wrestling / Columns

Who Are The Most Underutilized Superstars In WWE?

April 25, 2021 | Posted by Blake Lovell
Aleister Black

WWE recently made its latest round of releases, which prompted a discussion about the company underutilizing many of the talents involved.

But those released aren’t the only ones that have struggled to meet their full potential in the land of sports entertainment, and there’s a long list of talent who could make the case for being in the “underutilized” category.

It’s Vince McMahon and WWE creative’s job to put talent in a position to succeed. There are some situations where wrestlers fail to meet expectations because of their own shortcomings. There are other examples where potential goes unrealized due to both a lack of opportunity and creative ideas that don’t align with what makes that talent unique. Those included on my particular list of underutilized talent fit into the latter group.

Keep in mind that our definitions of underutilized wrestlers could be different. Not everyone is going to be a main event star or has main event potential. However, with consistent booking and character development, certain talent can better fill a current void on a specific brand or within a specific division. It would also lead to fewer situations of WWE having to book numerous rematches within the same feud.

Also, a couple of notes on wrestlers who aren’t included on this list: Cesaro isn’t included since, at least for now, he’s being utilized as the top talent many believe he’s been for years. As for Keith Lee, he was reportedly pulled from WWE television for health reasons back in February. So, while I’d argue he was also a member of the up-and-down-booking club, him being out the mix the past several months is due to non-booking reasons. And then there are talents like Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura, and others you could make an argument for based on inconsistent booking, but I mainly wanted to focus on those in less featured roles.

Let’s look at my picks for the most underutilized wrestlers still on the WWE main roster and potential options for them moving forward.

UNDERUTILIZED WWE SUPERSTARS

Aleister Black

WWE Aleister Black

The obvious starting point when you’re compiling an underutilized list. Black, who joined the main roster back in 2019 with a ready-made character that had already gotten over with fans, hasn’t figured into WWE’s plans for a while now. His most recent match came all the way back on October 12 of last year, where he lost to Kevin Owens by DQ on RAW. The last match he actually won was last July, and that was via DQ against Murphy.

Black’s hard-hitting style has made for many intense main-roster matches with the likes of Murphy and Cesaro, but WWE has never figured out how to capitalize on his darker character. You can only do so much putting someone in a room week after week.

While the combination of Black not being released and debuting new vignettes on SmackDown is a step in the right direction, it’s hard to trust WWE’s follow-through on his return. But since he’s actually back on TV for the first time in months, there is at least a hint of optimism. Black can obviously be a main event player, but WWE now has to find a way to effectively rebuild a character that it tore down for seemingly no reason.

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Hopefully much better creative for Black.

Ricochet

Ricochet NXT WWE

I understand some of the criticism of Ricochet’s promos and character work. Ricochet is never going to be The Rock on the microphone. He’s just not. However, we know what Ricochet is capable of as an in-ring performer, and that’s where WWE has dropped the ball.

Paul Heyman was far from a perfect booker in ECW and elsewhere, but here’s something Rob Van Dam said about Heyman’s booking style in a recent interview: “He was able to help us discover our strengths, and he was able to help us stay away from our weaknesses. Either fix them or don’t do them.” This is not only sound advice for handling Ricochet, but for all talents. Accentuate the strengths and hide the weaknesses.

WWE has embraced adding more sports-related aspects to its presentation, and the strength of Ricochet is his incredible athleticism and high-flying ability. It may not fit the company’s true definition of the phrase, but his skill set certainly includes “sports entertainment” elements. Let him get over with his unique athletic feats rather than punishing him for not being able to cut a Rock-esque promo. Simple video packages highlighting his aerial skills can replace the need for long-winded backstage interviews.

Ricochet, who as a reminder is only 32 years old, may never be treated as a world champion in WWE. But there is more to his potential than what has been presented on the main roster.

Mustafa Ali

mustafa ali wwe 205 live

Thankfully, Ali’s run as leader of RETRIBUTION is over. That’s a step in the right direction. But at this point, there’s no reason to believe WWE knows what to do with him. He’s been a presumed hacker and leader of a floundering stable, both of which led him absolutely nowhere. Maybe making him a good professional wrestler would work?

Ali’s response to a WWE Instagram post back in February was pure gold. The company posted a graphic with him alongside Apollo Crews, Shayna Baszler, Murphy, and Nikki Cross, and the question was posed, who is the most underrated superstar in WWE right now?

Here’s what Ali had to say: “No one here is underrated. The entire world knows how talented all the individuals are. The correct word to use here would be ‘underutilized’.” Ding ding ding, we have a winner.

Ali not only has the in-ring ability (he’s had a plethora of quality matches even in lesser roles), but he can cut a hell of a promo when given the opportunity. Even with inconsistent booking over the years, Ali’s potential as a stellar babyface or effective heel has been undeniable.

Shayna Baszler

Jessi Kamea Shayna Baszler WWE

The WWE women’s tag team division is, well, lacking. So, perhaps it’s understandable why the company has focused on putting together more makeshift teams to try to feature the women’s tag titles more often. But for Baszler, as a background player in a mind-numbing storyline based around a wrestler slipping and falling, there’s only so much you can do to elevate yourself and the titles.

