We’re now past the halfway point of 2017, and if we look back at what most of us were seeing in the crystal ball last year, a lot has come true. Roman Reigns is still THE guy in WWE’s book, ratings and buyrates are still struggling, and Sami Zayn is still running in place in the midcard. But we’ve also seen our share of surprises, ranging from the pleasant ones (Hardy Boyz return at WrestleMania) to the less-than-pleasant (Jinder Mahal shocks the world by becoming WWE Champion). They say anything can happen in the WWE, and the company isn’t exactly lying when it says that.
But since we’re now heading closer to SummerSlam, with one more Big 4 pay-per-view (Survivor Series) coming this year, we thought that it might be the right time to dust that old crystal ball and see what 2018 has in store for the WWE Universe. Some of our predictions may be music to your ears, while others may cause you to riot, but this is how we see things playing out in the coming year. What may change in the WWE landscape in 2018, and what’s more likely than not to stay the same? Read on, and you’ll find out.
15. A Surprise-Free Royal Rumble
One of the main selling points of the Royal Rumble match in recent years has been the chance for fans to see old retired favorites back in the ring for a couple minutes, or NXT standouts making extended cameos ahead of their official main roster debut, such as Bo Dallas, Sami Zayn, and Tye Dillinger. But speaking of Dillinger, the Perfect 10 was the only “surprise” entrant from last year’s Royal Rumble match, as WWE decided to make use of its deep roster instead of trotting out blasts from the past or would-be main roster rookies.
For next year’s Royal Rumble match, we’re expecting things to be quite similar, as WWE still has a very deep roster and a plethora of manpower. That might not be the case anymore later on in 2018, if some of our other predictions ring true, but as far as January is concerned, we’re still expecting a big roster across both brands, and no real need for any Royal Rumble match surprises.
14. The Undertaker In The WWE Hall Of Fame
When Roman Reigns defeated The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33, it was clearly implied that that marked the moment the Deadman would ride off into the sunset, and close the books on a 27-year career. But with no formal announcement from ‘Taker, or from Mark Calaway, i.e. the man behind the character, many still hope against hope that the Phenom still has another match in him, even as he is set to turn 53 years old before next year’s ‘Mania.
But we should have faced it a long time ago – the ‘Taker of old is, well, the old ‘Taker. And that means it’s time for him to make his retirement 100 percent official, possibly a few RAW episodes prior to WrestleMania, with Reigns in the ring with him. And on WWE’s end, that should be their chance to announce The Undertaker as the headliner for the Hall of Fame Class of 2018. Simply put, there’s no one more deserving for the honor.
13. Female Wrestlers Continue Catching Up With The Men
Just a few years ago, nobody gave a rat’s you-know-what about WWE’s Divas Division. While you had certified talents such as AJ Lee at one point, with Natalya always standing out as a technically-gifted female worker, WWE’s women were generally seen as pretty, yet untalented faces whose matches were an excuse for you to head to the bathroom…or fix up a snack in the kitchen. Boy, how things have changed since then.
With WWE holding the Mae Young Classic this year, you’ve got the possibility of at least 10-15 or so women getting signed to WWE deals, and filling out the rosters on RAW, SmackDown, and NXT. And if you also consider how none of the Four Horsewomen would be main roster rookies by 2018, and how women such as Alexa Bliss, and even Carmella have exceeded expectations since arriving on the main roster, you can easily predict that things will keep looking up for WWE’s female talent pool in 2018.
12. Bye-Bye Cruiserweights
Ah, yes, the Cruiserweight Division. If WWE went with a women’s tournament in 2017, they went with a cruiserweight tournament in 2016, and that 32-man Cruiserweight Classic brought us some great matches. Alas, it wasn’t to make for great television once TJ Perkins, Gran Metallik, Brian Kendrick, etc. went from the CWC to the main roster, as giving these 205-pounds-and-below talents good characters and storylines proved to be much easier said than done. Then you’ve also got their show, 205 Live, which still showcases good wrestling…yet not much else to make fans care about the wrestlers.
Even with Neville turning heel and becoming a certified big name in the WWE as the “King of the Cruiserweights,” things are still looking down for WWE’s Cruiserweight Division. Expect WWE to do away with the division, and with 205 Live, by 2018, perhaps during “spring cleaning” time when they could also wish a plethora of cruiserweights the best in their future endeavors.
11. More Crowd Faves Getting Buried
Instead of battling for a main event title, or any title for that matter, we’re seeing Sami Zayn trading wins with a lukewarm Mike Kanellis. Dolph Ziggler is essentially a modern-day version of the guy he once caddied for, Kerwin Wh-, er…Chavo Guerrero. Even Cesaro, who’s been enjoying great success in the tag team ranks, leaves a lot of us wanting more. For one reason or another, they’ve failed to grab the brass rings, while hitting their heads on the glass ceiling time and time again.
