The dust has settled after another spectacular WrestleMania and the WWE has hit the reset button as we build towards 'Mania 34. Traditionally this time of year is when WWE takes the opportunity to build new stars and create a new phase of storytelling. The brand split in 2016 changed the direction of the company once again. Some good has come from this and some bad, most notably the lack of serious star power across the roster. The Superstar Shakeup this week has provided a freshness to the rosters of Raw and SmackDown Live and this should set the wheels in motion for some intriguing new angles.
The next 12 months will be a crucial transition period for the WWE as they look to phase out the old guard and finally grant the stage to their gifted group of young performers. Competition from across the globe for viewers is heating up as New Japan continues to develop their already outstanding product, and with rumours of Daniel Bryan moving to NJPW once his WWE contract expires, this is poised to intensify further.
So, how will the next 12 months look for WWE? Gazing into the pro wrestling crystal ball is always challenging, but I have tried my best to put myself in the shoes of a booker and have predicted the main event matches at each of the pay-per-view events scheduled between the conclusion of WrestleMania 33 and the start of WrestleMania 34.
18 Payback - Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman
With the 5-minute classic between Brock and Bill firmly entrenched in the back of our minds after WrestleMania 33, the Universal title is being given an extended holiday from pay-per-views as Lesnar hibernates until the big pay days. This means that the Raw exclusive events will do everything they can to build the next challengers to Lesnar's throne, most notably Roman Reigns.
After conquering the Undertaker at WrestleMania, the Big Dog has a target on his back and this was demonstrated in no uncertain terms on Raw this week as he was decimated in a backstage segment by Braun Strowman. With Roman carrying several injuries into this match, expect this to be built into the narrative as Braun secures a victory and a huge push towards a title opportunity.
17 Backlash - WWE Championship: Randy Orton (c) vs AJ Styles
After retaining his title at Payback in a House of Horrors match with Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton moves on to his next challenger at the SmackDown-exclusive event, Backlash. That challenger is none other than the Phenomenal One, AJ Styles. Having been unsuccessful in his pursuit of Kevin Owens' United States Championship, Styles' babyface turn is in full flow and he turns his attention to Orton, who has been displaying a more villainous side.
A ferocious clash between the two bona fide industry legends at Backlash lasts a good 20 minutes. With near falls galore and a plethora of explosive spots, Randy gradually completes his turn to the dark side as the match nears its conclusion. With the referee briefly knocked out, Orton takes his opportunity and blasts AJ with the championship belt. After waking the unconscious official, Orton retains and leaves as a heel once again.
16 Extreme Rules - Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman
Despite coming up short at Payback, Reigns is determined to have another shot at Strowman. With Brock Lesnar still enjoying a leave of absence, this re-match is again afforded main event status on the Raw-exclusive event. This time, the odds are evened as the two behemoths battle it out in an Extreme Rules match. This final chapter in their rivalry provides a nice call back to Braun’s monstrous beat down of Roman on the 10th April edition of Monday Night Raw.
A titanic clash features both men doing everything in their power to brutalise their opponent. Chairs, tables, ring steps and kendo sticks are used in abundance as they tear each other apart. Despite Roman’s best efforts and several near falls, he simply doesn’t have enough in his arsenal to put Braun away. Eventually, a running powerslam through the canvas the contest to an end. The redemption story for Reigns starts here after another loss to Braun.
15 Money In The Bank - WWE Championship: Randy Orton (c) vs AJ Styles
After their epic encounter at Backlash ended in controversy, AJ Styles demands a rematch against Randy Orton. His new-found mutual respect with SmackDown Commissioner, Shane McMahon yields him another opportunity against The Viper. It will take place at the SmackDown-exclusive PPV, Money In The Bank.
During the build to the match, Randy returns to his wonderfully heelish ways as he torments the heroic Styles in his pursuit of a second WWE Championship. The match itself is another barn burner and Randy looks to use nefarious means to retain again. This time, though, AJ has him scouted and secures his second run as champ with the Phenomenal Forearm.
Incidentally, earlier on the card, Kevin Owens (now sans the US Championship) secured the Money In The Bank briefcase and a future shot at the WWE Championship.
