WrestleMania 33 is a less than a week away with one more episode each of Raw and Smackdown Live for WWE to promote it heavily. I’m going to do a very in-depth preview of WrestleMania later this week, but today my focus is on some things that we, the WWE Universe (or fans, as normal people might say), can look forward to after WrestleMania.
As I think about this year’s WrestleMania, I’m mildly excited about it. It doesn’t have the feel of an excellent show. I think the card could be a lot better, but that doesn’t mean the product is that bad. Smackdown is an above-average show nearly every week. Raw is the show that leaves me scratching my head and wondering how they can book some of the stupid things they do. The good thing is that WWE definitely has a talented roster that will make the television product better very soon.
What I’ve done is come up with 10 things that we should be excited about in the days, weeks and months after WrestleMania.
1. The Raw and Smackdown Live Episodes After WrestleMania
The Raw after WrestleMania, which usually competes against the NCAA Basketball Championship game, is one of the best episodes of Raw every year. There have been so many memorable moments on that show, whether it was Bill Goldberg debuting in WWE in 2003, Brock Lesnar’s return in 2012, Dolph Ziggler winning the World Title in 2013, The Ultimate Warrior’s inspirational promo in 2014 (one day before he died) and the memorable crowd chants provided by the raucous crowd.
There are so many interesting things that have happened that WWE is even producing a WWE 24 documentary show on WWE Network about it soon.
An interesting wrinkle about the post WrestleMania Raw is that there’s also a post-WrestleMania Smackdown as well. This is the first year after a WrestleMania where Smackdown is live, so it’s very likely that there could be something big on the “blue brand” as well as Raw.
WrestleMania is often seen as the end of a season in WWE. As soon as it’s over, Raw is there to pick up where they left off while hopefully delivering the kind of memorable moments that we will talk about for years to come.
What could happen on the Raw and/or Smackdown after WrestleMania this year? I think the return of familiar faces is very likely and they are names worth getting excited about. Some of them are mentioned below.
2. Kurt Angle’s Return to WWE Television
When WWE announced that Kurt Angle was being inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, a lot of WWE fans celebrated because it’s been 11 years since he’s been gone and we are happy about him being “home” where he belongs. Last month, I wrote about how WWE needs to do more with Angle than just appearing at the Hall of Fame on Friday.
Nothing has been confirmed in terms of what Angle might do after the Hall of Fame, but the expectation is that he’ll be involved with WWE. A few weeks ago, there were reports that he would make his WWE television return on the Raw and Smackdown following WrestleMania.
The story that makes the most sense for Angle is for him to fill the vacancy on Raw as General Manager after Mick Foley was fired this past Monday. By putting Angle in that spot, it would give the fans somebody they love in an authoritative role while also building new storylines for Angle. If WWE feels he is healthy enough, then it can lead to a few matches in a year. Angle’s first match in WWE in 11 years would be a big thing for an event like SummerSlam, so that’s the kind of angle they should plan for him.
I know people that have said they care more about the Hall of Fame this year over WrestleMania because of Angle’s presence. He’s the favorite wrestler of many WWE fans, so trust me when I say there’s a lot of excitement about his long-awaited return.
3. The Hardy Boys Coming Back to WWE
— #BROKEN Matt Hardy (@MATTHARDYBRAND) March 21, 2017
Matt and Jeff Hardy are expected to return to WWE at some point in the next month or two. After leaving Impact Wrestling (formerly TNA Wrestling), the duo agreed to a short-term deal with Ring of Honor. They won their Tag Team Titles a few weeks ago and are likely going to drop them to The Young Bucks on April 1, one day before WrestleMania.
It’s also been reported that WWE has offered the Hardys contracts and they have likely agreed to them, but obviously they’re not going to tell us about it. Also, on Thursday, Matt’s wife Reby noted that they shut down the Hardy Boys store they ran. Part of the reason is because Reby is pregnant with baby number two, but it’s also because WWE doesn’t allow superstars to sell their own merchandise.
Our very last order was from an Andrew Jones. Congrats ! A signed poster will ship free with your order.
