If you ask every single professional wrestler who gets into the business what their end game is, 99% of them will say that they want to make it in the WWE. That’s not a work of fiction, either – it’s just the truth. No matter how good some of the promotions on the independent scene and abroad are, for years and years Vince McMahon has stood atop the sports entertainment industry.
So naturally one of the big reasons why he’s been able to stay in such a position is down to the star power of his top names. Whilst the likes of Randy Orton and Batista have provided a helping hand, the last decade or so has been dominated by one man and one man only – John Cena. You may not like him, but even the biggest cynics in the world have to admit that he’s had a tremendous influence on the company.
So with Big Match John beginning to wind down in terms of being a full time competitor, who will be the next guy to step up to the plate and be the figurative “face that runs the place”? Obviously we aren’t insinuating that they literally become John Cena’s character, but instead that they are able to replicate his success on a level that ensures they are the biggest name in WWE.
There’s quite a few contenders for the crown and we’ll prefix the piece by saying this – yes, age is a big contributing factor when it comes to the criteria but you could be 40 years old and still have the durability necessary to thrive in this position. So keep that in mind as you read down this list, because not all of our potential top guys are spring chickens.
15. Big E
In terms of future talent, Big E has all the potential in the world to become one of the biggest stars in WWE. Following on from his successful run down in NXT alot of people were under the impression that he was a one trick pony, however since being a part of New Day he’s been able to show that charismatic side of him that opens the door to many possible new avenues in terms of his character development.
The guy doesn’t need to be flashy and he doesn’t need to be anything more or less than what he is – an absolute machine. Both in the ring and on the mic, Big E is one of the most loved talents throughout either the Raw or SmackDown roster and it’s about time that people recognise him for the talent that he truly is. After all, he brought Booty-O’s into the light.
14. Seth Rollins
You may be surprised that The Architect is so far down on this list, but hear us out. Seth is one of those talents that is so well rounded and so established already that WWE will likely transition him back and forth between heel and babyface quite a lot. Whilst that isn’t necessarily a huge problem, it’s also a huge sign that his fellow Shield brother Roman Reigns is that little bit further ahead of him in the pecking order.
It’s not Seth’s fault either as he does everything to the best of his abilities, but a combination of how the WWE view him and his pre-existing knee injuries could prevent the company from giving him the ball to run with once again. The talent is most certainly there, but it remains to be seen as to how long the former WWE Champion’s pro wrestling career will last.
13. Shinsuke Nakamura
When Shinsuke Nakamura’s music hits you stop whatever you’re doing and listen, because the King of Strong Style commands that kind of attention. The Japanese superstar has lit up the NXT Championship scene since arriving back in Dallas, and it looks set to continue with his promotion up to the main roster expected to come any day now.
The great thing about Shinsuke is that he’s so easy to build a brand around it’s unreal. His global appeal stretches far beyond 90% of superstars on the roster, he has a fantastic gimmick and can pretty much put on great matches with anyone that’s put in the ring with him. If he can keep furthering his work on the mic, then the sky is the limit for Mr Kinshasa.
For years and years people have been wondering why Cesaro hasn’t been given the break that he so richly deserves. A lot of fans blame the likes of Vince McMahon, however it may be time to face the realisation that it’s Cesaro who needs to up his game when it comes to his character work. After all, it’s not like the James Bond gimmick has done him too many favours.
The Swiss Superman is a guy who has bags full of talent in the ring and is definitely able to string together high quality matches with a number of superstars on the roster. Unfortunately, as we all know that doesn’t necessarily translate into being a World Champion so if Cesaro can just carve out that one piece of storytelling brilliance then he’ll be right in contention for being the next top guy in the company.
11. AJ Styles
They don’t want none. AJ Styles was named Wrestler of the Year for 2016 by pretty much every credible form of media that you can think of. Obviously that doesn’t always mean a whole lot, but in this instance it’s justified as The Phenomenal One has put in some of the best work of his entire career over the last twelve months and he truly is one of the biggest names in the industry right now.
Despite losing to John Cena at the Royal Rumble, Styles still holds two victories over the supposed face that runs the place – and it’s about time that he officially takes over John’s role as the champ that runs the camp. After all, he’s one of the most impressive superstars both in and out of the ring right now and it’s only his age that draws out a red flag from alot of fans.
10. Johnny Gargano
It might seem like an unusual selection, but Johnny Gargano has all of the traits you could possibly hope for in a world class professional wrestler. Whilst he’s currently one half of the #DIY tag team down in NXT, it’s only a matter of time until he faces off against Ciampa and goes on to become a huge star on the main roster.
If you don’t believe us, go back and examine all of the other top tag teams that have broken up and gone on to have great singles success. Hell, even The Shield are a great example as of late and they’ve only been broken up for two and a half years. Gargano has a never say die attitude that works well with top level guys, and we’re confident his potential will soon be realised.
9. Sami Zayn
Let’s go! Sorry, we got a bit carried away there. Sami Zayn is the ultimate underdog from the underground and he’s been on fire over the last few months on Monday Night Raw. Many people see him as the guy who will forever be putting over the top guys, never reaching his full potential – but we couldn’t disagree more.
Zayn proved down in NXT that he can work at the highest possible level and come out on top when he captured the NXT Championship from Neville. That might not mean much to some, but it’s a believable thought process to think that Sami Zayn can one day be the face of the company – as exampled brilliantly by people like Daniel Bryan.
