Who is the next WWE Champion?
It's a conversation that every member of the WWE Universe has had with like-minded fans of sports-entertainment – and it's one that sometimes gets contentious. A seemingly simple question – Who's next? – can elicit so many different and equally passionate responses from a wide range of squared circle followers.
WWE.com's editorial team joins in on that debate, today wrangling with the question: Who's next in line to become WWE Champion? And ours is a very specific point of contention, as we are focusing only on Superstars who have never before claimed WWE Title glory.
Check out our picks, then be sure to make your voice heard by voting in our poll.
Who cares if he’s 44 years old? Wrestling isn’t a young man’s game anymore. Wrestling is the best wrestler’s game. The face-painted alter ego of Dustin Rhodes is in better physical condition, a better in-ring competitor and a better master of the microphone than he was when he debuted 24 years ago.
His tag team matches with his brother, Cody Rhodes, steal every show they are on. With 20 championships in WCW and WWE to his credit, this territory-tested Attitude Era icon is more popular than he has ever been with the WWE Universe, and he always evokes “Goldust” chants.
The "Star Wars" Darth Maul-inspired war paint reflects a more experienced, more mature and much more serious Goldust than the androgynous Hollywood-hatched character that debuted in WWE 16 years ago. Goldust can beat Randy Orton for the WWE Championship if given the opportunity. That may be a bold prediction, but one year ago, very few would have predicted that Daniel Bryan would ever beat The Viper.
Dustin Runnels, son of former 3-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Dusty Rhodes, was born and bred to follow in his father’s footsteps and be the “bull of the woods.” Goldust’s storybook comeback will end with the WWE Championship replacing the blond wig and ornate robe, completing the metamorphosis of a once-in-a-lifetime talent. — JOEY STYLES
Cody Rhodes is the first wrestler I can remember watching become great.
Before him, I’d either catch onto an emerging talent in the middle of their break out, or keep an eye on a promising upstart who never quite lived up to his potential. With Cody, I was there from day one, watching Raw on July 2, 2007, when the son of a son of a plumber turned up in an oversized dress shirt and just stood there as Randy Orton slapped his dad right across the face.
Had I been asked this question back in those days when Cody was stepping out in emerald green trunks alongside Hardcore Holly, I don’t know that I would have picked him to become a future WWE Champion. Next to Legacy cohorts like Ted DiBiase and Manu, Rhodes lacked presence and seemed even younger than his early twenties. But that is what has allowed him to get so good.
Most second- and third-generation Superstars spend their careers trying to convince everyone that they deserve what they’ve been handed. Rhodes’ young legacy has been defined by the opposite. He was never unduly rushed into the spotlight. He pushed and shoved his way there. And each step in Rhodes’ unexpected evolution — from entitled second-generation snob to self-obsessed sleazeball, from demented masked super villain to mustachioed rogue — has been thrilling to watch.
Cody’s latest left turn on his road to self-discovery — a working-class hero with deep family roots — has been his best yet. He’s maturing rapidly alongside his ultra-talented brother, Goldust, and he has added so many interesting facets to an already brimming skillset.
I don’t know that Cody Rhodes will become WWE Champion in a year. I don’t know that he’ll do it in two years. But he will. He’s gotta. He’s come too far not to. — RYAN MURPHY
I know what you're thinking: "The Big Guy"?! Isn't he the dude who has spent more time flattening local competitors, commentators and stagehands than he has asserting his dominance in the ring? Yeah, and he's still the same punishing contender who Shell Shocked then-WWE Champion CM Punk on top of Hell in a Cell just one year ago.
Paul Heyman's guidance has yet to pay dividends for The Human Wrecking Ball, but it also takes time for a manager and a Superstar to gel, especially when said manager is distracted by his festering hatred for an old client. (Hello, Punk.) With the score seemingly settled between those two friends-turned-rivals, I believe it's the perfect time for Heyman to focus on what really counts: Getting Ryback back into the WWE Title picture, where he rightfully belongs.
To most WWE fans, the 6-foot-3, 291-pound physical specimen may have seemingly lost his way, but don't think for a second that his deep hunger has subsided. Ryback bench-presses a remarkable 550 pounds and carries an even bigger chip on his shoulders than the weight he hauls every day in the gym.
There's no question why he won Newcomer of the Year at the 2012 Slammy Awards. Superstars with as much freakish talent and drive to become as great as Ryback are a rare breed. It's only a matter of time before the only "Gold" that hangs over his head decorates a WWE Championship, and not the sound emanating from a chorus of unfair chants. — TOM HERRERA
Since the menacing Bray Wyatt and his followers first materialized out of my recurring night terrors and appeared on the WWE landscape, no Superstar – from Kane to The Miz, from CM Punk to Daniel Bryan – has been safe from The Wyatt Family’s path of destruction.
With the massive Erick Rowan and Luke Harper following their enigmatic leader with brutal fervor, these newcomers are primed to continue turning WWE upside-down, a mission which could carry the self-proclaimed “Eater of Worlds” to the very top of the WWE mountain.
As the unquestioned shepherd of his flock, Wyatt has proven that, in addition to his sinister charisma, he’s a dominant force in the ring. At a rough-and-ready 6’3’’, 285-lbs, the sermonizing Superstar boasts rare athleticism and agility for such a physically imposing competitor, moving like a man half his size.
