While looking back at some year-end wrestling award vote tallies from earlier this decade, I came across some storylines, gimmicks, business moves, and set-ups that kinda jarred me a little bit. I can vividly remember my life from, say, 2013, and what was going around me, but pro wrestling from that time period can feel like that Bizarro Land that WWE announcers sometimes make reference to.
For the list ahead, I've pulled up a few little factoids that are 100% true, and I do in fact remember them. What's also true is just how unusual these sentences sound in 2018, when we look at how the business is today. None of what I'm about to list are all that surprising, but may just evoke that double-blinking, "Wow, that *did* happen" response. Here's what I mean.
10. Kevin Nash Was In The 2014 Royal Rumble
If you're like me, then you look back at the '14 Rumble match as nothing but a total blur. The standouts of the match were Roman Reigns' run of dominance, the rejection of Batista as the selected protagonist, and the intense hatred from the Pittsburgh crowd after Rey Mysterio entered at 30. When you're utterly baffled at the decision to not include the super-popular Daniel Bryan as an entrant, you don't look back at the fun stuff.
Usually, you remember the surprise/gag entrants into the match, but 2014 is an exception, given the general attitude toward that year's gauntlet. It's why I forget that Nash, at age 54, made a guest appearance at the number 14 spot. Nash eliminated Swagger, before getting dumped by Reigns after two-and-a-half minutes. I can remember The Godfather in 2013 and the cadre of randoms in 2012, but Nash always slips my mind.
9. Jack Swagger Wrestled For A World Title At WrestleMania
Despite having three-month runs as ECW and World Heavyweight Champion during his time with WWE, Swagger was never really seen as star material. He lacked something personality-wise, and aside from his impressive-looking power-based offense, didn't check too many of the boxes that a main event talent should have.
Yet, there Swagger was, earning his way into a match with then-World Champion Alberto Del Rio at WrestleMania 29, thanks to a hastily-assembled storyline in which Swagger portrayed a Tea Party backer, alongside Zeb Colter (who, it was explained, was an old war buddy of Swagger's father). Swagger conveniently adopted these views in time for a match with Mexico-born Del Rio. It's probably the most-forgettable World title match in WrestleMania history, as Swagger was back in the midcard shortly after.
8. The New Day Were Originally "No-Nonsense"
Over the past several years, Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods have entrenched themselves into the WWE landscape through their collective wit, creativity, and generally fun attitude as The New Day. Their catchphrases are part of the WWE lexicon, and their multiple reigns as Tag Team Champions since the spring of 2015 have established them as a cornerstone of WWE programming. Indeed, The New Day does rock.
While many will remember when New Day was widely ridiculed to the point that they had to turn heel in early-2015, it's sometimes forgotten that initially, they were meant to be a serious group. A very stern Woods approached Big E and Kingston during a sharing losing streak, and brought them together, vowing that a less-reverent attitude would guide them to greatness. The trio took months off TV from there, getting retooled as the fun-loving New Day that fall.
7. Curtis Axel Was A "Paul Heyman Guy"
In this decade, we tend to only associate Heyman with Brock Lesnar, together forming one of WWE's pre-eminent package deals. We also tend to remember that Heyman aligned with CM Punk for a shade under a year following Punk's heel turn. Aside from those two partnerships, Heyman's runs as advocate for the likes of Ryback and Cesaro sometimes get forgotten. It's doubly so with Axel.
In 2013, Axel changed his name from Michael McGillicutty, and was reborn as Heyman's newest protege. He even enjoyed a five-month run as Intercontinental Champion, while being portrayed with at least a shade of seriousness. You wouldn't know this based on the last four years of Axel's career, as he's largely been portrayed as comic relief, from "don't change the channel!" to the B-Teamer that celebrates whenever he kills a bug without managing to hurt himself.
6. Sin Cara Came In With Lots Of Fanfare
When WWE signed CMLL megastar Mistico in early-2011, hopes were very high. In theory, it'd seemed that WWE had signed the second coming of Rey Mysterio, imbuing the roster with another high-flying marvel that would light up the ring on a regular basis. A huge press conference was held to herald the signing, and weeks of hype vignettes followed. He even debuted the night after WrestleMania 27, attacking Sheamus.
