Vince McMahon recently claimed that WWE will have its largest roster in history once John Cena, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, and Bray Wyatt all return from injury. This reality is quickly setting in now that Rollins has already returned and Cena will be back on Monday.
At least three of those stars are guaranteed secure spots high on the card when they return, so this begs the question: how will WWE cram the largest roster in history onto their Pay-Per-View (PPV) events?
I have compiled a list of how many WWE superstars have been featured in at least one match on every single WWE PPV since the start of 2013, excluding pre-show matches. Here is the sorted version of that list, ranked from most superstars featured to least superstars featured. Events that included a match featuring at least 8 superstars are in bold.
The first entry can be translated as follows: "59 unique superstars competed in at least one match at WrestleMania 30."
- 59: WrestleMania 30
- 46: WrestleMania 32
- 43: Royal Rumble 2015
- 38: SummerSlam 2015
- 36: Royal Rumble 2014
- 36: Royal Rumble 2016
- 36: Survivor Series 2013
- 35: Battleground 2014
- 34: Royal Rumble 2013
- 34: Survivor Series 2014
- 30: Money in the Bank 2014
- 28: Elimination Chamber 2015
- 26: TLC 2013
- 25: Hell in a Cell 2013
- 24: Elimination Chamber 2014
- 24: TLC 2015
- 23: Money in the Bank 2013
- 22: Elimination Chamber 2013
- 22: WrestleMania 29
- 22: Payback 2014
- 22: Survivor Series 2015
- 21: Fastlane 2016
- 21: WrestleMania 31
- 20: Extreme Rules 2014
- 20: Fastlane 2015
- 20: Payback 2015
- 20: Extreme Rules 2016
- 20: Battleground 2013
- 20: Night of Champions 2013
- 19: Money in the Bank 2015
- 19: Night of Champions 2015
- 19: Night of Champions 2014
- 18: Extreme Rules 2013
- 18: Hell in a Cell 2014
- 18: TLC 2014
- 17: Payback 2013
- 17: SummerSlam 2013
- 16: Extreme Rules 2015
- 16: Hell in a Cell 2015
- 16: SummerSlam 2014
- 15: Battleground 2015
- 14: Payback 2016
These numbers do not include managers, run-ins, or backstage segments. They only include all the unique participants in any of the official matches on the main card of a given event.
The bold entries are the events with a large group match that included at least 8 featured superstars, and so not surprisingly, these events dominate the upper portion of the list. The most common type of match that met this requirement was a Battle Royal, which is a pretty obvious way to add 19 to 31 featured superstars in a blink. Traditional Survivor Series tag team matches or Tag Team Fatal 4-Ways also appeared on some of these events.
It's worth noting that 15 out of the 42 entries are in bold, so this has been a characteristic of roughly 36% of WWE's PPV events since the start of 2013. I wanted to separately highlight those events from the pack because I am going to essentially ignore those events from here on out.
It might sound like cheating to wipe away the top 13 entries on the list and then smugly conclude that WWE doesn't really have a lot of PPV spots to divide among the roster. But the reason I don't mind doing that is because I think the solution of "just throw 8 to 31 wrestlers into one match on the card" is always one possible way to inflate the featured superstars on the show; those numbers interfere too much with my real goal of trying to get a simple understanding of how many PPV spots there are in the more typical case when those large group matches are not present.
The remaining 27 events (that are not in bold) have an average of 19.3 featured superstars per event and a median value of 20 featured superstars per event.
So while roughly one-third of the time WWE will have a large group match that makes it easier to cram a large roster onto PPV, the remaining two-thirds of the time sees approximately 19 or 20 PPV spots to go around.
This is important to recognize because landing a PPV spot generally leads to more TV time on Raw. Notice how Apollo Crews disappeared from Raw for a few weeks because he wasn't going to be featured on either Payback 2016 or Extreme Rules 2016? The multiple absences of Sasha Banks from Raw for several weeks at a time is a more obvious case of a superstars missing out on TV time because that performer is simply not in the plans for the next PPV.
So which 19 or 20 superstars deserve those available PPV spots? The last six months suggest that Reigns, Ambrose, Owens, Charlotte, and Charlotte's monthly opponent are locks to be included. Looking ahead, Rollins and Cena are guaranteed PPV spots as well. That's already 7 spots taken.
Here's one possible way to fill out the remaining 12 or 13 spots: Styles, Rusev, Miz, Big E, Kofi, Gallows, Anderson, Cesaro, Zayn, Cass, Sheamus, Corbin, and Ziggler.
But notice that in the above list I don't include Lesnar, Orton, Jericho, Wyatt, Wyatt's family, Del Rio, Kalisto, Sin Cara, Titus, Young, Kane, Big Show, Henry, Ryder, Crews, Enzo, Woods, Swagger, Usos, Shining Stars, Vaudevillains, Dudleyz, Golden Truth, Social Outcasts, BreezeDango, Ascension, or any alternate women's feud independent of Charlotte.
This also doesn't account for other possible injury returns like Neville, or any potential NXT call-ups such as Balor, Nakamura, Bayley, Samoa Joe, or The Revival.
Once upper carders like Jericho, Orton, and Wyatt are added to the mix, names like Sheamus, Ziggler, and Corbin are more likely to disappear. We've already seen this to some extent with Corbin and Ziggler being demoted to the pre-show for the last two PPVs, and former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus not even making the pre-show on either of those cards. If you are one of the readers who can't stand Jericho's latest return, this opportunity cost of Jericho's presence on weekly television might be extremely frustrating to witness.
WWE is probably paying Alberto Del Rio a boatload of money, yet he also hasn't been featured on a PPV card since WrestleMania 32. The same can be said for Big Show and Kane. Once those guys are featured again, a name like Cesaro or Zayn might have to take that bullet.
Are you sick of WWE not having time for a secondary women's feud underneath Charlotte's match? Well the chances of that happening become much slimmer with Cena, Rollins, Orton, and Wyatt all entering the picture soon and given higher priority for those limited PPV spots.
Did you notice that one of the most popular acts in the company, the New Day, didn't even get to wrestle at Fastlane 2016 or Payback 2016? That sounds like madness to me, but sometimes that's what happens with such a limited number of PPV spots available.
If there are really only 19 or 20 spots to go around, then it is easier to see why superstars such as Stardust, Ryback, and King Barrett might have become frustrated with their struggles to rise up the card. One of the interesting things to note here is that Ryback actually did wrestle on 8 of the 9 PPV main cards from Payback 2015 through Fastlane 2016, and he was originally scheduled to wrestle on the one event that he eventually missed (Battleground 2015) but was pulled from the card due to injury.
Do you remember what happened with Dean Ambrose and Randy Orton in the build up to Hell in a Cell 2015, which is a card that included Cena, Rollins, and Wyatt? In this case, Ambrose and Orton were actually building up to a match that was specifically advertised for the pre-show! Can you imagine these two guys being relegated to pre-show duty this summer? That's what was going to happen last Fall when the WWE roster was healthier, right before Orton's injury derailed those plans.
Yes, WWE could just throw more Battle Royals and large group tag team matches together in order to combat this issue, to some extent. Perhaps there is also the potential for turning more PPVs into 4-hour cards, or cramming multiple matches onto pre-shows. Maybe the injury bug will appear again and wipe out a half dozen more big names in the near-future.
But the most obvious solution to this problem is a brand split that features brand-only PPV events. There are certainly concerns about whether or not enough superstars are over at a main event level to support a brand split, but at this point the sheer size of this roster pretty much requires it. There simply aren't enough PPV spots available right now to properly showcase a roster this large.