Vince McMahon knows what he likes. Vince has strong opinions on what his WWE fans like. Vince thinks he knows what attractions and spectacles are required to gain mainstream attention. When those things come together in one person Vince is likely to strap a rocket to that guy or girl and do his damndest to make a hell of a lot of money off of them, putting them front and center and making sure they're selling t-shirts and winning championships. The one man who has had the most success doing exactly that, or as close to it as possible to influence WWE's course, is his son-in-law Triple H.
NXT has shown us that for all the similarities between the two men, Triple H sees through a different lens when given his own opportunity to create and promote a wrestling 'territory'. He and his right-hand man William Regal have a greater appreciation for the in-ring storytelling that the hardcore fans prefer while also making sure the pageantry and compelling interactions come to the fore at the same time. The recent Aleister Black-Velveteen Dream feud in NXT being a prime example of the two concepts merging for a great payoff.
Vince may see something in an NXT superstar that Triple H completely overlooked and we get blindsided by Vince's eye for value. Sometimes someone Vince would never have called up without Triple H's influence proves just as valuable with them anchoring shows all the year long and showing that Vince's traditional mold isn't the be all and end all. Here we look at those 16 most likely candidates to have a big 2018.
21 Vince - Braun Strowman
Sometimes Vince latches on to someone huge just because he's all about the spectacle and the natural awe people feel for big, impressive things. And sometimes we as fans are fortunate that that obsession dovetails with a superstar who is entertaining, impressive and deserving of all that promotion that Vince can give. Braun Strowman is such a superstar.
When he first showed up we were all dreading another big but plodding monster that would waste a year being built up only to lose to Roman or Cena before becoming bad comedy we were forced to sit through before he finally disappeared. Luckily Braun has shown immense improvement in short order to go along with his ridiculous strength and hilarious yet badass, bellowing persona.
Vince obviously loves the guy, not just because he actually kicks ass but because he gave Roman Reigns his best lengthy feud to date while being the most fun and insane part of Raw most weeks. Braun not being in a huge program by WrestleMania this year is unthinkable.
20 Triple H - Bobby Roode
If there is one thing we know about Triple H the wrestler it is that he enjoys putting himself in prime positions, at the center of attention, and gaining the most leverage from situations. If he can't do that, he'll do the next best thing which in Bobby Roode's case is to see him as a clone he can use as a proxy.
Triple H has reportedly been high on Bobby Roode for years before he even showed up in NXT, loving his style of wrestling, his presentation, his promos and his look. What wrestling fans have rightly pointed out is that that is likely because Bobby Roode is so similar to Triple H in all of those facets that it's almost narcissism for Triple H to like him so much.
Nevertheless, this works in Bobby's favor, with having Triple H vouching for you about the safest thing you can have in WWE short of Vince salivating over you. Look for Bobby to not only be one of the challengers for the WWE Championship in short order but for him to turn heel so he can reach his highest potential.
19 Vince - Roman Reigns
It's obvious, it's well past cliche, but it's true. Vince is on record numerous times, and we have the five years since his debut to show for it, that Roman Reigns is his number one priority in the world of wrestling right now.
The saga is ongoing and if the rumors are true it will culminate in a WrestleMania match with Brock Lesnar to once again attempt to crown Vince's prince.
The thing about all of this is that Roman himself, outside of having been awkwardly phoney on the mic for a couple of years, is a ridiculously talented wrestler. His matches with AJ Styles, Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, and others were top notch. His recent reunion in The Shield has renewed his comfort and confidence as well, and so the fans have tentatively begun trying to like him again. We'll see if Vince can help himself or whether he gets too caught up in Roman all over again and alienates the WWE Universe.
17 Triple H - Bayley
When Bayley was in NXT she was handled in just the right way to make the crowd not just like her, but adore her. Bayley became NXT's John Cena, with fans ranging from little Izzy to all the full-grown men happily chanting for their favorite hugger. Triple H clearly saw Bayley for the naturally likable talent she is. That seems to be lost on Vince though.
Since coming up to Raw, Bayley has been shown not to be likable and fun, but more goofy, weird and unfortunately off-putting. The momentum of her previous NXT fandom has mostly petered out and she's gone from competing for the Women's championship to being pinned first at Survivor Series and losing quite a lot. Vince either doesn't see what makes her special or actively doesn't think it can work so is using Bayley while she's still got some juice in her.
If Triple H has his way he'll be able to revitalize and rejuvenate Bayley's career before it's a lost cause. In this case, it seems the chairman and his son-in-law are diametrically opposed over a superstar.
14 Vince - Big Cass
Like with Braun Strowman, Vince sees potential in the big blonde New Yorker based almost purely on his size. As Enzo used to say, you simply can't teach it, and Big Cass being seven foot tall means Vince is going to bring Cass back with a vengeance once his injured knee heals.
