Which WWE performers could become bigger stars and wear gold in the year to come?

A new year means new opportunities for all of us and for WWE superstars, it also means new people are going to win the various titles up for grabs on Raw and Smackdown. As much as WWE loves pushing the same familiar faces, they know that they need to utilize different people to freshen things up as well.

For this column, I’m going to look at 10 superstars who are likely going to win titles on the main roster this year. Obviously, the shows are scripted and winning titles doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in professional sports. But it does mean that WWE management has faith in these people to book them as champions.

My criteria for superstars on this list is to pick the men, women and tag teams who have yet to win any titles on the main roster at this point in their career. Some of them have won titles in NXT, but that’s still WWE’s developmental system in a lot of ways. The main roster shows like Raw and Smackdown have a much bigger audience, so when somebody wins a title it’s a big deal.

There are a lot of talented people to pick from. Somebody I could have picked if this was a few months ago was Bray Wyatt, who has been on the main roster and  finally won a tag team title with Randy Orton. But since he won that title, I couldn’t pick him. Lucky for me, there are many other worthy wrestlers to pick in an article like this.

The order I’ll use for the list is to pick people that I believe WWE will push the most. It’s not necessarily who I want. It’s more about who they want. Here are 10 acts (eight singles wrestlers and two tag teams) that are bound to break out with big years in 2017.

10. Neville

Neville is one of the best in-ring performers in WWE who has finally found something to do after returning to television last month as an angry heel. He missed several months in 2016 with a serious ankle injury and when he came back, the creative team had no idea what to do with him. It was very frustrating knowing this talented performer was on the sidelines, but the good news is he’s been on fire since turning heel.

It’s likely that Neville will dominate the cruiserweight division for much of 2017 and likely win the Cruiserweight Title very soon. I think by the second half of the year, management will like his work so much that he wins a midcard title (United States/Intercontinental) or perhaps finds a tag partner to become a tag team champion as well.

The only bad thing about heel Neville is they made him stop using the amazing Red Arrow as a finishing move. Since it generates such a big ovation from the crowd, he’s been using a superplex to win matches for the past couple of weeks. Sorry fans, he doesn’t want or need your support. He’ll be a champion in 2017 on his own.

9. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson

When Gallows & Anderson showed up on Raw last April, the expectation was they would receive a strong push and become tag team champions within a few months. Nope. It didn’t happen. The main reason for it isn’t their fault. It was simply because WWE wanted New Day to break the record for longest tag team title reign in 2016, which meant Gallows & Anderson were forced to lose match after match to New Day.

Now that New Day is out of the title picture, it appears Gallows & Anderson are going to be back in the hunt. Anderson beat one half of the tag champions Cesaro last week, so that suggests that the bald duo known as The Club are poised to get back to their winning ways. A title match should happen at the Royal Rumble.

I expect Gallows & Anderson to be the next Raw Tag Team Champions soon, since current champions Cesaro & Sheamus still don’t feel like a long-term tag team. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gallows & Anderson walk into WrestleMania as champions. They certainly deserve it.

8. Asuka

Asuka is arguably the most talented women’s wrestler in WWE. She’s had great matches with so many different people and has been booked as strong as any man or woman in the company. After winning the NXT Women’s Title from Bayley at NXT Takeover Dallas last April, she has yet to taste defeat and it’s hard to see when she might lose. It could be April or even later in the year.

The only reason Asuka isn’t higher on the list is because we don’t know when she might be on the main roster. She has dominated NXT women’s division by winning every match she’s had and she could be there for all of 2017 as well. I hope not.

I think she’d be a huge asset on the main roster, so it’s just a matter of when she gets there. Ember Moon may be the NXT woman that beats her for the title. It could be April or even August. I think Asuka should be on Raw or Smackdown by the summer at least. When she gets there, she’ll probably win a title soon after.

7. Enzo Amore & Big Cass

Enzo & Cass may be the most popular team in WWE, yet they haven’t won the tag titles on the main roster and they even failed to win them in NXT as well. Perhaps there are a “cuppa haters” on WWE’s creative team? I don’t think it’s a case of hating. It just hasn’t been their time yet. In 2017, they should finally get their hands on some gold.

