WWE Editor @jeffersonlake
WWE: Five superstars to watch in 2019 as the road to WrestleMania begins
Last Updated: 04/01/19 11:52am
With 2018 consigned to the record books, WWE now turn their attention to the Royal Rumble - and the first steps on the road to WrestleMania.
The first three months of the year are always very important in WWE as the cycle begins towards the company's biggest event of the year.
With that in mind, we have nominated five superstars who could play a key role in the world of sports entertainment in the next 12 months...
Perhaps the most obvious choice, Ali already has a pinfall victory over Daniel Bryan to his name and ended 2018 right at the top of the SmackDown card.
The high-flying former 205 Live competitor was also included in a fatal five-way for a title shot at Bryan at the Royal Rumble and although AJ Styles won the match, his very presence in it was enough to demonstrate how highly the company regards him.
A world title run is probably a step too far for Ali, but at 32 he is older than his limited elite-level experience suggests, and he could see himself holding championship gold of some kind sooner rather than later.
The leader of the Riott Squad has been getting better with every episode of Raw and has delivered several notable performances both in the ring and on the microphone.
There remains a strong chance she will fill the gap on Ronda Rousey's schedule between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, with Nia Jax and Natalya recently vanquished by the champion and Sasha Banks and Bayley likely to find themselves involved in the pursuit of the women's tag-team titles.
WWE promised fresh matches which have never been seen before, and a Rousey-Riott singles program fits that bill. Both women are still very new to the main roster but have proved more than capable of delivering high-quality matches and the feud could propel Riott to the top level on Raw.
Of the six impending new arrivals from NXT, none has been given more of a promotion than the monstrous Lars Sullivan.
The 'Rocky Mountain Monster' has been appearing in video vignettes since Survivor Series as a way to introduce his character to the section of the WWE audience which is unfamiliar with his Full Sail work.
A good indicator of how the company feels about him will come from his first main-roster program - and how he is booked during that. The strong suspicion is that he will be made to look like a devastating presence.
The Scottish Psychopath is a walking advertisement for the benefits of taking time away from the WWE spotlight; after being released in 2014 he toured the independent circuit, honing his craft and developing the character which has come to dominate Raw.
McIntyre has buckets of charisma, an incredible look and is the right size for the 'land of the giants' on Monday night. He has all the tools to be a huge success in 2019 and beyond.
Braun Strowman may be Brock Lesnar's opponent for the Universal title at the Royal Rumble and Seth Rollins may be the fans' choice for the ace of the division and the man to get the 'WrestleMania moment'. But don't bet against McIntyre.
The word around the wrestling campfire is that Mandy Rose has a very important supporter in the WWE office - no less than the big boss himself, Vince McMahon.
In recent months Rose has been given the same type of heel persona which helped make Alexa Bliss a star in 2017 and she has run wild with it, culminating in a 'temptress' storyline involving Naomi and her husband Jimmy Uso.
With women's tag-team titles coming soon, putting the belts on Rose and her accomplice Sonya Deville could be the first step towards elevating her to the top level on SmackDown.