Historically Speaking: The Year That Was

“I thought it necessary to study history, even to study it deeply, in order to obtain a clear meaning of our immediate time.” – Paul Valery

The Opening Chapter
Here is my typically clichéd year-end column, full of “looking back” anecdotes and a chance to give out meaningless awards to who I thought were the top talent in WWE for the year 2008. I’m a sucker for all these year-end list type columns and I’m glad to add to the gluttony already out there on the web.

In the Year 2008…
Jeff Hardy became the main event superstar people had been claiming he would become for eight years now…

John Cena showed he was part man and part machine thanks to his inhuman like healing powers…

Ric Flair finally walked away…and did it in the style only befitting “The Nature Boy”…

WrestleMania still showed why it is THE wrestling event of the year…

WWE proved they can still put on involving, layered, shades-of-grey storylines thanks to Flair, Shawn Michaels, Batista and Shawn Michaels…

Samoa Joe finally became The Man in TNA, at least for a little while…

CM Punk surprisingly became The Man in WWE, at least for a short while…

WWE showed they were serious for a change in regards to mixing up the brands with their annual Draft…

Undertaker is still willing to do crazy moves and go through with dangerous spots in the name of putting over someone he feels is worthy…

Brian Kendrick surprised virtually everyone with his brief ascension to the top of the WWE cards…

“The Beautiful People” became one of the few reasons to watch TNA on a weekly basis…

The second and third generation kids of the industry finally started to make their mark…

CHIKARA continued to show the business how you can successfully mix solid wrestling with quality entertainment…

Chris Jericho reminded us all why he is so damn good at his job and why the company doesn’t realize how valuable a commodity he is to WWE…

Mick Foley continued to tarnish his legacy…

Ring of Honor showed it wasn’t afraid to make drastic personnel changes in order to move their product forward…

TNA finally fell into a winning show-carrying formula with The Frontline-MEM storyline…

The Miz and John Morrison that there is still a market and a need for entertaining and talented tag team combinations…

Hulk Hogan showed me that “reality” and wrestling do mix…

“The Wrestler” provided much more pleasant mainstream coverage to the industry than Chris Benoit did in 2007…

Ring of Honor decided that a little “sports-entertainment” wasn’t such a bad thing…

Jeff Jarrett actually became a welcome return to TNA television, complete with the best promos of his career…

Edge continued to be so damn good at what he does…

Randy Orton became the top heel WWE needed him to be…

Matt Striker became hands-down the best color commentator in the business today…

ECW finally settled into its niche as an on-screen developmental where veteran cast-offs could ply their trade with the future of the company…

WWE continued to take my money with their great DVD collections and their 24/7-subscription service…

WWE Awards for 2008
Wrestler of the Year
Chris Jericho –
I’ve got to agree with WWE on their Slammy choice here. Jericho was the most consistent main-event level the company had all year. He started gaining steam in April with his involvement in the Shawn Michaels-Batista feud and remained in top level programs through the rest of the year, briefly bringing Lance Cade up with him while having great matches on pay per view and on free TV. No one else came close to Jericho’s run. His heel turn was something different than Jericho had ever done in the past, as he is constantly evolving his game.

John Cena came back from one injury only to go out with another. Randy Orton, Edge and Undertaker all took plenty time off during the year. Triple H remained consistent but wasn’t the focal part of the show as he was in years past. Shawn Michaels stepped up in pay per view matches but was quite absent with TV performances and Jeff Hardy didn’t get his game raised until the tail end of 2008.

Tag Team of the Year
The Miz and John Morrison –
There really isn’t much competition in this category sadly. I was worried that after they lost the tag belts in June they would be split up, but I was pleasantly surprised that not only did they not split up but also they continued to thrive as a viable tag team threat. They are also the most visible performers on WWE TV today as it’s not uncommon to see this duo on all three shows over the course of one week. Brand split what? They continue to be one of the most entertaining part of any broadcast they are a part of, and it’s hard to believe hat Morrison was once considered the weak link of MNM while fans were calling for Miz’ head.

As for competition, Hawkins & Ryder did absolutely nothing with their Tag Title reign and association with Edge. Jesse & Festus are in the exact same spot as they were a year earlier. Cryme Tyme too have become complacent with their mid-card comedy act. And The Colons and Priceless didn’t come along until later in the year, and it looks as if the original incarnation of Priceless with DiBiase and Rhodes may be criminally short lived.

