WWE: Who is the next big thing?

Rules of Professional Wrestling, #1: As the Earth does with the sun; every wrestling promotion must revolve around one top star – a name and face that will become your brand, your identity, and your ticket to filling arenas and planting butts in front of television screens.

When you think of The Terminator, you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, just as the Muppets revolve around Kermit T. Frog and Marilyn Manson conjures up, well, Marilyn Manson. With the exception of a few, almost every wrestling promotion in history has built themselves around one larger-than-life superstar who stands out above all the others. None more so than Vince McMahon with the WWE: In the 1980s, Hulk Hogan WAS pro wrestling, before Stone Cold Steve Austin took the ball in 1998 and redefined the industry. Even today, the WWE cannot function confidently without John Cena selling merchandise, bumping television ratings and keeping live attendance numbers stable. No matter how many stars are in the sky, one always shines brighter than the others.


A small selection of John Cena merchandise available...

The problem with this set-up is that, inevitable, a new superstar will have to be found, created or stumbled upon by accident in order to keep the cycle running. John Cena won’t be around forever, and consensus amongst most wrestling fans is that the WWE need to start creating some new headline names to move the company forward. If Cena is mysteriously pushed down the stairs tomorrow morning (most likely by a maniac who breaks into his home with a sledgehammer, leaves giant nose prints on the doors and then makes their escape in a Triple H-branded tour bus), who is going to take that step up to the top of the ladder and make their mark on the business? Who is the next big thing? Let’s meet the candidates.

CM Punk


If you’re a fan on the internet, chances are that Punk is the very first name that came into your head. That’s probably because you’re an idiot. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because the push of a new straight-shooting cult hero has shown what can happen with the right talker saying the right things at the right time. Given the chance to just go out and talk people into the buildings, few are currently better, if any at all, than CM Punk.

The problem with Punk is the hype that that has been thrust upon him (he was put in front of a thousand screaming internet fans in the Hammerstein Ballroom on his WWE debut and given a hero’s welcome, whilst Money In The Bank landed him in his home city of Chicago against Cena, which propelled him to superstardom for all of one night). The die-hard supporters of Punk, most of whom have occupied the internet since his days in ROH, have repeatedly made their voices heard, even masking many of his shortcomings in the ring. Whilst fluid and realistic  he can also be prone to sloppiness, lacking the finesse and charisma that made Shawn Michaels one of the greatest workers in history. Even the Punk character, whilst striking an initial chord with disillusioned fans, comes off on the wrong side of whiny, and that makes it difficult for many to invest as they did with the last true wrestling rebel, Steve Austin.

Could Punk be the next Austin? With a personality that naturally deviates towards an unlikeable-verging-on-dickish heel persona, it’s unlikely. Someone like Punk will always split the audience, not too dissimilarly to how Cena does. The loss to Triple H at Night of Champions didn’t help his cause much either. However, of everyone who has been given a shot so far, Punk has shown the ability to take the ball and run as far as he can before the writing team reel him in. It’s unlikely that he’ll become a top-level megastar but, like Edge and Chris Jericho before him, he could keep himself on the cusp for a very long time. That’s good for business good for business; not unlike the two legendary Canadians, the wrestling business needs a CM Punk right now and no one plays the role of CM Punk better than CM Punk.

The Miz


Once known as the Marty Jannetty of his tandem with John Morrison, The Miz rapidly made a name for himself as a solo star and enjoyed a lengthy, if not poorly executed title reign at the beginning of the year. A star whose light shone brightly leading into Wrestlemania XXVII, the Awesome One has fallen from grace long before his time.

Where his ring ability may fail him – a decent worker at best, capable of good matches with good opponents but ultimately at a mid-card level of ability – his mic skills are on par with the best in the business. More importantly, Miz has something that the likes of Punk, Orton and even Cena lack: mainstream acceptance. Late night talk shows love having him on their shows (Conan O’Brien gave Miz his stamp of approval, and he won everyone over on Lopez Tonight), gossip sites consider his reality show credentials pre-WWE to be worth keeping him in their sights, and celebrities actually know who he is. Mike Mizanin, the man who once bored SmackDown viewers senseless with his “hoo-rah” catchphrase and failure of hosting the Diva Search, is now the WWE’s meal ticket for every celebrity function in town, as well as the credibility that goes with it.

