Welcome, one and all, to my annual PREDICTIONS column. If you weren't with me during the past decade at Lords of Pain, as I joined NoDQ.com during August 2020... During New Year's Eve or Day, I would post a column with the upcoming year's predictions. I would also then reflect, review, and score my previous year's predictions as well. In addition, I create a mini-year in review in between the prior year and upcoming year's predictions.
It's a format that I obtained from Karl Denninger of Market-Ticker.org back when he made annual economic predictions. Though he no longer provides predictions in that format, his blog is an entertaining, no punches pulled type blog that is worth bookmarking if you like economic or political stuff.
Without much time to spare, let's get into the review of my prior year's predictions:
2020 Predictions REVIEW
2020 Prediction #1: CM Punk wrestles at least once during 2020. MISS, I figured that being on the WWE FS1 show could create a door for a WWE return or if that show broke down during 2020, he'd bolt for AEW. Didn't happen, although I will note that he has given his terms to both WWE and AEW (big pile of money + good creative) for his return. We're close.
2020 Prediction #2: Steve Austin wrestles at least once during 2020. MISS, I cannot remember what I was thinking towards the end of 2019, but usually what it takes for me is seeing Austin being in great physical shape and dropping hints on his Podcasts. Plus, there is always Saudi Arabia and that could be a HUGE single day payday for Austin if he ever wanted.
2020 Prediction #3: AEW will shake-up management by adding, subtracting or changing roles. I'm taking this one... There was a major internal change to the Creative Team during early 2020 that Tony Kahn admitted to during an interview and on social media. He fully took over Creative during February 2020 following how bad the Dark Order and Nightmare Collective was getting out of control. From the start of AEW through early 2020, Khan trusted his 4 EVPs to handle Creative duties but the early 2020 crap forced Tony's hand to inject himself more into the process. Reduction of Creative for the EVPs and adding more Creative duties for Tony Khan, point.
2020 Prediction #4: Ring of Honor will close or be sold by Sinclair, maybe merge with NWA, Impact, or AEW. Miss, for now... Ring of Honor during late 2019 was in bad shape after all of the AEW exits and I figured that they would need to share talent with another promotion to survive or that Sinclair would ditch them. Instead, Ring of Honor took a break and then came back with a more serious tone to their product again not seen since the mid-2000s.
2020 Prediction #5: WWE will create another Developmental territory. Point - WWE announced its intent to expand their WWE Developmental system abroad besides the UK system and the announced India/China territories from 2019. This matched up with Triple H's title change during 2019 that confused everyone. However, COVID 19 wiped out many plans by significantly cutting back on WWE's Talent Developmental system and even stripped down NXT and NXT UK. Had 2020 gone on normally, you would have seen WWE trying to expand their talent developmental and training throughout the globe.
2020 Prediction #6: Vince McMahon will step down as President/CEO but remain as Board Chairman, Stephanie becomes new President/CEO. Miss, I predict this every year and I keep missing. Vince McMahon just won't step down in any way, shape, or form possible... However, for 2020, I'm starting to see why... I believe that Vince believes that his kids and son-in-law are weak managers and Vince feels that he has to hold it all together by remaining.
2020 Prediction #7: Tessa Blanchard signs with AEW. Miss, although it should have happened. I knew that her contract was coming up during late 2019 and I figured that her winning the Impact Title would end badly within that promotion. What else could you accomplish after winning the Men's Heavyweight Title? I figured AEW would throw money at her just to push Impact out of the way as a competitor... However, news began to break about Tessa apparently being a bully and even making racial comments towards other female wrestlers. That shut everything down for Tessa during 2020 and that's a shame, particularly as most of it was just hearsay and allegations. I'm told by a few sources that AEW has a few wrestlers close with those making the allegations and hence why they have hesitated on signing her.
2020 Prediction #8: John Cena rejoins WWE via Smackdown brand and wins his 17th WWE World Title. Miss. At the time that I wrote this, Bray Wyatt was Smackdown Champion and I was sensing that John Cena would come back and beat him for the title at Wrestlemania 36. Cena did wrestle him at that even but not for the title. And he lost, too.
2020 Prediction #9: NWA reconsiders its business model during 2020 due to financial or revenue trouble. I'll take this one, thanks to COVID-19. NWA has been sharing talent with other promotions and has taken breaks due to the pandemic. My thinking here is that I knew YouTube was lowballing them on ad revenue and that they would have to make changes.