Baszler’s skill set is unlike anyone else’s in the WWE women’s division. Presenting her as a dominant badass (as she was in NXT) on a consistent basis shouldn’t be a challenge. She needs to be featured more in meaningful singles matches so she can not only display her distinctive offense, but also help make her opponents look better based on how they react to her MMA-style approach.

And as others have noted, Baszler actually has a good personality and showcases charisma when given the opportunity to do so.

WWE hasn’t completely botched Baszler’s main-roster run as she did eliminate an entire Elimination Chamber field and face Becky Lynch at WrestleMania 36. Still, her current direction leaves a lot to be desired, and keeping her on this road for too long could hurt her stock once she inevitably breaks back out on her own as a singles competitor.

Angel Garza

WWE Main Event Angel Garza

Garza was a popular name on that rumored underutilized talents list that WWE writers submitted last December, so it’s only natural that he’s included on that same list four months later. After all, since those reports, Garza has wrestled in just four non-Main Event matches on WWE television after spending a lot of early pandemic era teaming with Andrade in a never-ending feud with the Street Profits.

Perhaps Garza’s usage isn’t too surprising since two of the reported talents on that list (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) have been released, and Chad Gable (who we’ll get to shortly) still isn’t doing a whole lot. But at least Cesaro may prove to be a success story.

As for Garza, the man oozes charisma. Even in a scripted promo atmosphere, we’ve seen his personality shine through in interviews. He can also wrestle. You’d have to watch Main Event or read Robert Leighty Jr.’s weekly reviews to know it these days, but Garza’s entertaining inside the ring.

His recent appearance on RAW suggests he’ll be thrown into another storyline that does little for his actual potential, and a resurgence in NXT may not be the worst idea for him at this point.

Ruby Riott/Liv Morgan

Riott Squad

Do I think WWE will push these two as singles champions in the women’s division? No. But could they be an important part of making WWE’s women’s tag team division much more relevant than it is right now? Absolutely.

Unlike some of the teams that have been thrown together just to have something that resembles a tag division, Riott and Morgan feel like an actual team. They’ve been paired together for the majority of their run on the main roster since debuting in 2017, and their chemistry is head and shoulders above most other duos.

To take it a step further, the early Riott Squad presentation (which also included Sarah Logan) was a lot of fun and had a clear direction. Returning to those roots of pushing Riott and Morgan as two hell-raisers with an attitude is undoubtedly something the crowd would get behind. After all, the crowd is already invested in these two, as shown by the reaction they received at WrestleMania 37.

There is a lot of untapped potential with a Riott Squad team that could be a cornerstone of a much-needed revamped women’s tag division.

Naomi

Naomi Smackdown WWe

Here’s an interesting stat: Naomi has not wrestled a televised WWE singles match longer than four minutes and 10 seconds in 14 months. Currently, she’s teaming with Lana, and again, that’s likely due to WWE’s failure to properly build any tag teams elsewhere.

There was a point where Naomi was utilized well, and perhaps, her long run with the company (going all the way back to FCW in 2009) has led to booking complacency. She’s fallen into a similar role as some of the others – we don’t know what to do with you at this point in your career, so we’ll stick you in a tag team with very little backstory. Good luck.

For a company that has numerous hours of main-roster television to fill each week, spotlighting an athletic and charismatic talent like Naomi in matches longer than four minutes shouldn’t be that difficult. She had an impressive showing in her return at the Royal Rumble back in January, and there was optimism that could springboard her back into a featured singles role.

It hasn’t, and at only 33, Naomi has more to give than simply serving as a sidekick.

Chad Gable

WWE Chad Gable Smackdown 9-3-19

One word and a letter properly describe Gable’s inclusion on this list: Shorty G. Truly one of the most ridiculous gimmicks in recent WWE history, pushing a highly-talented technical wrestler as little more than a short guy had zero chance of making Gable a power player.

Yes, Gable is on the shorter side in WWE’s universe at 5-foot-8. We get it. But WWE has often gone the route of beating you over the head with anything that stands out, and in this case, it was at the detriment of Gable’s value as a professional wrestler.

All it takes is watching Gable in the ring to know what he’s capable of. Kurt Angle is one of many people who have been outspoken about Gable’s potential, and rather than the former amateur wrestler being showcased in competitive singles matches, he’s directionless in a team with Otis.

Gable doesn’t have to be a world champion to provide value. His in-ring skills would be useful in helping other stars develop and get over, but that only works if he’s presented as a legitimate talent with his booking.

MORE UNDERUTILIZED WRESTLERS

There are many others with arguments for joining this list. I tried to spotlight the ones that best fit my criteria for underutilized wrestlers, but again, every wrestling fan has certain aspects they value more than others.

I sent a tweet asking for reader opinions on the most underutilized WWE talent, and here are other wrestlers that were mentioned:

– Nikki Cross
– Shinsuke Nakamura
– Drew Gulak
– Akira Tozawa
– Shelton Benjamin
– Cedric Alexander
– Gran Metalik
– Lince Dorado
– Seth Rollins
– Murphy
– Kevin Owens

Which superstars aren’t getting the credit they deserve in WWE? I’d love to hear your choices.

Who do you think are the most underutilized wrestlers in WWE? Share your thoughts in the comments section! For more of my thoughts on pro wrestling, subscribe to the 411 On Wrestling podcast and follow me on Twitter @wrestleblake. Thanks for reading!