WWE TLC 2013: Best Challengers for Unified Championship After PPV

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2013

WWE TLC 2013: Best Challengers for Unified Championship After PPV

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    On Sunday night at TLC, World Wrestling Entertainment will crown the first Unified champion in 11 years when John Cena meets Randy Orton in a Tables, Ladders & Chairs match.

    Whomever wins that match will be faced with the task of meeting the challenge of one of the most stacked, talented rosters in WWE roster. A wealth of young Superstars make up the majority of the roster, but it is the experienced, decorated stars who are poised to become top contenders to the Unified Championship in the weeks and months that follow TLC.

    Two are the most talented and skilled in-ring performers of their generation. One is a second-generation star who spent most of 2013 lugging his own championship gold across the country. The fourth is a former world heavyweight champion who is on the last legs of a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

    Who are these Superstars, and what roles will they fill as contenders?

    Find out after the jump.

Daniel Bryan

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The two-time former WWE champion has defeated both Cena and Orton for the title in 2013, and his success all year should immediately catapult him into contention for the brand new Unified Championship.

    Based on the storylines that have played out over the past five months, however, it is highly unlikely that Bryan would be given a fair shot at the title. The Authority did everything in its power to ensure that Bryan did not hold the WWE title long while he was feuding with Orton this past fall, and it is highly unlikely they would just let him receive another title opportunity without somehow getting involved.

    Add to it the fact that the pay-per-view buyrates for Bryan's time on top were unspectacular and there is every reason to believe the company will resist the urge to insert Bryan back into the title picture.

    With that said, Bryan remains one of the most popular stars in the promotion and would make a believable challenger to any title he chooses to seek.

CM Punk

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    Despite being one of the top stars in all of professional wrestling, CM Punk has remained outside the WWE Championship picture since February.

    With recent teases at a feud with The Authority and his current rivalry with The Shield, it appears as though the Best in the World will soon find himself back at the top of the card.

    A program with Cena would undoubtedly result in several Match of the Year candidates, as has been the case in the past, while his series of matches against Orton occurred so long ago (two years to be exact) that a rivalry between them would seem relatively fresh.

    Regardless of which one he would challenge for the Unified Championship, it would make the most sense if that champion was representing The Authority. That direction has already been foreshadowed, and detouring from the road to WrestleMania and a high-profile match potentially involving Punk and Triple H would be a mistake.

    With the biggest of the show rapidly approaching, it becomes more and more apparent for the top WWE Superstars to be featured in high-profile positions in hopes of drumming up interest for the Showcase of the Immortals.

    Punk in the title picture, at least for a month or two, accomplishes that.

Alberto Del Rio

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The second-generation Mexican Superstar is fresh off of a lengthy run as world heavyweight champion, and while the idea of him returning to the main event scene is less than thrilling, the fact remains that he is a decorated competitor the general audience recognizes as a main event star.

    His success in World Wrestling Entertainment has elevated him to the top of the company, and his matches against Cena and Orton prove he can mix it up with the elite wrestlers in the sport.

    As a placeholder program until the WrestleMania storylines get jump-started, a babyface Del Rio feud would be guaranteed to deliver quality matches, at the very least.

    The Royal Rumble, an event sold almost exclusively based on the Battle Royal main event, would be an excellent place to interject Del Rio back into the title picture. Fans would not be expected to pay money for a matchlikely against Cena in this scenariothat they have already seen in the past, while the creative team could throw together two of its top stars for a championship match on the undercard.

    Del Rio will not, and should not, be champion any time in the near future. His latest reign exhausted fans, and their readiness to accept him back into that spot is nonexistent.

Mark Henry

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    Photo Credit: WWE.com

    The World's Strongest Man has not quite made the impact many expected him to when he returned at last month's Survivor Series.

    Instead of being thrust into the main event scene, he has floated aimlessly around the midcard, teaming with Big E Langston in matches against Ryback and Curtis Axel and, most recently, squaring off against Damien Sandow on SmackDown.

    Henry is not getting any younger at this point in his career and only has so much time between the ropes left before hanging up his boots. If the company wants to maximize his potential in the time he has left, tagging in random midcard matches and beating guys by countout on Raw and SmackDown will not help.

    Henry is a rare physical specimen who fans still believe can beat anyone he faces thanks to his unmatched strength and his ass-kicking attitude. Everything from his decidedly un-PG theme song to the manner in which he carries himself screams "legit."

    Another main event run against either Cena or Orton, both of whom he has history with, would put him in the perfect position to succeed. 

    Unfortunately, Henry's only other title reign came as world heavyweight champion, the secondary heavyweight title. With only one title and so many bigger stars ahead of him on the totem pole, it remains to be seen if the 1996 Olympian will ever reach that level of success in World Wrestling Entertainment again.