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    Saturday, January 6, 2018

    18 Roses For Wrestling in 2018: Smark Henry's Bold Predictions For The Year

    We’re six days into 2018, and instead of lollygagging on Facebook and making another one of those Day X of 365 posts, we here at the Smark Henry offices decided to sit down and make some bold predictions for the new year.

    And since it's 2018, we decided to go all-in on the number 18 and how we value it so much in this country, in terms of age. After all, this is when girls get to have their debuts and invite all their friends to have their dream party. You've got your 18 Roses, Candles, Treasures, Shots, Wishes, Prayers, Death Notes, and whatever the hell else your debutante wants to have on her special night.

    (Seriously, though, can we do away with the 18 Candles and Treasures and their equivalents? Nobody wants to see all these girls blubbering on stage, while getting through their speeches which only go around in circles. Half of them won't even be friends anymore within the next two years anyway. )

    So we’re barely a week in, which means that we have a relatively blank slate on our hands, the events of Wrestle Kingdom 12 notwithstanding. That said, our 18 Roses For Wrestling features 18 predictions about the wrestling industry, with half of them coming from Lucha Underground reviewer Anthony Cuello. After all, one of us has to have the delicadeza to review the local scene, right?

    And now, without further ado, here are 18 things we’re calling off the bat for 2018.

    Aleister Black will be NXT Champion at some point this year… and then move on to the main roster not long afterward.

    Stan Sy: It’s no secret that Aleister Black has become NXT’s fastest-rising star. His recent defeat in the #1 Contender’s Fatal 4-Way match should only be a roadblock, as it sets up his feud with The Undisputed Era. Black is slowly becoming the face of this generation of NXT, and for good reason. He’s got a natural, enigmatic charisma that just draws you in. Couple that with an in-ring style that comes across as badass to both adults and children, and you have the makings of a guy who could move on to main roster success sooner than later.

    2018 is going to be Aleister Black’s banner year on NXT, and it shouldn’t be surprising if he’s holding the NXT Championship by TakeOver: Brooklyn. And I’d even go so far as to predict that Black is going to be on the main roster before this year ends. After all, he does the things you never could… and you will never be equal.

    At least one member of the New Day will win a singles title this year.

    Anthony Cuello: The New Day have been one of the biggest success stories in recent years, having established themselves in the tag team division with a legendary reign. They’ve done all there is to do in the tag team scene, and it’s time for them to move on to let other teams grow and shine in the division. The next step for them, then, is obvious—singles success.

    It’s hard to imagine how this will go, of course—will the two other guys just play a supporting role to their buddy? Do they all start their own feuds and paths, but still collectively identify as the New Day? This might be a good way to keep SmackDown Live fresh, as it opens the door for many different feuds and matches. In a way, we’re already seeing this right now with Xavier Woods being involved in the U.S. Championship tournament and his ongoing campaign on social media to be champion. He might not win the tournament, but one of them will be holding individual gold by year’s end. 

    Ronda Rousey will be part of the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble Match, but she won’t win it. Asuka will.

    Sy: There are so many directions that the Women’s Royal Rumble Match can go, but only one path really makes sense—the one that involves an Asuka victory. The Empress of Tomorrow has been built up to be such an unstoppable force since her time on NXT, and that run has been carried over to RAW, which they thankfully haven’t messed up (yet).

    Nobody else among the women really needs the Rumble victory anyway. Ronda Rousey can come in and start a feud with Charlotte, or have it be Four Horsewomen vs. Four Horsewomen. That feud doesn’t necessitate a Rumble victory. Whether or not Carmella cashes in at the Rumble, it doesn’t take Asuka off the board as a potential winner.

    Having Asuka win is the logical next step following her strong showing at Survivor Series. And from there, build her up to be the #1 Contender against Alexa Bliss or whomever will be the RAW Women’s Champion by the time WrestleMania season. Nobody (on the roster) might be ready for Asuka, but we all are.