Yet, celebrity status can only get you so far once you step between the ropes. As a name, The Miz is the closest to The Rock (note: close, not equal) as anyone in wrestling. As an in-ring talent, he’s a step below Cody Rhodes. That may work for a main event of Raw, but try placing it at Wrestlemania and see what happens. In fact, they did do that, and we did see what happened, and now he is jobbing to Air Boom with R-Truth and likely to be mingling with Miss Piggy and Animal come Halloween (which isn’t a bad thing, and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong). Yet, with his speaking skills, his media work and his ability to carry himself like a bona-fied superstar, we most certainly haven’t seen the last of this “most must-see champion” with the title around his waist.

Randy Orton


Considering the story of The Viper so far in his career, it could be argued that Orton should be, by rights, next in line to the WWE throne. Numerous titles and main event spots would back that up, as would his credentials once the bell rings: effortlessly good-to-great matches under his belt with a variety of different wrestlers over the last seven to eight years. With a resume like that, it’s hard to argue against him.

You can therefore imagine everyone’s surprise that Orton has never fulfilled those high expectations, no matter the chances afforded to him. Even when WWE put him over strongly against lower positioned talents who could use the rub of a victory far more than Randy, his popularity and influence still seems to wane in contrast to Cena. For whatever reason, something keeps holding Orton back from taking the final leap towards carrying the company forward.

It’s not his talent, nor his look (which probably does him more favours than anything else). His talking abilities are somewhat limited and a little wooden, but it’s the character that lets him down the most. At his peak of fan interest, he was a villain; possessed with the ability to switch at any moment and take out the biggest superstars without a second thought or subsequent remorse. As a babyface, it’s difficult to balance such a character with being fan-friendly, so it’s easy to forgive Orton for falling a little short. Until those tweaks are made, however, the former Legend Killer will forever be in Cena’s shadow.

Alberto Del Rio


Of what little was known of him before he made his way to the WWE, Del Rio has been a revelation. Taking the best bits of the old John Bradshaw Layfield character, adding an additional layer of talent and employing the services of Ricardo Rodriguez as his personal ring announcer, ADR has become one of the hottest new stars in years. Moreover, his ascension was home-made; the character, the name, and the push were all created by Team WWE, and that is usually the most important factor in guaranteeing a lengthy period of success for anyone, let alone Del Rio.

A now former WWE champion, Del Rio’s biggest test is forthcoming. It’s well known that his initial reign was planned months in advance to coincide with a tour of Mexico, in the hope of capitalising on having a local guy as the company figurehead, as well catching the eye of the American population of Hispanics, which was the main catalyst for Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero becoming as popular in the WWE as they did. For whatever reason (likely ratings-based), the decision was made to put Cena back in the driving seat at Night of Champions, but that could change with Hell In A Cell only a week away. If Del Rio can help the WWE break Mexico and tap into a potentially lucrative market, there’s no reason short of finding a steroid needle stuck in one of his buttocks to pull back on pushing him as a champion again.

With an ever-improving workrate, strong promo work and a character that has caught on with the audience, Del Rio is in a great position. If Mexico takes to him as their national hero, he could solidify his place in the upper echelon for years to come. The company have faith in him, as seen by their rare insistence of letting him beat opponents cleanly in the middle of the ring on a weekly basis, and keeping a cool head on his shoulders would take him above and beyond what Eddie Guerrero managed to accomplish (became champion but ultimately blamed himself for subsequent SmackDown ratings and succumbed to the pressure of his perceived responsibilities). Turning heads in countries beyond America is something no longer taken for granted by the WWE, and Del Rio’s success or failure in these areas will determine whether he becomes the next Rey Mysterio Jr. or Jesus Castillo, Jr. Who? Exactly.

