Another year of WWE programming is coming to a close, and while we have had some ups - like Balor being incredibly OVER and Braun Strowman being a pleasant surprise to our main event level - have also experienced a lot of lows - like the continued used of Roman Reigns as a baby-face and the over-pushing of Jason Jordan - it is a great time to be a wrestling fan. The landscape of professional wrestling is constantly changing, and with so much talent on the independent circuit and WWE roster, there are so many possibilities for great matches to take place.
With so much opportunity for craziness to occur, is it possible for us to put our finger on exactly what WWE has planned for 2018? Since there are so many variables in this sport, it is impossible to know for sure exactly what could be coming down the pipeline for the most part. There are always things that WWE telegraphs for their fans (like how we know that Roman Reigns is not going anywhere anytime soon), but there is always an element of surprise and WWE always has a way of pulling one over on us every year with some of their choices.
Here are 10 WWE Booking Decisions In 2018 That Will Shock Us And 5 That Are Way Too Obvious:
15 Shocking - Finn Balor Joins Cruiserweight Division
It is no secret that Finn Balor has been struggling on the main roster since his return from injury in 2017 – despite being very OVER with fans, he has not gained the footing required in order to achieve his Universal Champion status. While there is a potential that the annual Superstar Shakeup could show Balor a change to Smackdown, his most recent match alongside new 205 Live Star Hideo Itami may have WWE Management singing a different tune in 2018. It is very likely that Balor will be moved to the Cruiserweight Division within the next couple of months.
While some may consider this a demotion given the lack of attention the division currently receives (as well as the current ratings for the product), this could actually be a blessing in disguise for Balor for several reasons – he will become a “big fish in a small pond” in this division easily being the most bankable star on the roster, which means he will be featured heavily. Secondly, if the division begins seeing returns under Balor’s leadership, then he will receive monumental praise for his role.
14 Shocking - Cena Passes Torch
While this may not seem shocking when looking at the overall WWE landscape, it is difficult to believe that the day will finally come when John Cena is no longer a part of WWE. The length of time between Cena’s appearances for WWE is becoming longer and longer, with a very large gap taking place between last year’s WrestleMania and his next appearance, as well as a two month absence in between No Mercy and Survivor Series. Along with his extended absences, Cena has begun to grow his movie career with three movie appearances in 2017 and currently two big releases on the docket for 2018. With all of this put together, it appears that Cena has slowly succeeded in distancing himself from his WWE career – while this may sound good to many of you on paper, it will leave WWE with a large gap to fill.
Knowing Cena’s professionalism over the years, I do not foresee him leaving WWE high-and-dry by stepping out as early as WrestleMania 34, but rather taking his time to build a feud properly in order to pass the torch to someone on his way out.
13 Obvious - Jason Jordan vs Kurt Angle
Unfortunately, we all know where this big storyline is leading up to – WWE management is salivating over the thought of promoting a “Father versus Son Match” between Jason Jordan and Kurt Angle. While I do congratulate WWE for not “hot-shooting” the angle (no pun intended) and letting Jordan’s true heel turn be a slowly burning process, I don’t think it comes as a surprise to anyone what is being planned here. Reportedly, there are many that are very high on Jordan as a wrestler and see him achieving big things in the future, but it is clear that the crowd disagrees with him as the white-meat baby face that he currently portrays. With the cards seemingly lining up to have him turn heel against his “father”, whom does not always listen to his crying and begging ways, I feel as though this booking decision could actually pan out positively if the slow-build process continues down the path it is on. And let me just add – god, Jason Jordan is playing an annoying heel to perfection right now that everyone is buying in to it hook-line-and-sinker!
12 Shocking - Impact Main Eventers Debut; One on Main Roster, One on NXT
With so many reports coming in that current Impact/Global Force Wrestling/TNA/Who Knows What wrestling talent Bobby Lashley and Ethan Cather III are letting their company contracts expire in 2017, it is very likely that WWE will look to scoop up these wrestlers the second that they can. While both Lashley and Carter have been very successful in TNA and have greatly improved in all areas since leaving WWE, it will be shocking at how WWE approaches both of these two talents.
It was no secret that WWE Management had a huge crush on Lashley during his WWE run between 2005 and 2008 – he was pushed to the main-event level in rapid fashion, and was even given the treatment of working directly with the McMahon family, which is something that is reserved only for “superstars” in management’s eyes. Given his past, it is very unlikely that Lashley will debut on anything but the main roster. Unfortunately for Carter, it is most likely that he will be placed on NXT. While this is normally very promising for established main-eventers that are not directly from WWE, such as Kevin Owens, Drew McIntyre and Adam Cole, WWE has already proven that they were unsure of what to do with Carter during his first WWE run.
