At the beginning of 2019, WWE stands at an interesting crossroads. Yes, there are the annual considerations of standing at the edge of the Road to WrestleMania season and beginning to shape the card for the most watched show of the year. This year comes with the additional intrigue of real life considerations weighing in no less heavily than WWE’s creative choices..
2018 was the year that saw Daniel Bryan get in the ring full time and Shawn Michaels came back for at least one match. This fall saw the emergence of intensive reports that The Rock and Batista might both return for WrestleMania programs as well. Meanwhile, the new face of the company Roman Reigns had to relinquish the Universal Championship and step away from the ring to battle leukemia. Braun Strowman, the presumptive next man in line to headline Raw, has also struggled with injury issues. Becky Lynch positively caught fire this fall, but had to sit out a good portion of the last couple of months, owing to a bad hit from Nia Jax. Top part timer Triple H got hurt in the main event of Crown Jewel.
In part due to these real life circumstances and partly on account of questionable booking, Raw in particular has struggled in recent months. But what’s ahead for both the red and blue brands? This article takes a look at ten recent leaks and news coming out of each of WWE’s major brands at the turn of the year..
20 Raw: Seth Rollins Is On His Way Back To The Top
Seth Rollins is no stranger to the main event scene in WWE. 2014 saw him transition into the top full-time heel spot during Brock Lesnar’s first part time world title reign, and then The Architect stole WWE Championship for himself via a Money in the Bank cash-in to set up a half year on top of the WWE mountain.
Rollins has was back in the main event picture for a bit in the summer and fall of 2016 and as part of the reunited Shield. With Roman Reigns our to battle leukemia, and Braun Strowman dealing with his own injuries, there’s a void at the top of Raw. WWE has turned to Rollins more than once this year provide high quality wrestling performances and reports has it he may be the biggest beneficiary of the recent roster shake ups, perhaps winding up Universal Champion by spring. The door's open with him now dropping his IC title.
19 SmackDown: AJ Styles Wants To Work Fewer Dates
By all accounts, AJ Styles was calculating about his house to come in WWE in 2016. He didn’t so much blindly chase a dream as make the choice that made financial sense for his family. Nearly three years later, he’s one of WWE’s best respected stars and is in position to make demands in his next contract.
News from backstage has it that Styles wants a more relaxed schedule with fewer dates so he can spend more time with his family and heal up his body. While Styles working less would be a loss for fans, it’s hard to argue the Phenomenal One doesn’t deserve it.
18 Raw: Management Is Higher On Lio Rush Than Bobby Lashley
WWE made an abrupt shift in Bobby Lashley’s character this fall as the big man turned heel for the first time under the WWE banner. The turn also included Lashley being paired with Lio Rush as his hype man.
Vince McMahon is said to be personally high on Rush for his verbal skills. While WWE’s commitment to Lashley has come across as inconsistent at best given his lack of direction and win-loss record, the powers that be actually seem more invested in his smaller sidekick at this time. Vince has been very hands on in providing Rush material and giving him direction in his new role.
17 SmackDown: The Miz Vs. Shane McMahon May Happen At WrestleMania
Since his return to WWE, Shane McMahon has been treated as an elite part timer. Though his win-loss record is less than stellar, getting booked opposite has been an honor reserved mostly for top guys in big match situations. In his three WrestleMania outings since his return, Shane has faced The Undertaker, AJ Styles, and teamed with Daniel Bryan to take on Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.
As of now, WWE seems to be angling toward a program between McMahon and The Miz, based on their recent storyline interactions, including working as a makeshift tag team. The program could peak at WrestleMania, which would be sensible given Miz lost his other presumptive dance partner in the Daniel Bryan heel turn.
16 Raw: Triple H Is Expected Back For WrestleMania
When Triple H got hurt during his Crown Jewel main event match, teaming with Shawn Michaels against The Undertaker and Kane, if seemed to throw a wrinkle in WWE’s plans. Triple H was seemingly set to collide with Batista, in what may have been one last angle before retiring from the ring for The Animal. Indeed, WWE established the foundation for that match in the two trading a confrontation during an Evolution reunion segment on the thousandth episode of SmackDown.
The latest whispers backstage suggest the plans aren’t off at all, but rather that WWE does think The Game can recover in time and is willing to roll the dice in that prospect given the marquee vale if the match at hand.
15 SmackDown: Becky Lynch Has Gotten More Over Than Management Expected
Twice over the last few months, Becky Lynch seems to have legitimately surprised the powers that be. First, when she turned heel on Charlotte Flair at SummerSlam, she was met not with boos, but rather the support of a raucous New York crowd. Second, in leading a SmackDown ambush on the women of Raw, Lynch got a crowd response that exceeded the sheer excitement of a surprise brawl. Rather, the audience seemed positively electric for The Man.
