Wow, what a year in WWE 2018 has been. I’m not sure there has ever been a more up and down year for the company, and as a fan it has been thrilling, wonderful, excruciating and heartbreaking, and sometimes all in the same show. So I’ve been unsure for some time how to structure this blog, one that I’ve very much enjoyed putting together and hopefully that’ll be replicated in how good it turns out (of course I’ll be still faced with my eternal issue of the formatting messing up on the mobile version of my blog so it looks poorer, nonetheless hopefully the content makes up for it). I eventually settled on a structure that will take us through the following:
- Honorable Mention: In this section I was going to talk about my personal highs in WWE of 2018 (the best show I ever saw; NXT Takeover: New Orleans, the greatness of NXT as a whole but instead there was only 1 thing I felt compelled to talk about), instead I made a choice here to talk briefly about Roman Reigns.
- Match of the Year: Pretty simple here; I count down my personal top 20 matches of the year from across the various WWE brands and shows. Believe me this was a tough list to make deciding which one was better than the other. And hopefully it’ll give you all some matches to watch on the network.
- Moment of the Year: These were the 10 times in 2018 WWE that really touched me emotionally the most. It could be a surprise, a result, an entrance or a segment. The number 1 on this list was obvious to me from the start but the others are fairly subjective to me, but hopefully you agree generally. (and before EVERYONE moans there’s no Becky Lynch bloody face thing, because I don’t like Nia Jax as a performer and I don’t like seeing people get legit hurt).
- Superstar of the Year: The big one! Who will take the ‘coveted’ (please, humour me…) honour of being crowned my WWE Superstar of the Year for 2018. I combine Men, Women and Tag Teams into one list and decide who I felt was the all round best in WWE in 2018 (that’s in-ring ability, promo skills, character and the simplest quality… being good). Adam Cole was top in my mid-term report blog in June, who makes my top 20 and who ends 2018 on top?
- In Summary: I’ll probably put over those who topped my previous lists, talk about some personal WWE memories of 2018 for me, and also look ahead to what we could see it 2019 in WWE. But much like with most of my blogs, who knows what it will entail.
So without banging on too much more (because believe me there is A LOT to get in to) I will begin my End of Year Review Blog for WWE in the year 2018!!!
On the Monday Night Raw of October 22nd 2018 Roman Reigns opened the show as he so often does. He walked out to a typical chorus of cheers drowned out by boos, but he was dressed not in his wrestling gear, instead he had the Universal Championship draped over his shoulder of a black sweatshirt, black bottoms and his gold chain around his neck, he was in ‘casual gear’ some might say. He got into the ring and cut a promo. He told us all about how he said he would be a fighting champion, how he said he’d be here every week, but instead he said that was a lie. He said the reality is that his name is Joe, and that he had been fighting Leukemia for 11 years. And suddenly the course of WWE changed forever. In one incredibly brave admission in front of the world, Roman Reigns became the most popular guy in the company with the fans, certainly the one we all suddenly felt most emotionally for. Those fans that had vehemently booed his character suddenly sympathized and applauded a man called Joe. The Universal title was vacated, but not in a retirement speech, he vowed to be back. The tears of Rollins were echoed by us all, me included I’m not afraid to say. It was a terribly sad moment, but one that showed the togetherness of the WWE and the entire wrestling world. The outpouring of support for Roman was heartwarming. I said a lot more on Roman before my blog that previewed the Evolution PPV, but simply put this man has been the centre-piece of all our WWE fandom of recent years, so many incredible moments in WWE’s recent past have come as a direct result of Roman Reigns. He’s never going to be booed ever again, he shouldn’t be either, this guy is tougher than any of us ever knew. He will be back, he will beat this, and my oh my could we not have one of the most incredible moments in WWE or anywhere’s history IF/WHEN the Big Dog returns, BELIEVE THAT!
Match of the Year
This was the part of the blog I debated and pondered over the most. There have been some absolutely exceptional matches in WWE in 2018. And yes although the greatest match of all time did take place this year and it not be in WWE, AND as much as most weeks the matches on WWE TV aren’t exactly great; there have been some great PPV matches and some out of this world NXT Takeover matches (yes, there are A LOT of NXT matches on this list). A special mention before this list to the 205 Live roster (particularly Buddy Murphy, Cedric Alexander and the now Smackdown Live superstar Mustafa Ali). Due to the quality of the better WWE matches of the year any match rated lower than 4 3/4 stars isn’t able to make the list. And without checking back I can think of at least 5 or 6 matches from the all-Cruserweight show that have only just failed to make my top 20. But most weeks you’re unlucky not to get at least 1 good match. So better luck next year to that roster. Anyway here is (after much self-deliberation) my top 20 ranked matches in WWE of the year. Watch them all, NOW!!!
20. WWE Championship: Shinsuke Nakamura V AJ Styles (C) – Last Man Standing Match; Money in the Bank= ****3/4
HALLE-FUCKING-LUJAH we finally got a great Styles vs Nakamura match in WWE… only took them what, 3,4 attempts?! But hey it was a great match to end maybe the most underwhelming feud of the year given the near-impossible to beat expectations going in. The finishing spot as well given the theme of Nakamura and his fondness for low blows was superbly told. Good work gentlemen.
19. ‘Undisputed Era’ (Adam Cole, Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish) V ‘War Raiders’ (Rowe & Hanson), Ricochet & Pete Dunne – War Games Match; NXT Takeover: War Games 2018 = ****3/4
I don’t even know where to begin with reviewing this match in a short form. I did my best to review it in my blog on a match that went more than 45 minutes and concluded what was an incredible Takeover show overall as always. 8 great performers all had their chances to shine, all 8 were excellent, but that’s not a shock is it?
