Part of the fun of being a WWE fan is speculate about what might become of the product we love. As kids, we play with action figures to imagine all manner of dream match. As adults, fans tend to participate in arm chair booking as they bemoan what WWE may have done, suggest what would have been better, and cast a combinations of predictions and ideas about what’s to come.
It's enjoyable to concoct dream matches. When will we see Roman Reigns square off with John Cena? Might The Rock have another run in in him and properly feud with Bray Wyatt? Might Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles reprise their classics from Japan for the WWE product?
For as good of a time as it is to imagine the worst, there are also lingering fears about worst. While plenty of fans bemoan WWE’s creative inclinations, there’s no denying it’s the biggest, most watched wrestling promotion in the world, and so it does matter what the company does. Recent years have seen Vince McMahon dig in his heels about Roman Reigns being the future of the company, and when he gives a youngster a chance out of the blue, it’s not darlings of the fans like Sami Zayn but rather the far less popular and less polished Jinder Mahal.
Today, WWE has two well established full time main rosters, plus a burgeoning NXT developmental product, and an intriguing sub-division in 205 Live. Moreover, The Network has broadened to include special visitors in the Cruiserweight Cup, UK Championship Tournament, and Mae Young Classic. With such a wide and diverse pool of talent getting pulled on, there’s all sorts of potential for the company to thrive in new ways. And yet, with so many resources at its disposal, there’s also that profound potential for WWE to mess up everything. This article looks at the 15 worst possible directions WWE can go in that may actually happen.
15 Jinder Mahal As Long-Term Champion
I was not a fan of Jinder Mahal winning the WWE Championship, less out of any fundamental issue with the performer himself than because he was not built up as championship material. Since winning the title, he’s done little to change my opinion. His matches as champion have been lackluster, and moreover, the booking still hasn’t seen him go over strong, with a series of fluke and interference-laden victories over Randy Orton. When your greatest accomplishment as a world champion is a TV win over Mojo Rawley (which, to be fair, was a decent match) it speaks volumes to the limitations of both the booking and the performer.
I get the Mahal experiment—trying out a new main eventer, and capitalizing on the market of Indian fans. I even think that he could, in time, get over as an upper card talent. For now, though, WWE needs to look at pulling the plug on this lackluster title reign and building Mahal properly if he is to succeed in the longer term.
14 Braun Strowman Becomes Just Another Guy
Conventional logic might suggest that Braun Strowman would be big star, given his awesome physical presence. When you take a look super jacked up big men, though, WWE doesn’t necessarily have the best track record of actually going all the way with them. Take Mason Ryan, or Ezekiel Jackson who had the look for sure, but couldn’t convert it to in ring success.
Strowman has both lived up to his end of the bargain as a performer and made the even more unlikely leap of connecting with the fans. WWE has arrived at a bona fide superstar almost in spite of itself, with a guy who looked like he’d just be a mountain for Roman Reigns to overcome, and has arguably emerged as more over than Reigns himself. The threat here is Strowman’s moment stalling out, especially if he doesn’t win a world title soon. While the big guy doesn’t necessarily need the title, he’s a special enough commodity in WWE that the company needs to keep taking him seriously rather than squandering what it has.
13 AJ Styles: Out Of The World Title Picture Permanently
The improbable happened in 2016 when AJ Styles debuted in WWE and the fans recognized him. To go one step further, Styles’s exceptional ring work won over the fans at large, until WWE shrewdly booked him to go over in a rivalry with John Cena, en route to an excellent WWE Championship reign.
Styles finished out that reign by dropping the title to Cena in a classic at the Royal Rumble. Since then, he’s largely been demoted to the US Championship scene. While he’s still treated as an upper card talent and, alongside Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho, has arguably elevated the US Championship, he’s nonetheless not working main events.
In Styles, WWE has the top worker of the day. Styles transitioned from the business’s top high flyer to a guy who still can take flight but is also a technical virtuoso and a good brawler. As much as he’s shifted his game, there’s still an expiration date on any wrestler’s body, and WWE would be foolish to squander the Phenomenal One’s final years of his prime, when he ought to be headlining.
12 The Wyatt Family Reunion
The Wyatt Family was a reasonably successful tool to get over Bray Wyatt when he first appeared in WWE, to introduce Luke Harper, Erick Rowan, and Braun Strowman, and to add much needed intrigue to the Wyatt-Randy Orton program. The group dissolving and coming back together over these past five years has been a reasonable enough story device, too.
However, after so many instances of falling apart and coming back together, there’s little interest left in a reunion. Wyatt is well established. Strowman has emerged as a superstar in his own right, for whom realignment with Wyatt would read like a major demotion. Harper is an under-appreciated talent who deserves a real chance to stand on his own. And Rowan? He’s probably the only guy who still stands to benefit from the family, and so should probably be reassigned as Wyatt’s stand alone heater or let go for absence of progress over his WWE tenure.
