Back to the Future: A Re-Evaluation of 'Tomorrow's Potential WWE Champions'
No matter the appearance, the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships are the most prestigious titles in wrestling and to tout someone as a future holder of one of these belts is a bold statement.
It has been about four months since I wrote a slideshow piece entitled "Tomorrow's Champions," in which I touted off the ten most likely candidates to hold a World Title by 2013, in order from least likely to most.
Though it has been an overly saturated topic, I take pride in being able to bring a fresh point of view to something considered stale and that article received more reads than perhaps any other I'd written previously.
Though I initially set the date of 2013 as a timeline for these ten individuals, the landscape of WWE as it relates to all ten of these men has changed quite a bit in just a mere four months, though this isn't too much of a surprise; The WWE is a fast paced environment.
I feel it's time now for me to eat my words on several of these superstars and deliver a big fat "I told you so" on others.
The list has changed, some men were removed, one is no longer employed and there were replacements and shifts.
For the last time (for now at least), I bring to you, my readers, tomorrow's potential WWE Champions.
10. Daniel Bryan
Though he still just barely makes the list, DB remains someone who could be a believable Champion at any time thanks to his crowd connection and ring ability. Don't forget that people once pegged guys like Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit in this same kind of role.
Daniel Bryan takes the honor of being the only guy from the original list to retain his same positioning.
The man is the United States Champion and a pro on NXT (my how the tables have turned there) and even sports a pair of Bellas on his arms each week.
The same song and dance applies to Daniel Bryan. With every match, he continues to wow the fans with his impressive array of moves and to some degree, he's even come out of his shell and developed a bit of a personality, connecting him even more to the fans.
Clearly DB possessed something that WWE creative liked, unlike the man who succeeded Bryan on the original list, Kaval, who is no longer employed.
While it is a shame that Kaval will not reach the heights I pegged him for on the original list, the show must go on and I retain my belief that Daniel Bryan could shock the world at any given time and take the WWE Championship.
He may have that "midcarder for life" stamp on his forehead at the moment but guys like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and yes, the current WWE Champion The Miz, have all had that label at some point.
What remains to be seen is if DB possesses the ability to shatter that glass ceiling someday. Based on what we've seen in the ring from him, I think that answer is a resounding "Yes!"
Daniel Bryan as WWE Champion is a sight that some people might not take seriously but we've all said the same thing about Rey Mysterio at some point and he's won the big one twice.
9. Skip Sheffield
A longshot by any stretch of the imagination, Skip Sheffield may get the nod in the next few years based on his look and size alone, both of which are things Vince McMahon covets. The guy is a beast no matter which way you slice it. A little tweaking and you have a solid monster heel.
I expect a fair amount of critique on this selection. Finding a suitable replacement for the original No. 9, the now released "World Warrior" Kaval, was not an easy task. Though it may sound sad, scouring the rosters of both shows didn't show very many people not already on this list that carried a "Championship Aura."
His name definitely doesn't sound like title material but watching Skip Sheffield in the ring since his collaboration with Nexus is enough to buy him as a champion.
He's certainly not the most polished guy in the world by any means but he's a jacked 270 pounds of muscle and has just the right look and size of a monster heel, a role he proved he could play quite well as the biggest gun of The Nexus.
A guy like Skip Sheffield screams out "manager" because it's guys who look like him who went far ten years ago with a mouthpiece by their side. With a suitable talker to hide any lack of mic skills, there's no way to look at Skip Sheffield and say he couldn't be a World Champion.
He sits far down on this list simply because he's still green and fairly new and his ankle injury has prevented us from really seeing what he can do in a single's capacity. He only sits above Daniel Bryan because his size alone makes him a more likely Championship contender than DB.
With WWE pushing the never say die resolve of guys like John Morrison and the fortitude and might of main event faces like John Cena and Randy Orton, a guy like Sheffield could be the perfect monster for them to take on.
Give this man some time, some opportunity and a little tweaking and there's no reason Skip Sheffield couldn't hold a World Championship within the next few years.
8. Ezekiel Jackson
Another questionable choice, Jackson no doubt has everything Vince McMahon could want in a Champion. All that's needed is the confidence of the creative team and a little more time to show us what he can do.
The guy body slammed Big Show, isn't that enough for you?
In all seriousness, that alone is a feat that only two other men can say they've done; Kane and Mark Henry and considering the established tenure of both men, that puts Big Zeke in elite company.
Much like the new No. 9 Skip Sheffield, Ezekiel Jackson possesses everything needed to be a believable champion and proved it on a small scale by becoming the final ECW Champion. Though that title is practically worthless amongst wrestling purists, there's no doubt that Ezekiel Jackson looked plenty realistic as the face of a show, albeit for just one night.
