27th Sep2019

WWE Roster: 2019 Mid-Year Report – Smackdown

by Chris Cummings

So, as a WWE fan, and seeing as Nerdly has great wrestling coverage, I thought it would be cool to take a seat in the bleachers and give you a longtime fan perspective report on WWE’s roster as we’ve reached – as of writing – August 2019.

This isn’t gospel or fact, obviously. It’s just opinion, and my opinion at that. You might disagree, and that’s fine. Just know that this is purely for fun and to give my thoughts and views on the great roster of talent that WWE has right now. I’ll rate people like a report card would rate people… From A* to F grade… you know what those grades mean. Also, I’ll do a ungraded grade for the men and women that are injured or that we haven’t seen on the product this year. I’ll be taking most things into consideration, from work-rate to promo skills to booking (I didnt want to take this into account but I have to, if we don’t see these men and women then how do I grade them?), charisma, psychology and overall presentation. Maybe even fan response… basically, it’s an all-encompassing report from a fan’s viewpoint of WWE’s incredible collection of stars.

I’ll be focusing on A LOT here, so grab a coffee, put your feet up, and check out my report of WWE RAW, Smackdown, NXT, 205 Live and NXT UK. Next up is Smackdown, which is about to transition from USA to Fox… Phew, here goes!

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AIDEN ENGLISH

After breaking away from Rusev, Aiden has been calling the action on the booth for 205 Live. A top notch talker, it’s a good fit for English. He’s not bad in the ring either, but hasn’t been seen wrestling much at all in 2019. At one time part of a super-over Vaudevillains team, it would appear English’s future is at the announcers desk. Based on his wrestling, I’ll grade him…

GRADE: E

ALEISTER BLACK

Made his debut in February on RAW, beating Elias, Black spent the first part of the year teaming with Ricochet and competing in the NXT Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Had a great match against The War Raiders in April. The former NXT Champion was inactive for a while after that. Returned to the ring at Extreme Rules in July, defeating Cesaro in a top notch match. Black is an incredible talent with a fantastic look and he should do some great things in WWE for sure.

GRADE: B

ALI

The former Mustafa Ali is one of the most talented wrestlers in all of WWE. Lasted 30 minutes in the Royal Rumble match and was supposed to enter the Elimination Chamber match but suffered an injury and was replaced by Kofi Kingston. Had a title match at Fastlane, but lost, and competed in the Money in the Bank match. It’s been a good year for Ali but also a bittersweet one, so I’m hoping the incredible worker gets more momentum going in the latter half of 2019 and wins some gold.

GRADE: A-

ANDRADE

Like Ali, Andrade had his name shortened (from Andrade Cien Almas). An incredible performer, Andrade, with Zelina Vega beside him, is an excellent package deal. Was one of the final-four in the Royal Rumble match. He is one of those guys who should really be used much more. He’s way too gifted to be utilised as little as he is. I hope we see him get more opportunities going forward. Not unlike Ali, he’s capable of great things, WWE just need to strap that rocket on him.

GRADE: B+

APOLLO CREWS

A guy with a solid base to be something good, Crews has been a background player since moving to the main roster a while back. With the sheer amount of talent WWE has, he becomes “just another guy”. Seems to get random opportunities out of nowhere before being pushed back into the background. Fought Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Title, but lost. Entered the Royal Rumble and Andre the Giant Battle Royale. He’s a talented guy, but is missing when it comes to the charisma-aspects of the package.

GRADE: C-

Big E

Big E has been injured for part of 2019, but otherwise has had a decent year. Started it by entering the Royal Rumble match, and went on, along with Xavier Woods, to help Kofi Kingston get his WWE Title match at WrestleMania by winning a gauntlet match on Smackdown. Suffered a knee injury which kept him on the bench for almost three months but returned in time to win his sixth Tag Team Title at Extreme Rules, defeating Daniel Bryan and Rowan, and Heavy Machinery, along with Woods, to capture the gold. A very entertaining big-man who is legitimately strong and full of charisma, I could see him becoming a main event singles performer eventually and winning a World Title.

