WWE's Top 8 'What Ifs' So Far in 2018
"What if" theories are some of the most intriguing ideas to ponder in WWE. They can give us reassurance that what happened was the best-case scenario or make us bitter about a missed opportunity.
With half of 2018 gone, we can already look back on what has happened in WWE this year and start to consider alternate timelines and what effects would have come out of any changes.
For the purposes of this discussion, it's important to focus on what would have had a big impact with major ramifications, rather than things which would have had a minuscule change.
Keep in mind it's impossible to truly know any of the repercussions, but with educated guesswork and a healthy dose of speculation, let's examine some of those "what if" scenarios from the past few months.
What If The Miz Retained the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania?
This may seem like an oddball to single out, but had The Miz defeated Finn Balor and Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 34 to retain the Intercontinental Championship, the trickle-down effect would have impacted a number of wrestlers.
During the Superstar Shake-up, The Miz was traded to SmackDown Live, most likely with the intention he would feud with Daniel Bryan somewhere along the line.
That move probably would have stayed the same, but other switches to counter it would have gone down differently.
Assuming Jinder Mahal had won the United States Championship at WrestleMania and moved over to Raw in a trade, the midcard champions would have swapped shows, making things much simpler.
Instead of Jeff Hardy winning the United States title on Raw the night before moving to SmackDown just so the blue brand had a midcard champion, Mahal would have had no reason to drop the belt—and nor would The Miz.
This would mean not only erasing Hardy's current title reign but also the great run Rollins had with the intercontinental title.
Had WWE wanted to put a belt on Rollins, he could have been the one to dethrone Mahal, possibly on the same night or at a later event such as the Greatest Royal Rumble or Backlash.
Meanwhile, Hardy would have either stayed in Raw's midcard, opening up a spot for someone such as Balor to move to SmackDown instead, or he would have gone to Tuesday nights without a belt and been a primary contender for The Miz—a feud we've yet to see.
This would have stopped the convoluted matches at Greatest Royal Rumble and Backlash, as well as continuing The Miz's lineage with the Intercontinental Championship.
What If Enzo Amore Hadn't Been Released from WWE?
One of the biggest stories to happen in WWE this year was the situation with Enzo Amore.
With his exit, 205 Live was left with no direction or champion, resulting in numerous changes for the brand.
Had his release not happened, the title would have stayed on him longer, meaning there would never have been a tournament to determine the new cruiserweight champion.
Cedric Alexander vs. Mustafa Ali may still have happened at WrestleMania but it's unlikely, as Amore was the focal point of that show.
It was only after Amore's release that Drake Maverick was brought on as the general manager of the show and Triple H took the program in a more action-oriented direction, with a focus on the wrestling over the characters.
Without that shift in theme, there wouldn't have been a reason to separate the cruiserweight division from Raw, so the wrestlers from 205 Live would still be appearing on Monday nights as they were before Amore's release.
Even Raw itself would have seen major changes, as Amore was involved in a storyline with Nia Jax that was going to play out with Alexa Bliss causing a rift between the two.
This means the Raw Women's Championship feud would have had Amore in the mix, and the Mixed Match Challenge could have ended up revolving entirely around this angle, rather than being something extra on the side.
Knowing that, the fun little moments of Team Little Big might not have happened, which would have also ended any reason to do the Ride Along episode with Bliss and Braun Strowman. Instead, it could have been Amore and Bliss, for better or worse.
Someone else Amore had ties to was Big Cass, as the two had feuded when Cass went down with his injury.
Had Amore still been in WWE when Cass was ready to return, there's a chance the two would have picked up where they left off and started fighting again.
This would have been a role reversal, with Cass as the babyface—nullifying the heel program with Daniel Bryan—and meant he would have been on Raw instead of SmackDown.
Perhaps this would have prevented Cass from going down the road that led to his release, too, had circumstances been different upon his return and being on another brand.
Also, for this to work, Amore would have had to ditch the Cruiserweight Championship, which might have come about from everyone on the roster hating him and booting him from the show in storyline fashion, creating a need for a new champion, which could have been anybody given the climate at that time.
Finally, without Amore leaving WWE, the world would have never witnessed the birth of the Real1 rap career, which leaves this "what if" open to debate on whether it would be a good or a bad thing.
What If Roman Reigns Had Defeated Brock Lesnar?
If you're sick of talking about Roman Reigns fighting Brock Lesnar to obtain the Universal Championship, get ready to sigh; it's far too important to ignore, meaning it has to be discussed again.
All of 2017 and the start of 2018 seemed to be building toward Reigns defeating Lesnar at WrestleMania to win the title, despite how a good portion of the fanbase had little interest in that program.
The feud didn't end at WrestleMania or the Greatest Royal Rumble, so it's still going on today.
This is incredibly frustrating and makes you wonder how WWE would have followed up if Reigns had won the title at either pay-per-view.
