On January 22, 2018, WWE Monday Night Raw will be celebrating 25 years on the air. While there’s no denying this is an impressive length of time for any one program to be on TV, it’s also worth pointing out that the Raw of today is hardly the same as the one that debuted in 1993. That’s because pro wrestling as a whole is an entirely different medium from what it was back then. At the time, WWE was promoting a New Generation of wrestling, which soon lead to the Attitude Era. Next was the time of Ruthless Aggression and the PG era, followed by whatever exactly it is the company is trying today.
The point of this journey through history is that wrestling is always adapting with the times, changing in subtle and obvious ways with each passing year. It’s too early to say for sure if 2018 will see the next generation of wrestling develop, but it’s not that much of a stretch to say new and exciting things will continue happening in sports entertainment. Naturally, this may have longstanding effects on how the company changes in the future.
Vince McMahon has no plans of slowing down the expansion of his WWE empire any time soon, and in order to keep increasing his global reach, he’ll need to make the appropriate cultural tweaks and changes necessary to fit in with new audiences. WWE will also need to make sure old fans stay happy during this transition, potentially bringing back some popular trends of yesteryear with new spins for modern audiences. For our thoughts on how they may achieve this, keep reading for 15 bold predictions on how pro wrestling will continue to evolve in 2018.
15. Fans Will Find A Way To Make Their Feelings Known
For all the positive things that have happened in wrestling over the past few years, the current era of WWE may be defined by Vince McMahon and company outright refusing to listen when their fans loudly protest what they see. The most glaring example of this is WWE pushing Roman Reigns as their top superstar for years on end, despite fans en masse rejecting The Guy as a main event talent. There’s also the issue of Jinder Mahal, who reigned as WWE Champion for months regardless of the fact audiences didn’t care about him in the slightest, either. On the other side of the coin, WWE acts equally ignorant to the immense popularity of wrestlers like Cesaro, Sami Zayn, or Rusev, who earn incredible crowd reactions but never find themselves near the World Championship scene. Cheering and booing doesn’t seem to work anymore, nor does complaining on Twitter or other social media sights. However, the WWE Universe has always found a way to make their voices known in the past, so we predict in 2018, the McMahon family will finally be forced to listen one way or another.
14. New Shows On The WWE Network Bringing Out It’s Full Potential
In 2017 alone, the WWE Network introduced two great ideas to fans in the United Kingdom Championship and the Mae Young Classic tournaments. There were pros and cons to each event, with the big problem being that neither mattered much outside of the few nights they took place. However, the more important plus side is that they both provided hours of great wrestling entertainment, showcasing sports entertainers who probably wouldn’t have gotten a chance in the WWE Universe without a show dedicated to them specifically. Because each tournament was a success in its own way, it should be a given that WWE will be holding more like them in the near future. The company has been trying to expand into India lately, and promotions in Mexico and Japan have been making their countries respective styles popular enough to have their own tournament, as well. These are just a few options WWE has available, and whether they do any of these specific ideas or not, they’ll almost certainly be running more unique WWE Network events in the near future.
13. Safer, Slower Styles Could Adapt To Fight Off Injuries
No matter how far wrestling evolves, the business will never be completely immune to the tragedy that can occur when a performer gets seriously injured. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often, but wrestlers still get hurt often enough that it’s a problem Vince McMahon needs to address. In recent years especially, WWE superstars have been injured at a shockingly rapid rate, as rarely a full month passes by before another athlete is stricken with a severe in-ring accident. WWE isn’t directly responsible each time a person gets hurt in their ring, but the company does promote certain standards of excellence that lead to this increase in injury. The travel schedule and demand for wrestlers to get in the ring almost every night, plus constant training in the gym, puts too heavy a strain on a person’s body, making it all too easy for muscles to snap when a little too much stress is exerted. If nothing else, WWE is at least aware they’re a little responsible for the spread of injuries in the business today, and hopefully they’ll influence employees to slow down and work safer to prevent this from happening more often.
12. Talent Of All Sizes Won’t Adhere To Old Standard Appearances
Back in the 1980s, it was pretty much a prerequisite to have gigantic bulging muscles and to stand at least 6 feet tall for Vince McMahon to even notice a would be wrestler. Starting in the early 1990s, when he came under fire for potential steroid distribution, that reputation rapidly changed. McMahon wasn’t actually forcing anyone to use steroids or any other drug, but he definitely did promote wrestlers with incredible physiques over more average looking athletes until courts started thinking there was something questionable about his business practices. Since then, wrestlers have gradually gotten smaller and smaller, with those as short as 5’6” becoming World Champions. Some of the best wrestlers in the world today aren’t quite that short, but they are under 200 pounds and well below 6-feet tall, and this hasn’t stopped them from rising to the top of NXT and the heavyweight division in independent promotions. The very idea a wrestler is “supposed to look” a certain way is fading out existence, and it may be gone entirely before 2018 is over.
