Editors' Choice: Who is the future of WWE?
Seth Rollins likes to call himself “the living, breathing future of WWE.” Even if he only got that moniker thanks to a glowing endorsement from his benefactor, Triple H (who, ahem, must have heard it first on WWE.com), the claim has some legs. Mr. Money in the Bank is nothing if not one of the most dynamic, versatile and physically gifted Superstars the WWE Universe has seen in years: A Jeff Hardy-style daredevil with a well-earned dash of megalomania to go with it, Rollins really does have it all.
Still, he’s certainly not the only guy in contention to be “the future.” Rollins has blinders on, as well he must, but there’s an astounding crop of talent sprouting around him even as he continues to reach both literal and figurative heights in his very young career. Just as we predicted Rollins as a future main-eventer all those months ago, WWE.com editors again regroup to select the Superstars (and Diva) we’ve pegged as the future of WWE. Plan accordingly.
Mark my words, Luke Harper will be WWE’s resident monster in three years or less. Since his debut in NXT, Bray Wyatt’s handpicked henchman has been compared to Bruiser Brody, because of his size and look. The fact of the matter is, Harper is quicker, more agile and perhaps more mentally deranged than Brody ever was. That is by no means a knock on the man who terrorized the wrestling world from Texas to Japan. This is simply a matter of the ever evolving athlete. November 2014 begins Luke Harper’s hellish ascension to the dubious distinction of WWE’s new nightmare. — @JOEYSTYLES
There’s one name that stands out above all others when I think about the future of WWE. That name is Sami Zayn.
Nobody has participated in more lauded matches in NXT than Zayn. I ask anyone to think of the best contests on the brand over the last year-and-a-half, and chances are eight or nine out of 10 listed would be Sami Zayn matches. It’s a testament to not only Zayn’s grappling skills, but his ability to connect with the NXT Universe via his unbridled passion.
He does it from the second his music starts — dancing down the ramp and inviting the crowd to get pumped up — to the moment that final bell rings. Everything Zayn does in the ring is not only innovative and eye-popping, but it’s done in service to those he’s in the ring to entertain. You can feel it each time he competes.
That, right there, is the intangible key that Superstars past and present have used to become the most beloved and decorated legends in history. Zayn’s proven he has it in NXT and is just starting to on the main roster. In five years, he’ll have taken that key straight to the main event of WrestleMania. — MIKE MURPHY
Before you say it’s strange to pick a guy as veteran as Dolph Ziggler as the future of WWE, bear in mind that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in 1998 was the same age that Ziggler is now. You could argue that Ziggler, a two-time World Heavyweight Champion, has already had his moment in the sun, but considering the strange circumstances that surrounded his first crowning, a reign that was awarded to him and lasted not even a day, and his injury-plagued second reign, which was won via Money in the Bank cash-in, you get the sense Ziggler garnered and lost such high accolades when he wasn’t even at his best.
There’s ample reason to think The Showoff’s game is in a steady state of elevation. Certain competitors are just undeniably talented, and though their career paths are circuitous, they reach the apex eventually. Ziggler has endured the valleys of WWE, but they only hardened him and added to his frustration toward authority figures, which as Daniel Bryan and “Stone Cold” have shown, can be a powerful motivating factor. Ziggler’s key difference between today and two years ago, however, is that he now has the WWE Universe firmly in his corner. We may have been introduced to Ziggler-the-agitator but we’ll watch him rise to greatness as a do-gooder.
Who would’ve ever thought the brash Superstar with an ’80s color scheme and seemingly ironic yellow hair could be so likable? — JOHN CLAPP
The progression of WWE stars is nothing if not cyclical: The “demandments” of Hulkamania gave way to the anarchy of Austin 3:16, which — after a slight detour onto Know Your Role Blvd. — transmogrified into a decade of Hustle, Loyalty, Respect. When time’s flat circle rolls around to anoint another “top guy,” as they say, it will likely be a scoundrel of some kind and that man, dear WWE Universe, will be Dean Ambrose. Initially a skeezy jackal with the vaguest of The Shield’s three personalities (less imposing than Roman Reigns; less flashy than Seth Rollins), Ambrose emerged as the most fascinating of the three brothers since The Hounds’ dissolution. He’s amassed a sizable wolf pack of followers in the process, waiting with baited breath as to what his next move will be.
And what moves they have been! A hot dog cart? A slime cannon? Ambrose singlehandedly delivered some of the fall’s most memorable moments and that was just against one guy. He main-evented a pay-per-view in the most vicious Attitude Era throwback match since, well, ever. He’s beaten John Cena. A lot. He had a record-setting run with the U.S. Title. Imagine what he’ll do as the stage gets bigger and better, as it must for stars like him. The ring’s most must-see rogue since “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, he’s not just the anti-Superstar Superstar to carry WWE into the next 10 years; he’s the tank-and-jeans hero we need. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Forget that she’s Ric Flair’s daughter for a minute. Charlotte captured the NXT Women’s Championship because she has all the tools to succeed in sports-entertainment, not because her pop is a 16-time World Champion.
She boasts a brilliant style in the ring, ranging from athletic moonsaults to suffocating submissions that utilize her strong lower body. She moves around the squared circle with the athleticism of a gymnast. She flips momentum in an instant by planting her opponents to the mat with her signature Natural Selection.
