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Top 5: 2018 Wrestling Moments

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While we get to the end of 2018, it’s time to reflect and see what happened. Steve Cook let’s us know the Top 5 moments of the year!

As we approach the end of 2018, it’s time to take a look back at the year that was. 2018 was certainly an up & down year for the pro wrestling business. Much like the stock market, wrestling saw some tremendous highs & some colossal lows.

Here are the Top 5 2018 Wrestling Moments.

 

5. Daniel Bryan kicks AJ Styles in the groin & wins the WWE Championship

2018 featured a lot more of Daniel Bryan than we were originally expecting. He made his in-ring return at WrestleMania, teaming with Shane McMahon to defeat Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn. From that point on, Bryan was a singles babyface on SmackDown Live, feuding with the likes of Big Cass & The Miz while coming close to the WWE Championship but not quite making it.

He finally overcame AJ Styles to regain the WWE Championship on November 13, and he did it in a fashion that nobody was expecting.

Aside from acting like a bit of a dick towards Styles earlier in the evening, there was no indicaton that Bryan would be showcasing a new side of his personality. A New Daniel Bryan emerged once he kicked one man in the groin, and it reminded us of why we considered Bryan the best in the world for so many years. Styles’ 371-day reign as WWE Champion came to an end and SmackDown’s house had a new landlord. One that will be making sure those electric & gas bills stay down.

4. Ronda Rousey debuts at WrestleMania

The most compelling match heading into WrestleMania from where I sat featured Ronda Rousey teaming with Kurt Angle against Stephanie McMahon & Triple H. I wasn’t sure what the quality of the match would be, but it was going to be interesting to see how Rousey looked in the ring. Her first match on the WrestleMania stage could have gone really badly, especially with three people in the ring with her that had some ring rust on them.

As it turned out, it was one heck of a show.

Rousey’s performance at WrestleMania immediately established her as a big deal going forward in WWE, and she became one of the company’s biggest stars of 2018.

3. Cody Rhodes goes All In & wins the NWA Championship in front of over 10,000 people

The biggest non-WWE promoted wrestling event in the United States since the closing of WCW took place on September 1 in the suburbs of Chicago. Cody, along with Nick & Matt Jackson, took the challenge to promote a show that could draw more than 10,000 people. They sold the Sears Centre Arena out in less than thirty minutes. The night itself was a moment for the members of The Elite & independent wrestling in general, but I’d say the peak was when Cody won the NWA Championship by defeating Nick Aldis.

This night proved that on at least one night, Cody & the Bucks could promote a show that could compete with anybody. We might look back on it as the night that laid the seeds of WWE’s next competitor, depending on what certain people end up doing in 2019.

2. Becky Lynch leads the SmackDown Women’s Divison in a Raw invasion

Most of these Raw vs. SmackDown #UnderSiege events that take place around the Survivor Series are kinda fun, but don’t really stand out. We’ve seen so many invasions at this point, and the most famous one was an epic fail that broke one of my podcast partners when they tried to watch it. Hi Jeremy Lambert, how ya doin?

There was something different in the air on the November 12 edition of Raw. Becky Lynch led SmackDown’s women’s division in an ass-whipping on Ronda Rousey & some of her Raw cohorts. Becky came off like the next big thing here.

The blood obtained from a wayward Nia Jax punch added to the moment, though that would prove problematic later on. Becky had to miss Survivor Series due to a concussion, and one wonders if she’d be doing even better now if not for the injury. It’s also probably going to lead to a Becky vs. Nia match, which I have no interest in seeing.

On that night, however, the Man was in full control.

Honorable Mention: Various firsts for WWE’s women

We could do an entire column on the events WWE women took part in for the first time in 2018. Heck, maybe we will at some point. 2018 saw the first Women’s Royal Rumble Match, Elimination Chamber, Last Woman Standing & TLC Match, the last of which was the first women’s main event of a dual-branded PPV. Renee Young became the first woman to serve as a regular commentator on Monday Night Raw.

Oh, and we also had the first all-women’s WWE PPV event. I think the fact that two moments made this list and weren’t the first *fill in the stipulation* match also says a lot about the placement of women in today’s pro wrestling universe as a whole.

1. Roman Reigns announces he has leukemia & vacates the Universal Championship

Some moments are bigger than pro wrestling. Unfortunately, they’re usually sad ones, as was the case on the October 22 edition of Raw. Roman Reigns came out to start the show as per usual, and the WWE Universe was in the typical mood up until he announced that his real name was Joe, and his leukemia, which had been in remission, was back. Reigns promised we would see him again, and if I was a betting man I’d wager that we haven’t seen the last of him as an active competitor.

This would be the last time we saw Roman Reigns on WWE television in 2018. Few people would doubt there’s a connection between Roman’s absence and the decline in WWE’s ratings & other metrics towards the end of 2018. Yes, interest & viewership always declines during football season, but not to the degree that it did this year. Reigns’ departure from the Raw roster left a void that nobody’s been able to fill as of yet.

