With more than ten hours of weekly television, WWE produces content at a rate more rapid than any other form of episodic entertainment out there. In order to stay fresh, a constantly changing and evolving array of pro wrestlers take control of the show with their storylines and charisma, sometimes faster than fans can even register what happened. The goal of just about every new WWE superstar is to one day be a champion, specifically WWE World Champion. Since the honor was established in 1963, 48 different men have held the title for a total of 128 separate reigns, with the general trend indicating the belt is bound to change hands more frequently as time goes on. Considering how fast the WWE Universe moves, there’s no real way to accurately foresee who will and won’t become successful even in the very immediate future.
There are, however, certain signs that wrestlers new and old can portray that make it clear he or she is destined for greatness. Obviously, older wrestlers have less of a chance of suddenly becoming stars than younger ones. Other factors can include charisma, in-ring talent, safety concerns, and the sudden whims and wills of the crowd. WWE has tried to ignore that last one at certain points in its long history, and yet it still arguably remains the most important quality in defining a true superstar. Granted, even if the crowd connects with a wrestler and all the pieces seem in place for greatness, it doesn’t always pan out the way we might expect. Keep reading discover who we think at least has the best chance with our list of 15 wrestlers who should be WWE World Champion within the next five years.
15. Big E
The one downside to becoming famous as part of a tag team, or even more so as a trio, is how difficult it can be for fans to separate any one member of the group from the others. The New Day have grown so popular and successful that fans may have forgotten in the past two years that Big E actually achieved a great deal of solo success before New Day teamed up, including a main event run as the bodyguard of then-World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler. Big E won a handful of championships himself, as well, including the WWE Intercontinental Championship and a run as the second-ever NXT Champion. The New Day was founded only a few short weeks after Big E lost the Intercontinental Championship to The Miz, thus ending his run as a solo star just as he achieved what WWE always treats as a stepping stone to the main event. Perhaps more important than any of his in-ring achievements is the fact Big E has also long held a close friendship with John Cena, which could be the key piece in what makes him rise to the top if and when New Day should break up.
14. Karl Anderson
While every tag team is bound to break up at some point, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows both had history in wrestling that make it clear they could become equally high profile solo stars when The Club head into solo careers. The main reason Karl Anderson has a better chance is his lack of history in WWE specifically, where Gallows has underwent no less than three terrible gimmicks before landing on the most recent version of his character. Anderson, on the other hand, is entirely new to the WWE scene as of 2016, in addition to his experience as a solo act outside of WWE, which far outweighs his partner. Though Anderson’s greatest successes have been in various tag teams, he also has competed for the ROH World Championship and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, making it clear he could shine as a solo act with ease. WWE has been extremely slow at making The Club seem like anything but comedy characters, and splitting the two up and giving Anderson a run near the top could make both of them serious in much less than five years.
13. Enzo Amore
All of the wrestlers to make this list are pretty young and therefore inexperienced, and yet with no training whatsoever prior to getting signed by WWE in late 2012, Enzo Amore is probably the most surprising entry on our list. Despite this harsh reality, Enzo has also experienced enough publicly revealed highpoints in his short career that fans are describing his rate of improvement as nothing short of incredible. Included amongst these fans is none other than Triple H, who hired Enzo. In a video released on YouTube, Triple H also personally informed Enzo and his partner Big Cass that they were moving forward in the industry, nonspecifically promising big things were soon to come. While it may be a bit of a jump to think Enzo could be WWE Champion so soon, having an important friend can be all it takes in the wrestling world, and there are no more important friends in modern day WWE than Triple H. Although he just missed out on the list, there’s also a chance Big Cass could find his way into WWE history sooner rather than later.
12. Roderick Strong
Even so much as a few months ago, we may be a bit more reticent to assume Roderick Strong has a chance at being successful immediately upon his debut in WWE. Strong has only made a handful of appearances for NXT as of this article’s publication, and already fans are happily anticipating his tenure in the WWE Universe matching the success he saw in indies such as Ring of Honor and Full Impact Pro. Strong’s achievements in ROH were virtually unmatched, as he became the second Triple Crown winner in the company in 2012, a feat that has only been repeated one further time. It might also be worth pointing out Strong defeated Seth Rollins for the ROH World Championship, and it wouldn’t be hard to picture him accomplishing a similar feat now that both are in WWE. Strong also has history with current WWE top stars Sami Zayn, A.J. Styles, and Kevin Owens, any of whom could easily resume their feuds with him to quickly propel him into major championship contention.
