Monday, April 15, 2024
EditorialTop 10 WWE Superstars of the ThunderDome Era

Top 10 WWE Superstars of the ThunderDome Era

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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:

Honorable Mentions

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.

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#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.

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#4. Edge

It’s a bit of a shame he was injured after his program with Orton, but we cannot skim over the fact he returned from what was a life-threatening condition. While predictable, winning this year’s Royal Rumble was accepted by many because he proved he still has it through his encounters with Orton. Did he need to win from the #1 spot? Maybe not. Should he have beat Reigns? Or at least not taken a double pin with Daniel Bryan? It’s debatable. But what isn’t is the fact that he absolutely loves this business, and it shines through in everything he does.

You can put him up against any promo guy in the world and he’d hold his own. In terms of pure storytelling, there is a reason Edge is one of the most accomplished WWE Superstars of all time. Coming back and showing he has improved this aspect of his game is testament to how much he has grown as a person and entertainer. Edge’s time is coming. He may be the only one who can dethrone the Tribal Chief, and it’s his work in the ThunderDome shows which laid the foundation for this dream to become reality.


#3. Drew McIntyre

It all began with a Royal Rumble victory. Going to WrestleMania to face “The Beast” Brock Lesnar should have been a memory taking place in front of thousands of screaming WWE fans. Yet, it wasn’t, and McIntyre had to settle for something empty. He carried the WWE Championship without knowing how the crowd would react to his entrance. Even now, he eagerly waits to find out how his work has changed how he’s perceived.

When he was WWE Champion he was booked extraordinarily strong, almost to the point it was sickening. It helped a lot when he lost the title to Randy Orton, because it showed us he isn’t invincible. He fought hard to get it back, but his second reign didn’t feel the same. There was a lack of long-term planning, and he didn’t have any serious rivals. With Bobby Lashley coming along and taking the title from The Miz, I think many expected McIntyre to take it back, eventually.

Somehow he never did, and it makes us wonder if he will ever reach the top again. Through everything though, Drew McIntyre went in to the ThunderDome as WWE Champion and carried Raw through much of it. Because of this, he sits at the top of the pile as the top WWE Superstar on Raw. He’s more of a star now than he was, whether or not he holds the WWE title.

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#1. Bayley

I can’t separate them, which is why this list has two #1 superstars. Consider Bayley the best female WWE Superstar of the era, as her heel persona carried SmackDown through hard times, even before the other #1 returned to TV. I still can’t believe she’s the same woman who did everything to get her kid-friendly NXT hugger gimmick over. Bayley’s not the same person anymore. Could you imagine if she went back to that now? It would suck on so many levels. No one wants to see Bayley hugging anymore, because The Role Model character is foul.

She has set the bar, not just because she is so easy to hate, but because of how outward and funny she can be. It reminds me of how we’d laugh at Ric Flair, Ted DiBiase or Mr. Perfect, not because they were heels, but because of things they’d come out with. You might not like her, but her work ethic in the ThunderDome shows can’t be ignored. She has worked extra hard to ensure SmackDown is the show to watch without a live audience, and it’s sad that she got injured just before we were set to get the WWE Universe back.

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#1. Roman Reigns

Impressive. Majestic. Imposing. Just some words to describe Roman Reigns’ new persona. The WWE Universe asked for this! For years, we begged, we pleaded, we got on our hands, knees, and would’ve bent over backwards if it meant WWE stopped treating him like Cena and turned him heel. We hated this man! Remember how hard the fans booed Reigns?! It was sometimes worse than Cena. We were so sick of WWE choking us with their persistent pushing down our throats; it was nigh impossible to breathe. All the predictable victories put us off watching anything involving Reigns. His appeal was non-existent because he still looked like he was in The Shield with the same old attire and entrance music.

There was no character, along with no signs of showing any personality to pique our interest. All he had was the look, and a move set going off like clockwork. It was robotic, dull, unimaginative, and insipid, so when WWE finally pulled the trigger, it was like a breath of fresh air. We still hate the guy, but it’s more because of him embracing what we didn’t like to begin with. His ego is on another planet, and I dig that, because heel champs should be holier than thou. They need to place themselves on a pedestal because we won’t, and by doing so, it makes us want to see someone dropkick them off their perch.

The Tribal Chief is so high up that his reaction will be fierce if he’s ever knocked off. I’m still curious to see how he would handle not having the title, but for now, it’s not a bad thing that he’s the #1 superstar in WWE. Because that’s how wrestling works! You need to make someone “The Man”, because that’s how you make stars. Having Paul Heyman at his side adds another a smart side to him, but not in the way he was for Brock Lesnar. Reigns has his own mind and doesn’t need Heyman to micromanage every little thing he does, which means he has more range.

Heyman acts like an advisor, but in no way severely influences what he wants. He may help steer Reigns in the right direction, but if he doesn’t want to go his way, Paul isn’t changing his mind. This leaves things open for Reigns to make mistakes down the road, but for now, his choices (even against Heyman’s advice) have been sound. He has shown that he doesn’t really need a manager, but he has one anyway because it adds a layer to his character. Reigns isn’t like Brock Lesnar or CM Punk, he’s something in-between.

Bringing in the family adds a personal element, which was something WWE rarely touched on before. Everything about him, from the way he cuts promos, to his storytelling, to the way he works in the ring, compliments a cutthroat, ego-maniacal character. How can anyone complain about that? Didn’t we ask for this? With that said, this has been a list of the top #10 WWE Superstars of the ThunderDome era. Please let me know what you think in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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