Cass is still going to be on the shelf for a while into 2018, but the way his breakup with Enzo was given prime focus for months on end and Big Cass was allowed to spread his wings and fly solo in the ring and on the mic shows that Vince sees some money to be made off of Cass when he returns.
Some are predicting that Enzo's relative success since breaking up will see Vince pair the two back up as a dastardly version of their former team, but it's more likely Cass will get pushed solo to see whether that potential has faded. Look for Cass to be doing similar to how Baron Corbin is doing now, only on Raw.
13 Triple H - The Revival
Vince never cared for tag team wrestling, believing that you couldn't market a pair of personalities half as well as a single magnetic star. Triple H does not subscribe to that philosophy, and thankfully so because it's gotten us, among many new great teams, The Revival.
Absolutely a highlight during their NXT run, even eclipsing the NXT Championship matches on the same shows more often than not, The Revival has been bitten by the injury bug since coming up to the main roster. First Dash Wilder's jaw got broken, and now Scott Dawson's arm is injured, but the pair has so much to offer as throwback brawlers with a degree in tag team excellence that you know Triple H is going to find them good programs when they get back on their feet.
Usually a year on the shelf right after your debut would sink a team if it was just Vince making the call, but with Triple H hopefully vouching for these two they can show their brilliant abilities under the big lights.
11 Vince - Matt & Jeff Hardy
If there's one thing Vince McMahon loves it's taking something that is getting mainstream attention (for better or for worse) and attaching it to his WWE brand to get some of that sweet, sweet attention. Last year nothing in wrestling outside of WWE was getting as over as Matt Hardy with his brother and their 'Broken Universe'.
Getting the brothers Hardy back into the WWE fold at the peak of their popularity was a masterstroke from Vince, knowing that Jeff sells plenty of merch and Matt was now equally or even more lucrative. As Jeff has sat out getting some injuries seen to he has kept Matt on board somewhat low key as the lawyers work out when and how they can begin utilizing the 'Broken' gimmick to start making that big money he no doubt expects from his investment.
Recent news of Matt's claim to the gimmick only needing to go unchallenged for a 30 day period to become valid means that we could be getting the payoff everyone's been wanting sooner rather than later, but either way, expect the Hardyz to figure largely in Vince and WWE's 2018 plans.
10 Triple H - Shinsuke Nakamura
Triple H brought Nakamura in knowing how magnetically charismatic the King Of Strong Style is. No doubt based off of his NJPW highlights Triple H made sure that when Nakamura showed up in NXT he was not only given a prime chance to showcase his talents, he was given presentation, pomp, and circumstance commensurate with everything Triple H thinks he can be throughout WWE.
Vince doesn't seem to get Nakamura the same way Triple H does, with Nakamura given a stunted introduction to SmackDown Live. Following that up with failing to dethrone Jinder Mahal took massive amounts of wind out of his sails as well. Vince seems to think that giving Nakamura ridiculous nicknames like 'artist' and 'rockstar', combined with lengthy promos which highlight his average English skills is the way to go, rather than letting his wrestling speak for itself.
Triple H is surely not ready to give up on his heavy investment in Nakamura so as the Road to WrestleMania approaches expect Nakamura to find himself looking a lot better.
8 Vince - Kane
Vince loves Kane. This entry could end there and we'd all know it's true just because it's self-evident, but let's examine it a bit more anyway since The Big Red Machine seems to be with us for one last big run.
Vince loves big men, they are a natural spectacle by virtue of simply taking up a lot of space, more than a usual person. Vince loves crazy, spooky, scary stuff because it's a visceral reaction that you can predict from fans with something big and scary. Vince loves getting his way, and Kane over the years has done every weird, nutty thing Vince has asked of him whether it was raving madness or not. Kane ticks all of Vince's boxes and so once again Vince has a job for Kane and we think it's most clearly going to be helping solidify his replacement. That replacement is another of Vince's favorites, Braun Strowman.
Vince knows that the man under the mask is not long for his company (Glenn 'Kane' Jacobs is running for mayor of Knox County, Tennessee next year) so the most prudent action is to build Kane back up so Braun can out-monster him, probably at WrestleMania, and so Vince will be happy.
7 Triple H - Sasha Banks
The Boss was one of Triple H's best weapons down in NXT. Sasha Banks got everyone she worked with over, from Becky Lynch as her backup lackey, to Charlotte as her nemesis, to Bayley as her successor, Banks unequivocally had the best run of any woman to go through NXT, with only Asuka coming close. Triple H knows this, and it's doubtful he'll let one of his best be misused to any degree if he can help it.
Banks' arrival on the main roster and subsequent success has already put her near the top of the women on Raw, but her true potential is as a cruel, conniving, mean heel. Banks was a completely engaging force as the evil woman atop NXT and so far on Raw, she has been relegated to the face side of the equation which has capped her below her true abilities.
