When rumours of a new brand split first surfaced in early 2016, myself and ‘Plan, my colleague from The Right Side Of The Pond on LOP Radio, were famously dead against such an idea. We had enjoyed the greater shared universe consistency provided by the official merging of the rosters in December 2013, as well as the greater sense of competition for the top spots; in a brand split situation, undeserving marginal talents often end up with a world title on their resume, and the quality often suffers, particularly if the rosters are not divided up particularly equitably. All of these fears have proved very much founded over the past three years. Jinder Mahal, of all people, became a world champion for a few hellish months in 2017. Single brand pay-per-views proved to be of not very good quality, but reversion back to both brands on every show has led to inevitable bloat, with the average length of Network specials creeping towards four hours. Meanwhile, both television shows have been through horrendous periods of creative stagnation; Raw recently during the lamentable Baron Corbin GM tenure, and Smackdown during the Jinder world title run.
And so it was that when our favourite Aussie, LOP’s own Sir Sam, posted a “WWE Single Roster Challenge” on Twitter, both ‘Plan and myself could not resist joining in, and having gone back and forth on social media about our differing philosophies, we decided to post our rosters in a column and justify our creative decisions to you, the good readers of Lords of Pain. There will be an opportunity for you to vote for whose roster you like the most at the end! The rules are simple: each of us must choose 10 Main Eventers/Upper Midcarders, 10 Midcarders, 5 Jobbers, 8 Tag Teams and 10 from the Women’s Division.
So without further ado, I’ll let the man who inspired the discussion kick us off, followed by ‘Plan, and then myself. Enjoy!
Sir Sam’s Roster
Main Eventers/Upper Midcard: Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe, Drew McIntyre, Bray Wyatt, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Braun Strowman
Midcard: Mustafa Ali, Pete Dunne, Ricochet, Drew Gulak, Aleister Black, Finn Balor, Andrade, The Velveteen Dream, Adam Cole, Luke Harper
Jobbers: Rusev, Randy Orton, Titus O’Neil, Oney Lorcan, Lucha House Party
Tag Teams: The Revival, The New Day, The Usos, The Bar, DIY, Undisputed Era, Gable & Roode, Moustache Mountain
Women: Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Asuka, Shayna Bazler, Ruby Riott, Kairi Sane, Ember Moon, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay
When I set out this challenge on Twitter I did so because I feel that one of the problems the WWE faces right now is their inability to commit to a selected roster of wrestlers. The depth of their talent pool means that they end up simply having too many great toys to play with. Some of the WWE’s best times historically have come when they have had a limited roster and have just had to roll with what they have, no NXT call ups or Superstar Shake Ups to get people briefly excited before the company inevitably changes its plans. So in that spirit, if I set out the challenge: take a hatchet to the WWE roster, you get 25 male wrestlers divided into the main event/upper midcard, midcard and jobbers, 8 tag teams, and 10 females.
For me the obvious starting point is The Shield trio who are the three biggest stars of this current generation and have backed up their often privileged positions with consistently creative and exciting in-ring work. The trio have contrasting characters and in-ring styles so will provide variation at the top of the card and importantly all three make storytelling a priority in their work which sets the tone at the top for the kind of wrestling I want to see. They would be supported at the top of the card by Daniel Bryan and Samoa Joe whose Smackdown tenures show very clearly exactly the kind of character and threat they bring to the table. As a bonus all five of my top guys are equally compelling as face and heel to provide longevity to their tenure on my promotion. The rest of the upper midcard has been filled with men who could easily transition in and out of the main event or midcard or feud with one another depending on what is needed. The exception to this would be Braun Strowman who I would utilise as a special attraction wrestler, almost wrestling in his own separate universe ala The Undertaker in the early 90s to maximise his upside while avoiding the problem he currently faces as a main event wrestler.