2020 Prediction #10: Charlotte Flair will not leave WWE and shall sign new deal to ensure a major push. Point. There was talk that Charlotte would leave, become a mom, and possibly join AEW for whatever reason. During late 2019, she trademarked a few terms and there were reports of the WWE having some creative issues with her husband Andrade. I didn't buy it, as the trademark stuff just felt like she was creating leverage to score a new WWE deal. That happened and she eventually returned to the WWE in December. She'll probably be Women's Champion somewhere at Wrestlemania 37.
2020 Prediction #11: TNT adjusts its AEW schedule, good or bad, during 2020. Well, it was announced that AEW signed a 4 year deal with TNT worth around $175 Million per the promotion's favorite reporter, Dave Meltzer. This cements their Wednesday night deal and opens up timeslots in the future for more AEW programming. Point.
2020 Prediction #12: FOX will move Smackdown permanently to Fox Sports 1 (FS1) during 2020 or 2021. Nope, miss. I figured that FOX executives would sour on Smackdown's declining viewership and move it to FS1 permanently. We're actually getting close and my prediction was for 2021 as well. At $200 Million per year, it's actually not a bad investment for FOX in their FS1 channel. That is cheaper than you think, particularly if WWE helps viewership on that overall channel. During late 2019, Smackdown viewership dropped from 3 million to just under 2.5 million. Now, we're hanging onto 2 million, sometimes slightly lower.
2020 Prediction #13: WWE Stock will end 2020 being under $70 per share. Point. As of this writing, we're at 48.05 from December 31st, 2020 on the official close. My thoughts on this were two fold... For one, I didn't believe in the economy during 2019... Tariffs with China caused major problems with producers and the Federal Reserve reducing interest rates + our Government having a deficit of $1 Trillion during 2019 is NOT an indicator for a growing economy. On top of that, I figured that despite the new TV deals, attendance and merchandise sales were still tanking. The WWE 2K21 disaster was in my head at the time, too, as they lost the video game cash cow with many fans. On top of that, the WWE had issues with their Saudi Arabia deal. This was all before COVID-19 hit...
2020 Prediction #14: The Revival (FTR) won't be the only WWE Tag Team to join AEW. Miss, I forget who I was thinking would join AEW... I was reading the tea leaves on someone who appeared disgruntled, maybe Anderson & Gallows who were working on new contracts at the time?
2020 Prediction #15: WWE's Saudi Arabia deal will come to a close during 2020. Jury is still out on this... While the WWE did have 1 show in Saudi Arabia, it was done more or less to clear up payment problems seen during 2019. COVID-19 put the brakes on anything tour related. Probably not, as I wouldn't doubt Donald Trump's potentially granting of immunity towards a Saudi Prince was done to reduce pressure on WWE having shows there.
From my count, I scored 6 out of 15... Though not great, some of my predictions were bigtime reaches and I believe some are just a "matter of time" type predictions. There will be some that predictions that I'll retain for 2021.
Bear in mind, I wrote this column well before any news stories of COVID-19 arrived and just caused complete havoc on the world.
YEAR IN REVIEW
The year started off somewhat weak... Both AEW and WWE were both experiencing attendance declines, where both were heavily stacking fans on camera views of TV shows and the WWE was beginning to heavily cancel houseshows that weren't drawing. AEW was struggling to fill half of 5,000 arenas while WWE was struggling to fill 1/3 of 10,000 seat arenas. Their TV products were awful to end 2019 and during early 2020. For WWE, they put their chips on Bray Wyatt to headline the new Smackdown TV deal and they lost over 500,000 fans as a result and then more with COVID. RAW was beginning to be permanently under 2.5 million fans. Meanwhile with AEW, they actually lost a few nights in a row against NXT as they were pushing the Dark Order and Nightmare collective.
WWE ripped up all of their Wrestlemania 36 plans by having Bill Goldberg defeat Bray Wyatt cleanly in Saudi Arabia to set up Roman Reigns vs. Bill Goldberg. Meanwhile, they liked what they saw with Drew McIntyre and designated him to defeat Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 36. Meanwhile at AEW, Tony Khan had enough the Dark Order and Nightmare Collective being pushed so hard and took a harder grip of the creative reigns. Meanwhile, Jericho's time as a top star came to and end when John Moxley beat him in February.
That set's up March where everything hit the fan once COVID-19 or the "Coronavirus" arrived. It wasn't taken as serious towards sporting events until a player from the Utah Jazz became infected and the NBA immediately suspended its season. NHL followed suit, NCAA cancelled the rest of the Spring sports, Masters & Kentucky Derby was delayed, PGA was delayed, and MLB delayed its baseball season. UFC began having trouble finding places to host their events.