Realistically, Reigns would still be holding the belt and being booked as a babyface despite the boos from the crowd.
It's doubtful WWE would have had the guts to turn him heel, so his feuds over the past few events would have been against people such as Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Baron Corbin and Jinder Mahal.
None of this would have been riveting, nor will it be if WWE goes in this direction once Reigns does beat Lesnar—if that's still on the cards.
In an ideal world, though, Reigns would have at least been a more entertaining presence than the complete lack of a champion with Lesnar, so the potential for a better timeline still exists.
Strowman might not have won the Money in the Bank briefcase, as someone else may have been chosen to be a heel to cash in on Reigns down the line.
Strowman can't do that without being cheered over Reigns, which WWE surely doesn't want to happen, so it could have been someone like Bobby Lashley filling that role, as he's struggling to connect as a babyface.
Also, this would have lessened the intensity of the media coverage surrounding Lesnar's exit from WWE, which wouldn't be as big a deal if the title wasn't metaphorically being held hostage as it is.
At the very least, that would have meant a more relaxed WWE Universe than the frustratingly tense one that has existed for several months.
What If Asuka Had Remained Undefeated?
Losing to Charlotte Flair is never too much of a surprise, but when it came to Asuka at WrestleMania, it was still a shock as it ended her undefeated streak.
Reversing that decision and making The Empress of Tomorrow the winner leads to one simple conclusion: Asuka would probably still be undefeated today.
It's no stretch to think this would have nullified Carmella's title reign, as you could say goodbye to her being the one to end the streak, even with her cash-in making it a cheap victory.
Without putting the belt on The Princess of Staten Island, there's no need to bring back James Ellsworth, as the whole reason for his return was to finagle Carmella retaining over Asuka.
The title path would have probably seen Flair have her obligatory rematch at Backlash, before Asuka would move on to another opponent for Money in the Bank, which could have been any number of options.
Out of a need for a strong heel to challenge her, WWE could have been tempted to turn Becky Lynch or Naomi to fill that void, or give a much stronger push to The IIconics, who haven't had too much success on the blue brand.
On the other hand, Asuka herself might have turned heel to give Lynch, Naomi and other fan favorites an even more imposing mountain to climb.
If that were to happen, it could have forced WWE to rethink Shinsuke Nakamura's heel turn, as it would have been too much repetition to have both Japanese Royal Rumble winners on SmackDown turn heel on someone they respected.
That begets many other changes, such as his elongated feud with AJ Styles and his current feud against Jeff Hardy, with it all being born from Flair's win in New Orleans.
What If Daniel Bryan Didn't Return to the Ring?
One of the saddest "what if" hypotheticals to think about is if Daniel Bryan wasn't lucky enough to be cleared to return to in-ring competition for WWE.
First and foremost, this would have changed the match at WrestleMania. Either Shane McMahon would have needed another teammate such as Chris Jericho or Dolph Ziggler, or the friendship between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn would have been strained enough to create a Triple Threat match between those two and McMahon.
Bryan would have remained the general manager of SmackDown for the considerable future, negating how Paige took over for him after WrestleMania.
It's possible Paige could have been a replacement for Raw general manager Kurt Angle, with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon firing him after their fight at WrestleMania. In doing so, The Anti-Diva would have been instituted as a heel authority figure, rather than a babyface one.
There would be less reason for Absolution to split, so Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville might not have moved to SmackDown, leaving The Riott Squad to stay on Tuesdays and less fresh matches in the women's division without moving plenty of other people around to compensate.
Meanwhile, Bryan would continue to be down about his job situation not getting any better, and his exit from WWE in September would be a guarantee.
The feud between Bryan and Big Cass wouldn't have happened, which might have saved the latter's career, as it would have avoided a few situations that put him in a negative light.
Sadly, we also would have been deprived of Bryan vs. AJ Styles and the reunion of Team Hell No.
Since The Beard wouldn't be one of the top two babyfaces of SmackDown as he is with Styles, someone from Raw would have had to move over during the Superstar Shake-up to fill that void.
It's likely that person would have been Rollins or Balor, possibly with more of a lean toward the Irishman as The Good Brothers were sent over, too.
That is good for Balor, who is struggling to find a noteworthy purpose on Raw at the moment, but it isn't worth the lack of Bryan.
In many ways, a lot of hope in the WWE product to come would no longer be around, as fans can currently hold onto hope for a feud between Bryan and The Miz as well as some dream matches against Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bobby Roode, Samoa Joe and more.
Not having Bryan around in the ring was a downer before and got worse as time went on, so things would be pretty bleak right now if not for that supremely uplifting news in March.
What If Braun Strowman Had Teamed with Bobby Lashley Instead of Nicholas?
Nobody expected Braun Strowman's mystery partner at WrestleMania to be a child, so Nicholas wasn't on anyone's radar when predicting how the biggest show of the year would go down.
The next night, the whole thing was rendered pointless with the titles being vacated, but it was made even more confusing by the return of Bobby Lashley and his booking to follow.