As long as Vince McMahon is in charge of WWE, there’s always going to be that NXT hotshot for him to sour on, or an indie standout for him not to get. It’s always been about the big sweaty men for Vince (see: Strowman, Braun, Corbin, Baron, Reigns, Roman), and since we don’t see him relinquishing control of his company as long as he’s alive, there’s always going to be someone too small, too boring (even if the fans love him/her), or too something for Mr. McMahon’s tastes. Expect more of that to continue in 2018.
10. Main Event Titles For Strowman, Joe, And/Or Corbin
Speaking of big, sweaty men, it’s time to take a look at the three men most likely to succeed in WWE come 2018, as far as those who haven’t won a main event title are concerned. Not surprisingly, they’re all hosses, just as Vince McMahon would want ’em.
Like many other fans, my opinion of Braun Strowman greatly changed in a matter of months, as he emerged from his 2016 series of jobber squashes much better for it in every aspect. And there’s no need to sell me on Samoa Joe – good things happen to those who wait, and he’s always had the talent to succeed in the WWE. Expect either one, or both of these men to hold a Universal (or WWE) Championship at some point in 2018, assuming they don’t win it this year.
Meanwhile, over at SmackDown Live, you’ve got Baron Corbin, who’s still a tough sell for this writer. But he is Mr. Money in the Bank, for what it’s worth, and if he doesn’t cash in this year, he definitely has to at some point in the first half of 2018.
Of course, none of these men will ever displace one Joseph Anoa’i as WWE’s favorite son in 2018, but they’ve got the size Vince craves, and they’re all looking like very likely main event title holders for the coming year.
9. The Women’s Champ Of Tomorrow, But For How Long?
Our hopes are high that at some point this year, Asuka will make her much-anticipated main roster debut after dominating NXT’s Women’s Division and breaking Goldberg’s much-vaunted (and padded) winning streak. Regardless of which brand she ends up in, the Empress of Tomorrow should waste no time moving into the main event, and it will be surprising if, by the start of 2018, she hasn’t won the RAW or SmackDown Women’s Championship yet. But we’re concerned about how wide her window of opportunity is on the main roster.
Although she can pass for someone a decade younger, the fact of the matter is that would-be WWE rookie Asuka is turning 36 in September. That makes her older than tenured women such as Natalya and Nikki Bella, and just two years younger than Mickie James, who merely exists these days to put younger women over. That could mean her time on top of WWE’s women’s rankings may be limited, which is certainly a pity, considering her skill and NXT resume.
8. No More Hardys In The WWE
At this point, the nostalgia brought about by The Hardy Boyz’s WrestleMania 33 return has all but died out. And fans are getting antsier by the minute, hoping and waiting that the only three people who want the legal battle over the Broken Universe to drag on (GFW’s Jeff and Karen Jarrett and Ed Nordholm) finally let the Hardys be Broken. Fortunately, it might not be much longer before the Hardys finally “break” (or get “woken,” as Matt is teasing) but we’re betting that Matt and Jeff may be working somewhere else at some point in 2018.
The main reason behind this is the fact that Jeff Hardy turns 40 this month, with Matt turning 43 in September. These aren’t the young men who used to rule WWE’s tag team scene, and we’ve got a good feeling that they may be looking for a lighter schedule at some point in the near future, what with the Hardys now older family men. Just don’t expect them anywhere near GFW, for obvious reasons – maybe another ROH return is in the cards?
7. A WrestleMania For The Casuals
This is a trend that we’ve been seeing ramping up in recent years, and at WrestleMania 33, WWE’s focus on casual and/or lapsed fans was never more obvious. Consider the huge amount of hype leading into Goldberg and Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship match, yet another ‘Mania match for Triple H as he draws closer to 50, and WWE’s latest attempt to push Roman Reigns as the company’s marquee star, even going to the point of having him beat, and possibly retire The Undertaker. Sure, certain celebrities, such as The Rock (let’s face it, he IS one) and Shaquille O’Neal, weren’t there, contrary to what many expected in the run-up to ‘Mania. But WWE’s focus was so clearly centered on casual viewers, and we think that will still be the case at WrestleMania 34.
In a perfect world, we’d be watching a ‘Mania where the likes of Sami Zayn, Cesaro, and other brilliant workers headline the show and don’t get relegated to the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, or do the job in an undercard match. But Vince McMahon sees more dollar signs in part-time or comebacking wrestlers, not to mention celebrities. That should mean another casual-friendly ‘Mania once April 2018 rolls around.
6. SmackDown Remains Better Than RAW
Personally speaking, I would really want to like Monday Night RAW as much as I like SmackDown Live. And while it is true that the red brand sometimes outdoes the blue brand when SmackDown‘s writers get lazy, it’s a well-established belief that RAW is all about the casual viewers who prefer familiar names and simpler storylines, while SmackDown is more about workrate, and giving big opportunities to the arguably deserving (see: Breezango) and arguably undeserving (see: Mahal, Jinder). That’s why hardcore fans tend to be more receptive toward blue brand programming, and we don’t see that changing one bit next year.
