WWE made good on its promise to start 2019 with stronger showings, particularly painting some of the biggest stars in its stable in a prominent light. Of course, only people who stalk social media like I do could have known going into Tuesday that long time face of the company John Cena would return to totally sell Becky Lynch as the new face of the company.
Not only did Cena make her look good in the ring, but he also delivered a post-show interview with Mike Rome that left no doubt that Lynch is viewed as the top Superstar in all of WWE right now. When you consider that it took only a day to get any video clip involving Lynch posted to YouTube to get over a million views, it’s hard to argue at this point that The Man has won over the WWE Universe. Though there are some starting to push back by calling her a rip-off of Conor McGregor or Yes! Movement Daniel Bryan, which is inevitable with the rise of any huge star, the pop Lynch gets in every arena she visits right now is undeniable.
However, Lynch wasn’t the only one to benefit from big nods of confidence this week from WWE. Triple H returned to seemingly get a fire lit under Seth Rollins, rumored to be the one getting the shot at taking down Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania, and it worked very well. Drew McIntyre also took his strong booking and ran with it, positioning himself as a major threat in the Royal Rumble and the top heel of Team Red. Similarly, AJ Styles is getting the repackaging push as well as a more aggressive version of himself and he already earned a shot to regain the WWE Championship against “The New ” Daniel Bryan this week. So, without further ado, let’s get into who were the top power players in the WWE this week:
Superstars Who Didn’t Quite Make the List:
Elias – He’s a popular babyface with the WWE Universe, and positioning him to have a feud against one of the least liked members of the roster in former RAW General Manager Baron Corbin can work. However, WWE will have to start booking The Drifter more consistently if it wants to prove it is truly buying into his stock. Elias took it to Corbin this week, and fans loved it. Here’s hoping there’s more good things in store here.
Samoa Joe – The Samoan Submission Machine has had a steady, not quite spectacular beef with Jeff Hardy so far. I agreed with having Joe win and be part of the No. 1 Contender match for the WWE Championship. He’s yet to get as hot as was on RAW, but Joe has a chance to do his worst against one of the more beloved babyfaces in the company. That’s when Joe does his best work.
Zelina Vega – She came out strong on the mic against Becky Lynch. Pardon me if I disagree with the “broken face” comment of her monologue because Lynch is the best looking “Man” I’ve ever seen. However, the dig did what it was supposed to do, get a reaction from the overwhelmingly pro-Lynch crowd. Having Vega get more mic time would truly prove WWE wants to give some of its roster a fresh start. She and Andrade “Cien” Almas have been horribly misused so far on SmackDown, and having them work with top stars in the company in recent weeks give us some hope that is being rectified. 2019 may truly by the year of “Tranquilo.”
Andrade “Cien” Almas – He followed up Vega’s strong mic work with a decent effort against Cena in the ring. In particular, Almas wowed the crowd when he flipped off the top rope and then did another cartwheel off the canvas to hit Cena, who had looked like he was getting out of trouble. Almas has been in matches against some of the top talents in the company recently, including Cena, Lynch, Bryan and Styles. To take the next step, Almas will have to break through with a victory against one of these top names to gain some momentum.
Top 10 Superstars of the Week
10. United States Champion Rusev – The new champ got the Rusev Day gimmick over with crowds by being a happy-go-lucky jokester, but he’ll likely have to keep evolving his character in order to avoid his act getting stale. This week’s segment where he was ambushed by former U.S. Champ Shinsuke Nakamura, who then landed on Lana after being hit with a Matchka Kick, gives Rusev a vehicle to regain some of the aggression we knew from “The Bulgarian Brute” heel days he had before he was buried by repeated losses to Cena. This will be an interesting program if it continues to have Nakamura bringing out the anger in Rusev.
9. Apollo Crews – WWE has welcomed back one of its forgotten Superstars in recent weeks, and Crews ran with the opportunity this week on RAW. Not only did Crews win a “Fresh Start” Battle Royal by defeating one of the most detested Superstars in the company, Baron Corbin, but he also carried Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose during their title match. Though Crews lost, it was a good start at getting his character more credibility. I hope it doesn’t lead to him being pushed down the throats of the WWE Universe too quickly because that would be setting him up to fail, but it could revitalize him as a contender down the road if expectations are managed properly. He was only hurt by the fact that Ambrose has absolutely languished in his role as a heel champ since coming back from injury.
8. Riott Squad – I get it. They lost. Hear me out. No group of Superstars on RAW has been more unified and sinister in recent months than Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan. They should be the group getting pushed as a contender for the new women’s division tag belts, and I think booking them to lose against a group – Bayley, Sasha Banks & Ember Moon – thrown together at the last minute was a mistake. I know WWE probably wants to push Banks and Bayley as the first tag champs, but I think the reaction they get as a babyface team is dead. I still think the most effective use of Banks would be as a heel challenger to RAW Women’s Champ “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, but WWE seems to be stubborn to change up plans with The Boss. Riott Squad would get massive heat if they weren’t always booked to lose. Hopefully, this changes in 2019.