The WWE, meanwhile, cancelled all of their live events and had to cancel Wrestlemania at the Tampa Bay stadium. However, the WWE had an ace up its sleeve as they owned their own facility with the WWE Performance Center that they built for their developmental system almost a decade ago to replace the FCW system. That facility allowed the WWE to circumvent the quarantines and allowed them to continue airing televised matches. In a major bold step and despite heavy criticism challenging his decision, Vince McMahon declared that Wrestlemania 36 would be a 2-night event at the Performance Center.
BUT, COVID was knocking on the WWE's door early... Reportedly, a certain awesome wrestler appeared and was coughing repeatedly at the Performance Center tapings. This caused Roman Reigns to go home, provided that his immune system was a bit weaker after surviving Leukemia Round #2 during the prior year. This changed Roman vs. Goldberg to become Braun Strowman vs. Bill Goldberg. Of course, that match was bloody terrible and Braun Strowman would prove to be an awful champion for the Smackdown brand. His feud with Bray Wyatt (the Fiend) was completely cringeworthy and set up Smackdown for a severe ratings decline that had some FOX executives concerned.
For RAW, Drew McIntyre won the WWE title by defeating Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 26... But nobody cared, as he didn't win it in front of a big audience and the RAW roster was so thin of top guys that Drew had no big match-ups afterward. His only worth opponent was Randy Orton who had one of his better in-ring years... Orton captured another World Title for his career but quickly dropped it back down to Drew McIntyre.
I was going to suggest that Wrestlemania was a big moment for Women, but... Well, Becky and Charlotte disappeared after Wrestlemania. Charlotte's contract was set to expire and she wanted time off while Becky Lynch announced her pregnancy just a few weeks after Wrestlemania. Meanwhile, Charlotte's Wrestlemania 36 opponent, Rhea Ripley, was treated as an absolute 2nd rate star on NXT after her match with Charlotte. With Charlotte and Becky gone, that allowed Bayley & Sasha Banks to rise up in their place along with Asuka. Bayley was turned heel last year and she really found her groove during 2020... She's a great heel now. Meanwhile, Sasha Banks rebounded after a professionally and personally disappointing year during 2019. She is Smackdown's Women's Champion and thriving, helping that brand to draw along with Roman Reigns right now.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Boneyard match between Undertaker vs. AJ Styles. This was the Undertaker's final match and it was a great one. Though it was a cinematic match, Styles and Undertaker had freedom to fight how they wanted and the match fit both of their characters and felt personal. Undertaker would win the fight and then announce that it was his last match on his Last Ride documentary series on the WWE Network. And damn, that documentary series was GREAT. On top of that, with the Undertaker retired, he began opening up to interviews to speak about his personal life and wrestling career. 2020 was truly the year of the Undertaker, as he retired gracefully and made one last appearance at Survivor Series 2020.
Then, after Wrestlemania... Massive UNEMPLOYMENT happened from the WWE. WWE either granted early releases from contracts, let contracts expire, or terminated wrestlers. Meanwhile, that allowed AEW to pick up the pieces. FTR, Brodie Lee, Matt Hardy, Zack Ryder, and Miro all joined AEW and made their own little impacts on the promotion. AEW is still a new promotion and trying to figure out its role, style, and creative... Though some struggled to fit at times, each made it their own and have enjoyed freedom away from the WWE machine. Of the pick-ups, I thought that Miro and Brodie Lee had the best potential for being great stars but the booking has been peculiar for them to say the least. Brodie seemed to make the best out of his Dark Order role and had a pretty shocking defeat over Cody Rhodes for the TNT Title.
Unfortunately, 2020 just took Brodie Lee as his family stated that he passed away from a non-COVID lung issue. What a shame. He was just a few months into his AEW role and had many years to contribute to this young promotion. You can always tell when a wrestler is well loved by the outpouring of emotion from all wrestlers. Brodie was family to many wrestlers and was someone who looked out for his fellow brothers backstage. He'll forever be a "WHAT IF" kind of wrestler, as the WWE, for whatever reason, overlooked their use of Luke Harper and let him get away. He's the kind of guy that you want to keep in your locker room, not shove away from it. AEW did an amazing tribute for their last Dynamite show of 2020.
One contract that the WWE let expire was Sting's and he joined AEW almost immediately for a multi-year deal. He never had surgery for his spinal stenosis and therefore could still wrestle (although very carefully). Many older WCW fans, myself included, felt like a teenager again and were marking out at Sting's AEW debut.
