WrestleMania is essentially New Year’s Day for WWE, and with it comes their version of New Year’s resolutions in the form of both new storylines and wrestler turnover, like a TV show changing cast and stories between seasons. Most of the stars are likely to stay, but they’re going to lose a few hangers-on and gain a few new faces expected to make an impact (no pun intended) among the established superstars. WWE has increased the relevance of this period since the turn of the century, debuting huge names as well as expected megastars on the post-WrestleMania Raw and also sometimes having a huge draft show within weeks of that to really solidify the new year’s direction. In short, once WrestleMania happens, expect seismic shifts all over WWE and particularly in who we see all over our TVs.
Another WWE ‘tradition’ that is less hyped to is the summer culling or annual roster releases. We saw a small example a few months back when three superstars were all cut at the same time, and in the past around a dozen superstars have been cut all at once depending on the year. With NXT now pumping out new acts looking to take roster positions the pressure to establish and hang on to a spot is cut-throat, and we foresee a crew who should be wary. Whether their time is finally up or they haven’t established themselves enough to last, here are the superstars who are soon to be gone and the incoming ones we expect to replace them.
15. Welcome – Ricochet
The ridiculously high-energy aerial master is on his way to WWE and at this point, the only question is whether he’s destined for the main roster or as another effort to bring legitimacy to the 205 Live division. He’s talented enough for either job though, and with the loss of Austin Aries and disappearance of Neville, there’s a top spot on the cruiserweight show that he could make his own for years to come. His resume on the independents and through his time in Lucha Underground and NJPW got him on WWE’s radar and the insane thing is that since he’s still under 30 years of age he is perhaps still yet to enter his prime. Combine him with another expected signee on this list and 205 Live might just explode in the coming year into a must-watch show. Right before this article was finished the signing was made official, so the countdown to takeoff is officially on!
14. Gone – Tye Dillinger
Tye Dillinger’s WWE main roster run is like if Zack Ryder never had that run in 2011 and was just forgotten to start with and never was seen again. Tye Dillinger spent so long in NXT before he finally got over as ‘The Perfect 10′, and it gave fans hope for his WWE main roster run. What they should’ve known by then was that if Vince didn’t bring him up for all those years, those reasons still exist whether we all chant ’10’ or not. Now Dillinger has spent most of his debut year being invisible on SmackDown, despite enthusiastic crowd support when we get to see him and solid matches to his name.
13. Welcome – War Machine
The big brawling team that has run roughshod through ROH and NJPW is now headed to WWE and in all likelihood will get the same treatment as Gallows and Anderson did, where they appear on the main roster without an NXT stint. Vince loves his big men with characters and able to be imposing, something The Ascension failed at and The Bludgeon brothers are attempting, but War Machine are fresh out of the box bruisers in that 80s mold that would stand out in current WWE. Add to that the fact that both are respectable singles competitors who could break out with their unexpectedly athletic showings and all in all this team was probably a bargain considering the money Vince expects to make with the pair of them.
12. Gone – Zack Ryder
Speaking of Zack Ryder being misused and forgotten, is there any way Zack survives the post-WrestleMania culling this time when he’s been used purely as training wheels for Mojo Rawley only to be pushed aside all over again? The Long Island Iced Z truly deserves better than his current abject humiliation but it seems Vince McMahon has no room in his wrestling world for Ryder. Short of re-inventing himself all over again there is precious little he can do to avoid being singled out as an unnecessary roster spot. He’s one of the only superstars to willingly go back to NXT just to re-emerge again on the main roster and somehow still isn’t better off than he was half a decade ago. It feels like Zack’s true underdog fairytale this year won’t be winning any titles, but by avoiding that infamous phone call from WWE headquarters wishing him well in his future endeavors.
11. Welcome – Rey Mysterio
The prodigal luchador extraordinaire comes home this year as he looks to pull a Goldberg and erase the last year he spent in WWE and end it all on a much better note. Whether he again appears on Raw or SmackDown or is used to bump up interest in 205 Live, Mysterio is primed to finish with a flourish. He’ll seek to remind all the fans that his intangible abilities are what made him stand out even among other high-flyers.
Having renewed his credentials back on the independent circuit and in Lucha Underground, while also finding the time to allow his body to heal back to 100% for the first time in a decade, Rey Mysterio could be the surprise success story of 2018.
