One of the few constants for WWE is changes. There’s a steady stream of roster changes as the company signs new talent from the independents or the sports world. There are talents called up to the main roster after residencies in NXT. Meanwhile, there are also talents shuffling out of the picture as they’ve run their course in terms of what WWE could do with them, never clicked enough the audience, or leave of their own volition for after they’re burned out from life on the road or fed up with WWE politics.
In addition to changes on the roster, WWE sees other types of change cycle through. Consider that a mere five years ago, the WWE Network was not yet in existence, whereas it is now the center of WWE’s business, and used to broadcast a high volume of original content, including all PPVs. There are business changes afoot, like whom WWE partners with and how the company markets itself. Moreover, there are demographic shifts that have occurred in relatively recent history, in terms of who gets featured and whom WWE targets as an audience. The prime example is the so called Women’s Revolution that has seen the company place a much greater emphasis on its women’s roster over the last few years.
So what changes can we expect next year? Rumors are already swirling about a number of potential shifts and there’s other movement that is most certainly ongoing at this very moment. This article takes a close look at eight big changes in WWE rumored for 2019, and seven significant shifts that are already underway.
15 Rumored For 2019: No More Brock Lesnar
Since 2012, Brock Lesnar has been a fascinating figure on the WWE landscape. He’s a part timer, but less in the glitz and glamor style of many of the men who’ve worn that descriptor. He’s as stiff and brutal as they come in the ring, with a monster persona. Moreover, he’s that rare part time talent to have been factored into the world title scene, and to have been featured as such twice, each for extended periods rather than building to a single PPV angle.
Rumors had Lesnar leaving WWE after WrestleMania 34, where he’d drop his Universal Championship to Roman Reigns. After he retained, rumors persisted he’d drop the title at the Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia, to both give that show a huge moment and stage the title changing hands in front of a friendlier audience. Still, Lesnar reigns.
Word is that The Beast Incarnate is now a strictly per-appearance contract that’s paying out big money every time he sets foot in a WWE ring.
It’s a mutually passable situation for a guy who just wants to get paid and a company that sees him as an irreplaceable draw. Still, WWE can’t justify paying Lesnar like this forever, particularly with his popularity dipping as the years go by. The latest rumors have Lesnar dropping the title at his next PPV match, likely as not SummerSlam and being out of the WWE picture for some time to follow. It’s entirely possible we won’t see him at all on Raw or SmackDown in 2019.
14 Ongoing Change: SmackDown Live Is Moving To FOX
In a blockbuster deal, it was announced this spring that WWE has signed to broadcast SmackDown on the FOX Network. It’s a win-win situation for the two sides. WWE has never had a regular weekly show aired on a major network like this, and has to be happy with the reported billion dollar agreement. Meanwhile, FOX looks to be the first of those major networks to cash in on pro wrestling to this degree, recognizing the value of a company that puts out this much original content this consistently year round. Moreover, wrestling is that rare media form that airs live like professional sports in a way that drives its faithful audience to watch TV in real time rather than streaming it the day after.
It will be interesting to see how NBC, which owns the USA Network, responds, and if WWE’s standing with that network might falter, or if they’ll redouble their efforts to “make good” with WWE and keep the product based with them. Regardless, while WWE may not be as white hot as it was during the Rock N Wrestling or Attitude Eras, it is quite arguably as viable in the mainstream as ever, and the FOX deal, for all of the money and exposure entailed, is a big move for the company.
13 Rumored For 2019: The Roster Split Deepens
One scenario that might follow from SmackDown Live’s move to FOX—the brand split may well deepen. Given that divergent ownership over the networks airing WWE’s two top shows, there are real questions introduced about to what degree they’ll want exclusive rights to their respective stars, or balk at cross-promotion that could feed another network ratings.
Of course, the WWE has two separate rosters as it is, but angles like Raw and SmackDown squaring off, as WWE portrayed in the build to last year’s Survivor Series may not be as welcome. Similarly, crossover draft or “Superstar Shake Up” episodes may be more complicated, and there are questions regarding how WWE will market matches for the now regularly cross-branded PPVs that air on the WWE Network.
Naturally, WWE probably built some provisions into its new deal with FOX so as to not have to compromise too much. Just the same, the existing deal with the USA Network existed before the FOX agreement was on the table, which could present complications. The simplest way to keep everything on the up and up may be a more pronounced division of rosters, and little to no interaction at all by the time we hit 2019.
