Best In The World: Who will replace CM Punk as WWE's top heel?

USA TODAY Sports

"As for an authentic villain, the real thing, the absolute, the artist, one rarely meets him even once in a lifetime. The ordinary bad hat is always in part a decent fellow." --Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

If only professional wrestling was like an awards show.

When one of "Tinseltown's" top stars gets up to take a dump at the Oscars, accept an award, or just bang some Thai ladyboy in the back of their limo, the producers quickly usher in a well-manicured seat filler so that the audience watching at home is none the wiser.

I wish it was that easy with CM Punk.

The time was right to take him off television, and he's certainly earned it. I've always believed that wrestlers should work a school teacher's year (see my argument here) and let's face it, you can't run around screaming about how you're the "BEST IN THE WORRRRRLD" when you drop your title to The Rock and rebound as a statistic in "The Streak."

Go home, recharge your batteries and come back better than ever.

That said, Punk leaves a pretty sizable hole to fill. I don't mean in the storylines, because he was in-between programs anyway, but rather in the way he brought a certain edge to the televised product. As the promotion's top heel, he did a lot of the heavy lifting on Monday Night Raw.

And now he's gone.

Until he gets back, creative has to figure out a way to keep the program dark enough -- in just the right places -- to insure the older fans are appeased. It seems like they've already positioned a pair of rooks on the board, stripping Antonio Cesaro of the U.S. Championship (finally) and turning Ryback heel.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the viable candidates:

Mark Henry

Death by "Chocolate". Sure, the man is a killer and can do the evil heel gimmick better than anyone, but his fragility at this stage of the game makes him unreliable. Unless his new finishing move is called "hyperhidrosis," he can't go more than 30-seconds on the stick. Henry is a mid-card heavy with the ability to sub for a main eventer -- but only in a pinch.

Verdict: Go to sleep.

Brock Lesnar

Pale imitation. He's got the physical tools to wreck shop whenever -- and on whoever -- he wants. But let's also recognize that he's Blaster to Paul Heyman's Master. A puppet is only as good as the hand that controls its mouth and despite his "it" factor, Lesnar is not well-rounded enough to operate like the rogue agent Punk was portrayed to be. Being a part-timer certainly doesn't help his cause.

Verdict: Close, but no Pepsi tattoo.

Jack Swagger/Wade Barrett/Randy Orton

Three strikes, they're out. I lumped these guys together because to me, they're all the same. Big, tough and physically capable of being the best in the world. So too, was Swamp Thing, but he's not getting a multi-million dollar makeover from Warner Bros., either. "The Real American" can only utter one line, which I suppose is better than "The Viper," who can't even remember his. To top it all off, Barrett holds a belt that is so prestigious, it was around the waist of The Miz. 'Nuff said.

Verdict: Fault of personality.

Antonio Cesaro

Swiss miss. Cesaro has the look, the in-ring work and the promos to be the guy to take over for Punk, but he first has to dig himself out of the grave creative buried him in earlier this month. Not only does he get left off the biggest show of the year, he's been keeping pace with Zack Ryder in the odd jobs department. Why should I take him seriously as a main event player if WWE won't?

Verdict: How do you say "too soon" in five different languages?

Dolph Ziggler

Not the right man for the "job." Despite being World Heavyweight Champion, Ziggy can't unload his baggage (again). Hey, I like AJ Lee as much as every other wrestling fan (if you don't like her, please, get help) and I'm also enjoying the evolution of Big E Langston. But to go from one valet to another? When you strip away all the Dolph conspiracy theories and random jobs on Raw, you can't escape the fact that someone in the back requires all this window dressing and still won't let him fly the coop.

Verdict: Dolph sells, but who's buying?

Ryback

Feed me less. I wasn't opposed to turning him heel, since he couldn't win a pay-per-view match as a face. But he was never really edgy to begin with (fans would shower him with "Goldberg" chants during matches). He's got a couple of decent power moves and a catchphrase that resonates, but his promos remind me of The Gatekeeper from that old "Nightmare" VHS board game. He's a serviceable villain, though not the kind of heel you would secretly root for.

Verdict: There's a reason this guy isn't banging Lita.

Fandango

No dance in hell. If Vince McMahon wasn't such a megalomaniac, I honestly think Fandango could have been the guy. The vaunted "Universe" anointed him the next big thing, which means, of course, WWE officials had to take over and repackage it as their own. Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing (see why here). Johnny Curtis helped make his gimmick work by playing it straight and it would have taken a few minor tweaks, but I think if he just followed the buzz, he would have eventually found the honey. Too late now.

Verdict: No, no, no ...it's pronounced, "Saturday Morning Slam!"

The Shield

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner. Two of them can talk, all of them can work. There is one caveat, however, and that is The Shield must have a defined purpose. Randomly sabotaging faces just to deliver a few powerbombs is cool and all, but at this point, it's like watching Team Hell No vs. The Prime Time Players. Didn't we already see that last week? If The Shield can get behind a cause -- much like Punk did with his title reign -- I think they can be the fuel that fires some of the top programs in WWE. And maybe they can pick up a few new members along the way.

Verdict: Best in the world.

Well Cagesiders, I think I'm not alone when I say CM Punk will be missed while he's on the shelf. But that doesn't mean the programming has to suffer (it did that even when he was around). But in the John Cena era, we need a main event heel (or heels) that can work and keep the scales balanced.

Anyone else come to mind?

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