11 Shocking - Mixed Match Challenge Will Actually Be Good
Sorry naysayers, but I am calling your bluff here. I have a feeling that WWE’s heavily promoted “Mixed Match Challenge” will actually have a very positive outcome? Why, do you ask? Just ask wrestlers that have built their livelihood around inter-gender wrestling like Joey Ryan and Candice Lerae. There is a huge market for inter-gender wrestling that WWE has failed to tap in to until now – it is not unusual on the independent circuit to see male/female wrestling combinations main event cards in a serious format beyond the “will the man strike the woman?” mentality (need some proof, check out this match from PWG featuring Ryan and Lerae, and tell me that it is not awesome).
While I am sure that WWE will not go all-in like the match I referenced here, I still firmly believe that they will put a lot of thought into the booking to make it work our while to tune in. Especially since Vince McMahon has reportedly put a lot of stock into it already, you can assure that it will not be an afterthought.
10 Obvious - Daniel Bryan vs Shane McMahon
Perhaps I have just been a wrestling fan for too long, but I feel that I am able to telegraph when booking decisions are a little bit obvious. In this case, you did not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out what WWE has been building up to on Smackdown. For the past two years, Shane McMahon has been featured in matches with opponents whom are far too out of his league, and it looks like WrestleMania 34 will make it a hat-trick. Daniel Bryan has very publically been itching to return to active competition since his on-screen retirement in 2016, and it appears that WWE is close to giving him this opportunity. With WWE referencing Bryan’s injury and retirement much more frequently on television, constantly stating that “he cannot return to the ring”, it is explicitly serving as a red-herring to the audience that they are contemplating his return.
While a match between Bryan and Shane is not going to be a five-star mat classic like a return would be with Styles or Nakamura, I am sure that the two of them would still pull of a spectacle. If this decision goes ahead, I am sure the audience will be skeptical going in like they were with McMahon and Styles last year, but that turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
9 Shocking - Tag Team Tournament
WWE does not have a very good track record when it comes to giving a lot of love and attention to their tag team divisions – very often it seems as though tag team matches are unimportant to the grand scheme of things. Whether it is matches like The New Day versus The Usos ending up on pay-per-view pre-shows, or having multi-team matches thrown onto a card with little build up, it would be shocking to see WWE pay attention to their tag divisions for a long period of time. Well, it is was not too long ago when we would have said the same thing about the Cruiserweight or Women’s divisions as well, and both have experienced a renaissance over the past year through external tournaments like the Cruiserweight Classic and Mae Young Classic tournaments.
With so many great independent tag teams around the world like War Machine and OI4K, WWE may look to capitalize on this and hold their own tournament. Plus, they seem to always be looking for a way to stick it to the Young Bucks, and what better way than to exclude them from this tournament?
8 Shocking - Money in the Bank – Fan Favorite Loses Opportunity
Our of the 16 male holders of the Money in the Bank contract, three of them (John Cena, Damien Sandow and Baron Corbin) have attempted to cash in but failed during their attempts. Each time, this has been a huge shocking moment because it does not happen very often. However, fans have become accustomed to the fact that the next year’s winner will more than likely use their opportunity properly and become champion because of the success rate of the Money in the Bank briefcase. WWE has become much more connected to what fans are expecting of them over the past couple of years, and uses this knowledge to “troll” the fans at every opportunity which keeps them on their toes (Daniel Bryan being eliminated early from the Royal Rumble, anyone?).
Knowing that WWE is on the pulse of how much fans are in to such wrestlers like Finn Balor or “Woken” Matt Hardy, it should not be out of the realm of possibility for them to win the briefcase only to lose their title match in grand fashion as a way of WWE asserting their control over the audience.
7 Obvious - Roman Reigns Heel Turn
There, are you happy people! You’ve finally done it, you’ve driven him mad!
While we may never get a true John Cena heel turn during his full-time tenure with WWE, it is looking more and more like we will get a Roman Reigns full-on heel turn within the next couple of months. The Roman Reigns experiment has gone off the rails, and despite trying everything possible to make him loved by the audience (put over by The Rock, looking like a superman, coming back from being crushed by an ambulance and re-teaming with The Shield), Reigns is still consistently booed by most of the audience during live events. The best part about this scenario is that Reigns has shown the ability to be a nasty person on the microphone who can throw shade easily at the audience when things do not go his way, which means that he would be very successful as a heel if this were to take place.
If things continue to not go as planned during Reigns’ time as a main-event level star, it is only a matter of time before the trigger is pulled and Reigns turns on his Shield brethren to make him the bad guy we all hoped he would be.
