At the annual January 4th Wrestle Kingdom show for New Japan, the Japanese faithful got to see a dream match for the ages: Bullet Club's A.J. Styles against the "King of Strong Style" Shinsuke Nakamura. It was an instant Match of the Year candidate. What a difference a few weeks makes! AJ debuted at the Royal Rumble and Nakamura would sign with NXT shortly after.
Yes, the wrestling business due to the very nature of it, is a constantly changing and evolving animal, with each year bringing all kinds of changes both good and bad. And sometimes absolutely shocking moments that we thought we'd never see. With Raw, SmackDown, and NXT pretty much having every top star in the world (minus a few), 2017 is shaping up to be epic. Here are 15 changes that will shake up the WWE landscape in 2017.
16 Drastic Cruiserweight Changes
The Cruiserweight Classic was a landmark moment for the WWE. Triple H ventured into the world outside of the WWE Universe looking for the best Cruiserweights on the planet and tossed them into a tournament akin to the Super J Cup of yesteryear. To try to capitalize, the Cruiserweight Division has moved onto Raw and they even have their own show 205 Live. But for whatever the reason, the Cruiserweight Division doesn't seem to be catching the fire that the CWC garnered. Currently, even with their own segment on Raw and 205, there just isn't enough character development to get casual fans tuning in. The debut of Jack Gallagher and impending return of Tajiri have helped spark a little interest, but immediately taking the belt off both standout T.J. Perkins and stalwart, Brian Kendrick in favor of complete unknown Rich Swann hasn't done much for the division.
Prediction for 2017: While it might be hard to scrap the whole experiment before you give it a decent few more months, you can at least integrate some of these guys into some storylines outside the division, and not just be fodder for Braun Stroman. So far, the whole "it's time for the smaller guys" approach doesn't seem to be working. So, let's put some of them into Raw and SmackDown properly. After all beloved legends like Daniel Bryan, Eddie Guerrero, Bret Hart, and HBK are all former champions who were technically Cruiserweights.
15 Women's Only Show
We know "The Game" and company are actively scouting, scouring the globe, and recruiting women specifically for their next tournament and beyond. As the above mentioned CWC has shown, the next step is to give the gals their own show; which WWE might want to do no matter what since Netflix's GLOW will debut next year. With Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Asuka, and a whole slew of others turning heads for their in ring work, the entire Women's Division is ready for a full on revolution. The difference between them and the Cruiserweights, is that they already have their own segments on Raw and SmackDown and in the PG world we'll never see, nor want to see the gals mix it up with the guys.
Prediction for 2017: Obviously, the Women's tournament will be pushed heavily on Raw, SmackDown, and NXT (more so than the CWC was), but the company can sign some girls that are very well known to both casual and die-hard fans. Sexy Star (Lucha Underground permitting), Xia Brookside (NXT trainer Robbie's daughter), and Daffney could and should all be signed to help continue the female dominance in the WWE. The real revolution, not the one that Vince and Stephanie have tried to manufacture is about to be televised.
14 The Shield Will Reunite
"The Chosen One" doesn't seem to be the fans choice. "The Architect" is being passed up for other visionaries, and "The Lunatic Fringe" is being forsaken for more phenomenal superstars. The members of the Shield have all now gone on to bigger and better things, have all won the WWE World Championship but now are giving way to others on their respective rosters, but lately all three seem to be yesterday's news. When "The Hounds of Justice" have reunited, most recently giving the Cerebus Powerbomb to A.J. Styles at Survivor Series and showing up together at Tribute to the Troops, the fans have gone completely ballistic. Clearly, there is plenty of fruit left on the vine for The Shield to return.
Prediction for 2017: Rollins and Reigns already have each other's backs against Kevin Owens and Y2J. But perhaps two-thirds of the group are going to need some extra help against a more polished team like Gallows and Anderson. Perhaps The Shield vs. The Club. Reigns and Ambrose could also assist Rollins in his inevitable battle with Triple H and the Authority.
12 Less and Less Cena
Remember all of that grandstanding John Cena did in his feud with The Rock, annoyed that the legend would go sabbatical every now and again, while espousing his love for the WWE and how he is never leaving again? He'll never admit it, but the guy sure is putting his foot in his mouth these days. The Champ has been taking his own leaves of absence to go off and make movies like Trainwreck, TV shows like American Grit, and most recently a hosting spot on Saturday Night Live. He might not achieve the level of Hollywood stardom that "The Great One" has, but it does seem like "The Face that Runs the Place" is attempting to follow in "The Brahma Bull's" shoes.
Prediction for 2017: Cena's impending showdown with The Undertaker will be the last time we see Cena on WWE TV until SummerSlam as the Superstar becomes an official PPV/Network special only attraction.
