One of the few constants on the WWE landscape is change. Stars come and go. Writers come and go. There are face turns and heel turns and shifts in the business model. The WWE Network hadn’t even launched five years ago. Around that same time, most fans never expected to see The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania come to an end, CM Punk was a main event mainstay, the so called Divas division was mostly a joke, and the first brand split was all but dead. Consider, too, at that time that there were the beginnings of outrage about Daniel Bryan not being treated as a main event guy. These sentiments would be followed by him arriving on top the summer of 2013, only to be shuffled back down the card by year’s end, only wind up winning the WrestleMania XXX main event, only to be forced into retirement two years later, only to make an inspiring comeback two years after that.
So what changes are afoot now? There are those that WWE has more openly alluded to, or at least not gone to any lengths to keep secret. Meanwhile, there are those that remain rumors for the time being. One thing is for sure: WWE will not be the same in one year’s time, let alone in five. For better or for worse, this article take a look at eight big changes that are currently underway in WWE, as well as eight that rare rumored to come into effect before too long.
16 Ongoing: Single-Branded PPVs Are Fading Out
WWE recently issued a statement to WWE Network subscribers about most WWE PPVs becoming dual-branded after WrestleMania. More particularly, the change will go into effect at Backlash with a rumored new draft between the brands, and after that point monthly super shows will feature matches from both Raw and SmackDown stars. It’s a business decision, reportedly rumored in WWE wanting to up its viewer numbers by having each PPV feature the top talent of both brands, rather than feeling watered down just to fill a three hour time slot.
This shift has garnered a mix reaction from fans, and the general consensus among talent is that this isn’t a popular decision.
For top stars, this means taking on an even more intense schedule of not only working a weekly television show and regular house shows, but also a monthly PPV. Meanwhile, lower tier stars who had found time on PPV under single-branded shows are facing a likely case of getting less attention and less money by being left off even B-level PPVs and the build to them.
15 Rumored: WWE Is Preparing For Life Without John Cena
The last two years have seen John Cena go from a steady, weekly presence in WWE to more of a part time player. To be fair, he has still been around much more than stars like The Rock and The Undertaker who only show up for a small handful spots and WrestleMania (if that). Furthermore, Cena has been there when WWE needs him, including subbing into this past year’s Survivor Series main event at the relative last minute, and adding star power to the headline matches at Fastlane and Elimination Chamber. Still, he’s not the pervasive star WWE fans had known him to be for most of the preceding 15 years.
Word is that Cena has more film projects lined up for 2018, and may well disappear for his longest spell yet after WrestleMania 34.
WWE has moved on to feature stars like Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, and AJ Styles on top, and whether the powers that be like it or not, it looks like the guy who was the face of the company for over a decade may only be available for selected major shows moving forward.
14 Ongoing: Triple H Is Remodeling 205 Live
The WWE Cruiserweight division has been nothing if not tumultuous over the last year. After the division seemed to find its footing with heel Neville reigning supreme, things descended into chaos by shades and degree. First top challenger Austin Aries made an abrupt departure from WWE. Then Enzo Amore beat Neville for the title. After staging a double turn between Neville and Amore, Neville disappeared from the locker room (though he remains, at least legally, under contract). After Amore’s scandal came out he was let go by the company quite suddenly, leaving the division without a standard bearer or any clear identity.
Fans who have stuck with 205 Live have noticed a shift over the last two months. The product has felt more centered on the in-ring product than big personalities and storylines. The addition of stars like Roderick Strong has helped escalate the severity of the division, and Drake Maverick’s GM character has freshened up things from the perspective of an authority figure. Most of these changes are credited to Triple H, who has reportedly been given the reins of 205 Live. His approach to the brand, making it feel a lot more like NXT, has generally played well with the kind of hardcore fans the show caters to.
13 Rumored: More Short-Term And Part-Time Deals Are On The Way
There was a time when WWE was reticent to let stars work part-time schedules, in part for the fear of setting a dangerous precedent and inviting more top talents to ask for similar deals. The culture has shifted however, as WWE seems to have recognized the value of megastars like The Rock, Brock Lesnar, and The Undertaker working limited dates. Their appearances have helped push buzz and buy rates for big shows, and there’s an argument to be made that their wrestling stocks have only gone up for the limited exposure to fans.
WWE may well more fully embrace this style of contracting talents in the immediate future.
The 2018 Royal Rumble opened the door to female legends being used more in this sort of capacity. Veterans like Chris Jericho and RVD have already benefited from these sorts of deals, and guys like Rey Mysterio and Bobby Lashley may well be next.
12 Ongoing: WWE Is Organizing Bigger International Shows
WWE has a long history of touring internationally, and frequented Western Europe in particular in the 1990s, when business was down domestically. WWE is clearly looking abroad more and more now. The booking of Jinder Mahal as WWE Champion demonstrated the company’s commitment to making inroads in India. Meanwhile, the Greatest Royal Rumble mega-show, featuring a 50-man Rumble style match is set for April 27, and WWE will also promote a major stadium show in Australia in October—promoting in a venue with 100,000 seats.