His popularity hasn’t waned at all, and like Jeff Hardy is beloved in the ring and an instant attraction wherever he dons his mask. If WWE were truly interested in catapulting Mysterio and 205 Live this year, having him dethrone Enzo Amore at WrestleMania in a multi-man match could be as huge as when The Hardy’s returned in the Tag Championship ladder match last WrestleMania.
10. Gone – Dana Brooke
Dana Brooke has had a difficult time ever since being called up too early from NXT alongside the oft-injured Emma. Initially expected to be a huge women’s draw, she instead bumbled and fumbled key opportunities to the point she is now dressing up in a 90s/2000s era gimmick as Titus Worldwide’s statistician. She has already apparently made some mistakes in that role as well when a few Raws ago her dancing led to her ‘girls’ almost bouncing free of her top and the next week she was wearing something closer to a turtleneck to contain the offending attributes.
When you can’t even stand at ringside without causing trouble you’re going to be found out, and with Vince McMahon needing to make room for an influx of talent due to the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania fast approaching, Dana Brooke’s place on the roster is shaky at best, and perilously dire at worst.
9. Welcome – EC3
The prodigal son (of Dixie Carter) returns, although in all likelihood with a new name or his old Derrick Bateman one. Either way, Ethan Carter III is one of those success stories that are becoming more prevalent these days, with the likes of Drew McIntyre, Kassius Ohno, The Hardys and others leaving WWE to prove their worth before returning to give WWE or NXT another go around. Maintaining the physique he developed in WWE helped him stand out consistently in Impact Wrestling where he became a two-time world champion, but more importantly, he built a character and confidence that made him the centerpiece of the show for near two and a half years. That kind of achievement gets you noticed around Stamford and WWE will be snapping him up now that his Impact Wrestling tenure has come to a close with the recent tapings.
Look for him to make a big splash, probably on SmackDown where his old NXT Pro, Daniel Bryan is GM and can bring him in, storyline-wise, without much trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble. Actually, with Anthem Sports reportedly allowing former Impact Wrestling stars to maintain their gimmicks elsewhere is there a chance EC3 keeps his name? Stay tuned.
8. Gone – Sheamus
Between turning 40 on the 28th of January this year, severe neck injuries piling up, and having been at or near the top of WWE almost his entire run, Sheamus is quietly close to hanging up the boots. Whether he gets to decide when that moment is or it is forced upon him by circumstance, 2018 is likely the last WrestleMania for The Celtic Warrior. Sheamus has nothing left to prove in WWE, outside of collecting an Intercontinental Championship to complete the Grand Slam, and so rather than have his neck dictate his final night it’s more likely he’ll wind things up and leave WWE on a high note that few get to achieve.
7. Welcome – Chris Masters
Another recent discard from Impact Wrestling, the former ‘Masterpiece’ was actually improving substantially during his last face run in WWE, although few saw it because it was swept under the rug. As one of Randy Orton’s friends he always has a line into WWE if he wants to cash it in. Since WWE always has a need for established mid card acts who can be used to get others over, Chris Masters is likely to find himself once again working for Vince McMahon. Perhaps his untapped potential as the big-man part of a tag team can be utilized, or as the muscle for Enzo Amore when he’s on Raw, but whichever plan they come up with Masters is ready for television and can fill out parts of the roster that badly need some depth. Among the potential signees discussed here, Chris Masters is the dark horse for proving his worth with a rare third chance in WWE.
6. Gone – Lince Dorado
When you’re about to be the lowest masked man on the totem pole in the notoriously mask-averse WWE landscape, there just isn’t going to be room for you without a hook. With Rey Mysterio predicted to be on his way back, Kalisto emerging on 205 Live as a title contender, and Gran Metalik filling out the top level of actually promoted cruiserweights with masks, Lince Dorado is the odd man out. This is no knock on the athletic prowess of the Golden Lynx, however, the reality of WWE’s cruiserweight division and its struggles means that come mid-year there will be cuts to be made in an effort to either streamline or sharpen the division. Either way, Lince is about as low among his peers as you can get, and while that is probably directly tied to the fact he’s been given precious little to work with, that simply isn’t enough.
