2016 was an interesting year for NXT. After their roster was purged for the WWE Brand Split, the weekly programming struggled to remain consistently good as it has in previous years. However, it was the TakeOver specials that delivered consistently with phenomenal matches. In 2016, we saw Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura become NXT's first 2-time NXT Champions, The Revival set the tag team world on fire, and Asuka dominated the NXT Women's division. We saw shocking championship wins, surprising turns, unbelievable alliances were made, and we even got a few throwbacks from the days of classic 80s wrestling. We saw an influx of big wrestling names from around the world enter the Performance Center and NXT as a brand expanded into even more global markets. In that regard at least, 2016 was a big year for NXT and 2017 is set to be even bigger. In the first couple weeks alone, the WWE Universe has seen the return of Kassius Ohno to NXT and the announcement of the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, which could in itself possibly have ramifications for the NXT brand. If this is what we've seen happen in just the first couple weeks of 2017, imagine what could happen in NXT throughout 2017.
It can be tricky to think up some predictions for things that could occur in an entire year in wrestling, especially for a constantly evolving brand like NXT. The landscape of the wrestling world in general is always changing and is hard to predict as year-long plans could change on the drop of a dime due to injury or backstage management changing their minds. Admittedly, a lot of my predictions are just wishful thinking more than anything else and things that I would like to see opposed to what I think will happen in 2017. For that reason, a lot of these predictions may sound crazy or improbable. However, I tried in the best of my ability to provide a decent balance between what I want to see in 2017 from NXT and what I think will actually happen. With that said, here are my 15 crazy predictions for what may happen in NXT for the year 2017.
23 2017 is Tye Dillinger’s Year
I'm tempted to say that Tye Dillinger is heading to the main roster by time the year is over. After all, a brief Twitter exchange between Dillinger and The Miz from 2016 led to call up speculation, but nothing came of it. Plus, with the Royal Rumble approaching, how perfect would it be for Dillinger to debut at entrant #10? Alas, I don't see it happening. Not because those working in WWE don't think he's ready, but because Dillinger's star in NXT is rising higher and higher by the week. Look no further than the reception he received during his Toronto match as an example. He's quickly evolving into NXT's biggest underdog since Sami Zayn or Bayley. Dillinger could continue working in NXT to add more prestige to his name and headline a few Takeover events. There could possibly even be an NXT Championship in Dillinger's future before the year is over. 2017 is shaping to be a perfect year for The Perfect 10.
22 There Will Be An NXT Match At WrestleMania
I don't just mean an NXT call-up debut, like Baron Corbin last year for the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. I mean NXT as a brand will have its presence known and WrestleMania will be a crossover event between the main brands and the developmental show. Perhaps one of the NXT Champions defends their title to work the main roster for a one-off match just for the big show. Maybe this is unlikely and even a little pointless given that the Takeover show is bound to be the night before, but for a supercard that is meant to highlight the best that the WWE had to offer in the last year, it is not an impossible direction for WWE to head in, especially after last year, when TakeOver: Dallas overshadowed the following night's Mania show.
21 Asuka Will Leave NXT Undefeated
Asuka is currently enjoying the longest Women's Title reign in NXT history. She is also still undefeated and is yet to be pinned or submitted by anyone in WWE. One would assume that Asuka is set to continue her hot streak on the main roster soon. If that were to happen, the no-brainer would be that she would have to lose the title and her eat her first pinfall/submission lost on her way out, but I believe she'll remain undefeated by time she comes to the main roster. Yes, she'll have to lose the title before leaving NXT, but she could lose the title in a multi-woman match without getting pinned or submitted. Not only is it likely that we will see an undefeated Asuka make her WWE main roster debut in 2017, it is just an overall smart move. There's more money in Asuka with a streak than without it. Especially if she were to enter a program with Charlotte Flair, who remains undefeated on pay-per-view. There has to be money in a program between a woman who is undefeated at pay-per-view and a woman who is undefeated period.
20 Shinsuke Nakamura Will Not Be Called Up
The idea that Shinsuke Nakamura could spend most of 2017—possibly the entirety of 2017—down in developmental sounds ludicrous, but I fully believe it. With about 15 years of experience in the wrestling business, Shinsuke Nakamura certainly does not need any extended time in developmental, but it looks like NXT sure does need him for the time being. With a scarce main event block in NXT, Shinsuke Nakamura stands tall as a diamond in the rough and those calling the shots down in NXT seem keen to keep him there as the face of the brand. They went as far as to have him lose the NXT Championship just so he can win it back in his home country of Japan a few days later. Those in NXT have put enough stock in Nakamura that they want to milk him for what he's worth and for a man of his unique talents, he's worth a lot. At the very least, expect him to remain the face of NXT until the summer before he gets the call-up. At most, we may not see Nakamura on Raw or Smackdown until 2018.