    At least two out of Zayden Trudeau, Miguel Rosales and Rederick Mahaba will have their first taste of championship gold by the end of the year.

    Photo: "Hardworking" Hub Pacheco

    Cuello: First up, there’s Miguel Rosales, who proved his mettle after an excellent display in the Ubusan Ng Lahi match at PWR: Vendetta. He looks set to have a big 2018 coming up, and it wouldn’t surprise us all if he’ll be wearing a championship belt at some point in the next twelve months. Of course, that’s assuming he finds a way out of his current predicament, as John Sebastian recently suspended both members of the Fighters 4 Hire.

    Trudeau might have fallen short against the wily Mike Madrigal to end last year, but he remains one of PWR’s promising young talents. There’s no way to go but up for the Canadian Dragon, and he’s another one I expect to be winning his first championship very soon. Whether he gets back into the PHX Championship scene, or finds success in his tag team with Bolt, Trudeau is set to have an even better 2018.

    Finally, we have Rederick Mahaba. Someone in the Smark Henry offices pointed out that the big guy is the only one who has yet to hold a championship from Team Sebastian, which I had to double check because I thought he already had. Anyway, the stars seem to be aligning for fortune to finally go his way. Mahaba and his partner HIS PARTNER (more on him later) look to be in John Sebastian’s good graces, and it’s highly likely that Sebastian will throw a bone to the guys that helped him gain control of PWR. This could mean an upcoming title opportunity, which Mahaba is more than capable of capitalizing on to get a taste of championship gold. Now that I think about it, the image of Mahaba preaching about love and respect while having that pristine white PHX Championship on his shoulder is just perfect.

    Neville and the WWE will patch things up and this could be the catalyst for the Cruiserweights finally transcending their division.

    Sy: There are rumors going around that one reason why Neville hasn’t been formally released is because he and WWE are actually having discussions on how to repair their relationship and do business together once again. If he returns to WWE, he could pick up where he left off and be the conquering babyface to square off against Enzo Amore, regardless of whether Cedric Alexander wins the Cruiserweight Championship or not.

    At this point, having Neville return to WWE could be the better move to keep the Cruiserweight division alive. While his run as the champ legitimized the title and the division, Enzo Amore gets a lot of the credit for putting the Cruiserweights in the conversation among fans because of his controversial nature. They do say that time heals all wounds, so I’m calling a Neville return sometime this year. It’s a shot in the arm that the division could certainly use, which hopefully could avoid getting the plug pulled off 205 Live.

    Sexy Star will NOT return for Lucha Underground’s fourth season, and her departure will be explained by an off-screen death.

    Cuello: After the fiasco with Rosemary went down last year, Sexy Star’s stock has all but gone down. Her antics have led to several promotions pulling her out of scheduled matches, and she’s lost the respect of many of her fellow wrestlers. Her initial three-season contract with Lucha Underground is up, and it’s easy to see the producers not offering her an extension because of all the backlash. She’d be met with a very negative reception by the fans, which the producers will have to scramble to work with. Also, if she came back, she’d be stealing Pentagon Dark’s gimmick of breaking arms. God forbid they make the new champion look bad, right?

    How they’ll write her off, though, should be fun to see. At the close of season three, Sexy Star was still being tormented by those spiders, planting the seeds for her supposed character arc in season four. If she doesn’t come back, then it becomes a natural way to end her story. Have whoever is behind the spiders just show up in the Temple carrying Sexy Star’s mask, and we’ve instantly established another threat in Lucha Underground. There’s a lot of ways they can get creative with this, and hopefully they make something good out of it.

    Sasha Banks will move to SmackDown Live.