Moving onto the midcard and I have chosen to intentionally go with a more action heavy midcard in comparison to my character and story focus at the very top. While there is undoubtedly a number of wrestlers such as Mustafa Ali, Drew Gulack and Velveteen Dream who can carry the character and storytelling load, with wrestlers like Ricochet, Adam Cole, Andrade and the vastly underrated Luke Harper I would adopt an attitude of letting them let their wrestling in the ring do the talking. At least initially this division would revolve around Mustafa Ali and Drew Gulack whose contrast in character and in ring chemistry through 2017 and 18 was my favourite ongoing feud on 205 Live. Their interactions would then spill out to bring in the rest of the division. For jobbers I have gone with a mix of versatility and credibility. Wrestlers like Randy Orton and Rusev provide stiff competition even if they are just being used to enhance other wrestlers while Titus, Oney Lorcan and The Lucha House Party provide a bit more variety, fun and in Oney’s case long term prospects in those roles.
In my tag division I don’t think anyone will have a problem with me placing The Revival as my Top Guys. They showed in NXT exactly what they are capable of, how they can elevate all those around them and how much they can make it mean when a face team such as DIY, The New Day or Moustache Mountain finally overcome them. If they need to be cycled out of a championship program then The Usos, Bar or Undisputed Era will all be more than capable of slotting into the role of primary antagonists but will also be able to provide immense value outside of the championship scene as well.
Finally with the women I have tried to distill a microcosm of my male division into the smaller grouping. All the performers I have chosen are strong characters and will be able to sculpt compelling programs whether they are fighting for a championship or feuding over something else. I would place The Queen Charlotte Flair at the top of the division, there is just no one who carries the same aura she does or who is as crisp as her in the ring. She would face stiff competition up and down the division but ultimately be built up as the final hurdle for Bayley to overcome in her own long term quest to get to the top.
Ultimately I have gone for a roster made up mostly of what I would want to see in wrestling and one that I feel would provide engaging stories and compelling matches for a long time. I’d love to see what everyone else can come up with.
Main Eventers/Upper Midcarders: Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, Bray Wyatt, Daniel Bryan, Mustafa Ali, Pete Dunne, Andrade, Tommaso Ciampa
Midcarders: Jordan Devlin, Travis Banks, Walter, Big E, Kofi Kingston, Chad Gable, The Miz, Matt Riddle, Adam Cole, Finn Bálor
Jobbers: Bobby Roode, Primo Colón, Xavier Woods, Mark Andrews, Titus O’Neil
Tag Teams: The Revival, Undisputed Era (Strong / O’Reilly), Moustache Mountain, Aleister Black and Ricochet, Authors of Pain, The Bar, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, The Usos
Women: Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Shayna Baszler, Rhea Ripley, Ember Moon, Kairi Sane, Zelina Vega, Io Shirai, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay
You may look at my roster and think I’ve lost my mind. Between my choice of jobbers and the notable absence of certain big name stars, I would understand why. I have picked the names I have picked, however, for specific reasons: primarily to both demonstrate just how much talent WWE are sitting on beyond the usual suspects and also how athletic talent is no substitute for the development of character – most of which goes unfulfilled in WWE, of course.
I wrote a trilogy of columns a couple of years ago looking at how the top of any generation’s roster in WWE operates with certain roles – a trinity of top names, an exception to all rules and an anomaly at odds with the trend of the day. My main event scene follows this pattern. The Shield are an obvious pick for obvious reasons, and you better know now this roster will be built around my man, the Beastslayer, Seth Rollins. I also selected Bray Wyatt to occupy the exceptional role the likes of The Undertaker have in the past, because there’s a reason he was once heralded as the successor of the Phenom before WWE squandered what they had on their hands with non-committal writing and an ability to resist the temptation of jumping the supernatural shark. Samoa Joe is too credible a competitor and character alike not to occupy a top tier spot either, and on this roster will be what the ‘E could have had, had they shown some more sense in 2017: a full time, reasonably priced but no less convincing or compelling Brock Lesnar. All five of these performers are outstanding hands in the ring, capable of excelling athletically in their myriad styles while also having precedent in strong character work too – the order of my day.
For my upper mid card scene, I was inspired by the class of the latter-day Attitude Era. Translate Kurt Angle for Daniel Bryan, Chris Benoit for Pete Dunne, Eddie Guerrero for Andrade, Chris Jericho for Mustafa Ali and then add in Tommaso Ciampa for good measure and you have a viable cadre of stars balancing in-ring talent and larger than life personality in each instance, any of whom could become convincing main event stars in their own right – some, like Bryan, at the drop of a hat, others, like Ali, on the back of long-term story arcs.
