As a new year gets underway and WrestleMania season looms, there are a lot of rumors surrounding WWE, its booking plans, and talent relations. Some of what fans are expecting comes down to WrestleMania itself, but there’s a great deal of speculation, too, about WWE’s longer term direction and trends in the months to come.

What do the rumors center on? As one would expect, a lot of it revolves around the top of the card. What’s in store for The Shield, for example, in particular as Roman Reigns looks bound for the WrestleMania main event and as Dean Ambrose sits out the biggest time of the year due to injury? And what about Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens? The two stars have been locked in a rivalry with Shane McMahon that has had a heck of gravitational pull, luring Daniel Bryan, as well as AJ Styles and the WWE Championship into its orbit. Will their partnership continue? And under what terms?

The future is wide open with talents like Bryan and Brock Lesnar rumored to have contracts coming up, and legitimate questions about whether they’ll re-sign. Meanwhile, rising talents like Rusev, Bobby Roode, and Mojo Rawley on SmackDown have reason for optimism. On the flip side, flagging stars like Bayley and Rhyno on Raw may be looking for opportunities at reinvention, or be on their way out the door.

This article focuses on 15 backstages rumors for WWE—eight concerning the Raw roster, and seven on the SmackDown side.

15. Raw: Monday Night Will Feature The Sami And Kevin Show

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There are quite a few directions in which the Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens partnership could go. The talented twosome may well be bound for world title glory and perhaps a main event level push heading into WrestleMania. Alternatively, they could split up sooner than the current storyline suggests.

One possibility floated in 2017, which could come to fruition in 2018, was that their issue with Shane McMahon could result in the duo defecting to Monday Night Raw. Indeed, there is a history of acts heating up on SmackDown, only to go to Raw to tap into a bigger spotlight and fall more directly under Vince McMahon’s creative focus. Zayn and Owens are more than good enough to hack it on Raw. With Brock Lesnar only working part time and Braun Strowman turning face, there also happens to be a void toward the top of the heel ranks that these two friends could fill nicely as 2018 rolls along.

14. SmackDown: Rusev Is In Line For A Big Face Push

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Rusev is that talent who has succeeded in just about every role WWE has thrust him into, and he’s most recently caught fire with his humorous gimmick of proclaiming every day Rusev Day. The big guy is more than ready for a push, and one of the few, and most obvious, angles WWE hasn’t yet tried with him is a face turn. Whether that would mean bringing Aiden English along for the ride, or feuding with his current partner isn’t clear.

One rumored route for Rusev’s ascension and face turn would be to become a substitute entrant in the current United States Championship tournament. Otherwise, The Bulgarian Brute might wind up feuding with either the eventual winner of the tournament, or Dolph Ziggler when he returns to television.

13. Raw: Management Has Given Up On Bayley

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Early 2018 saw Dave Meltzer report on a rumor that the powers that be in WWE had given up on Bayley as a top female star. While the suggestion remains just a rumor for now, it is one with some visible support based on WWE television. In early 2017, Bayley was on top after ending Charlotte Flair’s undefeated streak on PPV and going on to successfully defend the Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania. The months to follow saw her drop her championship to Alexa Bliss and lose the resulting program decisively, never to really be taken seriously as a championship contender since.

Could Bayley recover? You can never say never for a talented young performer, but WWE seems far more invested in Asuka, Alexa Bliss, and Absolution at the moment. Barring multiple injuries to her colleagues, Bayley’s best shot at improving her prospects in 2018 would probably involve a move to SmackDown.

12. SmackDown: Shane McMahon Will Be In A Top WrestleMania Program

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Rumor has it that Vince McMahon views his son Shane as one of the best draws in the business today. These claims cite WrestleMania 32 ticket sales exploding based on the buzz of Shane’s return and announcement of his Hell in a Cell Match with The Undertaker. Many will debate the merits of these claims—in particular suggesting that Shane’s surprise return generated huge interest, but that he’s become a far less electric draw since.

Still, if the rumors are true, it’s sensible enough to expect Shane-O-Mac to find prominent placement for the WrestleMania 34 card. Indeed, at the present moment, his program with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn looks primed to easily extend into WrestleMania season. Perhaps even more enticing, if WWE could be persuaded to let Daniel Bryan back in the ring, seeing the GM and Commissioner square off could offer an off beat dream match scenario.

