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The last two years saw pro wrestling undergo a significant platform change that structurally transformed the entire business. 2016 was not as significant in terms of major industry shifting changes in the industry, but there were several major happenings that made it fascinating to be a wrestling fan. On a side note, I feel refreshed writing this article because this year has not seen as many early deaths as in past years. Here are the top ten pro wrestling stories of 2016.
Honorable Mention: TNA Survives
In my opinion, TNA is so insignificant that it barely deserves a mention in any major news headlines. That being said, it is endlessly intriguing that the company is able to discover funding and stay in business. I still cannot imagine why any entity would want to invest in it. Despite the fact that the company holds minimal interest to even diehard wrestling fans and most of its history has been an embarrassment, we saw major off-camera and in-court drama over the tarnished brand. Corporations like Anthem Sports and rock legends like Billy Corgan fought over control over the company. If anybody can answer this question, please tweet me @shawnvalentino. What are investors gaining from their “investment” in TNA?
(10) Shane McMahon and the Dumbest Storyline in Wrestling History
One of the biggest myths of 2016 was that Shane McMahon saved WrestleMania. First of all, with the Network structure and the popularity of Mania as an established event, it is unlikely it needed saving. Shane’s return generated one of the biggest ovations in recent history, which is more of an indicator of how lame the current product is because he was a mid-card stuntman at best even in his prime. In the weeks following his comeback, ratings went down, which is unheard of leading into WrestleMania.
Worst of all, creatively, it was absurdly awful even by wrestling standards. All characters were totally inconsistent, major developments were thrown out without explanation and the stakes meant nothing because Shane ended up getting his chance to run Raw despite losing. It was the dumbest storyline in wrestling history.
(9) The Pros and the Con of the Women’s “Revolution”
2016 saw the Diva’s Division become the Women’s Division in an attempt to emphasize a transition from the ladies being portrayed as sex symbols to more serious athletic competitors. In theory, this is supposed to symbolize a growth in the division and superstars like Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Bailey were a huge change from the pure eye candy of previous years. The movement saw the women headline Raw and even a Live Network Special, but was it all a big con?
Unfortunately, the booking of the division was such a mess that it nearly made one nostalgic for the days of lingerie pillow fights. The Women’s Championship changed so many times that both Banks and Charlotte may challenge Ric Flair’s record of reigns by the end of 2017. Major matches were given away with no buildup on television, and champions regularly lost non-title matches making actual changes in the belt even more insignificant than they already were. Even worse was the character inconsistency across platforms and the incessant crying after seemingly every match. If this is the direction that the “revolution” is headed just bring back the models like Stacy Keibler, Sunny and Sable when there was no pretense of the ladies being more than eye candy. (By the way, they were much bigger stars than the supposed “revolutionaries.”)
(8) Daniel Bryan Retires
The biggest retirement of the year was Daniel Bryan, who gave an unforgettable exit speech on Raw. He was one of the most likeable and charismatic wrestlers in recent years. Despite his amicable presence, his career is also a cautionary tale of what not to do. I have been writing for years that it was only a matter of time before Bryan suffers from a major injury, especially after bringing back the dumbest move in wrestling history, the Chris Benoit Diving Headbutt from the top rope. Hopefully his retirement is a lesson to those who share the misguided philosophy that one must risk their body for the art form.
(7) The Triumphant Return of Goldberg
While 2016 saw the retirement of Bryan, it also saw the return of a superstar who may have been his polar opposite, Bill Goldberg. At the start of the year, not too many wrestling fans were anticipating his return. When he arrived, however, Goldberg delivered a memorable promo that stood out in contrast to the lame comedy and the ironic portrayals that have resulted in dueling fan chants and audiences rebelling against booking.
The entire Goldberg versus Lesnar feud was a template in how to showcase a battle between larger than life stars on an epic stage. At Survivor Series, the hero triumphed against the bully villain, and we witnessed one of the most memorable moments in wrestling history.
(6) The Emergence of A.J. Styles
A.J. Styles has been one of the best wrestlers in the world for the past decade. Unfortunately, he had labored in the train wreck that is TNA with numerous goofy character incarnations. When he arrived in WWE at the Royal Rumble, the fans gave him an enormous ovation, and the spotlight shined on him throughout the year. Styles was the most consistently excellent wrestler of 2016, and he had tremendous matches against a wide array of opponents like Roman Reigns, John Cena, Dean Ambrose and others. His success also disproved Triple H’s theory that new signees require years of preparation in NXT learning camera angles, etc. He was saddled with some lame feuds, especially the James Ellsworth disaster, but AJ was the most entertaining WWE wrestler since Shawn Michaels.
