WWE 2018 Preview: Predicting Biggest Surprises, NXT Call-Ups, Breakout Stars – Bleacher Report

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    Credit: WWE.com

    WWE surprises us every year.

    Newcomers storm the stage and become stars. Midcarders battle through the roster to claim championships. Heel turns and call-ups from NXT rearrange WWE’s chessboard with fresh pieces.

    All that is sure to happen in 2018. That’s good news for Superstars like Rusev who spent much of last year spinning his wheels and is now looking like a safe bet to wear gold in the coming months.

    What else can we expect in the coming year? A team of hosses is poised to move from NXT to the main roster. A Shield member threatens to rip that trio’s guts out. 

    Read on for a look at predictions for WWE in 2018, from who WWE may call up and crown.

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    History says fans can expect an influx of NXT talent on Raw and SmackDown this year. Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe and a long list of Superstars from the developmental brand all made the jump to the main roster. 

    This time around, The Authors of Pain, The Iconic Duo, No Way Jose and Aleister Black are all good bets to follow that route.

    The Authors of Pain proved to be a compelling, dominant force as NXT tag champs. They put together a string of great matches including some Match of the Year candidates involving #DIY. Both Rezar and Akam are still new to the mat game, but they look ready to make some noise at the next level.

    Their size and look will help ease that transition.

    Raw and SmackDown’s women’s divisions are a bit crowded at the moment, but Peyton Royce and Billie Kay will find their way onto one of those shows. The Iconic Duo has been one of NXT’s most entertaining acts, two egotistical heels with a surplus of swagger.

    NXT can lean on Ember Moon, Kairi Sane, Nikki Cross and the new women the company signed from the Mae Young Classic. It won’t have to rely on the two Australian scoundrels who look ready to shine on a bigger stage.

    No Way Jose hasn’t been on TV much at all of late. That either means the company is trying to improve his game offscreen or it’s prepping him for a surprise debut much the way Liv Morgan popped on SmackDown after disappearing for a stretch.

    He’s big and WWE has long been fond of a dancing gimmick. There are better prospects to bring aboard, but he’s likely to get the call ahead of guys like Roderick Strong.

    As for Black, he’s the brand’s blue-chip prospect. He’s a great striker with a commanding presence. He sports a unique look. His entrance alone is appointment TV.

    Unless WWE wants to build the NXT brand around him for a stretch, Black is coming to primetime soon ready to kick in heads.

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    Don’t bet against Jason Jordan.

    Fans have pushed back against the Raw tag team champ to this point. A soap opera storyline and a whiny, grating character have earned him a slew of boos. Once WWE embraces that hate and makes him a heel, he’s going to be a star.

    Jordan is a stellar athlete with butter-smooth suplexes. He’s put together great matches against Roman Reigns, John Cena and others. 

    He just needs a shift in character, to turn up the entitled element of his act, to become unscrupulous and ferocious. Stabbing his storyline father Kurt Angle in the back will be the catalyst for Jordan shooting to the top rungs of Raw.

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    Velveteen Dream’s masterful performance at NXT TakeOver: WarGames hinted at success headed his way. His battle with Aleister Black that night was one of the best told WWE stories all year. Dream was captivating, bursting with presence. 

    Look for him to be a bigger part of NXT in 2018.

    The inevitable call-ups will clear space on the brand’s stage. And the former WWE Tough Enough contestant will saunter in and make sure everybody is watching him.

    Drew Gulak is poised to be the cruiserweight champ and centerpiece of that division. His buttoned-up, get-off-my-lawn character is one of 205 Live’s highlights each week. He’s earned more screen time and he’s sure to maximize it once he gets it.

    Foreshadowing suggests he’s set to turn on Enzo Amore. Once he does, Gulak will be a funny, hard-hitting babyface champ, building on a strong 2017.

    Injuries derailed The Revival’s first year on the roster. Both Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder missed significant time on the disabled list. Now that both bruisers are healthy, they will get a real shot at moving to the top of Raw’s tag team scene.

