It’s easy to be negative and critical of the WWE product. We all want the product to be better. I’ve never been the kind of guy to be that whiner, though. If I was, then I wouldn’t be a WWE fan for over 30 years and a guy that has written about the business for two decades. I always try to find the positives in everything because it keeps me going in all aspects of my life. Today, in the spirit of American Thanksgiving, I want to be positive about WWE by making a list of some things I am thankful for as part of the WWE Universe.
Consider this something of a look back at WWE in 2018 as well as some things that excite me about the future. The order doesn’t matter. It’s just a look at 18 things I’m thankful for as a WWE fan. Why 18? Because it’s 2018. Simple enough, right? Let’s get to it.
1. The rise of Becky Lynch as Smackdown Women’s Champion and a main event level performer
Who else? I know I said the order doesn’t matter, but I had to begin this column talking about the Smackdown Women’s Champion, “The Man” Becky Lynch. It sucks that she is on the shelf right now with a broken nose (or “broken face” as WWE called it) and a concussion, but we all know she’ll be back soon.
It’s been a joy to watch Becky go from just another face on the Smackdown brand that was racking up wins over the summer to one of the best overall characters in the company. Lynch didn’t always get the promo time or the attention that she deserved. At SummerSlam, when she turned on Charlotte Flair after failing to win the Smackdown Women’s Title, Lynch got the ovation from the fans that she had earned. Since then, Lynch became Smackdown Women’s Champion for the second time and the ovations grew. Not only that, but the fans chant “Becky” for her even when she’s not on the show! That is some good star power.
I think a case could be made that Lynch is WWE’s Superstar of the Year, and that includes the men. The fact that she had one of the best matches of the year with Charlotte Flair at Evolution only helps her case. I hope the momentum continues all the way to next year’s WrestleMania and a match with Ronda Rousey.
2. The unlimited potential of Velveteen Dream
It may be too early to predict who will be WWE’s wrestler of the year in the next decade, but based on people that worked for the company right now, the name Velveteen Dream comes to mind. The rising star that debuted on WWE TV on Tough Enough (using his real name Patrick Clark) two years ago is only 23 years old and nearly won the NXT Title this past Saturday. Every time I watch him wrestle, I’m impressed by how good he is for his age. As good as he is right now, he’s only going to get better because in the wrestling business, you get better with repetition.
The reason Dream is so successful is that he understands it’s important to get your character over as much as your work in the ring. If you just go out there having great matches, that is fine, but you need to do more. Dream elicits huge reactions from the fans because he’s able to pull off extravagant looks whether he’s dressing like Prince from 30 years ago or like Hollywood Hulk Hogan from 20 years ago.
There are no limitations on how far Dream can go. If he’s not a main roster main eventer in the next three years, I’ll be very surprised. It might happen sooner than that.
3. The New Day remaining a team with no signs of breaking up
It has been four years since WWE decided to pair up three wrestlers to form a group known as The New Day. The trio of Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, and Big E started off as faces, morphed into annoying heels, and then became so popular that they have been locked in as faces for the last two years. Along the way, they have gone on to win five Tag Team Titles and have shown no signs of slowing down.
The reason I wanted to include them in here is because it’s rare to see a successful stable last four years without having any problems or teases of a split. It seems like every year, fans will wonder when is Big E going to get that big singles push or when will they all become singles wrestlers again? It doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon and I think that’s great. The group is awesome together, so I hope it continues for years to come. Let this be that rare wrestling stable that doesn’t break up. It will only add their legacy if they are able to continue as a group well into the next decade.
4. Drew McIntyre’s rise to main event status on Raw
It was around a decade ago when Vince McMahon stood in the ring and proclaimed that Drew McIntyre was going to be a World Champion in WWE. If you were watching at the time, you probably remember the “Chosen One” nickname as McIntyre racked up wins over WWE midcarders. He didn’t reach that main event level and in 2014, after a failed run in the comedy group known as 3MB, Drew was gone from WWE.
McIntyre re-invented himself on the indy scene and became something of “Scottish psychopath,” as WWE likes to call him. In 2017, Drew was back in WWE as part of NXT, he became the NXT Champion and after an injury, he re-joined the main roster earlier this year on Raw. Now at 33 years old in the prime of his career, McIntyre is poised to break through as a main event wrestler and become a WWE Champion (or Universal Champion) next year. Give him a lot of credit for busting his ass to reach that level after where he was four years ago. It’s awesome to see the emergence of McIntyre.
Shoutout to Dolph Ziggler as well for feeling fresh again on the Raw roster thanks in part to his pairing with McIntyre. They work well together.
