Sunday 12 January 2014

Who Can Be 2014’s Daniel Bryan? By Adam Ferguson

Three years ago Daniel Bryan was set to make his Wrestlemania debut versus the United States champion Sheamus, only for their bout to be shunned off the main card and touted as glorified dark-match instead. Fast-forward to the present day, and having finally contested that match with Sheamus then a year later wrestled in a tag title bout at the Granddaddy of ‘em all, it looks like Daniel Bryan is on his way to the main event of Wrestlemania 30. At least, he should be.

Bryan’s unparalleled rise to the top only really ignited during this past summer, substantiating the idea that with the right push and audience admiration, just about anybody can make a main event impact in a fairly short period of time.

Onto today and it’s the beginning of a new year - perhaps the biggest in WWE history given the recent Network announcement and fast-approaching Road to Wrestlemania 30 - and since us wrestling fans love a good, debatable list, what better to time unveil another? I can promise the ‘list’ part anyway.

Out of the current crop of up-and-comers, who might just see themselves as part of the main event in this year? In 2014, who has the potential to ‘do a Daniel Bryan’?

Don’t forget to share your thoughts too!

The Long-Shots

10. Corey Graves

CM Punk comparisons are obvious, but the heavily tattooed, punkish Corey Graves will be looking to make a name for himself this year. He’s only 29 years old and has been wrestling around the world since 2000, so Graves is no stranger to putting a shift in. The unique look will separate him from the pack in an era where more guys of his stature are given their due in the big time. Graves’ knuckles may say “Stay Down” but he will only have eyes on rising up in 2014.

9. Adrian Neville

The first of two British inclusions on this list, Adrian Neville is one of a kind (Hey! Hey! Hey!). The Geordie high-flyer rarely flatters to deceive and has built up a reputation which sees him heralded as “The Man That Gravity Forgot” due to his exciting work. Neville should make it to the main roster sooner rather than later and when he does, stealing the show will probably become a mainstay rather than simply an objective.

8. Sami Zayn

Sami Zayn has been tearing up NXT with brilliant match after brilliant match over the past year. In fact, the man formerly known as *ERROR* had been doing the same throughout the independent circuit in promotions such as Pro Wrestling Guerrilla and Chikara before WWE collected his much sought-after signature. Who knows if he’ll ever make it to the very top, but hard work and popularity pay dividends (just ask Daniel Bryan) and Zayn is arguably the most popular member of the NXT roster.

7. Wade Barrett

Injuries, stop-start booking and disastrous gimmicks have all played a huge part in holding back the winner of NXT Season 1, a time when the show was filled with pros, rookies and Michael Cole. Wade Barrett has been through a lot in his short career, from leading a dangerous and promising faction of misfits (nope, it ain’t The Union) to ‘not leading’ a dangerously awful gang of misfits (yep, that one was The Corre). Barrett is good in the ring, solid on the microphone and comes across as a level-headed guy, so there’s no glaring reason for him not to hit his stride this year. Ah, wait… I’ve got some bad news for you Wade.

6. Big E Langston

The current Intercontinental Champion presently holds the second most prestigious title in the ‘E, but he hasn’t been able to do much with it - defending against Curtis Axel and Damien Sandow does not count. Big E has shown charismatic glimpses on commentary and is a powerhouse in the ring, but there’s still something missing. He’s new to the main roster though, having spent less than a year on the card, so Big E has his whole career ahead of him. What does 2014 beckon? It’s not likely to offer a main event spot, but with friends in very high places (by all accounts John Cena is a fan) you just never know.

The Aspiring Ascenders

5. Bray Wyatt

Since debuting as leader of the Wyatt Family last summer, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in professional wrestling who has cut a more diverse plethora of weird, encapsulating promos. Bray Wyatt boasts a unique look, unique in-ring offence and a unique method of crossing the canvas (that inverse spider walk is creepy). He certainly could make an impact in 2014 and although unlikely, there has even been a rumour suggesting John Cena versus Wyatt at Wrestlemania 30. Providing Bray can remain in tip-top condition, the cultish man-of-beard might need to invest in some more main-event-level rocking chairs this year.

4. Cody Rhodes

The WWE tag division saw a resurgence in 2013, benefiting from a number of newly introduced pairings such as Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, and the exceptional Rhodes Brothers. In tow with Goldust (who wrestles like a spring-chicken himself these days), Cody Rhodes has successfully made that teeter-ish transition from long-time heel to much-loved baby face. He’s been around for a while and though many probably expected him to be in and around the main event picture by now, Rhodes is well on his way to the top. As tremendous as the duo have been, Cody and Goldie will likely see the back of each other in 2014 and after that, Rhodes has the perfect platform to springboard from.

3. Dolph Ziggler

Every year there’s a moment that sticks out for its sheer electricity. Three years ago it was The Rock’s return. A year later, Brock Lesnar caused a Miami-based eruption. And in 2013, we watched Dolph Ziggler cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase and win the World Heavyweight title. Then it all went wrong. The Ziggler-paradox has shrouded WWE like a disorienting mist for a long time now. “Why isn’t he consistently main eventing?” has been the question on the lips of many a wrestling fan, probably as far back as his program with Edge. His excellent in-ring work speaks for itself, but other issues seemingly have held the former golf caddy back. Who knows? Maybe 2014 will be his year; Ziggler always finds a way to the pinnacle of lists such as these and is forever on the cusp of propulsion. The longer he’s ignored though, the more difficult time he’ll have making an impact. If it were down to me I’d have Dolph Ziggler main eventing this year - if not for his talent, for anxiety over a searing missed opportunity.

2. Antonio Cesaro

Another ‘Indy Darling’ on the up in the proverbial promised land. Much like Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro has wrestled successfully all over the world and, much like Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro has kicked off his efforts this year as the more-promising half of a tag-team (sorry Swags). The Swiss sensation is a chip off the old block, blending astute technical wrestling with power and even some comedy - we all loved counting the number of dizzying pirouettes as part of his Cesaro Swing. Admittedly with Kane’s aid, Daniel Bryan took a team gimmick that probably shouldn’t have worked and made it the most entertaining part of many an viewing of Monday Night RAW before his ascension to the main event. Perhaps Cesaro can do the same.

1. Roman Reigns

He has ‘the look’, is a former American football player and is related The Rock, so it’s very likely that Roman Reigns will make it all the way to the top. The only question is: how soon? With Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, Reigns is one third of the most consistently dominant wrestling faction since Evolution. In truth, all three guys have an air of stardom about them. However unlike his mates, Reigns joined the WWE developmental system at the premise of his career and has only been around the business since 2010. Given the lengths he’s swam in only three years, and the break-up of the Shield on the horizon, I’d have my money on the impressive Roman Reigns being the prime candidate to propel himself to main event status in 2014.

Thanks for reading, if you would like to follow me on twitter or just let me know what you think of this debut column for Wrestling's Last Hope - @elloJasonIsaacs

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