GRADE: C

THE B-TEAM

Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel have had a listless kind of year so far in 2019. The former NXT Champion and one-time member of The Miztourage, Dallas, has certainly seen better years, and Axel, a former Intercontinental Champ and member of various factions, has also. It’s a shame, because they are both capable of having good matches and being very entertaining. Have, like many low-card acts, merely been used as jobbers and in 24/7 Title skits in 2019. I think a complete repackaging of both men is in order if either of them are to see any future success in WWE.

GRADE: E

BUDDY MURPHY

WWE’s “Best Kept Secret” is a stellar performer who has put on some spectacular matches during his 205 Live run in the early portion of 2019. As Cruiserweight Champion he wrestled Kalisto, Tozawa and Hideo Itami in some good matches, before losing his belt to Tony Nese in the Kick-Off Show at WrestleMania, ending a long reign as Champion. Was drafted over to Smackdown following ‘Mania but hasn’t been seen a great deal. Maybe, just maybe, with recent mentions of him on television, we could see this bright star get a chance to shine again. He’s a great wrestler and has a top notch look, so if he gets a chance, he could do something really cool on the main roster.

GRADE: B

CHAD GABLE

Chad has spent most of his WWE career in tag teams so far, either in American Alpha with Jason Jordan, his shorter-lived team with Shelton Benjamin or his tandem with Bobby Roode. Finally getting a chance to shine on 205 Live as a singles star, I’d love to see this awesome worker get a shot at being Cruiserweight Champion, and go on to bigger things on RAW or Smackdown afterwards. He’s a great technician and has shown a lot of charisma in the past, WWE just need to figure out how to book him and he could be a big star. A successful amateur wrestler who can legitimately wrestle rings around most of the roster, they need to use him way better. Has already had some quality matches since arriving on 205, but his booking this year has been very flawed.

GRADE: C+

DANIEL BRYAN

Bryan opened the year as WWE Champion and put in the best character work of his career, playing the “Planet’s Champion”, an egocentric and condescending character who actually speaks the truth about the way people are treating the planet we live on. Has had some great matches as champion with Ali, Kevin Owens and others before losing his belt to Kofi Kingston at WrestleMania. Began teaming with his cohort Rowan afterwards and captured Tag Team gold fairly quickly, defeating The Uso’s in May. Kept the belts until The New Day beat them in July at Extreme Rules. Bryan is extremely entertaining and we all know how great he is in the ring, I hope we see him at the top of the card again where he obviously belongs, but time will tell.

GRADE: A

DOLPH ZIGGLER

Strangely enough, Dolph has seen a small rejuvenation of his career in 2019. A strong in-ring worker, his shtick as a character is stale and not very interesting anymore. Capable of enjoyable matches from time to time, Dolph is sadly a victim of WWE refusing to strike while the iron was hot with him. The time has gone and there are other talents who should be in his position now. Not someone I enjoy particularly when he pops up on TV, he’s a reminder of wasted potential by WWE booking. Had matches with Kevin Owens, Kofi Kingston and others in the past couple of months, but rather than help people care about Owens and Kofi, Dolph’s involvement appeared to instead suck the air out of the room. Shame.

GRADE: C

ELIAS

Elias has had a much more prolific main-roster WWE career than many had assumed he would have had. A next-to-nothing act in NXT, Elias became a big part of RAW in the past couple of years, getting really over for a while as a musical heel act that saw him eventually turn babyface because the crowd dug him so much. His in-ring work hasn’t really improved much though, and he’s entered into tedious matches and feuds with more talented opponents, showing that perhaps Elias’s limitations are causing him to have reached the glass ceiling of his career in WWE. A very good talker and fun character, he falls once he gets in the ring. Used as a heel interviewer, manager or host is the best use of this charismatic showman. Long matches aren’t his strong point.