It seems Lynch has pleasantly surprised management enough that there is ver real consideration of her working Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania, and conceivably even in the main event spot.
14 Raw: Vince McMahon Was Happy With Baron Corbin’s Authority Figure Work
In an unexpected turn, WWE plugged Baron Corbin into a heel authority figure role in Raw for quite an extended period prior to WrestleMania season. Corbin is an active performer and not necessarily known as a great talker, which made him feel like an oddball fit besides giving him something to do so he wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle on the crowded brand.
Most critics were lukewarm on Corbin’s performance which hadn't exactly broken new ground and fell flat to most critics from Corbin’s limited credibility in the role. A recent interview with Corbin suggested, however, that Vince McMahon himself lauded his efforts and was happy with what he did in the role.
13 SmackDown: Mustafa Ali To Join Roster Full Time
On a recent episode of SmackDown, 205 Live’s Mustafa Ali made a guest appearance for a special match against Daniel Bryan. Ali has been integral to the success of the Cruiserweight division this year and did himself proud in the featured opportunity opposite the reigning WWE Champion. Ali didn’t only succeed in the ring as his fans would have expected, but did well on the mic, too, as a plucky young challenger.
Reports have it that Ali’s performance may have punched his ticket for a full time role on SmackDown. While 205 Live’s format played well to him, there no question the blue brand had the bigger audience and that this would be a big break for his career.
12 Raw: AoP Is Seen As A Bust
There was a lot of promise attached to the Authors of Pain when they debuted on the main roster. They were big and imposing, and had the added dimension of having proven themselves capable of holding up their end in very good matches in NXT. It seemed they might do what The Ascension had lacked success in, by emerging as worthy successors to the Legion of Doom legacy.
The AOP finally got their chance to shine in winning the tag titles this fall. However, with a lack of meaningful competition, the reign quickly felt dead in the water. Bobby Roode and Chad Gable taking the belts off of them may have just been a step in a longer story, but for now it supports the belief that WWE brass has gone cold on Akam and Rezar.
11 SmackDown: AJ Styles Vs. Randy Orton May Be Lined Up ForWrestleMania
One of he more recent possible scenarios to emerge for WrestleMania is that AJ Styles will square off with Randy Orton. While this isn’t necessarily as interesting a match as some had hypothesized between Styles and Shawn Michaels, it’s nonetheless a marquee match for Styles’s talent and Orton’s name recognition. Orton is capable of delivering on the big stage with the right dance partner, too.
While he has had some infamous clunkers against the likes of a Triple H and Bray Wyatt, he has also held up his end in some classics like his match with Seth Rollins, one of the best streak matches with The Undertaker, and the excellent WrestleMania XXX main event. This one has every chance of being very good and further bolsters Styles’s standing as a top star, who has garnered a top shelf singles match every ‘Mania he has worked.
10 Raw: WWE Is Worried About Crowd Reactions To Ronda Rousey
WWE had to have been pleased about the original buzz surrounding Ronda Rousey signing with WWE, the big response she got in her initial appearance at the Royal Rumble, and the skill she demonstrated in early matches. However, fans have grown a little less explosive in their responses to the Baddest Woman on the Planet since then, and things came to a head at Survivor Series where the crowd seemed actively against her.
WWE is purportedly concerned about such a big name getting booed so early in her tenure. For now, the plan seems to stay the course and try to get fans more staunchly back behind her. If responses don’t shift in the next few months, though, a more radical shift may be in order.
9 SmackDown: Vince McMahon Is Surprised With How Over Asuka Has Remained
When Becky Lunch was forced to sit out Survivor Series and was given the kayfabe opportunity to handpick her replacement in a segment on SmackDown, the live crowd was very audibly in favor of Asuka.
Reports indicate that Vince McMahon and the powers that be were surprised at Asuka still carrying real weight with the fans. Word is that that reaction may have been instrumental in getting the company back behind the Empress to an extent, including weaving her into the SmackDown Women’s Championship picture for TLC and having her walk out with the title, albeit with an assist from Rousey.
8 Raw: Drew McIntyre Is Being Considered To Win The Royal Rumble
During Drew McIntyre’s original WWE run, the best and worst thing to happen to him was Vince McMahon publicly proclaiming him a future world champion. On one hand, it was an incredible endorsement from the most powerful man in wrestling. On the other hand, it was a lofty expectation to live up to and arguably set up McIntyre to fall short.