Diva of the Year
Beth Phoenix
Beth held the Women’s Title for the majority of the year, save for that brief time this summer where Mickie James got the belt. She added another dimension to her character when she became the “straight man” to Santino Marella’s goofy antics and became a better rounded before because of it.

Her only real competition in the category was Michelle McCool who carried the fledgling Divas Championship to not of anything. Natalya and Victoria were wasted greatly on SD! Maria was dropped like a bad habit after showing her boobies in Playboy. And the RAW brand couldn’t decide who was their number one face as Mickie, Kelly, Candice and Melina all seem to shift pecking order spots on a weekly basis.

Newcomer of the Year
Kofi Kingston
I think this is the category that had the most legitimate competition, but I have to give Kofi the nod. He showed up like a breath of fresh air last January on ECW and brought some flashy looking high spots to the show. He was the happy, smiley, African-American babyface the company was looking for since Bobby Lashley walked away. He also managed to get drafted to the live show early in his TV career and managed to pick up both an Intercontinental Title and a World Tag Title, two-thirds of the real Triple Crown.

His push has seemed more organic and less forced than runner-up Vladimir Kozlov, who fits in the mold of big evil foreigner the company has been relying on for thirty years. Evan Bourne surprised me and many others with his push and love from WWE creative, but his unfortunate injury put him down the list. Same goes with Ted DiBiase, Jr., who I expect big things out of in 2009. And finally there was Jack Swagger, who I think will be ECW Champion, among other things, in 2009 as well.

PPV of the Year
WrestleMania XXIV
For me every year this category usually comes down to either WrestleMania or Royal Rumble, but this year the emotional impact and surprise finishes of WrestleMania put it over the Royal Rumble. The Rumble had the heavily-hyped and really good Randy Orton-Jeff Hardy WWE Title match and the absolutely shocking return of John Cena, but WrestleMania delivered with the emotionally draining Flair Retirement Match, another crazy spot-filled Money in the Bank, a much better than expected Big Show-Floyd Mayweather celebrity match, a really, really good Edge-Undertaker Title match and the surprise ending to the WWE Title triple threat.

Match of the Year
Ric Flair v. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XXIV
I don’t care if this wasn’t a five-star technical classic, but for sheer entertainment value and emotional impact there was none better this year in WWE than Michaels and Flair from WrestleMania. This was arguably the two best North American performers in the business – ever, putting on a display of their art at the most famous wrestling event of the year. They always say a good wrestling match isn’t just an exchange of holds in a technical fashion, it’s the emotion and the story invested in the match, combined with the fluid delivery of the moves displayed that makes a great match. Much like going to a movie like “Titanic,” it was a story we all already knew the ending too, but we were more than glad to go along for the emotional ride. And if WWE has their wits about them, Michaels mouthing “I’m sorry, I love you,” will be added to the list of iconic footage that gets played ad nausea anytime they need to roll out a company hype video.

Feud/Angle/Storyline of the Year
Batista v. Shawn Michaels v. Chris Jericho
And stemming from that Michaels-Flair retirement comes the most layered, weaving story the company has put on in a long time. It started with a great rivalry between Batista and Michaels over Michaels retirement of Ric Flair. It was a great story as both men had legitimate arguments that the fans could get behind, yet were still able to remain babyface. Chris Jericho was inserted as a third wheel, trying to stir up trouble between the two. It really picked up when Jericho turned on Michaels and became the hated heel that the feud needed. By the middle of the summer the rivalry had evolved into a heated blood feud between Michaels and Jericho that went well beyond Flair’s retirement and into something much more personal. By the late fall of the year Batista had re-emerged as a challenger to Jericho, who was now the World Heavyweight Champion. And remarkably Jericho came out of the entire mess as the victor, having beaten Batista in a cage match to regain his World Championship and then defeating Shawn Michaels shortly thereafter in a Last Man Standing match. This feud carried seven months of quality programming for the RAW brand, and involved not only the three men involved but numerous tertiary participants as well. The matches were great, the promos were entertaining and believable and the storyline was realistic and easy to follow. Props all around.