18. Daniel Bryan V Brock Lesnar with Paul Heyman; Survivor Series = ****3/4
At around the halfway point in this match I had this match rated at about one star, it was every other Lesnar match we’d seen (Suplex, Suplex, Suplex, Lesnar poses, Supex, Suplex…), and then Daniel Bryan fought back, and then it got very good, very quickly. Bryan was the star here throughout but it was such a joy to see Lesnar at his best. He reminded us all when he really wants it he can be great to watch. This was the best Brock match for a long time, even better than the AJ match from a year ago. Aside from his many accomplishments in 2018 I think being enough of a seemingly worthy opponent for Lesnar (in Brock’s own mind at least it seemed) for him to feel motivated enough to put on a great match, this match maybe Bryan’s biggest accomplishment of 2018!
17. Smackdown Women’s Championship: Charlotte Flair (C) V Asuka; Wrestlemania = ****3/4
At the time and first time round I think I was too caught up in how emotionally invested I was in a match between two of my absolute favourites in WWE (male or female) to truly realise how good this match was. Upon a 2nd, 3rd and many more viewings I saw I had witnessed a match just as good as I had hoped. I shouldn’t have been at all surprised really. The in-ring chemistry between these 2 was unreal, everything they did looked seamless, every hold and counter made sense and it resulted in excellence befitting of the build and the hype.
16. NXT North American Championship: Ricochet V Adam Cole (C); NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 4 = ****3/4
Another match that had pretty high expectations going in, considering the calibre of participants. But it did, 100%. 2 of the most popular guys on the whole show gave the rowdy Brooklyn crowd a spot-fest for the ages. And aside from the obvious high spots the storytelling of the match was really fun; could the cocky and self-assured Cole keep the adventurous and hardworking challenger away from his championship? … Also for those of you who recall HBK’s insane superkick to Shelton Benjamin after he springboard off the ropes, look out for a similarly breathtaking spot in this classic too.
15. NXT Tag Team Championship: ‘Moustache Mountain’ (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) V ‘Undisputed Era’ (Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong) (C); WWE UK Championship Tournament Night 2 = ****3/4
24 hours after these 4 men were involved in another classic they put on one of the finest WWE matches on British soil all year. A Tag Team match for the ages that without spoiling concludes with one of the loudest crowd reactions EVER in WWE. Without one major talking point in the match it was absolutely fantastic from start to finish, hardly a shock given who was in it but this match was simply a joy.
14. ‘Undisputed Era’ (Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong) V ‘British Strong Style’ (Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate & Trent Seven); WWE UK Championship Tournament Night 1 = ****3/4
As a fan of independent and British wrestling, this match taking place in WWE was a bit of a dream match for me. And it was everything we could have ever wanted. Non-stop, action packed for the entirety of the contest, and of course the crowd in the Royal Albert hall lapped it all up. 6 of the very best in-ring workers in the company putting on a masterclass, and each individual had their chance to shine. Little did we know the next night we’d have an even more amazing moment, but this match was simply excellent.
13. NXT Championship: Tomasso Ciampa V Aleister Black (C); NXT 25th July 2018 = ****3/4
Legitimately this was one of the best matches their has ever been on regular, weekly NXT Television. Ciampa had beaten the number one contender in waiting, and now set his sights on the gold. He kept telling us all that he needed just ‘one moment, one opportunity’ , and so the match was set for Ciampa to challenge the champion, whom up to then was undefeated in singles competition in WWE. You know the rest… This match in-ring was as great as I had hoped, and as always seems to be the case with Ciampa especially, the story told in the match was really good also. Gargano was expected to be involved and he was, but I’m not sure any of us really thought what happened may actually come true. The finish alone led to one of the most unique reactions I’ve seen form a WWE crowd, one of utter horror, as if the bad guy had beaten the good guy in the movie, or something like that.
12. Smackdown Women’s Championship: Asuka V Charlotte Flair V Becky Lynch (C) – TLC Match; TLC = ****3/4
3 really over women, who were allowed to go out there and each look like a badass. And they were. And it was awesome. All the spots you could want in a TLC match, everybody stood out as a star and everyone was absolutely brilliant (which isn’t often the case in multi person ladder matches). This was far from a turning point in women’s wrestling, we are well on that road already, but it was perhaps the first time we were given a PPV main event that was the women that there was no question it was the main event match of the show. And it lived up to all the incredible amount of hype, and then some. Bravo.
11. WWE Championship: AJ Styles V Daniel Bryan (C); TLC = ****3/4
In terms of pure wrestling this was the finest WWE match of the year, which given it was between the two best in-ring performers of their generation it’s not a shock. What was more of a pleasant shock is that they got almost 25 minutes on a PPV and they went out and had a simply incredible match. Great story, back and forth throughout, everything was crisp but stiff-looking and it went 23 minutes that absolutely flew by. Tremendous.
10. Smackdown Women’s Championship: Charlotte Flair V Becky Lynch (C) – Last Woman Standing Match; Evolution= ****3/4
What an absolutely outstanding match. Just had everything fans love; good wrestling, crazy weapon spots, brutality throughout and best of all: the one the fans wanted to win won. Probably the best main roster match of 2018 in many people’s opinion. I certainly wouldn’t argue… too much… maybe…
9. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon V Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey; Wrestlemania 34 = ****3/4
Imagine saying before Wrestlemania a match made up of a guy that hadn’t had a Wrestlemania match in 12 years, the guy who runs the company, a woman in her VERY FIRST MATCH and STEPHANIE MCMAHON would somehow have the best match on a card that included AJ Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura… But the mixed tag match at Wrestlemania was EVERYTHING we wanted it to be, and so much more. Ronda Rousey produced the most breathtaking debut performance in WWE history, we had inter-gender spots in WWE which I thought we may not ever see again, and the crowd and everyone watching thought the match was exceptional for what it was and surpassed all expectations. I lost my voice watching it from screaming so loud, so that’s a sign of how good it was surely?
