By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Well, it’s 2023. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing something like this once a week for a little while now, it’s that … well, I know nothing. Or, at least that’s how writing this often makes me feel. Because between the time it takes for me to realize what I want to write, write it, and then see it published, plans change, pal. Or, something like that.
The point is, I have no sources, I don’t spend time in locker rooms and at the end of the day, I’m just a fan who draws my own conclusions or makes my own predictions just like everyone else. Granted, I’m wrong 60 to 80 percent of the time, but it’s not like I don’t come by it honestly. Such is why listening to the old guard podcasts can become grating at times. I get it, Eric Bischoff. I wasn’t in the room to see the decisions made so how could I or any other member of the wrestling writing world know for sure what happened? I can’t. But I never claimed I could, either.
It’s all to say … hey, I have predictions! And it’s all to say, take those predictions with a grain of salt, of course. Nobody can really tell the future, anyway, and I don’t know any professional wrestling personality on any personal level whatsoever so it’s not like I can offer anything definitive. What I can do, though, is speculate about five things that I believe are going to happen within the next 12 months now that the calendar has flipped from 2022 to 2023.
Agree? Disagree? It’s all in good fun. Yet as we wipe the slate clean heading into this arbitrary set of days that grow into months that complete a year, why not take stock of what’s around us and throw a few darts at the board to see what sticks by the time 2024 rolls around? Besides, that’s half the fun, is it not?
So behold five bold predictions for the year 2023. Not nearly as bold as Nitro Habanero Takis, but at least as bold as Seth Rollins’ latest outfit. And that’s got to count for something … right?
1. CM Punk will find himself on screen as part of the wrestling business in 2023. This one is tricky because if I say he will “compete” or “return to the wrestling ring,” I might get the, “that injury will keep him out until …” argument and that’s not really the point here. Instead, my point is that with all the chatter surrounding Punk’s future – and with Punk admirably committing to a vow of silence as others take passive-aggressive (or aggressive-aggressive) shots at the guy – it’s hard to believe that the smoke doesn’t mean there’s fire.
I don’t know how it looks. I don’t know if it will be in AEW. And I don’t know what he does when he does it, but what I do know is Phil Brooks is smart enough to know that after taking so long away from the pro wrestling business and flirting non-stop with it for at least his final year away from all the hoopla … well, I’m sorry to report that you don’t get two First Dances. And yes, that includes if he somehow winds up in WWE. The fans might love it and he might get a hero’s welcome to some degree, but he’s not getting the electricity and the emotion that so many felt the day he first appeared on that episode of AEW Rampage.
So, he un-retired, became a champion, got hurt a couple times, mouthed off, reportedly got physical with his co-workers, and shut up for four months (and counting). As I said at the beginning, I don’t know much, but that guy is as much a romantic as anyone whoever laced up a pair of boots and no way did he come back to write an ending as messy as the one currently staring him in the face. So, something’s gotta give. And if half of FTR is going to start a podcast only to come right out of the gate with an entire episode dedicated to him seemingly as a de facto response to all that’s been said about the Best In The World over the past few months, it’s awfully hard to believe these things are accidents.
There’s still a lot of money to be made in CM Punk’s wrestling life. He knows that better than anyone else. And you know what they say about the wrestling bug: Once you get bit … OK, maybe they don’t really say anything about the wrestling bug. But you get it. Phil Brooks isn’t going out like that.
2. Roman Reigns will hold no titles by the time 2023 ends. This seems inevitable, but hey, I need to not whiff on all my predictions. If the rumors are to be believed, there is already a working thought that Reigns might not be a double champion by the time WrestleMania rolls around and if he’s poised to drop whatever else he’s holding in Los Angeles in April, it’s not like he’s going to work the summer from underneath, chasing a belt (or those belts) after holding onto them so tightly for so long.
If you’re Roman, the move is to go away. He’s already cut back his schedule enough and there are at least a million and one reasons why he might decide to put the wrestling thing down for a while. Hollywood. Family. Health. Those are three easy ones; you gotta know there are so many more. Plus, even if Reigns bails, he’s set up The Bloodline in a way that ensures the stable won’t dissolve immediately. Maybe Jimmy or Jey turns on him and costs him a belt all the while declaring one of them the true leader(s) of The Bloodline. Maybe it’s Heyman. Shoot, Solo Sikoa has done a mighty fine job being the silent enforcer since getting the call from NXT; perhaps he factors into it.
Either way, it feels like we’re winding down the Dominant Roman Reigns era in WWE and that’s OK. The run has been an all-timer and it also did the impossible as it made the fans actually feel something for the guy after months (if not years) of it appearing as though there was no way he was ever going resonate with the WWE fan base. It’s been a masterclass in the best of almost everything pro wrestling offers and it was the only thing worth paying attention to on WWE TV for an awfully long time. The guy did his job. He deserves a break.
