10 WWE and NXT Superstars Set to Make Biggest Impact in 2019
Last year saw the rise of Superstars such as Buddy Murphy, Becky Lynch, Ricochet and Ronda Rousey. Fresh faces dominated Raw, SmackDown Live, NXT and 205 Live for the better part of 2018, and considering the landscape of the roster, 2019 is shaping up to follow suit.
At a time when WWE's main-roster programming could use a significant shake-up, it is more important than ever before for the talent of tomorrow to take their rightful place among the elite toward the top of the card. That is entirely dependent on whether the company will decide to get behind them, but if so, the sky is the limit.
For example, no matter how atrocious Raw was in 2018, Seth Rollins made the most of everything he was given and had a career year by winning the Intercontinental Championship twice and stealing the show every time he stepped between the ropes. The same can be said for Rousey, who exceeded all expectations upon debuting in the ring at WrestleMania and went on to shine brighter than a majority of the WWE roster last year.
Certain Superstars are destined to have outstanding 2019s based off how they ended 2018: dominant and determined to do it all over again. Then there are those who will catch fire with fans unexpectedly, similar to how Lynch did at the tail end of 2018 or 205 Live's Murphy.
Whether they are already established main event players or on their way to becoming breakout stars, these are the 10 competitors who will make the biggest impacts in WWE in 2019.
WWE's track record with NXT call-ups isn't the greatest, if only because they rarely know how to use them correctly, end up losing interest and cause them to get lost in the shuffle soon after. That was far from the case with Drew McIntyre in 2018.
After dominating the NXT scene the year prior, he arrived on Raw eight days removed from WrestleMania and made an immediate impact by aligning himself with Dolph Ziggler. Fans saw it as a strange alliance at first, but it allowed fans to get familiar with him while he found his footing as a heel on the main roster.
He capitalized on every opportunity he was given and even reigned as half of the Raw tag team champions for a time. His final month and a half or so of 2018 was excellent, as he annihilated Kurt Angle with ease and emerged from his feud with Dolph Ziggler victorious.
Now his sights are set on winning the Royal Rumble, which would guarantee him a shot at the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 35. The idea of him coming out on top isn't as far-fetched as it would have been a few years ago because it's clear officials have big plans for him (and rightfully so; he's a tremendous talent).
This needs to be the year when McIntyre finally fulfills his potential as The Chosen One by becoming a world champion. If he isn't holding either the WWE or Universal Championship by July, something is seriously wrong.
If you have been watching NXT for any length of time, you are well aware that Aleister Black is a bona fide star. From his unique look to his exceptional in-ring skills and his brooding presence, he possess all the tools necessary to be the next big thing in WWE.
It's merely a matter of when and not if he will be called up from the black-and-yellow brand to either Raw or SmackDown. He is set to contend for Tommaso Ciampa's NXT Championship at NXT TakeOver: Phoenix on 26 January, but beyond that, nothing is stopping him from making the move to the main roster.
The post-WrestleMania editions of Raw and SmackDown would seem to be the perfect time for him to be introduced to the WWE Universe, and from there, he can be aggressively pushed. Regardless of his first rival, he must reign supreme and remain undefeated for as long as possible (he didn't suffer a defeat in NXT for more than a year).
WWE will be promoting a slew of Superstars from NXT to Raw and SmackDown in the coming weeks, but none of them have as much potential to succeed as Black. It would be difficult for the promotion to ruin him in the same they have other NXT alumni, but then again, it has happened before—and Black may not be immune to WWE's bad booking decisions.
Nevertheless, expect Black to be taking the main roster by storm sooner rather than later and bring with him a long overdue sense of freshness to the grand stage.
Becky Lynch debuted on WWE's main roster in the summer of 2015, yet she never broke through the proverbial glass ceiling until she turned heel three years later.
The Irish Lasskicker has always been a natural babyface, so it speaks volumes that she has been able to reinvent herself the way she has in recent months and remain incredibly over with the audience. She had her time with the SmackDown Women's Championship and won't rest until she gets her revenge on Ronda Rousey.
Rumors have been running rampant for months that WWE might be planning to put Lynch vs. Rousey in the WrestleMania 35 main event, and no other bout deserves that honor more. Lynch is a hot hand, so the company needs to capitalize on her immense popularity by pushing her to the moon before it's too late.
Lynch has ruled SmackDowns women's division with an iron first since SummerSlam, but don't be surprised to see her expand her horizons by moving to Raw or even mix it up with some of the male Superstars. Look no further than the most recent edition of SmackDown, during which she got in John Cena's face and proceeded to overshadow him in their mixed tag team match.
If Lynch can continue to channel her inner aggression and ride this momentum, she will have another excellent year for herself in 2019.
If you considered Seth Rollins best WWE's all-around performer in 2018, you wouldn't be wrong. He carried Raw through its darkest days and looks set to keep his hot streak going we enter the new year.
After floundering as a face for nearly two years, Rollins hit his stride at long last in 2018. Not only did he win more matches than anyone else on Raw or SmackDown Live, the reactions he was receiving on a near-weekly basis were off the charts.
He is fresh off losing the Intercontinental Championship to Dean Ambrose at the TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view, and although their rivalry isn't remotely close to being finished, all roads for Rollins must lead to the Universal Championship.
It's unbelievable that he hasn't been involved in the universal title picture on Raw in more than two years, but that needs to change in 2019. With Roman Reigns out of commission for the foreseeable future, there's no one better to replace him as Raw's top dog than Rollins.
A Rumble win would get his 2019 off to a strong start, but either way, he is bound to be involved in a high-profile match at WrestleMania 35. He is among the most beloved babyfaces in all of WWE and should see his stock continue to rise in the new year.
In 2017, Velveteen Dream earned the respect of the NXT Universe when he proved he could hang with Aleister Black.
In 2018, Velveteen Dream earned the admiration of the NXT Universe by emerging from every match he was a part of looking like a star.
In 2019, he will finally hold gold, but it may not necessarily happen in NXT. Rather, he is tailor-made the main roster, and it should be there that he wins his first title since signing with WWE in 2015.
Being praised by notable names such as John Cena and Kurt Angle have only helped his cause, and already, he has put together quite the string of stellar matches with the likes of Black, Tommaso Ciampa and Ricochet. He's also one of the most compelling characters on the brand and stands out from the rest of the pack.
Dream came close to clinching the NXT Championship at TakeOver: WarGames II. Although he was unsuccessful in taking the title that night, it served as a sign that big things were ahead for him and that 2019 was shaping up to be his best year yet.
Similar to Black, it's possible he could be main roster-bound by WrestleMania. No matter what brand he ends up on, he is sure to make an impact one way or another and waste no time in leaving a lasting impression on the audience.
Daniel Bryan's return to the ring while with WWE was nothing more than a fantasy at this time one year ago. Fast forward to January 2019, and he's one of the best things going in the entire company as the "New" Daniel Bryan.
In addition to regaining the WWE Championship in November, Bryan turned heel in shocking fashion and has been on the roll of his career ever since. His transformation from being a man of the people to an intense nonconformist has been beautiful to watch unfold and has also led to great matches between himself and Styles.
Speaking of Styles, he has been the heart and soul of SmackDown Live for the past three years, but Bryan knocked him straight off that pedestal when he took his title. At one point, it looked like he would leave WWE for greener pastures if meant being able to lace up his boost again, but now that he has returned to form (and then some), there are so many fresh feuds awaiting him on Tuesday nights.
WWE has been sorely lacking a strong heel for a long while, and Bryan has seemingly filled that void in recent months. His character work is on another level, and his matches always promise to be must-see regardless of which Superstar he's in the ring with.
As star-studded of a roster as the blue brand has, Bryan will outlast everyone in 2019 and prove to be the measuring stick of success on SmackDown.
Lio Rush is coming to collect in 2019, and if his debut year with WWE were any indication, he will undoubtedly be one to keep an out for in the new year.
There was a decent amount of buzz surrounding his signing in the summer of 2017, but that quickly faded once he was caught up in controversy over a tweet he put out regarding Emma's WWE release. He said something silly and paid the price for it, but it would have been ridiculous for his punishment to last more than a few months.