Zack Ryder


Okay, now I’m just being silly.

Or am I? A former Edge lackey who turned on the radio and became the Long Island Iced Z, capitalising on the growing subculture of ‘Guido’ even before Jersey Shore took it to the masses and scarred the image of Snooki into our collective nightmares. Does that sound too far-fetched? How about taking the initiative to make his own Youtube show that not only doesn’t embarrass himself or the company, but actually has managed to get him over with a section of fans that would otherwise never have given a rat’s ass about him with how much time the WWE were investing in his “push”? In effect, he made himself a bigger star on his own accord.

Naturally, you’d expect Vince McMahon to be a vindictive swine and bury the guy six feet under, which seemed to be the plan for a few weeks. Now, though, the company seem to have seen the potential and are throwing themselves behind it, giving the guy plugs on Raw for his Z! True Long Island Story videos, aligning him with professional Wolverine, Hugh Jackman and even giving him the occasional victory as well. He’s not setting the world on fire, but neither did Disco Inferno in 1997, and look how he turned out… wait, what do you mean that was a bad example?

Who do you think has the potential to accept the torch and keep it ablaze without burning the whole company to the ground? Could it be one of the five aforementioned, or maybe someone I’ve forgotten? Maybe they don’t even work for the WWE, and that’s not even bringing up the scary possibility that it may be too late; maybe there will be no new superstar after all. Then what?

Whatever your thoughts, leave them in the comments section below, or on the TWO forums.

Mitchell Jones
Follow Mitchell on Twitter: @mitchelljones

Thanks to Richard Hapeman, Reckless Dream Photography and Zack Ryder for the accompanying photos.


  • ed

    That’s a very deterministic view.

    WWE has to revolve around 1 “Superstar” maybe…TNA revolves around many at any one given time, thus not being boring unlike the main event scene in WWE.

  • Yo

    Wtf are you talking about Ed. TNA revolves around Hogan, Sting, and Bischoff, the rest are pretty much nobodies. If the WWE main scene is that dull, then why is the WWE’s weekly ratings 10 times as much as TNA’s?

  • Great article, looks like WWE will start a push for Mason Ryan but I doubt he will make it because he lacks character and charisma.

    I personally think the one who could make it to the top is John Morrison he has unique skills and very sexy baby face, his main problem is lack of mic skills which WWE needs to work on.

    Another good idea would be to do like WCW did in 1997 and find someone new with lots of of charisma like Bill Goldberg.

  • Why not Sheamus? who’s getting more popular each and everyday.

  • It’s not gonna be The Miz or Zack Ryder because they’re not popular enough. No one likes Alberto either and CM Punk isn’t the ‘best in the world’ as he says and he doesn’t have all the characteristics needed. (A hot champion-like look…..)

    So it’s probably the Legend Killer or we’re gonna have to wait till another generation…

  • Dorian

    What is TNA?
    Hogan and Sting still exist?

    I don’t know who will be the one to carry the torch but as crazy as this may sound, after Orton, Alberto del Rio is the next in line. He is a WWE Creative product and may be hated by “Americans” but he is LOVED worldwide!

    Mexico adores him, every news and sports site covers him.
    In America WWE is entertainment…Wrestling in Mexico, Lucha Libre, is a national passion, next to soccer. They love him abroad as well.

    I may like it, I may not, but luckily for ADR, he was created to be successful. If WWE is in control, he will stay at the top.

  • @ed – I would disagree that focusing on “any given” superstar at any one time is a good thing. If everyone is a superstar, nobody is a superstar. At wrestling’s peak moments, there have never been ten-odd main event players. Hogan had Savage, Warrior and Dibiase as support but was never overshadowed because he was the star. Austin was never overshadowed by The Rock, Triple H or Mick Foley. In fact, one of my biggest criticisms for TNA is that they don’t have a superstar to revolve the company around. In my opinion, they need one to even conceive of reaching the next level.

