In the WrestleMania era (dating back to 1985), it’s certainly debatable who the biggest WWE superstar of all time has been. However, the biggest draws over that period of time have easily been Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, and John Cena. There’s certainly a case to be made for Shawn Michaels, the Undertaker, Bret Hart, and others, but the first four count as WWE’s biggest money-makers during their respective eras.
No WWE superstar has experienced as much main event longevity as Cena, however. John debuted with the WWE in 2002 among a rookie class that rivals any other in the history of professional wrestling. He joined the main roster along with Randy Orton, Batista, and Brock Lesnar, launching one of the most successful careers in sports entertainment of all time.
Cena’s stranglehold over the WWE’s main event picture began in 2005 when he won his first WWE Championship against JBL at WrestleMania 21. In the near 12 years since then, Cena trails only Triple H for the most pay-per-view main events in WWE history. His 15 world title reigns is one shy of Ric Flair’s record, and it’s extremely likely he’ll break both within the next two years.
Despite all his success, John Cena remains the most polarizing superstar in WWE history. He’s transcended the business not only inside the ring but outside of it too thanks to his philanthropy and crossover appeal into the entertainment business. And because of his increasing popularity away from wrestling, WWE officials have been in search of his “face-of-the-company” replacement for several years now.
And according to the most recent edition of Wrestling Observer Radio, Dave Meltzer is indicating that the WWE is desperately trying to find the next huge superstar. There is a strong belief internally that the person is not currently on the main roster as they continue scouring the globe.
It was clear that Vince McMahon pinpointed Roman Reigns as John Cena’s successor, dating back to the beginning of 2015, and perhaps even before then. There was an immediate backlash from the WWE fan base, primarily because plans of Reigns winning the 2015 Royal Rumble match leaked out months before. It got worse when WWE officials still went through with it, disregarding the consequences.
Vince soured on Reigns in the early summer of 2016 after Roman violated the WWE Wellness Policy but was left with little choice but to insert him back into the title picture at the end of the year. He’s even expected to capture the WWE Universal Championship at the Royal Rumble later this month, but it’s unlikely he’ll be closing out his third WrestleMania in a row with a main event match.
There were clearly plans of major significance in 2016 for both AJ Styles and Finn Balor, but both are viewed as too old for the prime spot that Cena has occupied for so long. Styles and Balor were both pushed to the title scene of their respective brands, and as successful as they’d become and will continue to be, they’re not viewed in that vein.
The WWE also has this inherent problem in that their desire to bring in part-time stars has slowed the momentum of some of their younger stars. The likes of Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, Undertaker, and Triple H (and maybe The Rock) will occupy some of the marquee spots at WrestleMania 33 and be paid handsomely for it. But they’re not in line to inherit this vacancy either.
So if it’s not Reigns, Styles, or Balor, Goldberg, Lesnar or Undertaker, or even Kevin Owens or Seth Rollins, then the questions remains: Who is it? Speculation has swirled the past week that New Japan star Kenny Omega is on the WWE’s list of potential targets. Omega’s latest Twitter activity fueled it further. Cena even added to that by posting a picture of Omega to his Instagram account without explanation or description.
Omega just main evented NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 in a match with Kazuchika Okada that some have described as the greatest match of all time. Kenny’s contract with New Japan expires on January 31, meaning he will not be contractually allowed to show up at the Royal Rumble. But even still, those close to him have been telling people they expect him to remain with NJPW after the contract runs out.
However, WWE will push for his services and he is being viewed as the superstar that the company has been missing. At only 33 years old and one of the best wrestlers on the planet, he’d fit the criteria.
[Featured Image by WWE]