11 Randy Orton Stays In The Main Event Picture
Randy Orton is a talented professional wrestler, and there have been distinctive periods like the build to his first world title reign, and when he declared war on the McMahon family in 2009, when he was quite arguably the most entertaining performer in WWE.
In 2017, Orton still had the credibility to be slotted into the main event as needed without anyone batting an eye. However, he’s also largely played out and largely boring in his top face role, as evidenced by his abysmal rivalries with Bray Wyatt and Jinder Mahal this year. In a roster burgeoning with main event ready talents like AJ Styles, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura on the Smackdown face side alone, Orton simply does not fit in as more than the occasional visitor to the main event picture, as opposed to a guy who maintains his residency there.
10 A Heel Turn For Sami Zayn
There are certain performers who only really work as faces, and certain workers who only really work as heels. Ricky Steamboat is the classic example on the face side, and there’s an argument to be made that Daniel Bryan was cut from a similar cloth, for even though he was a successful heel, his magnetic personality still had fans cheering for him and edging him back toward a face run.
Sami Zayn is one of those guys who is so good at generating sympathy when he’s beaten down, and so good at firing up on his comeback, that he’s arguably the best pure face of his generation. The guy simply does not make sense as a heel, and to usher him in that direction would completely belie the natural talents of the performer.
9 Carmella As The Face Of The Women’s Division
2017 has seen WWE push Carmella. She’s a pretty face and a good talker who has committed to her bit, and I have no problem with WWE making her a star, and the likelihood that she’ll be SmackDown Women’s Champion before the end of the year.
The risk involved here is Carmella emerging as the face of women’s wrestling in WWE. While Alexa Bliss grew into the role of top women’s heel and quite arguably deserves her spot, Carmella is no Alexa Bliss, nor does she have in the ring chops to hang with talents like Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch, or Natalya. That’s half the top female talent the company has, and it’s far from a foregone conclusion that Carmella is really even the best of the next tier of performers like Naomi, Emma, and Nia Jax. While it’s fine for her to play her part and be in the cluster of top female heels, WWE has a lot of better options to push to the top of its female ransk.
8 Canceling Talking Smack Sets A Pattern
Since the new brand split, Talking Smack was a staple of WWE Network programming. It was a post-game show in which Renee Young and, more often than not, Daniel Bryan discussed Smackdown and spoke with guest wrestlers. Ordinarily, a show like this might have been totally forgettable, but it became one of the most fascinating shows WWE produced for being largely unscripted. While the show still mostly maintained kayfabe, performers were given the freedom to operate within the bounds of their characters. The Miz, in particular, flourished under this format, demonstrating his promo chops when he was operating without a script.
This summer, Vince McMahon made the decision to cancel Talking Smack. It’s widely rumored this decision came on account of the live, unscripted nature of the program feeling unsafe for the product as wrestler’s might go outside the bounds of what the creative heads had in mind or misspeak and create a problem.
While the loss of Talking Smack, in and of itself, isn’t catastrophic, it could be a shame if it’s a harbinger of things to come. Shoot interviews hosted by Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, and JBL were cornerstones of Network programming, in addition to documentaries with performers speaking candidly and out of character. Legends with JBL has already been canceled, too, and if WWE continues in that direction, there’s a real threat of the company missing out on the shoot market.
7 The Singh Brothers As Tag Team Champions
The Singh Brothers—previously known as The Bollywood Boys in NXT—got called up to the main roster abruptly to play sidekicks to Jinder Mahal in his sudden main event push. They’ve been good enough in their role, particularly for their willingness to take big bumps on Mahal’s behalf to add some excitement to his matches. There is, however, a ceiling over what they should accomplish for now.
WWE has a lot of talent right now, and it’s remarkable that the roster can now support not just one, but two respectable tag team divisions. With New Day and The Usos at the fore for Smackdown, not to mention The Fashion Police doing fun work underneath, and rumors of star teams coming together swirling, there is absolutely no place for The Singh Brothers to reign atop the tag division to hold gold alongside Mahal and assert their mini-stable’s dominance. WWE has made moves like this before, but to put the inexperienced, non-credible Singhs on top would really undermine the good work and potential of the tag division.
6 The Brand Split Evaporates
The second brand split has, in many ways, been successful for both shows airing live, and each having its share of top tier stars to make the two shows feel almost equal. While I’m as cynical as anyone about Jinder Mahal’s world title reign, the roster split does afford room for experiments like this to be tried. Moreover, having two unique rosters gives an opportunity for guys like Sami Zayn and Finn Balor, who might get lost in the shuffle as the number three, four, or five face, a chance to be in the mix of the upper card, and a chance at breaking through to the main event.
