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Welcome to the second week of Rocket Straps, where we attempt to sort out WWE’s booking priorities based on the information we’re given. For a better idea of how this process works, check out last week’s debut column:
These rankings are based on the latest editions of Smackdown (9/15) and Raw (9/18).
1 – Judgement Day (1)
The faces that run the places are back on top by a wide margin once again this week. As we’re often reminded, there are no leaders in the Judgement Day and this week was Dirty Dom’s time to shine. He flew without a parachute, as Rhea Ripley was out with “bruised ribs.”
As such, Dom displayed a more aggressive character than we’re used to seeing, jawing with Cody and later Dragon Lee instead of hiding behind Mami or playing the little brother of his faction.
Having unrequited overtures towards both Uso brothers is not the most flattering look for such a presumably powerful group, though. Additionally, J.D. McDonagh was absent without mention.
Hopefully these things aren’t an indication of creative losing their direction with the faction. Either way, they continue to dominate storylines on both shows.
2 – Cody Rhodes (NR)
Using only Raw metrics, the Judgement Day still came out on top this week, but Cody made for a close second.
What’s more impressive with his standing is he’s the only singles wrestler in the top five not to have received a bump from top merchandise sales.
Instead, Cody made his mark by factoring into just about every key segment of the show, from his opening match victory over Dom to making the heroic save at Raw’s close.
In between, he also finally got to air his motivation for bringing Jey to Raw, though his identifying personally with the need to give second chances was a bit confusing. Was he referring to his overcoming of several bad gimmicks or was this something of an apology for being brought back after challenging WWE with the start of another company?
In either event, this is the placement we expect to see most weeks from the clear leader on the babyface side of the roster.
3 – Jey Uso (2)
Even when another group runs rampant over WWE programing, the Bloodline still manages to dominate the conversation. Though Jey’s decision to spurn the Judgement Day felt somewhat accelerated, his joining never felt realistic, so it was best to get on with the next chapter here.
When the trigger is finally pulled on the Smackdown compensatory trade prompted by Jey’s arrival on Raw, the show would not miss a beat should Cody be revealed as the departure.
Jey continues to benefit from, well, main event level placement on Monday nights, and the reaction he garners from live audiences each week provides all the justification needed.
4 – Seth Rollins (NR)
The difficult task handed to Seth upon becoming the inaugural World Champion was to make the title feel on par with that of the Universal Championship. He’s doing everything he can, but for now, it’s not even the top storyline on Raw.
Maybe it has to do with his foil having been defined down to mid-card status for years before this program began, but it likely has as much to do with the premise of the feud.
How invested can fans get in a fighting champion with a bad back who, at least in storylines, clearly needs to take some time off? At the end of the day, though, the champ is still the champ.
His big angle was featured at the top of the 9 p.m. hour and his fiery backstage promo served as the opening act to the main event, creating a slight quarter-hour bump in the process.
5 – L.A. Knight (NR)
Second only to the double-dipping Judgement Day, L.A. Knight finds his place this week atop the Smackdown-only priority list for the first time.
He received second billing in the official show preview, and was then featured in both the 9 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. segments, handing a decisive defeat to the Miz and likely closing out his first major feud.
The bigger news was the promo after his match. He listed most of the singles champions in the company as potential targets, but no one expects him to begin chasing Rey Mysterio.
The point of the declaration was obviously to continue the slow build towards a match with Roman Reigns.
6 – The Rock (NR)
No top-selling t-shirt, championship, victory, or even advertised segment is needed to get you towards the top of the pile when you’re Dwayne Johnson appearing on WWE programming.
The lead-off quarter hour is traditionally the highest-rated portion of Smackdown, but it’s not like the Rock coasted on a softball. His presence dominated the first 45 minutes of the show, with highlights and mentions continuing throughout.
If we were tracking those mentions from Raw as well, the Rock likely breaks into the top five. Whether he’s 31 or 51, Dwayne Johnson will be a top priority anytime he decides to appear on WWE programming.
7 – Kevin Owens (10)
Up three spots from last week, KO was a major player on Raw, featured in both the highest-rated quarter (8:15 p.m.) and again at 10 p.m. in the top of the hour segment.
His merchandise sales provide a bit of a bump, but it was someone else’s shirt that caught my eye. I don’t believe Owens rocking the Scott Hall “Bad Guys Last Forever” t-shirt was an accident.
Whether it was commentary on his continued mistrust of Jey Uso or an underlying message about who he is at his core, I anticipate KO continuing to be a presence on this chart.