He's on SmackDown! aligning himself with Wade Barrett and should go the route that Batista and other big men did before him, using the stable to showcase his power and adaptability.
Big Zeke makes it a notch higher than Skip, simply because he's had a bit longer to establish himself and is ahead of Skip in the impressiveness department.
Slamming Big Show was the perfect way for Zeke to get noticed really quick and provided he doesn't stay in the shadows too long, he's another good "monster heel" candidate to be World Heavyweight Champion within a few years time, giving guys like Edge and Rey Mysterio a new bully to overcome and giving guys like Big Show and Undertaker another interesting Goliath conquest to match up against.
7. Justin Gabriel
The Nexus maintains superiority over this list with three former members landing in various spots throughout. Justin Gabriel is the darkhorse of this list and like Sheffield and Jackson, is a wild card in the singles division. Time will tell how far his 450 degrees of destruction will carry him.
Taking the spot of the former Number 7 Alberto Del Rio is Justin Gabriel.
I was told in a comment on the original list that it was a good thing I hadn't put Gabriel on it. That he had been receiving comparisons to Shawn Michaels and that he was nowhere near as good. But that's just it.
He shouldn't try to be the next Shawn Michaels. He should be the first Justin Gabriel.
In a pair of singles outings against John Cena, Justin Gabriel showcased not only his ability to keep up with the former WWE Champion but to do so believably and without a pack of wolves at his back at all times.
He possesses much of the high flying and martial arts type moves that excite a crowd yet isn't completely tied down thanks to his size. At 6'1 and 215 pounds, he narrowly avoids the typecasting that men like Daniel Bryan and Tyson Kidd suffer for.
Every major Nexus attack was given an exclamation point via the 450 Splash and rightfully so.
Unlike many groups who would sacrifice such an opportunity to get their leader over, Wade Barrett and company did a masterful job of putting over the 450 as the most devastating move in the collective group arsenal, with Barrett himself ordering it as the group's coup de grace.
However, Gabriel should not pursue a singles career as a face.
Though it may be the most obvious thing to do, given his finisher, Gabriel is working well as a heel. A heel with an impressive high flying finisher doesn't often remain a heel for too long barring extensive work.
Gabriel's cold and ominous stare down at his opponent before delivering the move truly allows him to work as a heel and both he and his splash have credibility thanks to the excellent put-over work done by John Cena during the Cena-Nexus Summer 2010 feud.
Like the others on the list, give him some time and a voice and at the very least, he's a credible transitional Champion. The sky is the limit for Justin Gabriel.
6. "Dashing" Cody Rhodes
A popular write-in on the original list, there's no doubt now that Cody Rhodes has ascended leaps and bounds beyond his old partner, the "Unfortunate Son" Ted DiBiase. I still question his credibility as a Main Event player but he's clearly impressed a large number of people.
I can't even begin to recount how many comments I received on the original list lauding me for not including "Dashing" Cody Rhodes.
I still have trouble seeing him as a champion because of his look (the no-pads thing just kills me) and he has been saddled with one of the most overused gimmicks in wrestling history but there's no doubt at all that The Dashing One has taken to his character like white on rice.
To his credit, he has very decent mic skills and he brings a bit of uniqueness to a gimmick that's been done many times over before him.
His "Dashing" grooming tip vignettes have been a good way of keeping him in the public eye without always needing a match and he has shown on several occasions that he can be trusted with a good promo as filler between segments on SmackDown! and even on PPV.
This ability to adapt and to basically roll with whatever they give him are likely why he's a contender for the World Heavyweight Championship and DiBiase is drowning in midcard hell over on RAW.
He had an impressive triple threat No. 1 contender's match with Drew McIntyre and Big Show which soon devolved into a Fatal Four Way involving eventual winner Dolph Ziggler.
Just his inclusion in the match tells me that WWE has their eye on him and that at the very least, he could be a transitional Champion in the future if nothing else.
He's a believable challenger and he can talk a good game. He's got the pedigree that comes with being the son of the American Dream and is easily the most visually appealing of his family, beating Goldust and Dusty Rhodes (in his prime) by leaps and bounds in the sex appeal category.
Cody's mic skills and positioning on SmackDown! are enough to put him above the aforementioned men on this list and given another year or two, the "Dashing One" might just add some major hardware around that metrosexual waist of his.
5. Drew McIntyre
Drew falls two spots from his original position on the list thanks to creative allowing him to float. Everything about this guy screams "Title run" but until he's given the confidence and exposure he needs, he'll continue rising just above the other midcarders, which is a feat in and of itself.