WWE is already an international juggernaut, but the move toward bigger shows internationally reinforces the company’s desire to shore up its worldwide brand. Moreover, with the WWE Network becoming more of a focal point to program around, there’s more and more potential to air major shows live whenever, from wherever WWE pleases.
11 Rumored: WWE Is Getting Ready To Welcome Back Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan has had an on again, off again relationship with WWE for well over thirty years. It looked as though his most recent return around WrestleMania XXX might stick, with The Hulkster riding out the twilight of his time in the business as a WWE representative. However, after tapes leaked of him using racist epithets, WWE cut off times, leaving the Immortal one dangling in the wind.
WWE has eased back into making Hogan references on TV and its website.
Rumor has it the company will go all the way in welcoming him back into the fold as soon as this spring.
The latest suggestion is that, with Daniel Bryan returning to the ring, Hogan may well end up taking his place as the on screen General Manager for SmackDown Live. It’s as solid a place as any to put Hogan’s credibility and mic skills to good use.
10 Ongoing: NXT Call Ups Are Being More Carefully Planned
While the NXT brand is generally celebrated as a successful developmental territory to bring up rising stars, and a strong promotion in its own right, the results of stars moving to the main roster have been inconsistent. Yes, there are success stories like Seth Rollins or Kevin Owens. For each of them, there are also guys like Finn Balor and Sami Zayn who struggled to maintain mid card status on the main roster after headlining developmental. Worse yet are the cases of talents Tyler Breeze, Apollo Crews, or Tye Dillinger who, despite shining for NXT, have struggled to get regular TV appearances, let alone work PPV cards since their call ups.
Word is that WWE is being more strategic about call ups, with Triple H in particular suggesting that there be at least three months of booking plans in place before anyone moves up. This approach may become even more salient with an increase in dual branded PPVs on the horizon, and thus even fewer featured spots available.
9 Rumored: Braun Strowman To SmackDown
A funny thing happened over the last year. While WWE clearly meant to push Braun Strowman, the Monster Among Men may have gotten a little more over than intended, eclipsing Roman Reigns. He all but wiled his way into three separate Universal Championship opportunities, on the simple basis no one was more popular with fans or believable as a threat to Brock Lesnar
Now, Strowman is over, and the only guys booked to be able to hang with him are Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar.
To avoid retreading, and to give Reigns a proper reign on top, the only real answer is to get Strowman over to the blue brand, where he can properly headline.
Strowman’s run in the tag division may keep him occupied for a limited time, but all signs suggest that SmackDown Live with “Get These Hands” in the year ahead.
8 Ongoing: WWE Is Building Partnerships With Indies
There was a time when WWE went out of its way not to acknowledge that any other wrestling promotions existed. That time has come and gone, perhaps with the recognition the company doesn’t have any true competition at this point, and thus need not feel threatened. The company has openly mentioned Ring of Honor and made references to a variety of other promotions. That’s particularly the case on NXT TV, and on Network short run series like The Mae Young and Cruiserweight Classics.
Recent years have seen WWE develop a more formal developmental partnership with Evolve, and license footage from not only ROH but a variety of other smaller promotions, and even Impact Wrestling. Surveys of WWE Network subscribers have inquired about interest in having other companies streamed there, and the general sense is that WWE is trying to unofficially bring the independent wrestling scene under its umbrella to cherry pick selected stars and footage.
7 Rumored: AJ Styles To Raw
AJ Styles quietly became one of WWE management’s most trusted stars after pulling off good to great matches with anyone he was booked against. Late 2017 was particularly revealing, as Styles worked the hellacious schedule of international apperances, followed by an impromptu PPV match with Finn Balor, then subbing in for Roman Reigns as an honorary member of The Shield on Raw, before returning to work his usual shift on SmackDown Tuesday night. There’s a sense that when Styles won the WWE Championship shortly thereafter, it was a reward for one of the company’s greatest workhorses and in ring talents.
It's not secret that, despite strides toward taking SmackDown more seriously like airing it live and placing Shane McMahon as its figurehead, WWE still views Raw as its top show. As such, expect for Styles to be commissioned to star for the red brand sooner than later.
6 Ongoing: WWE Is Paying Close Attention To New Japan
In terms of in ring quality, star power, and increasingly visibility, there’s little question that New Japan is the number two wrestling promotion in the world right now. Consider the buzz around matches like AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, or Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada, or the electricity around Chris Jericho showing up to challenge Omenga. New Japan is good enough to have drawn the attention of American fans and make its stars draws on the US independent scene.
WWE did a small raid of New Japan’s roster a couple years back, swooping in for Styles, Nakamura, and The Good Brothers.