11. Hideo Itami
It seems in bad taste even to suggest something could happen to harm the careers of anyone we’re specifically mentioning, but the reality is, injuries happen in the wrestling world. Hideo Itami knows this more than anyone else on this list, as evidenced by the fact he’s spent almost a cumulative year and a half on the injured list with only two months of activity in between separate horrible injuries. It is thus a testament to how strongly fans support him that Itami instantly returned to the main event scene after his first injury and is already highly anticipated to return from his more recent mishap. Prior to his injury prone years in WWE, Itami achieved incredible success in his native Japan’s Pro Wrestling NOAH. Wrestling as KENTA, he won dozens of championships including the Global Honored Crown Championship, one of the highest prizes in that country. So long as he manages to protect himself better in the future, Itami could easily find himself winning the top prize in America, as well.
10. Samoa Joe
There are pros and cons to the existence of NXT, with the con being that the top superstars on that roster can’t perform in the main WWE roster, and the pros being just about everything else. The good outweighs the bad by far, but it still deserves mentioning that were there no NXT, Samoa Joe would already be challenging for the WWE Championship, and he could have even won it already. Unlike the typical NXT wrestler, Joe was already a star of considerable size in America by the time he made his debut. Though perhaps not the first, Joe was at the time the biggest, and proved it by immediately entering a feud for the NXT Championship. Joe won that belt a few months later, making it the latest in a long line of major achievements he already accomplished, including runs with the ROH and TNA World Championships. The only thing stopping Joe from adding the WWE Championship to the list is the fact he’s busy dominating NXT, and as important as he is to that brand, he shouldn’t stay there for the next five years.
9. Chad Gable
Every talented rookie gets compared to one legend or another, and yet it still means a lot that people were comparing Chad Gable to Kurt Angle almost instantly upon his debut in NXT. Although Gable’s amateur credentials aren’t nearly as great as Angle’s, he also made it to the Olympics, getting eliminated during an early round in a definitive loss. Despite the loss, Gable’s talents were obviously quite significant, and much like Angle he has shown an incredible aptitude at naturally translating his amateur skills into the professional wrestling universe. Even with all of this praise, it has to be acknowledge Gable has considerably less solo experience than most of the others on this list, with much of his career spent in the tag team American Alpha with Jason Jordan. Given how highly acclaimed American Alpha’s matches are, and the fact both Jordan and Gable show incredible skills during them, though, its already easy to see that either one of them could excel as a major player in the near future.
8. Baron Corbin
There has been no better time than today to be an indie sensation making their way to WWE, and this fact has been pleasing just about every wrestling fan out there with the solo exception of Baron Corbin. Corbin eschewed any background on the independent with a stint in the NFL, spending time with both the Indianapolis Colts and the Arizona Cardinals without ever making it to the field. Corbin had more success as a boxer, adding strength to his impressive size, although it’s his gruff demeanor as “The Lone Wolf” that has him getting noticed by fans as his career progresses. Corbin’s ascent to the top has been slightly slower than some of the others on this list, as he’s the only one without any official championships to his name, but his success isn’t entirely unfounded, as he was the third winner of the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32. Since then, Corbin has feuded with an array of former World Champions like Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, racking up wins that make it look like he could easier skip over the smaller titles and win the big one faster than anyone expects.
7. Bray Wyatt
Wrestlers like Bray Wyatt prove that just about anybody could end up on a list like this. His incredible transformation from the poorly named and purposefully generic Husky Harris into creepy cult leader he is today stands as one of the most impressive career revivals in modern history, and now that he and his family are more than four years into their terrorizing WWE, he either needs to become a World Champion or start looking into another brilliant revival. We have high hopes for everyone on this list, but Wyatt stands out as one person especially who needs to win the big one soon. Wyatt hasn’t won any championships as of the time this article is being published, although he has earned big wins over major names like Kane, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns, amongst plenty of others who have won the belts that eluded Wyatt. As a cult leader, Wyatt needs to go big or go home, anyway, which is exactly why he needs to be WWE Champion soon lest his character lose his illusion of power.
6. Sami Zayn
Not one to let an injury slow him down, Sami Zayn propelled the momentum of his main roster debut against John Cena by returning in early 2016 to continue his longstanding feud with Kevin Owens. Owens would be the one to go on to win a top WWE title first when he won the Universal Championship, and by our expectations Zayn won’t be far behind in matching the accomplishment of his friend and foe. Zayn arrived in NXT at the beginning of 2013, and was the champion of that brand less than two years later. Prior to his time in WWE, Zayn achieved great success all throughout the country in Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and CHIKARA, amongst smaller promotions. Now that he is a regular member of the Raw roster and completely healthy, he should have no trouble taking his success in the minor leagues to the WWE Universe. More likely than not, it will be his never-ending connection with Kevin Owens that leads to him doing so. Even if Owens isn’t the person he beats, fans readily await the time Zayn finally gets the chance to achieve the glory.
