Monday, December 23, 2013

#656. The year in wrestling

2013 was an interesting year to be a wrestling fan, not 1998 interesting (when you had the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Goldberg, the nWo, and just about everything else firing on all cylinders), but about as good a year as you can have without any significant mainstream interest in the product.

The year started with as much of that as you could expect with Dwayne Johnson's reprise of The Rock hitting its stride as he defeated CM Punk for the WWE championship (snapping an historic reign that lasted for more than a year), setting up the John Cena rematch at WrestleMania 29, an encounter that was better than last year's original for having something they could both work off of.

After that both WWE and wrestling as a whole struggled to find a way to follow up on that.  Cena is this generation's golden boy, the company face who has been dominating the top of the scene for years now, and this was supposed to be the year where he got to enjoy that again for the first time in a while (it may be worth noting that he'd been building toward this moment since 2010).  He eventually used it as a way to help push the career of Daniel Bryan into the main event, which is something that happened at this year's Summer Slam.  The results of that moment are still developing, so they're a little hard to fully appreciate, but here's what it's looked like for the past few months:

Daniel Bryan is a consummate wrestler's wrestler.  His emergence as a viable personality has been one of the more surprising career breakthroughs of the past few years (and perhaps interestingly or not, but this is also a journey that began in 2010).  After beating Cena for the WWE title, he was immediately thrust into a program with Triple H and Randy Orton that looked for all intents and purposes like the 2013 version of the Steve Austin saga.  But it took a few additional turns.  Orton eventually clamped onto the title, and a couple of weeks ago defeated Cena, who had returned after taking a brief hiatus to capture the world heavyweight championship, which meant for the first time since 2002 the company has an undisputed champion in Orton.

Daniel Bryan, meanwhile, isn't done yet.  Cena keeps reminding fans that he's still a viable contender, which could bode very interesting for WrestleMania 30.  Who knows where the company is going with this?  Bryan could win the 2014 Royal Rumble and as a result head to the top of the year's biggest card.  It would be the first time since 2005 that the company has attempted to make a permanent new headliner at WrestleMania.  Then again, he might be headed to a match with the Undertaker, who has consistently defended his WrestleMania winning streak against stars who had breakout years in the preceding twelve months but the company had since moved on from, which is what happened to CM Punk this year.  Punk was supposed to be the major star of 2012, and by all rights he was, but given that the company had to keep a huge emphasis on Cena to keep the Rock momentum going, there was only so much Punk could do to keep his name among WWE's most prominent even as champion.

There's also Ryback.  Ryback was supposed to be the new Goldberg, the WWE Goldberg.  Goldberg in the WWE wasn't like the WCW Goldberg (as I watched the recent DVD career compilation, I realized more and more than the WCW Goldberg was different and far more interesting than fans have generally admitted).  But as the WWE Goldberg from the start, Ryback has had a tall order to fulfill.  His journey began in 2012.  Most expectations assumed he'd be much farther along at this point, and losing far fewer matches (including the stunner at this year's WrestleMania against Mark Henry), but all this is guaranteeing that if he ever makes it as far as it seems he should, he won't be the WWE Goldberg after all.  He won't be Brock Lesnar.  He won't even be Batista (who rumors are suggesting will be making a 2014 comeback).  This will be a monster who is used to being a part of the machine, who has had a huge push and also known the humbling phase most stars must experience.  Goldberg didn't have that.  Lesnar didn't have that.  After WWE realized what it had in him, Batista didn't have that.  If it works, Ryback could be huge in 2014.  Just not in 2013.  But by all means, feed him more, guys!

In TNA, the Aces & Eights angle dominated the company for the early part of the year, until someone realized that company ace A.J. Styles had been set up to make a defining impact at this year's Bound for Glory, the TNA equivalent of WrestleMania.  Enough people had already been describing the Phenomenal One's dramatic makeover as too reminiscent of Sting's from the nWo era (when he turned into the Crow) that the gears obviously had to be shifted.  So the transitional Chris Sabin reign with the TNA championship happened.  Bully Ray won it back.  And then Styles did what he was supposed to.  And then the company did what all three major US promotions did this year: it made the championship scene interesting again by putting the champion's status in dispute, thus making it far more important in 2013 than in a very long time to be talking about the company's champion.  Styles has been haggling over a new contract with TNA for weeks now.  It's conceivable that the company's franchise player will be leaving.  Conceivable and inconceivable at the same time!  In the meantime, Magnus recently captured the title after it had been vacated by the company but not A.J. Styles, who has been touring the globe with it.  Magnus is interesting, because TNA has been trying to make a British wrestler significant in the company for years now.  This is the guy who finally made it happen.  He's a fresh face and comes with far fewer expectations than anyone else they've tried in this position (Bobby Roode, James Storm, Austin Aries, Sabin).  If he comes out of the Styles program looking good, he might be the guy who turns the company's fortunes around to actual significance in competition with WWE.