With other women now being positioned above her with no seeming plan to revive her in the short term, it stands to reason that she will be making a large change perhaps after WrestleMania next year.
6 Vince - Charlotte Flair
Charlotte Flair's already gotten a pretty big push so far in her career - heck, she's already threatening to break Trish Stratus's Women's Championship reigns record - but there's plenty more to come from her in 2018. Plans are being rumored for WrestleMania right now and one of the big things planned is for Ronda Rousey to make her wrestling debut alongside the Four Horsewomen at WrestleMania, presumably to face the WWE's version of the Four Horsewomen in Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley. An alternative plan would also be for Charlotte to simply have a one-on-one match with Rousey. Vince loves Charlotte's pedigree and truly believes she has the it factor he looks for in talent.
5 Triple H - Kevin Owens
Triple H knows how good Kevin Owens is to the point he essentially raced him through the NXT landscape as a brutal, maniacal force to try to solidify that impression with Vince. It appears to have mostly worked because outside of a few disappointing moments you could count on one hand Kevin Owens has been knocking it out of the park since his RAW run began against John Cena, all the way till now where he's feuding with Shane McMahon directly.
We know Vince is also high on Kevin Owens for the most part, allowing himself to be physically engaged with Owens (a rare accomplishment these days) as well as having Shane sacrifice one of his stunt jumps for getting Kevin over, however, Triple H is the one who saw that a guy with a body Vince traditionally doesn't go for could dominate and excel all over his television shows. Triple H even got himself directly involved on tv so he could personally hand Owens the Universal Championship.
Owens is one of their go-to guys for compelling television, and so far Triple H's gamble has paid off in spades.
4 Vince - Jason Jordan
If we've learned anything over the last few months it is that Vince McMahon has an almost irrational love for whatever it is he sees in Jason Jordan. When the rumors of Kurt Angle having a son began swirling it was generally assumed that Chad Gable, the former Olympic wrestler with the similar frame and goofy tenacity, was the obvious candidate. When Jason Jordan came out in that spot it left many scratching their heads, and now as WWE appears to be steering into the skid and making Jordan into a whiny daddy's boy the only thing we're sure of is that Vince must love the guy to be devoting such a huge chunk of every week to his development.
Jordan spent so much time down in NXT without success before latching onto Chad Gable's endearing, plucky grappler in American Alpha. No one thought the pair would be separated as early as they were, let alone split between the shows with Jason Jordan made into a focal point of Raw. Vince has shown his hand and it involves big things for Jordan.
3 Triple H - Asuka
Triple H asked Vince McMahon one thing about a year ago when Vince was perusing his NXT ranks looking for prospects to call up. Triple H said "you can take anyone you want, except Asuka. Leave me Asuka because I need her". Triple H scouted Asuka, brought her in and made her the centerpiece of his NXT women's division all the way through until the May Young Classic swelled the ranks and the timing was right to bring Asuka up. Triple H knows how good Asuka is, and so far his faith in her has carried over to Raw, continuing her winning streak and keeping her aura of two years intact.
Triple H sees Asuka as a talent good enough to not only lead the women's division but to elevate it further even than it has been in recent years, perhaps in anticipation of a former UFC champion arriving in the next year or so?
2 Vince - Alexa Bliss
Among all the women promoted to Raw the last few years, it was the Four Horsewomen who had excelled in NXT and were expected to overtake the entire division. Vince however saw the insanely expressive Alexa Bliss as the ultimate coup, having her jump straight to the top of SmackDown Live in short order before switching over to Raw where she still reigns supreme and is often given lengthy monologues and segments. Vince saw how utterly marketable Alexa is, from her undeniable looks to her huge personality that dominates when she's on screen.
Alexa may not be the absolute top tier of women's wrestler, her title matches often having one or two awkward moments that remind us she's still very young and has development left to go, but as a character she is up there with the best and Vince values a character for his show above the technical acumen. Alexa has run through both women's divisions to the point that Asuka, Paige and other call-ups are being lined up to work with her, and that is as sure a seal of approval as Vince can give.
1 Triple H - Finn Balor
Originally one of Triple H's highest prospects, Vince took one look at Finn's theatrical entrance and his 'Demon Finn' alter-ego and went all in, as evidenced by him being the first Universal Champion. Finn may have gotten injured and sidelined his initial run, but Vince has been careful to protect Finn in all subsequent interactions, only having him lose under specific circumstances, and never under his paint.
However following a victory over AJ Styles at TLC, Balor's booking has been quite baffling. First, he was thrown in the fire to job to Kane the following night on RAW, then was unceremoniously eliminated during the Survivor Series 5-on-5 main event. Reports have surfaced that original plans called for Balor to face Lesnar at the Royal Rumble for the Universal Championship, but Vince has reportedly given up on him.
While Vince may not be high on Balor, Triple H knows how big a star he can be and will hope Balor shows what kind of a star he really is.