With a new year comes new opportunities for change in the world of WWE, and also attempts by alleged wrestling experts to predict what might happen within the biggest wrestling company on the planet in the next twelve months. And since we are those self-professed alleged wrestling experts, we took a shot at making some guesses at things we just might see happen in WWE in 2017. Some of them are probably pretty obvious, some are admittedly a little off-the-wall, but if we even get a few of them right, we’ll be able to consider ourselves wrestling geniuses forever. Read on, and see if you agree with any of our wild prognostications!
10. Samoa Joe Debuts At The Royal Rumble
Let’s get this one out of the way first, because losing the NXT Title back to Shinsuke Nakamura at a live event in Japan a week after he won it in Toronto, then getting absolutely stomped in his final rematch in Australia, plus being absent for all recent NXT TV tapings simply screams “Joe is getting promoted”, and if he isn’t one of the 30 competitors in the 2017 Royal Rumble, we will be absolutely shocked and dismayed. We don’t know which brand he’ll end up on after that, but the prospect of AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe in WWE makes us very happy, and failing that, The Miz is walking around with the Intercontinental Title and just begging to get stomped into next week by someone, so if it were up to us, we’d put him on Smackdown. That said, we’d prefer to put all our favorite wrestlers on Smackdown because they might actually get used correctly there, so take that part of our prediction with a grain of salt.
9. Ronda Rousey Shows Up In WWE
It may not happen today, tomorrow, or next week, but before the door closes on 2017, Ronda Rousey will, at worst, have made another appearance in a WWE ring, if not signed an actual contract. There are all sorts of arguments for and against, and in fact, we made our own list of Pros and Cons, but ultimately, it’s a deal that makes sense for both Rousey and WWE, whatever form it takes. The MMA world might have written her off after her quick loss at UFC 207, but there is still a lot of value left in Rousey, especially in an arena where her wins and losses are scripted ahead of time. She’s still a crossover star, she’s got mainstream credibility, and she’d probably be treated like the female version of Brock Lesnar in WWE. We’re shocked that Vince McMahon wasn’t waiting outside the arena after her fight with a contract and a big bag with a dollar sign on it, actually.
8. The Hardyz Will Not Come Back
We’re actually going to go out on a limb with this one, because the consensus seems to be that WWE will almost certainly be shelling out the money for Matt and Jeff Hardy when their TNA contracts reportedly expire in early 2017. Matt, of course, drastically revamped his character in TNA into the cult favorite BROKEN Matt Hardy, and has been a force on the independent scene ever since with his various “Deletion”-related projects. And at their ages, with likely not much time left as active wrestlers, a WWE contract is likely their last chance at one more big payday, one nobody would likely begrudge them taking. However, we have this feeling that Matt might value his creative freedom as a TNA wrestler more than the money he could make in WWE. After all, he hopefully still has some money squirreled away from the Attitude Era, so it’s possible that he might just enjoy being able to have this weird BROKEN character that he has a lot of control over, which certainly wouldn’t be the case in WWE. Like we said, chances are they’ll go for the payday and the one last shot on the big stage, but we’re going to go against the odds and say that Matt and Jeff sign on with TNA and new owners Anthem Media instead, and may not return to WWE as active wrestlers for a long while, if at all.
7. Smackdown Gets Some Help
Whether it be an influx from NXT or through some sort of trade or draft situation, Smackdown’s roster will need reinforcements, likely as soon as immediately after WrestleMania. The blue brand has done admirably with relatively limited resources, but the list of available fresh matchups is growing shorter, and there’s only so much they can do with the Superstars they already have before things start getting stale. Most importantly, Smackdown in its current form is incredibly overbalanced on the heel side, with AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, a newly turned Dolph Ziggler, The Miz, and The Wyatt Family arrayed against a babyface side that is almost entirely made up of Dean Ambrose and the rapidly disappearing John Cena. There are some talents to elevate, and some mixing and matching still available (as well as a likely return to face status for Randy Orton in the offing), but Smackdown desperately needs some babyfaces in their singles ranks, and they need them within the next few months. The good news is, there are options, as the aforementioned Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura, at the very least, are ready to go down in NXT, and Raw still has some parts they’re not really using that could be freshened up by a new environment, so we wouldn’t be shocked to see some big debuts and notable moves headed Smackdown’s way in the weeks after WrestleMania.
6. Braun Strowman Wins A Title
This one seems obvious, but Strowman is a guy in the mold of someone who doesn’t really need a title. However, given how he ended 2016, there are clearly big plans in place for Braun, and to his credit, he’s put on a good showing without being badly exposed as the relatively inexperienced wrestler that he is. Yes, he’s a big lumbering guy and his potential for truly great matches is limited, at best, but he moves well in the ring and doesn’t look lost, and working with the level of talent available in WWE can only help him improve on a weekly basis. When you get right down to it, though, his wrestling quality won’t matter, because he’s got the look and the size that we know WWE looks for, and we wouldn’t be shocked if there’s a title around his waist, possibly sooner than you might think. In fact, we wouldn’t be horribly surprised if it’s Roman Reigns’ token US Title reign which meets its end at the hands of this monster.
