2017 has been a great year for in-ring quality, and we’ve seen a lot of firsts whether it be a women’s Money in the Bank, first ever House of Horrors and so on. But the most common first is a performer's first World Title, and there’s going to be a few in 2018. Whether it be NXT, Raw or SmackDown Live, WWE should strive to mix it up at the top in 2018, and these 5 guys are going to be the catalyst for that change.
(Authors note: “First” refers to the performers first championship on their current roster, i.e Sami Zayn has won the NXT Championship, but a win on either Raw or SmackDown would mark his first main roster win, which we will classify as first for the purposes of this list.)
5. Adam Cole
Adam Cole will go down as one of the greatest performers in Ring of Honor history, and his arrival in NXT was a huge story. As his partners ReDragon are now NXT Tag Team Champions, it’s only a matter of time until Adam reaches the top, Bay Bay. Aleister Black, Johnny Gargano and others are all in the hunt as well, but The Undisputed Era have been hot since they arrived, so NXT Takeover in New Orleans could be a safe guess. If Vince was smart, he’d push Adam all the way to the top when he reaches the main roster, but he has plenty of time to thrive at the top in NXT.
4. Aleister Black
The former Tommy End has been a huge surprise in NXT ever since his debut, and after a great match with the Velveteen Dream at WarGames, it seems he is going all the way to the top. While there may be a ceiling for him on the main roster, the NXT title for Black seems almost inevitable. His character is great, his matches are great and the fans couldn’t be any more behind him. While there are others in line for a title shot, it seems like the time to pull the trigger on Black. It seems that he can have great matches with anyone, and after the recent NXT Tapings, it seems he may be battling Adam Cole at Takeover. With an impressive performance there, we could see him hoisting the NXT gold very early on in 2018.
3. Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn has been in the WWE for 5 years now, and after his incredible run in NXT, most people would have expected more success for him on the main roster. After turning heel to join Kevin Owens, it seems that success could begin now. It really speaks to how poor WWE’s creative team is if they can’t get Zayn over as a babyface, but he is also really effective as a heel. Whether he stays that way or not, the WWE Championship has to be in his sights for 2018. He still puts on great matches with everyone, and rivalries against top guys like AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode and John Cena are all fresh, so if the WWE do it right, 2018 could be the year of Sami Zayn.
2. Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe made his main roster debut in 2017, and if not for his injury following a bout with Brock Lesnar, he may have been one of the best performers of the year. With Lesnar unlikely to hold the belt too long into 2017, he is a top choice to win the Universal Title at some point. He is just beginning a rivalry with Intercontinental Champion Roman Reigns, but if the WWE are smart, they’ll look to push ‘The Inevitable’ to the top of the main event picture. A move to SmackDown during a potential draft is something that could give him a better chance of that, and could reignite some rivalries with the likes of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura. But either way, expect Joe to occupy the main event quite a bit in the upcoming year.
1. Shinsuke Nakamura
Shinsuke Nakamura is one of the most talented and charismatic wrestlers in the world today, but he seems to have lost his way in recent times. If WWE are smart, they will look to push the King of Strong Style once again. As AJ Styles is the current WWE Champion, it’s likely that he and Nakamura will clash at WrestleMania 34, and even if Nakamura doesn’t capture the title there, he will before 2018 is done. They will need to work hard to continue to develop Nak’s character, as he is losing plenty of steam after those losses to Jinder Mahal. But he is incredible, and if booked right could be the greatest Japanese wrestler in WWE history.