There's a lot of good energy and excitement in the world of wrestling at the start of 2017, with all of the potential in the world and a whole new blank canvas to work on. There are lots of questions to be answered, and a lot of surprising moments that are sure to happen.
While there are clear signs of some of the things that lie ahead, Brian Campbell and Tim Fiorvanti are taking things one step further by going out on a limb by making their biggest and boldest predictions for the coming year.
Brian Campbell: Roman Reigns finally turns heel
If you take careful notice at the way Reigns has been booked of late as an edgier babyface, it's not a stretch to assume that "The Big Dog" might do the best work of his career should he be allowed a complete turn to the dark side. (It worked for his cousin, The Rock, right?) Reigns, to be fair, has served as a profitable face of the company as a "good guy" who sells merchandise, fills arenas on house shows and appeals to children as an approachable superhero with a great look.
There's nothing wrong with receiving a polarizing reaction from fans, and Reigns has continued to evolve both on the microphone and inside the ring despite half the crowd showering him with boos. But there's an argument to make that he'll never quite become the complete crossover babyface star that the WWE sees him as until he goes heel first to win over his detractors (who, quite honestly, are more fed up with WWE's creative choices than Reigns himself). A great time to turn Reigns would be at WrestleMania against a beloved veteran like John Cena or The Undertaker.
Tim Fiorvanti: Shinsuke Nakamura will not be a part of the Raw or SmackDown Live rosters
There are a lot of popular fan theories when it comes to the Royal Rumble and some current NXT superstars (and two of the most popular superstars mentioned) are Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura. Joe has seemingly done everything there is to do in NXT, including a pair of NXT title reigns and memorable rivalries with some of the best the brand has had to offer since 2015. A Rumble entrance seems a logical way to bring him into the fold on Raw or SmackDown (though I don't see another popular theory -- a Joe-AJ Styles match at Wrestlemania -- happening, as much as I'd like to see it).
As currently constructed, however, I think Nakamura is far from done with NXT. Just look at what Triple H had to say about the future of NXT. I don't think San Antonio will be Nakamura's last chapter with Bobby Roode, and there are a lot of newer signees who could still benefit greatly from time in the spotlight with a guy like Nakamura. I see another full year in NXT ahead, a la Finn Balor, before Nakamura makes his splash at the 2018 Royal Rumble.
Campbell: WWE welcomes back Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 33
Most fans have never known a pro wrestling world without Hogan being front and center (let alone a WWE world), but he's kept a relatively low profile since being fired by WWE in July 2015. But a return to WWE television seems inevitable with each day that passes as more fans forgive his past transgressions. WWE appeared to be testing the waters late in 2016 when a Hogan voice-over appeared during a commercial, and my podcast partner Peter Rosenberg broached the topic with JBL and Paul Heyman on the WWE Network. A Florida native, Hogan would likely draw a massive pop should he make a surprise return at WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, Florida -- especially if he made a run-in of some kind to rescue a fellow babyface.
Fiorvanti: The Miz will hold a world championship
Few improved their stock within the WWE as well as The Miz did in 2016, and since he is no longer encumbered by the Intercontinental championship, which he lost on the first episode of SmackDown Live of 2017, he's free to eventually pursue his rightful spot in the WWE world championship picture. There might be a couple of hurdles to jump along the way, as Miz has a clear score to settle with general manager Daniel Bryan after coming completely unhinged on "Talking Smack." But rest assured, The Miz proved quite clearly that he has the skills on the microphone and an ability to turn it up in the ring when the situation calls for it. At some point in the second half of 2017, SmackDown Live will truly become MizTV -- and it will be awesome.
Campbell: WWE women get first Money in the Bank match
Beginning with WWE rebranding its Divas division and championship belt at WrestleMania 32 and continuing through an incredible feud between Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks, 2016 was arguably the most important year for women's wrestling in WWE history. Charlotte was a first-round pick by Raw in July's brand extension draft, and she joined Banks in October to headline the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, putting forth a physical effort in the first WWE match of its kind for women.
