Ten questions for 2019

As much as we who follow and support wrestling never meet a situation we couldn't overreact to, thenew year has the potential to be genuinely historic on a level we may not have seen since 2001-02 for all kinds of reasons, from what happens at WrestleMania via what happens to half of the main roster product six months after that to how the companies that aren't WWE develop from their current boom periods.

There feels like more than usual that's open to mystery and anticipation in the months ahead - these kinds of things, for instance:

Who will Ronda Rousey face at WrestleMania and where on the card will it be?
Everyone who matters has talked about how the goal for the Women's Evolution is a 'Mania main event and this feels like the best chance they'll get to break that glass ceiling, not just with Reigns not around and Brock's future unclear but also while Rousey is there and still has some mainstream credibility from her UFC fame. For their part WWE has shown it has the capability to develop trusted hot hands with mainstream star potential (though how often have we said that in recent years and it not happened?) and it's rare they find someone with as much genuine support, goodwill and innate personal ability to turn things in her favor as Becky right now. As of now it's reportedly still a singles match between the two but the thoughts of a triple threat have intensified since the ending to TLC. Whatever happens it has huge potential to break out of the wrestling bubble, it just remains to be seen how heavily it falls, and of course what happens afterwards.

What are Brock Lesnar's plans?
Right now Lesnar is still in the USADA testing pool but the likely match against Daniel Cormier is looking shaky and Dana White has acknowledged that while everything is still open Lesnar has WWE business to deal with. Whatever it was that brought him back - Saudi money? Roman's loss? - he's regained the position on top ahead of a third PPV title match with Braun Strowman, and let's hope it's better than the first two. But what then? He could easily retain, and reports of Seth Rollins at 'Mania have been given credibility by the Kingslayer dropping his name a couple of times recently. Then again there's also been speculation that he could miss the big date entirely if something comes up in UFC, and nobody seems to know how long he's committed for.

Who's getting the bigger push, the Irishman or the Scotsman?
The current word is that Finn Balor and Drew McIntyre are getting the rocket push for the near future. For Balor it feels overdue after the injury that forced him to give up the Universal Championship, and that the two people he was feuding with, getting assisted wins over both, are having their blowoff in a steel cage on this week's Raw feels like ascending him by association. But then before this program and Dolph Ziggler's interferences McIntyre had been kept very strong, never taking a pin and decimating Kurt Angle. The problem is the desire to blame Baron Corbin for everything means that story seems to have been forgotten already and having to go 50/50 in interference success over the last few weeks could well have badly damaged his strength going forward. Their feud may well persist but in the meantime what are their plans if they're going to continue as the upper mid-card's hot hands? What Dean Ambrose does with the secondary title at Royal Rumble will tell us a lot.

What will SmackDown on Fox actually be?
A key detail about the deal that begins in October is that despite being on the main channel the deal was actually made with Fox Sports. It's long been read that Fox want a more "sports oriented" approach to the show, which could mean anything from making it part of an interpromoted family of live sports coverage to telling Vince to dial down on the second part of the 'sports entertainment' mantra. Whatever the truth is, Fox are going to want a heavy return on their $2.5bn outlay that declining viewing figures, even if they're not falling nearly as fast as the last two years, may not immediately provide. The onus is therefore on WWE to do as much as they can to bring in a big casual audience. What does that mean to them? Whatever, after the Saudi Arabia situation (and with two more visits penciled in for 2019) this is a company that needs a big boost in its public standing as it goes into its highest profile TV slot in years, and with the XFL returning in 2020 Vince McMahon needs his primary business bedrock to be as solid as possible.

Who's going to stop Tommaso Ciampa, and will they get the chance to?
The ongoing story with Ciampa and his relationship with Johnny Gargano is taking some interesting turns right now, with the Sicilian Psychopath most recently attempting to do Johnny Wrestling's bidding for him by sending him after Ricochet's US title. Yet is Gargano too far gone for an effective redemption storyline? Have they had one match too many for the feud to work going forward? Might they not have an ultimate blowoff at all when call-up season approaches after 'Mania? Maybe it will take Aleister Black to break the dam (ironically for a Dutchman) with his upcoming Takeover title match, or failing that Ricochet himself, or Matt Riddle, or Keith Lee, with wild cards like Undisputed Era and Velveteen Dream in the background. We should start finding out at this Thursday's first tapings of the year.