19 The Revival Get a Manager… Or Breakup
After the countless number of Match of the Year candidates these two provided in 2016 within the Tag Team division, it seems ludicrous to even think of The Revival will head for a breakup. However, we probably could have said the same about Buddy & Murphy after the work they put in for 2015, only to break up in 2016. To be fair, the two failed to get over as a team, but they did win the NXT Tag Team Titles and had impressive matches. Unfortunately, they also were difficult to market (especially on the main roster) without any real characters or mic skills. The Revival are the same and NXT could test the waters with them in singles competition. Alternatively, we could see the two pick up a manager to speak for them, which would be the better option. Perhaps they could enter the main roster as a couple of Paul Heyman Guys? It's not the worst idea. Better that than a break up when they are obviously better off together.
18 Los Ingobernables in NXT
Andrade Cien Almas burst onto the NXT scene in 2016 with much promise based on his international success. For the most part, he hasn't lived up to his hype. Despite excelling as a competitor in the ring, Almas has been overshadowed by several other NXT acts and moments. It didn't help that he didn't have the best debut in 2016 where he showed up to NXT Takeover: The End like an extra from Magic Mike while being booed in favor of the heel Tye Dillinger. For one reason or another, Almas' name failed to frequently leave the mouth's of NXT fans upon leaving the arena. Perhaps that could all change if he brought back the stable that helped make him a household name to begin with during his La Sombra days: Los Ingobernables. Maybe not bring in his old stable mates like Tetsuya Naito, but he could get fans talking if he formed his own cocky stable in similar vain to Los Ingobernables. Maybe it'll be one too many stables in NXT, but it sure would help Almas get some much needed attention from the NXT Universe and make him a credible contender for the NXT Title by surrounding him with allies willing to help him win the belt.
15 Hideo Itami Will Become NXT Champion
It would be an understatement to say that Hideo Itami's run in NXT so far has been disappointing. Without making any huge waves in NXT since first signing his WWE contract in 2017, he is currently sitting on his 2nd injury since entering the company. Both the fans and backstage brass are starting to sour on his star potential. Or worse, forget about him. One way to ensure that Itami is remembered highly among the WWE/NXT Universe is strap a rocket push onto his back once he returns and there is no bigger way to do so than to quickly book him to win the NXT Championship. It is unlikely to happen if he has in fact gained a reputation for being injury prone, but with the influx of young upstarts and indie darlings entering the Performance Center seemingly every day, Itami's star could fade into obscurity if he isn't booked to win the title as soon as possible.
14 The Call-Ups
We all look forward to the call-ups that come in from NXT and onto the main roster. With a talented developmental roster that includes Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, and Austin Aries, any one of these stars have the possibility to shake up the main roster in a big way. While any one of these competitors can make their way up to the main roster in 2017—I’d put my money on all 3 men showing up—we must also be aware that we could also see a lot of call-ups that won’t make much sense. Last year, we saw wrestlers like Apollo Crews, Dana Brooke, Mojo Rawley, and Nia Jax get called up before they had a chance to properly hone their skills in NXT. We should expect the same to occur this year. Though the two have yet to make a major impact in NXT despite steadily improving their skills, I can see the bad girl duo of Peyton Royce and Billie Kay getting called up not long after WrestleMania. I can also see The Authors of Pain get called up. Even though they have a long way to go before being well rounded athletes, they are still big guys and Vince loves his big guys. Also, and this is just a shot in the dark, I can see Buddy Murphy making his way up to the main roster to join his girlfriend, Alexa Bliss, if only so WWE can create a storyline for the two. Might even see some leftover stars from the WWE UK Tournament make their way to NXT.
13 The Call-Downs
As excited as we are to see the possible call-ups from NXT to the main roster, we should also expect a few main roster stars get called down to the NXT roster. Don't think of it as a demotion for these stars. Think of it as a way to reinvigorate the careers of those whose WWE careers have been in a stand-still for awhile. Look at Zack Ryder. He got called down to NXT in 2015 to work with Mojo Rawley and in 2016, he won the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania. Or Emma, who after being saddled with a goofy comedy gimmick in 2013-14, was brought down to NXT and repackaged as a serious competitor. The same can happen for somebody like Jack Swagger, who I fully expect to see called down to NXT in 2017. He hasn't even appeared on WWE TV since being drafted to Smackdown, which only occurred so that Swagger could lose a feud to Baron Corbin. Swagger can be used on NXT to either revitalize his career or even put over a young newcomer. Other possible call-downs could be Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel, and maybe a few Cruiserweights who are scarcely used on Raw and 205 Live
12 DIY Never Break Up, Get Called Up Together
When these two first started teaming together in NXT, it seemed like a given that Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa were destined to disband. As if they were only booked together to break up and eventually have a rivalry. These theory seemed supported by after the two faced off in the Cruiserweight Classic Tournament and failed to capture the NXT Tag Team Titles shortly afterwards at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II. Both instances looked like perfect opportunities for Ciampa to turn on his partner, but nothing came of it. Instead, the two shocked the world by finally toppling The Revival for the NXT Tag Team Championship at NXT Takeover: Toronto. No one could have imagined the two would have such surprisingly phenomenal chemistry as a team and because of that, WWE may just capitalize on it even further. Since they work so well together, not only is a break up unlikely to happen any time soon, the two may remain a time once they hit the main roster. With their Toronto match against The Revival topping WWE.com's Best Matches of 2016 list, Gargano and Ciampa can add so much to the Tag division no matter what brand they end up on. For the time being, the two are more useful to each other as allies than as enemies.
