WWE's Changing Tide & Batista Slams The Product: The Cultaholic Time Capsule - December 2011
Hop in our DeLorean...
It's the holiday season, which usually means a quiet time for professional wrestling. Not exactly so ten years ago, as a number of newsworthy developments took place under the festive lights in 2011.
As we ride out the remainder of an uneven but hopeful 2021, let's look back at the state of professional wrestling from a full decade ago. I pulled up Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter from that time, and scoured my own personal recall, and found 15 interesting goings-on from the wrestling industry at the time. At least, they're interesting to me.
It's the holiday season, so it's the thought that counts, no?
Away we go.
1. Daniel Bryan wins the World Heavyweight title by cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase on an unconscious Big Show at TLC
So many mixed feelings here. On the one hand, this netted Bryan his first World title within WWE. On the other, it was the reign that begat the senseless 18 second loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28 (which hurt Sheamus far more than it did Bryan).
It's also the reign that kicked off Bryan's use of "yessing", a gesture that follows him to this day in AEW. Then again, it kinda sucks that Bryan's big win was in a moveless "cash in" match instead of a hard fought battle. So yeah, lotta mixed feelings here.
2. Zack Ryder wins the United States title in TLC's opening match, defeating Dolph Ziggler to an enormous crowd response
The pop when Matt Cardona hit the Rough Ryder and scored that subsequent pinfall was truly goosebump-inducing. If you don't count the IC title win at WrestleMania 32, this was Ryder's peak in WWE, though many believed it was the start of a glorious run for the self-made internet hero.
Of course, most of you remember how those first three months of 2012 played out for Ryder. Pretty demoralizing stuff for anyone that wanted to believe that WWE was controlled by the will of the fans, instead of the whims of a few.
3. A photo circulates in the hours after TLC, depicting all seven current WWE titleholders with their respective championships
This group included CM Punk (WWE), Bryan (World), Beth Phoenix (Divas), Cody Rhodes (IC), Ryder (US), and Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne (Tag). Quite a few folks interpreted this photo as a sign of a changing tide in WWE, that a youth movement was forthcoming. Then 2012 happened, and fans felt pretty silly for having that sort of faith. Today, four of these individuals wrestle for AEW, one's an indy standout, and one recently departed the NXT commentary booth. Only Kingston wrestles for WWE headed into 2022.
As an aside, we at Cultaholic recounted the significance of that photo in this 2020 video.
4. Triple H defeated Kevin Nash in a rather dull ladder match at TLC
Certainly, there have been better ladder matches involving Kliq members. The match brought a merciful end to Nash's random involvement in the "Summer of Punk", which became less about Punk and more about some half-baked grudge between Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Diesel. Not exactly a shining beacon in any of their careers, quite frankly.
5. The dark match at TLC sees Drew McIntyre defeat Alex Riley
Today, McIntyre is a main event star in WWE. In 2011, the former "Chosen One" had fallen down the ladder to a rather head-spinning degree, working with the likes of Riley, Ezekiel Jackson, Ted Dibiase, and Mason Ryan, generally losing to them.
At the Royal Rumble the following month, McIntyre lost to Brodus Clay after about one minute. 3MB may not have been creative gold, but at least it gave McIntyre *some* direction (and it was the period where he accidentally invented the Claymore, so there's that).
6. The Survivor Series 2011 buyrate provides a sobering glimpse at the decline of WWE's pay-per-view market
The Rock's first match in more than seven and a half years was ostensibly a significant draw, and Survivor Series did do 280,000 worldwide buys, up 15 percent from the previous year's card. However, the number was actually down from the 2008 Survivor Series, so the number only rose so high. Perhaps the fact that Rock and John Cena's opponents were a poorly-booked Miz and R-Truth played a role there.
Meltzer notes that only 36 percent of the worldwide buyrate came from the overseas markets, whereas WWE traditionally got half their buys from outside the US. Did Doom or the Tooth Fairy breed resentment across the ocean or something?
7. Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins each begin brief tours with the main roster
Nearly a year before The Shield made its WWE debut, Ambrose works a pair of house show dates with Daniel Bryan the weekend of TLC, while Rollins is booked to wrestle Tyson Kidd at three events between Christmas and New Years. Ambrose also wrestles Ted Dibiase in dark matches at the Raw and SmackDown tapings just after TLC.
Also worth noting, a Florida Championship Wrestling card on January 5 will include a six man tag in which Ambrose teams with Big E and the future Tyler Breeze. What would one call *that* stable?
8. Hiroshi Tanahashi wins the Tokyo Sports MVP Award in a landslide, earning 23 of the 24 possible votes
Presently in his fifth of eight IWGP Heavyweight title reigns, Tanahashi was a dominant force in New Japan throughout 2011. The lone dissenting vote went to KENTA.
The award is Tanahashi's second, having previously won in 2009. He joined prior multiple-time winners Antonio Inoki, Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, Genichiro Tenryu, Kenta Kobashi, and Keiji Mutoh. Tanahashi will go on to win the award twice more, in 2014 and 2018.
9. Brock Lesnar's UFC fight with Alastair Overeem for December 30 is back on, after issues involving Overeem's urine test are resolved
Overeem had to submit multiple tests, and was finally given a conditional license for the fight less than three weeks before it took place. Overeem ended up winning via TKO, in what turned out to be Lesnar's last fight before returning to WWE.
In another Lesnar note, the "Beast Incarnate" was charged with hunting infractions, stemming from a 2010 hunting trip to Alberta. After pleading guilty to improper tagging of an animal, Lesnar was fined over $1700 and given a six-month hunting suspension. So, busy times all around for Brock.
10. The December 19, 2011 Monday Night Raw draws an average of 4,290,000 viewers
Yes, ten years ago, WWE was drawing over four million viewers for an episode of Raw that aired during the holiday lull. Granted, the lure of seeing some fresh new champions could probably take some of the credit for that.
11. Abdullah the Butcher is reportedly set to come into All Japan for several matches just after the new year, including a planned bout with Suwama at AJPW's 40th anniversary show
The plans ultimately don't materialize, which is probably for the best since Abdullah is 70 years old and requires a walker to move around. Suwama instead wrestles Daisuke Sekimoto at the anniversary card.
12. The future of wrestling at the ECW Arena in Philadelphia comes into question, following forthcoming renovations that will turn the building into a concert hall
Wrestling events cease in the building in early 2012 ahead of the planned renovations. However, those who signed the lease are evicted from the venue in the spring of 2013, after the failure to complete said renovations. Not long after, wrestling returns to the building (now called the 2300 Arena), and events still take place there to this day.
13. WWE begins selling "Cena Sucks" t-shirts, clearly targeted toward John Cena's many detractors
Jokes on them, because Cena gets a cut of the t-shirt sales, so one's anti-Cena subversiveness feeds nicely into his bottom line. Meltzer also writes that an idea for such a shirt had been considered since 2008, but Cena had always been against it.
14. At her request, WWE releases ring announcer Eden Stiles
Meltzer wrote, "She noted when she got her release that she can now publicly say she’s dating (Cody) Rhodes, which she wasn’t allowed to say when she was under contract."
Yes, Eden Stiles is indeed Brandi Rhodes, former WWE ring announcer turned AEW and reality TV star. Brandi actually did return to WWE two years later, and left once more when Cody received his release in May of 2016. Brandi did hearken back to her old ring announcing days early in the pandemic (due to Justin Roberts unable to travel). Her "lower third" humorously noted she promised herself she'd never do this again.
15. Batista notes his disgust with the current WWE product, saying to The Daily Star, “It’s brutal. I can’t watch it. I can’t connect with it. I no longer know the business. I don’t do PG wrestling. Love me or hate me, when I was there, everyone took one look at me and knew I could beat someone up. I don’t think they look at Miz that way.”
He added, "It’s sad. It’s not their (the current wrestlers) fault. These days the guys have their hands tied. They are so limited in what they can do.”
The more things change...
Happy Holidays, everyone.