The biggest comeback, however, was Roman Reigns... He made a shocking return at SummerSlam 2020 and quickly won the Smackdown World Title. This time, however, he was a full blown heel as he had Paul Heyman by his side. Suddenly, Roman's in-ring style, swagger, and promo cutting skills has radically changed under Heyman and from also having some freedom over his character. Roman's new character, along with the comeback of Sasha Banks, has really made Smackdown the BEST wrestling show to finish during 2020. That Christmas Day Smackdown show was excellent and felt like a true Pay Per View to nail a 4 million viewership number following an NFL game. The WWE hit it out of the park to the year.
Well, maybe not... At TLC, Randy Orton set Bray Wyatt/the Fiend on fire...
So yeah, 2020 was a tough year for the wrestling business but I'd say the WWE and AEW somewhat tried their best. Creative could have been better but both promotions kept the ball rolling to consistently give us something to watch throughout the year.
On my end for 2020, I made a bold move by leaving Lords of Pain after almost 22 years to join NoDQ.com during early August 2020. I became friends with Aaron Rift and Virtue for the past few years and I was liking what I was seeing from the NoDQ site. I also wanted a new challenge, as I felt that I took my columns as far as I could at my previous site. I really wanted to start doing more than just writing columns, as I made my first ever on-screen appearance on the October 17th edition of NoDQ's Great Debate. I hope to do more of that during 2021 among other projects that I hope to accomplish.
2020 has been labeled as a "year from hell"... Yeah, seeing casualties of a pandemic virus has been a bummer along with the economies throughout the world crashing thanks to the forced quarantines. But, this year has also allowed for one to have perspective over their lives and shake things up. That's part of the reason why I dared to try a new website for my columns... Personally, I tried all kinds of things this year around the house such as building things, writing other stuff, and getting deeper into drawing projects again for fun. In my mind, you could either dwell at home or get off the couch and try something new.
Personally, for 2021... I think it will be a "hangover" year following 2020. People are still very unemployed, we've just borrowed and printed money to "fix" the economy, and there are bitter feelings following the 2020 election. Pro Wrestling had declining attendance before 2020, so what will happen during 2021 after a year where further TV viewership declines happened. Would both promotions be willing to cut prices to get fans back into the arenas if they are allowed?
Who knows... But maybe I have some predictions to maybe help suggest how 2021 shall go?
MR. TITO's PHAT 2021 PRO WRESTLING PREDICTIONS
#1 - 2021 Prediction - CM Punk will return to Pro Wrestling but not for WWE. He has stated recently that a "big pile of money" and something interesting creatively would allow him to return to wrestling. I don't believe that he'd return to the WWE ever again and that's due to Triple H specifically. There is bad blood there that I don't believe could ever be repaired. Meanwhile, AEW knows that Punk could help tip their scales. I still don't rule out Ring of Honor for luring Punk's services, as Sinclair has deep pockets.
#2 - 2021 Prediction - Shane McMahon will obtain major Creative Role during 2021. Shane is back with the WWE, but working more in the office than backstage. With Bruce failing at Creative, I could see Shane McMahon being the "next man up" to attempt to repair Creative. I just don't see Vince having much faith in Triple H to handle the Creative of the WWE and would probably like to give Shane more responsibilities. I just don't see Bruce being the lead writer of RAW and Smackdown for too long, as he's older now and has never been a lead writer type.
#3 - 2021 Prediction - NXT Show is going to be altered in some way during 2021 on USA Network. This show just isn't working and hogs up 2 hours of USA Network's prime time for Wednesday nights for 700,000 viewers, at best. I could see this show getting trimmed to 1 hour or moving to a weekend, whether it is Vince's call or USA Networks. That way, if AEW still can't break 1 million, then you know that NXT being on Wednesdays did not really matter for viewership.
#4 - 2021 Prediction - We'll say goodbye to at least on of these in 2021: Ring of Honor, NWA, or Impact. Without crowds, a source of revenue is gone for these guys. NWA has never really got off the ground and has been lending their talent and champions to other promotions. Impact is receiving under 200,000 on AXS and the AEW rub is already gone. Ring of Honor is being heavily subsidized at a loss to remain open for Sinclair. I could see several promotional mergers happening to stay alive or more talent sharings to happen throughout 2021.
#5 - 2021 Prediction - Tessa Blanchard will sign a WWE contract during 2021. I've heard it from sources that several friends of Tessa's bullying accusers are within AEW and may have advised management about her. Otherwise, she should have been signed by now. With a lack of Ronda Rousey, I could see the WWE wanting to do "Daughter of Flair" versus "Daughter of Tully" matches pitting the kids of the Horsemen against each other.
