‘Sup? This is James A. Sawyer, your very occasional columnist. Still at @todaysjimsawyer but frankly kind of taking a break from Twitter. I joined Ello, but almost nobody’s on Ello yet, so let’s just get to it.
Regardless what you may think of the current wrestling product, you can’t say that it’s been a boring year news-wise. In fact, I can’t think of a bigger year for wrestling news since… the unpleasantness. Lord Voldemort. Ahem. Although I’ve stayed true to my promise to stop regularly following wrestling, I have been reading the fantastic columns (found right here at Pulse Wrestling!) and watching the occasional highlights on YouTube. Which I figure makes me about as knowledgeable about the product as Vince McMahon in 2014 so I think I’m alright. So what were the biggest news events of the year? In a rough order of importance? And my thoughts on them? Well-
CM Punk Quits WWE, Continues To Be Massively Over
“This is my ‘eat a bag of dicks, Vince!’ face.”
The Royal Rumble back in January of this year seemed to be only entertaining in a shitshow variety, what with Daniel Bryan not even being in it and a wasted opportunity to have Bad News Barrett be the 30th entrant (the actual 30th entrant was Rey Mysterio, whose feelings were so hurt by the endless boos he let his contract expire). In retrospect I’m glad I watched because it turned out to be CM Punk’s last match in the WWE, and possibly anywhere.
Debate raged as to why Punk had abruptly quit. Injury? Burnout? Frustration? All three? It’s all three, isn’t it? Yes, all three. According to a podcast that broke the internet just weeks after it breaking from Kim Kardashian’s ass, Punk revealed what we all suspected- he was tired, had problems with the booking of himself and others, and never got along with Triple H. He also revealed some new information like how he could have died from a staph infection and was actually fired on his wedding day.
Punk’s treatment by the WWE could be described as shortsighted at best, and really fucking idiotic at worst. One would think after his infamous worked shoot pipebomb promo in 2011 that the WWE would have it so that his pool never remained empty of Against Me! cds and back issues of Marvel comics but here we are. Letting Punk go, walkout or not is akin to letting Austin or The Rock go in the late ’90s, or Jericho or Edge go in the early ’00s. Punk is or was in their top three faces and thus top three superstars of present, mixing in somewhere with Cena and Bryan.
From an valued employee standpoint, which WWE doesn’t seem to care for, Punk was still one of their best wrestlers, still their best talker, and should he have quit the ring would’ve been one of their best managers and/or announcers. Dude recognized Bryan should have been main-eventing Wrestlemania before anyone else in the company, and helped come up with the idea for The Shield. He could’ve been one of their best bookers and road agents and could have brokered new deals with sponsors like Slim Jim.
Punk brought them mainstream attention, positive mainstream attention at that, like they hadn’t had in a while. He was on Talking Dead three times, made podcast appearances and videos for the Nerdist Network, is now writing for Marvel comics, hosted an awards show and his recent announcement of fighting in UFC made news on FoxSports and ESPN. Punk didn’t need WWE, WWE needed Punk and now because of pride and ineptitude they don’t have him.
The Year of Daniel Bryan, In Four Months
But the biggest face in the WWE of 2014 undoubtedly was Daniel Bryan. He had been a steadily growing cult favorite since his debut, but he really started amping up when he turned into a comedy heel and introduced a chant that was, at first, supposed to be taken as ironic.
One tag-team division revitalizing and a heartwarming moment with a terminally ill boy later and Bryan was officially in the big leagues. He was put over Cena cleanly and finally had his Wrestlemania moment just two years after losing in three seconds. Granted, it took Punk walking out and fans hijacking the Rumble and every RAW since to show the WWE that they wanted to see him, but the message got through nonetheless.
Sadly due to the fickle finger of fate Bryan got injured and needed surgery after Extreme Rules in early May, and has largely been absent since. While it’s great that the WWE has apparently been learning lessons, too late to ideally learn them but learning them in any case and letting Bryan heal up, the timing couldn’t have been worse. This would have been Bryan’s year, in a reign perhaps not seen since Austin in 1998. Although frankly booking him like Ryder against Kane was not exactly inspiring. So maybe by the time Bryan returns, if he returns, they can have some solid storylines built up for the guy instead of “face defends diva against undead sexual assault” as they like to do.