The Man of the Hour kicked off his 2018 with a loss to Lars Sullivan on an episode of NXT. Afterward, he admitted to WWE.com that he had to "re-evaluate his situation," and soon after, he resurfaced on 205 Live as the newest member of the cruiserweight division.
Within weeks, Rush became comfortable in the heel role and showed he had skills on the mic as well. His in-ring ability was always second to none, but his above-average promos and undeniable charisma made him a much more well-rounded performer on the main roster.
The rest of his 2018 is well-documented, with Rush going undefeated in singles competition for several months and arriving on Raw as the "hype man" for Bobby Lashley. They have been a decent pairing, but Rush's solo breakout is only inevitable.
Rush seems to finally be generating the right type of heat from the WWE Universe and can contest a quality match with just about anyone. Lashley may be limited, but there's no reason Rush should be forced to hold back and see championship opportunities on Raw and 205 Live pass him by.
Ember Moon had been main roster-ready well before her Raw debut in April 2018, but unfortunately, she was a victim of improper timing. She made a major splash upon her arrival the night after WrestleMania 34 by pinning Alexa Bliss in tag team action, but it was all downhill from there.
To her credit, Moon made the most of every opportunity she was given and put everything into her performances. However, she was never involved in anything notable, and the only rivalry she had was with The Riott Squad (which she lost).
Raw's women's division largely revolved around Ronda Rousey, Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax in 2018. Thus, WWE should aim to incorporate more women into the championship mix in the new year, and with Sasha Banks and Bayley apparently chasing the newly announced women's tag team titles, Moon should be first in line for a shot at the strap.
Moon has flown under the radar for far too long and should be showcased more in 2019. Next to Rousey, she could be one of the biggest babyfaces in that division, but she will have to be built back up in the coming months to re-establish her as a threat to the title.
Otherwise, she should do well for herself this year and could capture championship gold before long.
Undisputed Era was the glue that held NXT together in 2018, dominating in both the tag team division and the singles ranks. Adam Cole, Kyle O'Reilly, Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong were booked to be unstoppable, and with no end to their reign of dominance in sight, it looks like they will be ruling the roast on NXT for the better part of 2019 as well.
It's rare WWE does right by a faction (see: Sanity, The Wyatt Family), which is why it's so concerning that a main-roster call-up for Undisputed Era may not be far off. It's impossible to know whether they the group will be kept together once they are brought up, but for the sake of the stable, they should be.
In one year, the group has collectively won the NXT Tag Team Championships twice, captured the NXT North American Championship and won the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. It's scary to think what more Undisputed Era might accomplish in 2019, but there's still plenty left for the unit to do on NXT (including Cole's chase for the NXT Championship) before its components move to the main roster.
WWE's tag team scene on both Raw and SmackDown has been in shambles for years, but at least fans have Undisputed Era to look forward to on Wednesday nights. They have elevated tag tea wrestling more than anyone else in recent memory and can continue to do great things as long as they are allowed to.
Undisputed Era could well surface on SmackDown or Raw sometime in 2019, and if so, they would have no problem getting over with the audience and cementing themselves as stars.
Andrade 'Cien' Almas
Don't be one of those fans who underestimates Andrade "Cien" Almas and speculates that he won't amount to anything in WWE and that he might as well leave. The last time that happened, he overcame every obstacle in his way before becoming NXT champion and getting called up to SmackDown Live.
He made a fine first impression on the blue brand, but he's another NXT alumnus who has lacked direction on the main roster. He clearly has what it takes to be a player on the brand, but with the roster stockpiled with talent, it's been tough for him to get a shot at superstardom.
Timing is everything, and once things start to die down after WrestleMania, Almas should be in line for a significant push. If WWE didn't believe he had potential, he wouldn't be put in the ring with main event wrestlers such as AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan as often as he has been, so he just has to wait it out.
Once WWE shines the spotlight on him, he will start his ascent up the card by racking up victories and making believers out of everyone who has doubted him. He'll also have Zelina Vega in his corner to boast about his accolades and how she was solely responsible for his renewed success.
Almas has barely scratched the surface of what he's capable of accomplishing, but 2019 could wind up being the year of El Idolo if WWE can get him back on the right track and ensures he lives up to the lofty expectations fans set for him when he arrived on SmackDown.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.