8. NXT Championship: Tomasso Ciampa (C) V Johnny Gargano – Last Man Standing Match: NXT Takeover: Brooklyn 4 = *****
I loved this match at the time but even more so in hindsight. For 2 reasons; the match itself was absolutely chaotic as expected, but also the story told throughout was exquisite if you had followed their rivalry from the start. Not only all the call backs to spots in their first 2 NXT matches, but the over ridding tale of how Gargano’s anger at Ciampa inadvertently gave him the NXT Title, and of course over the course of the match leading right up to the finish it was Gargano’s Spiderman – Venom (the 3rd Toby Maguire movie) inspired attire and social media posts leading up to the event that foreshadowed that it would indeed be Gargano’s own anger towards Ciampa that would cost him his ultimate dream. And on top of all that it’s 2 of the best in the business going at it in yet ANOTHER classic. In recent WWE history this has been by far the best rivalry and series of matches I’ve seen… at least it appeared to be the end of their rivalry…
7. Johnny Gargano V Tomasso Ciampa – Chicago Street Fight: NXT Takeover: Chicago 2 = *****
How do you follow a match between 2 men that was crazy as much as it was excellent and a match of the year contender? Well, with another! Ciampa was out for revenge, he’d taken the animosity between the two men to new levels in the weeks that followed their match in New Orleans, and so a street fight was made. If it was at all possible this match was even more brutal than their previous, the finish is as heartbreaking as it was brilliant. The words ‘classic’ and ‘match’ are mentioned a lot these days, but with these 2 men it’s no shock, and this was no exception.
6. NXT Tag Team Championship: ‘Undisputed Era’ (Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong) V ‘Moustache Mountain’ (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) (C); NXT TV July 11th = *****
The best tag team match I’ve ever seen in WWE, and aside from 2 notable exceptions from New Japan this year the best tag match I’ve seen period. You will struggle to find a match that better embodied everything a good professional wrestling match should include than this one. Storytelling so good that every twist and turn was so serious and consequential, the crowd at Full Sail whilst split at the start with dueling chants, by middle and conclusion were so desperate and behind the babyface British team. The standard of NXT TV main events in 2018 has been extraordinary, and this was the best one of a very, very good bunch.
5. Johnny Gargano V Aleister Black: NXT Takeover: War Games 2018 = *****
These two managed to quickly establish one of the most personal and intense feuds of the year. 2 of the best feuds, and an array of the better matches of 2018 from both these men, so it should’ve been no surprise their match was exceptional. A striking battle for the ages, intertwined perfectly with storytelling. Sometimes I read my reviews back and am unsure if I accurately portrayed what I saw and thought, but this match a mere hours after it took place I believe I gave it a very appropriate analogy, “A simply stunning professional wrestling match”. Yes indeed it was.
4. NXT Championship: Velveteen Dream V Tomasso Ciampa (C); NXT Takeover: War Games 2018 = *****
You couldn’t find 2 more opposite performers in terms of characters, background, and where their career had taken them up to this point. But somehow the two put on an absolute classic. From the moment Dream came out in Hulk Hogan NWO inspired attire you knew it was going to be special and unique. Coming immediately after another classic in Black vs Gargano was always going to be tough but somehow this match kept the momentum of another amazing Takeover show. Takeover: War Games 2017 Velveteen Dream announced himself to the world, 2018’s edition was his masterpiece performance. And Ciampa? Well, he was normal Ciampa… which is absolutely excellent.
3. NXT Championship: Johnny Gargano V Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas (C) with Zelina Vega; NXT Takeover: Philadelphia = *****
In terms of pure in-ring wrestling quality this was without question the best match in WWE I saw in 2018. Just simply 2 great wrestlers going out with a good story going in and putting on a classic. And yes of course we all were desperate to see Gargano win, but we got an incredible match so we were certainly compensated somewhat.
2. NXT North American Championship: EC3 V Killian Dain V Adam Cole V Velveteen Dream V Lars Sullivan V Ricochet – Ladder Match; NXT Takeover: New Orleans = *****
This is the match I show people who don’t know NXT or don’t watch all that much wrestling. I show this because it contains absolutely everything you could want in one match. As a match it was excellent, as a ladder match it was the best I’ve ever seen, as a show OPENER it was probably the best opening match of any show I’ve seen. It set the tone for the best Takeover of all time with about as many spots as you could get in a match. Beforehand I was excited for it, given it’s a ladder match and they’re always fun, it had 6 guys who I like and are all very good and it was to crown a new champion. But I had no idea what it’d be like, it surpassed every expectation anyone could’ve had. WATCH THIS MATCH NOW!
1. Tomasso Ciampa V Johnny Gargano – Unsanctioned Match; NXT Takeover: New Orleans = *****
Renowned wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer said this was one of the best matches in WWE history. He’s not wrong. If you watch this match on it’s own without knowing the backstory it’s excellent. If you watch NXT regularly, have some knowledge of both men’s work pre-WWE and everything they’ve done in WWE since then this was truly an exceptional wrestling match. So many great spots, some incredible storytelling, and in the main event match of NXT’s Wrestlemania this was a true showing of the highest order from 2 of the absolute best. My 2018 WWE Match of the Year.
Moment of the Year
‘Moments’ are the things that get us all most excited as wrestling fans. People can vaguely recall great matches sure, but nobody will ever forget the more iconic moments from the past. WWE in 2018, it has seemed more than any year, has been fixated on creating more of those memorable moments. And to be fair to them the crowd at PPVs seem to be sat waiting for something big to happen, be it a heel turn (and there has certainly been plenty of those to look back on in 2018), a shock result or anything that will have people talking. So I’ll now countdown the top moments of the year; based upon a surprise factor, how well is was executed and more importantly how excited it made me feel personally as a fan.
Special mentions go to Kairi Sane finally winning the NXT Women’s title from Shayna Baszler at Takeover: Brooklyn 4 (which on my birthday was about as good a pro-wrestling present as I could’ve asked for), Charlotte beating Asuka at Wrestlemania to end her undefeated streak, the thunderous ovations both Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn received when Raw was in Montreal, Ronda Rousey affirming her spot at the top of the company by winning the Raw Women’s Championship at Summerslam, and later her interference in the women’s TLC 3 way that then led to Asuka finally claiming a main roster title, Johnny Gargano’s standing ovation from the NXT crowd in his first appearance at Full Sail after his amazing win over Tomasso Ciampa at Takeover: New Orleans and finally Daniel Bryan turning heel and winning the WWE Championship.