11 Royal Rumble Resurgence
In 1993, the edict came down that the winner of the Royal Rumble would get a title shot at WrestleMania. The event was forever associated with being the first stop on the road to the "Showcase of the Immortals." The Royal Rumble match has always been one of the beloved events in sports entertainment - it's just so fun to see the lunacy unfold. But in recent years, the winner of the event has seemingly been the obvious, handpicked-by-the-office choice. Batista won in 2014, when the fans clearly wanted Daniel Bryan to headline 'Mania. 2015 - Roman won, again despite the fans completely turning on him, and the decision to book him as "The Guy." Daniel Bryan was the fans' chosen one. Triple H won the 2016 show when someone else could have been elevated. It has been a long time since the Royal Rumble winner has been in sync with the fans desires, truly building a memorable run to winning the title at 'Mania.
Prediction for 2017: Since there are two brands now, you can book the Rumble accordingly and give the fans a moment they won't loudly and audibly boo the crap out of. For the first time in a long time, there also doesn't seem to be a clear cut winner being handpicked. IF Finn Balor isn't ready to go, the company should book a shocking but deserving victor, perhaps Seth Rollins.
10 The Deadman Says Goodbye
I think it's time even the most ardent of Undertaker fans begin to admit that "The Demon of Death Valley" is getting up there in years. Every year for the past several, fans have contemplated if it would be the last time "The Phenom" ever stepped into the ring. As Triple H in storyline once did for "The Reaper," perhaps it's time to tell the guy "it's time." After over 25 years in the ring, and several lifetimes worth of memories traversing various versions of "The American Badass," 2017 will be the year that "The Conscience of the WWE" lays his black hat in the ring and walks slowly to the back
Prediction for 2017: After a valiant effort against A.J. Styles at the Royal Rumble, a returning John Cena costs "The Deadman" a victory, leading up to their battle at WrestleMania. The Undertaker beats Cena, but is left visibly pondering his own mortality. The next night on Raw, he says goodbye and it is immediately announced the 2018 Hall of Fame will be headlines by The Phenom's induction.
9 NXT Will Stall
It's a prediction that would suck if it comes to pass, but after being the developmental program that gave us the likes of The Shield and The Wyatt Family, huge signees like Finn Balor and Hideo Itami, and birthed a revolution in what wrestling should be all about, NXT has been full steam ahead for several years now. Triple H's vision has gone from developmental territory to a bonafide and viable third brand. But like so many great forms of Pop media before it, it's inevitable that there will be a slide in quality. Great TV shows experience it during the middle of their runs, movies series reboots always feel a little forced, and great sports dynasties need to go through a rebuilding period, and NXT is a great sports dynasty.
Prediction for 2017: NXT has been cooking on all cylinders for a long time but has suffered slightly with the main roster pilfering their talent. 2017 will be no different as talents like Asuka, Ember Moon, Nakamura, Bobby Roode, and a whole lot more will most likely get the call up to Raw or SmackDown Live.
8 Ricochet and Will Osprey Debut
With an audience of die-hard wrestling fans watching so many different promotions and styles nowadays on so many different platforms, WWE might be number one by a landslide, but they're certainly not the only group generating interest. Oddly enough, two non-WWE produced pieces have captivated the fans. TNA and Matt Hardy brought us The Final Deletion (more on that later), and New Japan, the Super Juniors of Will Osprey and Ricochet put on a match that, no matter your opinion of it, had the entire industry talking. Their match featured athleticism never before seen and left critics split - did we just see the next evolution of pro wrestling or did Cirque de Solei masquerade as a wrestling match?
Prediction for 2017: Triple H invites both Will Osprey and Ricochet to TakeOver: Brooklyn III to show their skills to the world and let the WWE Universe witness their skills first hand, reigniting the Cruiserweight Division and giving it the much needed boost it will need.
7 WWE Will Be Broken
Matt and Jeff Hardy a couple odd ducks, aren't they? They're so strange that you need a strange pejorative-like odd duck to describe them. For nearly 20 years, Matt and Jeff both separately and together have had tremendous success all over the world. In the WWE during the Attitude Era, The Hardy Boyz were getting as loud a pop as Stone Cold. Jeff for a time could have been the face of the company getting cheered louder than John Cena was. They've spent a long time bringing their style and charisma to TNA, and thanks to them (Matt in particular) The Deletion segments have been the talk of the industry and might be the sole reason the company is still in business.
Prediction for 2017: It is no secret that Jeff has wanted to return for a while now and the company wants to cash in on all of Matt's Broken Brilliance. While they have proven very successful without the backing of the WWE, it's high time that The Broken Hardys return home to the machine and reach even more unprecedented heights.
6 Samoa Joe's Call Up Will Be Huge
"The Samoan Submission Machine" is a very special competitor and has had a resurgence since coming to NXT. Yet another Superstar TNA ruined that NXT has resurrected, Joe has been the nightmare of old that he used to be. The man that took CM Punk to the limit in Ring of Honor and along with A.J. Styles showcased the youth movement TNA once had. One of the few Samoans in the business not linked to the Anoa'i family might make for some interesting feuds with Roman Reigns or The Usos, but an animal of Joe's caliber needs something slightly higher profile upon his debut.