5. Welcome – Bobby Lashley
A marquee signing, especially as long as WWE is still in business with Brock Lesnar, Bobby Lashley has grown by leaps and bounds since he was thrust into the Impact Wrestling main event by chance. Leapfrogging the injured Montel Vontavious Porter when their faction was making a run for the Impact World Championship, Lashley exploded by not only having stellar matches but suddenly developing a massively entertaining, ass-kicking personality that finally matched his ridiculous physical talents.
A decade after his WWE run ended unceremoniously with the two splitting under odious terms, Lashley legitimized himself in not only Pro Wrestling but MMA. His fight record stands at 15-2 which actually dwarfs Brock’s record, albeit in different levels of competition, but WWE would gladly book the super-fight between the two and given the talent involved it is an unsung dream match.
If the two parties come to terms, and we believe it’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’, Bobby Lashley could be a major name for the company for his remaining years. The only question mark on this signing is his age of 41, but Bobby looks as good as he ever has and shows little signs of slowing down. Get excited.
4. Gone – Bayley
It just seems like every move made to promote Bayley is thoroughly botched and soon Vince will lose interest and from there it’s curtains for her WWE career. Bayley is one of those superstars who maximized her time in NXT almost too much, giving her character nowhere to go when she was brought up to Raw with her formerly naive babyface character not viable since she’d captured the Women’s Championship in NXT to much acclaim. With no way to reset her to the state which made her so beloved in NXT, she’s been floundering on Raw more and more, with her Raw Women’s Championship win coming at an odd time which undercut the moment, and besides that she’s been eclipsed more and more even with Charlotte Flair making room by moving to SmackDown.
With Asuka, Sasha, Nia Jax and Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss all much more solidly entrenched in Raw storylines, Bayley is going to float a few months through WrestleMania season and end up falling out of WWE altogether come mid-year if we’re on the money.
3. Welcome – ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey
During the process of writing this entry WWE actually officially announced Ronda’s hiring to the company and so the question has moved from ‘if’ they’re signing the former UFC Bantamweight Champion to simply ‘when does she debut’. Funnily enough, if WWE had kept her signing under wraps we’d be predicting she’d be a likely surprise entrant (and potential winner) of the Women’s Royal Rumble, but with the public knowing she’s inbound it’s more likely they’ll be aiming for a WrestleMania debut and for her to progress in her actual wrestling career afterward. She’s a perfect signing for the company, getting out of UFC after a couple of damaging losses but before her overall shine was completely lost. WWE will look to rebuild her aura en route to her repeating her wildly successful promotion of women in combat sports. If they’re even half successful she’ll be worth every penny.
2. Gone – The Bludgeon Brothers
Giving a revamped gimmick to instill momentum into teams is a long-running WWE tactic and it’s rarely if ever worked. It became so common for these teams to fail that it is considered a curse for a team to be declared the ‘New’ version of anything. Trying to sidestep this in this case by not only renaming the former Wyatt Family members as The Bludgeon Brothers but also altering their individual names to Harper and Rowan screams of wasted effort on small changes without fixing the real problems. Harper and Rowan are now stuck in a retroactive gimmick disguised as a new one and despite the talent of the two guys, particularly Harper, it’s already floundering.
It is only a matter of time before their destructive tear is derailed by a ‘shock’ loss to Breezango or The Ascension and it’s curtains for them from there. Vince has displayed zero faith in the team to retain interest unless they’re associated with Wyatt, and unfortunately, despite all the effort put into the changes, we could be seeing the last few months for both guys.
1. Welcome – Rockstar Spud
A secret ingredient in so many successful Impact Wrestling storylines, bringing Spud into WWE is an underrated masterstroke that will pay big dividends. Whether he ends up as Miz’s ultimate lackey or a 205 Live competitor or takes over Santino’s vacated comedy role on Raw, you’ll be seeing a lot of this British grappler because he is simply that entertaining. Perfecting the weaselly, entitled, and sycophantic suckup persona for a slew of big heel acts over several years, he can fit right into the WWE eco-system and make it better single-handedly.
Impact Wrestling’s visa-related error that caused the employment split with Spud will end up haunting them because in a low-key way Spud was involved with almost every big storyline over Impact’s last half decade, including Dixie Carter, EC3, Big Money Matt & Broken Matt Hardy, and was the best part of Aron Rex’s (Damian Sandow) brief run.
Essentially, Rockstar Spud will be a guaranteed highlight of whichever show he ends up on whereas everyone else on this list has varying degrees of potential without seeming a locked certainty.
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