Predicting the Breakout AEW and WWE Stars in 2022
Even with 2022 still a few months away, several stars in WWE and All Elite Wrestling are set to break out in a big way next year if the trajectories they've been on are any indication.
The WWE draft should switch things up on Raw and SmackDown in the coming months and present fresh opportunities to those who may not have been getting anywhere prior to the roster shakeup.
The remainder of 2021 should be a time for the company to get multiple performers back on track so they're in a prime position to shine during WrestleMania 38 season. Bianca Belair and Damian Priest were examples of that last year, and they're now among the brightest breakout stars on the roster.
Meanwhile, AEW's recent influx of talent has made its shows more must-see than they've ever been and has created a wealth of dream matches among the established talents. In the long run, though, the key should be to use guys such as Bryan Danielson and CM Punk to help build a foundation for the future.
Thankfully, the promotion has already taken the necessary steps toward familiarizing fans with some of the lesser-known names in an attempt to get them over. AEW has done a commendable job of switching out talent and trying to give everyone an equal opportunity to succeed.
Certain competitors, including Jade Cargill, Thunder Rosa, Priest and Riddle, are virtually guaranteed to hold gold at some point in 2022 because of how they've been booked lately.
This list will instead look at those who have yet to truly scratch the surface of superstardom and will be in a far better position this time next year.
Keith Lee is higher up the totem pole compared to most people on this list, but despite the minimal success he's had on the main roster over the year, it can still be argued he has yet to actually break out and reach that next level.
Bearcat—a nickname WWE recently bestowed upon him—had an excellent run in NXT. It should have been simple for the company to transfer that momentum from one brand to another, but it never quite figured out how to utilize him when he was first called up to Raw.
Lee contended for the WWE Championship a time or two and even beat Randy Orton clean on pay-per-view, but none of that amounted to anything. He was instead slotted at a lower-midcard level, and before he could become United States champion, health issues forced him to step away for nearly six months.
The 36-year-old has been back since July, but WWE—for whatever reason—has yet to pull the trigger on him. His recent return to Raw and apparent heel turn are encouraging signs that he'll be more of a priority moving forward.
Lee is too talented to be overlooked any longer. If he can continue to be dominant and rack up wins, he could and should be involved in the main event mix and challenging Big E for the WWE Championship.
Dante Martin losing his tag team partner to injury has proved to be a blessing in disguise for him in 2021.
Top Flight was catching fire when Darius Martin suffered an ACL tear in April and was sidelined indefinitely. To AEW's credit, it didn't let Dante fly under the radar in his absence and instead started utilizing him in a singles capacity.
He's been a staple on AEW Dark this year, having enjoyable matches with a variety of opponents, most notably Matt Sydal and Miro when he challenged for the TNT Championship. He also had a breakout performance against The Elite on Dynamite in August and turned a ton of heads.
However, Dante was floundering a bit until he called out Malaki Black last week on Dynamite. He forged an alliance with Lio Rush on that same show, which should also give him more direction.
He's one of the most exciting athletes AEW has, and his promo on Dynamite was better than expected. Whether he's flying solo or back alongside Darius in the tag team ranks, 2022 is shaping up to be another huge year for this promising up-and-comer.
Following a short stint on Raw in early 2020, Austin Theory finds himself back on Monday nights thanks to the draft.
He had only signed with NXT in late 2019, and his move to the main roster right before WrestleMania 36 was too sudden and premature. He did well while associating with the likes of Zelina Vega and Seth Rollins, but it was clear he needed additional development via the black-and-gold brand.
Sure enough, his latest run on NXT with The Way gave him the tools he needed to hone his in-ring skills and become less generic as a character. He's ready for Raw and is already off to a solid start after beating Jeff Hardy on Monday night.
The biggest problem WWE ran into with Theory the first time was that it attempted to fast-track him to a higher position on the card when it was still too soon for that. The powers-that-be need to take their time with him going forward, and if so, he'll get his first taste of gold at some point in 2022.
At a time when Raw could use new blood at the top of its roster, there's no reason why Theory can't occupy one of those spots eventually if WWE stays the course with him.
AEW has yet to announce the signing of Daniel Garcia, but based on the amount of appearances he's made on Dynamite, Dark and Rampage in recent months, it's safe to assume it's more a matter of when than if it will be made official.
He has been incredibly impressive in his short stint with the company, and his pairing with 2point0 has also been entertaining. He brings a certain sense of legitimacy and intensity to his matches that few others on the roster do and works well with almost everyone AEW puts him in the ring with.
Just last week, he had a fantastic showing with CM Punk on Rampage and took the multi-time world champion to the limit. He's looked credible in defeat every time and must be locked down to a deal as soon as possible.
Beyond improving in the charisma department (which 2point0 can help with), Garcia is a future star. He'd be perfectly slotted at the TNT Championship level as there are still plenty of exciting opponents for him to face.
At the rate he's going, Garcia is sure to be on the winning end of even more matches next year.
It's been a whirlwind year for Gable Steveson, and 2022 promises to be even wilder for the 21-year-old Olympic gold medalist.
No more than a month removed from his historic victory at the Olympics, WWE announced it had signed the highly sought-after athlete in September. In early October, he was selected by Raw on Night 2 of the draft.
That marked his main roster call-up despite having minimal pro-wrestling experience. It was already made clear that he'll be training for WWE while finishing school and fulfilling his NCAA obligations, but it can be argued it's too soon for him to be making any appearances on Raw right now.