GRADE: C

FINN BALOR

Back when Finn Balor was in NXT he was a guy I would look at and say “the guy is money, he can’t fail”, and he hasn’t really failed either since going up to the main shows in WWE, but I’m not sure he’s succeeded as well as he should have either. Injuries plagued his debut run on RAW, but he’s still had some lovely matches since then, but sadly he’s never seemed to pick up steam and go into full-gear as either a character or a ring-technician. Finn is over, he’s got a great look and he’s a fantastic worker, yet he’s suffered some poor booking decisions for his character and has been involved in feuds that did nothing for him. Apparently due an extended break from WWE TV, time away from things could really breathe some much needed life into Finn and give him more momentum when he returns. I hope so, because Balor is brilliant.

GRADE: B-

HARPER

The former Luke Harper, former Wyatt Family member, former Bludgeon Brother, has been through some drama in WWE this year. Asked for his WWE release after not being used following his return from injury, he was refused exit from the company. With time added to his contract, Harper appears to be being forced to just sit on the sidelines while his contract dwindles down. It’s a crying shame too. Harper is an incredible talent who has potential to be a top-line player in WWE if given half a chance. WWE have mis-used him for a while now, and I just hope he starts being used more, or gets a chance to move on and continue his in-ring career elsewhere. Due to his lack of being used I can’t grade ole Luke, as with other folks on this list, as high as I’d like to if he was used well.

GRADE: D

JEFF HARDY

Brother Nero went down to injury this year, but prior to that entered into matches alongside his brother Matt, bringing The Hardy Boyz back to television, as well as singles matches. A talented performer, Jeff is slower than he used to be, obviously, and doesn’t garner the reaction he once did, but he’s still over and people enjoy seeing him.

GRADE: C-

JINDER MAHAL

Jinder is a slow-paced worker with a decent mid-card heel character, but it must be said, he has likely reached his highest point in WWE now, and he’ll likely remain in the mid to low tier of the promotion until he eventually gets released. It’s a shame, because he has talent, but with a roster with more talent like WWE has right now, guys with the less exciting styles tend to get ignored.

GRADE: D

KEVIN OWENS

Kevin Owens is one of the best workers in WWE, plain and simple. A former Intercontinental, US, NXT and Universal Champion, and former NXT Champ, it’s surely a matter of time before Owens is back on top again. Has undergone a change in character recently, become a “Stone Cold” Steve Austin type of babyface in a feud with Shane McMahon. Great promo and very over with the fans, whether he’s heel or face, K-O has been under-utilised, and hopefully that will change.

GRADE: A

KOFI KINGSTON

Kofi has had one hell of a year in WWE in 2019. Went from being in tag matches with his New Day brethren to getting a shot at the WWE Title at WrestleMania, defeating Daniel Bryan and become the face of Smackdown in the process. A talented and hard-working wrestler, Kofi is popular with the fans and puts on some top notch matches with most opponents. His rabid crowd reactions may have dwindled a little since he won the WWE Title, but he’s still over and it’s nice to see a guy who has busted his butt for so long finally get a chance to shine properly.

GRADE: A

LARS SULLIVAN

Oh dear. Lars had a decent run in NXT in 2018 but due to issues with his online-past as well as health related issues, he’s done very little in WWE this year. Had a feud with The Lucha House Party for a bit, which was dull and didn’t do anything for anybody, Lars is a big guy with strong arms but very little else.

GRADE: E

MATT HARDY

The veteran Matt has had a slow 2019. Thought to have retired, Matt returned to television with his brother Jeff and competed in some tag matches before Jeff was injured. Has appeared in a few other singles matches and battle royales since, but little else. One of the best tag-team wrestlers of all time, Matt could be used well as a veteran to put over the younger guys, or even as a creative mind behind the scenes. They simply aren’t using him properly.

