There have been many very memorable years in the history of professional wrestling, but 2016 ranks right up there with some of the wildest and craziest. We were all witness to things most of us never, ever thought we would get to see. Partnerships were made, with promises of bigger and better things to come in the future. Debuts, returns, turns, and even tragedy occurred in 2016. It's a year that will keep people talking, for better or worse.
With that said, what about 2017? What can we expect in the next 12 months? We have things we're hoping to see, and we have things we're expecting to see. That's what this column is all about. I have two lists... one is a list of things I would love to see in the 2017 calendar year, and the other is a list of things I think I'm going to see in 2017, whether I want to or not. A simple premise, really.
To get things kicked off, let's have some fun and talk about my wish list for the year. Some of these are definitely considered long shots, but hey, 2017 is as good a time as any to make them happen.
A John Cena Heel Turn: The man turns 40 years old in 2017. He's been a face for, what, 13 years now? No, he's been THE face for 13 years now. He has slowly, but surely, been turning himself into The Rock, taking break after break to pursue gigs in Hollywood, all while wrestling less and less. He has wrestled a grand total of 12 matches on television or Network pay-per-view in 2016 thanks to a mix of acting gigs and injuries, down from only 42 matches wrestled on television or Network pay-per-view in 2015. He's clearly coming to the end of his storied career, so why wouldn't you turn him? Cena turning heel is one of the few EASY money angles that WWE could give us these days, and he has a variety of ways he could do it. The grumpy “things just ain't the same as they used to be” turn? The quick and easy “jealous of the new top face” turn? Whatever it is, it would make for incredible viewing, and would be talked about for years.
Yeah, yeah, yeah... Make-A-Wish, hero to millions, Hustle, Loyalty, Respect, Never Give Up, so on and so forth. That's fine and all, but he's on record saying that the company wanted to turn him in recent years, and that he was on board with it, so can we stop acting like this is an impossible dream?
Shinsuke Nakamura On The Main Roster: This is a weird one, because recent goings on in NXT have had people all over the board with their predictions. Before the most recent NXT Takeover special, people were expecting Samoa Joe to lose to Nakamura and then get called up to Raw or Smackdown. When Joe won the match and the NXT Title, people then switched their predictions to Nakamura getting the call up. Then, Nakamura defeated Joe in Japan to win the title back, causing many to switch back to their original prediction. Then, word broke that Nakamura was to defend the title against Joe in a Steel Cage Match at an NXT event in Australia, so everyone was confused, thinking that maybe Joe would win the title back. He didn't, and now we're back to square one all over again.
Look, Nakamura isn't exactly a baby in the game, either, folks. He'll be 37 by the time WrestleMania rolls around. I'm just anxious to see him in matches against the likes of Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho, Brock Lesnar, AJ Styles, Finn Balor, and others. I realize that he's faced a few of those guys before, but it was always in Japan or on the independent scene, or even in NXT. I simply want to see some of those matches on a grander scale. I don't think that's asking for too much.
James Ellsworth To Go Away: A month or so ago, I wrote a column about how Ellsworth could be wearing out his welcome with wrestling fans. It was a cute act for a while, but now, with him making several appearances on Smackdown every week, as well as getting THREE WINS OVER THE WWE CHAMPION, that act has become tiring. He's still over, getting cheers and chants every week, but those have noticeably started to die down a bit. The reaction to him on the internet certainly isn't as strong as it once was. He's taking part in a story where either he or Dean Ambrose should have turned heel a long time ago, but because the company didn't pull the trigger in time, everyone begun going in circles. He needed to go away for a while, return at the Royal Rumble, then go away again for another stretch of time. Unfortunately, since he has apparently signed a WWE contract, that probably isn't going to happen. Even after getting squashed by Styles in his title shot, he's now entering a story where there may be some romantic sparks flying with Carmella, of all people. It just doesn't end.
Character Development For Apollo Crews: If you know me and have followed my work on different sites through the years, you'd know that I was one of the first people to write about the man formerly known as Uhaa Nation, and just what he could bring to WWE should the company decide to sign him. His combination of size, power, speed, and athleticism is downright freaky and it's simply unfair for a human being to possess all of those traits at the same time. On top of all that, he's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, and humble to the core, so it makes you want to root for him.
Needless to say, I was over the moon when he told me he signed his WWE contract (before news officially broke, mind you). Ahh, the potential that was there. It didn't take long for him to go from NXT to the main roster. A mere seven months after making his televised NXT debut, he was on Raw. For the sake of comparison, Seth Rollins was “in developmental” for over two years before making his main roster debut. Roman Reigns? Also two years. Sami Zayn? Two years. Cesaro? Seven months. Finn Balor? Nearly two years. You get the point.