That potential was never realized, as the man now known as Sin Cara failed to impress in WWE. A 2011 wellness suspension, as well as a reported discomfort with working the WWE style, led to friction between the real-life Luis Urive and WWE. Urive would be released in the spring of 2014, months after the former Hunico had taken on the role. Sin Cara II has been a tag team wrestler and undercarder for so long now that it's easy to forget the original excitement for Sin Cara's arrival.
5. R-Truth: World Title Contender
The Truth that would become comic fodder over the past seven years (overstated fear of spiders, aloof absent-mindedness, references to an imaginary friend) was once born out of a totally random heel turn. Truth turned on fellow fun-loving good guy John Morrison and took up a chain-smoking habit, while making all sorts of unhinged references to an unseen "Little Jimmy". Oh, and he even got a World title match out of it.
Truth challenged for John Cena's WWE Championship at the one-off Capitol Punishment pay-per-view in June 2011 (8 nights before the Pipe Bomb), losing after a bizarre distraction finish involving a young fan. Truth would go back to the midcard later that year, where he would flesh out his new character quirks in smiling babyface form. It feels like forever ago that R-Truth once headlined a WWE pay-per-view in a singles World title match, and in "wrestling time", it pretty much was.
4. Del Rio & Zeb Once Came Together
The Zeb Colter character was a natural heat-getter, and the man better known as Dutch Mantel has been an effective promo for some time, so even though Jack Swagger wasn't a strong upper-card character, Colter at least livened up shows with some well-delivered heel verbiage. Zeb disappeared from the shows in late-2014, and wouldn't re-emerge until nearly a year later, in an odd union.
Suddenly, Colter and Alberto Del Rio were allies, announcing a union to be known as "MexAmerica", which was apparently supposed to make two hated for...I dunno, putting differences aside and embracing our neighbours? The tandem only lasted about six weeks before Colter disappeared from WWE for good (around the time Del Rio joined up with the League of Nations).
3. TakeOvers Used To Be Much More Low Key
These days, the consensus is that NXT TakeOver outshines the main roster PPV that is handcuffed to on the given weekend. The events take place in the same building as the following WWE event (save for WrestleManias), and are as much a part of the blockbuster weekend itinerary. Just three short years earlier, this wasn't the case.
The first five TakeOvers in 2014-15 (as well as a handful more in 2015-16) were special Wednesday night live events from the same Full Sail taping location as the weekly TV shows. We've gotten so used to the monumental Brooklyn shows and the other Saturday-Sunday twin-bills in front of 10,000-15,000 fans that those Wednesday nighters in front of the Full Sail faithful feel like ancient history.
2. Tensai Pinned John Cena And CM Punk Three Weeks Apart
Though well-regarded today as the head trainer at WWE's Performance Center, the colossal Matt Bloom was seen as a bit of a flop in 2012 when he returned to the WWE fold as the mysterious and powerful Lord Tensai. To say that Tensai failed to meet expectations as an unbreakable roadblock would be an understatement, but that's not to say that WWE didn't give his push a strong effort.
Two weeks after re-debuting on WWE programming, Tensai would defeat John Cena in an Extreme Rules match on a Raw from London. Three weeks after that, Tensai teamed with Daniel Bryan in a handicap match against WWE Champion CM Punk, where Tensai would score the pinfall on the long-reigning titleholder. Nine months later, he's doing the "dig a hole" dance as Brodus Clay's partner.
1. Bray Wyatt Was WWE Champion
It wasn't even two years ago that Wyatt won the richest prize in the game at the 2017 Elimination Chamber, becoming the third third-generation wrestler (after The Rock and Randy Orton) to hold the belt. There have only been four title changes since then, so it's not like Wyatt's seven-week reign should really be all that lost in the shuffle, but it is.
The awful booking of Wyatt (superimposed insects on the mat, House of Horrors, Sister Abigail scrapping to fight Finn Balor's demon) really diminished Bray throughout 2017, rendering him something of a joke, and killing off the already frayed shreds of his cool factor. He couldn't even get booked for the following WrestleMania, instead relegated to a battle royal run-in on the pre-show. Even though he would defend the belt at a WrestleMania against a Royal Rumble winner, the phrase "former WWE Champion Bray Wyatt" makes one go "Say what?"