GRADE: C-

OTIS

One half of Heavy Machinery has a unique look and ring-style and could be a very popular babyface singles star one day. The tag team are fun and have had some decent matches this year with teams like The Uso’s and Bryan/Rowan, but there’s not much else to say about him. An amateur wrestling standout, he has a depth of talent, WWE just need to push him in the right way. It’s a running theme with many talents, to be honest.

GRADE: C+

R-TRUTH

Truth has had a renaissance of sorts in 2019, become the un-official face of the 24/7 Title. Popular with the crowds, Truth works comedy matches and takes part in backstage and pre-taped skits, and it works for him. Has been featured more in 2019 than he has in years prior. Some people love the 24/7 skits, and other people hate them. I guess R-Truth is a little bit of a split opinion worker.

GRADE: C

RANDY ORTON

Randal Keith Orton is a WWE veteran, and one of those guys who I don’t really get excited to see. I mean, he’s a solid worker, and always has been, but I think after 16 years of seeing him all over WWE TV, I’m ready for him to… erm… not be on WWE TV. Hasn’t done much to note aside from his WWE Title feud with Kofi Kingston recently. A respected long-term talent, Orton is still pretty young and has lots left in the tank, it’s a personal thing that I just don’t dig his ring-work. He isn’t terrible, he just doesn’t do much to excite or entertain me.

GRADE: C

ROMAN REIGNS;

Roman returned from his battle with Leukaemia in February of this year, which was an incredible moment. Reigns has always had the look to be the face of WWE. He’s top notch in the ring, and his promo work has improved a lot. The crowd reactions aren’t what they should be considering how talented this guy is. Put in some fun matches in 2019 with the likes of Drew McIntyre and had a fun tag match against Drew and Shane-O-Mac, teaming with The Undertaker. It’s a matter of time before Roman is back on the top of the heap as Champion again, and rightfully so, the guy is a star.

GRADE: A

ROWAN

Joining up with Daniel Bryan has been a good fit for Rowan. A henchman and tag team partner to one of the best wrestlers in WWE has afforded Rowan some entertaining matches, as well as some fun storylines. Helped Bryan hold onto his WWE Title in the first few months of 2019, before teaming with him and becoming Tag Champion in the process. Rowan is a slow and methodic worker who works best in a tag team. Used in the way WWE has used him in 2019, he can be a worthy member of the roster.

GRADE: B-

RUSEV

Where oh where has Rusev gone? Teamed with Shinsuke Nakamura for a while in 2019, Rusev has gone from being one of the most over guys on the WWE roster (remember Rusev Day?) to being non-existent. Has literally not been seen in a while, and there’s a big question mark above his head. A talented big-man who can work as heel and face, he’s fallen to haphazard booking and lack of direction, sadly.

GRADE: D

SHEAMUS

Teamed with Cesaro as part of The Bar, a team that did some amazing things, Sheamus has since taken time away from television, apparently due to nagging injuries. A big ole talent, Sheamus is likely to return eventually, but I imagine with a lighter schedule than before.

GRADE: C

SHELTON BENJAMIN

Another talented dude who just isn’t used, and when he is… it doesn’t matter. Much like Matt Hardy, Benjamin could be used to help younger talent in the ring, but instead has been doing some weird backstage promos where he hardly speaks and nothing much else of note. Since his team with Chad Gable ended when Gable jumped to RAW, Shelton has been left out in the cold.

GRADE: D

SHINSUKE NAKAMURA

Shinsuke is one of those guys I just don’t understand how WWE could have missed with. Uniquely charismatic, entertaining and original, he had a great NXT run and started his WWE run well, by winning the 2018 Royal Rumble. Since then, however, Shinsuke has become “just another guy” on the roster, and it’s a crying shame. The US Champion seems to win matches but not really enter into memorable feuds or storylines. It’s fairly obvious that WWE writers have no idea what to do with his incredibly talented bloke. What the hell.

GRADE: B-

SIN CARA

Sin who? Where? What?