Before long, the WWE Universe began to notice something about the Apollo Crews character. He wasn't given any sort of story whatsoever. Who is he? Why are we supposed to cheer for him? We weren't given a reason. He didn't get to cut promos to give us a story. His music would just hit, he'd come out with a smile on his face, and he'd wrestle. That's it. Even with a product that is catered to the younger crowd, you can't get away with something like that in 2016. Fans who wanted a story stopped caring. “If WWE doesn't care enough, why should we?” His crowd reactions began to die a bit, and he stopped appearing on television as much. Since losing to The Miz at SummerSlam this year, Crews has wrestled on television a total of six times, and has had zero matches take place on pay-per-view (not counting pre-show or dark matches). With everyone feeling that Smackdown's roster is on the thin side, the fact that Crews doesn't even average an every-other-week clip for televised matches is concerning.
I don't care if it's a heel turn. I don't care if it's a character switch. Something needs to be done to make him more than just “Smiling Minority #28943”, and it needs to happen soon.
Sami Zayn To Become The New Daniel Bryan: Look, we all miss Daniel Bryan. He appealed to just about every section of the WWE Universe, and gave everyone something to enjoy. His retirement hit us all very hard, and we've had a difficult time getting over it.
Sami Zayn is the perfect choice to “replace” Daniel Bryan. He'd be the first to tell you that he isn't going to match up to others when it comes to physique or “the look”, but he can wrestle his behind off, is a likable person, and has just enough of a natural charisma to handle himself well in his promos and segments. He's an “underdog” character that fans have already shown that they want to root for. His feud with Braun Strowman has seemed like more of a showcase for Strowman than anything else, but it could easily be something that propels Zayn to the next level. He continues to stand up to the “monster”, eventually beating him, and it's time to get him involved in title shots.
I'm not saying he needs to be a four-time World/WWE Champion, with a WrestleMania main event victory, and so on. However, all it takes to get things going is one little briefcase. A briefcase that Daniel Bryan once held, leading to him winning the World Title for the first time. Sami Zayn... 2017 Money In The Bank winner? Hmm... could be interesting.
Now that we've gotten some of my wish list out of the way, let's switch it over to predictions. It'll be fun to look back at this in a year, just to see how mindbogglingly wrong I was.
The Undertaker Wins The Royal Rumble: Full disclosure here... I originally had John Cena winning the Rumble as my first prediction, but then his return to Smackdown happened. Now, it looks like Cena will be challenging AJ Styles for the WWE World Title instead of being one of the 30 people involved in the Rumble match itself.
Brock Lesnar and Goldberg are the first two huge names officially entered in the Rumble, but it seems to be an easy prediction to say that they'll cost each other a victory somehow, leading to a singles match between them at WrestleMania to end their feud.
The Rumble is a place where fans generally like to see newer, fresher names win, propelling those names to the main event scene. That scenario has been done several times, usually with great results and the creation of a new “star”. Every now and then, though, WWE likes to have an already established talent get the win, and with the company trying to do everything in their power to make this one of the biggest Rumble events of all-time, it almost seems fitting to give the victory here to one of their biggest Superstars of all-time, who just so happens to be from the same state that the Rumble is being held. The fans will go nuts for Taker, as they always do, and with the possibility of 60,000+ people in attendance, that's something that Vince McMahon has to be thinking about and smiling at.
So, if I'm making this prediction...
John Cena Wins The WWE World Title At The Royal Rumble: ...then I kind of have to make this one, too, don't I?
AJ Styles has had himself a tremendous 2016, led mainly by his two singles victories over John Cena. That kind of “domination” over Cena in a feud isn't something we've seen since Cena reached main event status. Raise your hand if you think that continues at the Rumble, though. I'm not seeing too many hands in the air right now.
Cena is clearly on a mission to win his 16th World Title, tying him with Ric Flair for the most officially recognized reigns in wrestling history. That has been mentioned far too often for it not to happen. Cena wants it, WWE wants it, Flair is on record saying that he wants it... it's going to happen, whether you want it to or not, ladies and gentlemen.
It's not exactly a punishment if Styles drops the title to Cena. It would give him a 140-day reign with the belt, which makes it longer than any of Cena's last nine reigns with the same title. It would be longer than any of Edge's reigns with the title, and longer than all but one of Triple H's reigns with the title. Let's not act as though Styles finally losing to Cena would be like Kane's one-day reign with the belt back in 1998. Cena is “due” in this rivalry, and it doesn't hurt Styles at all to finally take a loss. He can still have a big, marquee match at WrestleMania. It just won't be for the WWE World Title. He takes one for the team, so to speak, allowing for a much bigger match to take place on “the grandest stage in Sports Entertainment”.
