The NFL, NBA and others have long embraced the mantra of next man up. The idea basically means if someone gets hurt, superstar or otherwise, the team plugs in the next man up and continues to fight. This sometimes works to tremendous success where the next man up actually fully supplants the fallen teammate – Tom Brady replacing Drew Bledsoe and winning a Super Bowl comes to mind.  Other times, the team either pays slightly or greatly below their potential. What does this have to do with anything? Well, the WWE has a next man up situation it desperately needs to address.

To take it a step further, the WWE has a massive hole to fill at the top of its perceived pecking order.  Ever since Roman Reigns’ announcement of his leukemia battle on the October 22nd episode of Monday Night Raw, the WWE has been without its de facto number one guy. With so much talent on the roster, the natural question becomes, who takes that spot?  Who becomes the focal point talent? Who becomes the actual face that runs the place?

Before you think I’m being insensitive, let me remind you of why we are here:

Full disclosure, much like the rest of the wrestling fandom, most of the guys I know locally that watch WWE are torn about how they feel about Roman or outright hate him.  But on that night, as is expected when real life smashes into the fake world of wrestling, the humanity came out (kind of):

There’s not much in 2018 that can stop a jaded wrestling fan dead in their tracks like surprise retirements, illnesses, and death. We all were like, well, you see Ricardo’s False God’s reaction up there, that was basically the collective feeling in that moment.

After so much discussion on the OTTB pod over the last year and a half about Roman Reigns, we were all blindsided by a very real, very potentially life-threatening condition for a guy that we all had different stances on.  Cardo will never be here for Roman, not after he beat Undertaker at Mania.  Javon is a card-carrying member of the Roman Reigns fan club.  Me, well I tend to sit square in the middle on the topic of Reigns. To me, he’s talented in the ring, needs work on the mic to be what WWE has sometimes asked him to be, and has been done probably the greatest disservice in wrestling in the last decade.

With all that said, God speed and good luck to Roman Reigns on the battle ahead. As with all moments where wrestling meets reality like a car crashing into a wall, the show goes on. The question now becomes, who’s next?

Let’s take a look at the options.

Seth Rollins

In a perfect world, Seth takes his tremendous year of work in WWE, pairs that with the emotion of attempting to fill Reigns’ position in the company, straps a rocket to his back and vaults back into the Universal Title picture.  Hell, even let him beat Lesnar for it.

If you had to answer the question “who deserves to take the Reigns spot?” it is almost undoubtedly Seth Rollins. His ring work and feuds this year have been excellent.  In fact, I’m calling it now, Seth is a mortal lock for my superstar of the year when we get to end of year rankings in a little under two months. There is no debate, there is no question, he has been the cream of the crop all year in WWE.

In fact, some guy on the internet even went as far as to write an entire article explaining why Seth was the saving grace for the company during a somewhat inconsistent year otherwise. I mean, he went as far as titling the article “Thank God for Crossfit Jesus”.

This list could almost begin and end here, but that wouldn’t be any fun and there are some intriguing challengers to the throne to come.

Braun Strowman

Just pull the trigger already

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Somewhat green wrestler is called up to the main roster as a part of a faction.

Said superstar eventually gains uber-popularity.

Said superstar then gets vaulted into the main event picture, possibly before he is ready.

Said superstar gets play as the guy capable of downing Brock Lesnar and bringing the Universal Title back to Raw.

Said superstar gets multiple shots at the Universal title but loses, mostly to Brock Lesnar, more than enough times.

Other than a few, albeit important, differences Braun Strowman is in exactly the same spot that Roman was prior to his defeat of Brock Lesnar at this year’s SummerSlam.

As such, it would seem only prudent to include Braun, who has not yet fully lost the steam that turned him into a tremendous fan favorite during the summer of 2017, in the list of potential guys to fill Roman’s spot.

The challenge, as it is with most big guys is that the monster heel is a far easier trope to understand and write than the monster face.

So while Braun may be the guy to take the strap off of Lesnar some time in early 2019, he may not be put in the position to be what WWE wanted Roman to be.

AJ Styles

So this is what it feels like to lose the WWE title just before Survivor Series

As AJ Styles moves closer to eclipsing CM Punk’s longest title reign of the modern era (he would have to make it to mid-January 2019 as champion to accomplish the feat) it’s hard to argue that he has a compelling case for number one company guy.