And if Bryan can’t return? Ooh. I would not like to own WWE stock. Well, even more so.
Albert Del Rio Slaps a Bruja, Says Adios
The WWE continued the Public Relations Disaster Tour 2014 by firing Del Rio after he allegedly slapped the mierda out of a social media douchebag making a racist comment. Sadly for the onscreen product, this won’t be seen as a huge loss for the WWE as they consistently misused Del Rio, who was one of their best wrestlers and had an incredible heel persona. As far as PR goes… the fact that Rey walked out, at least for the time being, and joined Del Rio in AAA doesn’t exactly scream “color blind company.” Neither does Los Matadores and El Torito, either.
Del Rio was an incredible wrestler with an awesome enziguri, killer cross arm lock and a smug, punchable face. The cocky air he had about him and the ability to raise one eyebrow meant that he could have, and should have, been the Authority’s “Golden Boy.” Instead they took Ricardo Rodriguez away and kind of let him meander a bit until he lost his smile, like CM Punk. Not like HBK losing his smile, which translated roughly to “please don’t make me job to that damn Canadian.”
WWE 9:99 Says “Please Subscribe For The Love of Cena”
The WWE Network finally arrived to critical acclaim and low ratings, just like Arrested Development. It certainly seems like a good deal, for $9.99 a month you get every PPV (which normally costs more than fifty bucks each I believe), not to mention NXT shows, documentaries, that reality show with old people and a lot of old content. I just think that maybe this hit during a slow growth period for the industry, and overstating the amount of likely subscribers probably didn’t help any. I’d probably be willing to give it the old college try had recent and repeated life events seriously drained my disposable income to less than zero. And Punk didn’t quit. And Bryan wasn’t hurt. And I knew this didn’t seriously fuck with the wrestler’s paychecks.
Batista Beats The Rock (in Hollywood)
Batista came back, and was met with the enthusiasm of a pop-in from grandma. Mostly polite, not really overloaded with excitement. A lot of that likely deals in the way he was brought back, as a face (although he works best as a heel) and as a wrench in the Daniel Bryan machine (which he likely had no intention of being in the way of). But it all worked out better for him since he was in one of the biggest blockbusters this year (which not to name names but I predicted would be such in the face of doubters of the box office appeal of talking trees and raccoons). Now he’s gonna be in at least two more superhero movies as well as the next James Bond movie. Man, fuck wrestling, right?
Dolph Ziggler Finally Shows He’s a Star Two Years After He Showed He Was a Star
It took Punk quitting, Bryan and Reigns getting hurt, and possibly divine intervention from an archangel but Ziggler has finally been booked as the upper card talent everyone said he was for years. From losing in a squash match in under two minutes on RAW to being the sole survivor of the face team in Survivor Series he’s come a long way. He’s had awesome matches against Cesaro and Kidd and an entertaining back-and-forth feud with Mizdow. Now let’s hope if/when Bryan and Reigns come back he’s not shuffled back down the card and losing to R-Truth on Superstars.
The Shield Break Up, No Taylor Swift Song Is Written
The Shield broke up this year shortly after a PPV when Seth Rollins betrayed Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns to join The Authority. I’ve seen people complain about this (like in this otherwise good Cracked article) but honestly, I kind of feel like they had nothing left to do as a group. They’d gone over Evolution twice, cleanly. Sure Roman likely needs to learn some new moves and quirks before he main events (anything beyond Superman Punch and smolder) but Dean and Seth make an excellent new “dirty underdog scumbag” face and “smug smarmy prettyboy” heel. Ambrose and Rollins are now two of the top stars of the WWE and Reigns still has a ton of potential (if they take it slow with the guy) and there’s not a lot to complain about that.
WWE Makes Stars Out Of People BD Hates Presumably Out of Spite
One of the biggest and most unexpected surprises of the year was the rise of Mizdow. Miz had recently gone through a period as a bland face, a sort of wrestling Seth Meyers, and then disappeared to make a Hallmark movie. Sandow recently was going through a period of being an incredibly good sport and jobbing to absolutely everyone. I think Heath and Ryder had a better win-loss ratio for a while. Someone, somewhere, came up with the concept of Miz being a deluded phony douchebag actually bragging about being in straight-to-video movies, and Sandow being a stunt double who mirrors everything the Miz does and the result was absolute magic. I don’t care what anyone says, watching Sandow on the outside of the ring do figure fours and sell invisible shots is gold. Seeing them walk down the entrance ramp with giant Kanye Westian robes and sunglasses is gold. Sandow absolutely deserves being a breakout star over this.
