SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
A look through this week’s Priority Top 10 will tell you how each wrestler ended up in the position they are, along with some conjecture as to the sustainability of the push they’re receiving and what can be viewed as a plus or a minus as part of that. As always, though, the bigger picture comes into focus through the Raw and Smackdown weekly Top 10 lists. Alongside each entry, you’ll find the spot that wrestler occupied in each of the previous three weeks.
Two of the more interesting trends to jump out of the Smackdown side this week are those of Damage CTRL and L.A. Knight. It’s possible that this week’s episode will completely upend the direction each appear to be taking, but looking strictly at the past four weeks we can see the consistency behind the push of the brand’s new top faction.
Damage CTRL has sat in either the top or second spot every week for the past month. At first, they appeared to be receiving a bigger push simply as a run up to War Games. One week removed, however, they sit a spot ahead of where they were on the lead-in episode. Evidently, WWE likes what they see out of the group and, as viewers, we can be comfortable remaining or growing even more interested in their current story.
As for L.A. Knight, there are two ways to interpret his very slight decline. First, you could say since roaring out of the gate following his main event loss at Crown Jewel, the shine has slowly begun to fade on his star. He went from declaring his war with the Bloodline was far from over to not even appearing on what is traditionally one of the company’s biggest PLEs of the year.
Another way to look at it, however, is that WWE wanted to avoid the risk of overexposure. They knew heading into Survivor Series the focus of the show would be the War Games matches and the big returns of Randy Orton and C.M. Punk. While Knight is clearly still highly prioritized, a temporary respite was necessary to allow all other plans to flourish. That seems to track as, even amidst what could be considered a decline, Knight has yet to fall below the fourth spot on the Friday night rankings.
Watching the shows is enough to provide viewers with a sense of where the company’s priorities lie with each member of the roster. The fun part of running a weekly tally, though, is discovering the surprises that come through the numbers and occasionally realizing there’s more to what’s going on than you’ll typically see at first glance.
As always, the information taken into account to accumulate these lists include metrics such as quarter-hour ratings; what performers are featured in the open, closing, and top of the hour segments; who is given time to cut in ring and backstage promos; names promoted in each shows preview; championships; and wins. I also factor in estimated monthly merchandise sales leaders, whose appearances begin with a higher floor than other members of the roster.
Priority Top 10
1. Jey Uso (8*)
“Main Event” Jey Uso was everywhere this past Monday. He popped up numerous times backstage, including a strange appearance following Drew McIntyre’s attack on Sami, where he appeared to be attempting to give a fallen Sami a pep talk. That exuberance carried him throughout the show, all the way through a lengthy main event loss to Seth Rollins. His performance prompted Wade Barrett to declare that half the title should belong to Jey.
While it seemed at the start of the night that Uso was no threat to take the belt from Rollins, WWE did a tremendous job of building his credibility, capped by the type of video package usually found leading into major PLE matches. The timing of copyright issues forcing Jey to abandon the “Yeet” catchphrase couldn’t have been better, as given his presentation over the course of the three hour program, fans barely had a moment to notice the heavily relied upon line was missing from his repertoire.
2. Drew McIntyre (NR)
After living life on the bubble for a couple months, Drew has finally established himself as a top heel on Raw. The only thing that speaks louder than words in that regard is an injury angle, and the cowardice of attacking an already hobbled Sami Zayn following their show opening match was the finishing touch of the new Drew.
Speaking of words, though, heel Drew also has a catchphrase, busting out his “The truth will set you free” line both after his match with Sami and again at the close of the show once he had attacked both Jey Uso and Seth Rollins. This more complete version of McIntyre received the all-important show opening, then won his match, wreaked havoc backstage, and closed things out. The points are stacking up as it appears the Scottish Warrior may finally be in the top 10 to stay.
3. Damage CTRL (6)
Even with the loss by Kairi in the main event of Smackdown, Damage CTRL comes across as an electric faction at the moment. Though Bayley’s expulsion from the group feels inevitable, the quality of writing found throughout the WWE product this past year gives me faith that some unanticipated developments await.
The company has never seen an all-woman faction of this kind before, and with the star power of Asuka, the mic work of Dakota Kai, and the in-ring ability, really of all the women, but particularly of Kairi and Iyo, the sky is truly the limit for this group. It seems their presence will dominate this years women’s Royal Rumble and it’s exciting to see what lies there and beyond.
4. Randy Orton (3)
The company played coy with their two big returns, waiting until the Smackdown after Survivor Series to show their hand and reveal that both men appearing on Raw was no guarantee they would remain there. Now that that it’s been made clear Randy Orton is a member of the Smackdown roster, the path towards a Royal Rumble showdown with Roman Reigns becomes equally evident.
Orton’s path back towards the top of the Priority list this week came not only from the show-closing angle that declared him the top babyface on Friday nights going forward, but also discussion about his decision on where to sign. Nick Aldis and Adam Pearce were featured multiple times, bickering over the fate of Orton. In addition, he was also a hot topic throughout the night on commentary and was used as the main hook in the show’s preview leading into the night.
5. Logan Paul (NR)
I will admit that Paul’s presence is an instinctual channel changer for me. I’m not a fan of his work outside of WWE or the reputation he’s earned along with it. That said, knowing he continues to surprise many people with his in-ring ability, it was his awareness on the mic that I found so compelling this past Friday.