    Sy: Let's keep talking about the women here. I’ve made no secret about me being a Sasha Banks stan over the last few years, but even I have to admit that her character has gone stale on RAW. She’s always a contender to be in the main storylines, and will even win the championship every now and then. But homegirl can never have a successful title defense, which has easily weakened her credibility. The easy reboot solution is to turn her heel, but Sasha’s become too popular to turn heel at this point. Plus, she sells too much merch and she's too adorable in real life—with a really sympathetic backstory, to boot—for fans to actually boo her.

    So I’m calling for a soft reset on the Legit Boss via a move to the Land of Opportunity. Give her fresh matchups with the likes of Nattie, Tamina, Naomi, Carmella, Becky Lynch—remember that rivalry from 2015?—hell, even the Riott Squad! And to avoid having another series of Charlotte/Sasha matches, why not reform the BFFs and have them run roughshod over the women’s division on the Blue Brand? I just talked myself into seeing Sasha Banks on Wednesday mornings (Manila time).

    WWE will introduce a tag team championship for women at some point in the year.

    Cuello: Here's one more for the ladies. As women’s wrestling continues to grow in the WWE, we’ll see more elements of the male-dominated sport become accessible to female wrestlers. Last year, we had the first-ever Women’s Money in the Bank match, and Stephanie McMahon just announced we’ll be having the first all-female Royal Rumble Match later this month.

    So what comes next after the Rumble? If there’s enough women for a full Royal Rumble, then it also means that there’s enough for a regular tag team division to be developed.

    Having only one women’s title apiece for RAW and SmackDown Live means that some of the girls get left out because there isn’t a whole lot to do. The recent additions of factions such as Absolution and the Riott Squad put in even more competition for both brands, and it’s time to give these ladies something new to fight over.

    Aside from the two new groups, there are already a number of duos right now that could benefit from having tag team championships—Sasha Banks and Bayley, Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax, the Iconic Duo (when they move up, of course), and Tamina Snuka and Lana, for example. This will allow women’s wrestling to continue to expand, while at the same time allowing these wrestlers another avenue to pursue success in.

    Neither Ricochet nor War Machine will go straight to the main roster.

    Source: WCPW Loaded
    Sy: If we’re going to use last year’s Royal Rumble Match as a precedent, then don’t expect to have any new talent debuting straight on the main roster via the Rumble this year. The last time it happened was with AJ Styles two years ago, but it’s hard to imagine any other act having the same impact that AJ did at a Rumble debut outside of Kenny Omega.

    The latest rumblings involve WWE signing Ricochet and War Machine (Hanson and Raymond Rowe) to contracts, which will most likely take place this month, now that WK 12 is in the books. But with the depth of both the RAW and SmackDown Live rosters, it’s unlikely that any of these guys will have a spot ready for them on TV… unless they go to NXT first. Just look at the Club, who have been floundering around and running in place on RAW for the last half-year and change.

    The good news is NXT always seems to know what to do, even with an overloaded roster. It’ll be interesting to see how Ricochet and War Machine fare down at Full Sail.

    MWF will introduce their first championship belt within the year, and Robin Sane will become their inaugural champion.

    Photo from Manila Wrestling Federation

    Cuello: After their maiden year, MWF heads into 2018 continuing to lay the groundwork for their young promotion. With the roster already introduced to us, the next step is likely to introduce championship gold. It gives everyone something to fight for and strive towards, and allows one wrestler to distinguish himself from the rest of his peers.

    It’ll be interesting to see who makes history and becomes their first champion, but if I have to pick, I’d go with MWF’s resident daredevil, Robin Sane. Don’t let his win-loss record fool you—Sane has consistently been one of MWF’s elite performers, putting on solid matches at or near the top of the card since their first show. He headlined four out of their five shows in 2017, showing just how much faith the MWF brass have in him to put on a show. He’d make a fine first champion to represent the company, for sure. Imagine him facing the unbeaten Fabio Makisig in the final match, pulling off the upset and ending the streak—that’ll be fun to watch.

    WWE will come back to Manila in some form in 2018.

