2016 was a pivotal year for professional wrestling. After countless injuries from over-working the wrestlers—oops, I mean superstars—WWE finally listened to the fans—oops, I mean WWE Universe. The result is the much heralded brand split that produced separate rosters for the RAW and Smackdown brands. The brand split revitalized WWE, while contributing to way too many pay-per-views. I repeat, WAY too many pay-per-views!
We also saw NXT continue to thrive; the launch of the Cruiserweight Classic (CWC); and the WWE Divas Revolution gained legitimacy with the division being re-branded the Women’s Division. Ring of Honor (ROH) continued to be an exciting and compelling brand that is the breeding ground for the wrestling megastars of tomorrow. TNA (aka Impact Wrestling) was plagued with ongoing financial problems and rumors of being shut down, though they did shake things up signing former WWE star Damien Sandow (now billed as Aron Rex) and former ROH star Moose.
There was the birth of new stars (Cedric Alexander/American Alpha/Enzo & Cass); big departures by disgruntled wrestlers (Cody Rhodes/Alberto Del Rio/Wade Barrett); the return of veteran stars (Bill Goldberg/Shane McMahon); and finally, Heath Slater got over with the crowd.
Looking ahead to 2017, here’s my wish list of eight things I would love to see happen next year in professional wrestling.
1. The Return Of Cody Rhodes:
Now that the wrestler formerly known as Stardust is back to being Cody Rhodes, he is making major waves on the independent wrestling scene with appearances in TNA, What Culture Pro Wrestling (WCPW), ROH, and New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), most recently joining the famed faction The Bullet Club. I would love to see Rhodes to return to WWE now that the brands have split and shine in his restored light. The son of the late, great Dusty Rhodes and brother of Goldust could be an immediate asset on Tuesday’s Smackdown Live brand. And since he’s in The Bullet Club in NJPW, put him with AJ Styles and move Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows over to Smackdown Live and revive The Club.
2. Caprice Coleman Joins The CWC: Coleman is in the sunset of his 30’s—despite looking every bit of a 20-something in Ring of Honor—and in the ring, he’s still awesome! While he’s billed at 213 pounds, it shouldn’t take long to drop 8 lbs. Simply put, Caprice Coleman could be an asset to CWC and 205 Live. His storyline could mirror that of 37-year-old Brian Kendrick, having Coleman, a former tag team partner of CWC breakout star Cedric Alexander come to WWE as Alexander’s former mentor back to teach his old mentee a tough lesson in respect. Coleman’s great mic skills could certainly sell a storyline about a bitter, frustrated wrestler who was on the rise, but ultimately out-shined by his younger protégé and former tag partner. (Chants “Please Sign Caprice!!”)
3. WWE Women’s Division Gets A Tag Team Title: I know that with brand split, WWE has created Women’s Championship Titles for both RAW and Smackdown. However, I want WWE to launch a Women’s Tag Team Title Tournament for both RAW and Smackdown and have the finalist meet to determine the winner at one of the joint pay-per-views. Depending on the winner of the tournament, the championship team would be on that respective brand. This division would better utilize female wrestlers like Alicia Fox, Summer Rae, Naomi, Dana Brooke, Eva Marie, Natalya, Tamina, Carmella, Nikki Bella and others that seem misplaced in the dominance of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch and Bayley.
4. Kofi Kingston as WWE Champion:
The New Day has been one of the biggest and most organic success stories in modern day professional wrestling. It’s no secret that there’s a backstage theory at WWE that black wrestlers don’t sell merchandise. Well, Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods have defied those odds and are over-achieving with cereal, unicorn headbands, socks and a ton of other merchandise to go along with their always sold-out t-shirts. A bonafide black wrestler hasn’t been WWE Champion since The Rock—and despite him identifying as a black man, he was billed as Samoan by WWE.
5. James Ellsworth Moves To Cruiserweight Division: It’s clear that that man with no chin who has worked his way into the world champion scene on Smackdown Live and is selling lots of merchandise, which is sure job security in WWE. But while many want James Ellsworth out of the main event storyline on Smackdown Live, there is a place where he could bring some excitement and exceptional mic work. Enter 205 Live, the WWE’s Cruiserweight division. Let’s be honest, 205 Live has been a bit of a dud so far. I think having the show in the Smackdown Live arena following that Tuesday broadcast is the reason for it. However, adding Ellsworth to the mix could be the shot in the arm that franchise needs.
6. Bring Back More Familiar Faces: WWE has a major challenge in both brands. Despite the new talent and the exciting maturation process of the NXT stars transitioning to the main roster, the fact remains that they don’t always translate to the larger audience regardless of the WWE push. (i.e. Tyler Breeze, Finn Balor, The Ascension, The Vaudevillains, etc.) Let’s face it. Everyone can’t be Enzo & Cass, American Alpha, Sami Zayn and The Hype Bros. So while anticipation for the return of Shelton Benjamin was at a fevered pitch, let’s get more of that by bringing back guys like MVP, Carlito, Cryme Tyme, John Morrison, Evan Bourne and hell, maybe even one last main event program for Kurt Angle. But the new guys are not cutting it alone and some of the current veterans (R. Truth, Goldust, Big Show, Kane, etc.) aren’t bringing the excitement they once did.
7. Shift Some Veterans & Underused Guys To NXT: The best way to really teach these young guys how to be great in the ring and build them up for recognition among WWE’s mainstream audience is to get them in programs with wrestlers who have name value. With that said, veterans like Goldust, R. Truth and The Headbangers, along with Fandango, Jinder Mahal and Curt Hawkins would be better utilized by working with the NXT talents much like Rhyno did; while refurbishing their own brand like Zach Ryder. Of course, they could also still do house shows and make occasional TV appearances on either RAW or Smackdown Live,. However, their talents would be most beneficial in NXT and it would extend their drawing power with fans alike.
8. Fire Mick Foley As RAW General Manager: He can keep his Legend’s Contract, but Mick Foley is a snooze as the RAW General Manager. A great wrestler with an awesome legacy in this business, but RAW needs someone new to shake things up. I think Diamond Dallas Page would make an awesome new GM of RAW. Plus, he’s made some recent in-ring appearances at Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. What about Booker T? He’d be much better utilized as GM versus his current role as analyst during the Raw and PPV pre-show. His catch phrases and mic work still get over. In order to contend with the hype that Daniel Bryan brings to Smackdown Live, RAW needs new leadership.
ABOUT JAWN MURRAY: Jawn Murray is a TV host, Media Personality, Pop Culture Expert and Influencer who happens to be a professional wrestling enthusiast with a collection of original WWF rubber action figures and a current WWE t-shirt collection to prove it. In addition to hosting shows for Travel Channel, NFL Network and EPIX, Murray has co-hosted “The View” and appeared on “The Wendy Williams Show”, “The Meredith Vieira Show”, NBC’s “Today,” CNN, TV One, HLN & other networks.