The crowd support for these guys is so strong that WWE has to see them as a team that can help carry the division for much of this year. Like I mentioned with Gallows & Anderson, every other team on Raw was forced to watch New Day dominate the division in 2016. They didn’t get many title opportunities because WWE is trying to protect them in order to build them up this year. I think it’s very possible they get their big tag title winning moment at WrestleMania. It would be a feel-good moment that the fans would love.

In addition to the duo winning gold as a tag team, it wouldn’t shock me if Big Cass breaks out as a singles wrestler in the second half as well. Since he’s seven feet tall (and you can’t teach that), management is going to give him every opportunity to be a main roster star.

6. Shinsuke Nakamura

If it was up to me, Shinsuke Nakamura would be number one on this list because he’s the best performer I’m going to mention today. However, we don’t know exactly when he’s going to be on the main roster. Since he’s the current NXT Champion, that could mean it takes four months (after WrestleMania) or eight months (after SummerSlam) until he makes his long-awaited first appearance on Raw or Smackdown. I really hope it’s at the Royal Rumble.

Nakamura’s “strong style” of wrestling is different from the average WWE superstar. His knee strikes and kicks look deadly. He’s able to do regular wrestling moves as well, but when he does them he makes them look cooler. Charisma is something every wrestler wishes they had, but a lot of them are lacking. Nakamura is not. He’s got this aura about him that makes him stand out as a special performer.

When Nakamura gets to the main roster, I expect him to have a huge impact right away. He should win either the Intercontinental or United States Title quickly. The creative team must book him like a big deal or else he’ll get lost in the shuffle. He could also be a main event wrestler right away. He’s certainly good enough and will likely have the crowd behind him just like he does in NXT. Nakamura on the main roster is something I’m very excited about this year.

My 2016 WWE match of the year was Nakamura’s first WWE match against Sami Zayn at NXT Takeover Dallas last April. How about a main roster rematch in 2017? Make it happen, WWE.

5. Samoa Joe

Samoa Joe is poised to join Raw or Smackdown very soon and when he does, he’s going to dominate immediately. When Joe got to NXT, it was a huge deal after working for Ring of Honor and TNA Wrestling for over a decade. People always wondered when we would finally see him on Raw, Smackdown or major PPV events like WrestleMania. The wait is almost over because his time on the main roster is coming.

The main reason Joe is ahead of Nakamura on the list is because I strongly believe Joe is going to be on the main roster at the Royal Rumble. With Nakamura, as I said, we don’t know when his main roster debut will be. There’s really nothing left for Joe to do in NXT after feuding for the NXT Title with Finn Balor and Nakamura for all of 2016. He wasn’t a big part of the NXT tapings that just took place last week (sorry for the spoiler), which suggests his time on the main roster is coming very soon.

What’s great about Joe is he can fit in anywhere as a dominant heel that people boo or as a badass face that has the respect of the audience. I think he’ll fit in great on either show. I’d put him on Raw to freshen up their main event picture that has become stale, but he would fit well on Smackdown also. Joe is poised to have a big year.

4. Sami Zayn

My favorite wrestler on the list is Sami Zayn. There are a few reasons why: I always support my fellow Canadian wrestlers more than others, he’s an amazing worker that has great matches with anybody, and I think he’s the best pure babyface in the company. He reminds me of Daniel Bryan in a lot of ways as the guy that looks normal and is considered an underdog. He’s taller than Bryan was, but he’s not physically imposing at all. He looks like a regular guy, yet he has so much ability.

What I would have done going into the Royal Rumble is build up Zayn as the guy to win the match. Have him win the Universal Title at WrestleMania, whether it’s from his good friend Kevin Owens or Roman Reigns. I don’t think that’s going to happen, though. He’ll probably be in some ladder match or midcard match at WrestleMania instead of being in the spotlight. Here’s hoping that at some point, management realizes what they have in a superstar like Zayn.

Zayn came close to winning the Intercontinental Title in 2016. He may not get a chance at it since he’s a Raw guy and the title is on Smackdown, but he could get moved to Smackdown. If he stays on Raw, then winning the United States Title makes a lot of sense. I really hope by year’s end, we can say he won the Universal or WWE Title as well.