11. Raw: Dean Ambrose Will Turn Heel When He Returns

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One of the prevailing rumors this fall was that the Dean Ambrose-Seth Rollins reunion angle would culminate in the Lunatic Fringe turning heel to revisit his on again off again feud with The King Slayer. The idea that this program would launch in time for the two to clash at WrestleMania 34 is shot based on Ambrose on the inured list. Now, the question is what Ambrose will do when he does come back.

After Roman Reigns was derailed with mumps, and Ambrose got hurt, the Shield reunion may well still have some shelf life. As 2018 progresses, though, watch for an Ambrose heel turn to reinvigorate his and Rollins’s singles careers, besides potentially lining up Ambrose as an intriguing challenger for Reigns’s Universal Championship.

10. SmackDown: Daniel Bryan Won’t Be GM Past His Current Contract

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Daniel Bryan cryptically commented in late 2017 that, if he wasn’t back in the ring for WWE by WrestleMania, he probably wouldn’t be with the company anymore. The comments fit with Bryan’s quest over the past year to try to get himself cleared to wrestle to WWE’s satisfaction. The former world champion officially retired in early 2016 due to head injuries. He claims to have since learned a great deal as well as having healed. He has stated in a variety of interviews that he feels confident he could safely wrestle again, especially if he espoused a more grounded and less bump intensive style.

WWE hasn’t publicly wavered on this issue. With Bryan’s increased involvement in the Shane McMahon-Kevin Owens-Sami Zayn storyline, there are clear storyline paths to get him back in the ring, but if WWE doesn’t see through that potential, it would make complete sense for Bryan to walk from the company when he’s contractually able.

9. Raw: Elias Has A Lot Of Creative Freedom

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After a less than celebrated run on NXT, Elias has garnered a respectable amount of screen time as a Raw superstar. In particular, his guitar playing musical gimmick sets him apart from the rest of the roster, and affords WWE an offbeat act to help differentiate segments on its weekly three hour show.

Rumor has it that WWE has trusted Elias with an uncharacteristically high level of autonomy-particularly for a performer of his limited experience—when it comes his promos and songs. That may not seem like a big deal, given he mostly pokes fun at his opponent de jour and the local audience in straightforward fashion. Getting creative license this early on—if he truly is—could be emblematic of greater faith, though, and a big push for The Drifter down the road.

8. SmackDown: Sami Zayn And Kevin Owens May Feud Again In 2018

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It has only been a few short months now that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens have been working as a team on SmackDown. The rumor mill is already working overtime, however, to suggest a breakup angle between the two.

There are quite a few ways a breakup angle could play out. It might entail Zayn returning to what may be his more natural role as a face. It could also mean Owens becoming a good guy for the first time since his debut match for NXT—a move that Paul Heyman, for one, has suggested would be huge for his career. Then, in looking at recent feuds between Brock Lesnar and guys like Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe, there’s reason to believe WWE is more comfortable with heel vs. heel programs than it once was. Zayn and Owens could have a particularly interesting new take on their feud with both men cast as villains.

One way or another, Zayn and Owens have proven they’re magic as opponents and as partners alike, so fans will surely be the beneficiaries as long as they remain linked in some way throughout 2018.

7. Raw: Vince McMahon Has Trusted Matt Hardy With The Woken Universe

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Matt Hardy has been the subject of all manner of speculation since he and his brother Jeff made their surprise return to WWE at WrestleMania 33. Of particular interest was the question of whether or when they’d revisit their Broken Universe gimmick that did big business elsewhere in the wrestling world prior to their WWE return.

With Jeff out injured, and Impact Wrestling stepping back from the legal contention that they own the Broken intellectual property, Matt has finally gotten the chance to become Woken on WWE TV. It’s unclear how far the gimmick will go, but rumor has it Vince McMahon trusts Matt to make it his own and see how well he can get it over with WWE’s audience. That’s a big statement, particularly for a non-main event talent without a strong established relationship with McMahon. It seems that Matt’s track record has earned him this unconventional opportunity.

6. SmackDown: Bobby Roode Will Turn Heel

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Bobby Roode was a long time standout for TNA, and his experience and charisma helped him connect immediately with the NXT audience and emerge as a breakout star from developmental. A common thread among Roode’s work on top, and particularly as the top champion for each brand: he worked as a heel.

Upon The Glorious One’s promotion to the SmackDown roster, he debuted as a face. Roode has been reasonably successful in this role, and WWE seems intent on cashing in on his (and his theme music’s) popularity with the fans. However, the fact remains that Roode is more natural and experienced in a heel role. Rumor has it that WWE is well aware of his dynamic and cast him as a face with the intention of him being an even bigger heel when he does finally turn.