11. Top Names Won’t See WWE As The Only Game In Town
Even during the Monday Night Wars, when WCW was beating WWE in the ratings, many up and coming wrestlers saw Vince McMahon’s company as the be all end all of sports entertainment. Tellingly, WWE handily won that war and kept its status as the top dogs in town, and more than that, they’re pretty much the only wrestling company that has a truly global mainstream presence. This means that anyone looking to become a wrestling superstar needs to work for McMahon eventually, but that may not be the case any longer. A number of wrestlers like Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks have openly spoken out about signing with WWE, preferring to wow fans on the indy scene rather than sell out their talent for fame and fortune. More importantly, former WWE superstars like Cody Rhodes, Ryback, and Jack Swagger have willingly left the company to try their hand elsewhere, basically saying WWE isn’t the best option available for them. Younger talent are starting to see this trend as a sign they might not want or need to sign with WWE either, and this won’t stop a few of them from becoming huge stars elsewhere.
10. Talent Should Start Getting Paid What They Deserve
In addition to the fact wrestlers can make a solid name for themselves outside of WWE, there’s an equally important if not more so secondary issue about how much the company pays them for their work. Ryback in particular vocally complained online about the fact only top WWE superstars are paid well for their contributions to the sport, with lower and mid-card wrestlers barely earning enough to live. Fans don’t always realize that WWE talent have to pay for their own travel and hotel costs, greatly taking away from their meager paycheques. It’s hard to pay for food and the necessities of life when one is constantly on the road as well, only increasing their financial burden. Now that this problem is out in the open, WWE is going to be forced to deal with it, or else other wrestlers will follow in Ryback’s path. It’s also possible younger wrestlers will just avoid WWE altogether, fearing they won’t get paid well if they ever work there. Either WWE will have to adapt and pay them more for their efforts or wrestlers will continue flocking away from the company and working elsewhere.
9. TNA/GFW/Impact Wrestling Might Finally Meet Its End
Select wrestling fans have been looking for an alternative to WWE ever since WCW went out of business, and the best thing mainstream American wrestling has been able to offer is unfortunately TNA/Global Force Wrestling/Impact Wrestling — well, whatever they call themselves these days. Confusion about the name aside, the company started by Jeff Jarrett and his father has been a mess for quite some time now, with industry insiders assuming the business was on its last legs for a long time now. Few fans could even tell you what’s going on with Impact today, the turnover rate for top superstars getting so high that long term booking is barely a thing anymore. Most top TNA stars have either gone to WWE or given up and hit the indies, and it’s hard to imagine anyone new happily signing with the company knowing how low its prospects are. On the other hand, their TV show has recently experienced a surge in ratings, so maybe the thoughts Impact is near death are still just reactionary to a confusing product.
8. New Japan Pro Wrestling Could Find Global Footing
It’s still extremely early to call, yet there’s a good chance the best wrestling show of 2018 has already taken place. On January 4t, New Japan Pro Wrestling brought Wrestle Kingdom 12 to the Tokyo Dome, delivering an incredible night of sports entertainment from top to bottom. As has been the case in recent years, the show was available for American fans to watch online with the streaming system NJPW World, and it earned an incredible amount of praise and attention on Twitter. One reason so many eyes turned to New Japan may be that former WWE superstar Chris Jericho was featured in one of the marquee matches, an all out war against IWGP United States Champion Kenny Omega. All this and more points to New Japan rapidly increasing in popularity, possibly to the extent they could be genuine competition to WWE on Vince McMahon’s home turf. New Japan still has a ways to go before it’s a true war, but should the company keep courting toward American fans as 2018 continues, the McMahon family will be forced to fight back.
7. Women Will Continue To Win The Spotlight
Over the past few years, WWE has been promoting the idea of a women’s wrestling revolution, and the concept has grown stronger ever since they found a name for it. In the past two years alone, women have been the main event of their first WWE Pay-Per-Views and participated in historic Hell in a Cell, I Quit, and Iron Man matches, breaking through the glass ceiling on a regular basis. January of 2018 is going to kick off the year by continuing this trend with the first ever all women’s Royal Rumble, and it’s almost a guarantee this won’t be the only way women break further ground in pro wrestling. Perhaps another WWE Network special catering to their talents could be in order, or a Queen of the Ring tournament to compliment the historic King of the Ring. If not, these two ideas, there are any number of ways women in WWE could surprise us and do something new, and it’s very likely the company will give them the chance to do it.