How far is WWE going to spread?
Back in April at the company's 2018 Business Partner Summit Triple H talked about the company's theory of 'global localization'. Under the scheme, he claimed, "we will create scaled versions of the template we've created: organizing tryouts, recruiting talent, establishing Performance Centers and building, on the ground, NXT-style brands. You can already see this template starting to take shape in the UK." Indeed, with the first UK Takeover on 12th January quickly selling out the appetite is there for the first regional brand, albeit with some recent backlash as contracts are tightened against their indie sector meaning Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate have just left Progress, a company WWE has open ties with, with the rumor being they're only going to work NXT shows from now on. Maybe the real goal is to make sure as little happens outside a potential WWE environment as possible - and bear in mind that 'Network 2.0', the internal language for a tiered pricing service with partner promotions and a greater range of options at the top level, is expected to be launched in the coming months.

What is All Elite Wrestling exactly?
All we know at time of writing* is what's been trademarked and thrown around - a new promotion financed by Shahid Khan's son Tony (a genuinely huge wrestling fan who used to send results into the Wrestling Observer) with the backing of the Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes. We should find out maybe within the week now all three are officially out of contract with Ring Of Honor, with Adam Page tagging along and reports of some veteran ROH talent joining them. Beyond that is a tangled web encompassing Japanese ambitions - Cody has openly said he wants to work the G-1 having been unable to do so in 2018 due to Arrow filming commitments but everyone would have to play nice with ROH's working agreement - and lack so far of any leaked information regarding shows, TV or streaming plans. A lot of things should become clear very soon, but the road to wrestling immortality is paved with failed promotions that had more money than concrete plans.

* Editor's note: Signor's piece was written and originally posted prior to the formal announcement regarding All Elite Wrestling. Despite that and subsequent statements from Cody, The Bucks and the AEW team, these questions are still open.

What are Kenny Omega's plans?
Omega has reportedly declined to do any non-Japanese press ahead of his Tokyo Dome main event against Hiroshi Tanahashi because he doesn't want to be asked questions about his future. Being a member of the Elite the expectation would be that he would support his friends in their new endeavors, but his commitment to Japan is much stronger and he's openly talked about wanting to have a full program with Kota Ibushi to complete the Golden Lovers story arc. If Tanahashi completes his comeback to the top level by taking Omega's title the whispers will get louder, especially as his contract is up at the end of January and if WWE can offer millions to the Bucks and Cody as reported there's no way they wouldn't move hell and high water to get the Best Bout Machine on their books at a critical time for the industry.

Where does Ring Of Honor go from here?
It feels weird to suggest ROH is at a bind given 2018 saw record average attendances for the company and they have the New Japan co-promoted Madison Square Garden sellout in April, but those figures trended downwards in the second half of the year and they've just lost at least three of their big hitters with Marty Scurll possibly following when his contract comes up right after MSG. With the world title currently on Jay Lethal and the Briscoes holding the tag belts it feels like they've stepped backwards to reliable figures unlikely to go elsewhere in order to shore up the hole. However, pinning down the likes of Jeff Cobb, Bandito and Brody King while having Zack Sabre Jr and Juice Robinson commit to more dates in 2019 is a very solid response. The bigger concern could be the expansion plans of their partners at NJPW, who even if their shows in February are at notably smaller venues given the very top talent wouldn't all be available are making stronger US footholds a priority, which may mean problems in the longer term. Regardless, the growth of the business outside WWE with its access to streaming services and potential for international tours - already Stardom have announced a 'Mania week show - may prove pivotal.

Can Impact pull themselves back up?
Whichever way you slice it, in a crowded market being relegated to a worse slot by a channel your parent company part-own that has less than half the viewer reach of the previous home is not promising. While by all accounts better for Impact financially than Pop TV, the benefits of building an audience on Twitch are being pushed and there has been talk that this is a means to an end while the bigger deal they couldn't immediately land is sought, Pursuit Channel feels like a dead end. The idea seems to be that they will pick up viewers on Fridays at 10pm once SmackDown finishes, but not only is that ten months away but it's hardly as if WWE are going to advertise the opposition. Furthermore this is a company that followed its best reviewed PPV in some time, Slammiversary, with a big drop in viewership, suffering for programs going on too long and most of the top of the card faces being unlikable. But... the product is better than it has been for a few years, the tie-ups with Mexican companies has borne fruit and if it can find some hot angles and keep up its in-ring run we know there's an audience willing to give it more chances.

There are of course plenty of other questions that could have been included here - is Mustafa Ali going to sustain the big introductory push? Where will Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn fit in when they return? Are we looking at another Tetsuya Naito redemption storyline? What about the future of his Wrestle Kingdom opponent Chris Jericho? What's PAC, who still hasn't announced any US dates, going to do next? Maybe add extra rhetorical questions below.

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