14 Badd Blood - Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Braun Strowman
In his first title defense since winning the Universal Championship at WrestleMania, Brock Lesnar takes on the seemingly unstoppable force that is Braun Strowman at the Raw-branded PPV, Badd Blood. The crowd are hot for this match as the Universal title returns to prominence after being on the shelf for months. The Monster Among Men, Strowman, has earned his first chance to win championship gold by destroying Roman Reigns repeatedly and looks to do the same to Brock.
Strowman finds Lesnar a completely different proposition, though, and despite dominating long stretches of the match, Brock bursts back into life with a series of unbelievable German Suplexes on the big man. An F-5 that has to be seen to be believed is enough to finish off Strowman, and Brock walks off into the sunset once again with his championship belt in tow.
13 Battleground - WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Baron Corbin
With Randy Orton taking some well-earned time off after the end of his 13th world title reign, a new challenger emerges to take on AJ Styles. With many observers predicting that AJ may be headed for a dream match at SummerSlam with either John Cena or Shinsuke Nakamura, his next feud appears to be transitional. And at Battleground, that is exactly what takes place.
Baron Corbin is elevated to the main event scene after a strong run as United States Champion earlier in the year. A solid match at Battleground brings Corbin’s challenge to an abrupt end. Styles is troubled throughout the match by his much bigger opponent, but has enough wherewithal to survive some near falls. Eventually, a Phenomenal Forearm on a groggy Corbin gives AJ the win and his first successful defence of his title.
12 SummerSlam - WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura & Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Finn Balor
The first co-branded PPV since WrestleMania brings with it two major championship matches.
The first of the two championship bouts is for the Universal title. One full year since he became the inaugural Universal Champion, Finn Balor finally has a chance to regain the title he never lost by taking on the Beast Incarnate. Balor, in full Demon King attire, delivers a memorable performance against his huge opponent, but Lesnar once again has enough in the tank to retain the red belt.
The bout for the WWE Championship closes the show. Styles faces his sternest challenge yet when he is pitted against former NXT Champion, Shinsuke Nakamura. The King of Strong Style debuted shortly after WM33 on SmackDown and has a storied history with AJ from their time together in NJPW. In his first attempt at winning the WWE Championship, Nakamura is unsuccessful in dethroning Styles but the match is instantly heralded as an all-time classic.
11 September SmackDown PPV - WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura
AJ and Nakamura, both crowd favourites, are riding a groundswell of audience support their epic encounter at SummerSlam. The mutual respect between the two men leads to Shinsuke being granted another opportunity at the September SmackDown-exclusive PPV.
Another classic encounter is served up between the two best wrestlers in the world, almost eclipsing their SummerSlam epic. After 25 minutes of breathtaking action, Shinsuke finally puts away AJ with the Kinshasa and wins his maiden WWE Championship and becoming the first ever Japanese world champion in company history. AJ graciously hands the title to his great opponent and raises his hand in victory. Shinsuke, meanwhile, may have overcome the challenge of Styles but he remains alert for challengers he can see coming and those he can’t…
10 Clash Of Champions - Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Seth Rollins
After his successful title defence against Finn Balor at SummerSlam, Brock Lesnar is once again scheduled to defend the Universal Championship on PPV. His next defence will take place at the Raw-branded event, Clash of Champions, where every title on the red show is defended.
Brock’s next challenger is red-hot babyface, Seth Rollins. The Kingslayer is coming off the back of a long feud with Triple H and Samoa Joe and has moved back into the title picture for the first time in months. The crowd is electric and firmly behind Rollins.
Despite Seth’s best efforts, Brock is back to his dominant best and soundly defeats the former architect of the Shield. His frightening performance puts the rest of the locker room on notice as his title reign moves into its seventh month.
9 No Mercy - WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura
WWE CHAMPIONSHIP – Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs AJ Styles
After his dramatic victory in September, which secured his first WWE Championship, Shinsuke Nakamura is pilloried with potential challengers. But, driven by honour, Nakamura offers a rematch to former champion, AJ Styles. The two men agree to one more match, a fitting conclusion to their epic trilogy of contests over the top prize on the blue brand.
The match takes place at No Mercy and the two babyfaces don’t disappoint once again. AJ displays his desperation to win back the title, which he holds so dear and pulls out moves not yet seen by a WWE audience. The match is another historic encounter, but Nakamura survives the best efforts of his greatest rival and retains the championship. The title picture takes a back seat shortly after as the SmackDown roster prepares for their inter-brand match with Team Raw at Survivor Series.
