WWE and AEW's Most Likely Breakout Stars for 2022
Every year, new wrestlers emerge via big performances and smart booking.
The new year has only just started, yet certain names already appear to be favorites to break out. Whether it's because of big displays being rewarded or stories about to get paid off, WWE and All Elite Wrestling have a number of top wrestlers ready to shine.
Young stars such as Wardlow, Austin Theory and Dante Martin are just waiting for the right moment, and each performance hints at more to come.
The women's divisions have been building key figures, but they haven't gotten that big win just yet. Liv Morgan and Tay Conti are at the edge of breaking through, though.
There is so much talent in both companies, and it is only a matter of time before they make their mark. Even the first few weeks of wrestling in 2022 indicate it's happening soon.
WWE: Austin Theory
Vince McMahon has decided on his new project: Austin Theory.
The 24-year-old hasn't been a home run consistently to date, but his work with Johnny Gargano and The Way showed his potential as a ridiculous character worker.
On WWE Raw, Theory has had the opportunity to compete at a higher level and not looked out of place against the likes of Finn Balor and Big E.
It's all down to how high WWE is willing to reach with him. He has the trajectory to capture the United States Championship sooner rather than later, but the company could go further if he's seen as a true priority.
Theory has the rare opportunity to become the youngest WWE champion in the company's history. If he does, it would be a huge moment. He would take a spot held by one of the biggest stars in WWE history, Brock Lesnar.
WWE has rarely had an opportunity quite like Theory, who can be a top star for the next 15 years or more.
If there is one major criticism that can be levied against CM Punk vs. MJF, it's that the money match almost pales in comparison to a story in the background with more emotion: MJF vs. Wardlow.
The Salt of the Earth constantly badgers and berates his bodyguard despite everyone knowing the big man is the more dangerous of the two. It is only a matter of time before Wardlow realizes his own worth and finds a way out of his binding contract.
When that happens, the sky is the limit. The 34-year-old is such an overwhelming threat to anyone that it wouldn't be a surprise if he beat MJF to the AEW World Championship.
His size and speed make him dangerous. He has a unique look and presence that will get him far. He is also on a roster that does not have many stars of his size. He is an outlier rather than one of many, as he would be in WWE.
The moment Wardlow turns on MJF will be such a big event in its own right that gold might not be necessary for him to break out.
WWE: Liv Morgan
After seven years in the business, Liv Morgan has waited for her opportunity. Her rise began in late 2021 but WWE still has not pulled the trigger on a significant push. However, she looks more ready than ever.
If the 27-year-old does not win the Raw Women's Championship in 2022, it may be too late. She is popular and has proved she can compete with the best in the ring.
Morgan has worked too long and too hard to miss out on her moment. She is a dark-horse candidate in the women's Royal Rumble match on January 29. And if that doesn't happen, she will likely be an early favorite to win the women's Money in the Bank contest in July.
The red brand needs a fresh face, and the former Riott Squad member has been so underused that this rise to prominence feels fresher than almost anyone else's in years.
If she does win the title, Morgan can finally get what she deserves: an opportunity to work as a top star.
AEW: Tay Conti
Tay Conti wrestled more matches than anyone else for AEW in 2021 except Jungle Boy. Her 53 contests is an impressive total, and she won 45 of those.
Perhaps more importantly, those numbers show how much the company is behind her.
She fought Britt Baker in a memorable clash at Full Gear in November, but that was not quite her time. This year should be, though. Even if Thunder Rosa and Ruby Soho are more likely to be the next champions, Conti has the highest to rise.
The Brazilian, 26, does not have prestige from past work in other companies. She was discarded by WWE, even before the sweeping releases in the company began in force, and she was not seen as a high upside prospect when AEW brought her in. But she has risen to every occasion.
If Conti can refine her game in the ring and continue to improve on the mic, she can be the name to carry the AEW women's division to greater heights.
WWE: Bron Breakker
WWE NXT 2.0 fully announced its arrival with Bron Breakker. He is the NXT champion because he ticks all the boxes.
In many ways, the 24-year-old has already broken out in 2022. He won the championship in a stellar performance against Tommaso Ciampa and will continue to perform against some of the best in the business over the next few months.
The question remains: How long will it take Breakker to arrive on Raw or SmackDown? He has potential that WWE has not seen in many young wrestlers for a long time. He could defeat Brock Lesnar or Roman Reigns if the company is fully committed.
Theformer college football player and second-generation wrestler has some way to go to reach that level of stardom, but it won't come in NXT 2.0. He needs to be in big feuds with major stars on grand stages.
If that happens in 2022, he will go from future star to major attraction. He could be the first man to get through the NXT 2.0 system and find greater success.
AEW: Dante Martin
Dante Martin is a part of a young group that have been steadily rising in the ranks. While Hook and Jungle Boy have been featured heavily in recent months, there is a case to be made that Martin has the highest to rise in 2022.
His win-loss record has been solid lately, but he has yet to get major title opportunities. However, it feels like he is just one big match away from that final step.
Martin will win AEW gold eventually, but the company can be steady with his build. It's always possible that does not come until 2023, but his rise to prominence feels assured at the moment.
Darius Martin will return soon, and Top Flight will quickly rise up the tag team ranks. It seems certain that they will capture the gold that has alluded them.
However, it's just as likely that Dante could capture the TNT Championship. His ability to fly is unlike anyone else.