7. RAW Women’s Champ “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey – Though it was a throwaway tag match, Rousey still gained a great opportunity to showcase her continuously improving in-ring ability and tremendous athleticism. The Superfly Splash that Rousey pulled off is a very impressive move from the UFC Hall of Famer. By having her pile on the wins in main events on TV and pay-per-view shows, WWE continues to position her strongly as a face of the company. I do think she needs a credible challenger on the Red brand as Nia Jax has clearly not blossomed with the opportunity to become one of the top women’s division heels with the inability of Alexa Bliss to wrestle with her health problems. That’s why I think Rousey getting a challenge from Banks on Mondays would be great for both.
6. Mandy Rose – It’s clear now WWE thinks God’s Greatest Creation is a potential breakout star. I’m not in love with the old taking your man angle, but she was pitch perfect this week in tormenting former SmackDown Women’s Champ Naomi. From revealing her cutoff Usos t-shirt to faking Naomi out into a match against Sonya Deville and ultimately getting Deville the win with the distracting photo, Rose gained new depth to her character and is gaining heat as a top Blue Brand heel. Rose seems ready to have a breakout year if she can keep the momentum going as someone women love to hate and men love to watch.
5. Shinsuke Nakamura – One of the criticisms of Nakamura in 2018 was that his character didn’t bring out a strong reaction within the WWE Universe. He never answered the question “Why should we care?” That changed this week as Nakamura wore the black hat as the despicable villain who possibly injured the babyface champ’s wife while pulling off a cowardly sneak attack during the champ’s celebration. This was a strong start to 2019 for the King of Strong Style. Both he and Rusev could benefit greatly if Nakamura can keep playing the dastardly bad guy that makes the easygoing champ lose his cool.
4. Drew McIntyre – The Scottish Psychopath lived up to his name in the prominent slot of the opening sequence on RAW in a steel cage match against his former ally, Dolph Ziggler. McIntyre simply brutalized The Showoff and his continued assault on Ziggler after the match only continued to sell the deranged nature of the top heel on RAW. This continues to sell McIntyre as one of the top contenders to win the Royal Rumble and to get into the Universal Championship title picture. It was a job well done by McIntyre and WWE creative this week.
3. Seth Rollins – Here’s the criticism I’ve heard about Rollins: He worked as the conniving coward champ set up to succeed by The Authority. He even worked as the guy spurned by The Authority who eventually became the Kingslayer in taking down Triple H. But along the way, he kind of lost definition of his character as a babyface. I think that’s a bit harsh on Rollins considering the number of different directions WWE had to take him to keep the butts in seats when the main eventers around him – Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Braun Strowman, Kevin Owens – kept suffering medical issues that caused them to miss time. However, the segment with Triple H firing up Rollins to be more aggressive totally worked. Then, he went out and sold it by bashing Bobby Lashley with a chair. This certainly looks to me like the rumors Rollins vs. Lesnar is a thing for WrestleMania may be true.
2. AJ Styles – The Phenomenal One also underwent a repackaging of sorts in the past few weeks with mixed results. It worked well when he decked Vince McMahon on the Christmas episode, but the segment where he went to apologize to Vince and Shane this week didn’t work quite as well. However, Styles came out of the WWE Championship No. 1 Contender match in the main event as the big winner who gets a title shot at Bryan on January 27th at the Royal Rumble. The fatal five-way had the unenviable task of following up Cena giving the keys to the company to Lynch which had the fans going nuts, but there was plenty of hard-hitting action that put over all of the stars involved. Having Styles win only continues to keep him relevant without the belt, so it was mission accomplished.
1. Becky Lynch – The WWE Universe is eating out of the palm of Lynch’s hand right now, and she is flourishing with all of the adoration. The clever thing about Lynch’s social media campaigns against other stars and criticizing the WWE for not promoting her well enough is that it all has a touch of reality involved in the spectacle. WWE did seem to always promote Charlotte Flair ahead of her on marquees and promotional items given away and at merchandise stands. WWE showed in 2019 that’s beginning to change. By having Cena come out and sell Lynch as the new face of the company in the ring and in backstage interviews, it’s a clear signal that the WWE gets what the fans at home want. They want The Man. I think it was also clever to have Lynch confront the stereotype that Cena was expecting a man to come out and face him and he got “The Man” instead. One of the criticisms of Lynch’s gimmick is that it sets back the women’s revolution, but this week’s segment featured a male Superstar putting over a female Superstar in a way I don’t think we’ve ever seen. It speaks volumes nowadays that almost every single tweet Lynch makes or video of her posted to YouTube gets into the trending list. 2019 is unquestionably being set up as the year of The Man.