As WWE enters Day 1 of 2022, what does the first pay-per-view of the year have to offer?

WWE's Day 1 pay-per-view kicks off its 2022 calendar from Atlanta's State Farm Arena, as the new event seemingly marks an earlier start to WrestleMania season -- a position long held by the Royal Rumble in late January.

As the year begins, WWE is in a very different place than it was 12 months ago. Only Roman Reigns, who has been the Universal champion since Aug. 30, 2020, started and ended the year with his title intact. The second-longest reigning champions on the main roster are his cousins The Usos, who have held the SmackDown tag team championships since July.

Only two of the other titleholders on Saturday are arguably in a better position than they were 12 months ago. Then-United States champion Bobby Lashley would go on to become WWE champion and successfully defended that title at WrestleMania 37. He'd go on to lose to Big E, who was the Intercontinental champion, on Jan. 1, when Big E cashed in his Money in the Bank title shot on Sept. 13.

The roster in general looks drastically different after a multitude of releases from Raw, SmackDown and NXT over the course of 2021. An entire generation of NXT stars who were seemingly poised to bolster the ranks on Raw on Monday nights and SmackDown on Fridays were cut loose, some before they even got a taste of the main roster.

The women's division has been particularly hard hit by the cuts, as WWE continues to struggle to build significant depth to that side of the roster beyond its signature "Four Horsewomen" -- Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Bayley. Prior to Rhea Ripley's Raw women's championship win over Asuka at WrestleMania 37 in April, the last time a women's title change didn't feature one of the Four Horsewomen was all the way back in August 2018.

Ripley and Bianca Belair each had moments in their first title reigns in 2021 but fell back to the pack as the year wound down. WWE lost another potential game-changer in the week leading up to Day 1, as recent title challenger Toni Storm asked for and was granted her release.

And before I cede the floor on this post-Festivus airing of grievances, one final point on the events of the past year in WWE. Fan frustrations and disappointments aside, it's unsurprising to see a publicly traded company to allow the bottom line to dictate its process. But like the mass talent releases, the seemingly financially focused decisions to save a little bit of money in the here and now don't seem to have long-term consequences factored into the equation.

Beyond the releases, the creation of stale, two-dimensional characters for NXT call-ups and the switch from (oft-beloved) entrance themes to poorly produced generic tracks for a number of top stars (which has dampened the reactions from live crowds) have made WWE's week-to-week programming harder to watch. During WWE's peak in the 1980s and '90s, fans connected to a mix of well-crafted instrumental tracks, popular-sounding music and mainstream pop hits. WWE's decision to direct more money toward occasionally cheesy-looking 3D visual enhancements rather than music will be a wait-and-see in terms of long-term payoff.

All of that being said (and a lot was said), one avenue WWE consistently delivered on in 2021 was the quality of its big pay-per-view shows. The top of the Day 1 card seems poised to do the same, headlined by far and away the best ongoing story in the WWE today -- between Reigns and Brock Lesnar.

If you spoke that sentence to most anyone in attendance at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans in April 2018, they'd have a tough time believing you. The Universal championship match between the two, the main event of the show, was loudly booed inside what was then the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But 3½ years later, Reigns is on the strongest individual run of his career as WWE's top villain, and the work he, Paul Heyman, The Usos and Lesnar have put in is top notch.

After Reigns fired Heyman following a question of Heyman's loyalties between his two clients, the intrigue of a Heyman double or triple cross heading into Saturday's match only adds to the intrigue. The only question that remains is what could come next. Lesnar could certainly win and carry the title -- and the rivalry -- on through April and WrestleMania. But the 44-year-old is not the long-term answer.

Ending a 480-plus-day title run the likes of which Reigns is on now is the stuff careers are made of. And outside of Drew McIntyre, who will be occupied with a blow-off match against Madcap Moss -- the sidekick of Happy Corbin, himself a middling character in the SmackDown hierarchy -- at Day 1, no one else on the SmackDown roster feels like they're properly positioned to step up to that challenge.

Prediction: Reigns leaves Day 1 with his title intact, but it'll involve several layers of interference and chicanery. Lesnar extracts a pound of flesh for the indignance, and then steps away for a stretch.

Six more things to watch for at Day 1

Liv Morgan has been doing some of the best work of her career in recent months -- namely, in her Raw women's championship rivalry against Lynch. Their first match ended under controversial circumstances, leading up to Saturday's rematch. As WWE looks to add depth to its upper echelon of women's talent, this title match will be an opportunity for Morgan to continue to prove she belongs there.

Prediction: Lynch bends the rules again to escape with another narrow win.

Big E is scheduled to defend his WWE championship against Lashley, Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins, although Owens was the only one in attendance on Monday Night Raw as WWE went through some last-minute COVID-19-related changes. Provided everyone is OK for Saturday, this should be another great match with four performers doing big things in the ring of late. Owens in particular is rolling on all cylinders, and his transparent "partnership" with Rollins is high comedy.

Prediction: Big E retains, but Owens avoids the pin and remains in the title hunt moving forward.

The New Day and The Usos reignite one of the longest-running rivalries in WWE today. And this time around, Kofi Kingston, "King" Xavier Woods, Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso appear to be guaranteed not to wind up on the kickoff show. Despite the extra motivation to steal the show, it's hard to imagine a bad match between these four.

Prediction: This feels like the match most likely to end in a title change, and it could accelerate the sense of urgency and chaos for Reigns later in the night. The New Day win their 11th tag team titles.

Despite being the show-closing angle on Monday night, Edge vs. The Miz is a match that could easily get lost in the shuffle at Day 1. That's a scenario in which both men have historically had a tendency to steal the show.

Prediction: Edge, because The Miz is Teflon at this point in his career and losses don't really hurt him.

RK-Bro is a team that shouldn't work as well as it does, despite the long history of unlikely tag team partners bonding in the annals of professional wrestling. Randy Orton and Matt Riddle have been strengthening their bond despite Orton's protestations, and peace in the relationship means one of two things: a long run together as champions, or an imminent heel turn. With the tease of a fake RKO to Riddle on Monday, I'll lean toward the former, for now. The Street Profits will hopefully have enough time in this match to remind everyone why they're a dynamic pairing.

Prediction: RK-Bro retain their Raw tag team titles, and Riddle gets a little too comfortable post-match with a fake-out RKO attempt on Orton.

The two remaining matches on the card are as follows: a tag team match pitting Cesaro and Ricochet against Sheamus and Ridge Holland, which will take place on the kickoff show; and the aforementioned McIntyre-Moss clash. Neither seems likely to have too much long-term impact, but Cesaro and Ricochet on the same team feels like it has the potential to add an all-time clip to the highlight reel.

Predictions: McIntyre in a landslide, unless he's about to get bogged down with a longer-term story with Moss and Corbin. Sheamus and Holland do some rule breaking, and as the more established partnership, walk out of Atlanta with a win to open the show.