One of two things needs to happen for WWE in 2019: Either somebody needs to step up and become the ratings/hits/attendance draw that Roman Reigns was, or the Big Dog needs to come back & reclaim his yard. Ideally, both things happen.


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News From Cook’s Corner 9.20.21: The Column From Hell

Plane rides aren’t the only thing on the docket! Cook’s News corner is definitely unique this week!

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Hi, hello & welcome to News From Cook’s Corner! I’m Steve Cook, and it’s been a rather eventful week in the world of wrestling. Big E became WWE Champion on Monday night. The new NXT debuted Tuesday night & had a pretty eventful outing that got their best rating in quite some time. About 85 million things happened on Dynamite, as is typically the case. There are no shortage of current wrestling events to talk about here.

So of course we’re talking about the Plane Ride From Hell instead of all that stuff.

This might be a first. I don’t think previous Dark Side of the Ring episodes led to people getting punished at their workplace. We’ve had some people come off poorly on that show, but nothing led to anybody getting any sort of punishment other than being yelled at on the Internet. Which, as somebody that’s been yelled at on the Internet pretty often, I can say isn’t the biggest deal. Annoying, sure, but you move on.

One had a feeling that a re-visit of the Plane Ride From Hell could lead to issues for some people. You know how it is…we tend to forget things. Those of us around back then heard most of the steamy details. Since it was the early to mid-2000s, most of us didn’t think too much about it. We laughed at Michael Hayes getting his ponytail cut off. Curt Hennig & Brock Lesnar getting into a fight seemed amusing. Nobody was surprised to read about Scott Hall falling off the wagon. We laughed at Dustin Rhodes singing to his ex-wife…and yep, we laughed at Ric Flair doing his signature robe spot. As detailed in the documentary, Ric had done the “naked under the robe” thing on numerous occasions. It was part of what made Ric Flair Ric Flair. Wrestlers & wrestling writers told us this, so we believed them.

Now, this is the part where I have to plead ignorance, which annoys those wishing to excuse Ric’s behavior by telling us that everybody already knew this stuff, and we’re just getting hot & bothered now because it’s 2021. I didn’t really follow up on the story when the lawsuit went down, didn’t look at the legal documents or anything like that. I was just a 411 wrestling writer with a weekly “news report” where I took the piss out of everything. So, I had no idea that Ric Flair did anything on that flight other than the robe stuff, which is pretty gross in its own right because who needs to see that?

As for the the point that peoples’ reactions to this type of stuff have changed in the nearly two decades since this all happened…well, duh? Some people do evolve. When the Plane Ride From Hell happened on May 5, 2002, I was a senior in high school. I was no different from most high school boys, a sex-crazed idiot that didn’t know anything about anything when it came to sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. As most of my 411 columns from the 2000s will show, that phase lasted awhile. As I got older & learned things I should have learned a long time ago but didn’t for a myriad of reasons, my viewpoints have changed. Some people don’t understand how it’s possible to change your mind on something over the course of twenty years, as we see in politics. They keep their head in the sand & believe the same things they believed before they had any type of life experience, which must be nice.

Just because I say Ric Flair is the greatest wrestler of all time doesn’t mean he was the greatest person to ever lace the boots. Two different things.

For those of you that didn’t see the broadcast, I recommend you do so since I won’t be able to paint the full picture here. We’ll run down some of the major points here.

-Tommy Dreamer has been suspended from his position with Impact Wrestling, where he serves on the creative team & wrestles fairly often on television. Dude got a title match on his 50th birthday not that long ago, which was made a big deal of because everybody in the business loves Tommy Dreamer. At least they did until he went on this program and made an ass of himself. Dreamer somehow managed to make himself come off worse than the actual subjects of the show, which is fairly impressive.

I’ve seen some people upset over Dreamer being punished because it’s not like he was one of the people forcing themselves on the flight attendants or anything like that. Thing is, when you’re in a position of authority, as Dreamer is with his role on creative and as a veteran leader of the locker room wherever he goes, people have higher expectations for you. When you go on national television blaming sexual assault victims for what happened & bemoan the fact your ugly hairstyle probably offends people since everybody gets offended these days, your reputation is going to take a hit. Some people in Tommy Dreamer’s locker rooms aren’t going to look at him the same way now. That lessens his value as a “locker room leader” greatly.

Dreamer did the social media apology thing that everybody does now. I figure he’ll be back in Impact eventually & will say the right things to rehab his image with most of his wrestling peers. It’ll take some time though. It’s interesting that Dreamer will probably get the biggest punishment out of anybody involved here…but at the same time, at least the people that actually did the acts can claim that they’re different people now. Scott Hall & Dustin Runnels have talked openly about their past and the fact they’ve changed for the better without substances controlling them. As far as we know, they have. They also got punished at the time, Hall being fired & Runnels getting fined.

