On July 19th the WWE brand split will come into effect once more, and will establish a new status quo for (presumably) SmackDown as it potentially gets its own version of a World Title.
Whether that decision is right or wrong is not what concerns me at the moment, but rather who would be the best for the role should it happen.
Based purely on the supposed leaked roster for SmackDown, the following are the five most likely candidates:
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The fact that a complete outsider can come into the company in 2016 and debut in a prime spot in the Royal Rumble, and go on to main event two pay-per-views three months later is nothing short of miraculous in today’s WWE.
Styles came into the company with a lot of hype after a sterling run in New Japan Pro Wrestling as the leader of the Bullet Club, and for those previously unfamiliar with his work he has surely lived up to that hype.
Whilst I would say he’s been turned heel at least a year too soon, his star should continue to rise as he leads The Club (they should change that name) to the top of WWE.
If SmackDown is to once again be the show that showcases wrestling then there are no finer examples on the current roster than The Phenomenal One. If this were to happen he would become the only man to win the world title in ROH, TNA, NJPW and WWE – a feat unlikely to ever be matched.
The man who, by his own admission, is not the typical blueprint for what WWE looks for in a wrestler is clearly heading for a world title run sooner or later.
He came to NXT with a reputation for being awkward and combative backstage, yet in only his second TakeOver match he won the NXT title and debuted on the main roster, in record time, a few short months after.
Despite losing his feud with John Cena, Owens has remained in a prominent role ever since, reheating the IC title whilst yoyoing up and down the card. As far as big men wrestlers go, KO is more than solid in the ring, capable of producing great matches with all-comers.
But it’s his work on the mic, and his commitment to being a great heel that has stood him in great stead, and makes it seems as though WWE are simply biding their time until the time is right for a big title win.
Bray’s a bit of a funny one: like Kevin Owens he’s a bigger man with a strong personality pushed into a feud with John Cena.
Unlike Owens (and many others, in fairness) he did not emerge from his feud with Cena unscathed, and, where it once looked like he was a shoo-in for the big belt, two years on from the feud he has yet to hold any belts.
WWE seem to like using Bray for big matches and spots without ever being confident enough in him to allow him to go over on one of the major stars (see also, losses to Undertaker and that weird bit with Rock at this year’s WrestleMania).
The face turn that he and his Family underwent post-WM represents his best chance in a long while of ascending to the top of the mountain, as when he teamed with Roman Reigns on Raw he was hugely popular and killed it when in the ring.
Perhaps WWE are hesitant to take a shot on such an unusual character being its champion, but given more babyface time they might warm to the idea.
Old faithful, Randy Orton. It has to be said that there isn’t a great amount for Orton left to do in the company.
Yes, there are numerous new and unique match-ups for him when he returns from shoulder surgery, but he’s achieved all he could ever hope to in the company and had different runs with different characters that have shown his range.
In my view, it doesn’t matter how long he’s out he’ll always remain slightly stale due to his length of service with WWE, and personality deficiency.
Yet, if you had to pick any one person from the list as most likely to become champ, Orton would have to be at the top of that list. WWE know what they’re going to get from him as the face of the company, which, despite all talk of a ‘New Era’, is precisely what they want: something predictable. World title reign outta nowhere, anyone?
Although Finn is Mr. NXT, he has to be making his main roster debut at some point fairly soon and will likely benefit from his role as Bullet Club’s first leader in NJPW.
Since WWE appears set on playing off a story line from NJPW (who thought that would ever happen?), it stands to reason that Balor will either feud with The Club or join their ranks once more
. The world title could and probably should be involved either way that goes: an AJ and Balor feud is a mouth-watering prospect. The only question, as always, is whether the Irishman’s promo skills are up to the standard required on the main roster – Finn is no Enzo Amore.
If he can sort that out, perhaps by having his teammates do most of the chatter, then the sky could be the limit for the man who is clearly a big favourite of Triple H.
Any one of these men would make for a fine world champion should SmackDown be getting its own title next month, whether that be via tournament or being awarded it (a la Eric Bischoff/HHH). Who do you think has what it takes to be the face of the new SmackDown?