The first brand split eroded by degrees, and while it’s still too soon to say what WWE will do this time around, here’s hoping WWE holds the course and really does offer double the opportunities for its supremely talented roster. John Cena being billed as a free agent blurs the line a bit, but he’s a special talent, and if WWE uses only him as a cross-brand star, this grand experiment can still work.
5 Brock Lesnar Retires
For all of the ways in which wrestling has changed and evolved over the last five years, there may be no single, more fascinating star than Brock Lesnar. He’s the prodigal son who came back to WWE while also representing MMA culture and legitimacy. He’s the part timer who is, in a number of ways, a more entertaining attraction than any full time talents. Feats like ending The Undertaker’s streak and squashing John Cena have only added to his legend. He’s that rare talent who can truly play face or heel at the drop of a dime and have fans eating out of the palm of his hand.
One thing Lesnar is not, however, is getting any younger. Moreover, rumors abound that he’s eyeing a return to UFC. WWE let him do so once and the results were OK—Lesnar won, but not without the shadow of testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Every time he steps in the octagon, he’s gambling with his legitimacy and if he does opt to go back you have to wonder whether he and WWE will really be able to terms, or if it might mean the end of this special act in WWE.
4 New Day Splits
There are plenty of great tag teams that have led to one or more of the teammates breaking out as singles stars. The Hart Foundation launched Bret Hart’s career and The Rockers set up Shawn Michaels for one of the greatest wrestling careers of all time. Interestingly, when discussing the thinking behind launching New Day, Xavier Woods explained that he was on a mission to make Kofi Kingston a world champion.
While Woods’s intentions were noble, and Kingston has the tools that he could be conceivably make a decent world champ. Woods, Kingston, and Big E have all done the very best work of their WWE careers as a three man unit. There may well come a time when the team splits up, but for now they still have plenty of gas left in the tank, even if they’re not featured at the tip-top of the tag ranks indefinitely.
3 Another Triple H World Title Reign
Triple H is a legend in the professional wrestling business, and he has stayed in remarkably good shape long past the end of his full time wrestling career. He remains a rock solid part time contributor in the ring, as demonstrated in a very good performance opposite Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 33 and a surprisingly strong world title reign in the build to WrestleMania 32.
While Triple H’s last reign worked well enough and was justifiable for injuries to high profile players at the time, including John Cena and Seth Rollins that fouled up world title plans, it also established a worrisome precedent. Triple H doesn’t need another world title win or another PPV main event to shore up his legacy, and the roster is deep enough that Triple H shouldn’t be the answer to headline moving forward. When a part timer like him returns to a top spot, it takes the opportunity from newer talents who will provide a foundation for WWE’s future.
2 The Hardys Remain A Nostalgia Act
When Matt and Jeff Hardy returned to WWE at WrestleMania 33, it was an electric moment. The brothers had been gone from WWE for nearly a decade, and after getting themselves over in fresh, new ways in smaller companies, the WWE audience was all too eager to welcome them back.
While the Hardys can still go, as one of the best working tag teams in the world, they are thriving in WWE now first and foremost as a nostalgia act. Prior to their WWE return, they got over in the Broken gimmick—an eccentric, vaguely magical gimmick that reinvented the team and made them the hottest free agents in wrestling. The gimmick is bound up in an intellectual property dispute with GFW, and it’s unclear if WWE even wants it.
We can debate whether the Broken Universe would really work within the WWE Universe, but if the WWE doesn’t let the Hardys do something creative before long, there’s a real risk they’ll squander a team with potential to be so much more than the subject of nostalgia in 2017.
1 The Undertaker Isn’t Really Retired
From WrestleMania 23 to WrestleMania XXIX, The Undertaker put on a series of excellent WrestleMania matches. After that, however, his efforts grew more uneven. There’s a very real argument that his next four ‘Mania outings were just OK to plain bad. While his summer of 2015 rivalry with Brock Lesnar breathed new life into the character, it would go down as his last great program—or at least it should.
The Undertaker closed WrestleMania 33 in a lackluster showdown with Roman Reigns thatdragged too long and got hard to watch by its closing moments. While it wasn’t the best way to see The Undertaker wrap up a great career, it was partially redeemed for the moment to follow as The Phenom symbolically took off his signature garments to mark the end of his career.
It’s best that fans remember him that way—as a warrior who left his very essence in the ring. For The Undertaker to come back for anything but a Hall of Fame induction or one-off, non-wrestling appearance would only risk tarnishing his legacy and hurting the WWE product by extension.