10. Roman FINALLY beats Brock – Summerslam
Of course given what has happened since this moment has taken on so much more of an importance and emotional feel. But at the time despite the audible and very obvious disdain from the majority of the fan-base towards this match and everything to do with it, you can’t deny that the sight of Roman Reigns conquering the Beast Brock Lesnar and claiming the Universal Championship as his own was a pretty cool thing to witness. You can think about a few things to back up why this moment was special, aside from the obvious. It was set up to be the end of the story that should’ve ended at Wrestlemania and one that had been told pretty much since Roman first faced Brock in 2015, It was a moment for Roman the man after all these years of being the top guy and the uncrowned champion, and after he had his moment at Mania taken from him, now he had it and it was his forever. The live crowd quickly turned on it of course, but nonetheless in pro-wrestling as Ric Flair so often said “to be the man, you gotta beat the man” … HBK beat Flair, Taker beat HBK, Lesnar beat Taker, Goldberg beat Lesnar, Lesnar beat Goldberg, and at Summerslam Roman beat Brock. Lets hope and pray now Roman is able to come back and claim back from Lesnar what is rightfully his, and we get a moment even more incredible than Reigns winning the red belt first time around. Believe That!
9. THE SHIELD REUNION – Raw 20th August
24 hours after Reigns won the title, he was defending it in the main event of Raw against Finn Balor. It wasn’t long though before the then Money in the Bank holder Braun Strowman made his presence known, Reigns was though able to overcome the distraction to pin Balor and keep his title. Strowman seized his chance to punt Roman and try to cash in his title opportunity, and with JoJo making the announcement and us all thinking we were going to get a 2nd Universal title change in 24 hours having seen the champion before that hold the belt for over 500 days… then we heard that oh-so-familiar sound of ‘Sierra, Hotel, India, Echo, Lima, Delta… SHIELD’! The crowd went wild as Seth Rollins and his fellow, recently returned Shield Brother Dean Ambrose came marching down to the ring donning their black vests of old, and Raw ended with the 3 Hounds of Justice delivering the big triple powerbomb to Strowman through the announce table. Unfortunately as we now know this wouldn’t be the start of a long reunion, but as a stand alone moment it was pretty cool to see, anyone who doesn’t think The Shield are cool are liars.
8. Tomasso Ciampa’s Takeover of NXT – NXT 25th July
I’ll be talking a lot more about this guy in different parts of the blog, but the moment when Tomasso Ciampa won the NXT Championship from Aleister Black on a regular weekly edition of the show was pretty incredible. The crowd reacted in utter horror, Gargano (who was at that stage the top babyface) had just inadvertently helped his enemy claim the title he himself wanted so desperately, the title reign of Aleister Black which seemed that it would be one that would perhaps rival the reign of Finn Balor in terms of length was over less than 5 months in, and add to that the incredible commentary of Mauro Ranallo, Percy Watson and Nigel McGuinness and you had a fantastic crescendo of pro-wrestling storytelling. As I’ve said you should watch this match back in full, everything surrounding it was NXT at its absolute best.
7. THE DEMON COMETH – Summerslam
Those were the words of Michael Cole on a increasingly rare occasion for him of brilliant commentary. The call perfectly encapsulated a moment that caught us all by surprise, and made us all feel like excited kids again. Some people bemoan the irregularity of Finn Balor appearing in his war paint, some were equally as unhappy that he then only had a less than 2 minute match in his win over Baron Corbin at Summerslam. But all these things are what keep The Demon as a special attraction, and one that will continue to wow us all for many years to come.
6. Rey Mysterio returns – Royal Rumble
You know a moment is special when you can audibly hear the exact moment the entire audience realize what is happening. The countdown clock to the number 27th entrant into the men’s Royal Rumble match hit 0, “who’s next?” wonders Jerry Lawler on commentary, and then the music hits, there is a second pause as reality sets in, and then we all lost our minds. It is very rare in wrestling in 2018 with the height and reach of the internet wrestling media and fandom that anything isn’t known beforehand nowadays. But I’m not sure anyone outside of WWE knew Rey Mysterio was going to be in that match. It was an amazing moment, particularly because Rey was a star across the decades that the large majority of the current audience of wrestling fans will have seen on top at some stage. The 90s, 00s, 10s all saw Mysterio feature prominently at the top of the business, and what a joy it was to see him looking in perhaps life best shape, and moving as well as ever. He’s since enjoyed brief runs in New Japan, an appearance at the big ALL IN event and now he is full time back with the WWE on Smackdown. But it’s a wonder if without that Royal Rumble showing and ovation if he’d be back in the WWE at all now?
5. Paige’s retirement Speech – Raw after Wrestlemania
I made the decision not to include Roman Reigns speech about his illness on this list, because I just couldn’t categorise it in terms of how good a promo it was. But it cannot be a coincidence that two of the best promos of recent times have both been speeches to announce the end of an in-ring career. And Paige certainly made a valiant attempt to follow Daniel Bryan’s masterpiece from a few years back. As she alluded to herself, and I’m included in those that very much knew this was coming, many knew Paige had wrestled her last match before she announced herself that her wrestling career was over. It was only made sadder given that she just missed out on the women’s Royal Rumble match, or the fact that she was retiring far younger than most have to given how young she was when she began wrestling. The crowd more than played their part and showed their appreciation for someone who really was a key, perhaps the key player, of the final transitional period between the divas era and the current incarnation of women in WWE we see today. A true pioneer and one who got spotlight she more than deserves in her role as General Manager of Smackdown and will continue to do so in the upcoming movie about her life.
4. Moustache TOP THE Mountain – WWE UK Championship Night 2
The Royal Albert Hall in London England. England’s own Tyler Bate and Trent Seven. They challenge NXT tag champions Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly of the Undisputed Era to open the second night of the UK tournament show. And to the surprise of absolutely everyone, and to (I’m not kidding) one of the single loudest pops in recent WWE history, they shocked the entire world and won the NXT Tag Team Championship. It was an excellent match. People were crying. It was incredible. Enough said.
3. CHARLOTTE GOES CRAZY – Survivor Series
I wont lie, I screamed along with 2 of my friends SOOOOOO loud when this happened. I didn’t think I’d get over or anything would happen that would make better the disappointment I and everyone else felt that we were denied, via the ineptitude of one Raw female, a match between Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey. And whilst Ronda vs Charlotte was turning into an absolutely excellent match (exceptional even given the lack of preparation time they had) it wasn’t Becky Lynch vs Ronda so I was still somewhat sad. And then Charlotte was recovering on the outside of the ring and taking a breather, Ronda goes outside to get her, runs around the ring, and then… well an absolute MADNESS happened. I’m sure you’ve all seen the absolute barrage of kendo stick shots and chair attack Charlotte Flair unleashed on Ronda Rousey but the whole event took us all by such surprise, and I’m almost certain every non-Rousey fan went wild watching it. It really was one of the best post-match beat-downs in recent history mainly because it was so vicious and because it was the top star in the company right now on the receiving end. The crowd cheered the attacker and booed and mocked the victim, but that’s hardly a surprise in 2018 WWE. Crowds love to see any big moments, and this was about as big as you could get, but not quite.
2. THE DEADMAN HAS RISEN – Wrestlemania
The culmination of, in my opinion, a collection of the finest work in the illustrious career of John Cena. He began a campaign to get a spot at Wrestlemania (yes because for one second it was even-imaginable that John Cena would miss out on a Mania spot)… but anyway… After 2 failed attempts to be in the world championship matches on the grandest stage of them all, Cena went route one and decided to call out The Undertaker and try and make one of the biggest dream matches you could’ve made. Of course the story was each week Cena would have a match and do his thing, and then after he’d cut a promo calling out The Undertaker, he wouldn’t answer, and Cena would go in hard on him. And it was great. Cena really put across how much he wanted this match. He acted so well, even down to the look of utter disappointment when they played his music again at Wrestlemania and it appeared Taker wasn’t showing after all. And of course they teased and teased he wasn’t going to show, he always was going to obviously, but they played it really well. And then The Undertaker showed up, and everyone went wild. And it was great. People were made the match went less than 3 minutes but that didn’t bother me personally too much. Start to finish I thought the whole story was excellent, and we got the big moment deep down we all wanted, The Undertaker returning at Wresltemania. Perfect stuff.
1. Fight For Your Dreams – Smackdown 20th March
This moment is absolutely the best WWE moment of 2018 not just because of what it was and how cool it was, but it really transcends professional wrestling when you think about it. This guy was told he had to retire from doing what he loved because his body and his brain couldn’t take it anymore. He worked his ass off ever since doing so many tests and treatments and working on everything he could possibly do. And then he got what he wanted. He got cleared. Seeing the news on social media that Daniel Bryan had been cleared to return to in-ring action in WWE made me so happy I was smiling for basically that whole evening after I saw the news. I watched Smackdown on TV live, Bryan came out to open the show, HUGE pop as you can imagine, I had tears in my eyes, the whole crowd is doing the YES chants, Bryan cuts this absolutely incredible promo (one of the best of the year, maybe the best) and later in the show we got to see him do his moves. Regardless of what has happened with Daniel Bryan since, we had that moment and that night and it was one I’ll never forget. And since then he got to have a match at Wresltemania, he got to do a tag match with his wife, he’s now the WWE Champion, and he got to have his dream match he always wanted and was twice denied in the past (once by injury and once more by bullshit booking) against Brock Lesnar. And it was great. So 2018 has been pretty good for Daniel Bryan, and even above winning the title it was this moment that was the absolute best moment.
Superstar of the Year
If you had asked me to predict this list 12 months ago, or even in June when I did my list at the half way point, it certainly wouldn’t have looked like it does now. I don’t really like to discuss any negatives in this blog, as I see it as a chance to rejoice, recall and celebrate the better things in WWE in 2018, but of course some people who were right up there at various stages of the year have fallen away, whilst others have taken their chance and ran with it (one in particular stands out as a surprise inclusion from this time a year ago). I felt it unfair to include Roman Reigns on this list given how his 2018 ended, but a runner up spot in the Royal Rumble, main eventing Wrestlemania and beating Brock Lesnar clean at Summerslam to begin a 2 month run as Universal Champion. Along with reuniting The Shield and legitimately putting in some of the finest promo and in-ring work of his much maligned at times career so far up until his illness stopped him. It has been a great year also for the top end acts on 205 Live with Buddy Murphy, Cedric Alexander and Smackdown’s Mustafa Ali all putting in some exceptional performances in a long list of good matches that maybe didn’t get the exposure they needed. Hopefully in 2019 all 3 and the division as a whole will continue to grow, flourish and be exposed the a much wider part of the WWE audience. The British Strong Style group made up of Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate and Trent Seven) and Pete Dunne didn’t appear enough consistently for me to warrant a place in the top 20, but whilst they have been on WWE TV they have been outstanding in terms of character work and in-ring… my oh my some of their matches have been incredible (as you will have seen from my Match Of The Year section). With NXT UK now a thing, more regular appearances on the WWE Network for all 3 can only help their careers go form strength to strength. And finally I must talk about one of the most underutilized members of the WWE roster, Asuka. A very much up and down year for the Empress, she won the Royal Rumble in January, was in a huge Wrestlemania match but lost her undefeated streak, and then she kind of did nothing for about 6 months (which included a diabolical title challenge against then champion Carmella at Money In The Bank). However she did finish the year winning the Smackdown Women’s Championship match at TLC alongside 2 possible Wrestlemania main eventers so perhaps things are looking up once again for Asuka going into 2019.