Thank you all for a great 5 years pic.twitter.com/BbyZDCLRS9
— Reby Hardy (@RebyHardy) March 23, 2017
The last time Jeff Hardy appeared on WWE TV was in the summer of 2009 during a memorable feud with CM Punk. At the time, Jeff was the No. 2 face in the company behind John Cena and was doing the best work of his career. His contract was up, so he left WWE, signed with TNA Wrestling in early 2010 and was there for about seven years.
Matt Hardy was released by WWE in 2010. Since then, he worked for Ring of Honor, TNA Wrestling and did a lot of indie shows just like Jeff. They feuded during a lot of it, but they also teamed up.
During their run in TNA Wrestling, they created new personas with Matt donning the name “Broken” Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy was called “Brother Nero” (Nero is his middle name). While Impact/TNA has taken a big hit in terms of losing fans in the last few years, the Hardy characters were very popular. Matt’s use of the word “DELETE” became a huge hit, so much so that you see “DELETE” signs at WWE events all the time. There’s currently a legal battle going on with Impact claiming they own the rights to the character, but I think WWE will help the Hardys and it should be sorted soon.
The question of who is the best tag team in WWE history is an arguable point. I think Matt & Jeff Hardy are the best team WWE has ever had in terms of match quality, longevity, popularity and consistency. Seeing them back in WWE again will be a welcome sight. Whether they are on Raw or Smackdown, their presence as veterans with 20+ years of experience is going to help everybody in WWE.
On a final Hardy note, it wouldn’t surprise me if the reason The Usos won the Tag Titles on Smackdown last week because the Hardys are going to show up to beat them very soon. Keep an eye on that situation.
4. Shinsuke Nakamura on the Main Roster
If you would have told me that WWE was going to sign Shinsuke Nakamura in January 2016 and not put him on Raw or Smackdown in the first 15 months, I would have said you were crazy.
The former two-time NXT Champion is one of the best wrestlers in the world who should be in headline matches on major Pay-Per-View events. Instead, he’s still in NXT as one of their biggest names. I don’t think it’s going to last that much longer, though. If he’s not on the Raw or Smackdown after WrestleMania I would be very surprised.
I realize that WWE is advertising him for a NXT tour in England in June after initially not advertising him. The reason why he’s booked now is because ticket sales were slow. His presence will likely help. Even if he’s working those NXT shows as a farewell to NXT tour, he can still be on Raw or Smackdown soon.
Who needs Nakamura more? I’m not sure if there’s a right answer to that because Raw and Smackdown would benefit with his presence. Considering that John Cena’s likely going to miss several months filming movies, having Nakamura on Smackdown would help fill the void. Then again, adding Nakamura to Raw would be a big boost for a show that needs it.
It doesn’t matter to me where Nakamura goes on the main roster. I just want him to be there because he’s done all he can in NXT. Let’s see what else he can do.
5. Wrestlers Switching Brands
When WWE did their initial brand split from 2002 to 2011, they had several different “draft lottery” specials. The idea behind them was that the respective General Managers would randomly pick names (like a lottery) and that person would end up switching shows. Every year, the number of picks changed. It also didn’t feel that random since they were usually major names that switched shows.
The biggest “draft pick” during the original lottery was John Cena getting drafted to Raw from Smackdown in 2005 during his first WWE Title reign. That wasn’t a surprise since Cena was a major star on the rise and Raw has always been the “A” show, especially when it was live while Smackdown was taped.
There’s no word on when the next draft lottery might take place but if I had to guess, I think May or June makes the most sense. That way, it allows WrestleMania angles to end in April and the creative team can hit the dreaded reset button after that.
A lot of names could switch shows. AJ Styles going to Raw makes sense since he’s the best performer in the company, so his presence should help that show. Roman Reigns moving to Smackdown would make a lot of sense for him whether he’s a face or a heel. I’d like to see a guy like Sami Zayn move to Smackdown because it’s better booked. The New Day could be broken up or moved to Smackdown as a trio to give them a change of scenery.
There are a lot of possibilities out there. I just hope WWE makes some smart moves that benefits the talent.
6. A Possible New Direction for Roman Reigns
I strongly believe that if Roman Reigns turns heel at WrestleMania, then it will be the most talked about thing that happens at the show. Everything else is predictable in terms of what we think is going to happen. Last week, I wrote about four different scenarios for his match against The Undertaker at WrestleMania.
Whether you like Reigns or not, I think everybody can agree that he is one of the most important people in WWE right now. Vince McMahon and Triple H – WWE’s key decision makers – love the guy and I don’t see that changing any time soon. He’s going to be a top guy for the next decade as long as he’s healthy enough to be in that spot. It doesn’t mean he always has to be a good guy, though.
The reason why I’m strongly for his heel turn is because it would be the best thing for him in the long term. It was 20 years ago at this time when The Rock (then known as Rocky Maivia) was being booed by fans, even though he was a good guy. I’m not saying Reigns is The Rock because he’s not even close to being as charismatic or as good a talker. What I’m saying is, WWE pegged Rock as a face and thought it would work. The crowd rejected him. Then they listened to the crowd, turned him heel, he took off from there and he became a face two years later in 1999 after WrestleMania that year. It helped his career tremendously. This would help Reigns too.
Heel turns are a necessary part of storylines in WWE because they provide us with fresh matchups while also giving new life to characters that need it. Reigns is at the top of the list of characters that need to be freshened up.
7. Heel and Face Turns for People Who Need It
In addition to Reigns, there are others who need to be in different roles on WWE’s main roster. Doing it right after WrestleMania is a good time because that’s when interest is the highest in WWE.
Sasha Banks is the first name that comes to mind. While I think “The Boss” did a good job as a face who the fans loved because of her style in the ring, she’s always been better as a heel going back to her NXT days. Banks has the character, the attitude and the persona needed to be a top women’s heel wrestler for many years to come.
I’d like to see The New Day split up in the next few months. The act is growing stale. I think that’s been obvious in the last three months. Sure, they sell merch and kids like them, but what else is there? The jokes just aren’t as funny anymore. If one of the guys, such as Big E, were to break out from the group it would provide depth in the singles division on either show. Xavier Woods could be a big star in the Cruiserweight Division. Kofi Kingston has always fit in as a good midcard wrestler too.
Dean Ambrose could use a heel turn because he’s done about as much as he can as a face. It’s been three years since The Shield broke up and Ambrose has been locked in as a face. There were reports three years ago that he was going to be The Shield guy who broke out as a heel on his own, but they chose Seth Rollins instead. I think Ambrose’s crazy man persona would be better off as a heel in the long term. It wouldn’t surprise me if he heads in that direction soon.
I think Mickie James should be a top face as well. She might turn officially before WrestleMania since this week’s Smackdown is in her hometown of Richmond. When she returned to WWE as a heel ally of Alexa Bliss, it made sense but now it doesn’t feel right. Fans want to cheer her, so let her go back to her bubbly persona and make her a face on SD Live.
Apollo Crews is another name who needs to do something else. He is the most generic face on either show. He goes out there, he smiles a lot, has short matches and comes back smiling no matter what happened the week before. Turn him heel, put him with a veteran like Dolph Ziggler and perhaps it will help both of them.
There are others who could benefit from turns as well, but you can’t do too many at once. For now, those are the names that should change things up in the immediate future.
8. The Return of Former Universal Champion Finn Balor
— WWE (@WWE) March 11, 2017
I think it’s fair to say that the Raw brand has been hurt by key injuries more than Smackdown since the brand split last July. Seth Rollins missing two months with a knee injury certainly doesn’t help going into WrestleMania. The most significant injury, though, happened to Finn Balor at SummerSlam last year, which was the night when he became the first-ever Universal Champion. He suffered a major shoulder injury that required surgery and put him on the shelf for about six months.
Balor returned to the ring earlier this month working live events in cities like Buffalo, Toronto and White Plains. He hasn’t returned to television, though. As far as we know, he’s not scheduled to be a part of WrestleMania, although it’s possible he could be in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal and may even win that instead of the more obvious choice in Braun Strowman.
