WWE SmackDown: Power Ranking the Contenders for the World Heavyweight Title
With the Royal Rumble in the rear-view mirror and WrestleMania on the horizon, most of the WWE Universe has its sights set on Monday Night Raw, not on SmackDown. The majority fans are most interested in the battle between The Rock and CM Punk for the WWE championship.
There's another championship belt to think about. The World Heavyweight championship, currently held by Alberto Del Rio, will almost certainly be defended at WrestleMania 29.
The only question is, who will hold the belt by the time April rolls around?
The following slideshow power ranks the contenders for the World Heavyweight Championship.
This isn't a wish list, but a prediction of who the 10 most likely candidates are to take the WHC at least once in 2013.
In compiling the list, past history, current standing on the card and potential to be elevated were all taken into consideration. Wrestlers had to be currently active to make the list.
The slides are ranked in the order of most likely to least likely to win the World Heavyweight Championship in 2013.
Who will hold the big gold belt in 2013? Click on as we power rank the contenders.
10. Dolph Ziggler
The time has come for Dolph Ziggler to have his run with the gold.
The "Show-Off" has good mic skills, is great in the ring and is ready to make the leap to main event status. No one sells for his opponents like Ziggler, and he's almost always healthy.
Ziggler spent a good part of 2013 in a feud with John Cena. That demonstrated that he can stand in the ring with the top stars in WWE and more than hold his own.
Why He's No. 10: Ziggler holds the Money in the Bank briefcase and the guaranteed World Heavyweight Championship match that goes with it. Since he could cash in at any time, and the MiTB holder almost always takes the belt, he's the most likely person on the entire WWE roster to have a run with the WHC in 2013.
9. Big Show
Big Show had a solid run with the WHC late in 2012. He successfully portrayed himself as a killer heel and a virtually unstoppable giant.
In fact, rumor has it that Big Show might still be World Heavyweight champion if it weren't for stalled contract negotiations. It's being reported that WWE's inability to reach an agreement with the giant caused the company to take a chance on an Alberto Del Rio title run.
If Vince McMahon and Big Show can get together on a new deal, there's a strong chance that "The World's Largest Athlete" will get another run with the belt.
Why He's No. 9: As a former WHC, Big Show has credibility. He's also in a feud with the current champ, so that makes him a likely contender. While he's not as obvious a choice as Ziggler, it wouldn't be shocking to see Show have another run in 2013.
Sheamus won the World Heavyweight championship from Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 28 in 2012. That win seems like a long time ago.
The "Great White" held the strap throughout the summer, and he had an epic feud with Big Show over the belt as 2012 came to a close.
If Sheamus isn't placed in the WWE title picture after WrestleMania 29, it's likely that he could make a run at the WHC instead.
Why He's No. 8: Like Big Show, Sheamus enjoyed a significant run with the belt in 2012. It wouldn't be surprising to see him get another chance. He's slightly less likely than Show to win the title because he's currently in the mix with The Shield and John Cena on Raw, and that scenario looks like it will have to play out before the Great White can return to Friday nights.
7. Wade Barrett
Right now, Wade Barrett is engaged in a mini-feud with Bo Dallas, an NXT newcomer to the WWE scene.
Barrett was supposed to be busy with the Intercontinental Cup tournament for the next few weeks. However, it appears the tournament has been cancelled.
Maybe now that that is over with, WWE will finally get around to pushing Barrett to the next level. He's been promoted as a "future world champion" since his return from injury a few months ago. If the WWE is going to move Barrett up the ladder, it would seem that now is the time.
Barrett is great on the mic and has good in-ring skills. He would make an outstanding heel champion.
Why He's No. 7: Almost every WWE announcer that calls a Barrett match refers to him as a future world champion. Vince wouldn't let them say it if it weren't going to be true someday. Though not as likely as Sheamus or Big Show to win the title, simply because he hasn't been "the" man so far, his day is coming.
6. Daniel Bryan
Daniel Bryan lost the World Heavyweight belt to Sheamus in 18 seconds at WrestleMania 28.
It seemed like a fall down the card was in the future for the Superstar from Washington State.
Instead, Bryan went on a run with Kane as part of Team Hell No, capturing the tag team titles and remaining one of the top stars in the WWE.
His matches with CM Punk in 2012 were some of the best of the year. He can clearly hold his own at the top of the card.
WWE would be wise to give Daniel Bryan more championship gold in 2013.
Why He's No. 6: He has the WHC pedigree, having held the belt for a significant run in early 2012. He's an established main event player. The reason he's not as likely as Barrett, Sheamus and the rest to win is because he's still tied to Raw. Bryan's involvement with The Shield and the fact that he holds a share of the tag titles may be all that keep him from headlining on Friday nights.
