WWE may be moving on from the days where John Cena, Randy Orton and Triple H dominated the main event scene.
The company seems to be in a transitional period, with a number of established veterans either taking a step back or leaving altogether to make room for plenty of up-and-comers at the top of the card. The Undertaker seemingly retired at WrestleMania 33 while Big Show is nearing the end of his career and Kane is actually running for mayor in Tennessee. Some established stars, like Cena and Orton, are clearly part-timers now, and a big group of other longtime performers, including Mark Henry and R-Truth, don’t appear to be in WWE’s plans moving forward.
It’s the cyclical nature of WWE: When one star moves on or is his past his prime, another stars steps up to take his spot.
Over the last several months, it’s become clear that WWE has taken a vested interest in grooming certain stars to fill the voids left by the departures (or impending departures) of stars who have been around for a decade are more. But who are the stars set to rise to the top?
Here is a look at five stars WWE is set to push to the next level in 2017.
Fresh off a surprising win in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 34, Mojo Rawley is benefiting from being on a SmackDown show that does a much better job of pushing new talent than Raw does.
But the recent push of Rawley may have more to do with someone other than Rawley himself, and that man is New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski, one of the most visible and popular players in the NFL, has made two recent appearances on WWE TV, showing up at both WrestleMania and on a recent edition of SmackDown. The former All-Pro player’s appearances were picked up by a number of media outlets, including USA Today and ESPN. That’s the kind of free mainstream media coverage WWE loves and is one of the biggest reasons why Rawley certainly seems to have the backing of WWE management these days.
Despite admitting that his personality may be “over the top,” Rawley has done a solid job of winning over the average pro wrestling fan, and with the possibility of Gronkowski eventually joining WWE one day, Rawley is poised to be a significant part of SmackDown’s future.
Jinder Mahal has gone from jobber to No. 1 contender seemingly in the blink of an eye. But why?
Well, the push of Mahal is apparently all about business. WWE is clearly looking to expand its presence in India (where Mahal is billed from) as the company recently launched WWE Shop there with fans now “able to order their favorite WWE merchandise online at WWEShop.in.” The launch of WWE Shop in India came just a few weeks before it was announced that Sheetesh Srivastava would be taking over as Vice President and General Manager of WWE India.
WWE sent out a press release touting the announcement and WWE Executive Vice President (International) Ed Wells had the following to say about the company’s expansion in India:
India is key to the global growth of WWE, and we are confident Sheetesh will successfully help develop our brand and business in this critically important country. WWE is committed to expanding its presence in India, and we are pleased to welcome Sheetesh to further our efforts in the market.
Is it a coincidence that Mahal became the No. 1 contender right around the same time of these two blockbuster announcements? Absolutely not.
WWE is clearly looking to push an Indian star in the main event scene in order to appeal to that market, and Mahal is the best (and perhaps only) choice for that spot right now. After working to get himself in tremendous physical condition, Mahal is set to be a top heel on a SmackDown show that really only features two other main event caliber villains in Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin.