10 Things That Will Define 'Pro Wrestling In 2018'

From WWE, to NJPW, to All In - there's so much to remember this year by...

How will you remember professional wrestling in 2018? Really, you can go a myriad of ways with it - optimists will remember the things that made them happy, while pessimists will remember the teeth-gnashing rage they felt on the daily. Hipster fans will blend the two, telling you about how the thing they watch that you don't is awesome, while everything mainstream that you enjoy isn't worth their time. Damn hipster fans. Wish I could be just like them.

But in all seriousness, the year 2018 was a truly unique one in professional wrestling (HISTORIC, some branding officers may say), a truly dizzying and astonishing year in many different facets. In the social media age, news travels fast, and we're spurred to react to loads of stimuli that crosses our news feeds. That, along with the abundance of wrestling events that we get up for, causes us to develop a bit of wrestle-fatigue. That's the reality of pro wrestling in 2018 - it's supply and demand gone berserk, with the supply sometimes smothering the demand.

As we look ahead to 2019, let's take a gander back at the year that was. Here are my picks for the moments that best defined professional wrestling in the previous 365 days.

10. All Of The TakeOvers


From Tommaso Ciampa's crystallization as professional wrestling's essence of evil, to Johnny Gargano's mental and emotional descent, to great match after great match after great match, NXT TakeOvers have become the most anticipated wrestling cards on the calendar. Picking the worst TakeOver of 2018 is like picking which among five different-coloured Tesla Model S cars is the least-luxurious.

The Gargano/Ciampa feud made for one of the most captivating and intense rivalries in years, while Velveteen Dream's big-match aura and character work assure him future stardom (in theory). The likes of Aleister Black, Ricochet, Kairi Sane, The Undisputed Era, Pete Dunne, Andrade "Cien" Almas, Shayna Baszler, etc, have filled out those several-hour blocks with breakout performances of their own. Add Mauro Ranallo's volcanic, once-in-a-generation commentary (the void on SmackDown is still felt), and you've got five killer shows, all of which will dwarf the WWE pay-per-view from the same weekend in terms of critical reception, a trend that will only continue.

9. The Reinvention Of Two Older Canadians

New Japan Pro Wrestling, PCOisNotHuman/Twitter

Admittedly, both Chris Jericho and PCO undertook their career transformations earlier than 2018, but it didn't truly rock the foundation until this year just how effective each man was in their respective rebirths. Jericho, who turned 47 in November of last year, took to Kenny Omega and New Japan with his rock god attitude turned all the way to its most villainous extreme, the make-up heavy Alpha that had some elements of classic Jericho, but settled into an entirely different groove.

Meanwhile, PCO, who was 50 years old headed into this year, eschewed any Quebecer and pirate hallmarks of his past, presenting himself an electrified wrestling Frankenstein, complete with horror-themed vignettes demonstrating his sudden imperviousness to pain. The fact that PCO recently signed with Ring of Honor, while Jericho continues to be a globe-trotting mega-draw, is incredible, especially given their ages. While other older wrestlers trade on what made them famous in the first place, their current career lots show the value of reinvention, even much later in the game.

8. The Sinking Viewership Of Raw


The TV deals with FOX and NBC Universal promise endless bundles of cash, but it's those TV products draw lesser and lesser eyeballs. As of this writing early into December, the most recent Raw finished a shade below 2.3 million viewers, an all-time low that accompanied the second of two consecutive Raws that were panned across the entire spectrum of fan and critic.

WWE's image problem runs deep, as more and more fans are conditioned to hold it up next to the acclaimed NXT product and ask: "Why can't they be the same?" Three-hour slogs of the same matches over and over again, merely occupying space in order to obtain that sweet rights fees cash, has clued audiences in to the fact that Raw is no longer absolute must-see TV, nor has it been for some time. As 2018 wore down, so did those metrics.

7. Austin And Vince Moving Numbers


Even 20 years after they began their paradigm-shifting feud that was the centrepiece of the cherished Attitude Era, seeing Steve Austin confront senior citizen Vince McMahon at Raw 25 was a wonderful sight. And it wasn't just me that was captivated by their powwow - a staggering 4.8 million viewers tuned in for that first hour of Raw, affording Raw its first 3.0 Nielsen rating in close to three years. To put 4.8 million viewers in perspective, if a normal Raw hit 2.8 million viewers today, there'd be a parade outside Titan Tower.

The underlying detail here is that the segment was boosted not by the promotion running it, but the performers in it. WWE has for some time tried to make "the brand" the draw instead of the individuals, and the booking over the last decade or so reflects that mentality. Here, fans tuned in not because WWE Raw was on, but because an individual megastar was rekindling his famed rivalry with his individual arch-nemesis. And the rating was insane by 2018 standards. Some food for thought.

