Now the WWE ThunderDome has been packed away, it’s time to reflect on what has been a unique time in wrestling history. No one wanted this, but WWE did well to introduce a concept which kept fans at ringside in some way.
WWE earned three awards for the ThunderDome, but in the years to come, most won’t look and remember the production setup. Working without fan reaction didn’t come easy to some WWE Superstars, but they eventually adapted, while others went further by flourishing in this environment. Before we get to the Top 10, here are ten honorable mentions for you to place how you like:
AJ Styles – Some may have forgotten, but Styles had several milestone moments, including facing The Undertaker in his last match, winning the Intercontinental title, and becoming a Grand Slam Champion by picking up the Raw Tag Team titles. He might not have been in the main event, but AJ has been a reliable hand throughout the pandemic.
Apollo Crews – He went from being a possible candidate on the list of future endeavored, to a heel character worthy (to management at least) of holding the Intercontinental title for three months. When we consider how rarely he was used before, Apollo has done very well to get out of catering.
Bianca Belair – Moving on from NXT didn’t come easy at first, but her program with Sasha Banks went to the main event of WrestleMania, and she has done a good job of holding the SmackDown Women’s title since the biggest victory of her career.
Cesaro – Years of battling finally benefited him, as Cesaro successfully quelled the threat of Seth Rollins before challenging Roman Reigns for the Universal title. While he didn’t succeed against the Tribal Chief, his popularity skyrocketed. He is in a much better place to make the next step than he was before the ThunderDome shows.
Jey Uso – No one ever expected one of the Usos to stand out on their own, but Jimmy’s absence lead to a storyline between Roman Reigns & Jey which cemented them as a stoppable force on SmackDown. The Tribal Chief’s story needed this personal touch to make it work, and “Main Event” Jey Uso played his part to perfection.
Matt Riddle – Bro, I always knew how special Riddle would be from his NXT work, but I never expected his character to remain the same. I expected WWE to dial back on some of his more enlightened qualities, but if anything they have encouraged him to fly high above the clouds. Some of his interactions with Randy Orton have been enjoyable.
Rhea Ripley – The booking of Raw hasn’t helped her like Bianca Belair, but going from NXT to winning the Women’s title at WrestleMania has been a giant leap for a 24-year-old. This era marks the beginning of a long, illustrious career for Ripley. She deserves this, but is in a funny position against the likes of Charlotte Flair.
Seth Rollins – Reinvention has been the primary focus. After moving on from The Authority in 2015, his potential suffered because he no longer had a character. It wasn’t til 2019 that he began seeing the light as The Messiah. Rollins partook in some of the most memorable feuds, and since moving on to “Embracing The Vision”, he has become a proven commodity anywhere on the card. Sitting behind Roman Reigns as the most effective male heel on SmackDown, he elevates everyone he works with.
The Miz & Morrison – It hasn’t been easy without a crowd, but the hatred for them still permeates through the ThunderDome monitors. Although short-lived, The Miz’s WWE Championship win set up a life altering moment for Bobby Lashley. Outside of that, they have done their best to bring back some of what made them successful from 2007 to 2009.
#10. Sasha Banks
To be at Bayley’s side for so long didn’t change with the pandemic, as the partnership grew stronger and The Role Models took over SmackDown. For months, Bayley & Sasha Banks dominated the brand at a time just before WWE introduced the ThunderDome.
After it was, they became tag team champions and held the titles til the summer, and in a shocking turn of events, Bayley turned on Banks. Many expected it to be the other way around, so Sasha became a babyface, and in the process defeated her former friend to become a Grand Slam and SmackDown Women’s Champion. After a lengthy reign, she went to the first night’s main event of WrestleMania and lost to Bianca Belair. It was like a crowning achievement for all of her monumental work during the ThunderDome era.
#6-9. The Hurt Business (Bobby Lashley, MVP, Shelton Benjamin & Cedric Alexander)
Collectively, MVP’s stable became one of the most entertaining groups in WWE. When it was disbanded, there was a lot of backlash from fans and former Superstars like Batista. While many will remember how it ended, I choose to focus on how they grew and their achievements. MVP lead them to United States and Tag Team gold, making them one of the focal points of Monday Night Raw for many months.
He would later take Bobby Lashley to the WWE Championship without assistance from the rest of The Hurt Business, but I don’t think they would’ve been ready to challenge had they not built up Lashley’s profile. Yeah, it sucks that Shelton Benjamin & Cedric Alexander have since been relegated, but I will always remember their time in the Hurt Business as a highlight of their careers. As for MVP, we cannot deny he’s one of most accomplished managers in recent memory, and continues to be while Lashley holds the WWE title after the ThunderDome era.
#5. Randy Orton
For a long time, I wasn’t much of a fan of The Viper. It felt like he was always going through the motions because he didn’t need to try any harder than he has too. With the pandemic, however, he looked around and noticed he was one of the last remaining veterans in the locker room. Before Edge’s return, you could see how low he was on the totem pole, so getting an opportunity to work with his former tag team partner lit a fire under him. He was determined to show the world he could be a nemesis to the Rated R Superstar, and their feud was one of the best of the ThunderDome era.
Perhaps the less we say about what happened after that with The Fiend, the better? He worked with what WWE gave him, but it turned out to be a waste. Moving on from that, no one expected a comedy duo with Riddle, which shows just how far he has come. Orton can play almost anything WWE wants, which is a far cry from the days when we always knew what to expect from The Viper.