COVID-19 has upended every aspect of our society, from the most crucial elements of our lives to the entertainment we mostly take for granted. Now, with basically everything cancelled or delayed, there’s simply not a lot to write about on this site in terms of current events.
2020 is not starting off great, so let’s go back a year…or maybe a decade, and reflect on the biggest stories of the past decade. Specifically, let’s look back on the biggest WWE-stories of the 2010s. The decade that just ended was, in no way, the most transformative in modern Pro Wrestling. If you start that calendar in the 1980s, then there are forty years to consider, four decades of transformation to reflect on.
In the 1980s we went from the territory days to Hulkamania and the first boom. In the 90’s we went from a post-boom crash to the birth of the attitude era. The ’00s took us from the peak of the second boom to the doldrums of WWE’s stale monopoly. Some big things happened in the 2010s but nothing was as transformative as what we had in the past…
5. THE HONORABLE MENTIONS
There are a handful of events that were temporarily big but were hardly game-changers for the industry or company. For example, CM Punk’s 2011 pipe bomb promo kicked off the most exciting summer of WWE in a decade. It looked like the catalyst for a genuine shift in the company’s focus but the entrenched interests of sameness won out and it ended up being a blip in the decade that followed.
The same is true for the main-event rises of Kofi Kingston in 2019 and Daniel Bryan in 2013-2014. The former capped off a decade of being an “almost” to becoming a true top star…only to be squashed on free TV and shuffled away from the main event for good. Bryan had a much more sustained run at the top, albeit with a long stretch of forced retirement in the middle, but his being the spokesman for the company listening “to the people” hardly translated to anything in reality.
The Rock made his big comeback after years away, kicking off a three-year saga with John Cena from 2011-2013. It was a big deal but nothing really changed. HBK retired in 2010, but he’s back whenever the Saudi blood money is good so that’s a non-story. Sting and AJ Styles became the two biggest “never WWE” guys to finally be in WWE. The former lost his only two major matches, while the latter has had a great career. Neither moved mountains.
4. THE WWE NETWORK REPLACES PPV EVENTS
A genuine change to the company was the 2014 debut of the WWE Network. The idea of a Netflix-style streaming service devoted to pro wrestling wasn’t a completely crazy one, though the biggest source of skepticism was the idea that it, being a niche product, would struggle to maintain steady subscriber-numbers. To fight that, the company did what no one imagined and put every PPV on the service, including the big guns, WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, and Summer Slam. To top it off, the service would be $9.99. Considering how PPV prices had been hovering around $60 for years to that point, the move was a humongous gamble.
Six years later and it’s not clear whether or not the gamble paid off.
The initial worry ended up being well-founded. The limited-in-scope content has contributed to the Network struggling to retain subscribers. On the other hand, PPV sales were declining at staggering rates so something had to be done. The company now seems willing to listen to offers from ESPN+ to host PPV events, which—now that NXT is on USA—would all but kill any reason to subscribe. We’re still four years away from the WWEN being a decade old; if it reaches that milestone then we’ll have some clear idea as to its overall success. Until then, it at least can’t be denied what a huge change it brought to the company.
3. BROCK LESNAR
The only individual to earn his own place in the list, Brock Lesnar owned the 2010’s. He returned to the company in 2012, broke the Undertaker’s streak at WrestleMania two years later, squashed—literally squashed—John Cena at SummerSlam later that year, and has been an on-again, off-again part-time champion/force of nature ever since.
Lesnar’s run has been incredible, and as much as fans wring their hands whenever he holds the title (hostage), there’s no denying that the intended response is achieved: Whenever someone beats Brock Lesnar, it’s a big deal. We thought that the old days of a long-term champion, only competing in title matches on rare occasions, was over. Lesnar brought it back with a devilish twist and it’s paid off in a big way, completely reshaping in this past decade what it means to be a world champion.
2. NXT GOES FROM JOKE TO GRASSROOTS TO MAINSTREAM
Think back to the beginning of NXT. If you’re thinking of Adrian Neville vs Bo Dallas or Sami Zayn taking on Cesaro in a 2/3 falls match, you need to go back more. Before Big E Langston. Before Seth Rollins. Go back to the days when NXT was a gameshow, best-remembered for Michael Cole making fun of everyone trying to make it “in this business.”
Somehow, NXT went from the Miz talking trash to Daniel Bryan to the most beloved WWE property of the past twenty years. Credit Vince McMahon for taking his over-involved fingers off of it, handing it to Triple H to run it basically as an indie federation with WWE Production Values, and putting William Regal in as his right-hand man. Other names to credit in the yellow brand’s success are Dusty Rhodes, Mauro Ranallo, Cesaro, and—for better or worse—the Full Sail crowd.
With the rise of AEW, NXT shifted from being a “sub-brand” where talent moves in and out at a decent clip, to being a full-fledged “third brand” of the company, subject to the same “never-ending” formula of Raw and SmackDown. It’s too early to say whether or not Vince will ruin it, but let’s not worry about the future. The past is the focus here, and the past ten years is easily defined by the rise of NXT.
1. THE WOMEN’S REVOLUTION CHANGES THE MAIN-EVENT
In 2010, WrestleMania 26 featured a ten-diva tag match that lasted all of three minutes. A year later, a six-person mixed tag match took place that also ran a hair over three minutes. At Mania 28, a whopping six minutes were devoted to a Divas tag team match. No women competed at WrestleMania 29. A year later, fourteen divas were tossed out in an “invitational” match that immediately followed Undertaker’s streak ending. It went six minutes before a still-stunned and quiet crowd. The next year was the end of the era, as another tag match went six minutes.
By that point, the women of NXT had been tearing down the house, with the most recent NXT Takeover featuring the famed four-horsewomen (Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Bayley, and Becky Lynch) stealing the show in a twelve-minute semi-main-event. By the next Takeover, Sasha and Becky would have a fifteen classic on their own, followed by Bayley defeating Sasha for the title in Brooklyn on the eve of SummerSlam. NXT Women’s division was thoroughly embarrassing their main-roster rivals, in part because they had legit training, but also because they had storytellers and bookers willing to give them a chance. Finally, Vince called up three of the four horsewomen and gave them a showcase, a sixteen-minute match at WrestleMania 32. From then on, the women were basically given the opportunity to sink or swim the same as the guys.
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It took half the decade, but when it finally happened there was no bigger WWE story than the so-called women’s revolution. It created superstars like Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Bayley, and Asuka. It created a company face in Becky Lynch. It gave us an all-women WrestleMania main-event featuring the most famous female combat athlete in the world, Ronda Rousey.
Bigger than Brock Lesnar, bigger than Sting or the Rock, bigger than Pipe Bombs or Yes-movements, there was nothing bigger than the change from Divas matches being three-minute bathroom breaks to being marquee matches to buy your ticket for.
Who knows what the future holds but for now, that’s a quick look back at the decade that was.