12 Ongoing Change: Vince McMahon Steps Back
Vince McMahon is a notoriously hands on boss and workaholic who scarcely takes break, works incredibly long hours, and has a hand in every part of WWE’s product. That includes reportedly being the first to arrive and last to leave the WWE offices most days, communicating with play by play men and color commentators via their headsets during live broadcasts, and still taking a hands on role in managing top talents backstage.
For all of McMahon’s efforts, which are particularly remarkable for a man in his 70s, there are signs that he’s starting to take a step back.
Triple H is by all accounts the Vince McMahon figure for NXT, and was reportedly given the reigns of 205 Live as well. Meanwhile, Stephanie McMahon has largely moved into the role of corporate face of the company. It’s telling that Vince has only made a small handful of appearances on WWE’s television over the last year. He has only appeared for big occasions like putting over Kevin Owens in the build to his Hell in a Cell match with Shane, taking a Stunner from Steve Austin on the 25th anniversary edition of Raw, and clashing with Roman Reigns in a worked shoot angle leading up to WrestleMania.
And Vince? For all of his work for WWE, he’s also trying to get his XFL football league back up and running, clearly dividing his attention, and perhaps transitioning further from WWE to add one more chapter to his business legacy.
11 Rumored For 2019: The Roster Split Deteriorates
While it’s entirely possible that the SmackDown Live’s move to the FOX network and to Friday nights will deepen the divide between that show and Raw, there’s also another possibility that stand in stark contrast. The brands could come back together.
As the old adage goes, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. WWE launched its first brand split back in 2002 when the windfall of WCW talent compelled them to air two separate rosters, doubling the chances for talents to shine and, theoretically, inspiring faux competition that would heat up the product and increase revenue. That split deteriorated over the years, and one of the original harbingers of the locker rooms merging was when PPVs went from brand specific back to featuring all WWE stars. A similar transition occurred in the aftermath of WrestleMania 34, which may be the first sign that is heading back to a unified roster.
Such a transition may simplify the equation of cross-promoting stars and big shows between USA and FOX as well, as WWE wouldn’t so much offer each Network a unique roster as air different shows from the same roster, akin to a major sports league airing its games on more than one network. Ironically, this isn’t so different from how Raw and SmackDown originally aired, back when the same roster occupied USA or Spike TV and UPN.
10 Ongoing Change: SmackDown Is Returning To Friday Nights
With the announcement of SmackDown’s move to the FOX Network has brought additional updates, some confirmed by people in the know at WWE or FOX, some still rumors. For now, word is that SmackDown will expand to match at Raw at a three hour weekly broadcast. It will remain a show broadcasted live, but it will return to an old home not on Tuesdays, where it has been situated since going live every week, but rather to Friday nights.
Moving to Fridays poses more differences than simply staging the show on a different night. It may play in the SmackDown stars’ favor to consolidate their weekend house show schedules and PPV weekends without having the gap of Monday night in between before they perform on Tuesdays, and will also affect work schedules for the WWE production crew.
There’s also the matter of TV ratings to consider. The move to FOX will almost certainly draw additional viewers, just based on the major network’s more expansive market penetration, making it accessible to wider viewership. However, Friday nights are historically weaker nights for TV ratings than Tuesdays, given it’s a night when TV viewers, particularly in more desirable, young demographics tend to go out rather than stay home.
9 Rumored For 2019: More Mainstream Crossover
WWE has understandably been cagey about releasing all of the terms of its deal with the FOX network, but one of the most heavily rumored aspects of it as that FOX has promised WWE cross-promotion opportunities.
Given that FOX airs a number of popular television programs and professional sports, these opportunities for WWE to access a larger audience and lure in new viewers are far from negligible.
Crossing over with mainstream celebrities isn’t a new tactic on WWE’s part; indeed, it has been part of the fabric of the company since Vince McMahon took over from his father in the 1980s. The first WrestleMania was the embodiment of this culture with its MTV crossovers in the build and booking Mr. T in the main event. WWE has only carried forward with moves like booking Lawrence Taylor and Floyd Mayweather for WrestleMania matches over the decades to follow, not to mention the stint of booking celebrity guest hosts for Raw on a weekly basis for a stretch. The way in which WWE rolled out the red carpet for Ronda Rousey further demonstrates how they prioritize capitalizing on existing celebrity to draw viewers and add legitimacy to WWE’s brand. With SmackDown’s move to FOX, we can expect more WWE stars appearing on other programming, and more celebrity guests on Friday nights.