John Cena Defeats The Undertaker At WrestleMania: You can already hear the voices of every commentator on the WWE roster, can't you? They're proclaiming this match as the biggest in the history of the business. They're saying it's “never been done”. They're really trying to sell you on just how big it is to have these two first ballot WWE Hall Of Famers going one-on-one at WrestleMania. Hell, it's big to have them going one-on-one at all. Let's go back and look at their singles history since Cena became a main eventer, shall we?
On the October 9th, 2006 episode of Raw, they had a match that was thrown out after only four minutes due to interference.
That's it. That is the entirety of their singles history. Four whole minutes on Raw before their match became a No Contest. This is a chance for WWE to make history. You know that has to be exciting for Vince. In this day and age where a feud sees two people face each other 58 times before they move on to other challengers, there aren't many true blue “Dream Match” scenarios left. John Cena facing The Undertaker is a “Dream Match” if ever there was one.
You know what this would be a really good opportunity for? That Cena heel turn we've all been waiting for. Make it a throwback to WrestleMania 17 if you must. There, Steve Austin “sold his soul” to make sure that he was able to defeat The Rock. Here, Cena could do the same after trying, and failing, to keep Taker down. They have a classic match, Taker is sent off into retirement, and Cena's heel turn gives WWE a shot in the arm with fresh material that they can use to carry them throughout the rest of 2017. It's a win/win.
By the way, yes, I would make this Taker's final match. When WrestleMania arrives, he'll be 52 years old. Remember back in the Attitude Era, when WWF announcers would make fun of WCW for using “old geezers” like Hulk Hogan in their main events? Hogan was nearly a full decade younger than Taker is now when that was going on. Taker can only return so many times before his body won't allow it to happen anymore. Come back one more time, do good business, and then walk away. Seems simple enough.
One, Or Both, Of The Hardy Brothers Return To WWE: By every piece of news we've seen, both Matt and Jeff Hardy have contracts with TNA that are set to expire in February. Jeff is already on record saying that he wants to close his career out with WWE, where he wants his final match to take place at a WrestleMania. While Matt has been more in the middle, he has certainly had nothing but positive things to say about WWE and a possible return to the company that made him famous.
At one point, Matt may have been an afterthought, and everyone would be salivating over the idea of Jeff returning to WWE. Jeff was a huge star when he left WWE, and was one of TNA's biggest stars for years. Now, in a switch that nobody saw coming, Matt is, by far, the bigger name of the two, and his return would make for a much bigger story. Double that if he were to show up on WWE programming in the “Broken” character.
With all of the creative control that TNA has been giving Matt with this new character direction, you'd have to assume he's far more likely to return there. Yes, Jeff has been more vocal about not enjoying WWE's travel schedule, but WWE can hand out any type of part-time schedule that he wishes should he want to come back. Hell, if he's done with TNA in February and wants to have his last match at WrestleMania, that's only a month or so worth of dates he'd have to make appearances for if he was looking to retire already.
Another Promotion Strikes A Deal To “Team” With WWE: We've already seen WWE do work with Gabe Sapolsky and EVOLVE. We've seen them strike mini-deals with companies all over the globe to have wrestlers come to America and work the Cruiserweight Classic. As WWE continues to progress (no pun intended) and evolve (no pun intended), why wouldn't we see something similar in 2017?
If I had my way, we would see WWE and New Japan team up for something major. Recently, Takaaki Kidani (owner of Bushiroad, the company that owns New Japan) tweeted “...you are either with WWE or against them”, and it sent the internet crazy with speculation about what he meant. Was he hinting at a deal with WWE? Was he saying that New Japan was set to battle WWE in some way? I think it would behoove both promotions to work together.
They could do some sort of talent exchange. WWE could send a few of their NXT workers to Japan for some extra “seasoning”, and maybe throw in the occasional main roster talent. In exchange, New Japan could send a guy or two over to wrestle at an NXT Takeover special, or if they're a big enough name, on the main roster. Both companies see fresh matches to give to their fans, and it wouldn't cost a lot to pull off. If you're telling me you don't want to see someone like Samoa Joe in New Japan to take on someone like Tomohiro Ishii, you're lying. At the same time, imagine Okada coming to America for a match with Chris Jericho or Kevin Owens. Exciting.
It may not be something that big, but WWE is definitely in the market to work with other promotions these days, and 2016 certainly won't be the last we see of that business plan, especially as they look to add more and more content to the Network.
There you have it. Five wishes and five predictions. 2016 was wild and crazy, and here's hoping that 2017 is just as insane. Don't forget to hit me up on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage) or down in the comments section with your wish list and predictions for the upcoming year.