Whether you’re talking established athletes that are overdue for a breakout year, under-the-radar talent yearning to turn heads or a fast-rising Superstar that’s just one or two big wins away from cementing main event status, here are 10 competitors worth keeping an eye on in the coming 12 months.
1.) Big E Langston
Sometimes, raw power trumps technical ring skill. No matter how many moves you have in your arsenal, it’s simply not going to matter when 290 pounds is coming at you full-force. In November, Big E Langston used his massive might to capture the Intercontinental Title in commanding fashion from third-generation Superstar Curtis Axel. During the final pay-per-view of 2013, Langston successfully defended his title against the formidable Damien Sandow.
Perhaps no one is riding a bigger wave of momentum into the new year than Big E. Matching his might seems almost implausible. As he continues to gain experience, to even have a chance at dethroning him, it’s going to take a special Superstar who brings the total package of size, strength and technical ability. When looking at the list of challengers who fit the bill, all signs point to Big E being the longest reigning champion on the roster well into 2014.
2.) Brie Bella
On "Total Divas," the meaning of "Brie Mode" revolved around a rambunctious mix of all-out partying, dancing up a storm, and sometimes, getting a bit too grumpy the morning after.
In the squared-circle, "Brie Mode" was marked by a tenacious desire to improve her grappling, with the Bella Twin notching memorable victories over the likes of Natalya, Tamina Snuka and Divas Champion AJ Lee, albeit in a Non-Title Match. Whether it was Brie picking up some valuable pointers by training alongside her fiancé Daniel Bryan or just working even harder than she partied on E!'s hit reality show, the in-ring strides Brie has made couldn't have been any more apparent in her 2013 performance.
Expect more of the same from the leaner, meaner version of Brie Bella this year. If there's any Diva on the roster who's primed to knock The Black Widow flying off her golden web, it's gotta be Brie, baby.
3.) Titus O'Neil
Yes, Titus O’Neil is currently entrenched in tag team competition alongside Darren Young, but don’t be shocked if The Prime Time Players’ enforcer emerges as a true impact player — with or without his talented tag partner — in 2014. Mr. No Days Off is the more polished of the two, for sure, but whatever T.O. lacks in refinement, he more than makes up for with instincts, as well as unusual power that simply can’t be coached.
O’Neil is double-tough, as his run-ins with Sheamus, Tensai and Jack Swagger have proven, and his transcendent charisma allows him to shine, no matter the scenario. Like Chris Jericho when he first tapped into his Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla arrogance in WCW, O’Neil’s star power is unyielding. If 2013 was the year of “Yes!” 2014 will be the year when the big man’s Omega Psi Phi fraternity bark takes over the WWE Universe.
4.) The Usos
If they haven't done so already, The Usos will be WWE Tag Team Champions in 2014. Unlike every other Superstar on this list, Jimmy & Jey didn’t dream of being WWE Champion. These identical twins shared a womb and wanted to share the WWE Tag Team Titles.
Some Superstars are tag team specialists that, when teamed with the right person, create a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. The Rock and Roll Express, The Midnight Express, The Fabulous Ones, The Fantastics, The Road Warriors and The Usos’ great uncles, The Wild Samoans, are just a few obvious examples. Like several of those fine pairings, Rikishi’s twin sons were born and raised to wear WWE's twin titles.
5.) Xavier Woods
If you’ve been keeping an eye on Xavier Woods since his Nov. 18 Raw debut, you probably think of him as the guy Brodus Clay targeted to let everyone know that he is now waking up on the wrong side of the bed. However, Woods is much more than a conduit for The Funkasaurus’ rotten attitude.
Fine crafted in WWE’s developmental system, the young upstart is one of those rare talents who is barely in his mid-20s, but can already claim years of ring time. The native of Angel Grove, Calif., grinded it out on the independent scene for years — often in star-spangled boxing trunks, in a nod to “Rocky’s” Apollo Creed — while grabbing degrees in both psychology and philosophy. With a unique offense and an afro that somehow sparkles, Woods is revealing himself as the modern Superstar — sharper, better prepared and more self-aware than the generations that came before him. Pretty soon, that’s going to show through.