6 Shocking - The Miz: WWE Champion
Yes folks, you read it here first – The Miz will return to WWE in the main event picture and become WWE Champion again in 2018. If anyone is going to sit there and tell me that The Miz is not currently experiencing the best years of his career right now, you are out of your mind. Miz has single-handedly been one of the most consistent and entertaining performers as Intercontinental Champion since 2016, and has knocked his feuds with Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns out of the park, becoming one of the most well-respected wrestlers in the mid-card scene that WWE has on their roster. Not only have his performances set him apart from others, but he has remained one of WWE’s most hard-working wrestlers outside of the ring, filming movies for WWE Films as well as participating in Total Divas (and his reported spin-off show, The It Couple with Maryse)
As a reward for working so hard to bring prestige to the Intercontinental Championship, WWE Management will be rewarding Miz with a main-event run upon his return from filming his latest movie. Well-deserved accolades from someone who used to have to dress outside in the hallway!
5 Shocking- Rey Mysterio Returns Behind the Scenes
Rey Mysterio recently revealed that he is looking to return to WWE for one last run before he finally retires. At age 43, Mysterio would be one of the oldest members of the WWE roster, but the real question would be – what is his value on the main roster? Would he be best served to return to his previous main-event level, or would he better suited to help elevate the Cruiserweight division?
While it is most likely that Mysterio will eventually return to WWE, the shocking piece is that it is not where we assume it will be – since Mysterio’s performing days are numbered, it is most likely that he will find a role as a trainer at the WWE Performance Centre were his vast wrestling knowledge will assist with shaping performers. We currently know that Shawn Michaels is filling an unofficial role at the Performance Centre as a trainer, and it's likely Mysterio will find a similar place. Particularly with new wrestlers waiting to join the Cruiserweight Division, Mysterio’s guidance will be helpful and hopefully assist with the floundering division by working with their up-and-comers.
4 Obvious - Strowman As Universal Champion
Roses are red, violets are blue. His name is Braun Strowman and he’s not finished with you!
It is no secret that Braun Strowman has had a pleasantly unexpected 2017 in WWE – upon re-debuting on the RAW brand, I was one of the many that automatically assumed that he would flounder during a main-event level push like so many other “big men” before him, like Heidenreich, Tensai or Mason Ryan. Fortunately, I was very incorrect and Strowman has become a bright spot on many dreary episodes of RAW over the past twelve months. Strowman’s feuds with Roman Reigns and Kane have been very entertaining and have established him as a main-event player in WWE.
While injuries did plan an unfortunate part in him losing some spotlight in 2017, Strowman should have an impressive showing this year, leading to a well-deserved Universal Championship win later on in the year. WWE Management continues to be high on Strowman, having placed him in the past five main-event matches during pay-per-views.
3 Shocking - Jeff Hardy Main Event Run
Does Jeff Hardy have one more main event run left in him? I am betting that WWE feels that he does, and we should see Jeff begin his movement into the Universal Championship picture in 2018. For those wrestling fans who are new to WWE and have only heard stories about Jeff Hardy, they may be underestimating his popularity. Jeff’s past main event runs in WWE marked him as one of the popular wrestlers in the past decade, with legions of fans behind him as he battled Triple H, CM Punk and Edge, and had it not been for his personal demons getting in the way of his career, he may have continued his career at the main event level.
With Matt Hardy continuing his “Woken” character, he is seemingly leaving the door open for Jeff to finish what he started during his last WWE appearances in 2009. While Jeff is currently 40 and much older than some of the current main-eventers, he has proven since returning to WWE that he can still hang with the best of them.
2 Shocking - The New Day Turn Heel
Would you see WWE taking their most popular tag team and turning them in to bad guys, foregoing millions of merchandise dollars in the process? Yes, because the gimmick has become stale and is losing its luster. Recent appearance of the New Day have featured them shilling WWE merchandise in an over-the-top manner instead of focusing on their skills as wrestlers, which is a recipe for wrestling fans to begin turning on the popular trio. Keeping characters as baby-faces can only work for so long until the fans begin to lose interest, and there are already signs of this occurring with this team.
Given the fact that the wrestlers can see the writing on the wall, the likelihood of this team becoming bad guys and turning on their “positivity” roots is becoming higher by the day, and 2018 should see it all come to fruition. Francesca II – she’ll be gone. Unicorn horns? Oh, you bet they’ll be gone too. Booty-O’s? There will be no more cereal for anyone!
1 Obvious - Hardy vs. Wyatt – House of Horrors 2
I can’t tell if this booking decision will be more obvious or shocking. Clearly WWE management is working towards a big “Woken” Hardy versus Bray Wyatt showdown, as the hilarious vignettes have been occurring for the past couple of weeks, so there is an obvious big match situation being worked on. However, it would be very shocking that WWE would be looking to return to a House of Horrors match setting for the two of them, when the first one was so poorly received.
With the WWE seeing how popular the “Broken Universe” became, including the Final Deletion match that took place in TNA, I am sure they are chomping at the bit to incorporate something similar in to their own take on the Woken character, and will be looking to reactivate the House of Horrors concept with this feud. I sincerely hope it turns out better than the last time, but the real question is – how could it get any worse!?