Every era has a face that defines it. The Golden Generation of wrestling had Hulk Hogan, the New Generation had Bret Hart, the Attitude Era had Stone Cold Steve Austin and the PG Era had John Cena. The WWE has now embarked on its so called New Era and with that, a face has to go with it.
What does this 'New Era' of wrestling mean? Well, so far it means that in-ring skill takes precedence over a wrestler's 'look' and that in-ring action is more important than the ability to cut a promo. At least that's the way it's worked out so far. This era has plenty of time to find its identity, but seeing as that it's now underway, WWE must be trying to figure out who the face of the company is going to be.
We can see for ourselves that there are obvious names who could carry that distinction. It seems that nobody is unanimous though, so we're going to try to pick apart all the top contenders. In this list, we'll be looking at the eight most likely faces of the new era and find a good reason for or against them in regards to this role. Hopefully, by the end of the list, you'll have come to a conclusion as to who it should be. Enjoy!
16 For: Finn Balor
Well it’s clear that the WWE has faith in the former NXT Champion, as his first month on the main roster saw Finn Balor get drafted in the first round, and then become the first ever WWE Universal Champion. In Balor, the WWE has something that they haven’t had since The Undertaker was on the full-time roster: an attraction. Balor’s entrance instantly draws casual viewers into the fold, much how the ringing of the bells did nearly two decades ago for The Deadman. Oh and let’s not forget that Finn can wrestle circles around most people on the WWE roster, and has been doing so since before he even went to Japan a few years ago. Speaking of Japan, there is an entire Bullet Club reunion angle that WWE has in its back pocket if they ever want to turn Balor heel, which by itself is worth the price of entry.
15 Against: Finn Balor
From the outset, the elephant in the room has to be Finn Balor’s age. Although his experience stretches almost 17 years, wrestling years are hard on a body, especially one that is closing in on 40. The New Era is certainly filled with new faces, but to be considered the poster boy for this new chapter in wrestling, one would assume that the wrestler representing it should be in their prime for at least another decade. We’ve already seen that Balor is injury prone, as he was forced to vacate the Universal Title after less than 24 hours of being champion. Could Balor be the John Cena of this generation? Sure he could, but WWE may not be willing to invest their company in a competitor whose career may be on borrowed time.
14 For: Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens is probably the best heel that the WWE has had in at least 10 years, maybe longer if you discount Triple H’s time as a tweener. With that being said, it has been extremely refreshing to watch him grow so organically in a system that has been known to stifle creative performers. COO Triple H obviously has faith in Owens, as his role in securing the title for the current Universal Champion was both a literal and figurative seal of approval from the WWE. Despite his larger frame, Owens can go with anyone in the WWE, and has put on classics with nearly everyone on the roster already. Though RAW has seen a notable decline in quality since he won the Title, Owens has consistently held his own in matches, backstage segments, and mic work.
13 Against: Kevin Owens
While we have seen big guys last well into their 60s in the wrestling business, Kevin Owens isn’t that guy. That isn’t a crack against Owens personally, but rather an observation of his scheduled when compared to guys like Big Van Vader. A generation ago, wrestlers never would have dreamed working the schedule that the WWE roster has to work today. It’s hard for athletes in their top physical shape to hang with WWE’s 300+ calendar, let alone someone who looks like Owens. Another fact to think of is that Owens at his best when he is playing a heel, and WWE has never had a heel be the face of their company for a long period of time. Hogan led to Bret Hart, who led to Steve Austin, who led to John Cena. Sure Owens could play that role, but WWE would utilize him better as the foil to that person.
12 For: AJ Styles
As one of the most decorated wrestlers of all time, AJ Styles has certainly earned himself a place on this list. Styles has a ton of things going for him in this discussion, mainly being his impressive showing since entering the WWE last January. The Phenomenal One is very unique, as he is universally (no pun intended) respected by both the casual and hardcore fan base. Casual fans have witnessed Styles take on all challengers in WWE, and become one of the few wrestlers in the world to defeat John Cena cleanly. From the perspective of the IWC, AJ Styles has been one of the most respected workers in the industry since first emerging in TNA over a decade ago. With his ability to work any style, with anybody, this seems like a no brainer for the WWE.