3. Bayley

Bayley is the most likable women’s wrestler that has come around in a very long time. She’s one of those few performers in wrestling where you point at her and say “she should never be a heel.” Her character is basically that of a child who is now an adult. I’m not saying that to be mean. She’s a reminder that WWE appeals a lot to children, which is why her gimmick is that she’s a “hugger” and has “inflatable tube men” as part of her entrance.

When it comes to wrestling, Bayley has also proven she certainly belongs in the Raw Women’s Title scene. She had a lot of great matches in NXT and I thought her 2015 feud with Sasha Banks over the NXT Women’s Title was fantastic. During her five months on Raw, she has sniffed their Women’s Title, but hasn’t really come close to dethroning Banks or current Raw Women’s Champion Charlotte.

Bayley will face Charlotte for the Raw Women’s Title at the Royal Rumble. I don’t expect a title change there, though. I think it’s going to happen at WrestleMania. Bayley should fall short at the Royal Rumble, earn another title shot for the biggest show of the year (WrestleMania) and have her win the title while ending Charlotte’s impressive streak of no losses in PPV singles match. Bayley will be a focal point of the women division this year. The best part is? She absolutely deserves it.

2. Baron Corbin

The rise of Baron Corbin has been a great thing to watch on Smackdown in the last few months. From his great Chairs Match with Kalisto at TLC to a quality main event match against AJ Styles and Dolph Ziggler two weeks ago, as well as another good match against Ziggler this week, Corbin has proven he’s a talented big man with a bright future. After spending nearly four years as part of WWE’s developmental system, Corbin is poised to hold some gold this year.

Corbin’s gimmick is easy to figure out. He’s the “lone wolf” wrestler whot doesn’t care what people think about him. He’s there to beat people up, get paid for doing it and prove that he’s the best. At some point, he might need to add more to the character because it’s pretty basic, but I’m sure that will happen as the months go on.

Corbin made his main roster debut at WrestleMania last year when he won the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, which was a surprise because he wasn’t announced for the match. It’s not a title, but it’s something he has bragged about ever since winning it because at least it’s worth bragging about.

This week on Smackdown, Corbin faces his biggest test in a match against the legendary John Cena. I don’t expect Corbin to get the win in that match, but I think it will be very close and he will prove he’s capable of having good matches. I think it’s safe to say that Corbin is likely going to be a WWE or Universal Champion this year. I’d be surprised if it didn’t happen.

1. Braun Strowman

Anybody who has watched WWE in their life knows that Vince McMahon always likes pushing big guys. Whether it was Big John Studd, Andre the Giant, The Undertaker, Diesel, Kane or Big Show, the “giants” of wrestling always find a way to get to the top.

Strowman is listed at 6-foot-8 and 385 pounds. He looks like the toughest guy in a WWE ring that rarely gets knocked off his feet. He hasn’t been pinned since the brand split took place last July, which was great for his career because it set him free from the Wyatt Family. I don’t expect him to be pinned any time soon.

Strowman is my current pick to win the Royal Rumble. I’m not sure if people think I’m crazy for picking him. I just think WWE is so high on this guy that they are pushing him hard in one of their biggest matches of the year. Since I think Roman Reigns is going to win the Universal Title at WrestleMania, that would set up Reigns defending the gold against Strowman. It’s the kind of match that Vince McMahon loves, since his golden boy Reigns would have to try to beat the unbeatable monster. It’s as if this was Hulk Hogan facing Andre the Giant, except people loved Hogan and most of them boo Reigns. Strowman is not nearly the star that Andre was as well. I’m just saying it’s a familiar formula.

I expect Strowman to have a run as Universal Champion (or WWE Champion, if he’s on Smackdown) in 2017. Using a big guy as a dominant champion is something that Vince loves to do from a creative standpoint. It can build up somebody else when he finally loses. He may not win the gold at WrestleMania, but I think by the time we get to the summer, he’ll have some gold in his gigantic hands.

Strowman and Corbin are two big guys that WWE are going to use in a big way in 2017. It’s up to them to prove they belong. Being big is nice, but in the end talent matters more than anything.

About John Canton

John has been writing about WWE online since the late 1990s. He's written for WhatCulture, Bleacher Report, Layfield Report, Rajah.com and many other places. You can follow John Canton on Twitter @johnreport or email him at mrjohncanton@gmail.com with any comments or questions. For more of his wrestling opinions, visit his website at TJRWrestling.net.