GRADE: E

TUCKER

The other half of Heavy Machinery is a big tall hoss of a wrestler with amateur wrestling credentials and charisma. I think Heavy Machinery, together or apart, could be big names in WWE if they were pushed properly and given some creative content to sink their teeth into. I enjoy them when they get a shot to have a longer match with good opponents, but sadly we don’t see it too much. Not much else can be said. Do more with them, WWE. Come on now.

GRADE: C-

XAVIER WOODS

The loudest member of The New Day is a talented worker who is a big part of why The New Day has worked so well for such a long time. Has been over for a long time, and still gets loud responses from the WWE faithful. Successful as a YouTuber too. I can’t see how Woods can fail if WWE keep doing what they’ve been doing for a while with him and his team-mates. Eventually I can see the team splitting, but I think there’s still plenty left in the tank for them to do as a triumvirate. Won tag gold again in 2019 and has entered some fun matches with Daniel Bryan and Rowan and others. A top class tag wrestler.

GRADE- B

ASUKA

Sadly, the killer Asuka was in NXT has fallen down since arriving on the main roster. She had a good start by winning the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble in 2018, but this year she’s done very little. Began teaming with Kairi Sane as part of a new team named The Kabuki Warriors, managed by Paige, but the team either aren’t on television much, or they’re losing when they are. An incredibly talented wrestler with buckets of charisma and in-ring ability, she is criminally misused. I hope she gets a chance to properly shine one day.

GRADE: C

BAYLEY

Bayley, in my view, hasn’t been great since arriving on WWE’s main roster a few years back. She was astonishingly good in NXT and put on some of the greatest women’s matches of all time with Sasha Banks in the process, but she seems to regularly lose her way on RAW and SmackDown. Talented, but lacking something, she often seems clumsy and not comfortable with her booking. Became, with Sasha, one half of WWE’s reinstated Women’s Tag Champions at Elimination Chamber. Lost the belts to The Iiconics at WrestleMania with much controversy surrounding the loss. Won the SmackDown Women’s Title and has had a few decent matches since. She’s not a bad wrestler, at all… but I personally have struggled to get on board with her since her departure from NXT. A heel turn could help.

GRADE: B-

BILLIE KAY

One half of The Iiconics with Peyton Royce, Billie became Women’s Tag Champ at WrestleMania with a big win over three other teams. Strangely wasn’t booked in many matches after winning the belts, they would drop them in August to Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross on RAW. Funny, charismatic worker who can be solid in the ring, she and Peyton are over when they appear on television, but perhaps suffer from inconsistent and haphazard booking decisions. Hopefully they will see Tag gold again in the future, or perhaps even a team split and eventual feud. Who knows.

GRADE: C

CARMELLA;

Has spent most of 2019 following R-Truth around and taking part in “Dance Breaks” and 24/7 Title shenanigans. She’s charismatic and funny, but in the ring she’s done very little. Entered the Royal Rumble in January, and the WrestleMania Battle Royale, which she went on to win. The former SmackDown Women’s Champ was much better as a heel, and I could easily see her picking up steam again when she goes back to the bad-girl persona.

GRADE: C-

CHARLOTTE FLAIR

Charlotte, in my view and the view of many others, is the very best women’s wrestler of all time, and she’s only seven years into her pro-wrestling career. A multiple-time RAW and SmackDown Women’s Champion, Charlotte is an all-rounder who has put on countless fantastic matches since her debut in NXT a few years ago. Came close to winning the Royal Rumble in 2019 but lost out to Becky Lynch. Won the SmackDown Women’s Title from Asuka. Went on to face Ronda Rousey and Lynch in the first ever women’s WrestleMania main event in April. Has feuded with Lynch, Rousey, Asuka and even Trish Stratus this year, beating the latter at SummerSlam. It’s a matter of time before Charlotte headlines a PPV show again, and wears gold.