The fact that WWE put the Universal Title on him one month after he was drafted to Raw showed how much management believed in him and wanted him to be a big star. Injuries are part of the game but now that he’s back, the company can use him in a featured role again.
I think Balor will have no problem winning over fans on the main roster thanks to an awesome move set in the ring, his ability to sell everything well, the unique “demon” persona that he has and, of course, the body paint that he wears for big matches. I’m glad he’s back in action.
9. NXT Talent Getting Called Up to the Main Roster
I already mentioned Nakamura earlier. There are other talents in NXT that might be on the main roster very soon after WrestleMania as well. It’s supposed to be a good thing for a NXT talent to be on the main roster, but the likes of Tyler Breeze, Apollo Crews, The Ascension and The Vaudevillains have shown us that it doesn’t always mean things will go well on the bigger stage.
Asuka has been the undefeated NXT Women’s Champion for nearly one year. There aren’t rumors of her going to the main roster imminently, but at some point it must happen, right? She’s arguably the best in-ring performer among the women in WWE right now. She has built up a reputation as a badass with a unique style, so people are going to want to see her against Charlotte Flair or Becky Lynch soon. Asuka has worked some live events with the Smackdown crew, so WWE is clearly testing the waters with her.
Bobby Roode is the current NXT Champion. It makes sense to keep him NXT for most of the year since he’s a big name who is good for the brand, but he’s also going to be 40 years old in May. There will likely be a time later this year where “Glorious” is heard on the main roster as well.
I think a group to keep an eye on is “Sanity,” led by Eric Young. They have a chance to be something special as a heel stable that is very unique. If Bray Wyatt can re-form the Wyatt Family, then that’s a matchup of stables which would be awesome to watch. Sanity has a very bright future.
It was cool to see Tye Dillinger as No. 10 in the Royal Rumble since he leads the crowd in “10” chants. I was disappointed that he was back to NXT in the midcard again. At some point, that guy needs to be given a chance on Raw or Smackdown.
10. A Women’s Wrestling Tournament on WWE Network
Adding content to WWE Network is very important. It’s a way to try to add to the 1.5 million WWE Network subscriber number. To do that, they should try different things that they haven’t done before.
Last summer, the Cruiserweight Classic was a huge hit on WWE Network. The matches involving the likes of Kota Ibushi, Zack Sabre Jr., Rich Swann, Cedric Alexander, Brian Kendrick and the winner, T.J. Perkins, are still being raved about by WWE fans today. There were matches that were presented like boxing matches rather than traditional professional wrestling. There were no storylines or even promos. It was all about the in-ring action. The show was so successful that it led to most of the guys in the tournament getting hired by WWE as part of the 205 Live show on WWE Network.
The expectation is there will be a Women’s Wrestling Tournament on WWE Network starting in a few months. There were reports that it may have begun earlier in the year, but that didn’t happen. It’s more likely going to start taping in May or June while airing in the summer months. I think it’s a great idea because after it’s over, WWE would likely be willing to sign some performers to deals. In doing so, it provides depth to NXT as well as both shows on the main roster. If you watch Raw, then you know their women’s division only has about five performers that are featured regularly. Adding more women to the roster would be a major positive for the company.
There are a lot of talented women’s wrestlers from all over the globe that would jump at the opportunity to be a part of this. I think it’s going to be a great addition to WWE Network.
I could think of another 20+ things to get excited about if I really wanted to. That’s because the roster is loaded with talent and there is a lot of potential there. A lot of fans look at WWE with a negative light, but I’m not like that. I think of them like a favorite sports team. They aren’t going to have a great year all the time and they will make me angry a lot, but I’m still going to support them because I’ve got a love for it that’s been there for over 30 years. I want to see WWE do well. The potential for greatness is definitely there. It’s just a matter of the creative team upping their game to give the talent better storylines and allowing them to perform in the ring to the best of their abilities.
I’ll be back for Raw tomorrow and later in the week with a WrestleMania preview for that huge show with 13 announced matches. There may only be room for one more with the Smackdown Tag Team Titles. Feel free to let me know what you’re excited about in WWE after WrestleMania.