Announce Team of the Year
Matt Striker & Todd Grisham (ECW)
Grish and Striker came out of nowhere this past summer when Mike Adamle was called off to RAW and Mick Foley up and quit the company to carry the company’s third brand, and they did it with flying colors. Grish has grown into a competent play-by-play guy and straight man without the awful clichés that Michael Cole and Jim Ross descend into too easily. Striker is an admitted wrestling history nerd and seems genuinely excited to calling the action he does. Striker name-drops just about anything and everything, from Masa Chono to the Orient Express to King Mabel and just adds an entertaining banter to the ECW broadcasts. Plus as a wrestler himself he is able to include his own experiences in the ring to help get over what is being shown in the ring. Now if we only get Josh Matthews back on the air…

Comeback of the Year
Jeff Hardy
Jeff started 2008 at the top his game, with a big time victory over Triple H and what seemed like a legitimate shot at beating Randy Orton for the WWE Championship at Royal Rumble. Then the bottom fell out thanks to his second Wellness policy violation and his unfortunate house fire. He spent the spring and summer regaining his credibility in the eyes of the company and the fans. By this fall he had reached main event heights again, but his ascension to true main eventer was not set in stone by any means, as critics whether the company would be able to trust him as a top company man based on his past transgressions and the behavior of some of those who came before him in recent years. Then all questions were answered at Armageddon when Hardy defeated Edge and Triple H to win his first ever WWE Championship. The question now remains as to how long Hardy will remain on top of the ladder, but for now Jeff Hardy is king.

Brand of the Year
RAW
There’s something about watching RAW on a Monday night. Monday night wrestling has been an institution for over fifteen years and so it’s no surprise that guest celebrities, the highly pushed new stars and the really big angles always play out on the RAW brand. SmackDown! tried to even the playing field this past summer after the results of the 2008 Draft, but taped Friday night wrestling just doesn’t hold a candle. ECW is great as a small niche product, but it really has transformed in a nationally televised developmental program, which isn’t a bad thing. The RAW brand always will be the brand with the most attention given to it, regardless of where Triple H wrestles.

The Perspective
As another year in wrestling draws to a close, it is interesting to see where the new year takes. The industry survived through the Chris Benoit tragedy to remain at the level they were before. Some WWE talent, like Miz and Morrison, Jeff Hardy, Vladimir Kozlov, Santino Marella, CM Punk and Kofi Kingston took their careers to a whole new level and cemented themselves as WWE stars. Ring of Honor continued to evolve and grow as they maintained their spot as the number three promotion in the country. And TNA finally found a winning formula to carry the top of their cards with the Frontline-Main Event Mafia storyline. And now with Hulk Hogan expanding the wrestling audience with his Celebrity Wrestling, the talks of a Ric Flair reality show and Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” emerging as a movie industry darling, it looks as if pro wrestling will continue to have a solid presence in the year 2009.

For this week the vault is closed…

Linked to the Pulse
John Wiswell is doing a fantastic job of counting down his own personal list of the top 100 matches of 2008. It’s been a great read so far. Here are parts 1, 2 and 3.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

For Monday, December 29:
1937 – Lou Thesz defeated Everett Marshall for the NWA Heavyweight Wrestling title
1985 – Stan Hansen defeated Rick Martel for the AWA Heavyweight title
1991 – WCW Starrcade was held at The Scope, Norfolk, VA
1995 – Mikey Whipwresk & Cactus Jack defeated Sandman & 2 Cold Scorpio for the ECW Tag Team title
1996 – WCW Starrcade was held at The Coliseum in Nashville, TN
1996 – Eddy Guerrero defeated Diamond Dallas Page in a tournament final for the WCW U.S. Heavyweight title
1996 – Ultimo Dragon defeated Dean Melanko for the WCW Cruiserweight title
1997 – Booker T defeated Disco Inferno for the WCW Television title
1997 – Ultimo Dragon defeated Eddy Guerrero for the WCW Cruiserweight title
1998 – Mankind defeated Rocky Maivia for the WWF World Heavyweight title
1998 – Doug Basham defeated Rip Rogers for the Ohio Valley Heavyweight title

1969 – Terik the Great was born

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Back when Nova was in charge of the WWE developmental system he implemented mandatory history assignments for the students of the developmental territories so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova created and apparently the best ways to get on-line prescriptions. I feel Nova had a great idea there and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational, but very entertaining.

I got Greg Oliver’s “The Canadians” from his Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame series over Christmas break and I should have a full review when you hear from me again in two weeks.

For more relevant wrestling information from your truly, check out my paying gig over at Examiner.com.

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