8. Big Cass
In case you didn’t know, he’s seven foot tall – and you can’t teach that. Big Cass is one of the most promising young stars that WWE have at their disposal right now, and it can’t hurt the guy whatsoever that Vince McMahon is incredibly high on him. Obviously it’s no secret that he’s cooled off substantially over the course of the last few months, but let’s not forget what he was up to around August/September time.
Cass was competing in a fatal four way match for the Universal Championship and whilst his stock has fallen since then, he’s young enough to the point where he can climb back up the imaginary power rankings with relative ease. We’ve got the upmost confidence in this guy and in terms of improvements, he soaks up great advice from veterans like a sponge.
7. Tye Dillinger
Tye Dillinger has been a part of WWE in two separate stints, dating back well over a decade. In that time he’s only ever really found relevance during his latest period as The Perfect Ten, which is a gimmick that has launched him into main event levels of popularity down in NXT. If you don’t believe us, then listen out for the “ten” chant whenever the referee starts a count nowadays.
Dusty Rhodes himself has even stated in the past that he was confused as to why Dillinger was still down in NXT, because there was simply nothing else he could teach him. He’s a student of the game and if WWE give him a chance he could easily be one of their biggest players on either Raw or SmackDown Live. He’s over, he’s got the look and he’s solid in the ring – what’s missing?
6. Apollo Crews
Apollo Crews is one of the most technically gifted superstars to ever walk through the door in WWE. His natural skill and fantastic athleticism makes him an extremely exciting competitor to watch in the ring, and if he can just piece everything together then there’s no reason why he can’t go all the way to the top of the card. Unfortunately, Crews hasn’t succeeded in that last department thus far.
There’s no real character or story behind Apollo as of this moment, despite being given extended opportunities on SmackDown Live over the last month or so. Some of that may be down to the writing but some of it may also be down to the man himself, and if he can just find that one trait within him that gets people interested then he’ll be riding this run all the way to the world title in a few years time.
To sum up, Apollo Crews is currently like Rocky Maivia (with fans clamouring for Ziggler to injure him reminiscent of “Die Rocky Die” chants). All he needs is a gimmick change (or an actual gimmick) and you potentially have gold on your hands.
5. Roman Reigns
Come on, you all knew this one was coming – and we’re really, really sorry. Roman Reigns has pretty much already taken over John Cena’s position as “the guy”, and it’s just a matter of time before his critics and doubters realise that. Unfortunately he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype thus far in terms of his character and how hard he’s been pushed, but that’ll come.
If WWE finally pull the trigger on his long awaited heel turn, it’ll make his return to the land of the babyfaces all the more important. If you need an example then just look towards his ‘cousin’ The Rock who was equally as stale as Roman during the first few years of his career. Reigns can still be exactly what Vince wants him to be, but they need to put the work in to make it happen.
4. Jason Jordan
Much like Johnny Gargano, Jason Jordan is currently one half of one of the hottest tag teams in all of professional wrestling. In fact, he was actually considered to be the weaker half of the two for a long time with many people tipping Chad Gable to be the most successful member of the partnership. Sorry Chad – we here at The Sportster aren’t as ready, willing and Gable.
Aside from the fact he’s one of the hottest tags in wrestling, Jordan has an explosive offensive power that you rarely see in someone with his size. He’s paid his dues for many years in the business, has an outstanding work ethic and has a character that fans can resonate with easily. Sure he may need a little bit more of an edge, but Jordan is well on his way to glory.
3. Cedric Alexander
There’s a reason why fans were chanting for Cedric Alexander to be signed up to a full time contract following his elimination from the Cruiserweight Classic. It’s because he’s one of the hottest superstars in the world right now, and once the company allow him to break away from the purple ropes we’re going to start to see something really special out of this kid.
He’s young, hungry and has bags full of talent – just in case you were wondering. As he grows within WWE he’ll start to find the character that suits him best, and once that happens there’s no telling how many world class matches this guy can put on whilst simultaneously selling the most merch on the roster. That might seem like an outlandish claim, but just wait and see.
2. Kenny Omega
Is there anyone on the face of the earth right now that gets professional wrestling in 2017 better than Kenny Omega? We’re not so sure. The Cleaner has forged a legacy for himself over in New Japan Pro Wrestling as one of the biggest stars in the industry right now, and that’s a tough thing to do when you’re on the outside of WWE looking in.
He’s certainly a renegade by craft and because of that, people may think that his placement on this list is misplaced. However, being alternative is never something that has thrown Vince off all too much in the past and his work ethic speaks for itself. Sure he’s a little bit unorthodox, but some of the best superstars of the last few decades have fit that description.
1. Finn Balor
The Demon King. Finn Balor is one of the biggest stars in the world right now and he hasn’t even wrestled a match since SummerSlam. His inauguration as the first ever Universal Champion was a huge sign of intent from WWE, marking the dawn of a new era with Finn as the intended king of the castle. Of course, things have been a little bit more complicated than that.
But once the Irishman returns there’s no reason to believe that he won’t pick up right where he left off. Firstly he’s insanely popular, and secondly WWE haven’t even begun to tap into the potential storylines and feuds that Balor could be involved in. He’ll quite literally change the face of Raw pretty soon, and it’s going to be a great moment to witness no matter where or when it takes place.
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