It’s easy to hate John Cena. Hardcore wrestling fans know this. The franchise of the WWE has for nearly a decade been the safe, dependable guy who loyally carries the company on his back. He’s not the biggest star in the history of wrestling, but who needs a new Steve Austin when you’ve got a steady, sanitised moneymaker on your hands?
There were moments we despised John Cena. We hated that he never changed. That he squashed up and comers. We hated that when CM Punk showed up and threatened to be the next Stone Cold, WWE just waved him right by and stuck with Cena. Very soon though, we’re going to hate that he’s gone.
Our hatred for Big Match John for years has eclipsed the truth: John Cena is a star. He sells hats and shirts, fills arenas, boosts ratings and pushes pay-per-view traffic. He has, what NFL pundits like to call, the intangibles: he works hard, has an innate charisma and an ability to react to a crowd. He’s a good worker and holds that indefinable ‘it’ factor of a superstar. Which, right now, is worrying. Because WWE hasn’t made a new star yet. And Cena might not be around for as long as you think.
WWE have held 13 main event pay per views so far in 2016. John Cena has competed at only four of them, featuring in the main event only once. Super Cena has always rushed back from injuries in the past, but 2016 was different. For a man known for making the big events, Cena has missed the Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania and now Survivor Series in 2016.
Panicking yet? Well, you should be. Because who’s next? Sorry guys, but it ain’t Roman Reigns. What we’re looking for here are talents with that intangible star quality, and of late WWE haven’t done a great job of spotting it. Here, in this internet nobody’s opinion, are the people that might have it.
You idiots, WWE. The most ready guy to be your next star has been standing right next to Roman Reigns this whole time. And with your complete fanbase ready to cheer him back from injury like he’s Superman returning from the dead, you have him return as a bad guy.
Apparently Vince McMahon was of the view Rollins could be his next great heel, but this belief doesn’t seem to have lasted long. The Architect hasn’t quite found his babyface persona yet, but we already know he can talk, wrestle and manage the crowd like few others. If he’s not a superstar on the level of The Rock or Hulk Hogan, he’s at least a guy who can carry the company for a decent spell until that crossover personality shows up.
Rollins has the added benefit of being relatively young and also being one of the actual best wrestlers on earth right now. It’s one of the reasons he gets one of the loudest pops these days. Of everyone on this list Rollins is the farthest along, with the added benefit of having actually carried the company for long stretches since Wrestlemania 31. Hell, as Raw’s top babyface, there’s an argument to be made that he’s the face of the company already. It might be time WWE started building the show around him and his ongoing redemption story.
How do you know you’re in the best feud of 2016? Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens probably won’t win a Slammy award, but their programme over the summer is unique in one respect: if they were still fighting now it would still be amazing. Instead, Zayn is being used to enhance other story lines or develop lesser talent.
I’ve heard more than one person claim that once it sinks in Roman isn’t the guy, WWE will realise it’s Sami. The logic centre of my brain has severe problems believing WWE could be so cognizant, but Sami could indeed be the guy. He’s got natural charisma and relatability, his ring work is exceptional and he’s got a knack for making anyone look good. Hell, not even Cena can get a good match out of anyone.
Right now, on Monday Night Raw, Sami is doing something I’ll admit I did not expect from him. He’s taking borderline obstructive booking and somehow getting over. That’s not normal. People aren’t supposed to sing along to such a dorky entrance theme. They’re not meant to cheer the jobber of a Braun Strowman squash match.
Sami Zayn is the oldest performer on this list, which means his clock is ticking. He also might be the most poorly utilised right now. But if you give him an inch he’ll pull you a mile. If WWE put Zayn on Smackdown, he’ll be their world champion within a year, and they don’t even realise that yet.
Colin Cassidy is a work in progress. Typically, unless their name is Mark Calaway, big guys don’t make great wrestlers. But they can be good, and sometimes that’s enough. Of all the ‘big men’ to land in WWE in recent history though, Big Cass has the most potential. His tag team gimmick with Enzo Amore is doing gangbusters and he’s proved he can carry a promo on his own.
