Who Will Dethrone Roman Reigns?

Another WrestleMania is in the books, and Roman Reigns is the unified WWE Universal Champion. The question of who will dethrone “The Tribal Chief” is a hot-button topic. The issue has intensified even more now that Roman holds the WWE Championship and Universal Championship, allowing him to appear on Raw and SmackDown for the foreseeable future. However, Roman won’t hold both belts forever.

Elevation requires separation, and with the brand split staying the course, the company will only go for so long without a champion on each of its flagship shows. Eventually, the titles will be separated, and Reigns will remain the Universal Champion because it is the title that encompasses his historic run. The title itself is only five years old, and while it’s front and center on the championship spectrum, it lacks a legendary reign that Roman can obtain.

What I’m about to say I’ve only uttered to a handful of people, but now it’s time to unleash my bold prediction. Roman Reigns will be Universal Champion until WrestleMania 40. Yep, that’s right, two years from now, eclipsing Pedro Morales on the all-time list as the 5th longest title reign. 

If WWE has their way, Roman Reigns vs. The Rock will headline WrestleMania 39 next year in Hollywood. It’s the match fans have clamored from the moment Reigns first called himself the head of the table. The battle for bloodline supremacy between the two cousins sells itself and has the perfect geographic tie-in since The Rock is the top draw on the silver screen.

While it wouldn’t be a surprise to see “The Great One” beat Roman, Rock doesn’t need to win and shouldn’t win. After WrestleMania 39, there is no better time and place for Reigns to drop the title than WrestleMania 40.

But why would WWE do such a thing?

Roman Reigns pinning Daniel Bryan and Edge to close out WrestleMania 37 was Vince McMahon’s declaration that Reigns is WWE’s leading man. The tribal chief persona altered Reigns’ career trajectory from “change the channel heat” to people booing him out of genuine engagement.

Reigns is finally over, and Vince will ride that bike until the wheels fall off. Also, it’s been a long time since someone had an uninterrupted multi-year world title run in the same vein as Sammartino, Backlund, and Hogan. Modern wrestling didn’t lend itself to such long-term booking until now. Reigns is on fire, and no one is ready to dethrone him yet.

However, there are five names in mind when it comes to who will finally beat Roman Reigns. Two of them reside on the lower end of the spectrum, while the other three are in a prime position to be ready for the monumental role in two years.

5.) Randy Orton: While he’s the least likely option on the list. Randy Orton is always in play. Let me repeat. Randy Orton is always in play. 

4.) John Cena: Cena’s record-breaking 17th world title victory is a historical moment that WWE has firmly tucked in their back pocket. However, does it need to be at Reigns’ expense? On the one hand, a young star on the rise should topple Reigns. On the other hand, two landmark achievements in one win sounds like a job for Super Cena. 

3.) Bron Breakker: NXT’s second-generation Steiner has the tools to be a bonafide star. It was evident from the moment he debuted last September. The excitement over Breakker’s potential makes it a tempting proposition to put him on the main roster now. However, he’s only had 27 matches. Breakker is good, but he’s not ready for prime time yet.

WWE should give the current NXT champion another year in the developmental realm and promote him to the main roster after WrestleMania 39. If he gets over on Raw or SmackDown as quickly as he did in NXT, Breakker would be a prime candidate to square off against and unseat Reigns.  

2.) Vacant: No one has caused wrestlers to lose more smiles, sustain more injuries, and incur more wellness policy violations than the faceless legend from parts unknown… I’M KIDDING…OR AM I?

2.) Gable Steveson: The gold medalist’s matriculation at the University of Minnesota will end 30 days from today with a degree in Business Administration. Steveson’s new career kicks in as he begins training full-time as a pro wrestler at WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, FL.

Fair or unfair, Steveson will be compared to Kurt Angle, who made his WWE debut in November 1999 after a year and a half of training while working matches regularly on various independent shows, in Memphis and on WWE house shows and dark matches.

If Steveson is even a whiff as good as Angle, he will debut sooner rather than later since he’s already been drafted by Monday Night Raw. WWE has high hopes for the repeat NCAA champion. Best case scenario, Steveson’s ready for television after a year of full-time training. This gives the company another year to build Steveson up and prepare him for his coronation at WrestleMania 40.

1.) Cody Rhodes: “The American Nightmare” is the belle of the ball since returning to WWE after a six-year odyssey from high school gymnasiums to Bunkyō City’s Tokyo Dome culminating in an elite amphitheater in Jacksonville. 

Right now, Cody Rhodes is the odds-on favorite to dethrone Roman Reigns for the championship. However, can WWE sustain Rhodes’ cultural cachet within the space over an extended period? That is the burning question as long-term booking is not the sharpest tool in the promotion’s shed of creativity.

Rhodes is not only the favorite to win the championship at WrestleMania 40; he’s also the optimum pick to win it sooner. Throughout the years, a dominant champion encounters a bump in the road that costs him the title in a manner that implies their dominion is over, only to win it back and resume their command over the industry’s top prize.

Roman Reigns is a generational champion, and Cody Rhodes is a generational challenger, both defined by a family lineage encompassing their respective legacies.  

The adage “The money is in the chase” has never applied more in recent memory than it does to Rhodes. Winning the title in a seemingly defining moment, only to lose it back to Reigns in a “gotcha” scenario, dilutes the importance of Cody doing it for his old man. Roman losing and winning the belt back in a similar fashion isn’t worthy of his once-in-a-lifetime title run.

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