1. Finn Balor
The only indication you need to know that Finn Balor is in WWE purgatory is that he has yet to receive his 1 on 1 Universal Championship rematch that he’s entitled to since he never lost it to begin with. Finn Balor was set for somewhat of a monster push upon his introduction to the main roster in the summer of 2016, and he was incredible to start. He defeated Kevin Owens, Cesaro and Rusev in a fatal 4 way and defeated Roman Reigns on the same night in his first night on RAW. He then went on to the 2nd biggest show of the year and defeated Seth Rollins in the first ever Universal Championship match. Unfortunately, he would lose the title as quickly as he lost it as he had to rehab a torn shoulder.
Upon his return, he would be centered in an aimless feud with Bray Wyatt and would bounce around literally doing nothing for extended periods of time. Balor just finished a failed quest for the Intercontinental Championship and will now try his luck in the MITB ladder match. There hasn’t been any indication, aside from Balor’s very first night on RAW, that he can resemble who he saw in NXT, and if he remains stagnant for another year, there’s no telling if he can ever reclaim that spark.
2. Bobby Roode
It’s unconscionable that WWE thinks Bobby Roode as a face is a good idea. Hell, the very reason why he was signed over to WWE was that being a prick was second nature to him.. Every time Roode smiles and panders to the crowd, a kitten loses one of it’s paws. It’s actually sickening to see someone who’s theme song, character and personality should all scream egotistical narcissist be on the good side. Roode enjoyed success in NXT holding the NXT Championship, but his main roster run has been the definition of lukewarm. He hasn’t been downright horrible, but he hasn’t been setting anyone on fire. He’s just another aging Canadian in tights, and it’s sad that is what he has been relegated to.
Everything from his in-ring work and his promos would instantly improve if he were to turn heel, and he cannot continue to play this facade of being a good guy. Hell, he’s about as believable a good guy as Mark Henry in 2011. Roode’s next opportunity to jumpstart his career comes in the Money In The Bank ladder match, where he can win the briefcase with the opportunity to become Universal Champion. This may be an ideal way for him to turn back heel, but even if he doesn’t win, he eventually needs to take a turn to the dark side and be the Bobby Roode that is the only version of him that’s watchable.
3. Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe is another superstar who has been a solid part of WWE programming upon his main roster call-up, but hasn’t felt as though Joe has panned out the way we all thought he would be, if you know what I mean. It’s not even the fact that he hasn’t won a championship of any kind yet. It has more to do with the fact that Joe is lacking some signature victories. He had the Fatal Five Way victory at Extreme Rules last year and he did defeat Roman Reigns a couple of times, but I highly doubt anyone would view them as memorable moments. The more important matches involving Brock Lesnar and the like resulted in defeat, and injuries have also prevented him from competing at WrestleMania so far. Upon his return, he lost to Roman Reigns at Backlash in a terrible main event and then moved to Smackdown, which I believed was the right move for his career.
As a member of the Smackdown roster, he earns a role of being a clear top heel and an enforcer at the same time. You’d also have to believe that eventually, with AJ Styles as WWE Champion, he’ll eventually win the WWE Championship. But this year, he has to take a huge leap forward and not just be a guy that talks a big game. He’s great on promos and he’s versatile in the ring, but now it’s time to put 2 and 2 together and cement himself as a top force in WWE.
4. Shinsuke Nakamura
Nakamura’s heel turn proved to be what the doctor ordered as he slowly transitioned into the superstar we all knew he had the potential to be. That said, he’s already been through 4 matches with AJ Styles, with the 5th decisive won coming at Money In The Bank with a stipulation of his choice. If we are all being honest with ourselves, the hype with Nakamura in NXT wore off by the time he started to feud with Samoa Joe for the NXT Championship. He started out hot, but just like how a doctor orders a patient to slowly taper off drug treatment, Nakamura started to slowly cool off until he lost his feud with Bobby Roode. Upon coming to the main roster, feuds with undercard folk such as Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin only wasted his time and didn’t advance him any forward. Then, that horrible feud with Jinder Mahal from last summer to the fall only made him look like an idiot and a fraudulent contender for the WWE Championship.
His match with AJ Styles at WrestleMania underwhelmed, the next two matches ended indecisively and he had a very good, but not great, outing against AJ Styles last night. I’m not sure if he will win the WWE Championship at Money In The Bank, but I certainly think it won’t be out of the question down the line. Nakamura still has potential and I’m not willing to give up on him, but he has to break out of his shell and take Smackdown by storm.
It seems like we say this every year for Rusev, but never before has it been urgent for Rusev to rise out of the ashes. Out of all of these NXT alumni from this list, Rusev is probably the superstar that is being held back the most by WWE, and it’s borderline insulting how he’s been treated at times this year. Intentional or not, I just fail to see why WWE insists on pilfering his character every time he get some momentum. Think about it. Going into WrestleMania, Rusev had the most over gimmick in the company, being a simple fictional holiday. Then, WWE adds him to a dull undercard US Championship match just so that he can take the pinfall to a man that would lose the championship three weeks later, Jinder Mahal. Last week on Smackdown was a good start, as he got a squeaky clean win over the widely popular Daniel Bryan, and earned a spot in the MITB ladder match. Whether or not he wins is anyone’s guess, but the key for me is if he will look good.
There’s no reason why Rusev shouldn’t be in the WWE Championship conversation on Smackdown’s roster. The top superstars of the brand are Styles, Nakamura, Joe, Bryan, Orton (marginally), Hardy, and Big Cass. There has to be room for Rusev at the top somewhere. Hopefully 2018 is when Rusev takes that giant leap into main event status, and if Jinder fucking Mahal can become WWE Champion, I see no reason why Rusev can’t be holding the title by the end of the year.