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Before WrestleMania, I wrote about the importance of Roman Reigns retaining the WWE Universal Championship. My main point was that Reigns had rehabilitated the image of the title belt and whoever ended up beating him would come across like a big star, and as talented as Daniel Bryan and Edge are, the reality is that they were not going to be elevated higher by winning another world title.
The good news is that WWE might have been thinking the same thing, as Reigns retained the title at WrestleMania, in dominant fashion. The question now becomes who will be the person to eventually beat Roman Reigns for the title? As I wrote in my last article, I think it is very important for WWE to use the momentum that Reigns has gained through his heel turn and lengthy title reign to really put over a younger babyface, because Reigns currently has the stature to do that in a way that no other full-time member of the roster can.
So here is a look at a list of potential names of people that could eventually beat Reigns and an evaluation of how effective I believe their victory would be when it comes to the creation of a new top star.
Daniel Bryan: Bryan is wrestling Reigns for the title tonight, with the stipulation being that if he loses, he has to leave SmackDown. To me, it seems like a match that is headed for a non-finish to set up a bigger match at the upcoming PPV, but we will see what happens. I like Bryan as much as everybody else and while he is a great performer, him winning the world title would feel like a waste of an opportunity since Bryan is a top star already and we know what his ceiling is. The fact that he has hinted at semi-retirement and toning down his in-ring schedule would also seem to pose an issue when it comes to his chances of winning the world title.
Edge: Edge’s case is similar to Bryan’s in that he is already a top star and we know what Edge as the world champion is like. Edge is even older than Bryan and is already working a part-time schedule. Clearly, Edge wouldn’t be a new star in WWE, although given his stature it wouldn’t shock me if he popped up over the next few months and challenged Reigns again for the title.
Cesaro: Cesaro has obviously been heavily-teased as a challenger for Reigns, and unlike Bryan or Edge, he has never been world champion before and never been pushed as a top guy. Cesaro seems to have some organic crowd support, which is great and I have no doubt he is talented enough to be a main event performer in WWE. The key issue with Cesaro is that he is already 40, and realistically the time to push him as a top guy was 10 years ago when he first debuted in WWE, not after he has been firmly established as a mid-card guy. I wouldn’t be mad if Cesaro beat Reigns for the title, but WWE really needs to create a new top babyface who will be around for the next ten years. Cesaro is great, but at 40 years old and having wrestled for 20+ years with a very physical style, it is hard to see him filling that role.
Big E: Big E is in a similar position as Cesaro in that he has never been pushed as a top guy, seems to have crowd support (as much as one can have in the Thunderdome-era) and is talented enough for the role. Unlike Cesaro, Big E is 35 and could presumably have 10 years or more left in him. Big E has been mired in a feud with Apollo Crews, and it doesn’t seem like he has a ton of momentum right now from a kayfabe perspective, but that could easily be changed by a few months-worth of focused booking.
Something I think is important to note when it comes to names like Big E and Cesaro is that both guys have been around forever and Vince McMahon has never seen them as top stars. It is pretty rare for talent to be in the mid-card that long and for Vince to suddenly get really behind them. Kofi Kingston did win the world title, but he only held it for a few months before being squashed by Brock Lesnar and then was sent right back to the mid-card. That isn’t really creating a new top star, which is what needs to happen with whoever beats Reigns.
Aleister Black: Black is a great candidate. He has had a very strange past year, being off TV for months with no explanation given, but he is back on SmackDown debuting a new gimmick that I think is pretty cool. Black is a guy who hasn’t been around for years and while his tenure on the main roster has been sporadic, he has mostly been protected when it comes to wins and losses. Most importantly, I think Black has a unique look and gives off a cool, badass aura that is hard to find. I could see him really going head-to-head with Reigns and potentially putting together a really riveting program. I’m not sure Vince believes in him to that level but I think Black would be a very strong choice if they built him up properly.
Keith Lee: Lee is currently MIA on RAW since being pulled from a match at Elimination Chamber in February. Lee’s time on WWE’s main roster has been very odd, he has at times been presented as a top guy, but he also hasn’t been permitted to do a lot of the things that got him over in NXT, mainly doing athletic moves and impressing with his agility. He hasn’t been buried, and as a big, powerful athlete he has instant credibility if he were to get dropped into a feud with Reigns. His status in WWE is a mystery right now, as he could be injured or he could just be in Vince’s dog house. However, I think he deserves a mention here because the potential is there.
Brock Lesnar: Lesnar doesn’t fit the role of making a new star, but he very well might be the odds-on-favorite to take the title from Reigns, so he has to be mentioned here. If Lesnar beats Reigns, it would be done in an effort to turn Reigns babyface and to further cement Reigns’ status as a top guy, as opposed to elevating a new name. Personally, I think WWE needs more top stars as opposed to just doing everything to get Reigns over, so that would be a waste, but there is no doubt a Lesnar vs Reigns match would be a big program for WWE.
NXT Call-Up: There is talent in NXT who could theoretically pop up on SmackDown and immediately get a big push and eventually dethrone Reigns. I have no idea who that would be. Long-time NXT guys like Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Johnny Gargano or Tommaso Ciampa are super-talents, but I’m afraid they are simply too small to get Vince’s approval when it comes to dethroning Reigns. Karrion Kross has the size, but still feels like he needs a good amount of time in NXT before he is ready to be beating Reigns. Finn Balor is 39 and already been pushed on the main roster before. There just isn’t anyone on NXT’s roster right now who jumps out to me as an obvious guy to face Reigns in the near-future. Well, except for WALTER, but I don’t see him coming to the main roster anytime soon.
On the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the latest WWE releases, where names like Samoa Joe, Mickie James and The IIconics could end up, the difficulties in talent being able to stand out in WWE developmental and more.