5. The greatness of NXT Takeover events
The best shows that WWE puts on every year are NXT Takeover events. This year, there were five of them with Philadelphia in January, New Orleans in April, Chicago in June, Brooklyn in August, and WarGames (Los Angeles) this past Sunday. It was the best year in Takeover history, which is saying a lot because years like 2015 and 2016 had some outstanding shows too. This past June, I wrote about why Takeover events are the best product that WWE has to offer and I maintain that opinion today.
If you’re not watching NXT regularly, what’s wrong with you? At least make sure you are watching the Takeover events. It should be a priority as a WWE fan because it’s a peek into what the future of the main roster is going to look like and the shows are better than the main roster on a consistent basis.
6. The consistent greatness of Seth Rollins on Raw and AJ Styles on Smackdown
If you were to ask me who the best overall male performers are on WWE’s roster right now, it would be tough to pick just one because two guys stand on top of their respective mountain. On Raw, it’s current Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins and on Smackdown, it’s former WWE Champion AJ Styles. They have great matches more often than anybody else and I think sometimes their consistency is overlooked. They are the best today, but they are also able to perform at a high level that would make the all-time greats proud.
You know what I would love at WrestleMania next year? Seth Rollins vs. AJ Styles. It can be like Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 21 in 2005 when Shawn was a Raw guy and Kurt was a Smackdown guy. They used the Royal Rumble to set it up. In this case, it would be between two top faces. Rollins may be busy with Dean Ambrose at WrestleMania, but I’d rather see Rollins vs. Styles on the grandest stage of them all.
7. Ronda Rousey’s ability to have good matches so early in her WWE career
One of the biggest stories in WWE this year is the arrival of Ronda Rousey at the Royal Rumble and her emergence as a good wrestler very early in her WWE career. When Rousey debuted at the Rumble, it wasn’t that much of a surprise because her UFC career appeared to be over. At WrestleMania, when Rousey more than held her own with Kurt Angle in a victory over Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, she impressed a lot of people. It was arguably the best match at WrestleMania, which is incredible for a woman in her first match. Did they practice and prepare for it for months? Sure they did and that helped a lot, but its’s still up to her to execute it.
Rousey went on to win the Raw Women’s Title at SummerSlam, which was not much of a surprise because WWE wants to push her as the face of the women’s evolution. Speaking of that, Rousey headlined the women’s only PPV Evolution when she beat Nikki Bella and followed that up with a rivalry with Becky Lynch that should lead them to WrestleMania next year.
To sum it all up, Rousey has been a joy to watch and has won over the WWE Universe due to her hard work. It helps that she is also a genuine wrestling fan rather than somebody that is just doing it because it’s a nice paycheck. Rousey should continue to get better in the months and years ahead too.
8. The affordability of WWE Network
This is one of those things that I bring up whenever I have to deal with a WWE fan that bitches and moans about a pay-per-view style event. If the event is bad, it frustrates me too, but the positive thing about it is that WWE Network is ridiculously cheap. I think we’re likely overlooking that it only costs $9.99 (that’s US dollars), considering we used to pay anywhere from $40 to $50 for a regular PPV event. If there was no WWE Network right now, WrestleMania would probably cost $75 or more on PPV. Who wants to pay that?
We are spoiled by the price that works out to be about 33 cents per day, especially when you consider the huge archives that are included. I’m currently going through a period where I’m watching and writing about every show from my favorite WWE year ever in 2000. It’s a blast to watch it again. If this was a decade ago, I would have had to order the DVDs off some dude on Ebay. Now, I can do it at my own convenience.
Next year could see a change in WWE Network with tiered pricing for even more content, so we’ll see if they do it. It’s been rumored for a few years. The $9.99 price isn’t changing, though, so I think we should take a moment to be thankful for how cheap it is.
9. Daniel Bryan as WWE Champion again
On January 5th, I wrote an article right here on The Comeback about Daniel Bryan’s wrestling future, which was a big topic going into the year. In March, he was cleared to wrestle again, then about a month ago, he re-signed with WWE and earlier this month, he became WWE Champion for the fifth time. It’s an incredible story that makes me happier than anything that has happened this year.
If you would have told me back in January that in December, we would get a heel Daniel Bryan as WWE Champion facing off against AJ Styles at TLC in a few weeks, I would have told you that you were crazy. I didn’t think Bryan would ever turn heel again, but after his promo on Smackdown this week, I love it already. I’m so excited about his future.
Will I always be worried about the health of Daniel Bryan? Absolutely, because I’m a fan of his. I’m also going to smile when I watch him because I know he’s living his dream again. Lucky for us, we get to watch him cement his legacy as he does it.
