Antonio Cesaro and Other Candidates to Replace John Cena at the Top of WWE
John Cena has been a mainstay of WWE's main event scene for nearly eight years now, but with blossoming superstars such as Antonio Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler emerging, the company need to start preparing for when Cena eventually hangs up his boots.
At the age of 35, Cena's retirement is hardly nigh, but WWE's reliance on Cena for ratings—prioritising him over title matches was the theme in 2012—indicates new stars must be pushed to step in should Cena ever suffer an injury or take time off from the ring.
WWE has done a suitable enough job in building main-eventers such as Sheamus, CM Punk, Ryback and Alberto Del Rio in recent times, but as of right now, Cena's shadow still hangs over all four.
In relation to building the next face of a generation, it could indeed be when Cena next vacates the ring for a prolonged spell that we witness the birth of a new icon.
Here, I'll examine the most likely candidates to reign in the next five to 10 years, with the long-term future in mind as opposed to ranking current stars most likely to further step up in Cena's absence.
Aside from fairly high-profile feuds with Rey Mysterio and Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes has not been exposed to the main event scene terribly often.
However, his split with Damien Sandow is perhaps indicative that brighter prospects lie ahead for his career, and his moustache, after WWE WrestleMania 29.
Rhodes, son of Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes, arguably has the in-ring skills to thrive at a higher level than the mid-card, and following recent live chants of "Cody's Moustache," it appears his popularity is surging at a sufficient degree to justify a legitimate push.
Eloquent on the microphone, while often displaying wonderful glimpses of humour, the 27-year-old has built himself a solid WWE career up until now, but a top-level feud is needed to establish him as a key player for the future.
Rivalries with either Chris Jericho, Sheamus or Alberto Del Rio would go some way towards legitimising his future ambitions, and while a distant fantasy, it is hard not to be enticed by a potential Rhodes vs. Dolph Ziggler match at WrestleMania in years to come.
2013 could prove a milestone year for Rhodes, which will hopefully see him ascend as a WWE great rather than remain resigned to the mid-card.
Hovering on the periphery of the main event scene for what feels like an eternity, Dolph Ziggler surely cannot be too far away from becoming World Heavyweight champion.
With six months left to cash in his Money in the Bank contract, WWE's commitment unfortunately seems to have waivered with Ziggler recently, with the "Show Off" taking two successive defeats to John Cena in January.
Arguably, Ziggler's recent pairing with AJ Lee may prove to be a mistake, particularly as the diva offers no help to Ziggler in big match situations, which also applies for supposed bodyguard Big E Langston.
However, should Ziggler find himself with a stable that physically supports him, in a manner similar to that of The Four Horsemen, Evolution or Legacy, then establishment as a bona fide superstar could follow, in the vein that it did for Randy Orton in 2009.
Even his most devout critics would struggle to deny there are elements of greatness within Ziggler, from his incredible selling, reminiscent of Shawn Michaels, to his pompous swagger, which displays shades of "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
For now, Ziggler can only travel the path he has been on for months, wrestling excellent matches and proving an all-round reliable hand, but there could yet be so much more for Ziggler if WWE finally pulls the trigger and turns him into a big-time draw.
Currently enjoying a six-month reign as United States champion, Antonio Cesaro sauntered his way from beating Santino Marella to facing Sheamus within months of his debut in 2012.
While John Cena has proven himself to be one of the strongest WWE superstars in history, Cesaro also has an adept hand for strength, which may be crucial in regards to his future development.
Performing impressive acts of supreme physicality has seen Cena become an iron man of sorts, especially after becoming one of the lightest men to ever lift up Big Show back at WrestleMania 20.
With the addition of his unwavering resiliency, Cena's "never give up" attitude saw him become a sensation, and a similar pathway could open up for Cesaro should he become a babyface.
Following the applause Cesaro received when he hoisted up The Great Khali for "The Neutralizer," Cesaro is gaining respect from the WWE Universe, and that respect would surely be transferred to fondness should the Swiss star ever exit the dark side.
Greatness is arguably destined for Cesaro, as a heel or a face, and at 32, he certainly has enough years left to emerge as a WWE household name.
The Miz's interaction with Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman on the February 4 edition of WWE Raw was debatably the highlight of his babyface turn so far, in a worrying indictment of how Miz's career is developing.
A former WWE champion who headlined WrestleMania 27, Miz's in-ring skills are solid, as are John Cena's, and his promo skills are infrequently excellent, much like Cena's.
The comparisons are there, but as ever, when building a top face, a supreme heel is needed to provide the obstacle that fans desperately want the superstar to overcome.
Miz is yet to broach that sort of territory, bar his brief feud with Antonio Cesaro, and instead of transparent endorsement from Ric Flair, Miz should be presented with a legitimate rivalry heading into WrestleMania 29.
A big win on the grandest stage of them all would solidify Miz as a star to keep your eye on, and one can only envisage the likely success of feuds with either CM Punk, Big Show or fellow slideshow members Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes.
Providing Miz's direction remains focused in 2013, the well-dressed former reality star has enough mainstream attention and charisma to illustrate his potential as the future face of WWE.
A feud with Lesnar would be a wonderful next step, and should Miz exit the rivalry with some credibility, this could yet be the year where the next future of a generation is born.
Groomed for greatness in 2012, Ryback's days of squashing local wrestlers suddenly ended in place of pursuing CM Punk in the winter for the WWE Championship.
While comparisons to Goldberg have brutally accompanied his development, Ryback's strength, intensity, likeability and look make him an ideal candidate to lead the WWE's main event scene for the next decade.
Having already competed in the ring with John Cena, Ryback has enough high profile matches on his curriculum vitae to prove he can hang with WWE's elite.
Looking down the line, WWE or World Heavyweight title glory is clearly destined for Ryback, and arguably, should a clash with Cena occur in the future, that match may end up being the passing of the torch to signify the next face of a generation.
2013 could be a banner year for Ryback, and if one man is going to step up in Cena's absence, it is hard to look past "Big Hungry" being the superstar to do so.
Thanks for reading folks, and please feel free to sound off in the comments below with your feedback and thoughts. Follow me on Twitter @JWoodfield365.