8 Hell In A Cell - Raw Women's Championship - Sasha Banks (c) vs Bayley vs Alexa Bliss (Hell In A Cell Triple Threat Match)
With Brock Lesnar taking another hiatus, the Raw women’s division takes centre stage on PPV for the second time in 2017 as they afforded the main event spot at Hell In A Cell. Several months of feuding have led to a triple threat match between the heel champion, Sasha Banks, the heroic Bayley and another heel, Alexa Bliss. Bliss is often dutifully assisted by the monstrous Nia Jax, but she is removed from the equation once the match is set as a Hell In A Cell contest.
An absolutely brutal encounter sees three of the brightest lights in the women’s division create a spectacular wrestling match. Eventually, it is Bayley who overcomes seeming insurmountable odds to win her second Raw Women’s Championship to the delight of the crowd.
7 Survivor Series - Team Raw (Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns & Finn Balor) vs Team SmackDown (Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, John Cena, Randy Orton & Baron Corbin)
When Survivor Series rolls around as the next co-branded PPV, brand loyalty is pushed to the forefront as Team Raw vs Team SmackDown headlines the show. Raw’s team is made up of the Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar alongside Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Finn Balor and Braun Strowman. SmackDown assembles a team consisting of WWE Champion, Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, and returning legends John Cena and Randy Orton. With 8 of the 10 men involved having held a world championship, the match is sure to be of the highest quality.
And it truly delivers. A typically topsy-turvy affair, as is often the case with traditional Survivor Series matches, the final participants are Strowman and Lesnar for Team Raw and Nakamura for SmackDown. Despite a brave effort, Nakamura is overpowered by the two brutes from the red brand as they leave the WWE Champion motionless in the ring following a brutal beatdown.
As the show appears to be coming to an end, the arena is suddenly filled with Kevin Owens' theme music!!! The MITB briefcase holder rushes the ring and orders for the bell to be rung. A still-dazed Nakamura attempts to hit a quick Kinshasa, but is caught in the Pop Up Powerbomb. A quick pin later and KO is the new WWE Champion! Amazingly, a world title change occurs on a PPV where no world title matches were originally booked!
6 TLC - WWE Championship: Kevin Owens (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura (Ladder Match)
Now a one-time WWE Champion and former Universal Champion, Kevin Owens quickly becomes the most hated heel on the entire WWE payroll. His exceptional promo skills come to the fore as he declares himself the best wrestler to ever hold both world championships. Owens is required to provide the former champ, Nakamura, with a rematch and it takes place at TLC.
The challenge is made even more daunting for the new champion when it is announced that the match will be a Ladder match. After an exceptional match, KO takes advantage of a brutal attack on Shinsuke with a chair. A Pop-Up Powerbomb onto a horizontal ladder follows and Owens climbs the steps to retain the title and win his second major ladder match of the year.
5 Roadblock - No. 1 Contender's Match – Braun Strowman vs Seth Rollins
With only a month remaining until the Royal Rumble, there seems to be no stopping the behemoth Brock Lesnar in his reign as Universal Champion. After Team Raw’s successful victory at Survivor Series, Braun Strowman declares himself as the next man in line to challenge Lesnar. He was the last man standing with Brock as they defeated Team SD Live. However, Raw General Manager Kurt Angle feels that it was a team effort and declares a number 1 contenders tournament will take place.
In the preliminary rounds, Seth Rollins defeats his former Shield brother Roman Reigns and Strowman defeats Finn Balor. The two men come face to face in the finale at Roadblock. After the match leaves the ring, the two men cannot be separated. A double count-out ensues and no number one contender is declared.
4 Royal Rumble - Royal Rumble Match
UNIVERSAL CHAMPIONSHIP – Brock Lesnar (c) vs Seth Rollins vs Braun Strowman (Triple Threat Match)
WWE CHAMPIONSHIP – Kevin Owens (c) vs AJ Styles
The Royal Rumble in 2018 has become one of the most hotly anticipated of all time with Brock Lesnar returning on Raw after much time away, to defend his Universal Title against Braun Strowman and Seth Rollins in a Triple Threat match. In another exciting development, John Cena has announced his entry into the Rumble match, having barely been seen in 2017.