Rumor had it, WWE tried to buy out the trademark to The Bullet Club, but New Japan refused.
There’s little doubt that booking Styles and Nakamura in a WWE Championship match at this year’s WrestleMania was a direct response to the success the match had previously at Wrestle Kingdom. Add up all of these factors, and New Japan has risen as both a competitor to WWE, and an inspiration for where the company is going creatively.
5 Rumored: FOX Wants WWE, Will Cut RAW To 2 Hours
The WWE has been a mainstay on the USA Network since the start of Monday Night RAW back in 1993. After making a move to TNN, then Spike TV for a few years, the company moved back to USA in 2005 and they haven't looked back since. SmackDown was also moved to USA Network after agreeing to go live on Tuesday nights. However, the company's deal with NBCUniversal / USA Network expires in September 2019. Word is that FOX is intent on picking up WWE and dropping UFC, likely due to the promise of programs every week and higher ratings on average. The plans in place are reportedly for FOX's main channel to pick up RAW and for FS1 to get SmackDown on Tuesday nights.
The best news of all from the report is that RAW would be cut down to two hours, a timeslot that would be easier on WWE writers and would move back to the successful format RAW had for so long.
4 Ongoing: De-stigmatizing Impact/TNA
For years, Total Non-stop Action Wrestling, more recently rebranded as Impact Wrestling, was the closest thing WWE had to a competitor, especially domestically. It’s arguable that that standing still holds, but WWE’s views on the other company seem to have shifted.
For years, rumor had that WWE management had no interest in any talents on the TNA roster, and Vince McMahon’s only public comment on them was to call their product “tawdry.”
Recent years have seen TNA mainstays like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Bobby Roode not only sign with WWE but get pushed as stars fairly quickly thereafter.
Since then, WWE lent credibility to the Broken Universe Matt Hardy developed in TNA by letting him steer the ship on his own Woken persona.
Finally, as if to confirm what war there was is now over, WWE has signed TNA co-founder Jeff Jarrett, and Jeremy Borash who was key to TNA’s international business ventures, reportedly to work directly under Triple H. The message seems to be that WWE doesn’t think so lowly of TNA anymore, and may be cherry picking its favorite aspects of the rival company.
3 Rumored: Brock Lesnar Has A Foot out The Door
Since his return in 2012, Brock Lesnar has been a part time megastar for WWE, consistently brought in for major PPVs, and twice given long world title reigns despite working a limited schedule. In video game parlance, he’s become the ultimate big boss in WWE—a mountain hardly an hero is capable of climbing, and the ultimate test to signal the rise of a new star.
Word is that WWE and Lesnar are no longer entirely happy with each other.
Lesnar has reportedly not appreciated WWE relying on his good graces to work more dates than he’s contracted for, and may have the itch to return to UFC’s Octagon. Meanwhile, WWE management may well be wearying of Lesnar’s significant price tag, particularly for the limited dates he’s willing to work.
While the angle of Lesnar no showing events and snubbing the WWE Universe has surely been, in part, a kayfabe build to his WrestleMania showdown with Roman Reigns, rumor has it there was also some truth to it, a case of art imitating life. Lesnar may well be gone for good very soon.
2 Ongoing: The Women’s Division Continues Its Growth
WWE has widely touted the development of its women’s ranks in recent years. The arrival of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and company on the main roster signaled a more serious tone for the division, and that’s a vibe that Asuka has only pushed further as the ascending face of the division. Meanwhile Alexa Bliss has nicely bridged the gap between WWE’s traditional pushing of beautiful women and today’s more serious grappling. Take all of these factors, and you can add in Ronda Rousey—the first legit female megastar signing.
In putting on the Mae Young Classic, WWE demonstrated the depth of female talent out there in the wrestling world, and may well have been testing the waters on how WWE fans responded to compelling prospects like Piper Niven and Toni Storm. While the jury’s still out on some of those talents and the long term direction of women’s wrestling in WWE, the numbers don’t lie.
The WrestleMania 34 card had three matches involving women, plus the first women’s battle royal at the event. All signs indicate that WWE is going to keep building in this direction, and we may well see major cards that are half populated with female wrestling in the months ahead.
1 Rumored: The Brand Split Is Going Away
Many fans were surprised by WWE choosing to split rosters for a second time, particularly considering that the first brand split seemed to have dissolved arbitrarily, and on a whim as WWE’s creative powers that be got tired of it. There’s a fair argument to be made that the second brand split has been at least as successful as the first in pushing more stars and offering more opportunities for performers to shine. However, given the recent move toward eliminating single-branded PPVs, rumors abound that having separate rosters at all will be the next thing to go.
Given the depth of talent at WWE’s disposal, it seems the company really ought to be able to support two main roster brands.
If the rosters do merge again, it might signal less of the company scaling back, than launching more sub-divisions and specialty shows like 205 Live on the Network.