11 Against: AJ Styles
Even though Styles has a ton of upside, the SmackDown Champion still has one glaring weaknesses; his promo skills. As good as Styles is in the ring, it doesn’t change the fact that his promos feel forced, especially when he's opposite of someone who is good on the microphone. Though he may have gotten the better of John Cena at SummerSlam, Styles looked like an amateur any time the two men were in a verbal battle. Additionally, Styles is a grizzled veteran who has wrestled for nearly two decades, and at 39 years old the new face of the WWE shouldn’t be the same age as John Cena. As a side note, AJ Styles used to be the face of TNA, and although Vince McMahon may believe in Styles as in WWE, it’s hard to believe that he will ever put the company on the back of someone who was an enemy for so long.
10 For: Charlotte
Having the distinction of being the only woman on this list, Charlotte has proven herself to be not only one of the best females in the WWE, but one of the best overall performers. Charlotte has helped to usher in the women’s revolution in the WWE, so why not reward her by making her the face of the company? Charlotte was able to outperform all of the other people mentioned on this list at WrestleMania 32, stealing the show in her triple threat match with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. Since then, Charlotte has gone on to be the longest reigning singles champion in the company. Being the daughter of Ric Flair will help draw in the casual fan, and being a great Women’s Champion will retain the hardcore fans; it’s a win/win.
9 Against: Charlotte
The biggest knock against Charlotte is her lack of experience. Unlike everyone else listed on here, the second generation Superstar has less than five years of professional wrestling experience. An argument can be made that growing up under the wing of Ric Flair can compensate for the lack of experience, but that can only get you so far. Charlotte’s biggest shortcoming so far is her lack of charisma on the microphone. She has squandered many promo opportunities, and has often let the crowd get the better of her. Some of the crowds have turned on her, which wouldn’t be a big deal if she knew how to handle them, but she doesn’t and becomes flustered by it. This was especially evident the night after WrestleMania this year, when the crowd heckled her with WOO’s.
8 For: T.J. Perkins
Coming off an impressive victory in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, TJ Perkins may be the hottest name in professional wrestling. The WWE did a fantastic job of booking all of the competitors with respect, and ensured that the Cruiserweight Division will be taken seriously on RAW. With that being said, the WWE (Triple H specifically) seem to be okay with smaller guys being given more prominent roles on the WWE Roster. If WWE can actually cultivate the newly established division with respect, then the champion of said division should be on the same level as Universal Champion Kevin Owens; and who better to usher in the New Era, than the new Cruiserweight Champion TJ Perkins? Perkins gives normal sized humans a wrestler who they can actually aspire to be, something the NBA has found success with in Seth Curry.
7 Against: T.J. Perkins
Sure he is nearly six feet tall, but Perkins is a far cry from the superstars of the 80’s, who looked like they just got finished fighting Godzilla before stepping into the ring. Heck, Perkins and the rest of the cruiserweights for that matter would even look small compared to New Generation guys like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. As long as Vince McMahon is alive (and he still is), it’s hard to believe that the WWE will ever stray away from being the land of the giants. Smaller guys who have seen success in NXT have been squashed on the main roster due to the WWE’s preference of bigger superstars. Look at the way Braun Stowman has been booked, as compared to Tyler Breeze as an example of this. Faith from Triple H will only get Perkins so far on RAW, after that he has to make Vinny Mac a believer, before he can even get a chance to prove himself to fans.
6 For: Seth Rollins
For work rate alone, Seth Rollins deserves to be in this conversation for the face of the New Era. Even though he took time off for injury, Seth Rollins still has more five star performances than anyone else on the roster. Seth portrayed a weasel heel for his run as Champion, and did a great job of building up heat on himself in the process. Rollins carried the main event scene for an impressive 220 days as the World Heavyweight Champion, and has been compared to the likes of Shawn Michaels during his solo run in the company.
