Can you hear the rumble? Because we’re just days removed from Raw celebrating 25 years on the air, and the Royal Rumble — the first big pay-per-view event of the year for WWE — is mere days away.
The first month is almost over and there’s far more to expect and speculate about the wrestling world this year. There are several questions for the biz that we’re awaiting answers for — more than just who’s winning the rumble, what the main event of WrestleMania 34 is, and where WrestleMania 35 will be held.
In fact, not all of these questions have to do with WWE, and not all of these questions have to do with on-screen measures.
Here are five questions we’re hoping to get answers to this year.
1. Will Daniel Bryan stay in WWE?
Daniel Bryan was one of the WWE’s biggest underdog stories — gaining a popularity and following so massive that the promotion was forced to put him in the WrestleMania 30 main event, give him a win and give the “YES!” Movement leader the great moment he deserves. But suddenly, all that ended due to an injury. And while Bryan attempted a comeback, he was injured again and forced to retire in early 2016 because of multiple concussions and a lesion on his brain.
Bryan has since been given the role of Smackdown GM, but he, and fans alike, long for the day he’ll be allowed to wrestle again. And while he has his health and family to think about, it was confirmed late last month that Bryan intends to leave WWE and wrestle again. Bryan’s contract with the WWE expires in September, and he has not been cleared by WWE’s doctors despite being cleared by several doctors outside of the organization.
If this is still the case by the time his contract nears its end, does Bryan truly pull the trigger and leave? If he does leave, that would be the ultimate sign of an intended return to the ring, but where would he go — Ring of Honor (ROH)? New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW)? And if he does leave WWE, will Bryan really have his first match this year? WWE typically puts no-compete clauses in contracts, which could possibly bump a Bryan return to wrestling until sometime around early 2019.
2. When, if she does, will Ronda Rousey debut in a WWE ring?
It seems all but clear that Rousey’s MMA career is over. But it seems some big things are happening for her in another organization — the WWE. She appeared at WrestleMania 31 in 2015 during a segment with The Rock, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. And she appeared at the Mae Young Classic tournament last year, walking the red carpet with Triple H and McMahon, cheering on Shayna Baszler (friend and MMA fighter-turned-wrestler, who finished runner-up) and getting into a confrontation with WWE’s four horsewomen.
Back in October, Rousey reportedly began training at the WWE Performance Center in Florida, and this was further fueled in a trailer for her new website last month — the trailer showed her training at the center and with current WWE superstar Natalya, daughter of legend Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart.
There is some heavy speculation on the wrestling dirt sheets/rumor mills that Rousey could appear at the Royal Rumble this Sunday in the 1st ever women’s royal rumble match in WWE history. It doesn’t take an investigative journalist (see the WWE roster list) to note that the WWE doesn’t have 30 women on its main roster, so you’re guaranteed to see some NXT stars and maybe some other surprise entries. Could one of those by Rousey? Heck, Rousey is even rumored to win the match!
And if that happens, it would be interesting to see where a storyline goes from there. A match-up between Rousey and her four horsewomen against WWE’s is rumored for WrestleMania, but the WWE’s horsewomen are split on multiple brands, Baszler is in NXT (for now), and the WWE women’s division right now is filled with alliance vs. alliance storylines. Heck, when would a title match with Charlotte (or Alexa Bliss, just in case for storyline purposes) take place?
If she doesn’t appear at the rumble, but a debut still happens, when and how?
3. How will NJPW & RoH fare?
Ever since Triple H took over the WWE developmental system, we’ve seen multiple big names from the indy scenes come over to the WWE. These include the returns of Kassius Ohno and Drew McIntyre, as well as the NXT debuts of Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish & Adam Cole. There’s consistently fear that NXT or the indy scene will dry up eventually.
But like the WWE, the wheels keep turning in the worlds of NJPW and ROH, and stars continue to be made and perform. NJPW held it’s annual January 4 Tokyo Dome show this month (its version of WrestleMania), and it featured two phenomenal main event bouts in Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito and Bullet Club leader Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho (who is currently not contracted to WWE).
NJPW is scheduled to return to the U.S. in 2018, and ROH looks to continue to roll with momentum from the likes of Dalton Castle, Cody, the Motor City Machine Guns, the Young Bucks, the Briscoe Brothers, Christopher Daniels, and Kazarian. In addition, ROH has begun a tournament to crown its first-ever women’s champion.
If you need an alternative to WWE, look no further than these two promotions here. You never know what big star from these that may end up in NXT and WWE one day.