6. In-Ring Action Can Only Rise In Significance
Critics of WWE have long claimed that the company just doesn’t know all that much about wrestling. The counterargument is naturally the years of mainstream success Vince McMahon has achieved, yet there’s still a point to be made in the fact WWE main events aren’t always up to the high caliber fans might expect. The contrast is independent promotions like Ring of Honor or Lucha Underground, along with foreign companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling, all of which place far more emphasis on in-ring action than WWE ever has. Vince McMahon has traditionally been interested exclusively in explosive sports entertainment and muscle bound monsters than great in-ring action, at times causing match quality to sag considerably. Recently, however, this trend has been gradually changing, with McMahon finally interested in putting on the best matches possible along with his spectacular showmanship. Part of the process has been crowning AJ Styles the WWE Champion, rewarding his recognized status as one of the best in-ring performers in the world. The trend will only continue in 2018, and wrestlers who perform the best in the ring will be rewarded for it by climbing up to the main event.
5. Indy Names Will Continue Signing With The McMahons
Despite what some of the items on this list may be suggesting about WWE finding new competition during the next year, Vince McMahon and company don’t really have anything to worry about in regards to keeping their spots on top (at least for now). That said, the only reason fans can rest assured McMahon won’t lose his empire any time soon is that he still has the resources to hire the absolute best people in the sports entertainment industry to help create his product. Naturally, this includes throwing money at the best independent wrestlers in the world and convincing them to become WWE superstars. Already in 2018, three major indy names have been reported as either signing WWE contracts or being very on the cusp of doing so in tag team War Machine and Lucha Underground standout Prince Puma, a.k.a Ricochet. Plenty of other superstars working for Ring of Honor, NWA, and New Japan Pro Wrestling are also rumored as fielding WWE offers, and although the specifics on who will accept are still up in the air, a few of them could definitely end up in WWE very soon.
4. WWE Won’t Be Able To Ignore Potential Competition
Notwithstanding the fact Impact Wrestling is on an unstoppable downward spiral, Vince McMahon’s WWE empire may actually have mainstream competition for the first time in decades. As other entries on this list have mentioned, New Japan Pro Wrestling is gaining a global presence, and smaller companies like Lucha Underground are making Mexican styles mainstream in America. WWE can’t ignore this proliferation of alternative styles, and though they may never openly admit they have real competition again, fans can expect Vince McMahon will acknowledge these other companies in his own way by stealing their styles. With enough money, he’ll also steal some of their top wrestlers and make them WWE superstars, something that’s already been happening with names like AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura in the past, and War Machine and Ricochet in the near future. WWE will also use NJPW’s increased focus on in-ring originality and Lucha Underground’s unique methods of storytelling however they can, taking all the credit when these ideas continue to bring fans to their feet.
3. Vince McMahon Could Openly Take A Step Back
At 72 -years young, Vince McMahon is still the sort of man who claims he’ll never retire, and the idea of him selling WWE is even more out of the question. That said, every human being has his or her limits, and McMahon may be reaching the point where biology will force his hand no matter how he feels about the subject. It’s also worth considering that McMahon is notoriously indecisive with this sort of thing, and could easily change his mind in an instant and decide to retire in a heartbeat. With current rumors floating that he’s more interested in football and reviving the XFL, McMahon might also be starting to feel like WWE isn’t his thing any more. It’s hard to imagine Vince openly walking down to a WWE ring and saying he doesn’t have the skills or wherewithal to run the company, but he may just quiet disappear onto a football field and let Triple H and Stephanie do the rest.
2. Triple H Trying To Take All The Credit For…Everything
Whether or not Vince McMahon steps away from his position on top of the WWE Universe, fans can rest assured someone will be trying to replace him. Ever since Triple H signed with the company back in the mid ’90s, he was interested in furthering his career towards a lifelong management position that seems all too likely now that he’s Vince’s son-in-law. Triple H is already the COO of the company and head booker of NXT, two signs that he’s genuinely being groomed for the position he’s been dreaming of all along. The only obstacle standing in his way from truly leading WWE is of course Vince McMahon refusing to retire, but if the prediction about Vince taking a step back for football or other endeavors becomes true, so will the thought HHH will step forward and take his place. Even if Vince doesn’t leave the company, Triple H will find ways to take credit for whatever positives 2018 brings, as his been his prerogative from the moment he got a little power.
1. Additional UFC Stars Will Make The Jump
Despite significant difference between the two forms of sports entertainment, there has been an increasing trend linking former UFC fighters with the WWE Universe in recent years. Leading the charge is obviously Brock Lesnar, who first dominated WWE, then UFC, and then returned to wrestling to take over the world yet again. Before that, Ken Shamrock experienced a similar trajectory, albeit less successfully in the octagon during his attempted MMA comeback. In any event, they now have additional martial artists joining them on their path, including new NXT signee Shayna Baszler, along with her other Four Horsewomen of UFC having made appearances to support their friend. Included in that fray was Ronda Rousey, who has been rumored as potentially signing with WWE for several years now. Triple H also admitted interest in UFC star Conor McGregor, with Jim Ross agreeing the former champion could make a huge name for himself in pro wrestling. Whether or not these names specifically sign with WWE any time soon, fans can expect that some UFC stars will see the potential here and start thinking about contracts of their own.
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