Also, until he got injured by the number two injurer on the roster Jack Swagger (he’ll have to step it up to compete with Ryback) Bad News Barrett was getting a big push and good reactions as well. And I gotta admit, I think Barrett’s not bad on the mic, and he’s always had a good look. I’d sooner watch Barrett than a lot of the other “big men” of the roster.
The Rise & Fall of the Swiss Superman
As early as February, Cesario started getting face reactions despite being in the Real Americans. He had a clean victory over the current WWE champion Randy Orton, was in the Elimination Chamber, had a breakout move in the swing, dropped Zeb Coulter, picked up Paul Heyman, and won the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal by lifting up the Big Show and slamming him out of the ring over the top rope.
The WWE capitalized on all this momentum by squashing it. Because why would you want to push a charismatic, intelligent, freakishly-yet-naturally strong international Jason Statham lookalike star? I’m sure Vince found out he’s in favor of universal health care or something and stopped him dead in his tracks.
Brock Becomes Champion, Defends It Less Than Punk When He Left With The Belt
Despite the snarky title, I actually have no problem with this. It makes WWE championship matches important again, and whoever beats him for the belt will be catapulted into the stratosphere. It also (or it should) elevates the Intercontinental championship by making that the next most prestigious title. Currently Luke Harper has it so I don’t really know if they’re following through with that, but there you go.
Now, in theory, the person that beats Brock should be a guy just outside the infamous brass ring, who in beating Brock and winning the championship will cement his spot as an upper card draw. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, or Cesaro would all be great picks to do this. That said, congratulations to John Cena or Roman Reigns on their upcoming victory!
(Look, I’m not taking shots at Reigns because I hate the guy. On the contrary I think he could be a huge deal someday. But the dude is still kind of green, and they’re rocketing him up so fast that people are starting to see through it and turn against him. Actually, kind of like The Rock. But I just don’t see Reigns with The Rock’s humor and personality.)
Women’s Wrestling Is Slowly Getting Better
It’s not quite there yet, but I enjoy watching AJ Lee, Paige, Emma (RIP her push), and Alicia Fox. Even as some of the stated aren’t technically sound, they’re starting to allow them personalities and initiative. There’s still a long ways to go but I keep hearing good things about some of the women in NXT like Bayley and Charlotte so I stay cautiously optimistic.
TNA Lose Their TV Deal, Spike Chooses To Catch A Contractor
Bringing up the rear, as always, TNA. To be honest, I’ve never watched TNA. It just kinda screamed to me “offbrand cereal.” At least stuff like Chikara, PWG and Dragon Gate USA seem legitimately cool, cutting edge and have “indie cred.” TNA just seemed like, well, the Spike to WWE’s USA.
That said, I’ve always wanted and rooted for a true competitor for the WWE. The industry needs to have a place where guys frustrated with the backstage politics and doctors who don’t know what staph infections looks like can go. I’m far from a WWE corporate fanboy, I don’t think anyone on this site is. If there was a place that would pay guys enough to live off of, and could let them use their full potential I’d be genuinely thrilled.
Hell, who knows, maybe GFW with the working relationships with New Japan and AAA ends up being it. I’d happily eat crow if that’s the case.
Whew, I think that’s about it. I’m clocking in at a little over 2400 words now. Whatever I missed, rest assured it’s because I just wrote over 2400 words so give me a break. I’m going to do a followup column soon where I talk about what’s on my wish list for 2015. Now if you excuse me, I have to catch up on To Catch A Contractor. I just looked it up and Adam Carolla hosts it! No wonder they canceled TNA!
Tags: alberto del rio, batista, Brock Lesnar, Cesaro, cm punk, Damian Sandow, Daniel Bryan, dean ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, kane, Luke Harper, Mizdow, Roman Reigns, seth rollins, The Miz, The Shield, triple h, vince mcmahon, WWE