    @Omar – Thank you 🙂 A good suggestion, but the problem is that WCW found Goldberg accidentally. They never set out to make him a star, it just happened that way. WWE could stumble on their new star tomorrow, but what they do need – and I’ll agree with you on this as I believe this is what you would have also meant – is to recognise the potential in someone catching fire and letting them run with it, as opposed to cutting their legs off.

    @Bernard – Great shout, and Sheamus would have made it onto the list on any other day. Ditto for Wade Barrett.

    @MszRiRi – I wouldn’t disagree with any of that, on base level. What do you think a champion needs in order to be considered a part of that Cena-esque echelon?

    @Dorian – Del Rio is definitely one who could take the ball and run with it, given the amount of trust WWE seem to be putting into him at the moment. And you’re correct, in that he has been groomed to be successful, and has enough talent to pull it off.

  • Thank you all for the feedback. Please keep leaving your comments.

  • CM Punk all the way !

  • Magill

    WWE doesn’t need a new Cena or a new Hogan, or even a new Austin, they NEED a new Shawn Michaels and a new Bret Hart, they need exceptional talent. IMO Cena will probably ‘Hogan’ it and be there and be ‘the guy’ until he’s too old to look good, they have no problem selling t shirts nor ever will have as long as Cena is showing his face. WWE needs a showstopper, someone who’ll make the all-time highlight reel, not since the Brock Lesnar ‘frog splash’ attempt has something like that happened in my opinion and I don’t think that person is in the WWE roster or in TNA for that matter. If they could make a Dolph Ziggler or a Brian Kendrick 6 feet tall they’d have found guys half way there, but they fall short… haha? WWE needs a great, great match of the likes we haven’t seen since HBK was the man.

  • Magill

    PS, Ted Dibiase has the perfect character and potential to be the arch nemesis of CM Punk, closest thing I can think of.

  • fedex89

    I’ve been a fan of the WWE for the last 16 years (I’m 23 now) and I personally believe that this new era (or the Cena era) is perhaps the most boring one. I mean, I know that guys like Stone Cold, Rock, Undertaker and Triple H don’t come very often, but thats not an excuse for the lack of entertainment. Some fans in particular take WWE for real and cheer only guys with a ‘good boy’ image, like Cena. But for me, guys like Del Rio, Miz, and CM Punk (the new Punk) make it even better. I don’t consider Cena a big thing in the first place. As for a new ‘good guy’ or ‘the next big thing’, John Morrison is the only guy in the frame at the moment, but its actually pretty shocking to see that the WWE have not capitalized on his skills yet!!!

  • Just Randy Orton.

  • I agree with Bernard. Sheamus doesn’t have as much finesse and can’t pull off the more complicated moves but he’s got personality and holds his own. In a perfect world, he’d be the big player but as it stands, I think Randy Orton is going to be the next guy to stand on top.

  • Randy all the way, Orton should be by rights next in line to the WWE throne.

  • George

    If he can develop a personality in front of the mic, mark my works, Mason Ryan will be the next legendary figure in the WWE.

  • I’d like to see Dolph Ziggler given another shot at being a World Champion. Drop Vicki G as manager and maybe even pull a faceturn. I find him incredibly likeable even when he is doing all the dickish heel cliches like dissing a city or telling people to shut up. He’s good on the mic and great in the ring, some guy said above if he was 6ft he’d be perfect but he is 6’1 I think.

    And I agree with the guy that said they need new alternative characters as apposed to the new Hogan. I think they need to find the new HHH, a guy that goes nearly his entire career being the evil champion but can still get clean title wins against the babyfaces and have lengthy reigns, this is where I feel Wade Barrett should be at right now.

  • killer

    If I had to pick one of them I would choose hmmm Randy Orton 🙂 Why? Because this guy has done so much for WWE and is still going 🙂 He was a member of Evolution then the youngest world champion then Rated RKO, he won the Royal Rumble in 2009, he won the biggest Battle Royal in WWE history, he retired many legends and he is a 9 time World Champion… so I would probably choose The Viper 🙂

  • The Viper, ADR and CM Punk!