5. Cody Rhodes
We’re well aware that this article is being published at a time when Cody Rhodes is not signed to WWE. However, he would hardly be the first superstar to make a public complaint against the company, prove he has the goods to hang in the main event elsewhere, and quickly returned to WWE to achieve the respect he always deserved as a top star. Cody Rhodes is the most likely person in recent history to meet this trend, mostly thanks to his lineage as the son of Dusty Rhodes. That isn’t to say Rhodes doesn’t stand on his own, though, as we imagine he soon will prove either in TNA or in other various companies that hire him on the independent scene. Rhodes has only been out of WWE for a few months, so time will tell if he can actually reach or ascend our predictions. His family history and past success in the company make it more than a possibility already, though, and five years is a long enough time that he could easily make amends over his grievances with WWE and return as the champion he was destined to be.
In accordance with the idea these superstars are those of the future, this list has mostly focused on people who made their wrestling debut within the past few years. Even amongst those with considerable history, only a few in the game today come close to Cesaro’s worldwide experience at the art of pro wrestling. Most of Cesaro’s success has come in tag teams, wrestling with partners like Chris Hero and Tyson Kidd, in teams where he regularly stood as the standout fans imagined would be the future star. Cesaro also has considerable solo success, having won the PWG Championship and more importantly WWE United States Championship. Most important of all, Cesaro has dozens of high profile fans such as Paul Heyman, Steve Austin, Ric Flair, and millions of fans, all of whom are waiting desperately for Vince McMahon to see what they see and finally start treating Cesaro like the WWE Championship contender he always clearly was. Cesaro has been in the doghouse since going off script and complaining about the WWE draft, but Vince’s ire can’t last forever, and hopefully it’ll wear off and Cesaro will reap the rewards in much less than five years.
3. Kofi Kingston
The New Day are an especially unique tag team considering they have three and not two members, and therefore they circumvent the usual issue of one partner achieving more than the others. Instead, New Day have the potential problem that one partner could achieve more than the other two, or more likely in their case, that two will be more successful than one. It is on this logic we believe Kofi Kingston has serious potential at becoming a WWE Champion once New Day runs its course, perhaps even on a greater level than teammate Big E. This leaves Xavier Woods as the one member not particularly likely to win the gold, although truth be told, any member of the group could stand out and surprise fans in due time. No one is looking forward to the day New Day has to break up, although one of the few things that could get fans back on WWE’s side once they force the inevitable to happen would be a major title win for one of the members. Like Big E, Kofi has a seriously impressive championship history prior to New Day becoming friends, and he has the friendship angle going for him too, by way of Xavier Woods having made it clear his goal is to make Kofi the champion at some point in his career. With that backing in mind, Kofi has the edge should New Day split, meaning his big win could come soonest of all.
WWE and the public at large love a power couple, and aside from the McMahon-Helmsley Regime, the most powerful such pairing in WWE today is probably Rusev and Lana. Rusev’s career struggled slightly prior to meeting the woman who would become his wife, and now that the two have gotten married in kayfabe and the real world, their destructive powers could easily lead to Rusev crushing everyone all the way to a run with the WWE Championship. His two runs with the United States Championship have already proven Rusev is worthy of gold, and the fact he’s earning cheers above WWE “guy” Roman Reigns is a sign fans want to see him with more of it. Although Reigns seems to have won that particular feud, the good news is that means Rusev can move onward and upwards, into the main event. Should he win the WWE Championship, Rusev would be making history in more ways than one, as he would become the first native Bulgarian to earn the honor. Only a handful of superstars outside of North America alone have won the belt, and Rusev winning it would greatly add to the global span the belt has long claimed to represent.
1. Shinsuke Nakamura
It would seem the only people unaware of Shinsuke Nakamura’s potential to be the top wrestler in WWE or perhaps even on the planet are the WWE executives who decided his place is ruling NXT for the indefinite future. The company has made it very clear said indefinite future is nowhere near the end as of this article’s publication, and yet we’re so certain that Nakamura will make his way to the top of WWE the second the wool gets out of the company’s eyes and they let him do so. In the interim, there’s no doubt Nakamura will continue to impress in his reign as NXT Champion, the same way he did during his three reigns with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Fans around the world had been calling Nakamura the most charismatic and talented athlete in the wrestling universe for over a decade before he showed any interest in working with WWE, making it all the more curious why the company is keeping him in NXT. The one solace fans can take is that Nakamura appears to have plenty of gas left in the tank in spite of his slightly advanced age, and with far more than five years ahead of him, WWE will eventually have no choice but to acknowledge him as the star he obviously is.