    Great matches against The Bar, The Club and Rollins and Jordan will see them stockpile momentum en route to a career year.

    Mojo Rawley is set for big things, too. His heel turn late in the year revealed an engrossing side of him. He was miles more interesting as an angry, frustrated man bent on destroying his old partner Zack Ryder.

    Once SmackDown starts to focus on him a bit more, Rawley is going to be the blue brand’s breakout star.

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    Dean Ambrose is at home recovering from arm surgery. He’s watching his Shield brethren thrive without him. Rollins paired with Jordan to win the Raw tag team titles. Roman Reigns is the reigning intercontinental champion.

    That’s no-brainer fodder for his character. He should be growing jealous of his fellow Hounds of Justice.

    Once he returns, WWE can restart The Shield’s comeback story. That is until Ambrose turns on his partners.

    Each man is too big of a star to remain tied to this trio. Another breakup is sure to come. But The Lunatic Fringe needs the boost born from a heel turn more than either Rollins or Reigns. He’ll not only need to recover momentum from all his time away, but he has long felt like the third biggest star of the crew.

    He’ll get a chance to change that once he sets The Shield ablaze.

    Going heel will allow Ambrose to embrace the darker side of his persona. That’s the more natural fit for him anyway. And a feud with Reigns would be huge for him.

    A resurgence is on the way for Raw’s resident lunatic.

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    Batista has that itch.

    The Animal wants to come back to WWE. He spoke to Jim Ross on The Ross Report (h/t Wrestling Inc) in November and talked of his desire to wrestle and to tangle with Triple H again. Should he find a break in his acting schedule, WWE would gladly welcome him for another run.

    His stock is higher than when he left as he’s become a bigger movie star in the past few years. There are no burned bridges to cross here, either. 

    Batista’s return is a case of when not if.

    Impact Wrestling’s personnel turns over more than the Cleveland Browns quarterback position. It would be no great shock to see Ethan Carter III leave at some point in the year.

    Last month in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer wrote (h/t Metro): “The expectation is that Bobby Lashley and Ethan Carter III will leave when their contracts are up, and one or both will end up with WWE.”

    Carter has greatly transformed himself since his days in the WWE developmental system as Derrick Bateman. He’s grown as a performer and would now be a valuable addition to the main roster. There’s a good chance we won’t have to wait long to find out what that scenario would look like.  

    And former Divas champ Kaitlyn is likely to step back into the WWE ring, too.

    After a long period away, she began to train for a comeback. Kaitlyn recently announced on Instagram that she’s wrestling Rachael Ellering at a Coastal Championship Wrestling event in February. It’s easy to imagine a stint on the independent circuit leading her back to WWE to face a whole new flock of women.

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    Rusev is getting a louder reaction than anyone on the SmackDown roster. WWE is going to recognize that and capitalize on it. 

    The Lion of Bulgaria enters 2018 with a growing store of momentum. He and Aiden English have truly clicked as partners. The “Rusev Day” shtick looks to be this year’s version of Chris Jericho’s “the list.”

    Rusev and English winning the SmackDown tag titles is a strong possibility. If The Bulgarian Brute keeps heating him as he has been, the WWE Championship could easily follow that.

    Becky Lynch is due to return to the title scene after watching others go after the gold. WWE didn’t do nearly enough with her in 2017. That should change in the coming months as Lynch battles The Riott Squad and reclaims her spot as a key babyface for the blue brand.

    And after Carmella cashes in her Money in the Bank contract, Lynch is likely to move into the title hunt. 

    It’s easy to foresee Hideo Itami taking home the Cruiserweight Championship sometime in 2018. Since arriving on the main roster, he’s been booked as an unstoppable striker. That should continue as WWE builds the cruiserweight division around him.

    Enzo Amore is going to need to be knocked off his perch to allow for a better worker at the top. Look for Itami to take over as champion before the year is through.

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