6. The Two Sides Of Ronda Rousey


WWE could not pass up an opportunity to sign Ronda Rousey (the most famous active female athlete in North America aside from Serena Williams) as a full-time wrestler. Given her love and respect for the business, and the various ways that her talent and image mesh with what WWE would want, this was a slam dunk signing. But tell that to the fans following this year's Royal Rumble.

When Ronda "stole" Asuka's moment after the women's Rumble match, the uproar was instant from fans who didn't see the forest for the trees, that WWE had just scored a major coup in signing Rowdy Ronda. This would soon be forgotten about once Ronda had the greatest debut match of all time at WrestleMania 34 (and has looked fantastic in the ring since), but it's an interesting look at fan perception, and how it clashes with the needs and desires of the marketing and promotional arms.

5. Daniel Bryan's Return


How much things change in eight months. Back in March, it was an astonishing revelation that Bryan had gained medical clearance to return to the WWE ring, after two years of unsolicited exile from it. Today, it feels a bit weird to see the humble face of the YES Movement now playing it sharp and bitter, a caustic justifier of wrongdoings and social critic while holding the WWE Championship (effective in the role as he is), but that's the weirdness of 2018 for you.

We kinda take for granted Bryan's presence on SmackDown and PPVs today, given how several years passed (three, in fact) without him wrestling a single match. Bryan's return to a WWE ring was unexpected good news, no matter which alignment he takes. Just hope he cuts out the diving headbutt, though.

4. Roman Reigns' Announcement


Like anyone else, Reigns' revelation that he had been diagnosed with a recurrence of Leukaemia hit swiftly, like a bat to the gut. Nobody could have expected him to utter those words at that moment, and that shocked hush from inside the arena rang out loudly. It's almost unfathomable that someone we see presented as a source of endless power is facing a life-altering situation like this.

Most everybody put aside how they felt about the Reigns character to wish Joseph Anoa'i well, and it really did put in perspective just how trivial every ounce of "fan rage" really is. Granted, it did feel weird that people had to qualify their well-wishes with, "I was never a fan of the Roman Reigns character, but..." That'd be like tweeting after Burt Reynolds' death, "Cop and a Half was trash, but...". But nonetheless, the genuine care and sentiment from wrestling fans was obvious for their fellow man, and that was nice to see. And of course, here's hoping that Roman continues to fight a winning battle against this.

3. Everyone's All In On All In


Thirty minutes. That's all it took for a self-funded, self-promoted independent wrestling pay-per-view to sell out in an 11,000+ seat building on the outskirts of Chicago. All In started as a friendly wager between ambitious Cody Rhodes and pragmatic Dave Meltzer, and Meltzer was among many sceptics that were happy to have been proven wrong by Rhodes and The Young Bucks' gamble.

The success of All In, and how unbelievably quickly it sold out, really does speak volumes to how much fans want genuine alternatives in 2018. The flavours of New Japan, Ring of Honor, and the upper crust of the independent scene were evident in the All In gumbo, each of them gaining deeper market penetration in this modern age of digital streaming and social media marketing. WWE may still be the king of the hill, but more people are backing the other options, the less-complacent ones. And we'll see what All Elite Wrestling holds in 2019 and beyond.

2. The Saudi Shows


Nobody looks back at Greatest Royal Rumble and says: "Man, Daniel Bryan killed it with this lengthy performance." Nobody praises the ladder match from that show, either. Don't see many fans taking time to compliment Shawn Michaels for looking pretty dang good for a 53-year-old, eight-year retiree at Crown Jewel, either. No, that's because most wrestling fans didn't have too many kind words for WWE's relationship with Saudi Arabia.

The exclusion of women was a sticking point for many, as well as the country's human rights record. When WWE went on with Crown Jewel in spite of the Jamal Khashoggi story, the outrage only grew in volume. For the first time ever, actual WWE events were being booed and catcalled simply upon mention (see: the response at Evolution), and not for poor match quality. The fervour has since died down, though there are still (presumably) more shows in the region coming.

1. Becky Becomes The Man


It was a phenomenon unlike what we're used to seeing. Sure, we've seen crowds get wildly behind wrestlers that are perceived to be under-pushed and taken for granted, but when Becky Lynch smacked Charlotte Flair in the face at SummerSlam, the response was ungodly. Up until that point, Becky's three years on the main roster saw her portrayed as a determined, yet plucky, heroine that resided in the B-tier.

Her fans saw her as deserving more, and when Charlotte was booked to usurp her SummerSlam moment (in a "just business" sense), Becky's apparent heel turn was treated as a heroic breakthrough for her. Charlotte was suddenly the villain, while Becky (thanks also to her fiery Twitter game) became the biggest star on WWE programming today. When a wrestler can spur that kind of strong feeling from such a vast selection of fans, then they've done something truly special.

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Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.