There is a lot of talk going around the WWE Universe about the SummerSlam match between Finn Balor and Seth Rollins to decide who will be the first to hold the brand new WWE Universal Championship. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with a second main event championship, Raw’s new heavyweight championship will lend to a new era of WWE and will feature two superstars who are very much expected to play big roles in that new era of professional wrestling.
While the future should have a few superstars as the main part of the roster’s foundation, fans don’t want to see the same two people alternating as champions. Sure, Balor and Rollins are likely to win multiple championships moving forward over the next five years. Rollins has already done that with winning the WWE Tag Team Championship, the United States Championship and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Balor could be the next big star as the fans have already embraced him as a main event talent.
The following is a list of the first 15 WWE Universal Champions, starting with my prediction for the WWE SummerSlam match between Rollins and Balor, and then proceeding to each subsequent winner thereafter. Read below to see who will likely become the chronological belt holders over the next three to five years, starting with the winner at SummerSlam 2016.
15 Seth Rollins
Even though there is a lot of buzz around the longest reigning NXT Champion in Finn Balor, there might be some legitimate concerns with how fast he is being pushed towards the main event picture. While he is going to help make the match a five-star main event, Balor isn’t the right choice to be the first man to become the first WWE Universal Champion. Looking at the year of 2015, Seth Rollins showed everyone he is worthy of being the top star on the Raw roster.
If it wasn’t for having the injured knee late last year, Rollins would have likely held the WWE World Heavyweight Championship until WrestleMania 32. This will be the perfect opportunity for Rollins to pick up right where he left off as being the top heel in the WWE. Rollins could find himself holding the championship well into the end of 2016 and possibly into the beginning of 2017.
14 Finn Balor
Now might not be the right time for the Demon King to become the WWE Universal Champion. However, Balor could be primed to be developed into a big star over the next few months, which can eventually lead to a championship rematch with Rollins either at the end of this year or as a way to kick off the road to WrestleMania at the Royal Rumble. Having Balor win at a major pay-per-view after having some time to develop the resume that truly earns him the championship opportunity is definitely the way to go.
It would also be somewhat of a milestone victory that provides fans with a special moment where a good guy gets the win over the top heel. This type of victory would surely catapult the Demon King into being the top babyface on the Raw roster, just like he was during his time in NXT as the longest reigning NXT Champion in the development brand’s history.
13 Kevin Owens
If there is anyone currently on the WWE roster who knows what it is truly like to go to war with Balor, it’s the company’s self-proclaimed prize fighter. Kevin Owens might not look like the greatest physical specimen the WWE Universe has ever seen, but that’s what has driven him up until this point. He is one of the best to speak on the microphone and is deserving of soon being a main event star.
Owens would be the type of heel who would be a thorn in Balor’s side until the two finally meet with the WWE Universal Championship on the line. While Owens had never been able to defeat Balor during their time competing for the NXT Championship, this would be the best moment for Owens to get a giant demon monkey off of his back and become the big star many WWE fans feel he can be.
12 Sami Zayn
No matter how many “final battles” these two have, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are destined to fight forever. That’s okay with members of the WWE Universe since the two have been able to work together so well. Part of what makes their rivalry so enjoyable is that the two were best friends on the independent circuit – most notably with Ring of Honor. Owens would become the ROH World Champion as Zayn was the first to get the call to WWE before his former tag team partner.
The WWE’s new era has become more connected with the world of professional wrestling outside of their realm of sports entertainment. This is why fans have been able to learn how special a match between Owens and Zayn for the WWE Universal Championship would be. While it might not be something the WWE officials would put as a main event for WrestleMania, it could be the type of match that is the main event for something smaller to help increase interest and generate more WWE Network subscriptions.
11 Braun Strowman
Sami Zayn’s run as the WWE Universal Champion might feel very close to the World Heavyweight Championship run Rey Mysterio had back in 2006 after the emotional win in honor of Eddie Guerrero. But while the underdog from the underground would be a great story for the WWE if he can hold onto the belt for a few months, there are certain superstars who Zayn wouldn’t be able to handle.
Over the past few weeks, it seems the WWE is finally going down the right path in helping develop Braun Strowman as a monstrous heel. His current winning streak that is being established with wins over “local competitors” will eventually include a run through the Raw roster. Strowman could easily be the type of "Goliath" that takes down the “David” that Zayn is becoming. Every good face champion eventually falls to a heel at some point, and this may prove to be Strowman's time.
10 Brock Lesnar
Considering how the WWE holds Brock Lesnar in such high regard – enough to not punish him for the failed U.S. Anti-Doping Agency drug tests before UFC 200 – the officials are eventually going to put championship gold around his waist. With Strowman being built as the top giant in the WWE, there might be this belief he is an unstoppable monster that cannot be taken down by normal WWE superstars. But Brock Lesnar is not someone who can be considered “normal.”
The man who put the one in 21-1 after defeating The Undertaker at WrestleMania 30 has a bit of a winning streak of his own with wins over Taker, Ambrose and more than likely Randy Orton at this year’s SummerSlam. The possible idea is for the WWE to have Lesnar take the championship from Strowman about a year from now, potentially at next year’s SummerSlam or Survivor Series in 2017.
9 Bray Wyatt
This is one of the first examples of someone making the switch from one brand to another, which can lead to new main event stars flourishing from the change of scenery. The Eater of Worlds will finally be reunited with much of his Wyatt Family, which will definitely help him in possibly winning his first championship in the WWE – albeit, it a few years later than many fans would have hoped for.
Fans also can’t expect that the WWE would want to keep a championship belt around someone who works on a part-time schedule. They did that before and fans weren’t really happy about it. Lesnar would need to have a short run with the championship and this would be a great time to really show how unique Wyatt is as someone who could have the personality that allows him to have a mental advantage against the Beast Incarnate.
