As CM Punk continues to limp his way down the aisle on WWE Monday Night Raw, there are other superstars who can fill his shoes and walk the aisle easier.
While Punk may be ready to face the Rock at the Royal Rumble and Ryback even earlier, there are still a number of weeks before Punk returns to action.
Who will take CM Punk’s place as the top heel in WWE and become a major part of its flagship show?
Here are seven WWE superstars who could be the temporary best in the world.
The former leader of Nexus is no stranger to being the top heel on Raw. When the Nexus was at its peak, Barrett was arguably the best bad guy on Monday nights.
Barrett has struggled to find the success and focus since he was replaced by CM Punk as the leader of Nexus. How ironic would it be if Barrett replaced Punk as the top heel?
In order for Barrett to fill CM Punk’s shoes on Raw, he needs to first start winning feuds. He was unsuccessful recently in capturing the Intercontinental Championship, which could mean WWE does not see Barrett as a top star right now. However, after seeing his matches with Sheamus and other top faces, there is no doubt in my mind that Barrett is a future top heel.
If Barrett can convince WWE that, with his experience since Nexus, he is ready to be a top heel, then he can be considered a viable option to fill CM Punk’s shoes on Monday Night Raw.
Cesaro became a savior to the United States Championship when he defeated Santino Marella during the SummerSlam pre-show. Since then, Cesaro has shown his potential for being a top heel with spectacular matches that show off his amazing strength.
The one downside of Cesaro is that his promos seem to be a little stale, as he is not very creative with what he has to say. We know you are bringing prestige to the U.S. title and that all Americans are terrible people, but what else?
One possible issue with Cesaro is the lack of real feuds he has been given. Santino Marella and R-Truth were not serious contenders to take the U.S. title from Cesaro. Perhaps putting Cesaro in a feud with someone who could potentially take the title from him would force Cesaro to improve his mic skills.
With that said, in order to fill CM Punk’s shoes on Monday Night Raw, Cesaro will need to stand out more from the rest of the superstars on this list. He certainly has the potential, though.
Team Rhodes Scholars are future WWE Tag Team Champions and either one or both superstars garner the heat needed to fill CM Punk’s shoes on Monday Night Raw.
Sandow and Rhodes are exceptional on the mic, so would one be able to become the top heel?
At Money in the Bank, Rhodes was unable to break the midcard wall and win the briefcase. This may be a sign that WWE did not see Rhodes as a main-event star. A similar situation could be argued for Sandow as he was paired with Rhodes without winning any championships as a singles star.
In the case of Team Rhodes Scholars, perhaps they could share CM Punk’s shoes. It would certainly be uncomfortable in more ways than one, but between Cody’s mustache and Sandow’s beard, the pink and the stink could serve as viable options in Punk’s absence.
However, if WWE will allow Orton to become the great heel he was in 2009, it would make for a suitable replacement while Punk is out with injury.
The Viper’s famous punt has been banned, leaving him without a signature heel tactic, but Zack Ryder’s Broski Boot is a similar move that was never banned.
The best way for Orton to become the man to fill CM Punk’s shoes on Monday Night Raw is to turn heel and find exceptional henchmen or groupies.
Every top heel has people behind them. Punk now has Heyman (and possibly The Shield). Orton had Legacy helping him out in 2009. While Cody Rhodes is busy being a part of the next WWE Tag Team Champions, Orton will have to find new superstars to help him out this time around.
A current WWE Tag Team Champion, Daniel Bryan has become one of the company’s most popular characters since losing the World Heavyweight Championship in 18 seconds at WrestleMania 28.
The eventual breakup of Team Hell No is inevitable as Daniel Bryan should receive another singles push in 2013. Winning the Royal Rumble match could allow Bryan to move away from the tag team division, or a loss to Team Rhodes Scholars.
Daniel Bryan faced CM Punk in some of the best matches of the year, especially at Over the Limit in May. WWE would need to fill CM Punk’s shoes with someone who can perform in the ring just as well, which is why Daniel Bryan is a perfect candidate.
While the entire group known as The Shield is making an impact in WWE with its continuous attacks, Dean Ambrose stands out to me as the leader. His mic skills are the strongest of the three superstars, and he should be a top heel at some point in his career.
Ambrose has a style and demeanor similar to Heath Ledger's portrayal of Joker, making him appear as an ideal candidate to replace another manipulating top heel in CM Punk.
Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns are also the perfect sidekicks for a top dog in Dean Ambrose. Rollins is a fantastic wrestler and is obviously willing to take huge bumps, such as this one from WWE TLC 2012. Reigns is the ideal big man of the group, reminding me of a young Kevin Nash.
Ambrose is in the perfect situation to fill CM Punk’s shoes on Monday Night Raw until the WWE Champion returns.
Dolph Ziggler is finally stealing the show…and girlfriends.
The split with Vickie Guerrero seems complete after Ziggler told Vickie their relationship was over this past Monday on Raw. The resident show-off has a new woman in his life, the crazy AJ Lee. AJ has also brought NXT superstar Big E Langston into the group, making the trio a viable replacement for CM Punk on Raw.
When CM Punk was declared unable to wrestle at WWE TLC 2012, the main event became John Cena versus Dolph Ziggler. In fact, since Punk has been out with his injury, Dolph Ziggler (and Cena) have been the main focus of Raw. With Ziggler retaining his Money in the Bank briefcase, we have witnessed another sign that WWE is 100 percent behind Dolph as a main-event star.
He is the total package. With arguably the top Diva and new dominant big man at his side, Dolph Ziggler is the top heel on Monday Night Raw.
Until CM Punk returns…then what?
It remains to be seen how long CM Punk will be out of the main event on Raw, but WWE should feel confident that they have superstars in the dugout waiting to be called up.
Punk should be back in time for the Royal Rumble in late January, but with WrestleMania 29 just a couple of months away, WWE would be wise to give Punk as much rest as possible.
Of all the superstars mentioned, Dean Ambrose or Dolph Ziggler make the most sense to replace Punk temporarily as the top heel. They both have a small stable to back them up, noticeably great mic skills and the look to be big players in the WWE in the years to come.
Who do you think should fill CM Punk’s shoes on Monday Night Raw? Please leave your comments and suggestions in the section below.
Seth M. Guttenplan is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, writer for CamelClutchBlog.com and host of OH YOU DIDN’T KNOW!? PWPRadio’s weekly radio show covering all wrestling news and rumors. To read more from Seth follow him on Twitter (@sethgutt) and check out guttwrenchpowerblog.com.