Every spring, the WWE closes their storytelling season with the “showcase of the immortals,” WrestleMania. It’s the show of shows, the Super Bowl of wrestling and the biggest event of the wrestling year. If you look at wrestling as a weekly television series, than this is the season finale, full of plot twists, betrayal, crushing defeats and the hero finally getting that big win. It’s a place where long-told stories come to an end and new ones are born. However, as anyone who watched this past year’s WrestleMania can tell you, it’s also a time for fan favorite superstars to say goodbye and new ones to take their place.
This year at WrestleMania 33, fans saw history being made as WWE legend The Undertaker took his final bow in the company he helped popularize, losing what would turn out to be his retirement match to Roman Reigns. Leaving his iconic hat and trench coat in the ring, the Deadman bid farewell to his fans after nearly 30 years as one of the sport’s biggest and most beloved stars. The show also saw the surprise return of the Hardy Boyz after a highly successful run as the Broken brothers of Impact Wrestling, leaving many to wonder who will come and go at next year’s show.
The following list examines several of the top candidates to leave the WWE or make a surprise debut by the time WrestleMania 34 rolls around. For some, it’s due to alleged unhappiness in the company, for others, it’s simply their time to go. Here are 10 wrestlers who are rumored to be leaving the WWE by WrestleMania 34 and five who could be taking their place.
15 Leave: John Cena
After more than 15 years as the face that runs the place, it’s hard to imagine a WWE without John Cena. The polarizing superstar who fans both openly boo but undeniably respect, has been one of the most consistent and dominant figures in sports entertainment for the past decade and a half, remaining the company’s biggest draw longer than any star before him including Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. However, as fans saw at No Mercy, the Cenation leader may not have much left in the tank when it comes to the world of spandex and suplexes.
After losing to (once again) Roman Reigns in a highly-competitive bout, Cena seemingly bid farewell to the WWE universe in a display eerily similar to The Undertaker’s earlier this year. He would later explain on Raw Talk that while he’s not saying goodbye forever, he can no longer work at the pace he has been over his career, leading many to speculate that his time with the company is coming to an end. It makes sense, the 16-time World Champion has followed in The Rock’s footsteps over the past few years, building quite the movie career for himself with several projects currently in the pipeline. With Hollywood calling, it wouldn’t be surprising if WrestleMania 34 featured the John Cena vs. The Undertaker match fans have wanted to see for so long. Cena’s retirement closing out the show in similar fashion.
14 Join: Ronda Rousey
When most people think Ronda Rousey, chances are the WWE doesn’t come to mind. In just five years the trailblazing mixed martial artist has broken down practically every barrier for women in the sport, becoming the longest reigning UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, the highest paid fighter male or female of 2015 and in that same year was ranked by ESPN as the “Best Female Athlete Ever.” However, what many may not know is that she’s also a huge fan of professional wrestling, her “Rowdy Ronda Rousey,” moniker serving as a living tribute to the great Rowdy Roddy Piper. She even calls her MMA sisterhood the Four Horsewomen, of course referencing Ric Flair’s iconic stable.
However, ever since the UFC superstar suffered consecutive losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, rumors have run wild that the mega-star is looking to transition into a wrestling career and if rumors are to be believed, it’ll be happening sooner rather than later. Her first rumored match is speculated to take place at Survivor Series in November of this year, pitting her and her Four Horsewomen comrades against the WWE’s Four Horsewomen stable of Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Bayley. If this deal were to take place, a match at WrestleMania would probably not be far behind, her opponents likely being either Flair, Asuka or Stephanie McMahon herself.
13 Leave: Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar may be Raw’s current Universal Champion but let’s be honest, were he to leave the red brand entirely, you probably wouldn’t notice. Despite being one of the WWE’s top champions, the part-time superstar’s presence is extremely limited on television, appearing usually only during pay-per-view matches and in the weeks leading up to them. While the Conquerer is expected to defend his title on the grandest stage of them all against Roman Reigns, his contract is up shortly after that and rumors are suggesting that Lesnar has little interest in re-signing with the company when it expires.