WWE Network: Charlotte's instant-classic title "Takeover"
Charlotte not only knows she’s talented — she has her father’s swagger — but she’s also committed to improving and has a “first one there, last one to leave” mentality toward training. That attitude worked wonders in 2014, with Charlotte growing seemingly overnight from a sidekick with The BFFs to a star and champion.
Yes, she’s a second-generation talent, but Charlotte will become one of the best Divas ever to step into the ring because she wants to prove she has more than a famous last name. — JEFF LABOON
Finn Bálor is going to be a massive star for WWE, because the guy already is a star. He looks like one, he carries himself like one and he is capable of communicating the fact that he is one. It’s not just the blistering offense or the angular European soccer star aesthetic that make him such a sure thing. It’s the “I belong in the main event” self-confidence that really translates. It’s the same poise that runs the tightrope between arrogance and assuredness that has made Seth Rollins such a commodity. Bálor can morph from underdog highflier to arrogant jerk with ease. And, like Rollins, he’ll have the same mass appeal as Jeff Hardy without any of his unfortunate faults.
It remains to be seen if Bálor is going to be able to sell himself on the microphone — always the biggest question with an international talent entering WWE. But he already proved himself to be a wildly charismatic figure during his stint as the head of Bullet Club in New Japan Pro Wrestling. If he can recreate that craze in WWE — and, believe me, he can — the Bálor era may await. — RYAN MURPHY
In the 1980s, Mr. McMahon began signing the top stars from other organizations across the United States, elevating WWE from a Northeast-based territorial business into a truly national one. In the last several decades, however, with the territories all but gone from the country, WWE needed to find the next major source for the best ring talent. Next stop: the world.
Enter Hideo Itami. No stranger to the spotlight, Itami was a sensation in Japan’s Pro Wrestling Noah. And despite making few appearances in the States prior to signing with NXT, his influence on WWE has already been undeniable. It was Itami who invented CM Punk’s wildly effective Go To Sleep maneuver, and when another wrestling phenomenon, Daniel Bryan, joined WWE, he looked to Itami for inspiration.
“The Running Knee that I do is a [Hideo] original that I learned from being hit with it [laughs],” Bryan told WWE.com. “For me to appeal to WWE, I needed to wrestle more like [Itami]. I thought, ‘This guy can get [a reaction] anywhere in the world because of how he wrestles.’ ”
McMahon’s already conquered America. Now it’s time to take this thing global. Itami may not speak perfect English, but a boot to the skull translates into any language. — ZACH LINDER
Pound for pound, there is no Superstar stronger than Cesaro. The Swiss Superstar’s uncanny strength has already earned him the United States Championship and the honor of winning the first Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 30.
Cesaro’s journey has been one of discovery. He’s been a “Paul Heyman Guy” and a Real American, honing his skills and growing under the tutelage of experienced managers such as Heyman and Zeb Colter. But The Swiss Superman may be at his best when he’s on his own, forging his path and building the experience that will make him nearly unstoppable inside the squared circle.
WWE Network: Cesaro goes to war in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match
A bright future lies ahead for the former U.S. Champion, and it will undoubtedly be highlighted by a reign as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion and a showcase in the main event of WrestleMania. — KEVIN POWERS
There are big men who simply look imposing, and there are those who can back it up when the bell rings. Baron Corbin is firmly in the latter category.
Towering over his foes at 6-foot-8 and pushing 300 pounds, the stoic Lone Wolf brought the NXT Universe out of their seats at TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way with a thunderous right hand that nearly knocked CJ Parker out of his boots. Corbin followed up with his devastating finisher, End of Days, setting the tone for what was to come.
In the weeks and months since, fans have come to expect one thing from Corbin: destruction. He’s delivered in spades. Corbin needs less and less time to demolish the competition. Seriously, the NXT Universe timed his last match at a shade less than 20 seconds. I wouldn’t be surprised if Corbin wins one of his next bouts by staring his opponent into submission.
Once Corbin steamrolls through NXT, it’s only a matter of time before the Kansas City, Mo., native sets his sights on the main roster. Though he’ll face a few tests, Corbin has proven he can handle anything thrown his way. You can’t fight fate — Baron Corbin is a different breed and he’s headed for the top of WWE. — BOBBY MELOK
Great ones come back. They almost always do.
The promise of Roman Reigns leading the future generation of Superstars was put on hold due to an incarcerated hernia, but that delay does not mean his promise will be denied. For all those fawning over the achievements of former Shield cohorts Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, don’t forget what the third Hound of Justice is capable of as well.
The Superstar who eliminated four opponents in a single Traditional Survivor Series Tag Team Elimination Match? The guy who hurled a record 12 grapplers over the top rope in a single Royal Rumble Match? The one who went nearly a year from his WWE debut without being pinned? All of those achievements belong to Reigns, and all of them occurred less than two years into his budding WWE career.
WWE Network: Reigns dominates at SummerSlam 2014
It’s not falling to injury that will determine Reigns’ legacy, but rising from that fall. And when the master of the Superman Punch does rise up once again, only the sky will stand in his way. — MATTHEW ARTUS