Like Roman Reigns, Cass’s biggest drawback is his lack of indie experience. Not everyone needs to spend a decade at Ring of Honor or PWG to be accepted by all us ‘cool’ indie wrestling fans. Still, there are certain skills and habits indie guys seem to have a grasp on that guys like Cass have got to learn. Selling, psychology and storytelling will be something Cass will have to absorb on the go, not that he doesn’t already have a good grounding in these things. But guys like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and Cesaro have that fine tuned from years in front of high school gymnasiums.
Even so, Cass has a unique size and look and his distinct promo style is just different enough from those around him to stand out. Most of all, Vince McMahon loves giants. Lucky for Big Cass that he’s the first of Vince’s giants in a long time to really click as a wrestler.
You don’t even know how big Johnny Wrestling might end up being. If Vince has caught any of Gargano’s recent NXT Takeover matches and still doesn’t see dollar signs he might have finally lost his touch. See, Gargano has ‘it’. No one since Daniel Bryan can boast such a deep emotional fan connection, and Gargano has the edge of being younger and less injury prone.
While his promos are serviceable and getting better, Gargano’s in ring work and personality are his real weapons. He’s a guy tailor made for those big moments. NXT’s writers have been smart in his most recent story, alongside Tommaso Ciampa, to give him a journey of overcoming the odds. After their big win at NXT Takeover: Toronto, it’s paying dividends.
To badly paraphrase Dave Meltzer, the test of getting over is not about having the right look, the right size or the right gimmick. It’s about whether your unique combination of attributes is the right kind of alchemy to win the crowd’s heart. Gargano is not 6‘ 5‘, he doesn’t have a strong chin or a body builder physique. But that doesn’t matter; the crowd at Full Sail adore him. If this can translate to main, WWE have a new headliner on their hands.
We all saw Triple H give Alexander a thumbs up of approval, right? I’m not imagining it, am I? Because after that performance against Kota Ibushi at the Cruiserweight Classic, Cedric Alexander deserves to be on Hunter’s radar.
Each wrestler on this list is here for a different reason – each instance a separate combination of talent and intangibles. Alexander stands out for his grasp of small details at such a young age. His selling is great – just go watch that Ibushi match – and his athleticism is mesmerising. I can’t say I’ve seen enough of his promos to decide how good he is, but there’s definitely charisma there. Besides, something about Alexander hints at a similar work rate to the one that took Seth Rollins from average to excellent on the mic in barely two years.
One thing Alexander will have no trouble with, if he’s given a push, is delivering a big match feel. We’ve not seen much from him yet on the main roster because someone near the top at WWE clearly doesn’t give two shits about the Cruiserweights. But yes, Alexander is a guy who won’t just put on barn burning matches. He’s got the skills to get us emotionally invested in his fights and his story.
Give the guy the same polish you gave to Rollins and you’ll have yourself a multi-time world champ, WWE.
Shut up and answer me: why not? I’m sure if you’ve read some of my other posts, you’re pretty sick of me worshiping at the alter of Bayley all the time. My reason? It has everything to do with how many fans, from starry=eyed little girls to grown men with neckbeards and Young Bucks t-shirts, lose their shit when Bayley’s music hits. Like Gargano, Bayley has accidentally found that unique connection with fans. Call it a goofy ‘girl-next-door’ thing or a dorky sister vibe, it resonates with fans because it’s real. It’s the kind of person Pamela Martinez probably is in real life.
Bayley’s getting more comfortable on the mic, as evidenced by her official Raw debut. There are kinks to iron out, and she’s not quite sly enough yet to control a rowdy crowd. That comes with experience though.
In the ring, Bayley is exactly the kind of sports entertainer WWE loves to have. Her underdog mannerisms build sympathy from the crowd, her crowd pleasing signature moves giving younger fans something to watch for. She’s no Sasha Banks but she’s a better worker than people give her credit for. Oh, and she does that cool thing before her diving elbow where she straightens her side ponytail. It’s the small things, y’know?