The year 2014 may have been a rough one for sports and entertainment, as scandals and leadership failure overshadowed phenomenal performances.
But, the WWE, which sets the standard for sports entertainment, made significant strides in the year and is looking forward to even bigger things in 2015.
New names entered the conversations and old wounds were healed. Fans saw amazing feats, unforgettable matches and have many reasons to tune in and show up next year.
1. The WWE seems to be looking forward, not back.
The Road to WrestleMania will begin the last Sunday of January in Philadelphia at the Royal Rumble.
Initial plans to expand the 30-man match to 40 would have included past ECW superstars like Sabu, Tommy Dreamer and Sandman to compete in the capital of the extreme promotion.
While a nice piece of nostalgia is certainly a good thing for the Wells Fargo Center crowd, keeping the match at 30 shows the company’s focus on today and tomorrow.
It’s always important to honor the past, just don’t live in it.
2. Daniel Bryan returns and is ready to let loose.
While some familiar names won’t run down the ramp January 25, one former WWE Champion announced he will be in the Royal Rumble match, and to the surprise of many.
Daniel Bryan, the independent superstar who took on a thrilling ride to claim the industry’s top prize at WrestleMania XXX, only to lose his title and the rest of 2014 with a neck injury, vowed he’ll be back in January after multiple surgeries and extensive rehab.
Not only is this one of the most exciting guys and best technical wrestlers in the ring, he also has a great story and extensive crossover appeal. Look for a lot of him in 2015 and draw inspiration from his journey, especially when you notice who he landed for a wife.
3. We have our new Superman, Roman Reigns.
The muscle of The Shield has quickly become the most dangerous young superstar on the WWE roster. Roman Reigns dominated the 2014 Rumble and has found new fire since The Shield disbanded this summer.
After weeks on the shelf with injuries, he returned in December and is considered a favorite to win the Rumble.
I cannot remember the last time I saw a guy of his size that fast, but not a lot of former all-ACC defensive linemen have his wrestling pedigree and can execute that well in the ring.
With that McMahon ideal build, look for him to reach that upper echelon and wear the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt sometime in 2015.
4. Brock Lesnar's contract expires after WrestleMania.
The current WWE champ will defend the title against John Cena at the Royal Rumble. The man who returned to the WWE from UFC may be headed back this year once his contract expires.
Considering his contract held such limited dates and demands, that might be best for the WWE Universe.
Fans and superstars complain about part-time performers garnering top status and the WWE championship shouldn’t be contested once every four months.
If he does return, which appears to be unlikely, WWE should at least ask him to show up on TV more often than he does, especially if he plans to continue his title reign.
If he’s only here for big events like breaking the Undertaker’s fabled WrestleMania streak, don’t give him the crown if he’s going to be a part-time king.
5. Could Rusev be the next Goldberg?
The powerhouse from Belarus has the momentum right now and a pretty long undefeated streak. He has squashed a variety of mid-card wrestlers and proven himself against the super-heavyweights on his way to the United States Championship.
I see huge upside in his game, combining size and martial arts expertise. If he can keep this “winning streak” going, he can rival Bill Goldberg’s from WCW. He is my dark horse to win the WWE title in 2015.
6. Dean Ambrose is becoming a legend ... if he doesn't kill himself.
The guy who straight up entertained me the most in 2014 was the Lunatic Fringe.
He combines that loose cannon on the mic with a high-risk style that makes him a cross between Roddy Piper and Jeff Hardy. He has battled his former mate in the Shield, Seth Rollins, in some tremendous matches.
Those two have unfinished business and 2015 could see them take care of it. If Ambrose can manage to avoid a major injury from his madman style, he can become a mainstay and make everyone forget about the departed CM Punk.
7. When does Seth Rollins cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase?
Since earning the guaranteed title shot in the summer, Seth Rollins has held that briefcase and has yet to seize the opportunity.
With the Authority back in power, their crown jewel can only become more smug and calculating. He can pick his spot to cash in that contract, be it the Elimination Chamber, Wrestlemania or just one night on television.
My thought is he might be waiting to seize the spotlight from Roman Reigns. However, he might be conniving enough to double-cross Brock Lesnar.
8. The tag team division is the strongest it's been in years.
The increase in WWE television time means more matches need to happen and they need to be quality.
The tag team division is filling that need perfectly. The reigning champions, the Usos, had a phenomenal 2014 and look to keep the momentum going next year.
They face strong challenges from teams like Mizdow and Goldust/Stardust. Even more teams like Los Matadores and The Ascension look poised for big years, as well.
With these intense teams and high stakes, the risk is there for one or more of these teams to implode.
9. Get ready for the rise of Charlotte.
The baby girl of the Nature Boy himself, Charlotte is the next great Diva in the WWE.
Currently dominating the NXT Women’s division, she combines amazing athleticism with graceful moves and the cocky charisma that comes when you carry the Flair surname.
Her style will make her a formidable opponent when she joins the main roster and challenges for the Divas title. I expect her to hold that belt at some point this year.
10. The continued development of NXT.
The WWE is investing a lot of resources into its developmental program, and it’s beginning to show results. Stars like Xavier Woods cut their teeth in Florida and have made an impact with the veterans.
Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn look poised to make the leap this year, as well.
Even more veteran performers, like Prince Devitt and Kevin Steen (Finn Bálor and Kevin Owens in NXT), have recently joined to bolster the roster. The NXT show is very exciting to watch and these stars certainly deserve more exposure.
Heck, some of them might even want to have a manager from the NYC area, who can enunciate on the mic and be a Paul Ellering/Paul E Dangerously hybrid with his sexy facial hair and brilliant mind. Just saying...