5. The Return Of The King…Of The Ring Tournament
WWE has been without a reigning King since Wade Barrett left, and frankly, nobody should want to follow his example. But since even WWE forgot he was a King a few months after he won back in 2015, the memories have probably been repressed long enough that we fully expect WWE to bring back everyone’s favorite tournament that should theoretically elevate a new talent but hasn’t really done so in years. Still, hope springs eternal, and there are weekly three hour episodes of Raw that need filler, so at some point, they’re going to go back to the well and hope everything works out this time. Besides, we all like to try and figure out who WWE would make dress up in a gaudy crown and robe for at least a few weeks after winning, right? In addition, WWE seems to think that they’ve figured out how to make tournaments somewhat more successful recently, between the Cruiserweight Classic and upcoming UK and Women’s Tournaments, so King of the Ring should be a no-brainer.
4. The Cruiserweights Become Exclusive To 205 Live
They’ve been paient so far, but it’s really only a matter of time before WWE’s decides to stop trying to push the Cruiserweights as some special thing, and relegate them entirely to 205 Live, outside of a few top guys that are allowed to emerge from the division’s pocket universe and interact with the rest of the roster. It’s not really a shock, it’s the same thing they’ll have done with that division every single time in the past, except now at least they have a WWE Network show to retreat to, instead of them all becoming jobbers to the heavyweights before eventually getting released. WWE has actually stuck with the Cruiserweight Division longer than we thought they would after the initial failures, but if Neville as the King of the Cruisers doesn’t turn things around from a fan interest perspective (because why blame bad planning and writing when we can just blame the wrestlers, right?) then the whole concept will almost certainly get sent to 205 Live until it quietly fades away. We’re not saying we want this to happen, but we’re not going to act surprised when it does.
3. Baron Corbin Wins Money In The Bank
Don’t look now, but after months of being stuck in a weird limbo, Baron Corbin is becoming a thing on Smackdown. However you feel about his wrestling ability (he’s fine), Corbin is starting to carry himself like someone who should be knocking on the door of the main event, and recent confrontations with AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, and John Cena have shown that WWE thinks they have something with the Lone Wolf. There are several ways to catapult him directly into a big main event threat coming up in the first half of 2017, and while we don’t see him winning the Rumble, since he’s already won the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, Money in the Bank seems like exactly the right avenue to turn Corbin into a guaranteed World Title contender, and probably a champion (although he may not cash in until 2018, so we won’t go so far as to predict that he’ll be a World Champion by the end of the year). He may be inexperienced, but Corbin’s got the size, the look, and the attitude to go far in WWE, and his rise to the top may have already started.
2. The End Of Single Brand PPVs
Nineteen PPVs is too many. We thought WWE learned this lesson during the first brand split, but apparently not, so here we are again, ending 2016 with PPVs every two weeks, then this weird stretch of four months with four oddly spaced shows leading up to WrestleMania to start the year, before presumably we go back into frenetic pacing again. Brand-exclusive PPVs sound like a smart idea to diversify things, but then you realize that there are only so many weeks in a year, you end up trying to build feuds for a PPV taking place only two weeks after a major dual-brand show, and you realize that Smackdown doesn’t really have a big enough roster to consistently fill a 3-hour show. Plus, fans will get burned out on PPV twice as fast, and unless they’re causing significant movement on Network subscriptions, there’s just no reason to have so many. If Elimination Chamber and Roadblock, the next two officially scheduled brand-exclusive PPVs, don’t really move any needles, we fully expect to be back to 12-13 PPVs, all featuring both Raw and Smackdown, before mid-2017.
1. Roman Reigns Turns Heel
This might just sound like wishful thinking from the same place that the eternal cries of “Turn Cena Heel” have been coming from for years, but we really believe that WWE is going to reach a point with Roman Reigns where they will actually have to give in to the obvious and let their prized future #1 face of the promotion turn heel. In fact, we’re pretty sure they’ve started laying some early groundwork in recent weeks, with Reigns becoming somewhat more visibly arrogant on TV, and engaging in social media feeds with wrestlers like John Cena. At this point, it’s likely just testing the waters, but we’d put a lot of money on WWE wanting to run Reigns vs Cena at some point in the near future, especially now that Cena’s availability is becoming increasingly rare, and they have to know that the only way that goes is with Reigns as a heel who believes he is the one to replace Cena for the future. Sure, WWE has dug in their heels for this long over turning Reigns heel, but they’re well aware that it is one of the bullets they still have left in their gun, and at some point, they’re going to use it.