Potential is a funny thing in sports. Many of us try to gauge who has the most potential to make a run as a world champion, with just as many projections about when it’s going to happen and how many titles they will win. In the world of professional wrestling, it’s a little bit different with more championship matchups than other team sports, which in turn allows for more title changes.
In fact, the year 2016 has already seen the WWE World Heavyweight Championship change hands five different times with four different title holders – Roman Reigns, Triple H, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. However, with the upcoming brand split that begins with the WWE Draft on July 19 on the first live episode of SmackDown, the opportunity for several WWE superstars to reach their desired potential of being a world heavyweight champion will increase. It's looking like the WWE will have two world titles, which opens up many possibilities for wrestlers on the roster.
The qualifications for this list is to have never won a world championship in the WWE – which includes the two separate championships during the original brand split between 2002 and 2012. Wrestlers who have won world championships for other promotions are still eligible for being included, as long as they haven’t won that type of championship during their time in the WWE.
15 Apollo Crews
There have been articles that have praised Apollo Crews for having a unique set of physical tools that should potentially lead to him finding success in the WWE. Crews has the look of a powerhouse but the agility of a cruiserweight, which allows him to be a true hybrid athlete perfect to capture the interest of fans in the next generation of the WWE. There is a good chance he will be a world champion at some point down the road.
However, there are some things that need to be worked on as he continues to develop into becoming a fan favorite in the WWE. The biggest thing is the need to create a bigger personality that matches his impressive in-ring skills. It might take some time, but don’t be surprised to see Crews having at least one world heavyweight championship run by the year 2020. Depending on which roster he ends up with on the draft, the opportunities could come sooner rather than later.
14 Bobby Roode
At the moment, Bobby Roode is not currently on the WWE or NXT roster. However, it’s starting to look more likely that he will make his official television debut very soon after having competed during last month’s NXT tour in the United Kingdom. It is highly likely that any stint in the NXT brand would be a temporary visit before making a move to the main roster since he’s getting closer to the age of 40 and the time is ticking on the prime years of his professional wrestling career.
Roode has worked in WWE before, but was essentially an enhancement talent who didn’t have a fraction of the charisma that he developed over the past 12 years as part of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. There are a number of superstars ahead of him in the pecking order, but he could easily earn his way to being a main event star in the WWE within a few years.
13 Luke Harper
Since Bray Wyatt and his family have debuted in the WWE main roster in the summer of 2013, the only person from the faction to have won a championship was Luke Harper – the Intercontinental Championship in November 2014. While one of the most bizarre looking wrestlers on the roster, he’s been one of the best big men of the modern era who has just enough of a different look to stand out.
His rivalry with Ziggler from 2014 showed that he has the potential to be able to put on quality matches as a singles competitor. It might take some time and likely another Wyatt Family split, but Harper could put on great matches against the likes of Roman Reigns and Dean Ambore, especially done in matches involving tables, ladders and chairs. With that in mind, Harper can perform at the level that causes fans to chant “Yeah yeah yeah yeah!”
12 Big E
Don’t be too sour on the concept of Big E becoming a world heavyweight champion in the WWE. It wasn’t too long ago that he was a cult favorite in NXT with the infamous five-count to end matches – a gimmick that would be great to see return on the main roster. While his personality was a little bit lacking when he first came up to the main roster, he has shown a different side of himself as part of The New Day.
With the likelihood of the current WWE Tag Team Champions being separated at some point, Big E could have a great opportunity to take that type of personality and have it carry over to a much better run as a singles competitor. Despite being a little shorter than some of the powerhouses the WWE ring throughout the years, he has the strength to capture the attention of fans as he has been known to deadlift nearly 800 pounds.
11 Austin Aries
There’s a reason that Austin Aries has won world heavyweight championships for Ring of Honor and TNA Wrestling, while also have been ranked near the top 10 of Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s rankings in recent years. Over the years wrestling on the independent circuits and around the world, Aries has evolved with a mixture of technical holds, dives, flips and strikes and could possibly add more to his arsenal before making the jump from NXT to the main roster.
Aries could be the perfect type of WWE superstar who would earn his WWE world championship after earning the Money in the Bank through the annual ladder match. This would allow him to develop into one of the top heels in the company before eventually cashing in his title match opportunity in a fashion similar to other great villains like Edge and Seth Rollins. Maybe Aries can bring back the nickname of the “Greatest Man That Ever Lived.”
While there are a number of different athletes who have a unique skill set, Neville might be one of the most fascinating aerial artists in the WWE ring currently. The Newcastle born wrestler comes from the United Kingdom after years of wrestling for several independent wrestling promotions both in the United States and Europe. When signed to join the NXT brand in WWE, there might have been concerns with how his style would be changed in WWE.
The good news is that he’s been allowed to utilize many of the same flips and moves that brought him to the dance in the first place and part of why many of the younger fans have looked at Neville as a live-action superhero. While still small in stature compared to many larger superstars, Neville could have a path to a world championship similar to Rey Mysterio or Daniel Bryan as a loveable underdog.
9 Sami Zayn
The Underdog from the Underground has been able to establish a loyal fan base everywhere he has wrestled around the world – whether as a masked luchador in Ring of Honor or the current Sami Zayn character seen in the WWE that has won the NXT Championship. The current worry about Zayn is that he could end up in mid-card purgatory like many wrestlers of his physical build like Christian.
But that was during a different time in the WWE where Christian competed in an era focused heavily on powerhouse superstars who were built to lift the largest of the giants in WWE with ease. Zayn benefits from the new era of WWE where a company that was once considered a land of giants is focused more on in-ring abilities that focus on more of a technical wrestling base with innovative strikes and dives. Zayn has shown that and could be a main event star, especially in championship feuds with his never-ending rival in Kevin Owens.
