raw crowd; it’s more intimate, like an old ECW audience, and that allows characters to build up a real rapport with the people. You can’t do that with a Raw crowd in Nashville or Portland.

Sami Zayn doesn’t have a crazy gimmick so he shouldn’t have to worry about “flopping at first sight” but he should worry about the “creative” minds of WWE’s Creative Department thinking he’s too bland and in need of a look or a hook. He doesn’t, creative needs to get out of its own way here and let Sami Zayn do what he does best. Be himself.

He’s one of the most naturally likable guys WWE has had in ages (I would say “since Daniel Bryan” but Bryan could pull off a smarmy jerk heel so well just a few years ago). Zayn has the potential to be the company’s next Rey Mysterio. Though he doesn’t wear a mask and he’s not from Mexico, Zayn (dubbed “happy beard guy” by his fans) fits exactly the same kind of niche that made Mysterio into a certain future HOFer. His offensive is fun, his repertoire of moves is deep, he’s popular with the hardcore fan base and will be adored by casuals; kids are going to love him. IF WWE just gets out of his way.

When it finally comes time for him to step out and debut on the main roster, he needs to debut the way Rey Mysterio did (who jumped right in to a feud with a prime-Kurt Angle): Treat him like a big deal, give him a hot feud, and let him do his thing.

_________________________

There’s a lot of untapped talent floating around WWE right now, some of those guys have had their moment in the sun teased, some have had it taken away prematurely and some have yet to have it at all. One thing is clear: WWE can be its own worst enemy at times, whether its by delaying Cody Rhodes’ first big push, yanking the rug out from under Dolph, or screwing with the debuts of some NXT superstars, Vince and co. sometimes can’t get out of their own way. They need to learn, so that guys who can help carry the company through Spring Slumps like this one, can step out and entertain the fans like we know they can.

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