20. Alexa Bliss
Good at pretty much everything a WWE superstar should be. Outstanding talker, very passable in-ring worker (and dramatically better than she was when she first came to the main roster, unlike the woman she lost to at Wrestlemania). Was the main focus of the Raw Women’s division for most of 2018, only falling to the star-power of Ronda Rousey, which isn’t really something she could’ve done anything about. Everything you want a heel to be, her MITB cash in was excellent, her selling to Ronda has been great, and she’s just continued to get better and better and finds herself as one of the main players of the entire women’s division in the company.
19. Samoa Joe
If Alexa is everything you want a heel woman to be, Samoa Joe is the epitome of a heel male performer in WWE. A monster in the ring and the best on the mic maybe in the company, and whilst his feud with AJ Styles may have been less than satisfactory in places, the matches in-ring were consistently good. And his ‘I’ll be your Daddy’ line to Wendy and Anney Styles at Summerslam was out of this world levels of brilliance.
18. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas
He began the year as NXT Champion and had a classic 5 star match with Johnny Gargano, quickly followed by an appearance in the Royal Rumble match. He would lose his title to Aleister Black in another great match not long before he and his ultra-talented associate Zelina Vega made their way up to Smackdown. And whilst he may not have done too much in terms of memorable storylines since his call-up, he has had some great matches with the likes of Rey Mysterio, Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles and has been protected in most parts from anything that may damage his reputation as a character, so that’s promising for his future prospects for sure. Hopefully 2019 sees EL IDOLO make his way to the main event scene and the WWE Championship picture.
17. Kairi Sane
Not going to lie, but many of my friends know that The Pirate Princess is possibly my favourite WWE superstar. The fact she won the NXT Women’s Championship in what was an excellent match against Shayna Baszler at Takeover: Brooklyn 4 (ON MY BIRTHDAY) was a treat. A great babyface all-round, and at times they have used her lack of English almost to her advantage as her promo style comes across as very genuine and ultra positive/fierce when necessary and her mic work is always effective. Add to that she’s an absolutely amazing wrestler, which helps too. Her rivalry with Baszler over the NXT women’s title has been so great this year, the ultimate heel vs babyface dynamic has been perfect storytelling with both complimenting one another perfectly.
16. Shinsuke Nakamura
3 months into the year and it looked a lock Nakamura would win superstar of the year; he’d won the Royal Rumble match and had his dream Wrestlemania match against AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. But he lost (fine), turned heel (fine) and somehow had an underwhelming feud with Styles (baffling and not fine). Yes he’s been given the US title but he’s really done nothing memorable with that title. I don’t lay the blame with Shinsuke, I just think they don’t know what to do with him. I’m always in the mindset you shouldn’t beat someone after a big turn, as it kills the credibility of the turn. And then they beat him, again, and again and Styles just wouldn’t lose to him. That sealed Nakamura’s fate in terms of ruling him out of the top end of this list. But nonetheless still he’s an amazing performer and has done his best given the hand he’s been dealt.
15. Drew McIntyre (& Dolph Ziggler)
So I debated and asked for a few people’s opinions on if I should include Drew on his own, or in a tag team with Dolph, for his listing. You could say that although Ziggler was the one with the big IC title matches, it was clear (and more so now they’ve just done the split) that McIntyre was the star. I knew that way before he showed up a few weeks after Wrestlemania, but he has shone as bright as you can and is now a mainstay of Raw and the entire WWE. He has EVERYTHING you could want a top guy to be. Awesome promos, good in-ring, got his character on point as a badass and ruthless machine. And he’s cool, which helps. 2019 will clearly be the year he really gets his massive push after a protected push with Ziggler by his side. I’d say it pretty much a lock that Drew is minimum in a world title programme in 2019, and likely to that he becomes the first ever WWE British world champion (how amazing is it we are still waiting on that by the way!).
14. Shayna Baszler
What if I told you the best professional wrestler in the MMA 4 horsewomen wasn’t Ronda??? In between the ropes Shayna has way more experience and it has shown as she has matched Kairi Sane and Toni Storm in matches in 2018. She comes across as real, which as a tough MMA fighter doing a gimmick in which she is… a tough MMA fighter, I guess makes sense. Shayna is an example of how obvious things can be if you give them a chance to be great. It’s her character work in the matches themselves that impresses me the most about Baszler, watch back the finish of the match between her and Kairi Sane from Takeover: Brooklyn 4; she gets the knees up to block Kairi’s elbow drop, she screams (with mouth-guard in, which is a badass visual), puts in the choke-hold, gets rolled over, loses, looks utterly bemused by her own mistake. And then in the aftermath how she kept saying she lost, rather than Sane beat her and it was her mistake and she would make up for it next time. And then she did. Perfect. This is not rocket science people!
13. Daniel Bryan
Has Daniel Bryan had the most bizarre 2018 of anyone in WWE? Let me just list for you all the stuff that’s happened to him this year (I don’t think I need to tell anyone just how good he is at his job, that’s obvious to anyone that watches him, he excels in all areas, and none more so than since his heel turn. He’d be way higher on my list had it not been for his feud with Big Cass and his tad underwhelming feud with The Miz). Anyway… Daniel Bryan’s 2018 went as follows: January – March he is the GM of Smackdown, March 20th on Smackdown he comes out a cuts an incredible promo after the news he had been cleared to return to in-ring action and later in the night has a brawl with Zayn & Owens, Wrestlemania he has a tag team match with Shane McMahon against KO and Sami, he resigns as GM of Smackdown, he is in a feud with Big Cass which was… not good… despite this guy doing absolutely everything someone could do to make the other guy look good, he gets the long awaited feud with The Miz (including a mixed tag match with his wife Brie against Miz & Maryse), he refuses (as he’s a good human being) to work the Crown Jewel show so loses his WWE title shot clean to AJ Styles on the Smackdown prior, then on a later Smackdown he turns heel and beats AJ Styles to win the WWE Championship, and then a few days later he faces the Universal Champion Brock Lesnar in the main event of Survivor Series and the two have one of the most amazing matches of the year, then he finishes 2018 with another match of the year candidate against Styles at TLC! Yeah, 2018 for Bryan Danielson in WWE was wild!!!