8 – Shinsuke Nakamura (NR)
Whatever the reason for WWE suddenly getting behind Nakamura last month, they appear willing to see it through. His match with Ricochet was a promotional hook heading into the show, and that along with the follow-up angle dominated two of the highest rated quarter-hours.
The logic behind a challenger refusing to wrestle the champion they were initially obsessed with facing, even if it’s being played as a psychological ploy, is distracting.
WWE has their chips in with Nakamura this month, but the feeling that we’re in stall mode until the next big challenge arrives certainly permeates.
9-11 Austin Theory (NR)
The Austin Theory we got this week must be the one Vince McMahon and others behind the scenes have known of for so long.
He’s had little to work with beyond the paper thin “This is my show” bravado, but the smooth charisma behind that guise really shined in his interaction with Pat McAfee prior to the Rock’s interruption.
Perhaps knowing the company trusted him to carry the flag of the current generation while mixing it up with two mainstream stars stirred something within Theory. If he can maintain, there will be many more show opening segments in his future.
9-11 A.J. Styles (3)
Nothing Styles is currently doing seems to indicate there’s a bigger investment or larger push heading his way. Instead, he’s being leaned on to add quality and depth to the main event storyline. Such positioning should keep him fluctuating up and down this list as all the other pieces fall into place.
9-11 Jimmy Uso (3)
He’s the key piece to the ongoing Bloodline drama on Smackdown just as his brother is on Raw.
Many have griped about perceived flimsiness in the structure of a character who now desperately wants acceptance from the group he emphatically quit just a couple months ago. If you’re paying close attention, though, it all adds up perfectly.
Jimmy didn’t like being humiliated by Roman and was all for walking out with his brother by his side. When he then felt as though that brother would rise beyond him, he desperately tried to keep him down.
He’s not strong enough to stand alone, though, so now that Jey has left Jimmy behind, he’s seeking the comfort of the only safety net he’s known.
It’s multi-level storytelling like this that continues to land Jimmy in various key segments every Friday night.
His role in the ongoing Seth-Nakamura drama isn’t exactly flattering, but it is resulting in heavier usage that he’s used to receiving.
Damage CTRL (6)
They dropped out of the top 10, but main event placement on a show that features both the Rock and John Cena nearly got them back there.
John Cena (NR)
Cena has a history of burying those he’s supposed to be elevating, inadvertent as it may be. So using his comedic chops in a show-closing segment that saw him unable to get a word in edgewise was brilliant, even if it wasn’t the intention.
His sharing of the screen with the Rock as the two buried their decade old hatchet was cool to see as well.
Drew McIntyre (NR)
Cody, Seth, and Nakamura all rising from unranked status a week ago was bound to serve as a detriment to someone, but it sure feels as though huge things are in store for McIntyre.
His character is thriving with a touch of depth and I found myself rooting for him to keep walking to the back, continuing his flirtation with the dark side.
Becky Lynch (NR)
The metric was adjusted this week to take into consideration those who are heavily promoted and featured on additional WWE broadcasting. It was almost enough to move The Man into the top 10.
Should the NXT Women’s Champ continue to cross brands, we could be looking at a potential Judgement Day-style boost for Becky.
Bronson Reed (NR)
He’s been a background fixture seemingly forever, so it was nice to see Bronson Reed finally receive some character beyond “big.” For starters, he has a new nickname. I mean, that’s something.
Michael Cole and Corey Graves made Reed feel more special for the first time, though, by discussing Reed’s love of Bam Bam Bigelow and how he designed his tights as an homage. Adding to it talk of how it was time for Reed to step up, and then watching him do so, made it seem like we finally have something to invest in.
This felt more like WWE taking what they’ve built in another character and using it to grow additional talent than it did like a burial of Chad Gable.
Nia Jax (NR)
The sentiment towards her return has been bad. She’s earned a reputation for being a careless worker in the past and boy are we ever hearing about that.
If we live in a world where concern over wrestler safety is now paramount amongst fans, that’s a good thing. I can’t help but feel as though this outcry, however, comes from a less altruistic place.
Jax has a great look, a history with many of the performers she’s reacquainting with, and has shown the ability to have quality matches and work intriguing programs.
If you don’t believe me, run a quick Google search on “Nia Jax PWTorch 2018” and peruse the results.
In the meantime, how about we all tone down the vitriol?
Drop Outs: Rhea Ripley (5), Imperium, Alpha Academy, Ciampa (7-9)
OR CHECK THIS OUT AT PROWRESTLING.NET: WWE Talent Cut Tracker: The latest list of wrestler releases