Dreamer doesn’t have that as an excuse. He’s just an idiot who wishes he could go back to the ECW Holiday Inn.

-Ric Flair’s future could be a little murky. CarShield has “paused” their national commercials featuring him for the time being. More importantly, one has to wonder how this affects his future plans within pro wrestling. Everybody figured he would end up in AEW pretty soon, as he’s friends with Tony Khan, his son in law needs a manager, and a good percentage of his old friends already work there.

The question will be if Tony thinks it’s worth the potential backlash that could happen if Flair makes an appearance. It was already kind of debatable if a Ric Flair in his early 70s would add a ton to AEW’s presentation. Add in the current heat on his name, and AEW’s probably best served to wait until this thing dies down. One has to think that WWE isn’t too sad to have Ric off the payroll at the moment.

Also of note: Flair recently said on Renee Paquette’s podcast that if this program tries to paint him in a bad light, he’s going to take everybody down with him. So be on the lookout for that. Could be an interesting week.

-Brock Lesnar showed Terri Runnels his penis. Jim Ross apparently heard of multiple incidents involving Brock Lesnar’s penis appearing at inappropriate times. This one’s flying under the radar mostly because…well, do you want to get Brock mad at you? I wouldn’t mention it myself if I had a larger audience.

-Scott Hall has no recollection of any of this. Not surprising.

-One possible issue for Dark Side: Was Vince McMahon on this flight? Multiple people on the show say he was, but reporting from the time period suggests that Vince did not make the Europe trip. Vince not being there would explain why certain members of the talent roster felt more emboldened to do dumb things. Or at least dumber than usual, since Vince was on a number of other flights where things got hairy. One untruth on a documentary is enough for many to cast aspersions on everything else on the program. The producer stated on Jim Cornette’s podcast that everybody they talked to said Vince was on the plane.

-Another possible issue for Dark Side: Getting people to go on their show in the future! Jeez, if I was a wrestler and saw how poorly most of these people on this show came off, the last thing I’d want to do is go on it myself.

Definitely one of the most interesting Dark Sides yet, with the most fallout from a given episode. Next week’s will feature the story of Chris Kanyon, and there’s a good chance that some people will look bad there too. I think most of them are retired, but there may be somebody I’m forgetting!

NXT Contract Update

Contract updates have become a weekly feature of Internet reporting, as it seems like our favorite Internet reporters have a better idea of when these things come up than WWE does. Wild, isn’t it? All I can say about it is that Fightful must have quite the mole in that front office.

Pete Dunne re-signed with WWE for three years. It’s fair to wonder what Dunne’s ceiling is in WWE. He’s a talented wrestler, but is much smaller than the athletes WWE tends to feature, and doesn’t seem to have the charisma to make up for it. It’s still the right move for Dunne, as when you’re a foreign talent wrestling in America, it makes sense to stick with your current company as long as possible. Otherwise, you’ll get sent home. If Dunne wants to stay in America, staying with WWE is the easiest way to do that.

Johnny Gargano’s contract is set to expire in early December. I could see keeping him around as a veteran to work with the young guys that WWE sees potential in, but don’t be surprised if Dexter Lumis carrying an axe around with him leads to something. Not that WWE does murder.

Yang Time?

Remember Andrew Yang? Yeah, the guy that ran for President in 2020, then later promised to go after WWE for their third party policy that kept their “independent contractors” from using certain sites for profit. He went off to do other things for a minute, including a run for Mayor of New York City that went nowhere. Now he’s talking about wrestling again, which is good because there were a ton of people that got fired during this pandemic that might have used some help. Fortunately, Andrew Yang is with us now!

Yang says that early returns are positive. He also used the phrase “bolieve”, so we can only hope that Bo Dallas becomes the star witness in whatever happens here. I don’t think we’ll get much, especially since it involves a politician.

Welp, that’s all we have time for tonight. We’ve got a big week coming up though, with the Week 3 NFL Picks (actually done on time this week!) and some Extreme Rules Gambling Picks! Yep, that show’s next Sunday! Thanks for reading, and until next time, keep your stick on the ice.


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Rob: End the Brand Split?

Rob was inspired by some of the current IWC clamoring for an end to the brand split. How does he feel about that rhetoric?

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Some weird stuff happened on Twitter after SmackDown went off the air this past Friday.  A match was announced for Monday Night RAW this week featuring the Bloodline vs The New Day, and with it came two bizarre groups of tweets.  One was accusing WWE of hotshotting a pay per view worthy match out ratings fears (which is so dumb that I’m not going to even bother discussing it) and the other was a bunch of calls to end the brand split, which I find to be equally dumb but more of a worthy discussion topic.

