THE SPECIALISTS VALENTINO'S MAGIC, MEMORIES & MANIA: The Top 10 WWE Moments of 2014
Dec 24, 2014 - 10:21:57 AM
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By Shawn Valentino, PWTorch specialist
2014 has been a transition year for WWE. We have seen early signs of the changing of the guard to a new crop of Superstars and a virtual overhaul in the presentation of its product. It has been a year of both magic and tragic moments. Today, we will examine the top ten WWE moments of the year.
(10) Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock’s Magical WrestleMania Moment
When it was announced that Hulk Hogan would be the host of WrestleMania 30, it appeared to be the perfect way for the Hulkster to make a grand return home to WWE. Little did I imagine at the time that it would also create the opportunity for one of the magic moments in Mania history. I was in the audience at “the Silverdome” in New Orleans, and it was surreal to see the surprise appearances of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock joining Hogan on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
It was three of the biggest stars in wrestling history looking great and in charismatic form giving wrestling fans a feel-good moment for the ages. The atmosphere in the stadium was electrifying, and the unforgettable segment was worth the price of admission all on its own. This was a gift to all wrestling fans, and it was my favorite WWE moment of 2014.
(9) Batista: A Zero Returns and a Superhero Rises
If you want a clinic on how to botch a wrestling return, the mishandling of Dave Batista would be the perfect example. First, this should have been an unannounced return, but somehow news leaked that The Animal would return. If he had come back as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble, it is unlikely the crowd would have turned on him. In one of the more bizarre moments in Raw history, he came back in a horrible segment on Raw where he bowed to and hugged top heels, The Authority. This would have been fine if was returning as a top heel, but the intent was for him to be the heroic babyface that would win the WWE Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania. Unsurprisingly, the crowd turned on him when he won the Royal Rumble because it was perceived as a contrived corporate conspiracy to derail a red-hot Daniel Bryan. The company was forced to turn him heel because of the backlash, and he left with a whimper without having won the top belt.
What WWE foolishly did not realize was that "Guardians of the Galaxy" would become the biggest movie hit of the year, and Batista’s performance as Drax the Destroyer would make him one of Hollywood’s rising stars. It was another example of the “leaders” in “sports entertainment” failing to take advantage of the starpower of one of its own creations becoming an actual mainstream entertainment success. Batista has recently been cast as a villain in the next James Bond movie, and for a guy who always took pride in portraying the image of a major star, it must feel satisfying growing into the status he portrayed himself as in the wrestling world.
(8) The Power of Podcasts
Podcasts have been part of the wrestling culture for years, but it was 2014 that really saw the medium become a powerful, potentially industry shifting showcase for wrestlers and even owners to reach their audience. Steve Austin, Jim Ross, and Chris Jericho have had highly successful weekly shows, but it was a lesser known wrestler that took things to a new level. In fact, a series of Colt Cabana podcast interviews with C.M. Punk and Austin’s rare interview with Vince McMahon supplanted WWE’s top on-air stories, including the debut of the biggest modern star to never wrestle in WWE.
By the end of November, no one was talking about the introduction of Sting or the fall of The Authority. No wrestling fan will ever forget the sight of Austin interviewing his former archrival McMahon on the Network. Nor will we forget Punk breaking his silence, which will be discussed later in this article. 2014 will be remembered as the year the power of wrestling podcasts reach a new high, and it will likely continue as a major medium in 2015.
(7) The Shield: The Three Headed Dragon
The Shield was one of the coolest acts in wrestling in recent years, and most fans believed they were broken up prematurely. This summed up WWE’s short-sighted “creative” that seemingly books its “stories” from moment to moment without any regard for logic or character consistency. That being said, each member of The Shield has made their mark, and they all look like they will be big stars in the future.
Dean Ambrose has a natural cool factor and a deranged unpredictability that make him one of the most compelling acts in recent memory. Unfortunately, he has not been aided by the goofy booking and horrible commentary that seemingly is striving to make the product as dorky as possible. Despite this, Ambrose may have been the most consistently popular wrestler of the year. Seth Rollins has been the best performer of the three, and his work both in and out of the ring as the weaselly heel may have made him the best wrestling villain of the year.
The most interesting of the three going into 2015 will be Roman Reigns, who many see as the next top guy in WWE. He has had a series of painfully awkward interview segments, and a mind-boggling Slammy “victory” as Superstar of the Year that is about as believable as Kim Jung-un winning a spot on the California Senate. Despite the rough start, I believe Reigns has some appealing characteristics that Cena lacked that should make him more appealing to the male target demographic. No matter what happens to the trio, 2014 was undoubtedly the launch of three potential WWE Superstars that can carry the company for the next decade.
(6) The Baffling Booking of Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar competed in the two most memorable matches of the year. In the shocking wrestling moment of the year, he conquered Undertaker’s WrestleMania Streak. I will have more on that later. Then as an encore, in my 2014 Match of the Year, he demolished WWE’s top star in unforgettable fashion. Despite the baffling decision to end The Streak, the incredible build-up to the Summerslam main event and the destruction of Cena gave WWE the unique opportunity to have an indomitable special attraction World Champion.
