The “Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” was a gimmick that only Vince McMahon knows the true purpose of, but by the end of the WWE Backlash main event between Randy Orton and Edge, you’d be hard-pressed to find in recent memory a traditional one-on-one match as good as what they pulled off.
It succeeded in fusing together all of the resources that Orton and Edge had to work with. It was a story that has roots in matches they’ve been having since 2004, it was built on the momentum Edge and Orton had leading into WrestleMania, and the match continued to push everything forward in their latest post-WrestleMania chapter.
Their performances are interwoven, and it was hard to separate the two of them in terms of putting together the latest edition of the WWE Power Rankings. But whether it was Edge’s injury putting him back on the shelf or the continued work Orton has done over the past couple of weeks to prove he is squarely in the pocket with his character, Orton has taken over the No. 1 spot, with good reason.
Drew McIntyre isn’t far behind at No. 2, and the WWE champion was just barely edged out by Orton in the voting. It’s unlikely anyone has elevated their stock, both present and future, more than McIntyre has during this strange, uncertain era of WWE. McIntyre has taken the nearly impossible challenge of being the standard-bearer for WWE and adapted to the unprecedented circumstances. He was the first person on the roster to look directly down the lens of the camera to try to bring fans at home as close to the action as they could be when they weren’t allowed in the arena amid the coronavirus pandemic.
McIntyre has slipped into an effortless confidence and swagger that has shades of Orton when he was making the leap to main-event star in the mid-2000s. WWE badly needs to build up true stars who can resonate on the level of an Orton or a John Cena, and while McIntyre has miles to go to reach that point, he is proving that when he’s at his best, he has something special.
It’s hard to know where WWE — or the world at large — is going to be next week, let alone months down the line, but with the level Orton and McIntyre are each performing at right now, a world title rivalry between these two could be truly special. It’s the kind of rivalry that could launch a career to an entirely different level in short order. — Tim Fiorvanti
So how did the rest of the top 10 shake out? Our panel, which features Tim Fiorvanti, Marc Raimondi, Matt Wilansky, Kel Dansby, Sean Coyle, Michael Wonsover, Matt Willis and Andrew Feldman, is here to break down the post-Backlash fallout and where we believe the pecking order stands heading into the heart of the summer.
Numbers in parentheses ( ) indicate the number of first-place votes a wrestler received.
Wonsover: Orton has been put in a position to showcase what makes him one of the most talented wrestlers in history. He’s cutting scathing promos week after week and displaying a physicality he hasn’t shown in the ring since he was last called the “Legend Killer.” No one is on a hotter stretch than Orton right now. He might not be “the Greatest Wrestler Ever,” but few, if any, are capable of doing what he’s done the past couple months. When Ric Flair introduced Orton as “the Greatest Wrestler Ever” on Raw, was it really that far from reality?
Raimondi: McIntyre is probably the best-booked babyface champion in WWE over the past few years. He’s naturally charismatic in a good-guy kind of way. McIntyre was never bad as a heel, but just comes off more authentic as a babyface. It’s all working for him. It’s really a shame he can’t be doing his thing in front of a crowd. McIntyre’s Backlash match against Bobby Lashley was strong, too. McIntyre is a big man who can still work in-ring at a high level. That’s much needed.
Feldman: There’s so much to love about what’s going on right now with Bayley and Sasha Banks. As the entire wrestling world awaits their breakup, week after week, these two are consistently entertaining and blatantly rubbing that breakup idea in the faces of the viewing audience. Sure, it’ll happen eventually, and that’s fine, but for now, sit back and enjoy what Bayley and Banks are doing as a team. After an abbreviated first reign as women’s tag team champions, they’re getting to do what they initially hoped to with their tag belts — defend them on Raw, SmackDown, NXT and pay-per-view, against all comers.
