Since Roman Reigns made his shocking return by attacking Braun Strowman and ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt at Summer 2020, the “Big Dog” has been dominating the blue brand as WWE Universal Champion for over 500 days. That’s an astonishing feat and if done correctly, WWE has a huge chance at creating a new star by having an up-and-comer beat Roman Reigns clean inside of the ring. However, it can also be a chance for a veteran to have a later resurgence in their career as well. There’s no telling on when Reigns will drop the belt; however, this list will examine the five candidates who should beat the current WWE Universal Champion for the top Smackdown title.
The new NXT Champion is still green, but the chances of Roman Reigns losing the WWE title soon are slim to none. Bron Breakker has been one of the few bright lights in the revamped NXT 2.0. Despite being a rookie, Breakker has had some great matches, namely with Tommaso Ciampa. However, it’s not just the fact that Breakker has succeeded in the NXT brand as Karrion Kross, Keith Lee, and Aleister Black are former NXT Champions, and we all know how well it ended for those three on the main roster. Obviously, the key thing is that Vince McMahon and company need to book Breakker well. That was the ultimate doom of many NXT failures. Breakker at least checks off the boxes that scream certified superstar. He has a great look (a terrible name though), a strong amount of charisma, and a gimmick that can seamlessly transition into the main roster with ease. There’s no documented history between Reigns and Breakker, so the best way would be to have the NXT rookie win the Royal Rumble. As previously mentioned, the key is the way this company books Breakker. Given their NXT track record, the outlook doesn’t particularly look good for the NXT Champion, but he does have a strong chance at being one of the NXT guys who excel on the main roster.
Gable probably won’t make his in-ring debut until late 2023, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Reigns is still the champion during this time. Gable is the reigning Pan American Continental Champion and was a three-time age-group World Champion, so it shouldn’t be too hard for the young star to make his transition into the WWE. It’s clear that the company is high on the young man as they’ve teased several potential matchups including against Brock Lesnar back at Day One. Stevenson is in the same vein as Breakker, in that this company has a chance to create a big star and what better way to do that then by having him beat the top dog, Roman Reigns. Stevenson is being painted as the modern-day Kurt Angle. Even though I’m putting his name as a potential guy who should beat Reigns, WWE should take their time with him if he’s simply not ready for such a huge push. WWE is currently making that mistake with Omos, which will likely have a disastrous end.
I know, AJ Styles is a two-time WWE Champion, but the long-time veteran has made it clear that he’s on his last wrestling contract ever. Of course, the smart thing to do is have AJ Styles put someone over on his way out; however, having the classic storyline of the veteran looking to prove himself can really help put over Styles and the WWE Championship. Styles and Reigns have produced magic in the past, and the company can easily play off Styles never beating Reigns for the top belt. At the end of the day, the purpose is to always build for the future, and by making AJ Styles strong before his exit, it will help whichever young star that the company chooses for him to drop the belt too. Plus, Styles can carry a broom to a great match (sadly not Omos) so if he fights a guy like Bron Breakker then the in-ring portion will certainly help boost the credibility of his opponent.
Let’s be honest, Big E’s title reign was a bust. That blame is solely on WWE creative, not the wrestler himself; however, just because Big E is no longer the top champion, it doesn’t mean that a compelling story can’t come out of it. It’s time that Big E shed his New Day image and become more of a serious wrestler. I know that he can do this as during the Bludgeon Brothers feud, Big E turned on the serious and got rid of the silly New Day antics. The important thing is that his character evolves, and it does seem that the company is trying to add some layers to the former WWE Champion’s journey. His redemption arc can start at the Royal Rumble by winning the 30-man gauntlet, but the company can also slowly build up Big E’s journey and have him beat Reigns at Summerslam. All the ingredients are there to craft an engaging story, it’s just up to the creative team to follow through.
Creative seems to like the WWE United States Champion, though the company has done no favors to Priest’s character by adding an unnecessary layer that doesn’t have a long shelve life. Still, Priest has been able to get over with the main roster and the RAW star has all the tools to be a main eventer. Priest is more of an experimental term, as he’s shown a nice layer of charisma and is one of the best wrestlers inside of the ring, which is why he deserves a shot at the top of the card. Giving him a chance to feud with Reigns will showcase his ability to hang with the big dogs, and whether he’s seen as a draw to the casual main roster fans.
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