GRADE: A

EMBER MOON

Ember is a fantastic wrestler with a great look and an awesome ring style. After entering the Royal Rumble, Ember was injured and spent time on the sidelines until WrestleMania where she returned in the Battle Royale. Was named number one contender to Bayley’s SmackDown Women’s Title in August, but lost to her at SummerSlam. Sadly, Ember isn’t booked well and tends to be forgotten. She, like many others, deserves much better. We can only hope the second half of 2019 is more successful for “The War Goddess”.

GRADE: C

KAIRI SANE

Kairi had a wonderful run in NXT prior to being called up to main WWE TV early this year. Worked with the likes of Io Shirai, Biance Belair and Shayna Baszler, creating magical matches. Was called up to SmackDown in April as part of a new tandem with Asuka named The Kabuki Warriors, managed by Paige. The two are super talented workers with awesome looks and characters, but have sadly been misused. I hope we see them capture the WWE Women’s Tag Titles and go on a strong lengthy run. If not, Kairi should get a shot at singles gold.

GRADE: C

LANA

Lana, like her hubby Rusev, hasn’t been on TV for a while. She appeared at Royal Rumble but didn’t compete due to a storyline injury, which allowed Becky Lynch to get into the match. Lana has improved in the ring since she debuted but she’s better used as a manager and valet. She’s a good talker who can work well as a heel, and should be used as such. Still, with the heap of incredible female talent on the WWE roster, Lana is one of the very weakest.

GRADE: D-

LIV MORGAN

Liv started the year with her Riott Squad sisters, but was split from them during the draft. Has hardly appeared on SmackDown since being drafted there, aside from a losing effort to Charlotte in July. It’s been rumoured that Liv is about to undergo a reboot and perhaps get a chance to show what she can do. A young but talented performer, she certainly has plenty to offer if she only gets the chance.

GRADE: C

MANDY ROSE

One half of a team with Sonya Deville, Mandy was a part of a few big women’s tag matches against The Kabuki Warriors, The Iiconics, Sasha & Bayley, Beth Phoenix & Natalya and others. Hasn’t won any big matches this year, but has shown improvement in the ring for sure. She has a look that WWE are likely to push and has shown that she can put on decent matches with good opponents. It’s hard to see where her career is going right now, but I imagine she’ll see a title victory sooner or later.

GRADE: C-

MICKIE JAMES

Mickie has hardly been on TV this year, so it’s hard to talk too much about her. A veteran that can be used well to convincingly put over younger female talent, her best days are behind her. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Mickie become a trainer and coach in the performance centre when she hangs up the boots.

GRADE: D

PEYTON ROYCE

The other half of the Iiconics tag-team with Billie Kay, Peyton Royce is possibly the more talented of the two, but they work together wonderfully as a team. Won the Women’s Tag Titles at WrestleMania in a nice moment and has appeared plenty on television, she and her partner haven’t really had any “great” matches in 2019. She’s talented and capable of much more, so hopefully we’ll get a chance to see that eventually. They work well as over-the-top and loud heels, but there’s more to them.

GRADE: C

SONYA DEVILLE

Sonya has teamed with Mandy Rose for most of 2019 in a variety of matches, including matches for the Women’s Tag Team Titles. Has yet to win gold in WWE. Like Rose, she’s shown improvement in the ring since her debut, and she is a strong role model in the LGBTQ community. Sonya could really work as a tough-as-nails babyface eventually, but time will tell.

GRADE: C-

ZELINA VEGA

Since debuting in NXT with Andrade, Zelina has mostly appeared as a valet in WWE. She’s an incredibly talented and charismatic performer, but has had little chance to work in the ring. Her partnership with Andrade is great and the two need to stick together. It would be a shame if WWE split them apart. Aside from a small handful of mixed-tag matches she’s mostly been at ringside, so it’s hard to grade her. It’s similar to a lot of underused talent. The grade isn’t representative of the talent, but of the overall situation too…

GRADE: C-

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