The bulk of my midcard was designed to be a testament to the advantages of balance, an Ark of talents selected two by two. I have a pair of cruiserweights who have recently been proving their worth in the form of Devlin and Banks, performers who maintain the spirit of my upper mid card and could ascend and descend convincingly whenever needed. Walter and Big E provide size as a pair of super-heavyweights, the former a towering challenge capable of dominating or providing a point-of-no-return platform for talents on their way up, the latter a non-traditional talent capable of bringing wit and humour in equal degree to his deceptively magnetic strongman routine. My content-heavy workers and character performers come in pairs too. Kingston and Gable could tear any house down they want when offered the chance to demonstrate their innate athleticism. The Miz needs no justification after the recent form he’s enjoyed since 2016 and Matt Riddle, an arguably riskier choice, has, in his time in NXT, proven that he can found his work as much upon vibrant character as he can his equal parts ‘legitimate’ and intelligent ring style. Given room to grow, he could be something truly special. Crucially, however, my workers aren’t short on personality, and my character performers know exactly how to work. I then round the decade of talent up with a pair of utility players possessing a wealth of experience in the form of Adam Cole and Finn Bálor, the former of whom brings extra weight with his role in the Undisputed Era and the latter of whom offers up creative potential in the form of his mainly poorly realised Demon character.
Maverick puts it best when he says your jobbers need to be good at jobbing, and while my selections may seem odd, at times controversial, I’ve seen enough New Generation Era Monday Night Raw squash matches to know how the game works – Roode and Woods (the latter’s presence also rounding out New Day as a group) can provide memorably eye-catching wit in what would be relatively short performances, Andrews and Colón the unexpected displays of athletic comeback and O’Neil sheer size, each presenting a different kind of non-threatening impressiveness when quickly defeated, further augmenting squash wins. But most importantly, each innately harbours the potential to gain a shock victory of their own in believable fashion in the event of a required or desired ‘promotion’, ala the 1-2-3 Kid!
My selection of tags I would hope is largely self-explanatory. I selected the Roddy Strong / Kyle O’Reilly version of Undisputed Era because it is that specific tandem with the proven track record in NXT, and that line-up of the group that convinced me of the faction’s worth. Teams like The Bar, The Usos and The Revival are generationally defining, others like Moustache Mountain destined to be so. I figured that Owens and Zayn, with their Indy record and heavily established shared continuity, offered an invaluable character-driven addition, Black and Ricochet likewise from a content point of view, considering their recent partnership has proven compelling by virtue of their starkly contrasting styles. AOP were selected because of wrestling’s rich history in iconic rough-housing tandems, and the Authors invoke the spirit of the Road Warriors, Demolition et al, even though WWE seem to have completely missed that fact.
Finally, the women – the decision to omit three of the four Horsewomen may be controversial, but is justified and designed to demonstrate just how much the current division suffers from the ‘E’s passive favouritism. Asuka was iconic before her platform was inexplicably taken from her. Moon is a remarkably polished, instantly credible character in any and every situation she’s found herself in. Baszler is to Rousey what Joe is to Lesnar on this roster – a better value for money version – while the IIconics bring the personality. Zega, Sane and Shirai offer up the eye-popping athleticism – smoother in form and less demonstrably dangerous than that offered by the likes of Banks – and Rhea Ripley is a bankable future star to build towards crescendo. And popular opinion or no, I don’t think there’s any better a ‘Queen’ bee than Charlotte Flair.
This roster was put together with one eye on untapped talent, one eye on the lessons of the past and one eye on reminding the world that character – or, to give it another name, proper storytelling – is as important, if not more so, than content, ‘workrate’ or any other such euphemism. I have long said that being a great pro wrestler means more than just being a great athlete. Everyone on this roster can boast as much.