Ken Anderson, meanwhile, is just one of many wrestlers who were once significant in WWE but turned to TNA for a second chance.  He had a big year in 2011, capturing the TNA championship twice.  If he didn't make it bigger at that time it was because TNA has always been a company that finds it difficult to focus on one star long enough to really make a difference.  A few times, guys like Styles, Roode, Kurt Angle, and Jeff Hardy have had that opportunity, but time and again TNA fails to capitalize with a program as memorable as the champion.  Jeff Jarrett, ironically, came closest.  As co-founder of the company, he was also the perennial champion for the first few years, the heel in the same vein as Triple H and JBL that everyone just wanted to see defeated already.  Anderson struggled to bounce back.  2013 was a good year for that, though.  He'd joined the Aces & Eights faction as the most notable name defector not previously established as a secret member, but his role in that capacity wasn't significant until he made the decision to leave.  I'm hoping this is momentum he can use to have a bigger 2014.  He's long been a favorite of mine, one of wrestling's best personalities and unusual in the ring besides.  I would not mind at all if he makes it back to the top of the card.

ROH, the third promotion in the American cog, actually got the ball rolling as far as the 2013 disputed championship scene went, and this was something the company badly needed, after losing most of its defining stars in the past few years (including CM Punk and Daniel Bryan).  The Briscoe brothers who are not the 1970s Brisco brothers (which eventually gave us one of Mr. McMahon's favorite stooges) had their chance to shine when Jay Briscoe captured the ROH championship.  In an echo of the same quagmire Shawn Michaels found himself in in 1993 that eventually led to the historic 1994 ladder match at WrestleMania 10, Jay's contract with the company was terminated during his reign, and so ROH went in search of a new champion, and found it in Adam Cole, a face as equally fresh as Magnus.  But by year's end, Jay was challenging Cole's right to the title.  Could make for a very interesting early 2014 for the company.

On the indy scene, John Morrison remained active.  Morrison is another huge favorite of mine, a WWE star who like Ken Anderson (then known as Mr. Kennedy) never quite broke through to the level of success his talent richly deserved.  His contract expired at the end of 2011, and Morrison took time off to heal nagging injuries.  Reports of his imminent return have been circulating almost since the time he left, and maybe that will finally happen in 2014.  I can certainly hope!

And Corporate Kane happened.  How did Kane become the most interesting and most likely to evolve personality in wrestling?  Glen Jacobs had tried a couple of times to make a name for himself in WWE.  His first name was Isaac Yankem, Jerry Lawler's dentist.  Then he was the New Diesel.  Then he was Kane, the Undertaker's masked brother.  Then Kane unmasked.  Then he masked up again.  And now he's probably the most interesting thing about Triple H's Authority regime.  So, yes, Corporate Kane.  It only figures!

Other names to watch in 2014 include the members of the Shield (Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, who somehow sustained their big debut in the fall of 2012 for a full year), the Wyatt Family (who have somehow managed to duplicate the success of the Shield), Cody Rhodes (thanks to big brother Goldust, getting another shot at a breakthrough), Damien Sandow and Dolph Ziggler (both looking, as always, for something worthy of their talents), Big E Langston (receiving a big push now), and who knows as far as new and returning wrestlers!


The Armchair Squid said...

May 2014 bring you even more wrestling joy - perhaps even 1998-level joy!

Tony Laplume said...

We'll see!

Spacerguy said...

Watcha gonna do when WrestleMania runs wild on you? Remember our true blue American hero? Hulk Hogan waving the flag, hand to the ear spurring on hulkamaniacs with the power of the hulkster. Pure ego entertainment. Merry Christmas Tony.

Tony Laplume said...

Believe it or not, but Mr. Hogan is rumored to make an appearance at WrestleMania 30. So say your prayers, take your vitamins, and it might just come true!


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