The WWE Championship is quite arguably the most prestigious championship in wrestling today, if not ever. With well over fifty years of history, and so much of that time representing the highest profile wrestling promotion in the world, the title’s list of former holders represents the biggest icons like Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, and John Cena. That’s in addition to wrestling’s most respected in-ring performers like Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Daniel Bryan.
In the year 2019, anything seems possible. In recent times WWE has experimented with non-traditional champions like Bray Wyatt and Jinder Mahal on top, not to mention going with the most unlikely of crowd favorites Kofi Kingston. While Kingston and Kevin Owens are, at press time, keyed up to do battle for the title, there are a number of other talents who could also lay hands on the championship by year’s end. This article looks at ten wrestlers fans should keep an eye out for.
10 Shane McMahon
Shane McMahon has no business winning a WWE Championship. He isn’t a full-time wrestler, his in-ring talent is debatable, and his McMahon family name means that he’ll be a featured part of WWE programming for as long as he wants to be.
In officially winning the World Cup at Crown Jewel, and later beating The Miz at WrestleMania, McMahon has shored up his spot as a guy who, at least on paper, wouldn’t be out of place in the world title mix. What’s more, at what appears to be the dawn of a new Roman Reigns vs. heel authority figures angle, McMahon winning the world title could be just the device used to screw over The Big Dog at a key juncture of their story.
9 Roman Reigns
Roman Reigns was the de facto face of WWE leading up to his battle with leukemia that took him out of action for half of a year. Reigns now has a united front of fans behind him like he rarely has throughout his singles career, and as such there feels like no more logical time to get the WWE title back around his waist.
To be fair, SmackDown is relatively thin on main event talent at this point, too. While Kofi Kingston is still in his trial period and Money in the Bank might deliver a new main event player, there’s hardly anyone who makes more obvious sense for world title consideration on the blue brand than Reigns.
8 Lars Sullivan
WWE has given Lars Sullivan a monster push out of the gate, including laying waste to popular singles stars and tag teams alike. He’s not necessarily a total package performer. Despite his awesome look and strength, he’s a bit unproven from bell to bell and on the mic. Nonetheless, if WWE did want to go all in on a new monster heel, Sullivan would be an obvious choice.
There’d be no faster way to legitimize Sullivan in the eyes of main roster fans than for him to ride an undefeated streak to capture the WWE Championship in his first months. He’s that rare talent who is protected and new enough to potentially make that push work.
7 Bray Wyatt
It’s not yet clear which brand Bray Wyatt will land on, though we have now caught a glimpse of his revamped character, playing a children’s television host hints of his old darkness lingering in the background. Though Wyatt could be considered damaged goods for his uneven booking and feeling so played out after his first five years on the main roster, WWE was shrewd to keep him off TV for the better part of a year to recover.
If WWE were to go all in on pushing Wyatt again with a more focused character who capitalizes on the intrigue of his most recent vignettes, he could be a viable world title contender again.
6 Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan has been conspicuous in his absence since dropping the WWE Championship to Kofi Kingston at WrestleMania 35. Rumor has it may have gotten hurt in the match and that, given his history of head injuries, in particular, WWE may have chosen to keep it quiet.
If Bryan is able to return to action soon, though, he’d be an obvious choice to put back into the world title picture and pick up where he left off with his largely dominant five-month WWE title reign. Both Bryan’s in-ring and mic work were off the charts for this unlikely heel run, and he’d be a particularly natural fit to steal the title back from Kingston.
5 Finn Balor
Finn Balor is a former Universal and NXT Champion, not to mention the reigning Intercontinental Champion. You’d think these accolades would make him an immediate consideration for the WWE Championship picture. Between any injury that waylaid the early stages of his main roster run, and inconsistent booking since, Balor could be dismissed as a mid-card guy at this point.
However, Balor’s also on the short list of guys with a resume that would allow WWE to heat him up quickly if they want to, and the in-ring chops to deliver when called on. One need look no further than his match with Brock Lesnar at this year’s Royal Rumble PPV to see that fans are ready to bite on him. Particularly if WWE chooses to keep Roman Reigns out of the title picture for a bit, or demotes Kofi Kingston sooner than later, Balor could take the title.
4 Randy Orton
There may be no full time WWE talent working today who can more readily transition into the world title picture more quickly than Randy Orton. He has the veteran credibility of having been a presence on the main roster for most of the last seventeen years. That’s in addition to thirteen world title reigns and having the clout of being a top heel opposite no lesser legends than The Undertaker, Triple H, and John Cena.
Orton isn’t always the most exciting performer in the ring, but between his credentials and his super over RKO finisher, WWE need only break the emergency glass to have a highly credible WWE Champion on their hands.
3 Aleister Black
Aleister Black had a highly decorated run in NXT that included winning TakeOver match after TakeOver match on his way to reigning with the NXT Championship. Black has a higher, steeper mountain to climb to get to the top of WWE. Spending his first months on the main roster mostly teaming with Ricochet didn’t exactly position him as a world title contender, besides which his relatively small size doesn’t make him a natural world champ on the main roster.
For all of the challenges in front of Black, he’s also still a unique performer and a fresh face to the main roster audience. Particularly if WWE chooses to aggressively shuffle the deck or needs to get creative due to injuries, Black could be a natural pick to promote to the top of SmackDown sometime in the next year.
There is always the potential for WWE to go all in on a fresh new champion. The company also has a conservative streak, though, and it’s not unusual for the powers that be to turn back to better-established talents who’ve main evented before.
Sheamus hasn’t been presented as a main event level threat since late 2015, spending most of his time since in a tag team with Cesaro. The Celtic Warrior is a former world champion, though, not to mention a past Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank winner. While he’s unlikely to be much of anyone’s first pick to push on top, his past accomplishments make him someone WWE could move back up to the top of the card, particularly if the character freshened up with a face turn.
1 Big E
Big E has the size, strength, athleticism, and look to be a main event contender. It didn’t look as though that kind of push were in the cards for him, though, particularly as he got situated with New Day. While the team helped bring out his personality and elevate him to a consistent presence on TV, and often a part of very good matches, it also put a tag team glass ceiling over his head.
Now that Kofi Kingston accomplished the unlikely in winning a WWE Championship, it seems much more feasible that Big E could follow suit. Whether he stays loyal to Kingston and avenges him after he drops the title or gets hurt, or turns on his friend to build nuclear heat after they rose up as a team, Big E could be a natural fit for a featured spot later this year.