8 Ongoing Change: More Meaningful International Shows
WWE has some history of staging major shows from abroad. The company has long looked at Western Europe as a reliable market for house shows, and has historically turned to that audience when domestic business is down. Bret Hart discussed in his book, the frequent UK tours during his first stint as a main eventer, and how his popularity with that demographic helped him stay on top. Airing major shows from anywhere farther from home than Canada poses significant logistical issues with not just broadcast technology, but time zone differences.
Basically, airing a big show live from other countries can involve staging the show very early or late in the day to accommodate the U.S. audience, or having only hardcore US fans watch live when the show happens in the middle of the day or the middle of the night.
With the contemporary culture around watching wrestling live and social media, the days have passed of airing a show like SummerSlam 1992 on delay. WWE has had some success already, though, with broadcasting shows at times when the audience isn’t typically programmed to watch wrestling, including the Beast in the East special summer 2015 from Japan, or the more recent Greatest Royal Rumble show that emanated from Saudi Arabia and aired on a Friday afternoon.
With the WWE Network at the company’s disposal, and more viewers watching WWE programming at oddball hours, it wouldn’t be out of the question for WWE to air an annual PPV from abroad. After another stadium show slated for Australia this fall, it will be interesting to see if the company does move towards being open minded about the venues for major shows, important to WWE storylines.
7 Rumored For 2019: SmackDown Live Becomes The Flagship
Monday Night Raw premiered a full six years ahead of SmackDown. Raw’s longevity, continuity, and having gone live every week much sooner have typically cast it as the flagship show for WWE. Particularly when there has not been a brand split in play, Raw has tended to feature major storyline development and appearances from top stars, while SmackDown is typically more filler from an angle perspective, or a stage for lesser stars to get screen time. Things are muddier when WWE does have separate rosters for the show, but the dynamic has often come up that SmackDown hosts workhorses who are less commercial stars, while WWE favors Raw with more household names and angles friendly to casual fans. The dynamic is clear enough today with Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman cast as the top faces of Raw, relative to AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan topping cards for the blue brand.
2019 could see things shift, however. With the move to FOX, and a far greater capacity for new or casual fans to stumble upon SmackDown, it may well make sense for this show, even more than Raw, to feature WWE’s biggest names and most accessible angles. In other words, SmackDown could become WWE’s A-show in the year ahead.
6 Ongoing Change: The Undertaker Rides Off Into The Sunset
Predicting that The Undertaker is hanging up his boots has become common practice for wrestling fans. The Deadman and WWE have certainly hinted at the end of his career over recent years, starting with the end of his WrestleMania undefeated streak, followed with him removing his signature garb in the ring after losing to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 33. The Undertaker was back this spring, first to work a short squash against John Cena at WrestleMania 34, then to perform with Rusev at the Greatest Royal Rumble show in a Casket Match.
Given the short matches, each of which seemed to underscore The Phenom’s limitations at this advanced stage of his career, it seemed to hint that he really might be winding down his career again.
WWE has absolutely left the door open to The Undertaker continuing as a part time legend for years to come. However, given The Deadman is known to be a proud man, rumored to have changed his mind about retiring after WrestleMania 33, in part because the match was so poorly received. After more respectable performances in 2018, he may well be better at peace, not to mention that he may finally have nothing left to prove and be willing to walk away from the ring in 2019.
5 Rumored For 2019: The First Women’s WrestleMania Main Event
There are those years when the WrestleMania main event is widely predicted months out, or even announced very early. Take John Cena’s two showdowns with The Rock, Daniel Bryan’s crowning moment (albeit with the scare of Batista and Randy Orton going one on one), both Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar title matches, and Reigns vs. Triple H. As we look forward to 2019, the picture is murkier. The smart money may well be on Reigns headlining for a record breaking fifth straight time, but against whom? Maybe Braun Strowman to pit the two most consistently built names in the company, or maybe Daniel Bryan to blow off their long running meta-rivalry for who will be the face of the company.
If WWE decides to tap the brakes on Reigns, though, at least as far as headlining ‘Mania goes, one of the hottest rumors has Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair, or perhaps a Triple Threat with the two and Asuka main eventing. Rousey’s star power would be the draw. Either of these women’s matches, though, would pit one of the best proven PPV draws on the WWE roster against one or two rock solid hands with the credibility to challenge her in a WWE ring. With no obvious answer from the men’s roster, this may well be the year we see women main event the biggest show of the year.
