Thanks in part to WWE’s more recent approach to nabbing all of the great indie talent it can get its hands on over the past few years, their rosters are currently fairly deep. They don’t always know what to do with what they have, but the talent is there. It’s doesn’t take very long to find someone who could be the figurehead of a brand, carrying their roster to new heights while donning the Universal or WWE Title. That’s the point of this article, to speculate on who might be the next first-time World Champion.
This week’s list (which also includes a companion video discussion HERE and embedded below) is directly inspired by a recent WWE video, which addressed the same topic. WWE picks were Baron Corbin, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Cesaro for their choices (in that order). I like the wrestlers they mentioned, even if I don’t think all of their calls are the best. For example, I like Cesaro as much as the next guy, but ranking him as the number 1 most likely future World Champion is quite a reach. Surely they’ve seen his booking over the past few years? Fans would rejoice if he ever became “The Guy,” but the top brass simply do not see him in that same light.
For my take on this top 5, I’ve challenged myself to come up with my own choices for future World Title holders who have never previously held one in WWE. To make it a little difficult, I abstained from using WWE’s picks. Not even Nakamura. Perhaps I’ll revisit this article years down the road to see if I or WWE made better picks.
5. Big Cass
There are some things you simply cannot teach and that includes both Big Cass’ massive size as well as Vince McMahon’s love for wrestlers who have Big Cass’ massive size. Enzo has kept saying that his partner is seven feet tall and the powers that be have heard him loud and clear. The waters were already tested for a singles run when he qualified for a Fatal 4-Way Match for the Universal Championship in August 2016. Kevin Owens pinned Cass to eliminate him during that match, which marked his first ever main roster pinfall defeat. I’m unsure how many times his shoulders have been down for 3 since then, but I’d guarantee that the number is small. Very small. WWE sees long-term value in him, that’s for sure.
Personally, I’m not clamoring for a Big Cass vs. Enzo Amore breakup and feud when the inevitable Cass solo run happens. Enzo is still a great talker and can always become more of a mouthpiece who can occasionally get physical when he needs to. That strategy would preserve their current dynamic. My one plea before Big Cass wins a major title is that he gets a Tag Team Title victory with Enzo beforehand. I always viewed it as a shame that they never won the NXT straps considering how crazy over they were in front of that crowd. Hopefully they pull it off on Raw at some point.
4. Matt Hardy
Technically, Matt Hardy has achieved “World Title” victories twice in TNA and one time in the revived ECW brand. You can argue this point if you wish, but my take is that not winning at least a Raw or SmackDown top title qualifies him to be on this list. He’s a definite WWE Hall of Famer regardless if he carries a World Title or not, but it should happen. I’m crossing my fingers that his “brilliant” rise to his current prominence leads to a Universal or WWE Title reign over the next year or two. Jeff is the one WWE sees more as the singles star, but Matt could win them over the more WWE sees his connection with the fans.
WWE and Matt have kept the Broken shtick dialed down heavily due to the pending Impact legal issues over the character. If they can put those to rest and give Matt a Broken green light, then he could truly light up whatever show he’s on. I’m not rushing to end the Tag Title reign with Jeff, but when that time does come, Matt should jump to SmackDown to explore his singles potential. That would be the more fitting stage for him and Tuesday nights would be way more likely to coronate him with the WWE Title.
3. Jason Jordan
It might be way too early to peg Chad Gable’s American Alpha teammate as a future World Champion, but from everything I can tell about the guy, this might be one of the safer bets on my list. He’s got a successful collegiate amateur background as well as an impressive size. WWE isn’t quite the land of the super-giants that it used to be so Jordan’s 6’3”, 245 lb. frame is more than enough to win over Vince’s lust for beefy superstars. Plus, he can go in the ring.
Jordan still has plenty of time left in the Tag Team division and could be a mainstay there for several more years. American Alpha still feels like a newer team even though they’ve already held gold in both NXT and SmackDown. Gable & Jordan also have the reputation of being wrestling machines, which puts him in good graces with the more hardcore fans. If given a solo run on the more wrestling-oriented SmackDown brand, he’d quickly win over the casual fans as he kept pace with some of the wrestling studs atop their card.
2. Jinder Mahal
Do you ever look at your life and, for better or worse, wonder how you’ve gotten to where you are now? Surely Jinder Mahal is currently in that place. His first stint in WWE was most notable for being in 3MB, an often humorous stable that was very much a lower card worker. When he was released, there was no huge outcry. Vince McMahon simply never saw anything in him and gave us no reason to see anything in him either.
Mahal was re-signed in 2016, coinciding with the modern brand split. Still, WWE didn’t seem to invest too much in him as he was a zen-loving Indian character in the beginning, proclaiming a Ghandi-like peace. Then, there was a short-lived alliance with Rusev. They seemed like a good fit together as an anti-American duo, but it didn’t last very long. This felt like another case of WWE continuing to not see too much in him and bouncing him around to whatever random role might work for him in the moment.
Shockingly, Jinder Mahal jumped to SmackDown during the Superstar Shakeup and without any real momentum other than accidentally concussing Finn Balor the week prior, he defeated a handful of other wrestlers in a multi-man match to become the Number One Contender to Randy Orton’s WWE Championship. This has especially sent the internet portion of WWE’s audience reeling.
Even after writing out my understanding of Jinder’s current rise to the main event (“The Unhindering” is what I like to call it) I’m still baffled as to how we got here. I don’t believe for one second that Mahal will defeat Randy Orton when they collide next month at Backlash, but the former WeeLC competitor (as cornerman for Hornswoggle) has been gifted a huge chance to prove himself. If he can show he belongs on this stage, then this might lead to more main event opportunities. Who knows if he’s reached his ceiling or if this is only just the beginning? At this point, Jinder Mahal has more potential in winning a World Title than Cesaro. Have we slipped into some Bizarro world?
1. Braun Strowman
Braun will win a world title and that’s not a bold prediction. Out of every wrestler on both Raw and SmackDown’s rosters that have never won one before, he’ll likely win the big one the quickest. He’s a monster that was first brought in to be an awe-inspiring muscle for the Wyatt family, which was a role he had no trouble filling. It almost felt premature when he broke off from the group, but he quickly established his solo dominance handedly.
A recent stare-down opposite The Undertaker, an epic backstage assault of Roman Reigns, and an inevitable collision with Brock Lesnar have proven that he isn’t out of place among elite performers. Braun’s appeal isn’t found in matches that are technical masterpieces, but he doesn’t need that. Bill Goldberg has proven that a solid 5 minutes (or less) contest can be more than enough and Braun can definitely go longer than that.
Braun is my top pick for future World Champions in WWE that have never held a big one before, but who do you see having that potential? Let me know your picks or what you thought about mine in the comment section below, or look me up on Twitter @MitchNickelson to chat over there.
Like usual, I’ll leave you with the companion video to this piece. This time around I had a couple of good friends discuss my picks with me, so there’s plenty of good discussion. Just click play to watch and while you’re at it, don’t forget to subscribe to my channel on YouTube so you never miss any of my video content….