‘When I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember
my favourite things
and then I don't feel so bad’
Well, here we are at the end of the year. Let’s be honest, it’s been an odd one at best. Some dizzying highs and quite often the lowest of lows. Has it really been any different to other years though? Being a fan of wrestling or, indeed, any sport is bloody hard work. You follow the product, team or franchise cheering and weeping in equal measure. That’s why we do it because, for every horrible low, there is a high that leaves us buzzing for the rest of the week. Yes, wrestling is ‘sports entertainment’ but when the rivalries and writing work, it creates the same adrenaline and excitement as any other sport.
Since I started writing for this site in April I’ve had the honour of compliments from people reading my work and, the other way, people criticising my work. I enjoy both because it means we’re talking about what we’re seeing each week. Yes, we might disagree but, blimey, it’d be a dull world if we all ran over alpine mountains holding hands and singing all the time. Before I started writing here though I always enjoyed ‘reviews of the year’ columns on various sites (and on various sports). I’m sure better writers than me on this site will be posting these soon but, to that end, I wanted to just share a few of my favourite things this year in wrestling. It might be a whole rivalry, it might be a single moment, all I know is that these are the moments that made me get out of my chair and cheer or boo or, quite simply, get excited. So, in no particular order, here’s a few of my favourite things...
The Undertaker/CM Punk Rivalry
I wrote my first column for this site on this very story. For me, it worked brilliantly. Before, Undertaker had, effectively, had a four year story with Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Two potential ‘greatest matches of all time’ against HBK, then a severe beating and unlikely win against HHH before the brilliant ‘End of an Era’ bout with all three standing tall together on the WrestleMania ramp. The story was over. How, then, could Taker possibly keep our interest going in ‘The Streak’? Simple, take a very angry young man in CM Punk, who had just had his record-breaking title-run destroyed by the Rock, and pit him as the evil genius who would destroy the Deadman.
Yes, many disagreed, and still disagree, that the inclusion of Paul Bearer after his passing was in bad taste and, at times, it did veer into that territory. However, Percy was a wrestling man and, let’s not forget, character-wise, the owner of an undertakers. I never knew Percy but I like to think he was glad his memory was front row centre for one of the best matches in Taker’s career. That the night ended with the Undertaker holding the urn aloft was a fitting tribute to one of the best managers wrestling has seen. All of this and a match of the year candidate too. Yes, like many Taker matches, with hindsight, did Punk really stand a chance? During the bout though, you honestly thought he could pull off a shock. Also, this was the match that taught Punk humility and led to the face-turn which now puts him back on the ‘beloved’ books of the roster.
I was going to pick that moment, those fleeting seconds, when Daniel Bryan stood aloft at SummerSlam with ticker-tape floating down celebrating his success as WWE Champion. I would have picked that, but this has essentially been the ‘Year of Bryan’. Even when in a mid-card feud with The Wyatt Family, the crowd still can’t get enough of him. His work with Kane at the start of the year was great, his ascent to the top was a joy and his run as the crowd favourite has been wonderful, almost as wonderful as the flicker in Triple H’s eyes as he pretends the chants aren’t happening and carries on with another dull promo about how great he is.
Many of us knew that the realistic end to SummerSlam was the one that occurred. Any idiot could predict Orton standing aloft after cashing in (and to prove it, I did predict it and I’m definitely an idiot). The Triple H turn should have been the beginning of something great but, so far, The Authority has been scuppered by poor writing and a terrible run of PPV’s with unsatisfying endings. The Orton/Bryan feud didn’t really take off but, again, through it all Bryan tried his best. It’s got nothing to do with ‘internet fans’, quite simply Daniel Bryan is a great technical wrestler who is immensely likeable as a personality and, to that end, a perfect foil to Punk’s miserablism. If Punk is The Smiths, then Daniel Bryan is definitely New Order. Oh, and the Orton/Bryan match this week on Raw was, quite simply, brilliant.
Now, perhaps more than ever, the crowds make or break a show. When Raw is poor you can also bet the crowd has been quiet too. Yes, they can only react to what is put in front of them, I get that. Quite often though it is the crowd taking matters into their own hands which sometimes lifts the whole product. Obviously, the post-WrestleMania Raw is a clear example of this. Duelling chants, football style sing-a-longs and genuine piqued interest to the big moments. It really draws you in and makes you feel part of the event. Okay, I’ll admit, I’m not too keen on some of the chants whether it’s the ‘Albert’ ones directed at Tensai or, to a point, the ‘Goldberg’ chants at Ryback. It feels a little mean-spirited sometimes. You might totally disagree but I’d rather crowds reacted to what they were seeing than trying to belittle an individual. It is storytelling after all. The flipside to this argument though, and I’m aware you could say I’m contradicting myself here, but when Orton faced Sheamus in a match no-one wanted to see the night after WrestleMania, the crowd made their feelings clear by chanting for past wrestlers, commentators, hell, even each other. In a way, WWE should listen to their fans some of the time. Not all of the time because all we’d have is a mess of a product, but the writers and backroom staff should consider giving us a great product every week and not, as has happened yet again this year, a tailing-off before WrestleMania seasons starts again. To end though, the great crowd, like at any live event, makes the product better because the excitement is electric and the chants and fun to hear.
The Wyatts ‘stand-off’ with The Shield
This was just one of those moments. The two premiere three man heel stables in the company faced each other across a Raw ring and the crowd went wild. Everyone thought we might see it one day, but when it happened it was electric. It really was a case of a one minute section in one episode of the programme that worked perfectly. The controlled brute force of The Shield against the manic cult energy of The Wyatts. It was both scary and dangerous. The fight only lasted a few seconds but we saw potential stories and feuds that we might watch for years to come as the six men who are the future of the company faced off before realising, they had common foes in Punk and Bryan. How much they work together, or against each other, in the future remains to be seen but what is sure is that that one minute of in-ring action was perhaps one of the moments of the year and yet it was so fleeting.
The Tag-Team Division
To be honest, up until Raw this week, Brock Lesnar was going to be my final pick. Yes, he was stuck in a ‘go-nowhere’ feud with Triple H but there was a good pay-off at Extreme Rules and then a match of the year candidate with Punk at SummerSlam. It is the tag division that has come into its own though and, according to rumours and tittle-tattle, it’s thanks to Triple H. The division is only at the start of getting great but look at the teams out there. We have ‘established’ teams like The Real Americans and The Usos, we have teams with history like Cody and Goldust and we have the stable teams like The Shield and The Wyatts. So, when we get the ‘thrown together’ teams like Big Show and Rey Mysterio, it doesn’t seem that bad. It all makes sense and the division could become the shining light in the WWE going forward. Yes, we have the singles titles but they can only take up so much time on six hours of weekly television (not including NXT and PPV’s) so the tag-teams become even more important. Also, it means we see more and more wrestlers and it’s always good to see ‘dream teams’ like Mark Henry and Big E. Langston come together. Either way, the tag division is rapidly becoming one of my favourite things in wrestling.
Well, they’re my ‘favourite things’ (this year). I’ll be back next week on...Christmas Day! Obviously, I’ll do something festive so I hope you join me. I’ll save the season’s greetings till then.
Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org All constructive criticism is appreciated.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.