3. New Japan Strong will become New Japan Honor Club or Honor Club will become ROH Strong or … . Yeah, I don’t know how it’s going to look, but as quickly as Tony Khan’s non-announcement announcement that Honor Club is back (baby!) came and went, so did the notion that New Japan was/is going to be involved somehow. That said, it seems like a reasonable conclusion to draw that New Japan’s U.S. arm, which is the weekly Strong program, somehow morphs into something that people can find on a Ring Of Honor streaming platform.
I say that, why? Well, for starters, the overlap of the rosters (save for a few of the big ROH names we see regularly on AEW TV) would make the marriage natural. Anyone who has watched New Japan Strong over the last year or so can attest that the pre-show for the latest ROH pay-per-view felt like a bulked-up episode of Strong in one way or another. You saw Jeff Cobb. You saw Mascara Dorada. You saw Eli Isom. You saw The Kingdom. Shoot, by the time the main card came around, and you got to the Pure Title match between Daniel Garcia and Wheeler Yuta, it was like a time machine shot us all the way back to … 2021 … or something like that.
Anyway, leaning into the working relationship between the two companies feels like the most productive way to go for both sides. Ring Of Honor didn’t get its splashy TV deal and New Japan Strong can’t seem to escape the New Japan World platform for first-run showings, so why not figure out a way to give both ROH and NJPW programming a bigger reach if they just have crossover distribution? If nothing else, it would at least be all Ian Riccaboni all the time, considering how he’s become the de facto voice for Strong over the last several months after having the same role in ROH for even longer, and that’s always a good thing.
4. 2023 will be a transitional year for women’s wrestling across all promotions. Is it me, or does it feel like the entirety of women’s wrestling seems to be on the verge of something? WWE is in a weird spot as it has what feels like it’s going to be its full roster going forward healthy, but outside of maybe Rhea Ripley, things are growing stale. Charlotte’s Smackdown return and subsequent title win on Friday should have left a bigger memory. Becky Lynch, arguably the biggest name on the female roster, seems caught in a purgatory now that she’s a babyface with no title. Bayley’s return didn’t shake the universe. And though we’re not supposed to say it out loud … maybe Bianca could benefit from a heel turn?
AEW, meanwhile, has Saraya, which wasn’t not akin to CM Punk returning to the pro wrestling world, considering how impossible it once felt that we’d ever see her back in the ring – but now that she’s back, we don’t see her as much as I thought we would. Jade Cargill has crazy star-wattage, but it’d serve everyone involved better if she had a legitimate challenger than it does guessing which Baddie she’s going to kick to the curb in a few weeks. What’s up with Thunder Rosa again? And if Sasha Banks truly is going to show up in a couple weeks on Dynamite, let’s hope she’s not on Dark by March.
Combine all that with how much popularity Stardom has seemed to gain over the last couple years – including their working relationship with New Japan – and you have a whole bunch of “This could …” or “What if …” scenarios that promise to launch women’s wrestling into a higher-than-it’s-been stratosphere sometime soon. Does “soon” mean “2023?” That, I don’t know, if only because of how many plates seem to be spinning at once. But something tells me that by the time 2024 comes around, there are going to be more intriguing headlines coming from the female world of pro wrestling than any other world it showcases.
5. Vince McMahon goes into the WWE Hall Of Fame. Just imagine. The Rock returns to the ring and the most polarizing figure in the history of the business is celebrated on the business’s biggest stage less than a year after being kind of/sort of forced out of the company he built into a billion-dollar powerhouse. Don’t tell me WWE doesn’t know how to make headlines. Imagine how much they’ll dominate conversation across all boards if those things come true, come April.
But I think it’s possible. Actually, at this point, I’m beginning to think McMahon going into the HOF might even be more likely than The Rock standing up to the Head of the Table in the squared circle. Vince is 77 and will be 78 in August. This year’s event is set for the splashiest stadium in North America while next year’s has the potential to be snowed out in Philadelphia, and it’s not like that guy wants anything other than the splashiest, grandest stage on which to be celebrated. That’s like saying you could be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at Radio City Music Hall or instead have to settle for … Cleveland.
It would be tone deaf. It would spark debate. It would make more people angry than it would make more people celebratory. But WWE isn’t particularly known for picking up on social cues and there aren’t a lot of years left during which McMahon could get up in front of an audience and appear to be Vince McMahon again. So, if they don’t do it this year, the more interesting question becomes a matter of when it happens (because no, I don’t believe “if” is a possibility).
Perhaps most intriguing? Does The Rock say he won’t show if McMahon is honored that weekend, if only because of the optics? And if that’s the case, which way does WWE go? The man who built the house or the guy who turned it into a modern-day mansion? Oh, 2023, how we await your answers.