The Future Of John Cena And 5 Major WWE Stories To Look Out For In 2019
WWE had a whirlwind 2018, one filled with surprising twists and unfortunate turns that no one saw coming.
The most heartbreaking story of the year was Roman Reigns revealing a real-life battle with leukemia that has sidelined him indefinitely, resulted in an outpouring of universal support from fans across the world and positioned Braun Strowman and Seth Rollins as the top stars on Raw. Other notable stories throughout the year included an uncertain contract situation for Daniel Bryan and for Brock Lesnar, Bryan and Cena's refusal to perform at WWE's controversial Crown Jewel, the in-ring return of Shawn Michaels after an eight-year hiatus as well as the women's division achieving a number of historic firsts, including the first-ever Royal Rumble match and all women's pay-per-view Evolution.
While some of those notable happenings could be seen from a mile away, like Lesnar's shaky future or the groundbreaking Evolution event, others, like Reigns' unfortunate cancer diagnosis, came out of nowhere to blindside fans. In the often unpredictable and wacky world of pro wrestling, that seems to be the trend year in and year out when a number of major occurrences both inside and outside of the ring turn WWE on its head and force the company to make some serious adjustments to its programming.
In 2019, expect that to continue. Here are five major stories WWE fans should be on the lookout for next year.
What Will Happen With John Cena, Brock Lesnar And Other Part-Timers?
Lesnar was believed to be as good as gone after losing to Reigns at SummerSlam, but he then inked a "seven figure" deal to return at Crown Jewel, won the Universal title again there and reportedly is under contract with WWE through at least WrestleMania 35. With a potential UFC return looming, his immediate and long-term future with WWE will be something to keep an eye on next year, as is the case with John Cena. "The Champ" wrestled only a few marquee matches in 2018 (including a lopsided loss to The Undertaker at WrestleMania 35), was hardly on TV at all and has a budding acting career that seemingly has him following in the footsteps of The Rock on his way to Hollywood super-stardom, which will prevent him from acting and wrestling simultaneously.
Although Cena will return to WWE TV next week, serious questions remain about whether or not he's a lot closer to the end of his in-ring career than people think. Likewise, AJ Styles, whose contract expires in April, is reportedly seeking a new deal that will allow him to work a part-time schedule, and there is speculation that he may be de-pushed if he doesn't quickly agree to terms on a new contract. That has suddenly resulted in a shaky future for arguably WWE's two biggest part-time stars (Cena and Lesnar) and the backbone of SmackDown (Styles), while the futures of other part-timers aren't exactly set in stone either.
Triple H is recovering from a torn pectoral muscle, and there's no official word on what the future holds for Kurt Angle, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, meaning that 2019 could be an intriguing year that results in WWE having to dig a little deeper into its bag of part-timer tricks.
How Will All Elite Wrestling Affect WWE?
According to Fightful.com, the Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling contracts of The Young Bucks, Cody Rhodes and Kenny Omega all expire either this month or next, and reports state that WWE offered massive deals to at least three of those stars, which they apparently turned down.
Both Rhodes and Omega have indicated that they have little to no interest in going to WWE (Rhodes says he already rejected them), but the widespread speculation is that WWE, thanks to its upcoming TV deals that will earn the company significantly more revenue moving forward, will do everything in its power to change their minds. Although all of The Elite stars have thrived working for ROH, NJPW and high-profile indies and rank among the biggest non-WWE draws in all of pro wrestling, WWE will likely do whatever it takes to attempt to prevent them from returning to ROH, NJPW or even starting their own promotion.
While speculation is running rampant that the stars will launch their own "All Elite Wrestling" promotion in January and that it will be funded by a billionaire NFL owner, until that happens rumors will persist about the potential of those stars heading to WWE. Those stars demonstrated their drawing power with their wildly successful ALL IN event that sold out in less than 30 minutes and incredible merchandise sales that have made them a hot commodity in the pro wrestling world, and because Rhodes and The Young Bucks have made it clear that they're leaving ROH, WWE or AEW seem to be the most realistic options.
The expectation, however, is that neither Rhodes nor The Bucks nor Omega will end up in WWE, and the ramifications of them beginning a new billionaire-funded promotion, assuming that happens) will extend to WWE, ROH, NJPW and the independent scene.