The hope among fans is that his role on the red brand going forward will not be consistent, at least not right away. WrestleMania would be a fine time to have him formally debut and decide whether he's reached a point where he's shown he's ready in the ring for such a spot.
Given his background and WWE fandom, it's safe to assume he'll do exceptionally well, not unlike when Ronda Rousey wrestled her first match at 'Mania in 2018 and took to it like a duck to water.
Steveson has a bright future ahead of him and is destined to make a serious splash when he officially arrives in WWE.
One of AEW's newest signings is about to make a major impact even though he has yet to appear on Dynamite.
His name is Lee Moriarty, and anyone who has followed his work on the independent scene knows what he brings to the table. For those who haven't, he's an exceptional athlete who is capable of some sensational things inside the squared circle.
He also has no problem connecting with a crowd based on his recent matches on Dark. It should come as no surprise that Tony Khan wasted no time in securing him to a deal and ensuring he'll prosper on the AEW platform.
Moriarty is another name that a portion of the audience may not know a ton about at the moment, but they will do in due time. Whenever he makes his Dynamite debut, it's possible he'll make such a strong impression that he'll be a regular from that point forward (a la Ricky Starks and Eddie Kingston last year).
It's going to be a treat for fans to watch him shine under the bright lights of AEW in 2022. His big breakout moment is just waiting to happen.
From joining forces in May to being selected by SmackDown in the draft in October, Hit Row just may be one of the fastest-rising stables in WWE history.
Isiah "Swerve" Scott was directionless in NXT before Hit Row arrived to save his career. It was obvious from the moment Scott, Top Dolla, Ashante "Thee" Adonis and B-Fab first appeared alongside each other on TV that they were a money act and needed to be showcased.
That soon led to Scott capturing the NXT North American Championship in June, and he and Hit Row have been featured on the show every single week. They were then moved to SmackDown in the draft and that should be where they become big stars.
As a whole, they have the in-ring ability, mic skills and charisma to be a prominent part of the blue brand in 2022. As long as they steer clear of The Bloodline, nothing should stop them from taking SmackDown by storm and getting over with the audience in no time.
Once they're established, Scott should be involved in the Intercontinental Championship picture while Top Dolla and Adonis enter the tag team ranks. B-Fab still needs improvement in the ring before she can chase gold herself, but otherwise, Hit Row can and will leave a lasting impression on the WWE Universe in 2022.
As rocky of a road as Tegan Nox's WWE journey has been since she signed, nothing should stop her from attaining superstardom now that's arrived on the main roster.
Her first four years with the company were marred by injuries. Any time she started to build momentum and work toward title contention, she'd have to miss a substantial amount of in-ring action.
Nox returned to NXT from her latest setback over the summer only to immediately report to SmackDown alongside Shotzi Blackheart. They worked well together and beat the women's tag team champions on three separate occasions but were separated in the draft before they could get their rightful shot at the belts.
Nox and Shotzi being forced to part may end up being the best thing for them both, though. The latter can shine on SmackDown while the former can be the fresh face the Raw women's division desperately needs.
Becky Lynch and Bianca Belair are going to do an outstanding job of carrying the women's division now that they have been moved to Monday nights, but beyond them, the scene needs new names.
Given how talented she is, combined with her well-documented comeback story, Nox is the perfect person for WWE to be spotlighting heading into 2022.
The creation of AEW's TBS Championship should mean that its women's division is about to get a whole lot more television time on Dynamite and Rampage.
It also means more women will have a chance to break out and make a name for themselves in pursuit of this new prize.
Look for "Legit" Leyla Hirsch to be the one to shatter that glass ceiling and establish herself as a major force in the women's division in 2022.
In her AEW debut on Dark last November, the 25-year-old had an excellent match with then-AEW women's champion Hikaru Shida. She continued to impress in the months that followed before being signed to a full-time deal in March 2021.
Despite not being involved in any storyline of significance so far, she's made the most of every opportunity she's been given. She held her own against Nyla Rose and Jade Cargill on Dynamite, competed in the Casino Battle Royale at All Out and had an outstanding outing with the NWA's Kamille at the EmPowerrr pay-per-view.
The sky is the limit for this talented grappler, and don't let her small size fool you. She's as legitimate as they come and makes all of her stuff look like it hurts. She'll definitely be a championship contender—if not a champion—before long.
Brian Pillman Jr.
Of all the notable names and familiar faces AEW has brought in recently, it has still found time to focus on the younger crop of talent and given them every opportunity to succeed, with Brian Pillman Jr. being chief among them.
The second-generation star split his time between AEW and MLW for much of 2020 and the first half of 2021 before signing a full-time deal with AEW over the summer. He's been prominently featured on AEW programming as part of The Varsity Blonds ever since, and they've had their fair share of high-profile matches together.
It's been about the act as a whole up until recently when Pillman started to get spotlighted as a singles star every so often. It started in June when he unsuccessfully challenged Miro for the TNT Championship and continued when he briefly feuded with MJF following All Out.
The 28-year-old is far from ready for prime time, but with a bit more seasoning, he can be more of a player for AEW. That wouldn't require him to be broken away from Griff Garrison, either; they can stay a team while Pillman simultaneously has more matches on his own a la Jungle Boy in Jurassic Express.
Pillman has been beloved by the AEW audience since the episode of Dark Side of the Ring focusing on his father aired earlier this year, giving fans every reason to want to see him succeed. He's just getting started and will be one to watch for in the new year.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.