This wouldn’t be a long reign by Wyatt, but a chance to reward him for the quality work he has done in the WWE up until this point.
8 Roman Reigns
It was mentioned that Wyatt’s run as the WWE Universal Champion wouldn’t be very long. One person who has been able to stand up to the Eater of Worlds and get past his mind games is Roman Reigns. While Reigns is someone the fans haven’t really fallen in love with as the company tried to push him through the boos during the main event of WrestleMania 32, giving him time to be the United States Champion will help him develop into a true fan favorite.
Reigns has certainly improved over the past few months and the fans are starting to like him with his current program against Rusev. Give Reigns a year of holding onto the secondary championships and he can be built to go against an old rival and finally be “the guy” that the WWE Universe embraces as someone who is championship material. Unfortunately for Reigns, one feels that WWE would let history repeat itself again.
7 Seth Rollins (2)
In true villainous fashion, it would be possible that the WWE allows Rollins to remain relevant as a championship contender while all of these different WWE superstars are having their runs with the WWE Universal Championship. The best way would be to have Rollins hold the Money in the Bank briefcase after winning the annual ladder match. Rollins would then have a chance to join the ranks of another great heel in Edge.
Edge was someone who earned his championship fame as an ultimate opportunist. Rollins could play a similar role in the WWE. Rollins has flourished with that kind of character in 2015 and could use similar tactics against an old ally that has been on the losing end in the past – just remember how Rollins crashed the Reigns-Lesnar championship match at WrestleMania 31. Rollins would become the first man to have a second run as the WWE Universal Champion.
6 John Cena
Some of you may not be big fans of this idea, but John Cena is deserving of at least tying – if not eventually breaking – Ric Flair’s record of 16 world heavyweight championship reigns. Over the course of the past few years, the leader of Cenation has improved leaps and bounds in the ring. There was never any question about how good he was on the microphone or how dedicated he was to being the best role model possible for the younger WWE fans.
Having a renewal of the Cena vs. Rollins rivalry would feel fresh considering it will likely have been a year or so since they fought each other for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. This would be a great moment for Cena’s career in finally being able to defeat the new era’s top heel for championship gold after likely making the switch from the blue brand to Raw.
5 Seth Rollins (3)
The party for Cena in making professional wrestling history would be short-lived as Rollins is likely going to bounce back quickly with utilizing his rematch clause to reclaim the WWE Universal Championship. Rollins would probably use some type of villainous tactic to get the championship win. Doing so would allow the WWE to create a third round to act as the rubber match during this Rollins-Cena feud for this type of championship gold.
Rollins can continue to establish himself by being a five-time heavyweight champion in the WWE by putting an end to Cena’s run of main event dominance. By this time, it would be expected that Cena’s run in the company will be entering its final days and a final feud with Rollins would be somewhat of a passing of the torch from the Ruthless Aggression era to the current era in WWE. This would also establish Rollins as the type of champion that attracts many new and unique challengers.
It is only a matter of time before Cesaro is finally earning main event championship gold. How many five-star quality matches do the WWE officials need to see before they come to the realization that they have a top notch athlete on their roster? One might have felt Cesaro would have been better suited for success on the SmackDown brand, but the WWE does consider him worthy of being on their "A "show as part of the red brand.
Considering that both men have established their arsenals through years on the independent circuit before joining NXT, Rollins and Cesaro are likely to give fans everything they could want for a main event championship match at an event like the Survivor Series of the Royal Rumble. What would truly be best for business would be giving these men at least 20 minutes in the main event spotlight, which would be a treat for the WWE Universe.
3 Finn Balor (2)
With the viewership of the WWE continuing to evolve, the company should have a true international match-up with some of the best talents on the roster. Cesaro would be the type of champion who has shown resiliency in top notch matches against the likes of Rollins, Reigns and other superstars. One of the marquee match-ups that would provide fans with some amazing spots would be having Cesaro defend the WWE Universal Championship against Balor, who would be looking for his second run with Raw’s top championship.
Balor would get the win after having spent the time since his first win going up against a combination of other veterans and other superstars who will likely join the WWE main roster. By this time, Balor will have now joined the ranks of being among the top veterans in the WWE during this new era focused more on the diverse in-ring skills and abilities that guys like Balor have made famous before bringing their crafts to the WWE Universe.
2 Samoa Joe
Just like Balor’s first run with the WWE Universal Championship will be ended by someone who has a long history with the Demon King, the second run will best be ended by a superstar who has defeated him during their heated wars for the NXT Championship. Samoa Joe is a world-wide veteran who is an extremely unique talent that is known for his strikes and his technical submissions.
Joe has defeated the Demon King in surprising fashion during a NXT live event, which can be used to fuel a story line that he knows what to do with an opportunity – no matter where and when it takes place. Having a win with the WWE Universal Championship will help solidify the career that he has had as a championship-quality professional wrestler. Fans who have watched him since his days in TNA would know what he can do with other talents who boast similar backgrounds. Maybe WWE fans can be treated to a Samoa Joe and AJ Styles championship feud?
1 Shinsuke Nakamura
The WWE is going to have an influx of experienced superstars over the next few years and the company is going to want to take their time in bringing them up to becoming championship contenders. One of the big projects that WWE will have is helping develop Shinsuke Nakamura as becoming the first Japanese world champion in WWE history – which seems to be quite the shame when you think about the storied history of professional wrestling and the Land of the Rising Sun.
If the WWE pushes Nakamura just right, they can develop him into a program similar to the one with Samoa Joe currently underway in the NXT developmental brand. A match-up between the two could be worthy of being a potential main event at WrestleMania a few years down the road, which will have been done well enough after the fans have gotten used to them being on the main roster and earning wins against other top WWE superstars.
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