7 WWE Superstars Good Enough to Take CM Punk's Spot
After a breakout year in 2011, CM Punk has a safe position at the top of the WWE both right now and for the foreseeable future.
But just because Punk is currently the company's top heel and its No. 2 overall star, that doesn't mean that he should get too comfortable.
While the WWE roster may not be as loaded as it has been in previous times, there are still plenty of superstars who would love to take Punk's spot as the WWE's No. 2 guy and are definitely capable of doing so.
I don't think anyone will really challenge John Cena for that highly coveted No. 1 spot anytime soon, but Punk better watch out.
Here are seven WWE superstars who are good enough to take Punk's spot as the WWE's second biggest star and/or its top heel.
7. Wade Barrett
Wade Barrett has yet to win a World title in the WWE, but he's right on the cusp of becoming one of the top-tier stars in the business.
Since he returned from injury in September, Barrett has been getting involved with both Randy Orton and Sheamus, and it's very apparent that the WWE is starting to push him as one of the company's biggest heels again.
I think that's much deserved because Barrett has always been a tremendous talent, even since his days on NXT back in early 2010.
We all know that Barrett can work the mic better than most, but over the last couple of years, he's made some absolutely huge strides as a wrestler, proving recently that he can hang with the WWE's top guys in the ring when he gets the chance to.
At 32 years old, Barrett is smack dab in the prime of his career, and since coming back from injury, he looks poised to take over as the top heel on SmackDown and one of the top overall talents in the WWE.
Look for Barrett to have a huge 2013 and make that leap from a borderline main-eventer to a bona fide one.
6. Cody Rhodes
Many fans expected 2012 to be the year of Cody Rhodes.
Things haven't quite played out that way and Rhodes will leave 2012 without having won a World title or even a Money in the Bank briefcase, but at just 27 years old, he has a ridiculously bright future.
Although we've been waiting and waiting for Rhodes to make that next leap to the main event, it's important to remember that most guys haven't even smelled the main event by age 27. Rhodes, on the other hand, looks poised to get there sometime soon.
He's currently in a tag team alongside Damien Sandow, and I think that his work as part of Team Rhodes Scholars has helped show just how good of a heel he is. He does all the little things right, and he has that "old school" heel style that makes him stand out from most.
While Rhodes has spent most of his career in the midcard, he's got all the tools (and even the experience) to make it big in the WWE, and I think his time will come sooner rather than later.
Remember, patience is a virtue, and not everyone can be pushed at once. But Rhodes' unquestionable talents almost assure that he'll be one of the next in line to become the WWE's next major heel.
After surpassing Randy Orton on the WWE's totem pole, Sheamus seems to have solidified himself as the No. 3 star in the company.
At the very least, he's certainly pushed that way.
Now, much like John Cena, hating on Sheamus has become the cool thing to do. But I actually think that Sheamus has worked hard and deserves his current spot in the company.
Although he may not appeal to everyone, he's a very good talent who is a great ambassador for the WWE, is at least decent on the mic and, most importantly, has evolved into a great wrestler.
His abilities in the ring are unmatched by nearly any other big man in the company, and he's really been in a zone when it comes to his matches in 2012.
Sheamus has made huge strides as a wrestler over the last couple of years, and he's about as consistent of an in-ring performer as there is in the company. Perhaps that's why he's breathing right down CM Punk's neck for the No. 2 spot in the WWE.
I think Punk is definitely the better talent, but Sheamus is really good, and the creative team seems very willing to push Sheamus to the point where he could unseat Punk as Cena's wingman.
4. Damien Sandow
Damien Sandow has only been around for about seven months, so it's difficult to anoint him as the next great heel in pro wrestling.
But I know a fantastic talent when I see one, and I think it's safe to say that Sandow fits that bill.
Although he hasn't gotten a whole lot of opportunities to showcase his in-ring skills, he has done just that with the few chances that he's had.
He always delivers the goods during his tag team matches, and his biggest singles match to date, which came against Sheamus on Raw last month, was an absolutely fantastic showing.
In-ring ability isn't really what makes Sandow stand out, though.
He is just such a phenomenal heel, someone who does the little things so well that they seem so huge, like the way he holds the mic during promos, the unique ways he breaks up pins or even that post-match cartwheel that he does.
While it is still far too early to know exactly what Sandow's future will hold, the creative team clearly loves him and with good reason. He's a rare talent, and in 2013, he may challenge Punk for the No. 1 heel spot in the WWE.
3. Dolph Ziggler
Everybody can see that Dolph Ziggler is a tremendous in-ring talent.
He is one of the best sellers and bumpers I've ever seen, he almost always has great matches, and he's proven to be capable of working with a wide variety of opponents.
What we're less certain about, though, is Ziggler's promo skills and how he'll fare on his own. He has cut some very good promos when given the opportunity, but because he's been associated with Vickie Guerrero for roughly two years now, no one knows for sure what will happen once he's on his own.
As for me, I think he's showed enough potential on the mic to become a top-level superstar whenever he flies solo, and he's so good in the ring that he could thrive as either a main-event level babyface or heel.
It'll be interesting to see when Ziggler cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase and how he's booked afterward, but the WWE has a golden opportunity here to have him go from someone who's teetered on the upper midcard/main event borderline to someone who can help carry the company going forward.
Ziggler's in-ring skills are good enough to make him a top three superstar, and I think his charisma and mic work are, too. Passing up CM Punk on the WWE's pecking order won't be an easy task, but "The Showoff" could do it if creative pushes him strongly enough.
2. Randy Orton
Before CM Punk became all the rage in mid-2011, who was the WWE's No. 2 star?
Oh yeah, it was Randy Orton.
From roughly 2007 to 2011, it was Orton who, along with John Cena, consistently dominated the main-event scene. He has the WrestleMania matches and the nine WWE/World titles to prove it.
Although 2012 has been a rather rough year for Orton, he's still one of the WWE's biggest and most popular stars, and perhaps most importantly, he's only 32 years old and is in the prime of his in-ring career.
He's over enough and good enough to regain his spot as the WWE's No. 2 guy at any moment. It's just a matter of the WWE pushing him back to that level, which may or may not happen because of his two Wellness strikes.
Still, Orton is fantastic in the ring as a face, and when he's motivated as a heel, he as good of an overall talent as there is in the company.
Should Orton find a little more oomph as a babyface or turn heel, he has a fantastic chance of regaining his spot as the WWE's second-most important superstar.
1. Daniel Bryan
This has been the year of Daniel Bryan.
He entered 2012 as the World Heavyweight Champion, but one with an uncertain future. Now, he's leaving the year as arguably the most over superstar on the entire WWE roster.
Bryan's "Yes" and "No" chants are still ridiculously popular, and they've helped him have what is, far and away, the best year of his career. It's been an absolutely tremendous sight to see Bryan emerge as probably the best overall performer in the business.
Just this year, he's gone from a hatable heel World champion to a very entertaining babyface, and he's made both work incredibly well.
His performances as a heel throughout the first half of the year were superb (especially his matches against CM Punk), and his work as a babyface tag team alongside Kane has given us some of the best comedic segments in years.
Wrestling fans were always worried about whether Bryan would ever prove to be more than just a phenomenal wrestler, and I think it's safe to say that he's blown us away with just how great he's been as both a performer and talker.
If anyone can challenge Punk for the title of "best overall performer" in the WWE, it's Bryan, which is precisely why I think he's the one man who could find himself in that No. 2 spot and why I think it could happen very soon.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!