10 A ROH Takeover
WWE have spent the last few years making stars out of several former Ring of Honor talents. Bryan Danielson, Tyler Black, and Kevin Steen all jumped ship to WWE and became members of the top WWE brass in Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, and Kevin Owens. There is an even longer number of ex-ROH stars which belong to WWE and WWE are likely to expand that list in 2017. There have already been strong rumors citing current ROH Champion, Adam Cole, planning to jump ship before the year is over. The man he defeated for the title recently, Kyle O'Reilly, has yet to sign a new ROH contract, which has inspired rumors that he may be jumping ship as well. In addition to those two, Ray Rowe, best known as one half of former ROH Tag Team Champions War Machine, is another recent ROH talent rumored to report to the Peformance Center. If these rumors are to be believed, WWE is planning a big raid of the ROH roster for 2017.
6 NXT/Smackdown Partnership
In 2016, we saw NXT often crossover with Smackdown programming, but only in small, brief doses. We often saw NXT's small time stars show up on Smackdown to job out to the main roster stars. First, we saw Billie Kay take a fall to Dana Brooke, then Oney Lorcan lost a bout to Kalisto, and most recently on the first Smackdown of 2017, Carmella beat Dana Brooke. This sort of crossing over is likely to continue in 2017, but I expect it to occur in bigger doses. Maybe not big enough that we'll see a big NXT main event star like Bobby Roode pop up on Smackdown for one night only, but maybe big enough for those from NXT's upper to lower midcard to stop by on Smackdown for a cup of coffee and a match. One day, we may see the NXT Tag Team Champions show up on Smackdown to take on the Smackdown Tag Team Champions to prove who the better team is. Or we may see someone like a Roderick Strong or a No Way Jose have a big NXT showcase match against one of Smackdown's midcard stars. Just something to make more casual WWE viewers aware of the NXT product in order to sway them into buying the WWE Network to see more of it.
5 NXT -The Roster and Show- Will Improve
Let's face it, in 2016, NXT kind of sucked. The Takeovers were phenomenal, but the weekly shows left a lot to be desired. Especially after this past summer's post-Draft purge that saw several of NXT's best stars like Finn Balor and American Alpha all head up to the main roster. This left an apparent gap in NXT with more inexperienced wrestlers than proven stars and main event players. The last few months has been rough on NXT programming. Heading into 2017, the post-purge version is looking much more fluid. Rookies like Liv Morgan and Aliyah are slowly improving as well rounded wrestlers while the latest influx of indie talents like Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero) could help shake things up on the NXT roster. NXT looks like the future is in good hands for 2017.
2 NXT Writers to Raw
This is a prediction that works better in the favor of Monday Night Raw than it does NXT. When former NXT head writer, Ryan Ward, was promoted as the head writer of Smackdown in 2016, the quality of Smackdown improved immensely. Ward's creative input is the reason why Smackdown has often been praised as the superior brand since this past summer's WWE Draft. Unfortunately, it is also the reason why NXT's weekly programs have been lackluster in recent memory compared to the last couple years. It won't help NXT if any more of their best writers land on the main roster, but it is likely to happen. We saw what happened at the end of 2016 when Smackdown beat Raw in the ratings for the first time. To compete, Raw announced that both The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels would appear on Raw the next week. If Smackdown beats Raw again any time soon or more consistently, Raw could bring up some NXT writers to spice up their programming, which could only make NXT programming struggle even more.
1 Sanity Wins All The Gold
After a string of mysterious vignettes interrupting NXT programming in the fall of 2016, the stable behind the vignettes finally revealed themselves on October 12th as four hooded individuals. Before the night was over, the four would unmask themselves to be Sawyer Fulton, Alexander Wolfe, Nikki Cross (former independent star, Nikki Storm), and their leader, ex-TNA superstar Eric Young. The four took no time in making an impact down at Full Sail University as a ravenous gang of sociopaths whose only mindset is inflicting pain. Now with the injured Fulton being replaced by Belfast powerhouse, Killian Dain (former indie darling, Big Damo), Sanity looks more dominate than ever. The way their group is shaping, it seems fitting for the whole group to be saddled with NXT gold by the end of the year. Cross with the NXT Women's Championship, Dain and Wolfe with the NXT Tag Team Championship, and Eric Young with the NXT Championship. Not only would this solidify the group's credibility as the most formidable team in NXT history, but it also creates a strong aura for them that will come in handy once they make it up to the main roster.