The following is a free preview of today’s new VIP Exclusive Feature written by PWTorch editor Wade Keller. To go VIP and read this entire column and all of the VIP exclusive columns and TV reports by Keller and other PWTorch staff members, go VIP today for as low as $8.25 per month. Membership also includes all VIP exclusive podcasts, a new weekly PWTorch Newsletter (PDF & ALL-TEXT version), and 30+ years of archives of newsletters and podcasts including prior Roster Evaluations dating back to the early 1990s: VIP DETAILS
For many years I wrote an annual Roster Depth Chart column in the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter. I’ve done it less frequently lately, but I’m bringing it back and taking an in-depth look at the Smackdown roster. Later this month VIP members can read similar columns on Raw, NXT, and other rosters. This is a list of where wrestlers are slotted in reality, as I perceive it, not my wish-list for should be pushed more or less.
(1) A.J. STYLES
Status: The current (and deserved) WWE Champion is the top star on Smackdown. He’s the consensus best wrestler on the roster in terms of all-around skills and output as an “in-ring performer,” as we now have been trained to say. His connection with the fanbase is as strong as anyone, and he is essential in terms of giving credibility to Smackdown and WWE in general with that hard-to-satisfy ardent male 18-54 year old fanbase who aren’t just watching casually with their kids as a fun pastime. On promos, he’s absolutely good enough to be a main event level act. It’s not his strength or what he’s known for, yet there is an authenticity to him that works really well as the top wrestler on the show. He has a mix of swagger and humility that is tough to force or fake. In other words, he knows he’s really good, but he doesn’t let it go to his head. He’s likable.
Forecast: At 40 years old, there is going to be a point where things start getting harder for him to do physically, yet fortunately while he’s known as a high-flyer, he is most respected by his peers and appreciated by fans for the overall ring generalship that he possess, along the lines of Chris Jericho. Jericho and, for that matter, Triple H have wrestled well into their 40s by being skilled at laying out a match and telling a story and mixing in moves that require athleticism with sequences and holds that tell a story without demanding the same spring in their step as they had in their 20s and early 30s. He’s relatively new as a WWE main event performer, so there’s no reason to expect he can’t be no. 1 next year at this time, or in the top two or three at least on one of the two brands. This brand should be known as The A.J. Styles Brand and this era should be known as The Styles Smackdown Era. WWE might be on the verge of making that happen. I hope they do.
(2) JINDER MAHAL
Status: As a champion for half the year, and the number one contender going into Clash of Champions later this month, he remains the top heel on the brand – for now. He was in 3 Man Band five years ago and seen as a lower card jobber-to-the-stars, basically. He reshaped his body and showed great attitude behind the scenes expressing aspirations to become something more, and here he is, in the top mix on a weekly live WWE show. (Yes, it helps his parents are from India at a time of WWE’s international expansion aspirations.) His title run, though, wasn’t met with critical praise or box office success. One of two live events in India was cancelled due to slow ticket sales. On promos and in the ring, he’s just above that threshold to avoid people just being completely put off by his push and saying it’s all because of his heritage or height and muscles. Still, WWE can and should do better for someone in this lofty position.
Forecast: I suspect he’ll remain around this level for the next year. I don’t see him just being buried, as WWE still sees value in him for expansion into India and also, he’s not actually terrible or anything. That said, once he likely (hopefully) loses to Styles at the Clash, it’ll be time for him to move to a lower roster spot, wrestling for the U.S. Title or in a secondary feud. I wouldn’t be shocked this summer to see him moved to Raw to become a challenger for Roman Reigns and the Universal Title if things go as expected at WrestleMania.
(3) RANDY ORTON
Status: He’s a long-time legacy star in WWE and will always be a top tier player as long as he’s active on the roster. That doesn’t mean he’s all that exciting or that his character has much range anymore to effectively fill TV time, but he gets some of the bigger pops at any live event he’s on and he’s become the “B-minus Player” in terms of having good, but largely forgettable rudimentary matches consistently. To alter a great sports quote from former Minnesota Vikings running back Leroy Hoard, “If you need one star, I’ll get you two-and-three-quarters. If you need four stars, I’ll get you two-and-three-quarters.” He is at an age where injuries have stacked up (just pounding the mat can lead to his limbs falling off, it seems), but he stretches and warms up and takes care of his body and wrestles conservatively most of the time, so he can be……
That concludes this free preview of today’s new VIP Exclusive Feature written by PWTorch editor Wade Keller. The complete column ranks the entire Smackdown roster in four tiers, plus the Women and Tag Teams. To read this entire column along with all of the VIP exclusive columns and TV reports by Keller and other PWTorch staff members throughout the week, go VIP today for as low as $8.25 per month. Membership also includes all VIP exclusive podcasts, a new weekly PWTorch Newsletter (PDF & ALL-TEXT version), and 30+ years of archives of newsletters and podcasts including prior Roster Evaluations dating back to the early 1990s: VIP DETAILS
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