Instead of portraying Lesnar as an unstoppable juggernaut and sending Cena on a journey of self-discovery, WWE ruined its own attraction within a few weeks. Cena essentially pinned Lesnar clean in his first title defense, and Brock has rarely appeared since. Instead of being showcased as the dominant champion that disappeared because he had no threats that could compete with him, he comes across as a weak paper champion that took off after luckily retaining through cheating. It is the worst example of how WWE desperately needs a creative overhaul because it embarrassingly has devalued the World Championship, ended The Streak, and killed off the drawing card that should have been the biggest star of 2014.
(5) The Ultimate Warrior: A Magic Return Turns Tragic
More than any Superstar of the last 30 years, The Ultimate Warrior is McMahon’s dream of what a Superstar should look like. Warrior had the aura of a comic book hero come to life, and had a presence that made him unforgettable to any fan that saw him. He was also a real-life unstable lunatic fringe that was a nightmare behind the scenes. Although he was one of the iconic figures of the early WrestleMania years, WWE had a rocky relationship with him for years, especially after a DVD that defamed his legacy.
When Triple H signed Warrior to a deal that would include inducting him into the WWE Hall of Fame, it made the ceremony a must-see event on WrestleMania weekend. I was there for the experience and really enjoyed Warrior’s speech and felt that it was a damaged man making peace with himself and his legacy. When he thanked his wife and kids at the induction, it humanized the most cartoonish of characters. His Raw return that followed was one of those magic moments that gave nostalgic chills to any fan who watched him growing up. The words of his last speech are now eerily prophetic.
I had not yet left New Orleans when I started receiving texts that Warrior had died. It was one of the most shocking of all wrestling deaths, and the most surreal, given the surrounding circumstances. If there is any solace to the tragedy, it was that he had the rare opportunity to make peace with his enemies and thank his loved ones on a worldwide platform before passing away.
(4) The Rise and Fall of Daniel Bryan
At the start of the year, Bryan was the hottest babyface the wrestling world had seen in years. His character was on a roller-coaster feud with the Authority that many would argue echoed his actual struggle to rise to the top despite not looking like a traditional WWE Superstar. Of course, many were upset when he did not win the Royal Rumble, but he experienced one of the greatest nights that any wrestler has ever had at WrestleMania 30. He defeated three of the biggest stars in WWE history in one night and won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in grand fashion.
Unfortunately, the celebration would not last long. His father passed away soon after Mania, and then he delivered the not-so-shocking news that he was suffering from a major neck injury. I have been writing for years that the Chris Benoit Memorial Diving Headbutt should be banned from wrestling, partially because it looks stupid, but this was further evidence of the severe damage it can do the health of a wrestler. Bryan will likely return in 2015, but this should have been his year to shine as the top hero in wrestling, and it cannot be regarded as anything but a disappointment.
(3) The Fall and Rise of C.M. Punk
As 2014 began, C.M. Punk was obviously disgruntled by the creative direction of his character, and he looked completely worn out on television. Despite this, he was scheduled to fight the top heel in the company, Triple H, at WrestleMania. Suddenly, without explanation, he disappeared from WWE programming. It was one of the great mysteries in wrestling history.
After staying silent for about ten months, Punk gave an explosive interview on Cabana’s podcast. Suddenly, he was the most talked-about story in professional wrestling. Before we had a chance to dissect the myriad of relevant issues that Punk discussed, suddenly he had signed with UFC, and a whole new set of fascinating topics rose to the forefront. This may have been 2014’s redemption story, a fallen wrestling hero in his prime but miserable with his job returns triumphant, happier and healthier, with a fresh start and a new dream.
(2) The Undertaker’s WrestleMania Streak Ends
This was easily the most shocking moment of the year, and in an awful way. The Undertaker’s Streak was the lone accomplishment that remained protected in an era where championship reigns are virtually meaningless. It added a level of prestige to the business and an aura around WrestleMania. Unbelievably, McMahon decided to end it on a last-minute decision, and it created a collective thud amongst wrestling fans around the world.
Undertaker’s last few years of Mania matches were some of the greatest battles in wrestling history, and the myth of The Streak made them theatrical masterpieces. This year had the worst build of them all, and the match itself lived down to the lackluster creative presentation. The ending was so poorly executed that I thought it was a mistake as I watched it in the audience. Even if Taker were to never wrestle a match again, his unbeaten record would be something to be celebrated for the ages. The fact that it has been followed up in such poor fashion makes the decision inexcusable and shows how last-minute decisions will come around to bite you without a strong follow-up plan.
(1) The WWE Network Launches
If none of the other top ten moments took place, 2014 would still be a transcendent year because WWE revamped their entire business model by structuring their schedule based around a relatively new medium for live content. When the company announced the details for the WWE Network at CES in January, it was the definition of a game-changer. The stock soared and Wall Street salivated at the prospects exaggerated by overambitious projections.
Although they have not accomplished the numbers they anticipated, it was still a courageous move for WWE to shift one of their main revenue generators into a monthly over the top fee-based structure. Unfortunately, they decided to do so at a time where the product was already oversaturated on television, and the wrestling lacked any form of perceived coolness by the mainstream audience. Nonetheless, in my opinion, they should be happy with the numbers they have achieved during a cold period for the product. As a long-time fan, I love having access to the classic content, and the price is a bargain. For the sake of the Network's viability, WWE needs to institute a new marketing team, and more importantly, start building cool new stars that can capture the imagination of casual viewers.
Please send questions, comments and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and check out my book The Showstopper Lifestyle on Amazon. Feel free to add Shawn Valentino on Facebook.
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