10. Paige finding happiness and success as Smackdown GM after retiring at a young age
One of the saddest stories this year was the news of Paige no longer being able to wrestle due to a serious neck injury. She stood in the ring at 25 years old (she’s 26 now) on the Raw after WrestleMania to tell the world she can’t wrestle anymore. It was tough for us to watch and tougher for her to say. It’s all she has known in her life. The next night, she became the General Manager of Smackdown Live. Since then, she has done a great job in the role because she’s a great talker that doesn’t mess up her lines. Plus, being well-liked by the fans certainly helps her cause.
In addition to her role as the GM of Smackdown, Paige has also launched a successful fashion business at TheSarayaStore.com as well. There’s also a movie about her life called “Fighting with My Family” produced by The Rock and WWE that is coming out in February, so she’ll get a lot of attention for that. I’m very happy for her.
11. The rise of Japanese wrestlers in WWE…even though it could have been even better
It was a great year for Japanese wrestlers in WWE. The most obvious picks to win the Royal Rumble matches were Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka. Both ending up winning, which had a lot of people excited. Sadly, Nakamura failed to win the WWE Title and Asuka failed to win the Smackdown Women’s Title. I don’t think it’s fair to say that they had disappointing years, but I wish they were booked better.
In addition to Nakamura and Asuka on the main roster, I’m really impressed by Kairi Sane in NXT. She can be a big star very soon if they play to her strengths, which is selling as a babyface and making those impressive comebacks. Another Japanese NXT wrestler named Io Shirai is going to turn some heads next year too. I’m glad that WWE are utilizing Japanese wrestlers better than ever. Here’s hoping they figure out how to use Asuka the right way, though. She needs a bigger role.
12. The unique attributes that Ricochet brings to the table that separates him from everybody else
If you asked me to list my favorites wrestlers in WWE right now, I’d probably rattle off some of the more common names like Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, and AJ Styles, but then there’s also one other guy near the top of the list: Ricochet. The high-flyer that debuted in WWE earlier in this year after wrestling all over the world for a decade has taken NXT by storm as the North American Champion. This past Saturday at Takeover WarGames, he did this double moonsault off a cage onto the others in the ring that was incredible. We’ve all seen the incredible work of guys like Rey Mysterio and Jeff Hardy, but Ricochet takes it to another level.
The 30-year-old Ricochet should be a main event talent on Raw or Smackdown within the next two years. If that doesn’t happen then somebody got it wrong. This guy is too good to not be showcased as one of the best overall performers in WWE. Does he have to work on promos a bit? Sure, but he’s good enough right now. Push this man, WWE. He’s going to be a draw when it comes to bringing in new fans because people will want to tune in to see what he does next.
13. The brand extension continues
When WWE started the brand extension 2.0 in July of 2016, it was because USA Network wanted to make Smackdown a live show on Tuesday nights. It was also because the WWE is ridiculously large with over 200 wrestlers under contract, if you count the main roster and developmental. There just isn’t enough time for everybody. Even with the brands being split into two, you could make a case that over 80% of the roster is underused.
The way I’m putting a positive spin on it is by saying thank you to WWE for keeping the brand extension active. I really hope it doesn’t go away because they need it to continue due to how many people they employ as active wrestlers. If it were to end, that would mean we would get the same people on both shows, which means even less time for the midcarders and tag teams that need a chance to show off what they can do.
What I didn’t like this year was WWE deciding to merge the Raw and Smackdown talent on every pay-per-view event. I know that it makes things easier for them, but I think it hurts the wrestlers because it means less wrestlers will be on the major PPV shows.
14. Smackdown remaining a two-hour show with no plans to run longer than that
A huge story that took place this past May was when it was announced that Fox is going to pay WWE over $1 billion in the next five years to air Smackdown live on Friday nights. Not only was it a huge jump in money for WWE, but they also get to go from being on cable to USA Network to one of the big four networks.
The news also meant that Smackdown will remain two hours, unlike the three-hour runtime that Raw has on USA Network. To me, that was the best news in all of this because I was worried that USA Network or some other network would pay WWE a lot of money to make Smackdown three hours. I’m glad that didn’t happen because Raw is too long at three hours while Smackdown feels just right at two hours.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how WWE promotes Smackdown come next October when that big Fox contract kicks in.
15. Mauro Ranallo and Corey Graves on commentary
There are a lot of good announcers in WWE right now, but my two favorites are NXT’s main play by play guy Mauro Ranallo and the Raw/Smackdown heel announcer Corey Graves. Even though they are my two favorites, these men aren’t currently working on the same show together. Most of WWE’s other announcers do a good job. I don’t mind Michael Cole (Raw) or Tom Phillips (Smackdown) as play by play guys. I’m also happy Renee Young is full time on Raw too. I just feel like Ranallo and Graves are the best right now, so I wanted to shine the spotlight on them a bit.
