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Last week, I wrote about how Seth Rollins injury opened the door for new possibilities in the company. While nobody likes to see someone as talented as Rollins get injured, there was a new level of intrigue surrounding WWE, considering how thin their roster is. For the past couple years, WWE has been pretty much scared of pushing new, younger talent, but now they pretty much had to push somebody new into the main event. With the world title tournament underway, let's take a look at how they are doing by examining the remaining participants in the tournament.
Kalisto upset Ryback on Smackdown to advance to the second round, which is a notable feat. In the past, it is very likely that Ryback would have squashed Kalisto in the first round and then moved on to face an opponent that was closer to his size. On Thursday, WWE avoided the obvious decision and went with an upset, maybe indicating that there is hope for young highflyer from Chicago.
The Lucha Dragons were an okay tag team, but it was hard to see them really taking off with Sin Cara on the team. Hunico/Sin Cara is a decent worker, but that gimmick has been so comically strange that it's hard to take it seriously as a real threat to anything. WWE has wanted a new Latin-American star since Rey Mysterio slowed down and the original Sin Cara flamed out, hence why they brought back Alberto Del Rio. With Kalisto they have someone that is going to mirror Mysterio as an undersized masked man with impeccable balance and agility. I don't know if Rey Mysterio's popularity can be recreated, but if someone is going to do it, it's going to be Kalisto.
Alberto Del Rio
WWE brought back Del Rio last month in a huge way, giving him a sudden and clean victory over John Cena and taking the United States Championship from Cena and immediately establishing himself once again as a reputable competitor. With that being said, the results since then have been about as I expected for Del Rio. Del Rio is a very good worker who can get some decent heat, but he is never going to be a mainstay top level guy that WWE hopes he can be, he just doesn't have the right type of charisma to get over with the WWE audience in that fashion. Even with Zeb Colter at his side and even with the big win over Cena, Del Rio is still just an average heel and the fans react in kind.
Reigns is clearly the favorite for the tournament and rightfully so. With WWE so short on top level guys and so bullish on Reigns' ability to be one, it should come to no surprise that he is favored to win the tournament. Reigns is also the favorite because the field of potential challengers is extremely thin. I think it is a good thing that WWE didn't panic and throw a part-time wrestler into the mix and instead trusted their young guys to put on a good tournament. The negative side of that is there is not a lot of legit contenders in the tournament, which makes it extremely obvious that the few guys that are contenders (Reigns, Del Rio, Ambrose, maybe Owens) are going to advance to at least the semi-finals. In a lot of ways it is similar to the 2015 Royal Rumble, where the field was so thin that once Daniel Bryan was eliminated it became extremely predictable that Reigns was going to win. The crowd destroyed Reigns at the Rumble because of how predictable his victory was, it will be interesting to see if he gets a similar reaction at Survivor Series.
Cesaro faces Reigns in the second round of the tournament on Monday, and I really don't agree with that booking. Reigns is almost certainly going to win, but having him defeat Cesaro is not the right way to go. Cesaro is a wrestler the fans genuinely enjoy and some fans believe that he deserves the push that Reigns is getting. By having Reigns, whose relationship as a babyface with the fans is strained, defeat someone like Cesaro, I just think that hurts his chances of getting over with the hardcore fanbase that boos him.
Could Cesaro be a better champion than Reigns? It's hard to say, as Reigns has gotten the best push in the company for anyone not named John Cena, while Cesaro has been given a handful of stop-and-go pushes that flash potential, but WWE ultimately loses interest in him. Cesaro is clearly the better worker in the ring, which is always going to give him an edge with hardcore fans. Neither of them are outstanding on the microphone, but Cesaro's personality is a little bit quirkier and could lend itself to some trends that Reigns' occasionally cardboard persona is incapable of doing. In the past, Reigns' steely eyed aggression would make him a more marketable star, but in the social media age, Cesaro's skill set might actually give him the edge.
With Rollins out and WWE short on heels, Owens might have the most potential out of everyone in the tournament. If WWE is looking for a new guy to be the top heel champion with Rollins on the shelf, Owens is the most capable man on their roster. Owens is very good in the ring, can handle himself really well on the microphone, is equally capable of being a coward and a brute, and sells plenty of merchandise. Reigns is the favorite in the tournament, but one reason I could see him not winning is because WWE is very protective of him, and perhaps they don't want to have his first title win come from winning a tournament with a weak field and during a time when there is very little star power on the roster. If WWE wants to through a guy into the deep end and see how he does, I believe that Owens could be a perfectly capable champion for this time.
As a wrestler Neville has already established himself as one of the top guys on the roster. Unfortunately, it appears that WWE has categorized him as a good guy to work with, but not someone that is ever going to be a top star. The tournament was littered with these kinds of guys, good workers but someone that WWE has earmarked as an unlikely champion. Neville and Owens should have a good match on Raw, but unless WWE wants to book Neville and Owens into an Intercontinental Championship feud, I doubt he gets past Owens on Monday.
If this situation happened a year or two ago, Ziggler might have had a real chance to become the champion for an extended period of time. However, now it seems like Ziggler has missed the boat on his big main event push, and while he is a good babyface that can work and get the crowd behind him, if WWE really believed he could become a consistent main event star they would have pulled the trigger on him already. He faces Ambrose on Monday, and Ambrose is oddly enough in a situation similar to the one that Ziggler was in two or three years ago. It will be interesting to see if they push Ambrose harder than they pushed Ziggler.
Ambrose's gimmick as a loose-cannon is pretty fitting, since he is a total wildcard in this tournament. Ambrose has a connection with fans that most wrestlers do not, and a majority of them really support him, thanks to his solid mic skills and his Austin-esque take no prisoners attitude. If WWE wanted a babyface champion and they didn't want it to be Reigns for the same reasons I outlined earlier when talking about Owens, then it pretty much has to be Ambrose, there is no one else that is even close in this field.
Another possibility is Ambrose turning heel on Reigns in the finals, winning the title and joining The Authority. If Ambrose were to screw Reigns and win the championship, I think that would make Ambrose even more of a babyface to a lot of fans. A way around this would be to have Ambrose ditch his current personality for a stifled corporate one, similar to the way Dude Love became a suit wearing stooge when he joined The Corporation. I'm not really for more of The Authority, but it would be an interesting route for WWE to go.
Overall Reigns remains the favorite and it is even odds that he is going to win the tournament. However, I think WWE would be doing Reigns a favor by not allowing him to win the tournament. Reigns winning in the finals cleanly would be the most predictable route possible, and while Survivor Series is in Atlanta and the crowds in Atlanta are not like the crowds in Philadelphia, I would worry about Reigns getting booed similar to the way he was booed at the Royal Rumble. That jeering from the audience set Reigns back a lot, and WWE would be foolish to make the same mistake twice.
You can follow Jesse Collings on Twitter @JesseCollings