Prediction for 2017: The Raw after WrestleMania will be a raucous crowd welcoming a victorious Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman, gloating over besting Goldberg. Heyman's promo will be interrupted by Joe and Brock will get beaten by "The Samoan Badass."
5 Bailey Will Be the Focus
For the first time since John Cena, the WWE has a Superstar they can market the entire company around. And for the first time ever, that Superstar is a woman. Bailey has been universally loved by fans of all ages since her earliest days down in NXT. She's already put on a career's worth of amazing, memorable matches against the likes of Charlotte, Nia Jax, Sasha, and Asuka. Her swan song match at TakeOver: Brooklyn II was as heartbreaking to watch as uplifting as it was to see her win the title a year earlier in the exact same arena. She has an infectious "It" factor that is filled with boundless positive energy. The WWE has to figure out a way to bottle it all up and sell it.
Prediction for 2017: More than just the Women's Division will be supported by Bailey's popularity. Just imagine her grand entrance into WrestleMania, fueled by her tube men all over Orlando. Izzy might be the first Bailey superfan and after she wins the Raw Women's title (presumably against Charlotte at 'Mania), she will not be the last as throngs of fans will finally get to see the Bailey that NXT fans fell in love with. She will undoubtedly go on a tear, becoming a staple and the face for not just the in ring action but all of the companies various charities.
4 No More Goldberg
When Brock Lesnar debuted in mid-2002, comparisons were instantly made to another dominate monster - Bill Goldberg. Big Billy wouldn't make his debut in the company until 2003, and the stage was set for the pair to face off at WrestleMania XX. It should have been an epic clash of two brute meatheads. But thanks to the jilted fans who learned that Goldberg' contract was up and Brock was leaving to play football, the crowd was audibly ticked off. Neither man could recover and the match suffered. Then at this past Survivor Series, Goldberg shocked the world by not only besting "The Beast" but doing so as if Brock was one of the many jobbers Goldberg ate for lunch in WCW. These two are clearly charting a course for round three in Orlando at WrestleMania.
Prediction for 2017: At the Royal Rumble, Goldberg easily eliminates Lesnar, who in a fit of rage takes Goldberg out. At WrestleMania, we finally receive the action packed match between the two gladiators that we should have gotten 13 years ago. With Brock being the one who obviously is sticking around longer term, it's time for "The Beast Incarnate" to best 'Da Man! This will then send Goldberg packing once and for all.
3 Ratings Resurgence
Despite being a very polarizing figure, you have to admit, like him or not, that Vince Russo brings up a very valid point quite often on his podcast - the ratings are down the tubes from where they used to be during the Attitude Era. That's definitely not because he isn't around anymore. But there were several years of rebuilding where the product has suffered and so have the ratings. The Attitude Era catered to college kids and the PG Era doesn't. The way we all watch TV has also changed greatly, DVR, the Network, heck even pirating. But rest assured, no matter how many detractors the company has, or how bad the ratings have gotten, they are not going anywhere. In fact we're in a moment similar to the days before the Attitude Era - a roster full of amazing talent ready to bust out, a multitude of top guys who will be viable contenders to the WWE and Universal titles.
Prediction for 2017: John Cena's career may or may not be winding down, but men like Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Baron Corbin, and Samoa Joe are all going to be leading the charge one their respective shows and will make Raw and SmackDown must-see TV once again.
2 A.J. Styles Will Dominate And Move To Raw
One name left off the last entry was A.J. Styles. That is because he is in a class all by himself. A world-traveled veteran, "The Phenomenonal One" finally signed with the WWE this past January and has had a banner first year in the company. He was THE reason to watch the Royal Rumble, made Roman Reigns look like a million bucks, and took Cena to the limit all summer. And he hadn't even become the WWE Champion yet! A.J. Styles in 2016 had a career resurgence and has been untouchable ever since. He's Shawn Michaels in '96, Bret in '97, and better than he has ever been.
Prediction for 2017: P1 has been an MVP for the WWE all year and the trend will undoubtedly continue into 2017. Look for Styles to move to Raw and feud with Samoa Joe and (fingers crossed) a rematch from Wrestle Kingdom 10 with Shinsuke Nakamura.
1 Finn Balor Will Reclaim His Top Spot
Finn Balor should have been ruling Raw right now. The Superstar was drafted early and treated as a God on his way to becoming the first ever WWE Universal Champion. Sadly, as we all know he was injured during that match and we lost out on what should have been an epic run. But all of that will change when "The Demon King" makes his grand return, more likely than not to wage war with Kevin Owens over the Universal title. They had some brutal matches in NXT, including Balor's memorable victory for the title again KO at Beast in the East. On the main roster look for these two to destroy each other and headline numerous PPVs.
Prediction for 2017: Owens is victorious against whomever his challenger is at WrestleMania, leaving Balor to return the night after and stake his claim for the title he never lost. Similar to their feud in NXT, Balor will lose the first match against "The Prizefighter" before defeating him at SummerSlam and again walking out of the Summer spectacular as The Man!
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