(5) Brock Lesnar and C.M. Punk’s UFC Embarrassments
It is well known that despite being classified as independent contractors, Vince McMahon has a tight reign on his talent. This year, we saw two of the WWE’s biggest stars in recent years have showcase matches in UFC. CM Punk left the company years ago because he was disgruntled with politics and booking. Lesnar was a former UFC Champion whose career ended because of illness, and he wanted to go out on his own terms with a match at one of the biggest shows in the company’s history. Amazingly, Brock was allowed to compete at UFC 200 and within months, Punk made his MMA debut. I credit both men for living out their dreams, but I doubt WWE shares these sentiment.
The embarrassing results of these matches made us realize why McMahon has such a tight grip on his wrestlers. Lesnar won his match but tested positive for drugs making a mockery of the WWE Wellness Policy. Punk got destroyed in his debut to an unknown and exposed that even WWE Champions are not necessarily the toughest in real fights. It is unclear how this will affect future exchanges of talent between WWE and UFC, but we can be sure that it will be a long time before WWE Superstars enter the Octagon.
(4) The WWE Roster Split
WWE had attempted a roster split before. Not long after the demise of WCW, McMahon wanted to create a sense of competition by splitting talent between Raw and Smackdown. The original brand split had both pros and cons. We saw the emergence of Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and JBL and dream matches such as Kurt Angle versus HBK. Unfortunately it dissolved as the promotion got lazy about keeping the brands separate.
The 2016 Brand Extension had potential, but sadly we have seen major mistakes being made that have minimized the impact. Authority figures have needlessly overshadowed the current wrestlers. There have been two weak watered down championships. Worst of all is the contrived competition and ludicrous notion that Shane and Stephanie would want their “rival’s” show to fail. The build to the clash between Raw and Smackdown at Survivor Series competed with the Shane versus Taker storyline in stupidity. Hopefully, WWE gets their act together in 2017 and decides to maximize the potential of having two separate rosters, or they should just end it immediately before it becomes more incompetent.
(3) John Cena Transitions to Mainstream Superstardom
John Cena has been pro wrestling’s biggest star of the past decade. He has been arguably the best brand ambassador for WWE in the company’s history. This year saw Cena begin his transition away from full time wrestler to becoming a true sports entertainer. He made some major mainstream appearances hosting the ESPY’s and the Kids’ Choice Awards. Cena also took months off from the ring to pursue other projects as WWE struggled to find a replacement as the company’s top hero.
Before making his return to the ring, he hosted Saturday Night Live, a spot usually reserved for major pop culture figures. Ratings for the show were high, further cementing his growing popularity as a household name. Although he criticized The Rock years ago for leaving WWE, one cannot blame Cena for making the most of his opportunities as he shifts to the next phase of his career.
(2) Major Success for WWE Historical Figures
While Cena’s spotlight grew, other major former WWE figures stood on a much grander stage than WrestleMania. The Rock, who is easily the biggest pop culture superstar of any wrestler in history, was Forbes’ highest earning actor and People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. Dwayne Johnson is now arguably the biggest movie star in the world. When he hinted that he may run for President of the United States, nobody laughed because he may be the most charismatic star in Hollywood.
Speaking of becoming the President, who could have imagined that a WWE Hall of Famer would become the most powerful man in the world. Donald Trump has been a major figure in pro wrestling for decades. He hosted Wrestlemania 4 and 5 in Atlantic City, and he was the storyline owner of WWE before stockholders panicked. Additionally, Trump was the headliner of the biggest drawing pay-per-view in wrestling history, the Battle of the Billionaires at Wrestlemania 23. Not only did Trump become President, he appointed Linda McMahon to lead his Small Business Administration. In my opinion, Trump was largely influenced by pro wrestling theatrics in his campaign, including the Zeb Colter character that he had enjoyed.
This year saw the potential global impact that WWE and its’ personalities can have in shaping popular culture and even, for better or worse, international politics.
Check out our latest music video, an election parody of Michael Jackson’s famous Black or White and featuring cameos from Trump and Vince: CLICK HERE
(1) WrestleMania 32: Everything’s Too Big in Texas
When WWE decided to hold Wrestelmania 32 in the mammoth AT&T Stadium, even they must have wondered if they could fill it up with the company’s biggest event of the year. Despite having a substandard card, the announced attendance was over 100,000, the largest in company history. I was in Cowboys’ Stadium, and it was an unforgettable spectacle. There were no great matches, but it was a grand display of production values and staging mixed with numerous appearances by some of the biggest legends of all time. It was a week of festivities that brought hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy proving that Wrestlemania has become one of the biggest events in the entertainment universe.
Unfortunately, it also exhibited much of what is wrong with wrestling today. The show was way too long, and there was too much filler to warrant such a lengthy running time. The booking was inept, and the main event was a major miscalculation as it was a dull, plodding affair crowning a new champion that nobody wanted to see. Overall, it was an epic week, and it showcased a perfect portrait of the state of the professional wrestling world in 2016.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS MAGIC, MEMORIES, AND MANIA: My Wrestling Wish List for Christmas Day 2017 including Taker, Cena, Flair, Trump, many more
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