Thanks to a hot shot heel turn and a hot shot title change, WWE has rendered my first thought on AJ Styles moot. Nonetheless, by entering the top 10 list of all WWE title reigns during the course of this past year AJ Styles has to be considered someone who is high in WWE’s pecking order.

His 2017 was better than every other human on the WWE roster.  Most notably by his topping just about everyone’s superstar of the year lists. While his 2018 has not quite hit the highs of last year, he has held the WWE championship for every minute of 2018 thus far up to the November 13 episode of Smackdown and seemed poised to fully erase CM Punk’s reign from the history books, so he has to be considered.

Besides that, he remains one of the best talents on the roster.  There aren’t much guys who can do what AJ does in the ring. You don’t exactly get to be a face and call yourself The Phenomenal One without pushback unless you are on that level.

The problem with AJ is mostly that he rests on what, despite their best efforts, remains WWE’s B-show in Smackdown. No one has ever, during a brand split era, been the number one guy and exclusively on Smackdown at the same time. Raw will always be where WWE puts their money over and over. So if we see a jump for Styles in the next Superstar Shakeup his consideration for the Roman spot increases exponentially.

Daniel Bryan

I’ll be honest, I had no intention of including Bryan on this list.  Mostly because no one knew what WWE was doing with the uber popular Bryan in the months since his return.  We got mostly nothing from the reignited feud with The Miz. He bounced around the idea of challenging for the WWE title before being unsuccessful at a one-on-one match with AJ Styles on the Smackdown before the event that shall not be named.  Then, this happened…

That wicked grin on Bryan’s face says it all.  If Daniel Bryan is able to catch a new wave of fire through this move it could catapult him to new heights as either a crazy heel or eventual tweener babyface.

But, the WWE’s apparent approach to Daniel Bryan leads me to my final and most intriguing candidate.  Because we have seen WWE pull of what it appears they are trying to do with Daniel Bryan with another babyface on the Smackdown roster just a few months ago.  Ladies and gentlemen, my pick for who should replace Roman Reigns at the top of the WWE food chain…

Becky “The Man” Lynch

Context

More context

Listen close boys and girls…

Becky Lynch is, by a country mile, the 100% best thing WWE has going right now. She has been bodying everyone in sight since SummerSlam ended.

Promos? Check.

Twitter? Check, check, check (above) and checkmate…

Becky Lynch has absolutely been killing it in WWE since her heel turn at SummerSlam.  The best part is, as much as she is nominally playing a heel, the WWE audience have refused to accept her and have continued to cheer like the hottest babyface in the company.

Whether by definitive planning or sheer luck, WWE has created a super-hot angle by taking advantage of a criminally underused wrestler and strapping the proverbial rocket to her back to usher her into superstardom.

If you listen to the recent Becky promos, you will find an eery similarity to those of one Stone Cold Steve Austin circa 1997.

You even know have the mirror image of Austin’s bloody face at Wrestlemania 13 with Becky’s crimson mask from the Raw show closing angle this past Monday.

Becky Lynch is so on fire right now that she squashes two long-standing tenets of being WWE’s top dog. First, she’s female. Second, she’s on Smackdown (see the problem with AJ Styles candidacy above). However, Becky is on such an earth-scorching run that she has to be considered.

Becky Lynch has resorted to calling herself “The Man” in the past few weeks to illustrate just how dominant and important she is, and when you look at it, she is 100% right.

Her disappointing absence from this weekend’s Survivor Series has, for many fans, greatly diminished their interest in the show. Many WWE fans in my circle have echoed that sentiment since WWE made it official last night that Becky was a scratch for this weekend’s show.  But even in this Becky’s place has been cemented.

Last night WWE decided that they needed to shake up the narrative and the plan for Survivor Series in a major way in order to regenerate interest in Sunday’s show. How so, they hot shotted a forever-face Daniel Bryan heel turn AND a WWE Championship victory just 5 days before a Big Four event. If that doesn’t tell you the impact of the loss of Becky Lynch and also solidify the fact that she is THE GUY MAN to replace Roman Reigns as the face of WWE, then I don’t know what will.

We are officially living in Becky Lynch’s moment and here’s hoping for a swift bounce back from the broken nose and a course correction towards a Rousey vs Becky WRESTLEMANIA 35 Main Event match.

Becky Lynch isn’t just the Next Man Up, she is indeed THE MAN.

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