Obviously, he comes loaded with one-liners – some hit, others didn’t. Where he really shined for me was while trading barbs with Kevin Owens. It would’ve been second nature for him to sneer at KO’s remarks and roll his eyes. Instead, he gave back to Owens, selling his insults with looks of frustration. It’s basic stuff really, but so many polished wrestlers miss it. For me, it made his prioritized appearance, both in show previews and in the all-important top of the hour segment, so much more palatable.
6. Seth Rollins (8*)
A decisive main event victory was enough to keep the World Champion on this week’s list. His involvement on the show was otherwise kept to a relative minimum, limited to a backstage promo with Adam Pearce where Rollins spoke out against the GM’s interest in signing C.M. Punk to an exclusive contract next week.
This episode was more about the storm swirling around Rollins than his specific actions, and with dual issues between Punk and McIntyre persisting, Seth will undoubtedly remain a central figure on Monday nights going forward.
7. Judgement Day (1)
The kings of WWE programming took a rare back seat this week with both Rhea Ripley and Finn Balor having the night off. As a result, their exposure was limited to a handful of backstage promos and the aforementioned tag match. For whatever reason, the group is mixing it up with R-Truth who, as part of his oblivious bit, is currently supporting the faction at ringside, while being admonished for hanging out in their clubhouse backstage.
This was the first time in months Damien Priest did not even make an appearance in front of the live audience, but his conversation with Dom and J.D. where he assumed leadership for the week was enough to draw a reaction from the fans in attendance.
8. Creed Brothers (7)
For the second consecutive week, Julius and Brutus Creed were given the spotlight to show off their abilities, this time going over Dominik & J.D. of the Judgement Day. The match itself was a treat, highlighted by a series of suplex/kip ups by Julius that had Michael Cole raving.
The ultimate sign of priority came backstage following the match, when Dom and J.D. professed to Damien Priest that the Creeds were “the real deal.” The endorsement was even enough for Priest to let the pair off the hook for the loss. The team remains the number one contenders for the tag titles, though the exact time of the match is unknown. In the meantime, it appears we’ll continue to get showcase matches from the Creeds along with increased involvement with Raw’s top faction.
9. Cody Rhodes (5)
His role was scaled back once again following the Cyber Monday salesman overshot from last week. An appearance by Cody was promised throughout the first two hours of the show and came at the end of the second, where he cut an in-ring promo, dropping the name of the Great Muta while responding to a prerecorded Nakamura promo. That promo helped put their feud into better context, as Nakamura pointed to the similarities in the roads they’d each traveled, winning Royal Rumbles only to lose at Mania.
By the show’s end, we had the surprise announcement that the two men will square off next week. The fast-tracking of the match seems to indicate we’re headed towards more of an angle that will prolong the feud than any sort of rapid conclusion.
10. L.A. Knight (10*)
The most popular wrestler for seemingly the past six months was once again buoyed on this list by his massive t-shirt sales. It’s difficult to scan the audience and not spot multiple versions of Knight’s merch, and while the new long-sleeve release he premiered just in time for the winter months will only add to his numbers, the style doesn’t appear to have the universal appeal of his various tees.
Concluding the with fashion commentary, I’ll also point out that Knight was not mentioned once throughout the first hour and fifty-five minutes of the program. Whether that was done as a way of preserving the surprise element of his run in or simply because the arrival of Randy Orton left little room for discussion of other recent Bloodline challengers is unclear. In either event, with John Cena shipping out until at least WrestleMania season, Knight appears in a position to benefit from the rub of yet another future Hall of Famer.
Honorable Mention: DIY
After weeks of having their reunion defined down by singles losses and limited backstage appearances, DIY put their names back on the map following their performance in last week’s gauntlet match. They kept things rolling with a well-paced and well-executed two-out-of-three falls match against Imperium. It was the type of match, if given another 10-15 minutes, could have held its own as an NXT PLE main event five years ago. Here’s to hoping the momentum continues.
Drop Outs: Team Belair, C.M. Punk, Kevin Owens
Smackdown Top 10 12/1
1. Damage CTRL (2, 1, 2)
2. Randy Orton (NR)
3. Logan Paul (NR)
4. L.A. Knight (3, 2, 1)
5. Bianca Belair (1*, 4, NR)
6. Kevin Owens (3, NR, 4)
7. Bloodline (NR, 5, NR)
8. Charlotte Flair and Shotzi (1*, 4, NR)
9. A-Town Down Under (5, 7, 5)
10. Santos Escobar (6, 3, NR)
Raw Top 10 12/4
1. Jey Uso (6, 4, 3)
2. Drew McIntyre (9, 3, 7)
3. Seth Rollins (6, 5, 4)
4. Judgement Day (2, 1, 1)
5 Creed Brothers (5, NR)
6. Cody Rhodes (4, 2, 2)
7. DIY (8, NR)
8. Sami Zayn (NR, 9, 10)
9. Nia Jax (NR)
10. Shinsuke Nakamura (NR, 8, 5)
*Denotes that this ranking was shared with another wrestler.
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OR CHECK THIS OUT AT PROWRESTLING.NET: Powell’s WWE Raw Hit List: Seth Rollins vs. Jey Uso for the World Heavyweight Championship, Drew McIntyre vs. Sami Zayn, The Creeds vs. Dominik Mysterio and JD McDonagh