While his title reign has produced some exceptional matches, particularly the car crash that was SummerSlam’s Fatal Four-Way extravaganza, the lack of actually seeing the Universal Championship on television has left it feeling somewhat undervalued. Plus, should Lesnar’s WrestleMania bout against Reigns prove to be his last, the Big Dog can add one more superstar he retired to a growing list.
12 Leave: Daniel Bryan
Yes! Yes! Yes? In 2016, when Daniel Bryan announced his retirement from professional wrestling due to health complications sustained from multiple concussions, the announcement sent shockwaves through the wrestling community. Bryan was one of the most beloved performers of the modern era and a superstar many felt was just hitting his stride as a main event talent. However, it also left many with the question of: What next? The answer to which would come five months later when Bryan was appointed in a non-wrestling role as General Manager of SmackDown Live and while the three-time WWE Champion has proven to be a stabilizing force on the show, it can hardly be considered the best use of his considerable talents.
Bryan has been vocal about his frustrations over the WWE’s refusal to let him compete despite medical tests reportedly clearing him for action and has made it clear that when his contract with the wrestling giant is over, he fully intends to take his abilities to a promotion that will put them to use. With his contract said to be up in 2018, it’s heavily rumored that the Total Bellas star will move on to Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro-Wrestling after that.
11 Leave: Paige
Over the past year, it’s been hard to hear the name Paige without some speculation about her impending departure from the WWE being thrown about. The Anti-Diva, who at one point was considered one of the company’s brightest talents, has found herself on the outs with the promotion that made her a star, a series of controversies casting doubt over whether the former Diva’s Champion will ever step foot in a WWE ring again. It all started in August 2016 when Paige’s mother confirmed she was on hiatus from competition after suffering an injury. It’s a hiatus that would end up lasting more than a year as the Total Divas star was forced to undergo surgery to repair a nagging neck injury. However, what would happen off-camera during that time would prove to be far more eventful than anything shown on the E! reality series.
Paige would suffer two suspensions from the sports entertainment giant due to violations to their Wellness Policy and find her name in countless headlines thanks to her tumultuous relationship with fellow wrestler Alberto Del Rio. The barrage of negative press lead many to speculate that the WWE was looking to distance themselves from the celebrated women’s wrestler. While Paige herself has also expressed frustrations with the company, she was cleared for competition in September 2017. It appears Paige’s future with the WWE all depends on how her next run goes but it’d be a shame to lose a talented performer whose only just begun to make the most of her potential.
10 Join: Kenny Omega
If you’re looking at wrestlers outside of the WWE, there are few currently bigger than Kenny Omega. The Canadian-born star has catapulted into one of the biggest names in professional wrestling thanks to a series of classic matches against New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s top star, Kazuchika Okada. However, while his profile has certainly skyrocketed over the last year, this mainstream attention has lead to rampant speculation about when the Bullet Club leader will finally debut with the WWE. Many thought Omega would be making his debut at the 2017 Royal Rumble but the Winnipeg-native opted to stick with NJPW instead. However, when Omega admitted during an interview that wrestling former stable-mate AJ Styles in the main event of a pay-per-view was a major dream for his career, hope seemed renewed that the acclaimed wrestler would join the WWE one day.
It’s a rumor that even respected wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer touched on during a sitdown on Jim Ross’s podcast, The Ross Report, saying that while it’s possible that Omega could be wrestling for the WWE before WrestleMania 34, it really depends on how New Japan’s U.S. expansion goes and if his place as one of the company’s biggest draws changes. Still, there’s likely many fans who would kill to see Omega take his rightful place as one of the WWE’s top performers.
9 Leave: Dolph Ziggler
There was a time when it seemed like a given that Dolph Ziggler would go on to become one of the WWE’s biggest stars. The “Show Off” was often called the modern-day incarnation of Shawn Michaels and lauded for his combination of athleticism, charisma and heartthrob-like good looks. However, that praise never seemed to materialize into a significant career which brings us to today. Despite receiving numerous pushes over his more than 12-year run, the two-time World Heavyweight Champion has never found himself elevated into the top-tier of the WWE talent pool.
These days Ziggler remains a mid-card player at best, his current gimmick being that he literally imitates the gimmicks of other famous wrestlers. However, he may not be with the company for long. It’s been reported that Ziggler’s contract expires this month and that it’s unlikely he’ll renew seeing as how low his position in the WWE currently is. It’s a move that will probably prove best for his career in the long run given the low probability of him ever ascending to the top of the mountain again.