Now before I go any further let me just say this:  the brand split is not ending.

As long as WWE is getting a billion dollars from both Fox and NBC they are going to book two shows with two separate rosters.  The only way the brand split ends is if one of the two shows gets cancelled and can’t find a new home.  But as long as they are getting paid big money for each show then there are going to be two shows.  And those shows are going to have separate rosters, separate creative, etc.  But just for the sake of playing along, what exactly would it look like if they ended the brand split?  Here are some possibilities:

Double Duty

I looked at four weeks of Raw and SmackDown from  January of 2016, before the brand split happened, and what I found was that on average nine people would work both shows in one week.  But in addition to that, on average two people worked four shows over a two week period, eight would work three out of four shows over two weeks, and twelve would work two shows over a two week period. And finally one person worked seven out eight possible shows over the four weeks while four more did six out of seven over that time.  And that’s not counting people who were at ringside for a tag team partner or stablemate.  There’s no reason to think that would be different this time around which means that your top men and women would be working two shows lots of weeks while the rest of the roster filled in the gaps.  And since the roster usage would revert to how it was that would mean………

More releases

Please understand that were the brand split to end there would be no need for the roster to remain at it’s current size.  The usage rate of talent that existed before just does not require as many people to make it work.  And remember a no brand split world is one where they are getting less TV money, which means less to pay people, which means some people will have to go.  And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the only people who will get released are the ones you think aren’t good enough to keep.  There will be another Braun Strowman or Aleister Black in that group.  And unlike today’s landscape there will likely be fewer places for them to work because a world in which the WWE has to downsize for financial reasons is one where some of the existing companies have already gone under or have already downsized.

More wear and tear

Going back to my first point; a no brand split world is one where people are working more dates.  The top third of the roster would be working anywhere from four to seven times a month on TV; by contrast this year only Matt Riddle is working at that kind of pace.  A full brand split schedule is around 150 to 160 matches a years counting TV, pay per views and house shows.  By contrast pre-brand split Roman Reigns had 204 matches in 2013 and 213 matches in 2015.  Those 50 extra matches along with the travel that accompanies them make for a shorter career for everyone who has to do them.  They also lead to more injuries – remember WrestleMania 32 where John Cena, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, and Cesaro were all out with injuries and the entire main event angle had to be rebooked?  Anybody want a redo of that?  I didn’t think so.

A harder glass ceiling

If you think it’s hard to move up now, then a no brand split world would be worse.  The last full year with no brand split, 2015, saw the pay per view main event slots split among nine people and the World title matches split among ten people.  By contrast in 2021 to date the main events have been split between 13 men and the World/Universal Title matches have been split between 16 men, with a 17th on the way in Finn Balor. In the post unification, pre brand split world 13 guys by my count were in World title matches across just over two years.

And then there’s the women’s side.  In 2015 the Diva’s title matches were split between four women.  In 2021 the Raw and SmackDown’s women’s title matches were split amongst nine soon to be ten with Alexa Bliss challenging at Extreme Rules.  Ending the brand split likely would mean unifying the top men’s and women’s singles titles, which would in turn would mean less room in the title picture afterwards and ultimately fewer roster spots.  Why?  Because you wouldn’t need as many.  Look at the current match distribution across Raw and SmackDown; that’s not likely to change with no brand split so that begs the question of whether you need 10 plus women for each show (short answer: you don’t).  Which means more releases, and again you can’t assume that it will just be people you’re not interested in seeing.

The same logic goes for tag teams, by the way.  One title means fewer title matches which means fewer teams needed which means more releases.

What’s it all mean?

To be honest when I hear ‘End the Brand Split’, I can’t think of anything that would solve.  Do you want bigger matchups more often?  A look back at the past would shoot that down real fast.  You would still get the same kind of stalling moves in the booking so as not to burn big matches out too fast.  Fewer rematches?  Not going to happen with the smaller roster that would result.  More opportunities?  Again, with a smaller roster how exactly would that happen?  A smaller roster is more likely to mean a double down on the people in the top tier not a more open door to reach it.  If the problem you have is that you only want to watch the bigger guns go at it and not be bothered with what you consider to be filler matches then I suggest you watch Main Event to get a quick recap or watch the Hulu versions of the shows on fast forward or just watch the pay per views.  But wishing to end the brand split is some short sighted thinking because for all intents and purposes you’re asking for some bad times to come through to necessitate it.  There is no scenario in which business is going well AND they end brand split just because.  So think about what you really want and then try to adjust your viewing habits accordingly.

I’ll end with this.  The brand split exists because the WWE is being paid to provide enough live TV content to warrant it.  Until that is no longer the case then it’s going to stay, and a world where that’s no longer case is one that is not as good for anyone actually working there.  So be careful what you wish for.  And that’s all I got on that.  Until next time….


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