A bulk of the discussion about the WWE surrounds their ability to build new stars, specifically a top face. At 35 years old, and faced with a more than a couple of mounting injuries, John Cena won’t be around forever.
The most likely candidate to take over for Cena? Cody Rhodes.
When Cena goes, so too will the PG Era. The product won’t necessarily deviate from its PG rating, but we will see a shift in how the product is presented and the direction it takes. And in the same way that John Cena is attached to the PG Era, Cody Rhodes will be attached to the next era.
I’m not the first person to call Cody Rhodes the future, either. But it’s not a matter of opinion anymore. It’s simple math.
Cena (35) won’t be the only top flight star likely to transition out of his role in a few years. Triple H (43) is more of a corporate executive and less of an active wrestler. The Rock (40) is a full-time Hollywood A-list actor. Big Show (40) has started to talk about the end of his in-ring career. The Undertaker (47) likely has one or two matches left. Brock Lesnar (35) is only working on a yearly contract.
Below that level you have guys like Kane (45) and Rey Mysterio (37). It’s highly unlikely that either man will be actively wrestling three years from now. Chris Jericho (41) isn’t a lock to ever return to the ring, either. If either man is able to make a legitimately healthy return, you can add Mark Henry (41) and Christian (38) to that list.
And if the company really does bring Jeff Hardy back? He’s 35.
In the immediate future, the guys most well equipped to lead the company are CM Punk (34) and Randy Orton (32). Alongside them you can look at Sheamus (34), Alberto Del Rio (35), and even Daniel Bryan (31).
That next group? You have a surging Ryback (31), the returning Wade Barrett (32), former WrestleMania main event talent The Miz (32), Kofi Kingston (31), Damien Sandow (31), Antonio Cesaro (31) and of course Dolph Ziggler (32). If you want to be really generous you can add Sin Cara to the list. But he’s 29.
Maybe someone like Darren Young will shock us and ascend up the card. He’s 32. And there’s always a chance that Jack Swagger (30) can turn things around. But the WWE would be better off if Drew McIntyre did—he’s only 27.
Also 27? Cody Rhodes. And he’s in a much better position on the card than Drew McIntyre.
Looking at ages, CM Punk vs. Randy Orton seems to be a lock as a future WrestleMania main event feud. Of the favorites of the Internet Wrestling Community—Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow—only Cody Rhodes is currently under 30.
Fast forward to 2020, where we will see WrestleMania 36. John Cena, CM Punk, Randy Orton, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Wade Barrett, The Miz and Dolph Ziggler will all be at or over the age of 40. Ryback, Kofi Kingston, Antonio Cesaro and Damien Sandow will be 39. Daniel Bryan will be 38. Cody Rhodes, the youngest talent near the top of the card, will be 35—the same age John Cena is now.
What does it all mean? That when most of the stars on the WWE roster ready to break through finally do get their chance, their run is likely to be a short one. Especially if they are over 30 years old right now.
We can also use this data to hypothesize about the future of the company (which is always fun to do). Knowing what we know above, we can make the following educated predictions.
- Once John Cena, CM Punk and Randy Orton transition out of the main event, we can expect some rapid-fire changes to the talent a the top of the card. Some will work out, and some won’t. But several will get their chance.
- Combining his immense talent with basic attrition, Cody Rhodes is likely going to be a huge star in the WWE.
- Cody Rhodes likely won’t fully replace John Cena. Bret Hart couldn’t replace Hulk Hogan, and the WWE had no one they could “bank on” between Steve Austin and The Rock and the era of John Cena.
In fact, the “next John Cena” likely isn’t even working in developmental right now. But there are some stars to keep a close eye on.
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose are often touted as the next two big stars to come out of the WWE developmental territory. Both men are 26, just one year younger than Cody Rhodes. Cody has been on WWE television for five years.
Richie Steamboat, 25, can make a serious run on the main card, and has some amazing pedigree behind him. So does Roman Reigns, who is already 27. But he's 6’3” and weighs in at 265 pounds. Being Sika’s son and Rosey’s brother, he has a definite shot at the big time.
Internet fans love Kassius Ohno and claim he has a bright future ahead of him in the WWE. Time to face facts: he’ll 33 before the next Royal Rumble and he’s still in developmental.
Xavier Woods started wrestling at the age of 19, and is currently 26. I don’t think his TNA past will be used against him at this point, since he left the promotion in 2010.
Mike Dalton has a ton of potential, and is only 24.
What can we take way from all of this? The future is clear as mud, but it will be here before we know it. Based on age, talent and attrition, there is only prediction you can bank on.
Cody Rhodes is the future of the WWE, and the leader of the next generation of main event stars.
Greg DeMarco is a wrestling fan of over 28 years and has also worked on the independent circuit as a promoter, announcer, character and booker. Greg also hosts a weekly radio show streaming worldwide every Tuesday night at www.vocnation.com.