6.) Summer Rae
In 2014, WWE fans will have a difficult time keeping their eyes off Summer Rae. Not only will Fandango’s gorgeous dance partner continue dazzling the WWE Universe by accompanying WWE’s master of movement to the ring — and helping him to victory with the occasional well-timed distraction — but the promising up-and-coming Diva may also compete more herself.
Since her triumphant debut in a Mixed Tag Team Match at WWE Hell in a Cell, Summer Rae has tried her hand in tag team action, in addition to challenging singles bouts. Pushing one former Divas Champion, Natalya, to the limit on Raw and defeating another, Kaitlyn, on “WWE Superstars,” she has proven she is as impressive in a pair of wrestling boots as she is in her dancing heels. This could be a spectacular year for WWE’s fleet-footed femme fatale, and if she lives up to her massive potential, it could soon be Summer all year round in WWE.
7.) Roman Regins
If 2013 was an indication, the powerhouse of The Shield — Roman Reigns — may be on track to have the most dominant 2014 of any WWE Superstar. Defeating Team Hell No for the WWE Tag Team Championship alongside fellow Hound of Justice Seth Rollins was merely just the beginning; Reigns seems to drop Superstars to the mat with ease as the force behind the treacherous trio’s patented triple power bomb. On his own, the spear — a devastating move used by the likes of Goldberg, Edge and Batista — may make Reigns unstoppable.
For proof, look no further than Survivor Series 2013. In the Traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match, The Shield — paired with The Real Americans — seemed to be poised for defeat at the hands of Goldust, Cody Rhodes, The Usos & Rey Mysterio. But it was Reigns who proved his resilience and power, eventually emerging victorious as the sole survivor of his team. His performance at Survivor Series no doubt put the entire locker room on notice heading into 2014 – stay out of this Hound’s way
8.) Ryback & Curtis Axel
Before they crossed paths as Paul Heyman’s protégés, Ryback & Curtis Axel found themselves fighting comparisons to legends that came before them. Ryback’s size and strength incites the WWE Universe to measure him against the likes of Batista and Goldberg. Axel’s actual surname forces critics to compare him to his grandfather, Larry “The Axe” Hennig, and his father, WWE Hall of Famer “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig.
However, it doesn’t take a creative genius to see how Ryback & Axel can help each other step out of the shadows they’re cast in. Despite their “odd couple” appearance, the greenhorn grapplers’ skillsets actually blend quite nicely for a “shock and awe”-style tag teamtandem. Ryback can counteract any adversary’s power and toughness, while Axel’s technical prowess measures up well against the best in WWE.
The strategy worked before, as it did for the likes of The Hart Foundation and Shawn Michaels & Diesel. And in 2014, it will work again for the duo fighting to make a name for itself as “Rybaxel.”
9.) Damien Sandow
His moniker of Intellectual Savior of the Masses might be more self-professed than it is widely accepted, but when it comes to sky’s-the-limit potential, there’s no debating that Damien Sandow is at the head of WWE’s class. Sandow possesses an abundance of in-ring ability, mixing sound technical skill with a bruiser’s approach to bludgeoning his opponents. He also has a mean streak, which became evident on numerous occasions in 2013. And it’s precisely that kind of ruggedness which will carry Sandow to greatness in the new year.
10.) Bray Wyatt
Here’s a scary thought for the WWE roster: When it comes to seeing what Bray Wyatt is capable of inside the squared circle, we’ve only scratched the surface. Though his sinister sermons have clued in the WWE Universe, somewhat, on The Eater of Worlds’ motivations and belief system, most of The Wyatt Family’s battles have been fought by the ringleader’s menacing monsters, Luke Harper & Erick Rowan.
Yet, in the rare instances that Wyatt has entered formal competition, he has revealed himself to be a unique beast, wielding an unorthodox arsenal and bizarre footwork that routinely confuses opponents before trapping them, often inescapably. Never mind the fact that the WWE rookie almost exclusively takes aim at top-caliber talent. During his first four months in WWE, the bold newcomer thought nothing of targeting Kane, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. What could his twisted mind possibly have in store for 2014?