8 Leave: Nikki Bella
If there’s one person who’s been hurt the most by the WWE’s current women’s revolution, it’s Nikki Bella. The two-time Divas Champion quickly found herself on the outside of the growing movement after a broken neck put her on the injured list, forcing her to watch on the outside as an influx of new talent usurped her position as the top woman in the WWE. The Total Divas star would return to action in 2016 but find herself on the outskirts of the title picture, wasted in menial feuds until her recurring neck problem lead her to take a break from the wrestling scene once again at this year’s WrestleMania.
And while the Dancing With The Stars competitor has expressed interest in returning to the ring, her nagging injury and unlikelihood of ever reclaiming her position as the face of the women’s division, mean that her homecoming will likely be short-lived. At this point, it wouldn’t be surprising if Bella made her return at the proposed women’s Royal Rumble match next January before officially retiring at WrestleMania 34. Perhaps in a match against her sister?
7 Join: Ricochet
Ever since Ricochet’s “Match of the Year” caliber contest against Will Ospreay in 2016, fans have been clamoring for the high flyer to bring his talents to the WWE. However, according to the fan favorite wrestler there’s one thing stopping him from invading the wrestling giant, a little show called Lucha Underground. Ricochet, who wrestles on the Robert Rodriguez-produced series under the name Prince Puma, reportedly has a non-compete clause preventing him from appearing on any other wrestling programs.
However, with the El Rey Network series expected to end at the close of this season, that roadblock could be cleared sooner rather than later, giving him just enough time to debut on the Road to WrestleMania. And while the three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion would be a godsend to the cruiserweight division, finally giving 205 Live some much needed relevancy, Ricochet has expressed interest in a different path, wanting to follow Finn Balor’s footsteps in becoming NXT Champion.
6 Leave: Rusev
For more than three years, Rusev and Lana have served as one of the WWE’s most exciting partnerships, reigning over Raw and SmackDown as the wrestling promotion’s answer to Ivan and Ludmilla Drago (of Rocky IV fame). So when the former United States Champion hinted on Twitter about his impending departure, fans freaked out faster than you could say “Rusev machka!” It all started in August when the Bulgarian Brute tweeted the simple “#ThankYouRusev” on his verified account. Days later, he would follow that up by saying, “I want to thank WWE head office, TR and everybody involved. THANK YOU,” only further fanning the flames. It didn’t take long for media outlets to report that the power couple had requested their release due to unhappiness regarding their creative direction.
They’re rumors that Lana seemingly shot down when she tweeted, “Don’t believe the pathetic villagers that pretend they are journalists with real facts.” And while the two remain a visible part of the SmackDown Live roster, it wouldn’t be surprising if they were to step away from the promotion. The couple who were in the midst of a major push on Raw, have found themselves floundering since leaving the WWE’s flagship show, Rusev suffering an embarrassing loss to Randy Orton at SummerSlam while Lana’s singles push this summer amounted to a series of disappointing losses. While only time will tell, it wouldn’t be surprising if this WresleMania was their last.
5 Leave: Maria and Mike Kanellis
When Maria Kanellis made her triumphant return to the WWE at Money In The Bank 2017, with husband Mike (Kanellis) Bennett in tow, many assumed the First Lady of Wrestling was about to embark on the greatest run of her WWE career. The couple were fresh off a dominant run in TNA that saw Kanellis become the promotion’s central figure with almost all of their major storylines revolving around her villainous commissioner. However, we’re four months in and their WWE run has been anything but, Bennett thrown into a half-baked feud with Sami Zayn that he would end up losing before being established as a glorified jobber.
In fact, their lack of heat has seemed to affect the WWE’s desire to do anything with Kanellis as well, one of the year’s biggest crimes considering her immense talent as one of the sport’s best female figures, and the couple has become one of the company’s biggest non-factors. In August, it was rumored that Bennett’s lack of screen-time was due to his battle with addiction, working to overcome his dependency on prescription pills. However, a month later the two would announce that they’d be stepping away from the ring for a lot longer than expected, revealing that Kanellis is pregnant with their first child. Given how their current run with the WWE is going, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the couple decided to make that hiatus permanent.