Oh Drew, what have they done to you?
Drew McIntyre is simply championship material. Look at the guy. He's got size, look, character, intensity, he can talk, he can fight, he's got cool music.
What more does he need? Well, to be fair, today's wrestling fans suffer from ADD and gone are the days when a Superstar could build himself up for several years with impressive feats before reaching the title.
Most future champions are built for the title and then there are a few rarities that are simply ready-made for title runs. Unlike Sheamus, McIntyre was thankfully spared the dubious task of having the title thrown on him way too soon.
He's had ample time now to establish himself and there's no doubt that if he were to win the title sometime soon, the crowd would believe it.
McIntyre's problem is that he's stuck in limbo. Some guys are currently being built up for the title and some are pushed to the moon like Sheamus, but then we have Drew McIntyre who's straddling the fence between the two.
WWE Creative seems to have an issue with starting and stopping this man's push like a traffic light.
One minute he's destroying the Intercontinental Champion, the next minute he's begging Teddy Long for his job back. Then he's thrown a worthless Tag Team Title run, then he's competing for contendership to the World Title and Kelly Kelly's virtue.
This man belongs in one of two places. Either he needs to be Intercontinental Champion and dominate the midcard or he needs to be in regular contention for the World Championship, not just filling a spot due to lack of credible Superstars.
I still have no doubt that Drew McIntyre will be a World Champion someday but the likelihood of it happening in the next few years depends on the whims of the Creative team and whether or not they'll just let him do what he does best:
Destroy, destroy, destroy.
4. Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio takes a huge leap up the list thanks to his consistency as a smooth heel, his polished in ring work and the simple fact that he just carries himself like a Champion, something which is definitely not seen enough in most potential title holders.
His name is Alberto Del Rio...but we...we already knew that.
All catchphrasing aside however, the man has taken a big leap up from his original No. 7 position on the list.
He's a smooth heel, a natural on the mic, his in-ring work is polished and solid and he truly surrounds himself with the aura of his character.
Del Rio appears to be 100 percent at home playing his privileged elitist Mexican character and he sells it with the kind of enthusiasm it takes to get over, as evidenced by the crowd's general loathing of him.
He's not the kind of heel that's being cheered unreasonably, which means that ultimately, he's doing his job pretty damn well.
As I said in the original article, he's got the size and the look to go with everything else I just mentioned and all that's required is time and patience.
Del Rio peaks at No. 4, only because numbers three and two respectively have gone above and beyond what most people were predicting for them and because No. 1 is simply a champion in waiting.
3. John Morrison
A simple comparison of pictures between this list and the original will show the small and subtle changes that JoMo is going through. These changes, along with what seems to be the long awaited vote of confidence from creative keep Morrison where most people didn't want him the first time.
I hate to say I told you so but...I did!
Well, I got that out of the way. In all seriousness, when I initially ranked John Morrison as No. 4 on the original list, I received a fair bit of critique from the IWC haters who scream "heel turn! Mic skills!" at anything and everything that is associated with JoMo.
But in the four months since the writing of the original list, he's definitely endured a bit of personal evolution.
That beard he's sporting isn't just spontaneous. It's given him a more rugged and defined look, balancing out his rock star persona and weeding out the clean shaven overly babyface look that he had before.
Though he still has a way to go on mic skills, he's making a slow but conscious effort to improve and the fact that he's now receiving some of the biggest pops on RAW confirm that he's doing something right.
He's upped his aggression in the ring and even begun using a more realistic and effective looking finisher, driving his knee into the face of a downed opponent, while slowly cutting back on Starship Pain, which is apparently the Anti-Christ of all pro wrestling moves.
While the words of King Sheamus on RAW this past Monday were rather harsh, there was a bit of truth in them.
Feuding with the brutal and aggressive Celtic Warrior was exactly what John Morrison needed to step himself up to the next level.
Much like Shawn Michaels did with Mick Foley, much like John Cena did with JBL, Morrison's diehard attitude and resilience in the face of an intense and rugged opponent not only upped his level in the ring, it's sparked all kinds of new connection from the crowd.
Finally, the crowd has been given reason to emotionally invest in this guy, which is what I said all along was the only thing he needed.
He's coming hot off the heels of a big win over the King of the Ring and a clean pin in a non-title affair over United States Champion Daniel Bryan and delivered big time in the very first match, and title bout, of 2011 in a breathtaking Falls Count Anywhere match against The Miz.