Outside of women headlining WrestleMania, the next step in the division's evolution in 2017 could be similar inclusion in WWE's annual gimmick matches that resonate strongly with fans. With the roster as deep as it has ever been and more promising superstars like Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch and Bayley proving to be just as dynamic as Flair and Banks, the time is now. While the Rumble looks like a far less likely scenario a few weeks out, a women's Money in the Bank could be a great way to build another star.
Fiorvanti: Both current GMs will be gone by the end of the year
There have been hits and misses since the brand separation draft, but as far as GMs go, Bryan has had a lot more success than Mick Foley in the role. But if history is any indication, general managers simply don't last very long -- and there's plenty of reason to believe that one or both will find themselves in a completely different role (or out of the spotlight entirely) by the time the page turns on 2017. Foley has had a few too many slip-ups of late, including a Spinal Tap-esque incorrect identification of the city that Raw was in. Between all of his WWE and WWE-affiliated commitments and growing inconsistencies, a storyline firing by Stephanie McMahon could do well in re-establishing some heat on her and the role of the authority -- and allow Foley a chance to concentrate on more "Holy Foley" or whatever else it is he'd like to do.
As far as Bryan goes, I think the next few months of his rivalry against The Miz will fundamentally change his role within the company. I don't think he'll get back in the ring -- the WWE would never assume that liability -- but he'll be doing something very different by the end of 2017, which may be as simple as him spending more time caring for his child who is on the way.
Campbell: Big E becomes a main event solo attraction
The New Day recently capped a remarkable two years on top of WWE's tag team division by setting the record for the longest tag title reign in company history. There may be no better time than the next few months, heading into WrestleMania season, to break this team apart. There's clearly money in the idea of a triple-threat match on the pay-per-view level for The New Day, but there may be even more money in it for the WWE should Big E be given a subsequent solo push in the aftermath.
Big E is one of the strongest and most athletic big men in WWE, and he's firmly established himself as a comedic force over the past two years. It's a far cry from his initial main roster rise as both a heel bodyguard for Dolph Ziggler and then a solo babyface with a bland gimmick as a former bodybuilder. Big E has all the makings of pro wrestling's next great African-American star.
Fiorvanti: Asuka will carry an undefeated record through the end of her NXT run
There have been very few legitimate challengers to Asuka's throne since she defeated Bayley and became NXT women's champion in Dallas last April. While things seem to finally be ramping up in the lead-up to San Antonio, and big things seem likely to be ahead on the way to Orlando, there hasn't been a single moment in any Asuka match since her title victory where it seemed likely she was going to lose. She continues to carry a completely unblemished record, and I think that's going to be a valuable asset to carry forward when she arrives on either the Raw or SmackDown Live rosters later in 2017 (which I think will happen).
Asuka will get pushed by the emerging Nikki Cross, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay and eventually Ember Moon, but more so than any previous NXT women's champion, she leans heavily on her reputation as a silent ass-kicker. Almost every NXT women's champion has left the brand with a pair of losses to the next in line, but I foresee Asuka following in the footsteps of Paige and relinquishing the title after making a big splash elsewhere.
Campbell: Matt Hardy brings his "Broken Brilliance" to WWE
Hardy, who transformed himself in 2016 with his new "Broken" character, has been open regarding his contract status with TNA. The 42-year-old told Jim Ross on The Ross Report podcast in November that he hopes to re-sign in February, but he's looking for a piece of the company in return. If he can't get it, Hardy said he is willing to consider a return to WWE, where he hasn't performed since 2010. The reunion would be an intriguing one (especially if brother Jeff came with him), but it's not without its issues. It's difficult to imagine him receiving the kind of creative liberties with WWE that he has enjoyed with TNA, which has allowed his new character to come into full bloom. Still, if you listen to Hardy speak about the WWE, it's easy to hear the unfinished business in his voice.