    Photo: "Humanitarian" Hub Pacheco

    Sy: Before the 2016 WWE live event at the Mall of Asia Arena, WWE had not performed on our shores for over seven years. That gap was way too long; and WWE realized it. Based on the event attendance and merch sales from that show alone—on top of the collective efforts we’ve put into making the WWE notice us through activities like our viewing parties—another house show, or at least a Superstar appearance, might just be in the cards for 2018. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on it already.

    Ralph Imabayashi will become a two-time Kampeon ng Pilipinas, and maybe even more than that. 

    Photo: "Helluva" Hub Pacheco

    Cuello: Imabayashi’s dark days seem to finally be behind him, and 2018 looks to be a defining year for PWR’s best pure wrestler. He’s got a ton of momentum on his side after winning the Ubusan ng Lahi match for Team Sebastian, and he’s set his sights once more on the PWR Championship currently held by Chris Panzer. With a new vicious streak, a solid ally in Rederick Mahaba, and the favor of PWR’s most powerful man in John Sebastian, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Imabayashi finds his way back to the top.

    Heck, I think he won’t settle for just becoming a two-time Kampeon ng Pilipinas. Maybe he’ll lose it and win it again within the year, establishing himself as the man with the most title reigns in PWR. Maybe MTNH will proceed to wreck the tag team division, and Imabayashi becomes PWR’s first dual champion. Maybe he’ll even usurp Trabajador Supremo and take over La Consejo de Trabajadores! Okay, that last one might be a stretch, but this will be a fun year for Ralph Imabayashi as he Senketsus his way through the company.

    Philippine wrestling will continue to intertwine with the larger Southeast Asian wrestling scene, highlighted by at least one Filipino wrestler capturing a regional or foreign championship this year.

    Photo from MyPW

    Cuello: When we featured Pete Dunne vs. The Statement in our 31 Days of Wrestling showcase, we talked about the growing collaboration between Southeast Asian promotions. With Crystal listed as a member of Malaysia-based AWE’s roster, and John Sebastian and Jake De Leon showing up at AWE: Adventus last December, this marks a new opportunity for our locally grown talent to go out there and make a mark on a bigger stage.

    In fact, I’ll take that one step higher and guess that at least one Pinoy wrestler will win a foreign-based promotions championship this year. Remember when Bombay Suarez captured the MyPW Extreme Division Championship? That felt good to see play out, and I think it’s time we see something similar again. We’ve already got one local wrestler set for an international championship bout, with MWF’s Rex Lawin set to take on AWF Dual Champion TNT at a future show. Let’s hope that more of these opportunities come for our local boys and girls.

    AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura will NOT face each other at WrestleMania over the WWE Championship.

    Sy: I want to see AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania for the WWE Championship. The WWE Universe seems to want to see this same match. I just don’t think Vince McMahon does. Now, it’s entirely possible that WWE still gives us this match this April, just not over the title.

    I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they probably won’t say it’s because neither man deserves it or neither man is over enough (in their eyes). They might very well just say that the match will have enough hype that it can do without the title, so another feud/Superstar could use it to legitimize himself at ‘Mania. Of course, that’ll be a damn shame, and this is one prediction I hope I’m dead wrong about. But if we get Styles/Nakamura as a dream match with no championship implications, I’ll still be psyched for it. I’ll also just be a little disappointed because I’ll have called it right.

    The inevitable Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa match will lead to NXT’s best match this year.

    Cuello: This sounds like an insane claim given how stacked the NXT roster can get, but it has all the ingredients to be a classic.

    All signs point to this match happening when Ciampa gets cleared to return, and he’s made it clear that he hasn’t forgotten about his former partner in #DIY. Gargano, on the other hand, seems to have finally moved on as a singles competitor, even earning a shot at the NXT Championship to end last year. Nevertheless, you just know that he’ll be dragged back into the mix when Ciampa come back. 