Is The Next Step In The Women's Evolution The WrestleMania Main Event?
If ever there was a year that female superstars were going to main event a WrestleMania, 2019 is it.
WWE has made a concerted effort to push the women's division in recent years, booking them in a plethora of huge moments, including the first-ever women's Royal Rumble, Elimination Chamber, Hell in a Cell, TLC and Money in the Bank matches, as well as hosting the landmark Evolution event. The next logical step? A pair of female superstars will main event WrestleMania 35. At one point, that honor was set to go to Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey, but a wide variety of circumstances, including an untimely injury to the red hot Becky Lynch, has Lynch vs. Rousey as the frontrunner to headline WWE's biggest show of the year.
That, of course, would make history as the first women's match to ever headline a WrestleMania, and boy oh boy, do they deserve it. The most compelling storyline on WWE programming has been the impressive rise of Lynch and the effect that her soaring popularity has had on Flair, Rousey and the rest of the women's division. Lynch is clearly the hottest act in the business at the moment, and with Rousey ranking as WWE's biggest draw, it would certainly make sense for their bout to get top billing at WWE's flagship pay-per-view.
What an incredible achievement that would be for WWE's talented women's division, one that would pave the way for the company's star-studded core of female performers to consistently be portrayed as equals to their male counterparts. The question is: Will it actually happen?
Can SmackDown Surpass Raw As WWE's No. 1 Show?
When WWE announced earlier this year that SmackDown would be moving to FOX next fall, the WWE.com announcement interestingly referred to SmackDown as "WWE's flagship program."
That honor has, of course, belonged to Raw for the past 25 years as the red brand has traditionally been pushed as WWE's No. 1 brand, even since the launch of SmackDown in 1999. However, with Raw staying on the USA Network and SmackDown's move to FOX likely to give the blue brand a consistently bigger and more versatile audience (even though it's switching back to Friday nights), the widespread belief is that WWE will now push SmackDown as the "flagship" show for the first time in the show's nearly 20-year history.
After all, the USA Network knows what it has with Raw, but with FOX not quite sure what to expect from SmackDown as well as the possibility that poor ratings on FOX could cause the network to cancel SmackDown, WWE is likely going to pull out all the stops to ensure that the blue brand is successful on its new home. Indeed, FOX officials reportedly want Ronda Rousey on SmackDown, likely due to her UFC ties and drawing power, and common knowledge says that she could be one of many marquee stars who joins the blue brand in 2019, potentially helping the blue brand surpass Raw in the process.
In 2018, SmackDown has consistently been much better than Raw, and in 2018, it may surpass Raw in terms of viewership and its status as WWE's No. 1 show.
Will Roman Reigns Return To In-Ring Action?
The wrestling world was left shocked and saddened when Roman Reigns revealed he was battling leukemia again after the disease had been in remission for 11 years.
Reigns had been WWE's most pushed star over the last few years, had just surpassed Cena as WWE's No. 1 merchandise mover and was the focal point of Raw, with hopes of him being someone who would carry the company for the next decade. Not only did Reigns' shocking announcement force WWE to alter a plethora of creative plans for WrestleMania 35, but it had a domino effect that caused the company to pull off a number of major face and heel turns for stars like Strowman, Elias and Dean Ambrose. It also created a debate about who will be "the guy" during Reigns' absence, however long it may last.
Of utmost priority is, of course, Reigns' health, and there has been no timetable set for his return as he hasn't been factored into WrestleMania 35 plans, either. There is a chance that Reigns will never wrestle again, but if he does end up returning to in-ring action at some point in 2019, he figures to be cemented as one of the biggest and most beloved babyfaces (perhaps the most) in all of pro wrestling. WWE had literally spent years trying to ensure Reigns became its No. 1 star, and though it worked to an extent, he was never completely accepted as a babyface by the masses.
There is optimism, however, that a return for "The Big Dog," who looked great during a recent public appearance, in the near future would cement him as one of the biggest stars in pro wrestling history. There is still no telling when or even if Reigns will return to the squared circle, but rest assured that if he does, it will be WWE's biggest, most important and most heartwarming moment of 2019. Hands down.