Wyatt gets the most out of these substantial natural gifts with rock-solid technique, and an arsenal loaded with both power and finesse moves. His devastating finishing move, Sister Abigail, is dangerous enough to keep Superstars wide awake at night – or put them to sleep in the ring.
Thus far, no one in WWE has shown the ability to slow the runaway train that is The Wyatt Family. With a few more statement wins over top contenders, Bray could – and should – quickly find himself in the WWE Title hunt. Once he gains that opportunity, I can’t imagine anyone denying the Superstar who looks like something straight out of a horror movie.
As the list of unfortunate Superstars who have “followed the buzzards” continues to grow, it becomes more and more apparent that the path for “The Man of 1,000 Truths” is leading him to the top of WWE and the most prestigious title in sports-entertainment. Bray Wyatt and his family are here, indeed. — JAKE GRATE
It’s easy to write off Antonio Cesaro as a muscle-bound brute, yet that might be the biggest mistake a WWE fan can make. Sure, this 6-foot-5, 232-pounder might be the strongest man on the roster, but Cesaro is about more than just dizzying Swings. A connoisseur of fine coffees and a noted master of five languages, the Swiss-born world traveler has the experience and more than enough brains to match his famous brawn and intensity.
A decade-plus veteran of the squared circle before ever stepping foot in a WWE ring,Cesaro once trained with revered British star Dave Taylor and cut his teeth across Europe before making his way across the pond. In the United States, Cesaro has battled in nearly every notable independent organization, including Ring of Honor, Chikara, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, IWA Mid-South and Japan’s Pro Wrestling Noah – many of which contributed to the resumes of champions like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. But Cesaro hasn’t just participated in these companies, he has thrived in them with a dynamic mat style that blends strength, grappling and Thesz-era hooking. Whether performing as a lauded hero, a despised villain, in a tag team or even under the hood of an ice cream mask, Cesaro has developed cult-like followings wherever he’s laced up a pair of boots.
The cultured strongman proved he could score in the big time as well. Upon his WWE arrival in spring 2012, he wasn’t pinned in a match for two and a half months. After suffering his first pinfall defeat, Cesaro followed it up a week and a half later by winning the United States Championship, which he held for eight months. How’s that for a rebound?
While backstage during a recent Raw, Cesaro chatted about Japan, his favorite competitors and how he has adapted his style in WWE. Clearly, he loves the history, making a statement and most importantly, improving in the ring. And this future champion is only getting better. — ZACH LINDER
A lengthy reign as one-half of the WWE Tag Team Champions was only the beginning for the scary strong Roman Reigns. A Superstar with unlimited potential, The Shield's intimidating enforcer has spent the better part of his first year pushing around everyone in his way, and clearing the path for compatriots Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins.
Reigns has the ability to shine on his own, however, and I'm willing to bet the big man's day will come very soon.
Between the ropes, the black-clad terror has matured since his WWE debut, morphing into something much more than a power-move monster. Reigns now possesses a move set that can put him in contention for WWE's top prize. Still, those power moves certainly will help his cause, as Reigns has, in my opinion, delivered the most vicious spears the WWE Universe has seen in the past decade.
There's a lot of talk these days about what the "face" of WWE might look like. Some say it's current WWE Champion Randy Orton, while others still hold strong to the conviction that the scrappy Daniel Bryan is the true face of the company.
However, for my money, when you're talking about a guy with the right look – that perfect mix of old school intimidation and new school cool; a guy with just the right amount of in-ring ability; a guy possessive of a presence?
It's Roman Reigns. — ALEX GIANNINI
Big E Langston
I don’t understand how anybody can watch Big E Langston wrestle and not peg him as a future WWE Champion. Less than a full year into his career on the WWE main roster, the former NXT Champion has consistently exhibited poise beyond his years, even giving decorated veterans like CM Punk a run for their money.
Quite possibly the single strongest individual on a roster packed with powerhouses, Langston — a freakish combination of Ron Simmons athleticism and Goldberg intensity — effortlessly maneuvers 300-pounders. Despite his relative inexperience, he understands how to use his monstrous frame. When he has an opponent grounded, Langston doesn’t simply apply a hold. Instead, he mauls them, locking on a maneuver but also putting all of his body weight on the unfortunate soul.
The paradoxical Langston is not your grandfather’s juggernaut. He’s immense, sure, but he also boasts good speed and superb conditioning. His arsenal is rather unpretentious, but it’s expanding by the day. In addition to the clubbing forearms, gut punches and bulldozer clothesline, Langston has incorporated powerbombs and, recently, a fearless spear through the ropes, which tackles opponents off the ring apron.
The only obstacle standing between Langston and WWE’s top prize is strategic refinement. The aforementioned spear is remarkable, but risky — the sort of maneuver that, if miscalculated, can change the tide of a match in a hurry. Similarly, he lays it all on the line when he leaps high up in the air for his big splash — a captivating move that crashes and burns almost as often as it lands.
Langston’s “go big or go home” mentality is part of what makes him so special. Once he better understands how to selectively channel that exuberance, Langston’s biggest problem will be picking out the custom plates for his WWE Championship. — JOHN CLAPP