Ranallo brings the kind of excitement that you want to hear on any wrestling or sports show. The name that comes to mind in the sports world is Gus Johnson, who mainly does college football on Fox these days, but really made a name for himself doing college basketball games on CBS. Ranallo is like Johnson in terms of being over the top in a way that doesn’t annoy you. He comes across as a fan that loves the business because that’s what Mauro is. Right now, Ranallo is WWE’s NXT announcer and will likely remain in that role because that’s what is comfortable for him. If he was able to step up to the main roster again that would be great, but if not, that’s fine too because he’s perfect for NXT.
As for Graves, I’m thankful for him because he’s the closest thing this era of wrestling has to a Bobby Heenan or Jerry Lawler type of heel announcer that is going to side with the bad guys while everybody else supports the bad guys. Graves doesn’t side with the heels as much as Heenan or Lawler did, but in most matches he will side with them. It’s important to have that balance. Graves also adds humor to the broadcast, but it’s unfair to compare him to Heenan in that regard because I think that “The Brain” was the funniest guy in wrestling history. With that said, I have an appreciation for what Graves does and his ability to be sharp even during five hours of live TV every week as well as four hour PPV broadcasts.
16. Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa as the heart and soul of NXT
Johnny Gargano and current NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa really stood out this year whether it was in their matches against eachother or against others. The match quality is through the roof whenever they are wrestling at a Takeover. Gargano’s match with then-NXT Champion Andrade “Cien” Almas at NXT Takeover Philadelphia was the first match of the year contender. He followed that up with three more against Ciampa in New Orleans, Chicago, and Brooklyn. When Gargano had “Johnny Takeover” on his tights at this past Saturday’s WarGames, it was brilliant because the nickname fits him perfectly. He has become Mr. Takeover this year just like he was in the past when he teamed with Ciampa as the #DIY tag team.
As for Ciampa, he is one of the best heels in the company and backs it up in the ring as well. Whether he’s against Gargano, Aleister Black, Velveteen Dream, or anybody else, you know Ciampa is going to deliver a memorable performance. Like Gargano, he’s not a big dude because he wrestles at around 200 pounds, but they both carry themselves like superstars and get the reactions that any wrestler would want. Ciampa is a lot of fun as the current NXT Champion with the championship, which he calls “Goldie” as his prized possession.
There are so many other greats on the NXT right now whether it’s Aleister Black, Velveteen Dream, Ricochet, Pete Dunne, The Undisputed Era or the women’s division led by Shayna Baszler and Kairi Sane. However, the leaders in 2018 have been Gargano and Ciampa. What a spectacular year it’s been. Should they go to the main roster? A part of me says yes, but I think they would be great in NXT for the majority of their careers too.
17. The fighting spirit of Roman Reigns
When Roman Reigns stood in the ring on October 22 edition of Raw to tell the world that his leukemia came back, it broke my heart. I know I’m not the only one, because even Roman’s harshest critics feel sympathy for a man that has busted his ass for the past six years in WWE as one of their biggest names.
I’m thankful for Roman’s courage at a time when everybody would have understood if he just stayed at home without addressing what happened. He didn’t have to go in the ring to pour his heart out to the world. The fact that he did it shows that he wants to help others and inspire people that may be dealing with leukemia or some other kind of illness.
Roman isn’t going to give up. He’s going to continue to fight. I respect him so much. I wish him good health and happiness moving forward with his life. If he’s able to wrestle again one day that would be great, but all I really want is for him to live a normal life with his family.
18. The true evolution of women’s wrestling
This year in WWE, there was the first ever women’s Royal Rumble, women’s Elimination Chamber match and of course, the Evolution pay-per-view in October that I thought was the best PPV of the year. For the past four years, WWE has been shoving the terms “women’s revolution” and “women’s evolution” down our throats. This is the year where they really proved it by giving their women’s wrestlers the spotlight that they deserve.
Next year, the women’s evolution might go to that next level that was thought to be impossible. I’m talking about WrestleMania and the possibility of Becky Lynch facing Ronda Rousey in the main event. It’s the match that should be the main event and if it’s not, I’ll be very surprised because that’s the match the fans want more than anything else.
That’s all for this column looking at everything we should be thankful for as WWE fans. I know things can be tough sometimes when trying towatch WWE programming, but it’s important to remember the good things and why you became a fan in the first place. Happy Thanksgiving.