Keith Lee and 8 Current WWE Stars Who Should Be Future WWE Champions
Keith Lee made his long-awaited return to Raw last week, albeit in a losing effort against WWE champion Bobby Lashley.
Despite coming up short, The Limitless One proved once more that he is more than capable of hanging with top-tier talent in the company and should be considered a hot prospect for a future title reign.
He's far from alone in that, though. There are plenty of Superstars who are worthy of holding the WWE or Universal Championship at some point in their careers.
Even just focusing on Raw and SmackDown, as well as just those who have yet to win a world title—rather than those worthy of another reign, such as AJ Styles or Kevin Owens—over a dozen wrestlers are prime candidates to hold the belt.
Whether brand new to the roster, still getting their footing or mainstays who have been overlooked, here are some of the best options to become world champion sooner or later.
Obviously, Lee is among the best choices and the inspiration for this list.
For someone with his larger size, he is deceptively athletic and moves like a cruiserweight. He's able to put on higher-quality matches than people half his size while still holding his own against juggernauts such as Brock Lesnar.
Critics might say Lee doesn't have the body Vince McMahon looks for in a champion compared to someone like Bobby Lashley, Randy Orton or Batista, but neither did Mick Foley, Yokozuna or Big Show.
The former NXT double champion's personality is different, which allows him to stand out. When the rest of the roster cuts promos with the same enunciation and cadence, Lee has a calmer and cooler rhythm.
Lee comes across as a genuinely caring person fans could get behind as the type of babyface who is hard to find: likable without sacrificing his cool demeanor.
Serious consideration should be given to booking Lee as the one to finally topple Lashley, preferably after a Royal Rumble victory and Road to WrestleMania so fans can go on the triumphant journey with him.
Riddle has managed to cross the line between legitimate and credible MMA fighter to entertaining character inside the squared circle.
His time on SmackDown was a bit rough, but his switch to Raw has seen his more goofy persona become one of the highlights of Monday nights.
Whether playing opposite his rival, clowning around backstage or playing off a more stoic Superstar like Randy Orton, The Original Bro has broken out and found his niche.
Before and after each match, he's having fun and entertaining the WWE Universe in his own unique way, which is something a WWE champion should be able to do at a level above all the average "just a wrestler" types.
Then, when the bell rings, he's able to hold his own and score solid victories over former champions like AJ Styles and even managed to win the United States Championship.
Much like Shawn Michaels, The Rock and others before him, he balances out quirkiness with believability.
In 2014, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin asked Vince McMahon on his podcast why the company had yet to get around to putting the title on someone like Cesaro.
Even then, it was a question worth asking. Seven years later, the question has grown larger and larger.
The Swiss Cyborg had one brush with the Universal Championship earlier this year, but it went away with a snap of a finger. He came up short and was quickly put back into his program with Seth Rollins, which he also lost.
WWE knows he's good, and he is revered by other Superstars on the roster for his work ethic and talent.
Management also knows he's popular, so why not give the fans what they want and reward the man for all his efforts?
The longer he's ignored, the more it seems like it's out of spite to send a message to the fans that nobody dictates who gets pushed other than the brass inside WWE.
Baron Corbin might not be on most people's lists, but he's criminally underrated.
Fans often talk themselves into trends with certain Superstars. Backing a particular wrestler like Dolph Ziggler as the overlooked should-be champion can turn into ragging on the same person when the tide changes and it's no longer the popular opinion.
With Corbin, it's been "in" for the past few years to equate him to one of the lowest of the low on the roster, but no one seems able to give any solid answers why. It usually boils down to just disliking him but with no real arguments to back it up.
In a way, that's because he is one of the rare performers who seems to get how to be a genuine heel. He isn't trying to be a cool guy who gets over for his own sake and gets cheered despite his status as a villain. All he does is in the interest of getting booed.
Few get the jeers he does. Even fewer are also large enough to put up a fight against anyone else on the roster and have a finisher nobody has kicked out of.
His current poor man's sad-sack character isn't the right one to win the belt, but once he picks himself back up, he could go on a tear and be almost a JBL-style heel champion, even if it's only for a short time.
After completely ruining his time as Mr. Money in the Bank in 2017, not capitalizing on his Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal win and trying to blame past poor ratings on him, it's the least WWE can do in return.
John Morrison is another one of the more fun characters right now, and it wouldn't be fitting for him to capture the WWE Championship at this particular moment. However, that doesn't mean it should never happen.
Johnny Drip Drip is a textbook example of a guy who was in the title discussion for so many years that eventually, WWE should just follow through with it for the sake of longevity.