4 Ongoing Change: Social Media As A Content Platform
WWE tested the waters on thinking beyond traditional television, PPV, or its own streaming network to air content with 2018’s Mixed Match Challenge. The show made fine use of Facebook’s live video functionality, and sparking viewer interaction via comments. While the tournament reportedly didn’t draw as many viewers as WWE wanted, it was nonetheless a bold first step toward taking advantage of a new technology.
The MMC also demonstrated WWE’s capacity to program in multiple “universes” as angles like The Miz and Asuka working together, or teasing a romance between Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss didn’t much translate to the main body of WWE programming, but were fun enough diversions for the tournament itself. Moreover, while WWE may not have achieved all it hoped to with this particular programming, mixed tag team matches aren’t traditionally held in such high esteem. t would be interesting to see what WWE might be able to manage with a stronger, more over initial concept to build from like King of the Ring or a popular gimmick match. Alternatively, airing a tournament or series of matches with better defined stakes could help draw in more viewers, for example putting a title or at least a title shot at stake for the winner or winning team.
3 Rumored For 2019: A Proper TV Deal For NXT
Particularly among an audience of hardcore wrestling fans, NXT has evolved into WWE’s most successful brand. It’s weekly hour long TV shows are simple, direct, and oriented toward in ring action. It’s four to five times a year TakeOver specials on the WWE Network are consistently great. These specials typically correspond with big main roster PPVs, and there’s a very fair argument that each TakeOver has been at least equally as good as, and usually better than the main roster show. So what could be next?
One possibility is NXT no longer debuting on the WWE Network and otherwise airing exclusively on Hulu, but rather having its own, more traditional cable TV deal.
There are risks at hand. Having to satisfy a network can often compromise the quality of wrestling show, for having to serve additional masters from a creative standpoint or, as has been the case for Raw and is rumored to be the case for SmackDown, expanding to longer shows. NXT’s traditionalist sensibilities, and only producing one hour of original programming most weeks have served them well for an easily digestible product. On the flip side, though, NXT could well win over a certain demographic of either old school wrestling fans with its old school style, or new fans with its fresh cast of characters. In either case, it’s a product too good to be limited to WWE Network subscribers, that could likely hold its own with a broader audience..
2 Ongoing Change: A Restructured WrestleMania Weekend
For nearly two decades, WrestleMania weekend was limited to the biggest show of the year airing on Sunday. Little by little, the fan interactions that would become known as Axxess became a normalized, annual feature. Then WWE added its Hall of Fame inductions. While there were always episodes of Raw the night after WrestleMania, they became a bigger deal after WWE started broadcasting live every Monday, and recognized the capacity of hardcore wrestling fans to make it a special night, and particularly a platform to promote talent to the main roster.
More recently, after a wide swathe of indies had jumped on the bandwagon of hosting their own events to capitalize on the WrestleMania audience, WWE introduced annual TakeOver specials over WrestleMania weekend. Finally, with SmackDown relocating to Tuesdays and being broadcast live, WrestleMania weekend properly extended all the way from Friday through Tuesday night.
With SmackDown reportedly moving to Fridays after it begins airing on FOX, there will be changes. Unless the Hall of Fame induction ceremony or NXT TakeOver were to replace the last episode of SmackDown before WrestleMania, one of those events would have to occur either at another time. Probable scenarios including staging one Thursday night, though there’s possibility of it happening the following Wednesday, or two events like the NXT special and the Hall of Fame sharing a night. In any of these cases, WrestleMania weekend is in for some restructuring in 2019.
1 Rumored For 2019: Aleister Black To The Main Roster
NXT has produced quite a few stars. It was the forum to reinvent Husky Harris as Bray Wyatt, and for Elias to work out the kinks of his gimmick and get him ready for primetime. Additionally, the developmental brand has had its share of guys anointed for big things. Most particularly, the first NXT Champion Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Shinsuke Nakamura fit this mold as champions booked definitely as the man in NXT; Kevin Owens, Bobby Roode, Andrade Cien Almas and Sami Zayn had similar if slightly less clearly defined trajectories out of Full Sail.
Today, there’s Aleister Black.
Black has gotten over for his sudden striking offense and eerie persona. The guy has been booked as one of NXT’s top stars since his debut, has gone on to have a big match at each TakeOver special, and he’s also won every time.
Most recently, he won the NXT Championship over WrestleMania weekend, cementing his place as the brand’s current top guy. Black will likely stick around in NXT for most of the next year, but is a prime suspect to move up to the main roster in 2019 and immediately be inserted into the upper mid-card picture or better.