(Questions 4 & 5 are connected because it’s so complex…)
4. What’s with this “Alpha Entertainment”? (a.k.a. Is the XFL truly coming back?)
So this one crosses over the lines of WWE and the Big 4 of North American sports. Here’s what we know as of the early morning hours of Jan. 25.
Back on Dec. 15, freelance journalist Brad Shepard broke on Twitter that Vince McMahon may be looking to revive the XFL, the failed football league that ran one year and was featured in an ESPN 30 for 30 early last year. As time progressed, more details came out that gave more evidence to the credibility of this rumor (Deadspin’s David Bixenspan has a basic timeline with appropriate citations in this article). Among the basic, known, confirmed facts are the following:
- Sept. 6: Alpha Entertainment LLC established in Delaware
- The company has trademarked items such as “UFL” “UrFL” “United Football League” and “For the love of football.”
- A WWE statement following the story’s breaking last month confirmed that McMahon took money from the WWE (reportedly somewhere along the lines of $100,000 in WWE stock) and invested it into Alpha Entertainment. It did NOT confirm NOR deny an XFL revival.
Some early speculation from ESPN’s Jonathan Coachman, who used to work for McMahon in the WWE, also had that McMahon was a potential bidder for the ownership of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
But now, in a piece breaking down the special edition of Raw, as well as the release of Enzo Amore, Sports Illustrated’s Justin Barrasso mentioned that an announcement on the XFL’s arrival could come in the coming week, sometime before Super Bowl LII. In the original tweet from Shepard, a possible announcement date could be Jan. 25 (today). Heavy rumors suggest that the announcement will be a startup of the league, with the first game being played in 2020.
And that Sports Illustrated piece also comes in hand for…
5. What is the future of WWE TV?
For those who read my 5 Questions piece on MMA, you’ll recall that the UFC’s deal with Fox expires late this year, and the two appear to be far apart from reaching an agreement. And it seems Fox is preparing for the event that it and the UFC ultimately part ways. It’s seeming answer right now: WWE.
The WWE’s contract with NBC Universal is set to expire in 2019. The current potential suitors for a television deal are NBC Universal, Facebook, and Fox.
Facebook is currently streaming WWE’s Mixed Match Challenge to U.S. audiences only, and it feels more like a test run to see if something like a streaming service would work with Raw or Smackdown. But wrestling and MMA journalist Dave Meltzer reports that when Fox met with WWE last year for a television showcase, Fox expressed early interest in not just a television deal, but rather a purchase of the whole company.
The television rights are the WWE’s biggest asset; as a company that produces TV content 52 weeks a year, there will always be content and an audience, making those WWE TV rights lucrative. And if Alpha Entertainment takes off, is there a chance Vince McMahon sells (at least some) of the company he masterfully built off of the ground set in his family name?
As the article about a possible Fox purchase states: “according to Meltzer, one person close to the situation believes McMahon is not selling his majority interest just yet. If the shares hit $40, Vince would be able to sell small pieces of it while maintaining full voting control. Since McMahon launched Alpha Entertainment, one may wonder if he decided to start a new company based on the aforementioned factors.”
Another factor about this possible deal would be what happens to the TV shows themselves. The speculation is that Raw would be broadcasted live on local Fox stations, but it would move back to two hours from its current three-hour format due to 10 p.m. newscasts (Raw starts at 8 p.m. on the east coast, and if it moved to 7 p.m., it could interfere with the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. slots of newscasts for non-east coast Fox stations).
Meanwhile, Smackdown would move to Fox Sports 1, and the WWE would provide more TV content for Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 to help bolster ratings. Some fear that this could hurt Smackdown, but don’t count the show out considering how WWE audiences can flock to a channel and how long Smackdown survived in the “Friday night death slot” on UPN/CW/MyNetworkTV channels before switching to USA and eventually moving to Tuesdays.
And to really end on a loop, here’s a big-time series of questions to connect the WWE, Fox, and the NFL: If Alpha Entertainment and a revived McMahon football league (referred to as XFL) take off, does that all come with some sort of WWE-Fox deal (TV or ownership)? If so, does this mean XFL games will be on Fox stations? And if that’s the case, will the XFL be a spring league once again, or will it go on in the fall when the NFL happens at the same time?
If the latter is the case and all this is true, does Fox’s commitment to hosting NFC games go out early (the current NFL TV plans are set through 2022)? Even if it’s a spring league, wouldn’t broadcasting XFL games be a conflict of interest for said NFL deal?