For one reason or another, the following assortment of superstars stand out to me as people who will take dramatic steps forward in their careers this year in some fashion, whether it be winning championships, advancing from midcarder to upper midcarder, or something else along those lines.
Before we begin, it’s worth noting that plenty of other people not listed here are going to have great years, but have been doing so for a long time. Would anyone be shocked if John Cena were to win the majority of his matches once he returns? Is it going to surprise anyone if Seth Rollins comes back from injury and wins the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at some point? Scenarios like this are highly likely and to be expected, so in a way, they’re not worth talking about.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand why AJ Styles is on this list. He’s a new acquisition to the company, an established name, and someone that has a sizable fan base. Since he’s a seasoned performer, WWE has rightfully not hesitated in pushing him to the upper midcard of the roster, which is where I think he’s going to continue to shine throughout the year.
Many people would probably be quick to assume he’s getting a world title reign, but while that’s a certainly a possibility, I wouldn’t be shocked if it doesn’t happen this year. 2017 is a different story, as 2016 will probably be used to test his staying power with the crowd. I expect Styles to only increase in popularity as he has more matches and his character can grow. Without any injuries to get in the way, WWE will likely give him better and better spots as the months go on, to the point where he’ll be one of the top five contenders to win the Royal Rumble, if not the favorite.
While I don’t think AJ Styles will win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship this year, I fully anticipate either the Intercontinental Championship or United States Championship to be around his waist soon enough. My guess would be the IC title goes his way before the summer kicks in and he’ll be filling a consistent role pay-per-view after pay-per-view of putting on some of the best wrestling matches of the night.
Alberto Del Rio
If history has shown us anything, it’s that when WWE doesn’t know what to do and they can’t push John Cena, they push Alberto Del Rio. I don’t know why that’s the case, as I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Del Rio, but it happens so often that I can’t keep him off this list out of spite.
Del Rio has a great look to him and he is definitely talented, but by no means do I think he should have had as many title reigns as he did, nor do I think those runs should have lasted as long as they went on. For some reason, though, it seems like every few months, WWE gets the itch to give him another championship. We’re only in February and he’s already been the United States champion twice with the possibility of winning it back again at Fastlane.
The League of Nations has a ton of potential to win the Tag Team Championship down the road this year and Del Rio is also someone WWE might want to pull the trigger on for a WWE World Heavyweight Championship reign as well. Even if he doesn’t win either of those belts, he’s certain to be one of the top heels in an environment where so many people are injured.
WrestleMania season is different than building up to Extreme Rules and after. Triple H is likely dropping the belt to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania and not continuing to wrestle after that, while Brock Lesnar will be sitting off on the sidelines, too. Since Reigns already had his feud with Sheamus, Del Rio is probably going to be the next in line to feud with the new champ. He’ll lose that feud, but then WWE will want to rehabilitate him so he doesn’t look too weak, meaning he’ll get lots of wins as an upper midcarder. Come SummerSlam, Del Rio could be someone in a high profile match against Brock Lesnar if WWE’s hurting for people to fill that role, or he could be feuding with someone like AJ Styles over the Intercontinental Championship with ease. Don’t underestimate WWE’s willingness to push Del Rio.
The biggest man in The Wyatt Family has a long, long way to go before anyone wants to see him in an Iron Man match, but that’s not going to stop WWE from pushing him in 2016. It’s going to take a truly awful performance for Strowman to be forgotten about by Vince McMahon, as his giant size is the selling point and that’s not going away any time soon.
If the rumors are true, Strowman could face The Undertaker or Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, which would be absolutely huge. The bad thing is that it would also be absolutely horrible. The intensity of his push depends entirely on WWE’s point of view regarding how green he is in the ring. If the powers that be are so mesmerized by his stature that they’re willing to sacrifice the quality of a match for the stock increase he’ll get just for having been in it, look out for Strowman to wrestle something very high profile like those two men. Hopefully, calmer heads prevail and Strowman is only involved in a tag match of some sort, but even if that’s the case, he’s definitely going to be the biggest obstacle to overcome.
WWE has protected Strowman 100% of the time he’s been on screen. He is always decimating people, never gets pinned (that’s Erick Rowan’s job) and he barely wrestles while they try to figure out what direction they want to go with him. “Up” is the clear navigation in mind, but just how far, and how do they get there? Whatever decisions WWE makes, it’s a safe bet that Braun Strowman will be getting a big increase in 2016.
I have a feeling people are sleeping on Dean Ambrose right now, and I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps it’s because his track record isn’t so great in big matches. Maybe it’s because he’s currently the Intercontinental champion and is booked in a match he has virtually no shot at winning. Whatever the case may be, people are underestimating just how big of a year this could be for The Lunatic Fringe.