For weeks, Strowman and Lashley teamed up in various formats, mostly against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. This gave off the impression that the original intention was for Lashley to be The Monster Among Men's partner at WrestleMania.
What if that had happened, instead of Nicholas?
First off, the record for the youngest champion in WWE history would never have been set to a level that is unlikely to be topped.
Second, Lashley and Strowman would not have abandoned the titles, preventing the match between The Bar and The Deleters of Worlds at the Greatest Royal Rumble event from happening.
At that event, Strowman would have been busy defending the titles, so he likely wouldn't have won the 50-man rumble match, which could have gone to someone such as Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan or any other number of wrestlers.
It's likely Strowman and Lashley would still be champions now, having feuded with The Bar, Owens and Zayn, The Revival and others along the way.
If not, then they would have lost the titles to The Authors of Pain, as they're the most physically imposing and credible team able to beat such a powerful duo.
Then again, having the titles on Strowman and Lashley could have prompted WWE to go ahead with the third Money in the Bank briefcase for the tag team division. A cash-in would have been a perfect way to put the belts on a new team in such a way as to prevent the pair looking weak.
Another major ramification of that Money in the Bank situation would be giving the singles division briefcase to someone other than Strowman.
Upon splitting, WWE almost always loves to have teams feud with each other, so the current program between Lashley and Roman Reigns would be more tailored to Lashley and Strowman, and the two would probably clash at SummerSlam as a featured storyline.
This would force one of them to turn heel, and since The Monster Among Men has consistently been one of the most cheered people in the company, it would have to be Lashley becoming a villain.
Until that split, there would be no power vacuum for The Deleters of Worlds and The B-Team to ascend to the top of the division.
Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas either would have gone to SmackDown with The Miz in the Superstar Shake-up or stayed as jobbers, and it's difficult to discern what would have happened to Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy.
All in all, the tag team division on Raw would have had a much different past few months, as would the Greatest Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank events.
What If Jason Jordan Hadn't Got Injured?
While Jason Jordan's injury happened early in 2018, it occurred along the Road to WrestleMania and with the Raw Tag Team Championship in the mix.
What would have happened if Jordan hadn't gone down with his injury?
All signs pointed to a feud with Seth Rollins at WrestleMania, but it's doubtful that would have been possible.
The lineup for the show was packed so much that even Sasha Banks and Bayley—a more prominent feud at the time—weren't able to get a singles match.
Instead, there's a chance Jordan would have been added to the Intercontinental Championship match to make it a Fatal 4-Way, or the in-fighting wouldn't have come to a head until after WrestleMania.
On the other hand, if WWE figured there wasn't much to a feud between the two, Jordan likely would have floundered without much of a role for the WrestleMania season.
It's not hard to imagine him being a negative factor in the Ronda Rousey match, as Triple H could have attacked Jordan as a means to get under Kurt Angle's skin.
Perhaps, Jordan would have even been written off television in that way to excuse the lack of a match at WrestleMania and to give the creative team time to sort out if he'd be pushed as a heel or a babyface going forward.
At most, Jordan would have been another cog in the wheel of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, which is even more inconsequential than John Cena sitting in the audience.
A feud with Chad Gable could have been on the cards, as well as an angle with Jinder Mahal, if he had proved himself over enough with the crowd.
By this point in the year, Jordan would probably be somewhere along the lines of the spot he was before, with no real change in upward momentum or any huge downward spirals.
What If the Co-Branded Events Stayed Separate?
Despite it being a rather recent change, one of the biggest things to happen this year in WWE was the decision to make every pay-per-view a co-branded show going forward after Fastlane.
It didn't seem like a big deal at WrestleMania as that was expected to have a shared roster, but everything else has been touched by this decision.
Without that edict, the Greatest Royal Rumble would likely have remained a crossover show, but Backlash would have gone to either Raw or SmackDown.
The elimination of the Payback event wouldn't have happened, as that would have been necessary for whichever show didn't get Backlash, unless WWE opted to drag storylines out longer.
Since SmackDown had Money in the Bank last year and both briefcases went to Raw Superstars in 2018, it's likely the red brand would have had the event to itself this year, with SmackDown getting Extreme Rules.
So much of the landscape would have changed just from taking the Raw and SmackDown stars off those particular cards, and feuds could have ended sooner, such as AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura.
The tag team divisions have been lost in the shuffle since this fusion, so we can assume the opposite would be the case, with as much of an emphasis being on the teams as there was at the start of the year.
We've yet to see a cruiserweight on these past few cards, but with a smaller pool of talent to pull from, 205 Live would have probably stayed a pre-show act.
In some ways, the events would have continued to remain packed with filler material and feuds that didn't seem quite grandiose, but it also would have given more people a chance to shine.
Taking the bad with the good, this might have been the best call to make, even if WWE has yet to fully utilized the potential in this co-branded structure.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.