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Pro wrestling's big questions and predictions for 2018

Daniel Bryan

Bryan Alvarez and Mike Sempervive did their annual 2018 prediction show on Wrestling Observer Live last week where listeners got to call or email in with their thoughts on what things will happen in the pro wrestling and MMA world this year. We wanted to throw it out to our writers and podcasters about big questions and predictions for the year ahead.

Paul Fontaine, MMA recapper & fill-in wrestling recapper:

For me, the biggest question in 2018 has to be what will happen with Daniel Bryan, aka Brian Danielson. With his WWE contract scheduled to expire in the fall, he’s made no secret of his desire to return to an active in-ring career. If WWE doctors will not clear him, that would seemingly open the door for him to return to the indie scene or New Japan, or both. That could be a huge game changer for any company he wrestles for and brings up the possibility of dream matches with the likes of Okada, Naito, Omega, Cody, Matt Riddle, and Jeff Cobb among many others. And if WWE does clear him, there are plenty of fresh and interesting matchups for him there as well.

Mike DellaCamera, NXT preview writer:

What does NXT do in 2018? The brand continues to grow and shows no signs of stopping as they constantly put on the best live events in all of WWE. The question is how and where does it grow because it’s very quickly outgrowing its one hour pre-taped home on the WWE Network. One look at the talent on the roster tells you all you need to know: Adam Cole, Andrade Almas, Bobby Fish, Kyle O’Reilly, Ember Moon, The Iconic Duo, Aleister Black, Velveteen Dream, SAnitY, Kassius Ohno, Lars Anderson, Johnny Gargano, and Tommaso Ciampa to say a few.

How in the world do you fit all that talent into an hour of TV? That doesn’t even take into account the newer signees that have yet to debut (Axel Dieter Jr,) or are rumored to be signed (Ricochet). The roster is flush with talent, and some of that will float up to the main roster as some of the older stale talent is released, but isn’t it a waste for all of it to just work the Florida house show loop?

A sign of what might be coming happened over the holidays as USA Network aired an episode of NXT during ‘WWE Week’. Ratings weren’t spectacular overall, but it was the highest rated program on USA that night. With their deal with USA over in 2019, might this be the year that NXT makes steps to take its rightful place next to Raw and SmackDown on live television?

Joshua Molina, fill-in wrestling recapper:

Here's some quick hit predictions:

- Roman Reigns will get booed out of the building after winning the title at WrestleMania.

- Ronda Rousey will get booed out of the building if she defeats Asuka at Wrestlemania or any other show during the year.

- Rusev will emerge as the most popular babyface on Raw after he gets drafted from SmackDow, and will defeat Roman Reigns at SummerSlam.

- Shinsuke Nakamura will defeat AJ Styles at WrestleMania.

- Brock Lesnar will fight for the UFC heavyweight championship and get knocked out by new champ Francis Ngannou in under a minute.

- Vince McMahon will relaunch a smaller-scale version of the XFL that will be moderately successful, and surprise the critics. He will sign a few big-name, ex-NFL stars, including Tim Tebow.

- History will repeat itself when "Glorious" Bobby Roode will defeat Nakamura for the WWE title.

- Daniel Bryan will stay with the WWE and wrestle Styles in his return match.

Brian Denny, NJPW recapper:

Prediction: Cody, The Young Bucks, and ROH will sell 10,000 tickets for a show. I'm not quite sure how or where they will do it, but they'll do it. I'm not even sure I know what the main event match will be to sell those 10,000 tickets, but it'll get done. They have a lot of momentum and fans will see this as something special, and will make it a destination show like the G1 Special back in 2017.

As for NJPW, I predict they will sell out the show in Long Beach in March, and the G1 in 2018 will find a way to be just as good or better than the 2017 version. Also, Okada will at some point lose the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

James Cox, WWE Main Event recapper:

Two predictions: a McMahon will win a WWE title this year and Curt Hawkins will become the new Gillberg, but will do so in going 0-174 and will break the streak on the WrestleMania pre-show.

Ryan Frederick, MMA recapper:

I’m going MMA with my predictions and will say that Conor McGregor, Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones, Nate Diaz and Brock Lesnar will all have UFC fights at some point in 2018. I do believe that McGregor will return, and that at some point during the year, he will fight Diaz for a third time. I don’t believe that GSP came back to fighting just to be one-and-done, and that he will return to 170 pounds. After recent comments made by Jeff Novitzky, I honestly believe that Jones will get cleared by USADA, or just get a one-year suspension, and he will return on the year-end show for a superfight against Lesnar. One last prediction for WWE: Daniel Bryan returns to action inside a WWE ring.

Josh Nason, website editor and podcaster:

I'm going with three questions:

- What's going on with Daniel Bryan? This is mentioned a few times above, but this is the most fascinating wrestling story of 2018 for a variety of reasons: medical implications, where he could go, etc. I have no doubt he's going to return to action and if it's in a WWE ring, that will answer a big question about how the company now values the risk vs. reward when it comes to an injured money player potentially going elsewhere. My gut says he's going to want to give it a go outside TitanWorld and everything around that decision will make for the most buzzworthy story of the year.

- What's going on with the UFC and WWE TV deals? Discussed a lot in 2017, we're going to finally have our answers to where UFC and WWE will mainly be seen in the next 5-7 years. That UFC co-owner Ari Emanuel is negotiating both deals is quite something and really makes a lot of sense when you think about it. For both organizations, how they split up their content pie will tell us where they view the most upside for the future and how to get to where everyone else is going to be a decade from now.

I think UFC and Fox will end up back together again but that they will farm out 2-4 yearly FS1-esque events to either Amazon or Facebook, either as a simulcast like Thursday Night Football or as exclusive. For WWE, I think NBC Universal will re-up them with Facebook becoming an increased content partner as well for the secondary shows. In both cases, I don't think we'll see massive increased but enough where everyone will be happy.

- Who's next to see success on the Patreon train? Among the mass layoffs we experienced in sports media in 2017, one of the feel-good stories was in our bubble as John Pollock and Wai Ting took the leap into the paid content world. As John told me a few weeks ago, they admittedly struggled with the decision over the free vs. paid content model. But just a few weeks after they launched POST Wrestling, they have nearly 1200 subscribers at a minimum of $6/user while friends of the site Jack Encarnacao and JP Sarro are bringing in nearly $2200 a month for The Lapsed Fan. Like in traditional sales, people buy from people they like. In both these cases, that's a fact.

As we know, not everyone has seen success on Patreon and there are plenty of content creators who are probably better served not going out on their own. However, with increased uncertainity in the media space and with so many still not making what they want to in their current roles, I'm curious as to whether a few others in the wrestling/MMA media space might go the Patreon route and hang their own digital shingle in the year ahead.