Of course, the above prediction assumes that WWE will be sticking to a two-brand system in 2018. But we’re also predicting WWE would, at some point next year, go lean and mean, cut a slew of wrestlers, and go back to one brand, which is what brings us to our very next entry.
5. End Of The Brand Split Era
The obvious benefit of a two-brand system is that more Superstars are given a chance to shine, and more people get to move up the card. But the sad fact about the current brand split is that it has yet to yield any noticeable improvement in ratings. Part of that is fully on WWE and their lazy writing, especially on the RAW brand, but with myriad reports suggesting that the company’s finances have seen better days, it won’t be surprising if they switch to a one-brand system once again, possibly wishing a plethora of wrestlers the best in their future endeavors.
Rumors have even hinted that WWE’s television deals may also be in jeopardy if things don’t change by 2019, but we probably won’t go there just yet. Instead, we’re speculating that the brand split era’s days, or at least months, may be numbered if TV ratings, pay-per-view buyrates, and other key metrics continue to suffer and trend on the down side.
4. John Cena Moves Closer To Rock-Level Part-Time Status
We’d probably write “John Cena breaks Ric Flair’s world championship record” here, but we still feel it’s more likely Big Match John makes it 17 world titles in 2017. But with Cena likely to break the Nature Boy’s record sometime in the remaining months of this year, that also means we may be seeing even less of him on WWE television and PPV.
It’s ironic, considering how much Cena, in character, hates being called a part-timer, and how he called The Rock out for being a part-timer during their WrestleMania feud a few years back. But the man is now 40 years old, and showing some serious potential as a Hollywood draw, much like a certain Dwayne Johnson…and Dave Bautista. That should mean more acting roles for Cena in 2018, on top of the ones he’s already confirmed for, and less chances for him to show up on TV and bark out those famous words of his, “THE CHAMP IS HERE!”
3. Brock Lesnar Returns To MMA
Let’s face it – from day one, Brock Lesnar has never been much of a fan of the wrasslin’ business. Legitimate fighting is where his heart is, and the main reason he remains in WWE is the fact that he can get an ungodly amount of money to show up at a select few pay-per-views and a select few televised shows. As such, we don’t expect him to re-sign with the WWE once his deal expires right after WrestleMania. Where he may be putting over someone else, as rumored plans to have him lose the Universal belt to Roman Reigns seem to have changed.
As most MMA and/or wrestling fans know, Jon “Bones” Jones called Brock Lesnar out and challenged him to a fight after his domination of Daniel Cormier at UFC 214. Brock appears to be quite interested, and since his USADA suspension will be up by next year, we think Lesnar’s next big career move would be a return to the octagon, en route to a marquee fight with Jones. And that may require him to take Suplex City off of the WWE map and leave the company after WrestleMania 34.
2. All Roman, All The Time
There’s no point repeating it, but this is a list about 15 things we may see in WWE next year, so we have to. WWE is stubborn to a fault, and to a very egregious fault when it comes to pushing Roman Reigns as The Guy, The Big Dog, the man whose yard is the entire WWE. It almost feels as if fans pay money these days to boo Reigns in person, but it doesn’t matter to WWE – Roman is THE babyface, the heir to John Cena as the face of WWE, and an instant Hall of Fame inductee once he retires some 10 to 20 years from now.
While the good news is that the original plans for Reigns to conquer Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 34 seem to be off, the bad news, at least for the millions, and millions of Reigns detractors, is that WWE is showing no sign of turning him heel or altering his character. Expect that God-push to continue, not only in 2018, but possibly for the next decade or so, or as long as Roman remains in WWE’s employ.
1. Daniel Bryan Makes His Wrestling Comeback… Away From WWE
Next year will mark a crucial time for SmackDown Live General Manager Daniel Bryan. We all know that in his heart of hearts, he wants nothing more but to compete in the ring, and that having him make matches and keep wrestlers in line on SmackDown is a poor consolation prize (as he may see it) for WWE’s doctors not allowing him to wrestle. Although Bryan had to retire due to concussion-related reasons, he’s talented enough, and still barely young enough (at 36) to still be entertaining while working a safer style, but once his WWE deal expires next year, he’ll likely want to show that safer style off elsewhere. Not that WWE is giving him any choice.
It’s highly likely that if Bryan decides to wrestle elsewhere, he’ll be taking his talents back to Ring of Honor, where his style and previous reputation will mesh perfectly with the product. And it’s not entirely implausible that GFW may come calling too – signing Daniel Bryan, er, Bryan Danielson to a GFW deal has the potential to be a major game-changer for WWE’s often-struggling top rival. Though if we had to choose, we’re definitely predicting a ROH return or New Japan debut for Bryan if he leaves WWE next year.
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