With the Rumble match closing the show, both title matches take place on the undercard. In the WWE Title match, AJ Styles returns from a short hiatus to dethrone the villainous Kevin Owens and become a 3-time world champion.
In the Universal title match, Lesnar and Rollins work together to remove Strowman from proceedings by powering the big man through BOTH announce desks! An excellent effort from Rollins amounts to nothing though as Lesnar proves too strong and walks away as Universal Champion for the tenth month in a row.
Notably, the Royal Rumble match comes down to a contest between two of the most divisive superstars of all time – Roman Reigns and John Cena. After several minutes of fast-paced action, Cena throws Reigns over the top rope to secure victory in the Rumble and a title shot at WrestleMania.
3 Elimination Chamber - WWE Championship – AJ Styles (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura vs Baron Corbin vs Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens vs Rusev (Elimination Chamber Match)
Two weeks following the Royal Rumble, the WWE Champion faces his toughest challenge on the Road to WrestleMania when he defends against five other men in the Elimination Chamber. Current champion AJ Styles is tasked with defeating former world champions Nakamura and Owens as well as perennial challengers, Corbin, Zayn and Rusev.
AJ is released first from his pod and has to survive an engrossing encounter. Rusev is eliminated first in his first major opportunity at the WWE title when he is pinned by US Champion, Sami Zayn. However, Zayn is quickly removed from proceedings by the brutish Baron Corbin. Nakamura is the surprise next elimination after he is pinned following a Deep Six by Corbin. With AJ outnumbered by heels KO and Corbin, he manages to escape following a Phenomenal Forearm to Corbin and and an amazing Styles Clash to Owens. AJ heads to WrestleMania as champion to face his old adversary, John Cena.
2 Fastlane - No.1 Contender's Match – Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman vs Seth Rollins vs Finn Balor (Fatal 4-Way Match)
At the final pay per view event before WrestleMania, Fastlane offers four of Raw’s biggest names the opportunity to battle the unstoppable Brock Lesnar for the Universal title at the biggest show of the year.
The match is a hotly contested affair with Royal Rumble match runner-up Reigns looking like a man possessed. He is quick to eliminate Finn Balor and watches on as Strowman eliminates Seth Rollins. The final two men remaining are The Big Dog and The Monster Among Men in a repeat of their feud from the start of 2017.
Roman looks to vanquish the demons from their previous feud, but he just can’t seem to get the better of Strowman. Inexplicably, Rollins re-appears and levels Strowman with a chair shot. Reigns takes advantage of the situation and wins the match. A shocked Reigns looks on as Seth cautiously leaves the ring. Reigns will head to WrestleMania to face Lesnar in a rematch from their encounter at 'Mania 31.
1 WrestleMania 34 - Universal Championship – Brock Lesnar (c) vs Roman Reigns (No Disqualification Match) & WWE Championship – AJ Styles (c) vs John Cena
As WrestleMania 34 rolls around, the likelihood of historic moments taking place becomes far greater. And with two mega-blockbuster matches announced as the main event for the Show of Shows in 2018, those historic moments are even likelier to occur.
The penultimate match on the card features WWE Champion,AJ Styles defending his title against the Royal Rumble winner, John Cena. After his historic Rumble win, Cena has the opportunity to make history by winning a record-breaking 17th world title. Resuming their rivalry from 2016, the two veterans put on a masterclass in wrestling storytelling. Eventually Cena overpowers his rival to secure victory and his record-breaking 17th reign as world champion to a rapturous reception not usually received by Big Match John.
So, how could anything follow that WrestleMania moment? After a year of redemption, Reigns takes on the Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar, in a No DQ Match. The crowd is incredibly hot for the match and the intensity is unparalleled. As Lesnar builds up a head of steam and looks set to retain, he is distracted by the presence of Seth Rollins emerging from the crowd and pulling down a face mask. A confused Lesnar watches on as Rollins slowly enters the ring. Inexplicably, the camera pans out to see Dean Ambrose removing a face mask and entering the ring from the other side. Unsure of what is happening, Lesnar cautiously moves around the ring. As he does so, Reigns springs to his feet and in an extraordinary moment, Rollins and Ambrose hoist Lesnar up so that Reigns can deliver the triple powerbomb!!! The crowd goes wild as Reigns pins Lesnar to win the title and stands tall as the leader of a reunited Shield in one of the most iconic WrestleMania moments of all time.