Main Eventers/Upper Midcarders: Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, Pete Dunne
Midcarders: Rusev, Dolph Ziggler, Andrade, Mustafa Ali, Ricochet, The Miz, Tyler Breeze, Aleister Black, Jordan Devlin, Joe Coffey
Jobbers: Apollo Crews, Curtis Axel, Kallisto, Fandango, R Truth
Tag Teams: The Bar, Moustache Mountain, Gallus, Grizzled Young Veterans, Fish and O’Reilly, The Revival, The Usos, Authors of Pain
Women: Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Bayley, Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss, Shayna Bazler, Kairi Sane, Ruby Riott, Ember Moon, Mandy Rose
There were a few important considerations when I started looking at creating a single WWE roster from the talent signed to the various brands. It was obviously a no brainer to include the three Shield guys as my primary main eventers, supplemented by versatile veterans in AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe and Bobby Roode; with the latter two in particular I felt that it was important to rescue them from midcard purgatory and restore them to the dominant heel roles that they fulfilled in NXT and previous to that in TNA (the fact that Roode has been slogging away in Raw’s tag division for the best part of the year is deeply ridiculous to me; make the man Glorious again). I see Finn Balor in the year 2000 Chris Jericho role; a primary midcard champion who can be elevated to feud with main event guys and wrestle for the WWE Championship in a challenger of the month scenario, whilst Pete Dunne is my chosen wildcard; having held the UK Championship for well in excess of 500 days, he’s the type of guy I’d mega push from the beginning of his tenure on a unified roster, and just think of the matches he could have with some of those vets.
My midcard scene is nicely varied, with violent, barrel chested big men in Rusev and the excellent Joe Coffey, whose well constructed push to challenge Pete Dunne at Takeover: Blackpool was my favourite thing about the autumn of 2018, mixing it with versatile midcard veterans like Ziggler and Miz, high fliers in Ricochet and Mustafa Ali, and “total package” heels like Andrade and the most improved man in wrestling, Jordan Devlin. There would be a great deal of interesting TV matches there to fill up Raw and Smackdown, as well as the potential for barn burning non-title feuds for pay-per-views and contenders for Finn Balor’s run with the Intercontinental Championship. With jobbers, I always feel that it’s important to choose wrestlers who are skilled at the role as opposed to just guys you personally don’t like. For example, Randy Orton would make a terrible jobber because he wouldn’t embrace the role and would make his opponents look bad when the role of jobber requires the opposite. I would therefore go with the likes of R Truth, Curtis Axel, Kallisto and Fandango who have all shown themselves to be extremely skilled in that regard, whilst Apollo Crews is the kind of guy who could step into the regular midcard if needed.
Perhaps the most controversial decision I made was to send New Day to the future endeavours line; I find them so beyond stale as an act that my ultra competitive tag division has no place for them. My aim is to recreate the amazing tag scene of my early fandom circa 1990; The Revival are my version of The Brainbusters, and unlike Vince, I would construct the division around their unparalleled skill of having a great match with absolutely any other team, with Authors of Pain given back their aura as the division’s Demolition and The Bar acting as a kind of Hart Foundation. Fish and O’Reilly and The Grizzled Young Veterans are great heel all round teams (like The Rougeaus were), and imagine the heat Zack Gibson could get on the main roster, given mic time! I’d book Moustache Mountain as the babyface team chasing the titles and just missing out each time until their ultimate victory takes the roof of the place. The Usos are veterans who can work both sides of the heel/face dynamic, whilst Gallus (Wolfgang and Joe Coffey) would ultimately, given time, oust The Bar from the bullies on the block role.
The women’s division tends to write itself to a large degree, with The Four Horsewomen and Alexa Bliss being absolute no brainers. There is no place for Ronda Rousey in my women’s roster though; I have not enjoyed any of her matches bar maybe the Charlotte one, and that only because she got battered with a chair. I can do without her ridiculous overacting and stupid facial expressions, not to mention the painful promo style. Instead, Shayna Bazler would be my dominant female force; she’s booked absolutely perfectly in NXT and I’d continue that, making her my champion. I’ve also opted not to include Asuka; for variety’s sake I prefer to have a high flier in Kairi Sane, a throwback “diva” in Mandy Rose, and the woman I’d book as a female CM Punk in Ruby Riott.
All in all, my roster very much reflects what I enjoy in my wrestling; storytelling, strong in ring performance and a touch of the hipster!
So there we have it! Three very interesting rosters.The last thing to say is, which one do you prefer and why? You can vote for your favourite by clicking here and voting in the Google form!
And don’t be shy about dropping your own rosters in the comments section, along with anything else you’d like to say!
You can also follow us on Twitter: @Neil_Pollock79, @LoPPlan, @Sir_Samuel