What adds to this comparison is Rollins’ never ending conditioning, which is why he never seems to be out of breath in a match, just like HBK. Rollins is still in his physical prime, and has the opportunity to be one of the greatest WWE Superstars of all time.
5 Against: Seth Rollins
Seth Rollins is a great performer, but at what cost? Many fans have connected the dots, and noticed that there is a pattern that emerges between all of Rollins’ opponents; they get injured. Think about it, Sting goes down with a back injury after his Bucklebomb, Cena gets his nose destroyed by a knee to the face, and most recently Finn Balor’s shoulder required surgery after facing The Architect. Bret Hart has even come out and made claims that Rollins is “reckless”, citing his desire to put on great matches causes him to work dangerously. Obviously WWE still has faith in Rollins, but the question remains, will WWE feel comfortable putting the company on the back of someone who could possibly injury another top star at a moment’s notice?
4 For: Dean Ambrose
There are very few stars in the WWE who have the cult following that Dean Ambrose does right now. The “Asylum” as they like to be called are one of the most vocal parts of SmackDown, and their voices have pushed Ambrose into the top tier of the WWE. It seemed as if Ambrose was having his own Daniel Bryan-esque rise to fame, during his pursuit of Seth Rollins the last two years, which eventually led to him becoming the WWE Champion. From the perspective of WWE management, the most important part of Ambrose being the face of the company is his merchandise sales. The Lunatic Fringe is one of the few people in the WWE who has been able to beat out John Cena in t-shirt sales, and that is a huge deal for the company looking to replace those sales when Cena retires.
3 Against: Dean Ambrose
In the case of Dean Ambrose, his pursuit of the WWE Championship was more rewarding than his actual reign as champ. While holding the title, Ambrose’s schtick has become stale, and the crowds have gotten increasingly silent during his matches. Ambrose has a limited move set, which is extremely evident when facing someone who has true in-ring abilities (AJ Styles comes to mine). Sure The Rock was never a technician in the ring, but he had charisma that Ambrose doesn’t have. Ambrose is boring on the microphone whenever he has to deliver a solo promo in the ring, and he probably had the worst stint on commentary of all-time. Heck, even Stone Cold Steve Austin told Ambrose that he had to turn up his charisma during their podcast on the WWE Network!
2 For: Roman Reigns
Despite what the IWC wants you to think, Roman Reigns probably has the most potential out of anyone on this list. True, he does have some shortcomings, and was pushed really hard, really fast, but the former WWE Champion is built for the main event scene. He has shown that he can take a shoot beating (see his match with Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania), and can hold his own when paired with good wrestlers. Reigns' in-ring ability has steadily increased over the past few years, and he is certainly at least as good as Hulk Hogan and The Rock in terms of wrestling ability. On the purely aesthetic side, Reigns has the look of a Superstar and certainly has the “it” factor when speaking about his potential marketability for the WWE.
Besides everything else previously mentioned, Roman Reigns’ most telling trait, is that no matter what, he elicits a reaction from the crowd, which in the business of professional wrestling, is the most important thing.
1 Against: Roman Reigns
Roman has a ton of upside, but his glaring inability to deliver a scripted promo may be his downfall. If Roman were signed during an era where wrestlers were able to go off script, he wouldn’t be nearly as intolerable when on the microphone. Sadly we are in a scripted era, and Reigns' lack of acting ability is on full display for the world to see, and looks even worse when standing across from someone with better mic skills. The biggest elephant in the room in terms of Reigns being “the guy”, has to be the visceral heat he has from hardcore wrestling fans.
The IWC had to deal with John Cena for over a decade, before finally giving him the respect he deserved, and it seems they don’t want to play the same game with Roman Reigns. Roman would have to win the respect of both the mainstream audience, as well as the hardcore fans in order to usher in this New Era for the WWE.