12. Charlotte Flair
It’s not unusual that Charlotte Flair had a big year in WWE and featured prominently for pretty much all of 2018 in the Women’s title picture, had it not been for her losing her championship to Carmella and the few months that followed after that where she was on the losing end of her title rematch, unsuccessful in the women’s MITB ladder match and had some time off to heal an injury before Summerslam so was inactive, she could well have been higher on this list. But nonetheless a year that saw her accomplish so much has to be considered a good one. In 2018 alone she put an end the undefeated streak of Asuka at Wrestlemania, had an excellent and long awaited feud with her former best friend Becky Lynch, and then caused absolute chaos in her beatdown of Ronda Rousey after their match at Survivor Series before starring in the TLC triple threat match. It has certainly been another stellar year for the Queen of WWE. Expect 2019 to be the biggest year for her or maybe any other female in WWE history.
11. Velveteen Dream
Another excellent year for the future of the WWE at aged just 23 years old (a fine age might I add). A mixed bag of Takeover matches in terms of quality, but at every one he was being talked about afterwards as much as anyone else on the card; for either his attire, his character work, and I’d say 3/5 Match of the Year candidates certainly isn’t a bad ratio is it?! He encapsulates everything a modern megastar is and needs to be. He’s this good now, imagine him in the years to come… a beyond belief amount of potential.
The One and Only of NXT has proven to be just that in his debut year in WWE. Those of us blessed enough to have witnessed his incredible array of talents before he joined the NXT roster knew of his abilities and what he could do, I don’t think any of us expected him to be given this sort of platform and position to be all he is. Immediately from the minute he got the big superstar entrance at Takeover: New Orleans we were off to the races. Since then an array of great matches against a variety of opponents, so many memories of amazing feats of athleticism from a truly once in a lifetime performer. Expect him to continue to go from strength to strength in NXT in 2019, and perhaps trade-in his current burgundy belt for a gold one with a big X on…
9. Braun Strowman
It was presumed this would be the year Braun became a world champion. And yet on at least 2 maybe 3 occasions it seemed almost certain Braun would get his moment, circumstances (and/or booking that’s… questionable…) has denied him. But Braun remains one of the most sure fire attractions of Raw. It’s no coincidence the show tends to be less exciting when he’s not around causing carnage. In ring he’s as good a near 400 pound monster probably can be, his character and gimmick has some interesting elements for sure, not completely perfect but as WWE’s booking of big men monsters is very often questionable over time, they’ve done perhaps acceptably well with Braun up to now. MAYBE he’ll FINALLY become Universal Champion in 2019. Or… probably not… maybe…
8. Aleister Black
All but one of the former NXT Champion’s Takeover matches this year have been good, great or incredible so that would be enough alone to be considered a good year. But when you consider that Black has more than showed his amazing variety of offensive moves, grown as a character and showed new sides to himself that have only helped his stardom and intrigue grow (he even cracked a smile when he won the NXT Championship in New Orleans). An all-rounder in WWE if ever there was one it is perhaps a surprise that he has stayed in NXT for as long as he has. But he seems destined to finally get his title rematch at the pre-Royal Rumble Takeover event in January so whilst the start of the next year could herald the end of one of the finest NXT run’s anyone has ever had, it could also spark the beginning of (hopefully) a main roster megastar’s run in the making.
7. AJ Styles
Never before has a wrestler’s moniker been more appropriate than ‘The Phenomenal One’ for a man known in his normal life as Allen Neal Jones. It would be easy anyway to put a man on this list who had spent 317/365 days of 2018 as the WWE Champion, but along the way AJ whilst some parts of his title reign underwhelmed some (his feud with Nakamura comes to mind immediately) that’s only down to the incredibly high standard that people expect of Styles as the incredible, once-in-a-lifetime performer he really is. Although 2019 looks as if it will see Styles take a much less regular work schedule that will likely make everyone more grateful when we do get to see him perform. And after all he did have at least 2 match of the year contenders on PPV and countless more good-great TV matches on Smackdown.
6. Ronda Rousey
Surely 2018 has to be considered the greatest rookie year in the history of professional wrestling for the Rowdy One? Yes of course Ronda is no normal newcomer, but the former UFC Champion had without doubt the best match at Wrestlemania this year, is undefeated in her WWE career, and is the current Raw Women’s Champion. She excels in pretty much every area of being a WWE superstar, and yes critics will say her big matches are planned out and practised well in advance, but aren’t everyone’s? Apologies if you see a wrestling match that is choreographed in great detail? What an amazing concept… (hopefully my sarcasm comes through here). What has impressed me most about Rousey in 2018 though is she has somehow managed to have her two personal-best performances against her 2 weakest opponents (in terms of in-ring ability at least) in Stephanie McMahon and later Nia Jax. No doubt Ronda will continue to be one of if not THE biggest star in the company in 2019, and almost as likely is a main event spot at Wrestlemania 35…
5. Seth Rollins
Probably the most consistent in-ring performer on Raw this past year. At one stage it seemed Rollins was a major candidate to top this list, but a somewhat underwhelming feud with former Shield ally Dean Ambrose has cost him a realistic shot at top spot in recent weeks. Nonetheless Seth has no doubt had more good matches in 2018 than anyone else on the main roster, and like Ronda Rousey it’s just as impressive that he has had good matches against… well Mojo Rawley and Elias for example… he’s great at promos, great in the ring, and when he’s in top gear he really is quite the performer. His match that opened Summerslam against Dolph Ziggler sticks out as the perfect showing of everything that he is. Do not be surprised at all if in 2019 Seth Rollins is a champion once again, or if he causes a RUMBLE that leads him to a certain BEAST…
4. Johnny Gargano
This was without doubt the positioning on this list, and probably in this entire blog, that I felt most harsh on. People reading this will say how on earth can someone have 4/5 serious match of the year candidates, countless other good matches, be one of the most endearing babyfaces WWE has seen for some time, then turn into an absolute hated, asshole heel and be awesome in that role too, and only be the fourth best superstar of 2018? Let me point out that 4th is no way a bad ranking, Johnny Gargano could well be number 1 and if anyone said their superstar of 2018 was Mr Wrestling I would not argue too much. An absolutely outstanding wrestler, one of the world’s best for sure. And I couldn’t write in anyway about Johnny Gargano in 2018 and not talk about the ying to his yang. The Ciampa – Gargano trilogy and feud in 2018 will go down in wrestling history as an all-time great rivalry, and the most exciting thing going into the new year? It’s clear to me that the Gargano-Ciampa story is FAR from over just yet!