5. Antonio Cesaro
Antonio Cesaro is a perfect old-school heel. Since he arrived in 2012, the current United States champion has made his presence felt on WWE TV.
If WWE wants to make SmackDown must-see TV, having a World Heavyweight champion who can have good matches with anyone on the roster would be a good start. Cesaro's anti-American rants make him the perfect heel foil for most of the babyfaces on the roster. He'd be a good, solid champion.
Why He's No. 5: Cesaro is on the rise. His feud with Miz is keeping him in the TV spotlight, and he's a very strong in-ring worker. At some point, he'll have to rise to the next level. He's less likely than Bryan or Ziggler to hold the belt simply because he's never been a World champion in WWE. It probably won't be long.
Ryback is gaining ground after coming down to earth a bit in recent weeks.
Formerly a top contender for the WWE Championship, the man formerly known as Skip Sheffield now finds himself in an ill-defined feud with The Shield. He seems to have a loose alliance with John Cena and Sheamus in his battle with the terrible trio.
Ryback has started to develop some charisma beyond his in-ring persona. His Miz TV appearance on Wednesday's Main Event was humorous, and his promo work has improved.
He's also delivered some surprisingly strong matches, especially his six-man tag match at TLC in 2012.
Why He's No. 4: He's one of the most over performers in WWE at the moment. Since the WWE Championship is tied up in the Rock/Cena feud for the foreseeable future, the creative team has to do something to move Ryback up the ladder. He's a less likely candidate than Cesaro and Barrett because he's seen as a prime attraction on Raw at the moment, and WWE might be loath to take him off of Monday nights.
3. Chris Jericho
A lot of fans were disappointed with Chris Jericho's return to the WWE in 2012.
While Y2J got a big buildup, and ended up having some great matches with CM Punk, his impact on the product was arguably pretty minimal.
Will this year's edition of "Jericho Returns" be more successful? WWE has positioned Jericho right back where he was when he last left, feuding with Dolph Ziggler. This time around, maybe Y2J will be able to best Ziggler with real gold on the line.
Why He's No. 3: Jericho looks to be re-establishing his feud with Dolph Ziggler, and there's a strong chance that Ziggler will be the WHC before long. That automatically puts Y2J in the mix. He's not as likely as Ryback or Big Show to hold the title because there's just no telling how long he'll be around. Rumors are that his contract this time around only ties him to WWE for a few months.
2. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar shocked the world with his return to WWE on last Monday's Raw broadcast.
While it's most likely that Lesnar will resume his feud with HHH, there's no reason that he should be restricted to that storyline.
If Paul Heyman is involved with The Shield, Lesnar and CM Punk, WWE has the makings of one of the strongest heel stables in the history of wrestling. SmackDown could use the star power.
Since Rock, Cena and maybe CM Punk will all be involved in the WWE Championship hunt, Lesnar would need something to do if not feuding with Hunter. Why not have him dominate Friday nights and take the belt into WrestleMania?
Why He's No. 2: Lesnar has been in the top spot before, and there wouldn't be a much better way to raise SmackDown's profile than to put a legitimate top star in the spotlight. Lesnar could make Friday nights must-see TV all by himself. He's less likely than Jericho or Sheamus to win simply because he might be too big of a name for WWE to relegate him to Fridays. There's also a strong chance that Lesnar will be feuding with HHH or another luminary from the McMahon stable on the Road to WrestleMania.
1. CM Punk
CM Punk held the World Heavyweight Championship on three separate occasions in 2008 and 2009.
Since then, he's gone on to become WWE champion twice, and his latest run of 434 days with the belt was the longest in the last 25 years.
Could Punk be headed back to SmackDown?
He's not likely to be in the WWE title picture after his rematch with The Rock at Elimination Chamber later this month in New Orleans.
Why not have Punk take the WHC and raise it to new levels of prestige? Because John Cena will need someone to fight with after he takes the belt off of Rock at WrestleMania.
Why He's No. 1: Punk has held the belt before, and his historic run with the WWE Championship has proven that he can carry a brand. However, Punk is less likely than anyone on this list to end up as the top dog on SmackDown. He's currently feuding with The Rock, and though he'll most likely lose to "The Great One" at Elimination Chamber, it's still highly unlikely that WWE will take him off of Raw for any extended period of time.
Is there someone missing from the list? Are the competitors in the wrong order? Some here who shouldn't be? Maybe you just want to post a list of your own. Have your say in the comments section below.