8 Shinsuke Nakamura
There have been a number of great wrestlers to come from Asia that include names like Taka Michinoku and Tajiri. However, none of them have ever won a world championship in the WWE. While many would believe that Hideo Itami (formerly known as Kenta) could have the potential to be a top star in the WWE, that was before Shinsuke Nakamura was signed to NXT earlier this year. In all honesty, Nakamura has a much more captivating character than Itami.
Known as the King of Strong Style, Nakamura is one of a few superstars to come to WWE and keep his name when joining the WWE. His matches have been great with guys like Sami Zayn and Austin Aries. One would believe he could soon be drafted in the upcoming WWE Draft later this month. Nakamura could be someone who could become the face of the SmackDown brand – although we’re not sure if anyone can replace Corey Graves’ calling Nakamura’s finisher “Kinshasa!”
One of the most classic types of characters to have success as a villainous heel in professional wrestling history is the anti-American gimmick. So far, it has helped elevate the importance of the WWE United States Championship as Rusev has been the perfect heel to carry the red, white and blue title belt. There’s a lot to like about Rusev with being not only a large and powerful athlete, but someone who has plenty of athleticism to handle competing in longer, main event matches to finish the night.
Rusev was on the path of becoming the next main event superstar until a loss to John Cena at WrestleMania 31 for the United States Championship, an untimely injury and his manager Lana drawing negative heat backstage. However, the WWE has picked up where they previously left off with him dominating as the United States Champion and could easily take that momentum towards a world title in the next year or two.
While maybe not the most gifted on the microphone, Cesaro could be given a change in character over the next few years to help him receive the final piece of the puzzle to be a bonafide main event superstar in the WWE. Despite being a little boring in some of the promos he has done to help hype the Money in the Bank ladder match he competed in in June, he does have everything one could physically ask for from a top-level WWE superstar.
He’s one of the strongest, pound-for-pound wrestlers with an endurance level that makes him capable to putting another wrestler in the spinning roundabout for minutes at a time. He’s also able to hit the European uppercut better than anyone in recent memory. Given his recent ability to put on a great match on television, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see Cesaro winning a world championship shortly after the upcoming brand split.
5 Finn Balor
One of the current NXT superstars who has a great chance of making an immediate impact upon the eventual main roster debut is Finn Balor, who has essentially everything one could ask a superstar. He has the in-ring abilities and has already put together memorable five-star matches since coming to the WWE’s developmental brand. In fact, he has helped put NXT on tour across the country with main event matches with guys like Kevin Owens.
Balor also has a special character that includes bringing out the Demon for special occasions, like a big main event that requires him to go to that special place in his mind to compete at his A-game. Having Balor in the championship picture would also provide him opportunities to possibly be a little more creative with his body artwork for big matches at events like SummerSlam and WrestleMania – maybe something similar to his work as Carnage or the Joker.
4 Kevin Owens
Speaking of NXT alumni who have the potential to make a huge impact in the WWE, Kevin Owens also comes to mind. He’s already established himself as one of the top heels in the company and he’s done it in a way that has allowed him to be likeable within the fan base. While he’s trolled many fans, other superstars and even commentators like Michael Cole, Owens has done it with a unique personality that has been a breath of fresh air in the WWE.
It’s not often someone like Owens comes onto the main roster and defeats someone like John Cena in his debut match – not since Carlito in 2004. Owens also has the type of look that better identifies with fans. Owens isn’t a bodybuilder, but has found other ways to perform at a high level. He’s also a talked about doing what’s best for his family, which does allow a small window for him to easily be considered a face – although he probably enjoys being the bad guy that mocks everyone he faces.
3 Bray Wyatt
There are many who feel that Bray Wyatt has not been utilized in the best way by the WWE’s creative team. While that is up for an understandable debate that has more weight to it than a semi-truck, Wyatt could soon be on the right path towards establishing himself as a top heel in the company. A brand split might be the best thing to happen for the Eater of Worlds. Having one roster that has a large number of high-ceiling talents and only so many top spots could be a factor.
Wyatt is one of the most talented speakers on the microphone and has shown passion in his delivery that isn’t seen by many of the others on the roster. He’s also different with how he taunts his opponents during matches; a perfect example is the upside down spider walk that can easily induce nightmares for those who see it.
2 Samoa Joe
Similar to a number of TNA legends who have made the surprising transition to the WWE roster through the NXT brand in WWE, Samoa Joe has the potential to put together a five-star match any given night. Not having the typical wrestler physique that once ruled the WWE in the original brand split, Joe has shown all around the world that looks aren’t everything when it comes to someone who can hit moves like a cruiserweight – a very large, 280-pound cruiserweight.
While currently holding the NXT Championship, the WWE might wait another year before bringing Samoa Joe up to the main roster. Then again, he could be a great opponent for other main event level superstars like Brock Lesnar where their mixed martial arts background can be utilized for an entertaining match. Additionally, many wrestling fans would love to see a reunion of Joe vs AJ Styles for some type of championship gold. Speaking of whom …
1 AJ Styles
Despite being an older veteran in the world of professional wrestling, AJ Styles has essentially succeeded everywhere he has gone around the world – ROH, TNA and New Japan Pro Wrestling to name a few. Styles has already been given a push that started as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble near the beginning of the year. While having lost at WrestleMania to Chris Jericho, he’s had some of his best matches against Roman Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Having two world championships in the WWE would easily benefit someone like Styles, who has shown he not only belongs in the world title picture, but also someone who could carry the gold and draw fans wherever the WWE tours around the world. Considering Styles' age at 39, the chances of him winning a few world championships are among the most likely within the next few years. Styles would also be the perfect champion for feuds with many of the other wrestlers on this list – mostly in part to the familiarity he has with wrestlers like Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura and Kevin Owens.