#6 - 2021 Prediction - Brock Lesnar shall return to the WWE and regain a World Championship during 2021. Aaron Rift from NoDQ always suggests that for 2021 when the crowds are back, the WWE is going to need big names to draw people back. I figure at some point, Vince will get disgusted with who is on top of RAW and bring back Lesnar to dominate again. I see him returning to RAW and winning that World Title at some point.
#7 - 2021 Prediction - WWE SummerSlam 2021 will be the first fully attended Pay Per View by the WWE. We'll all be vaccinated by early Summer and therefore, things will open back-up again. I figure that the WWE will wait until SummerSlam to have their first fully attended Pay Per View, probably in Florida somewhere.
#8 - 2021 Prediction - At least 1 WWE Pay Per View like special will appear on FOX Network during 2021. I believe that the FOX executives LOVED what the Christmas Smackdown just did. I had an Indy source that believed that WWE's FOX deal would eventually cause their biggest Pay Per Views to potentially appear on FOX. Could you imagine Royal Rumble or Wrestlemania appearing on FOX during a Sunday evening? Place the Rumble on the week before the Super Bowl, and you're golden. WWE proving that they can pull in 4 million in a big spot was huge for them and doing a bigger show than just a Smackdown could be key to make this relationship flourish.
#9 - 2021 Prediction - Format change will happen for Monday Night RAW with either shrinking to 2 hours OR allowing for a mature 3rd hour during 2021. I've been calling for the 3rd hour of RAW to be mature for years now. Reportedly, USA Network is OK with having more violence on their shows. We'll see... But I could see Comcast cutting 1 hour of RAW but keeping the same $ deal in place just to improve the viewership numbers for just 2 hours.
#10 - 2021 Prediction - WWE Stock Price will close at or above $65 per share for year-end 2021. Interest rates will be low all year by the Federal Reserve and with fans possibly returning to stands, the WWE could be set for a very lucrative year financially. With all of the cost cutting moves done during 2020, the WWE is setting themselves up to be a lean machine for 2021 and it will show financially. Stockholders will enjoy.
#11 - 2021 Prediction - Roman Reigns will return back to a babyface during 2021. Roman was John Cena's babyface replacement. That was Vince's goal since he began pushing him during early 2014. This was just a detour to eventually convert Roman into a "cool heel" and then give him that edge as a face character. Most top guys got over as heels first and then turned babyface (Austin, Rock, Cena). I could see Paul Heyman turning on Roman to rejoin Brock Lesnar.
#12 - 2021 Prediction - Matt Riddle re-signs with WWE, as his contract is up during the year. WWE standing by Matt Riddle while his allegations are being played out legally tells me something... That's loyalty that he probably appreciates. Though I think he could be a better fit in AEW, I believe that Vince likes his character and style and Matt appreciates the loyalty that WWE has shown him despite the legal challenges.
#13 - 2021 Prediction - WWE will win any legal challenge to their "independent contractor" status of their wrestlers. Andrew Yang has already moved on from being a potential member of Joe Biden's administration. Some have told me that UFC is currently in a court battle regarding their "independent contractors", but I don't see that translating to the WWE. WWE has decades of precedence and tough lawyers in place. On top of that, wrestlers are signing contracts that gives their own intellectual properties to the WWE to own for the term of the contract.
#14 - 2021 Prediction - Former President Donald Trump will appear on WWE television at least once during 2021. Following the election, I predict that Twitter and Donald will have a major break-up of sorts... FOX News has been distancing themselves and we'll see if ONN or Newsmax wants his services. If the State of New York aggressively goes after him in court, he might need a quick buck and appearing on WWE television as himself could be an easy way to generate cash and keep himself relevant in the public eye. Vince McMahon would gladly give Trump an outlet.
#15 - 2021 Prediction - AEW will change their EVP management group by adding at least 1 and/or subtracting 1 during 2021. If Impact and AEW officially merge, I could see Don Callis joining the company as an EVP. Maybe conditions on signing CM Punk adds him as an EVP of the company. Maybe Chris Jericho, whose contract is expiring during 2021, get promoted to become an EVP to help them with Creative? Maybe AEW leans on Jim Ross more moving forward? For a while, I've heard that a few wrestlers bang heads with Omega creatively backstage and that could have been a suggested subtraction... But not now with the AEW-Impact relationship. The "Fab 4" EVP group will change at some point during 2021, I project.
LAST WORD: I hope that you enjoyed my 2021 Predictions. Have a great 2021!
So just chill... Until the next episode!
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