I'll say it till I'm blue in the face. Have some patience and keep your eyes on John Morrison. He's a lot more than anyone is willing to give him the appropriate credit for.
2. Dolph Ziggler
Midcarder for life? Dolph Ziggler, in a matter of months, has rebuked that label with a resounding "NO".
Easily the most shocking jump up the list has to go to Dolph Ziggler.
From "Hi, I'm Dolph Ziggler," to losing four Intercontinental Title matches in four months, to winning his first IC Championship, to losing the title and earning No. 1 Contendership to the World Title in one night, this man has done a total 180.
I said in the original list that the only thing lacking in Dolph Ziggler was the confidence of the writers and he appears to have not only that confidence from them but more confidence in himself.
Ziggler spent virtually the entirety of his Intercontinental Championship reign doing exactly what he was supposed to do, and exactly what guys like The Rock, Steve Austin, Triple H and Shawn Michaels did before him:
He's consistently been putting on the best wrestling matches on the cards he's been booked on, from a stellar three match series against Daniel Bryan, to outstanding showings against John Cena, Edge and Randy Orton.
Though Ziggler has been on the losing end of all of the previously mentioned matches, what stands out is the performance given in each bout.
Every guy who has gotten in the ring with Ziggler in the past four months has looked phenomenal and Dolph, even in a losing effort, has looked phenomenal right alongside them. That is the art of getting over, when both men look like a million bucks following a match.
Given the caliber of his opponents and how established they are at getting other people over, it speaks volumes about Ziggler's recent ability to do the exact same thing.
I feel only one man currently has more going for him than Dolph Ziggler but his position at No. 1 is not nearly as steadfast and surefire as his predecessor, the original No. 1 who went on to fulfill my prediction and become WWE Champion, The Miz.
And that man is...
1. Wade Barrett
Much like former list leader The Miz, Barrett seems to be on the fast track to a Championship. But the recent creative direction of his character leaves his spot at Number One in a questionable and highly debatable position.
Originally No. 2 on the list, Barrett leaps up to No. 1 following the removal of The Miz, who just four months from the initial compiling of the list fulfilled his mantra of a future Champion.
Wade Barrett still has arguably more going for him than any other potential future champion. Aside from the obvious size and look advantage he enjoys, he's a solid in-ring worker and has proven to be more than comfortable delivering the kinds of battle-charged and articulate promos that drove Michael Cole to refer to him as "Caesar" in his debut match against The Big Show on SmackDown!.
Unlike The Miz, however, his spot at the top of this list is not without question.
While Miz was more or less an obvious pick, Barrett's positioning is questionable at best.
The former Nexus leader has lost a great deal of momentum after being ousted from his own group by CM Punk and sent packing to SmackDown! without so much as a punch being thrown in retaliation.
While it is understandable that WWE is putting Barrett on SmackDown! to boost ratings and to add depth to the roster, the fact that he essentially left RAW with his tail between his legs after the usurping by Punk definitely hurts Barrett's credibility.
He's been saddled with what sounds like another generic rock song performed by yet another undiscovered band. The music is a blatant and brutal failure compared to the epic Nexus Anthem that he touted beforehand.
To make up for this, Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater, formerly of Nexus, joined SmackDown! almost as randomly as Barrett did and alongside No. 8 on this list, Ezekiel Jackson, they've formed essentially a clone of the original Nexus group, going under the brutal name of "The Core."
I have a hard time seeing Barrett's immediate future as optimistically as before but unless creative manages to completely screw up this shaky changing of the guard, he still seems to be a first ballot World Champion, when the time is right.
In his immediate future are whispers of a WrestleMania bout against The Undertaker, which would again push Barrett up the ladder but he remains in close danger of being pushed back to No. 2 or even No. 3 by Ziggler and Morrison, both of whom have had breakout and stellar recent weeks.
Let the Debate Begin
With 40 participants in this year's Rumble match, there are 10 extra men who wouldn't get a chance to shine any other time. Now's the time to put up or shut up.
Given how quickly the landscape changes in WWE, this list is 100 percent open to debate. Leave your interesting and creative responses in the comment section below. Was the list accurate? Were there people too high? Too low? People I excluded that should have been on the list? People I included that you feel don't deserve it?
Discuss it in detail but for crap's sake, please don't bring the typical IWC banter. "Morrison shuldnt be here bcuz hes gay and he sucks" or "ezeekiel jackson cant win a title cuz hes black."
I challenge you all to bring something more to the table than that and I hope that this one-time only revisiting of the list provokes some interesting thoughts and discussion.
Debate it away people and we'll see how accurate this list holds up to be in about a year's time.
Until then, peace love and wrestling my friends.