3. Becky Lynch
Right, OK, BEFORE you all get mad I’m going to say this: Becky Lynch August – end of 2018: Superstar of the Year and it’s not even close. Becky Lynch for the first two thirds of the year; she was good sure, but not superstar of the year calibre. End of. I wasn’t sure we’d see the Daniel Bryan 2014 story repeated again, I didn’t think the fans would demand so much that one WWE superstar be pushed so universally, but slowly but surely the support for Becky grew and grew to the point that before Summerslam everyone felt it was her time. And ever since she hit Charlotte Flair in the face after her former friend won the women’s title, Lynch has gone on to truly become THE MAN! She’s great because she’s always been good but now she’s getting the chance to be the best. And she’s probably the clearest personification of someone grabbing those figurative ‘brass rings’ that Vince McMahon always speaks of that we’ve seen for some time. As we head towards the Royal Rumble (the same event that YES-o-Mania reached fever pitch, to the point that the volume of the fan revolt against the fact that their favourite wasn’t even in the match itself, and again a year later when they fiercely rejected the match’s winner, not just because they didn’t like the winner, but a lot because it wasn’t the winner they wanted in Daniel Bryan). The point I’m trying to make is that it seems the fan support towards Lynch has seemingly forced WWE’s hand to the point where we are faced with this; say Becky isn’t in or doesn’t win the Women’s Royal Rumble match then I really could see whoever is the winner being booed on the levels that Batista and Roman Reigns suffered in the past. Be very very careful WWE, because if you don’t let Lynch-o-Mania run wild and have her win the Women’s Royal Rumble Match, then be prepared for the crowd in Phoenix to make it perfectly clear what they think of your alternative winner of choice. You have been warned.
2. Undisputed Era
I just couldn’t separate these 4 guys and rank them individually. They’re so aligned with one another and they’re all individually so incredible at their jobs. Adam Cole is one of the most talented all-rounders in the company on his own, Roderick Strong and Kyle O’Reilly together have formed one of the best tag teams in NXT history (2 amazing wrestlers as a team are hardly shocking choice to give that moniker too) and Bobby Fish has returned from injury and showed us all that’s he’s just as talented as his stablemates with some great mic work and in-ring beatdowns of the likes of EC3 and his key role in the War Games match. The Undisputed Era are one of the best stables in WWE history. Just watch one of their backstage group promo segments they regularly do on NXT TV when they’re equally as cool as they are asshole cocky heels. These 4 guys are GREAT. Simple as. Adam Cole recently said that the Undisputed Era would be draped in gold in 2019… fingers crossed.
1. Tomasso Ciampa
The current NXT Champion has had an absolutely unbelievable year. January he made his long anticipated return to once again attack his former tag team partner Johnny Gargano, he went on to have a near-perfect trilogy of amazing matches with his one-time best friend, before shockingly winning the NXT Championship from Aleister Black and going on to defend it in another classic against the Velveteen Dream. All along the way cutting amazing promo after amazing promo, displaying the most awesome heel characteristics and mannerisms as he goes, and just doing everything he can to be the most despicable bastard a pro wrestler could possibly be. Just listen to the reception he got as he made his way to the ring for his main event match against Gargano in New Orleans. I should also mention that match was his first after a month short of a YEAR out with injury! He’s great-exceptional at everything. I find no faults in Tomasso Ciampa as a WWE superstar. And his entrance music is awesome. In my blog I did to summarise the first half of the year I wrote the following on Tomasso Ciampa: “If he is as good for the next 6 months as he has been during the last month or so of NXT then he wont just be in the top 10, he’ll be number ONE!” … Well, I guess he proved me right!
So there you have it boys and girls; my WWE superstar of the year for 2018 is Tomasso Ciampa.
So yes I think that sums up the better parts of WWE in 2018. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned anything of the more negative parts of the year (Saudi Arabia, Enzo Amore, Big Cass all come to mind). I made a conscious choice before writing this blog that I wanted it to be a celebration of the good in WWE, because as much as we all slag off Raw each week and other questionable decisions the company makes we can’t say they don’t give us an awful lot of great stuff too!!!
So let’s now look to the year ahead. As we go into 2019 we could see women main event Wrestlemania. We could see The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels retire, again. We could even see John Cena become champion of the world for a 17th time. But I see it as a year even more new stars will be made. 5 immediately come to mind: Matt Riddle, Kacy Cantanzaro, Mustafa Ali, WALTER and Io Shirai. I wont say too much about them, I’ll let you discover them yourselves. Just look out for those names to do big things in 2019.
Finally I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this or any of my other blogs in 2018. As much as I enjoy making them it is at times a chore, so I can’t say for definite I’ll continue them for the entirety of 2019, I’ll perhaps focus on PPV reviews more than previews as they seem for me better blogs. But who knows, having a full time job can sometimes get in the way of writing about WWE… So here’s to 2019 and another weird and wonderful year of WWE!
PS. 9964 WORDS. DON’T @ ME 🙂