4 Join: Jay Lethal
It’s hard to talk about the best professional wrestlers around the globe without bringing up the name Jay Lethal. The decorated Ring Of Honor star has won just about every title in the promotion that made him a name and has found similar success in other companies like TNA. However, as that old way of thinking goes, you haven’t really made it until you walk through a WWE curtain.
It’s an ambition that Lethal himself admitted to having, saying that the sports entertainment powerhouse is what made him fall in love with wrestling as a kid, naming Chris Jericho as his dream opponent. So of course rumors have been circulating ever since that the celebrated performer could one day make his home in the WWE. They’re rumors that only intensified when John Cena posted a photo of the currently-signed Ring Of Honor performer on his Instagram page, leading many to take it as a sign that he may soon be jumping ship. While nothing has materialized since, we can definitely see him invading NXT TakeOver during WrestleMania weekend ala Adam Cole.
3 Leave: Emma
Given her current position in the company, it’s easy to forget that Emma was once the spark behind a major revolution of women’s wrestling in the WWE. When the Australia-native battled Paige for the inaugural NXT Women’s Championship at NXT: ArRival in 2014, the match they produced was unlike anything fans had seen from the company in quite some time. An athletic, competitive and lengthy match between two female performers full of story, history and palpable stakes. It’s a match Paige would end up winning, setting the two on decidedly different paths. Her’s would see her end up moving on to the main roster, becoming a multiple-time Diva’s Champion and one of the most popular women in the company. Emma meanwhile, would flounder upon her call up, eventually sent back to NXT for re-packaging.
Her return to the main roster has been similarly inglorious, either not featured on television at all or jobbed out to younger talent like Sasha Banks and Bayley who took what she started and turned it into a movement. In July, the superstar memorably made her frustrations with the company known, posting on Twitter, “Sitting backstage at Raw on my five years with WWE. Happy Anniversary to me!” And while her current “Give Emma A Chance” gimmick has gotten her some attention, it wouldn’t be surprising if that chance ran out in 2018.
2 Join: Kota Ibushi
If Kota Ibushi makes his WWE debut before WrestleMania 34, it won’t be the first time you’ve seen the celebrated performer step inside a WWE ring. The decorated wrestler, who is just coming off a run as Tiger Mask W in NJPW, was one of the highlights of last year’s Cruiserweight Classic Tournament, with many assuming he would be hand-picked to lead the division through their launch onto the main roster. However, despite intense interest from the WWE, Ibushi decided to return to his homeland for another run in NJPW instead, a move many would consider smart given the current lackluster booking of the cruiserweight division.
However, that hasn’t stopped people from hoping the three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion will reconsider. Given the intense popularity of Shinsuke Nakamura, it would make sense for the sports entertainment giant to invest in more Japanese talent and Ibushi seems like the perfect person to sign on given his previous experience with the company. While Ibushi’s next move is currently unknown, it wouldn’t be surprising if WrestleMania season saw him re-introduced in a more featured role on SmackDown Live. Perhaps in a feud against Nakamura himself?
1 Leave: Big Show
For every performer in a sport as athletic and physically demanding as professional wrestling, there comes a time when they have to admit to themselves that they simply can’t perform at the level they once did anymore. For Big Show, it seems that time is now. For almost two decades, the larger-than-life wrestler has served as a dominant presence in the WWE, demolishing through the roster or serving as an enforcer to smaller, more vulnerable superstars depending on how storyline dictates. However, despite debuting a leaner, more ripped physique at WrestleMania 33, it appears that Big Show’s age and physical limitations have caught up with him, going on hiatus in September 2017 to undergo much needed hip surgery.
However, unlike most superstars who fans are left guessing when or if a performer will take their final bow, with Big Show it’s all but been confirmed. Earlier this year, the former WWE Champion admitted that this will likely be his final year with the company, saying, “I know I’m done February 2018. That’s when my contract ends as a full-time, live event guy. We’ll se what happens after that.” While the timing puts his retirement smack dab in the middle of the Road to WrestleMania, it’s possible he’ll make one final Mania appearance, perhaps going out by winning the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal one more time.
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