SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
While 2017 was one of the least eventful years in the history of wrestling, 2018 was a roller coaster of ups and downs. WWE hit new highs financially, but it hit all-time lows creatively. Here are my top 10 wrestling stories of 2018.
10. The Botching of Brock Lesnar’s Championship Reign
I have done my yearly Top 10 stories for nearly a decade and this may be the fourth time that I have included WWE’s atrocious booking of Brock Lesnar on my list. For years, the WWE Champion was overexposed to the point their appearance had meant nearly nothing. Finally, there has been an opportunity to have the champion seem like a special attraction. Sadly, instead of celebrating the rarified aura of Lesnar and making each of his appearances seem special, they made fun of him and turned the fans against him and the company. This did nothing for the eventual crowning of Roman Reigns as fans turned on their match at Wrestlemania and gave him a lukewarm reaction when he eventually won the championship.
9. Renee Young on Commentary
For years I thought that Jerry Lawler was the worst commentator I have ever heard. Enter Renee Young, a very good interviewer but her voice on the show makes an already awful experience even worse. I believe her position on commentary was really a symptom of number eight on my list.
For decades, wrestling was the sport of outlaws and cartoonish larger than life characters. For many of us, the lack of political correctness and the over the top nature of the product was one of the main attractions. Sadly, WWE, in an attempt to become PC has lot its edge and almost become like an infomercial. I’m not saying that championing justice and equality is bad, but the contrived nature in which WWE has gone about rebranding has made the shows nauseating to watch. For the last eight or nine years, I have mainly followed through watching PPV’s and Raw recaps, but it has gotten so unbearable that even the live “specials” are unwatchable. The lowest point may have been Nia Jax anti-bullying promo, one of the worst segments in the history of wrestling.
7. Ronda Rousey Signs With WWE
Ronda Rousey is one of the most famous female athletes in the world and one of the biggest draws in UFC history. Her signing with WWE and her unforgettable debut was a huge deal and helped give them leverage in negotiating with networks. Her creative direction was questionable at times, but her mere presence on Raw elevates the product for mainstream and hardcore wrestling fans.
6. WrestleMania Becomes Beach Ball Mania
I was in the audience for Wrestlemania 34 as I have been for 16 of the last 17 Wrestlemanias. Over the last few years, the Showcase of the Immortals has made many of us question our own mortality as the show has been stretched out to over six hours. This year featured possibly the greatest debut performance in wrestling history from Rousey, but the last three or four hours of the show left the fans bored until they rejected the main event between Brock and Roman Reigns. When the beach balls in the audience are the most exciting thing of the final match of the main show of the year, you know that there has been a questionable creative direction.
5. All In and Starrcast
In a year where WWE became nearly unwatchable because of lack of star power and interesting storylines, it left room for the independent wrestling scene to reach heights it has not seen in decades. The rise in popularity of indy wrestling and the diehard loyalty of hardcore wrestling fans left room for a Wrestlemania-like weekend for people looking for an alternative to the main company. Enter Cody Rhodes and Conrad Thompson, the undisputed king of podcasts.
Labor Day weekend in Chicago became a Mecca for lovers of pro wrestling. Rhodes’ vision created a major showcase of independent talent in Chicago. Thompson’s genius for having his finger on the pulse of the podcast scene helped fuel a concept for the biggest convention of wrestling podcasts in history. It became arguably one of the most important weekends in the history of wrestling and now thousands of fans anticipate an encore in 2019.
4. The Saudi Arabia Shows
When WWE signed it’s huge ten-year deal with Saudi Arabia to deliver yearly specials in the country, they were dancing with the devil. It was not for everybody, but I enjoyed WWE Greatest Royal Rumble despite the fact it often seemed like a travel infomercial for Saudi Arabia. It featured huge stars facing off and a big show atmosphere that even Wrestlemania lacked. Besides, who could forget Titus O’Neill’s epic slide?
To nobody’s shock, the risky game of Russian Roulette resulted in the company effectively shooting itself after the tragic murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Despite trying to portray itself as progressive, Saudi Arabia is largely a country with backdated values and inexcusably unequal treatment of homosexuals, women and those who dare to challenge the regime. When WWE returned for Crown Jewel, it left a bad taste in the mouths of many wrestling fans and also left a black mark on the company.
3. WWE is Less Cool Than Ever
I have been a wrestling fan for about three decades, and I cannot remember wrestling ever being less cool than it is now. Even when WWF had some embarrassingly cartoonish gimmicks in the nineties at least there was a campiness that was fun to watch. We are now in an era where there are no cool stars that connect with fans. When Seth Freaking Rollins, Daniel Bryan and Shane O’ Mac are seen as some of the cooler wrestlers on the shows, it shows how pathetic the product is. Even if you have the best creative storytelling, which is far from the case, the lame nature of the show makes it virtually impossible to sit through.
2. Roman Reigns Announces He Has Cancer
The saddest moment of the year came when Roman Reigns, the man that WWE has unsuccessfully attempted to make their top star for years, announced he has leukemia. In an emotional promo, he relinquished the championship and finally had a connection with the fans he has sorely lacked over the past few years. Unsurprisingly, WWE exploited his announcement to try to get heat for Dean Ambrose’s heel turn, but this speech was historic. This is the first time the top star in the company has had to prematurely “retire” due to health reasons since Steve Austin. The Torch wishes a speedy recovery to Roman.
1. WWE Signs Huge TV Contracts and Reaches Financial Highs
Although fans have suffered through an excruciating year of TV programming from WWE, ironically, it was also the year they signed their biggest television deals. While the company reached new lows when it came to cool factor and creative direction, it reached all time highs in stock prices and valuation of the company. Unfortunately, it showcases to the top brass that much of Vince McMahon’s efforts to rebrand the product as a generic entertainment show has worked. I would argue they would have signed even bigger deals if they built top stars that connected with the fans and had coherent storytelling. The contracts give the company huge leverage and freedom in the following years, and it could also mean that they will continue to rest on their laurels creatively as the money flows in.
Overall, 2018 will be remembered as the year WWE reached all-time lows creatively and all-time highs financially. Speaking of high points, I am proud to announce the first ever feature film produced by wrestling journalists. I have done reality shows and talk shows for years, but I’m excited to star in my first feature film. The movie is co-produced by former Pro Wrestling Dot Net Senior Editor Rich Twilling and directed by visionary director of the horror film Rideshare, Tremain Hayhoe. Former WWE Diva and TNA knockout Shelly Martinez plays my bodyguard and one of Bruce Mitchell’s favorite actresses, Nina Hartley, plays my mentor. Here is the trailer of The Bachelor Party, a parody of The Bachelor and Mission Impossible. coming soon on Amazon Prime!
Please follow me and send questions, comments and feedback on Twitter @shawnvalentino and follow our show The Pro Wrestling Top 5 at www.youtube.com/theprowrestlingtop5