  • sourav

    Randy Orton…the viper’s time has come.

  • Jeff

    All good but let’s not forget the likes of Dolph Ziggler or Cody Rhodes himself… and I think if McGillicutty gets a little personality they can be the face of WWE for a while. Cody the face, Dolph obviously the heel (Ric Flair/ Lex Luger style) and McGillicutty the “flip-flop” character. I think it could be close up on them and I’ve been a fan of Orton since he wrestled, got injured and joined Evolution but I agree that he is in Cena’s shadow (even though he’s better technically than Cena) but Cena can mix words better than anybody. I say make RKO the top heel and take “The Show-Off” under his wing and prove to everybody why PG doesn’t work and the bad guy always prevails…

  • There is definitely a quite large change in the WWE at the moment. Firstly, the return of the original Kane character is a revelation. Why they felt the need to take his mask off in the first place is beyond me. So if they go with Kane as seriously as they originally did, and maybe get a commentator that can capitalise on the fear-factor of Kane to the audience at home, then Kane could be big for the foreseeable.

    When it comes to the next big young Superstar, I’d have to agree with @fedex89, John Morrison has the most talent when it comes to wrestling ability. The match between him and Dolph Ziggler at Survivor Series was (worryingly) the best I’ve seen in quite some time for ‘purist’ wrestling. The grappling and flowing moves were a small glimpse of past greats of purist wrestling such as Bret Hart and Chris Benoit. More wrestling, less prancing, posing and shameless argument episodes please WWE!

    Oh and WWE definitely need a new Goldberg/Brock Lesnar/Batista type character to mean things up too. Maybe Mason Ryan needs to mean up.



  • ade

    after cena definitely its Randy Orton

  • It’s something about how it all worked out almost a year later. Cena is still the star with the crowd spit about him. CM Punk won over the whole WWE universe, holding the WWE Title for a good time, and now he is having a heel turn. Del Rio was so insulting that the Mexicans hate him too, which wasn’t a bad thing. He is in the main events because of it. Zack Ryder is still loved by the fans, but he looks like another one WWE will mismanage until they let him go. I honestly see Shameus as the next big thing. He will fill a desperate need of a powerhouse that they lost when Batista left, and he works well as either a face or heel, which is almost always needed to be great in the WWE (with the main exception of the always face Cena). There are also a long list of “young” (under 35) stars who could be huge in the WWE if they use them right that this list didn’t mention. Kofi Kingston, Ryback is getting some huge hype, Jack Swagger has the talent to be the next Kurt Angle, Ziggler could be the next big heel, Daniel Bryan could be in the top 10 superstars of all time if they use him to his ability, Cody Rhodes has the talent and mike skills and the name for greatness, and Drew Mcintyre would already be great if they kept up with his chosen one instead of his current jobber status. I’m sure I missed a few, but WWE has so much talent that they should never be without an excellent main event, and if they are it’s their own fault.


    WTF !! where is Ryback …… Hes is the Next Big Thing ….. ….. but for now it’s CENA for sure!!!!

  • How Dolph Ziggler was kept off this list, I will never understand. Same goes for Cody Rhodes, Daniel Bryan, and Damian Sandow. Yes I know Sandow hadn’t made his debut yet, but I still felt the need to put him on this list.

  • I love john cena but whats up with brad maddox

  • HMW


  • Kendall Sky

    Wade Barrett you brain farts?

  • Maddie

    John Cena is Always Great……..

  • MaxR

    Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Wade Barrett, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger are all ones that could get pushed tomorrow and they would be good, even the likes of JTG & Hunico would be good if they repackaged them both as heels, especially JTG because he has a different look that could work, the only problem with him is that he’s a bit on the short size.

  • Porst

    The was posted in September 2011. Some of your suggestions hadn’t even debuted yet, or were jobbing in NXT at the time. “where is Ryback?” Seriously? I’ll tell you where: he was Ryan Reeves, and he was off TV with an ankle injury.

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