For much of the last ten years – although it’s gotten really bad in this last year – the WWE wrestling product has been pretty weak creatively as the company has regularly churned out storylines and match finishes that made no sense and/or insulted my intelligence and/or were just plain bad. They’ve struggled to create new main event talent due to too much 50/50 booking, combined with their ignorance with respect to what fans know via the Internet (ie Roman Reigns booed for being the “chosen one”). Most of the talent they’re producing out of NXT that weren’t long-time indy stars can’t cut a promo and don’t seem to understand the concept of ring psychology. And the faces of the company, specifically Vince McMahon, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, seem to be oblivious to what’s happening even though television ratings have continued to decline and break “lowest ever” records, as they continually wear a big smile in front of the cameras and spew their corporate bullshit about how successful they are. For the most part now I flip around the channels during Raw most weeks, I don’t watch SmackDown ever live (if anything good happens I catch it on YouTube), and I’ll put a PPV on via the WWE Network on my iPad and just “keep it there” while watching something else on television, again in case anything good happens.
So all of this begs the question, why am I still a fan? Why do I still watch WWE if I’m so frustrated by all of the garbage they tend to produce these days? I don’t want negativity in my life and I don’t want to be a hater, but it seems that whenever I write an article about pro wrestling it focuses on all that’s wrong with the business, so why bother? The answer is – because I still love pro wrestling and I still appreciate the rare moments when the stars align and something great happens. I’m still willing to dig through piles and piles of coal in order to occasionally find a diamond. I still enjoy a great match, a great promo, a great character and a great storyline. They’re few and far between these days but when they do occasionally creep up, I want to see it.
On August 22, 2015 at NXT Takeover in Brooklyn, New York, Bayley defeated Sasha Banks for the NXT Women’s Title in a hard fought, dramatic match with the crowd on their feet. Then as part of the post-match festivities, Bayley was joined in the ring by her friends Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and the woman she had just beaten, Sasha for a “Four Horsewomen” celebration.
On January 24, 2016 at the Royal Rumble in Orlando, Florida, wrestling veteran AJ Styles finally made his WWE debut as a surprise entrant in the Rumble match, causing live fans – not to mention too many excitable grown men watching at home – to rejoice.
On April 1, 2016 at NXT Takeover in Dallas, Texas, Shinsuke Nakamura made his NXT/WWE debut to much fanfare, and put on a “match of the year” candidate with a win over Sami Zayn, who was headed to the main roster full-time and doing the time honored tradition of putting somebody over on the way out.
On April 3, 2016 at Wrestlemania 32 also in Dallas, long-time WWE performer and journeyman Zack Ryder shocked everybody by winning the Intercontinental Title in a seven-man ladder match, considered a major upset.
On July 24, 2016 at WWE Battleground in Washington, DC, Sami Zayn finally closed the book on his feud with long-time friend and foe Kevin Owens by pinning him to win a high impact, high drama match up.
On August 20, 2016 at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II, Nakamura was part of one of the best ring entrances that I can recall at any wrestling show in years, with the sold out crowd at Barclay’s Center singing along as he made his way to the ring while a violinist stood in the aisle playing his song. Nakamura went on to beat Samoa Joe for the NXT Title.
On August 21, 2016 at Summerslam in Brooklyn in somewhat of a “changing of the guard” moment, Styles defeated John Cena clean in the middle of the ring, solidifying his place on the roster and becoming the definitive face of the SmackDown brand.
These are just a few of the great matches that have occurred in the last 1+ years in WWE, and they’re all examples of how great moments still sometimes occur that make me keep watching.
Then in addition to matches, there has also been some (not much, but some) great character development in WWE over the last year, including:
The New Day: One of my favorite breakout stories of 2015. Here you had three guys who were toiling in the bottom-to-middle of the card. They were put together as a trio of babyfaces with choir music, dancing and clapping for no apparent reason. The fans hated them, and they were going nowhere. But then WWE turned them heel, and they began showing personality with obnoxious, heelish promos. But the promos got over and even though they were heels, they were received by fans as babyfaces. They were then turned babyface via a feud with the League of Nations, and they took off after that, becoming top merchandise sellers and a top act on WWE Raw.
Kevin Owens: He may not have fit Vince McMahon’s mold of what a top star should look like, but he was over with the crowd from the moment he debuted on the main roster in 2015 and defeated John Cena that May. With his quick wit, promo style and creative in-ring abilities, you couldn’t keep him down no matter how hard WWE tried, and finally this past August he was rewarded by winning Raw’s top title, the WWE Universal Championship.
Heath Slater: Here’s another example of a guy getting himself over in spite of the office. Slater had spent the majority of his WWE career serving as an enhancement talent. But the guy has personality, he has charisma, and he can talk. He finally stumbled onto something this year when he deemed himself a sought-after free agent (in reality he’d gone undrafted by both Raw and Smackdown), then came the character development with the trailer park and all the kids, and then the “Odd Couple” tag team with Rhyno, and the crowd responded. Slater is now a tag champion with Rhyno on the SmackDown brand. Who would have thought?
Charlotte: Hard to believe that she’s only been on the main roster for a year, and that she only had her first TV match in NXT in 2013. This girl oozes superstardom. She’s got the look, she’s got the presence (in and out of the ring), and she’s a great promo. She’s the top all-around women’s star in the business today and one of the best ever already.
Bayley: She’s considered the John Cena of the women’s division and if she has even 1/100 of the success he’s had, she’ll do alright. Her look and her character has broad appeal, and she’s done a great job of honing her in-ring abilities over the last couple of years. She main evented several NXT shows and it’s inevitable that she’ll be on top of the women’s division in WWE soon.
Braun Strowman: You read that right. As I’ve written about in previous articles, I have no problem with squash matches on television so long as they’re done correctly. And I think WWE has handled Strowman well on Raw to the point that I’m actually interested to see him face his first true test in Sami Zayn now. This guy looks like a monster and he isn’t terrible in the ring or on the mic. If they continue to build him and develop him slowly like they have been, there will be money in matches like Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar down the road.
The Miz and Maryse: I’ve never been a fan of The Miz. Yes he can talk and yes he’s a great guy to call upon for a mainstream media appearance, but I’ve never considered him to be a great wrestler and I’ve never found him to be a believable opponent against a top talent. That being said, bringing back his wife Maryse is the best thing that ever happened to Miz and it’s completely elevated his game. She not only looks like a million bucks but she is a fantastic heel, and together they have become one of the top acts on the SmackDown brand. I think Miz (with Maryse) vs. Rusev (with Lana) would be interesting just for the promos if they were to ever decide to do a cross-brand angle with them.
Enzo Amore and Big Cass: These guys are a testament to the success of NXT, as they were over from the moment they debuted on the main roster right after Wrestlemania 32, and the crowd already knew their intro catch phrases thanks to NXT. Amore is money on the mic, and Cass has big potential in the ring. So long as WWE doesn’t get impatient and do the typical “split them up and have them feud for a while” thing, they could be at the top of the card inside a year but as I’ve written about previously, I envision Amore as more of a manager than a wrestler, especially once WWE moves forward with the inevitable singles run for Cass.
So again these are examples of good things that have happened in wrestling over the last 1-2 years, and they’re examples of why I’m still a fan and why I will continue to watch WWE programming. The bad may far outweigh the good most weeks, and there’s even concern that some of these acts might regress due to poor creative, but it’s because of matches and character development like the above mentioned that I’ll keep tuning in.