The biggest immediate challenge is maintaining a steady stream of dynamic opposition in both the singles and tag team divisions. There are most definitely talented women on the roster who can own the main-event spotlight or step into it, and, one hopes, with no Becky Lynch or Charlotte Flair to work with, the other half of the “Four Horsewomen” can shoulder the weight and help carry the division for a while.
Raimondi: About 99% of the WWE audience has no idea what Asuka is saying when she goes off on her rants in Japanese. Yet it doesn’t matter at all. Very few people in wrestling today have the kind of charisma that can transcend language and get a message across to everyone in the audience. Asuka does.
And through all the damage WWE has done to her character with starting and stopping her momentum on a whim — some would argue it’s even too zany right now — Asuka always seems to shine through. She is always producing and has maintained a strong connection with fans through thick and thin, and WWE seems to finally be realizing it. Asuka got a clean victory over Flair on Monday and it seems she’ll be at the center of the women’s division on Raw with Lynch out for an uncertain amount of time and Flair potentially down with an injury. The role is more than well deserved.
Willis: Rollins has done his best work in his career as a heel. That he’s been able to do it in two entirely different ways — as the chosen champion of The Authority, and now as the “Monday Night Messiah” — speaks to the depth of Rollins’ dedication to living in a character. Rollins has been doing a lot of heavy lifting every week on Raw, and his work in his extended storyline with Rey Mysterio has helped elevate Aleister Black, Humberto Carrillo, Murphy and Austin Theory.
Fiorvanti: It’s remarkable to take a step back and appreciate how well Styles has fit into the WWE mold. It hasn’t always been perfect, but Styles’ versatility allows him to be whatever WWE needs him to be. Whether it’s a cornerstone world champion, the perfect fodder for The Undertaker or an entitled (yet capable) champion, Styles has it all covered. It usually takes those who developed outside the WWE bubble a long time to get their sea legs, so to speak, but Styles hit the ground running in 2015 and hasn’t really slowed down. His United States championship match against Daniel Bryan was as good as anyone could have hoped for, and Styles has a chance to channel his inner Ric Flair by being a champion capable of winning on his own merits or who cheats just because they can and can aggravate the audience in all the right ways.
Coyle: To make an in-ring return after nine years away from the ring, and pick up right where you left off in 2011 as one of the best storytellers in pro wrestling, is astonishing. Only an all-time great could retire as a WWE Hall of Famer and return nine years later, arguably better than before. That’s what Edge has done. After a monumental return at the Royal Rumble, Edge and Orton have put forth a masterpiece. Edge has always been one of the best talkers in the business, and it seems he’s gotten even better after digging into his acting career while away from the ring.
Dansby: SmackDown gets exponentially better when Wyatt is present. He’s done a good job of pushing The Fiend to the background and making that character more of an attraction and a big deal. The return of “Riverboat” Bray Wyatt on SmackDown did a lot to further the feud with Braun Strowman and added another dimension to his multipersonality menagerie.
Wilansky: Yes, it can be difficult to get excited about Strowman as champ, and the fact the Universal champion is this far down speaks volumes. But when Strowman is cooking, he can flash big things. He’s been a game titleholder who wallowed in WWE purgatory for too long until winning the championship at WrestleMania. There could be hope in continuing his conflict with Wyatt, and while it’s hard to see him having an extended run like McIntyre, for now, Strowman has a chance to do big things as one of the centerpieces of the SmackDown roster.
Coyle: Apollo Crews is enjoying the most successful stretch of his WWE career to this point. On top of some entertaining matches defeating (and then defending against) Andrade for the United States championship, Crews’ first title reign of any kind in the WWE has given him an opportunity to show off. Crews has noticeably improved on the mic as he has brought emotion into his promos and let his personality shine through. His in-ring skills and athleticism have always been top notch, and we’re watching it all come together for Crews.
Others receiving votes: Otis, Bobby Lashley, Sonya Deville, The Undertaker, Daniel Bryan, Charlotte Flair, Matt Riddle, Jeff Hardy