5. Raw: Rhyno Won’t Be Re-Signed

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WWE has seen its share of stars from yesteryear return in supporting roles these past few years. There was the short term run of the New Age Outlaws that culminated in them putting over The Shield. Mickie James has become a terrific player coach for the Raw women’s division. Shelton Benjamin felt like an ideal substitute for Jason Jordan in teaming with Chad Gable, and keeping him on course to thrive as a tag guy en route to a singles career.

And then there’s Rhyno. The Man Beast was a fun addition to the NXT roster as a veteran face. Moreover, in the early days of the new brand split, he made for an entertaining oddball partner to Heath Slater—balancing Slater’s infectious personality and underrated in ring skills with the credibility and power associated with the Rhyno character.

Rhyno has largely run his course on the WWE main roster, though, now used mostly as an enhancement talent, and looking like a shell of his former beast self. While the guy still has gas in the tank for a very respectable indie run, you have to believe he’s in the twilight of his full time career with WWE.

4. SmackDown: Mojo Rawley Will Get A Shot At The Top Of The Card

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After an extended stay in NXT, during which time he never exceeded the mid-card or tag team ranks, Mojo Rawley was a beneficiary of the brand split. His Hype Bros tag team got a chance on SmackDown, which paved the road for Rawley’s upset win of last year’s Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. WWE didn’t exactly follow up on that victory with much verve, but there have been flickers of the company taking the guy seriously, like when he challenged Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship.

Rawley seems to have a better defined direction headed into 2018 as he finished off 2017 by turning heel on Zack Ryder, and then defeating his former tag team partner on the pre-show for Clash of Champions. Will Rawley become a top payer on the blue brand? Nothing is sure yet, but he’s got the look, the athleticism, and the celebrity connections via his real life friend Rob Gronkowski. WWE may well try him out for at least a world title shot at some point in the year ahead.

3. Raw: Braun Strowman To Be Traded

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While he didn’t capture a world championship, and was even left off the main card for WrestleMania, make no mistake about it—2017 belonged to Braun Strowman. The Monster Among Men, in many ways, got over as the star WWE always wanted Roman Reigns to be. He’s a big, strong, tough guy ready beat up anyone thrown in his path. It was a sensible enough for WWE to essentially turn him face in the fall, given just how over he clearly was with the audience.

So what’s in store for 2018? This looks to be the year Reigns really settles in as the face of Raw after taking down Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. While Strowman has been a good rival for Reigns in the past, there may be more benefit now in sending him off to the be face of SmackDown, and hold off on these two hosses facing off again for a couple years.

2. SmackDown: Carmella Will Successfully Cash In

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In the summer of 2017, Carmella became the very first Ms. Money in the Bank when she won the inaugural women’s ladder match for the briefcase (then won it again in a SmackDown rematch, to resolve the controversy of James Ellsworth retrieving the case for her). Questions remain about WWE’s intentions for Carmella. Raw continues to feature most of the top female names, and on the SmackDown side, Charlotte Flair has reestablished herself as the top woman there. Carmella may well have been lined up as The Queen’s top rival, but The Riott Squad debuted at the end of 2017 and seemingly usurped that top heel spot.

Still, the smart money suggests Carmella will still cash in successfully, if only to get over the concept of a woman’s Money in the Bank briefcase, and make good on a year with no other successful cash-in attempts. It’s questionable how long Carmella will last as champion, but she looks to at least get the opportunity for a short reign.

1. Raw: Brock Lesnar Is Done After WrestleMania

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After Brock Lesnar was used sparingly, and almost exclusively against top established stars like John Cena, Triple H, and The Undertaker, 2017 saw WWE branch out with him, pitting Lesnar against fresh rivals like Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman in PPV main event scenarios.

Where does Lesnar go from here? He’s, at least in theory, finishing off his second run as dominant part time champion. While he still has the credibility, mystique, and unique physicality to remain a top level attraction, there are very real questions at this point about what stories WWE has left to tell with him. Can the company continue to justify his hefty price tag for limited dates?

While Lesnar’s Universal title defense at WrestleMania probably won’t be his last match ever, it’s entirely possible it will be his last for a while. His contract is rumored to be up immediately after ‘Mania, and there’s some speculation he might aim for another return to UFC. Whatever Lesnar’s intentions, it seems likely as not that the rumors are true he’ll at least take some time away in the aftermath of this year’s big show in New Orleans.

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