    We know these two can put on a great match as they did in the Cruiserweight Classic, but this upcoming match is going to have a lot more emotion attached to it. It’s rare to get this kind of long-term storytelling when NXT serves as a launchpad to the main roster, since most guys don’t stick around for long. Ciampa and Gargano have stuck around, however, and there’s a big opportunity to make something spectacular here.

    Carmella will cash in her Women’s Money in the Bank on the episode after WrestleMania.

    Sy: How much hate will Carmella get from fans if we get a badass match from both the RAW and SmackDown Women’s Championship matches, only for Carmella to bamboozle them and take the title the very next night? When they pulled the trigger on this for Dolph Ziggler in 2013, he was on the cusp of being the next big superstar—at least, if they’d played their cards right.

    With Carmella, they could try and shoot for the same level of nuclear heat they got when James Ellsworth won the Women’s Money in the Bank for her last year. The only difference with this move is that they won’t have a man shit on a women’s moment in the process.

    Twitch will continue to grow as an avenue to showcase professional wrestling on, and more promotions will partner with them to showcase their brand of wrestling to the world. 

    Photo from WrestleCircus

    Cuello: By now, most of you are probably familiar with Twitch—the live streaming platform mainly used for video games and eSports. Last year, Texas-based WrestleCircus became the first wrestling promotion to sign with the streaming service, allowing fans to watch their shows and donate money through subscriptions if they like the content. It was seen as a new way for promotions to get their name out there and build more of a following, and we began to see more wrestling on the platform. Promotions such as Hoodslam and the Tommy Dreamer-owned House of Hardcore have followed suit, and even AAA broadcasted their yearly TripleMania on the platform last year.

    While there are other streaming services for pro wrestling online, none can boast of a demographic and reach as massive as Twitch. Thousands of people are there at any given time, and soon all these people will be a couple of clicks away from being able to watch a ton of wrestling on the platform. Now that there’s a precedent for success, expect the trend to continue as more and more wrestling promotions partner with the purple brand. This is a golden opportunity for these promotions to expand their viewership and make a buzz, which means more great wrestling for all of us to watch.

    Daniel Bryan will NOT wrestle at WrestleMania.

    Screenshot from DailyDDT.com

    Sy: We know, we know. Wrestling has an all-too-familiar history with retirements-that-aren’t-really-retirements. Plus, the WWE doesn’t exactly have a good history with honoring all of its policies to a T. But I don’t think they’ll be willing to fuck around with Daniel Bryan’s long-term health, even if it meant a WrestleMania payday.

    Yes, the Shane/Bryan storyline is compelling; and yes, having them actually fight one another would be one hell of a payoff. However, I don’t think this is one risk WWE wants to touch with a 10-foot pole. If Daniel Bryan really wanted to wrestle again, he might have to do so with another company, like NJPW. That way, WWE would wash its hands clean of the possible risks. So, will Bryan wrestle again at ‘Mania? Nope.


    There you have it, 18 predictions for 2018—19 if you count that bonus one at the end. But you’ve heard enough from us. We want to hear from you! What are your fearless forecasts for this year in wrestling? Sound off in the comments section below, ka-smarkada!

    Photos from WWE, unless stated otherwise


    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of The Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. You can ask him questions about wrestling, Survivor (yes, the reality show), or whatever you like on his CuriousCat account.

    Anthony Cuello is an HR professional and training designer. When he’s not sleeping or reading the Harvard Business Review, he covers Lucha Underground for Smark Henry. A psychology nut, he tends to watch wrestling looking for these small nuances of in-ring behavior. He dreams of a wrestling business with good people management practices, and hopes to help make that happen one day.

    Disclosure: Smark Henry is independently run and managed by a group of Filipino wrestling fans, but includes members affiliated with the Philippine Wrestling Revolution.
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    Item Reviewed: 18 Roses For Wrestling in 2018: Smark Henry's Bold Predictions For The Year Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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