Similar to Christian, he left and won top titles elsewhere, but is still in the shadow of his tag team partner.
Edge's retirement paved the way for Captain Charisma to win the title and subsequently prove he could hold his own in a fantastic feud with Randy Orton. Maybe the same could be the case for Morrison, ideally without The Miz needing to go away in any capacity.
A courtesy title reign is good enough, if only to say he was able to achieve that goal.
Big E is the current Mr. Money in the Bank. He has the power in his hands to take any opportunity over the course of the next 12 months and turn it into a world title reign.
It's fundamentally a guarantee, but WWE has dropped the ball with others in the past like Otis, Corbin, Damien Sandow and Braun Strowman with failed runs with the briefcase, so it may not be in the cards—but it should be, with or without this gimmick.
Kofi Kingston proved someone can be world champion while maintaining their position as a member of a babyface faction, rather than only heels with backup goons being able to hold the title. Big E should be no exception, especially since WWE's kept him largely away from Kingston and Xavier Woods in recent months.
He's not the largest athlete on the roster, but he's called Big E for a reason. He's had two midcard title reigns and more tag team title runs than almost anyone in the company, which help prove he's trustworthy with belts.
Big E (and The New Day as a whole, for that matter) is a commodity that has been popular for years, transcending normal boundaries of how most wrestlers can sell merchandise and tap into fans' wallets.
It doesn't get much better than to see the funny guy with the big heart and the right amount of humility get to ascend the throne.
After just one match on Raw that he happened to lose, as well as less than 30 matches in his entire WWE career so far, the jury's still out on Karrion Kross as some guaranteed world champion who can do no wrong.
However, just because he's still in the testing phase doesn't mean he's not incapable of proving himself a viable champion to consider. The Beast Incarnate accomplished nearly everything he possibly could within a year of joining SmackDown and Kross could be cut from a similar cloth.
He's big, carries himself like a true monster and feels fresh. Since WWE cut so many Superstars and others have decided to leave and/or retire, he's one of the few imposing physical threats lingering that hasn't been through the motions already.
Outside of that loss to Jeff Hardy, he's also been very well protected. Even then, WWE made sure to have The Charismatic Enigma's feet on the ropes, so he only won by cheating.
Kross is the type of wrestler like Sycho Sid where his size and intimidating presence does the talking for him. He doesn't need to have the gift of gab like Ric Flair to put that belt on his shoulder.
It's not hard to imagine how he'd be able to beat his way up the ladder and toward a championship win, nor would it be unbelievable that the rest of the roster would struggle to dethrone him once he captured the belt.
Few WWE Superstars have been as great at pulling off both the sympathetic uber-babyface underdog and the absolute garbage cowardly weasel heel character as Sami Zayn.
In NXT, he proved fans could get behind his chase to the top. It was extremely effective to see him have a transitional reign before passing it off to a dominating heel, which could happen again if and when he turns to the side of good.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, his current heel character is slimy and delusional enough that a world title reign could amplify that in wonderful ways.
He would have been a perfect candidate for a Money in the Bank cash-in as it would have allowed him to tout his intelligence and delusion as he'd consider himself the smartest to ever pull off the dastardly theft of a championship.
With so many of his like-minded wrestling purist brethren such as Daniel Bryan leaving WWE in favor of performing elsewhere, checking off a world title reign could be what keeps Zayn under this roof, too.
Rounding things out is a list of Superstars whose names are worth tossing out, but don't have the strongest case to make an argument for them in comparison as the others.
For example, Damian Priest has made massive improvements in the past year and a half and could very well reach this level, but a midcard title reign should come first to see how he handles that responsibility.
Robert Roode should have came into WWE's main roster immediately, rather than NXT, and won a world championship practically out of the gate. However, he's been utilized as more of a midcard act for so long it's hard to believe the company will ever believe in him enough to turn things around.
Shinsuke Nakamura's time to win the title was years ago after he won the Royal Rumble. WWE opted to keep it on The Phenomenal One and Nakamura's yet to recover from that loss. However, he's making strides after stealing Corbin's crown, so all hope may not be lost quite yet.
Shelton Benjamin is worth discussing for a courtesy run with the belt, similar to Morrison, but he has even less momentum behind him.
Ricochet is astonishing in the ring, but WWE's never treated him as more than a stunt act and a midcarder.
Last, but not least, is Montez Ford. Right now, he's exactly where he needs to be as a half of The Street Profits, but no teams last forever in WWE. When he eventually splits from Angelo Dawkins, it'd be interesting to see if his undeniable charisma on the mic and in the ring will translate to capitalizing on all the potential he has.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.