In his new main roster run, WWE has pushed McIntyre more slowly, and the word is that that is intentional. The Scottish Psychopath is clearly being built as an eventual top guy. Particularly with too stars compromised due to medical factors, some reports go so far as to peg McIntyre as the 2019 Royal Rumble winner, en route to his overdue world title coronation at WrestleMania.
7 SmackDown: New Day May Transition From Tag Team To Faction
Reports abounded over the summer that Big E was in line for a big singles push, and that Kofi Kingston might return to the singles ranks as well. It hasn’t happened yet and there have been signs at all of dissension in the New Day ranks. Nonetheless, the guys have been a team for going on three years and there’s a very real argument that they’ve done everything they can—especially when they have three guys who could succeed in at least the mid-card as solo acts.
There is a growing belief that they guys may pursue more singles exploits in the near future. Rather than the more traditional tag team split, this shift may happen in the form of them performing individually, but still all operating under the New Day banner and having each other’s backs.
6 Raw: WWE Will Reintroduce Sami Zayn And Kevin Owens Together
After a long rivalry, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens flipped the script when they emerged as heel partners in crime who largely dominated SmackDown programming from late 2017 through early 2018. They lost their rivalry to Shane McMahon in the end and were sent packing to Raw, where they quickly got lost in the shuffle, on the losing end of programs opposite the likes of Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley.
Each man is out now recovering, and it may be the best for them to personally, professionally, and in the eyes of the fans freshen up. Zayn should be ready to return to the ring ahead of Owens, but the latest reports indicate that WWE may hold off to reintroduce both of them together in the immediate aftermath of WrestleMania.
5 SmackDown: Anderson And Gallows May Be Bound For All Elite Wrestling
When Luke Gallows returned to WWE, along with New Japan tag team partner Karl Anderson, it looked as though the duo might well be a dominant force. Whether it was a matter of deferring their first title reign so New Day could break the record for the longest reign with the tag straps, or not connecting with fans as well as management originally hoped, the duo quickly became and has remained an afterthought.
With reports running wild about All Elite Wrestling potentially scooping up under appreciated WWE talents, Gallows and Anderson are very much in the conversation. To be fair, they wouldn’t be a huge loss for WWE given how they’ve been used. Still, Gallows at the least had a reputation for being well liked. If the team opts not to re-sign with WWE, they may have some influence in inspiring others to make the same leap of faith.
4 Raw: Finn Balor Isn’t Happy With His Position On Raw
When Finn Balor first signed with WWE, word leaked that he only wanted a brief tenure in NXT before going straight up to the main roster’s worldwide stage. Balor had enough fun and was creatively satisfied enough to reportedly wind up voluntarily staying in NXT longer than expected. Based on how his first two and a half years on Raw have gone, it’s understandable that he is not believed to be happy.
Despite a huge push upon his original call up, after his shoulder ailment, Balor has mostly been relegated to the mid-card shuffle. He’s on many fans’ watchlist to jump to SmackDown, or otherwise to wind up leaving WWE to go back to New Japan or join up with All Elite Wrestling.
3 SmackDown: Randy Orton Is Winding Down His Full Time Career
Randy Orton has become a veteran before fans’ eyes, currently standing at over fifteen years on the main roster. He has famously taken good care of himself, including icing his joints religiously from a young age, and hopping in the individual tour bus trend early.
Still, time marches on. Orton has taken his time with recovery and the occasional sabbatical in recent years, and reports have it that he’s looking toward more of a part time schedule. Orton is a big enough and long standing enough star that he probably could justify a move toward the part time legend treatment.
2 Raw: Kurt Angle Is Preparing For A Big Match At WrestleMania
When Kurt Angle was deposed as Raw General Manager after SummerSlam, reports came out that he was taking time away from TV to train for a big in ring performance. In a curveball, Angle came back to not only TV, but actively wrestling sooner than anticipated, dropping a match to Drew McIntyre in decisive fashion.
Now, some whispers backstage have it that this was a set up for bigger things, be it a return match with McIntyre or another comeback story for the Olympic gold medalist in time for WrestleMania. Given how they ended the year, it's also possible we see Angle vs Corbin at WrestleMania.
1 SmackDown: Andrade Almas Is Disappointed With How He Has Been Used
Andrade Cien Almas came across as one of NXT’s best success stories when he went from an apparent bust as a face to a breakout main event star as a heel. Almas’s prospects only looked better when, a few months into his call up to the SmackDown roster, word leaked that Vince McMahon was personally impressed with Almas’s work against Daniel Bryan, and considering him as a prospective Royal Rumble winner.
Almas has faced a rocky road, though, still used inconsistently one SmackDown television and tending to lose big matches whenever he is featured. Understandably, he is believed to be dissatisfied with his position in the company, with real doubts as to whether he’ll sign a new contract with WWE.