WWE has had interesting year. With New Japan Pro Wrestling, Ring of Honor, Lucha Underground and Impact Wrestling all failing to build on a strong 2017, WWE has only grown in prominence in the last 12 months.
Despite WWE being unchallenged since the turn of the century, complacency hasn’t seeped in. The company has been constantly evolving. For instance, their turning a TV-PG show in the late ‘00s meant they avoided negative PR for the most part, while their keeping John Cena and Roman Reigns face despite fan pressure has helped them create two of the most consistent characters in the history of professional pro-wrestling.
However, some of their changes have actually hurt the product. Their choosing to have the WCW vs. WWE angle transform into the Vince McMahon vs. Stephanie McMahon and Shane McMahon story and their electing some questionable choices into the Hall of Fame come to mind.
While they haven’t made such huge bad decisions this year, they still made a few that hurt the product. The following article looks at 10 such changes that hurt the product in 2018. Additionally, we’ll also be looking at 10 changes that saved the product.
We do have a honourable mention: their making Nia Jax’s hurting Becky Lynch an angle has definitely riled up the internet wrestling fans, making them hate the former Raw Women’s Champion more and love The Man even more.
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20 Hurt The Product: Putting Universal Championship On Brock Lesnar Again
Brock Lesnar is one of the biggest stars of the 21st century. Putting the Universal Championship on him for a certain stretch felt logical as he is the company's biggest star (when he's around). Although it felt as though he had been holding on to it for far too long, everyone knew his reign won’t come to an end until he beat CM Punk’s 434-day WWE Championship reign. Putting the title on him again following Roman Reigns’s leave of absence, however, hardly made sense, especially since it would have done a world of good to Dean Ambrose, Elias, Drew McIntyre, Finn Balor, Seth Rollins or Braun Strowman.
19 Saved The Product: The Handling Of The WWE Championship
Jinder Mahal, indeed, is a hard-working individual. His title reign, however, felt lackluster. AJ Styles winning it on SmackDown go-home show ahead of last year’s Survivor Series finally seemed to unlock the potential of the title, as he went on to have great matches with Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe in 2018.
It also led to his dropping the title to Daniel Bryan, which is arguably the biggest SmackDown moment of 2018; it saw the beloved underdog Daniel Bryan, turn heel. Bryan has since proven to be an effective heel, and has a fresh character going into the new year.
18 Hurt The Product: Taking Away Asuka’s Momentum
Asuka had the mystique no female WWE wrestler has ever had. WWE earned the plaudits they received for letting her evolve into a well-defined character. They booked her superbly on NXT, where she went on a Goldberg-esque undefeated streak. It looked as though the main-roster decision makers were keeping up with her NXT booking when they booked her to win the Royal Rumble, but it all went crashing down after her WrestleMania loss to Charlotte Flair for the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
While The Queen gained legitimacy, Asuka saw hers dwindling down. She has now been reduced to tag-team wrestling, alongside Naomi, and Mixed Match Challenge comedy skits with The Miz.
17 Saved The Product: Letting Becky Lynch Become The Man
For a long time, Becky Lynch remained the overlooked member of The Four Horsewomen. While Sasha Banks, Bayley and Charlotte Flair have had 15 title reigns among them, she hadn’t had more than one reign until her winning the SmackDown Women’s Championship at Hell in a Cell after a barnburner match with The Queen. With that match emerged The Man, who’s gone on to become the most popular act in WWE today. As a tweener, she has the hardcore fans, who influence the common consensus, rooting for her, so allowing her to become The Man after a failed attempt at turning her heel proved to be best for business.
16 Hurt The Product: Braun Strowman Constantly Losing Title Matches
Braun Strowman’s feud in 2017 with Roman Reigns solidified him as a wrestler or, perhaps, a monster. In the last calendar year, however, WWE, made a mockery of his character. Their partnering him with Nicholas to win the Raw Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania no less has looked nothing in comparison with what they’ve done with him since.
Losing every title opportunity he’s received and often being dumb enough to be tricked by heels like Baron Corbin has made him look foolish. Despite Strowman having the look that management loves and being legitimately over with the crowd, the WWE has constantly squandered chances to make him a bigger star.
15 Saved The Product: Making Ronda Rousey A Central Figure
Not often do we see casual fans, hardcore fans and the company all get behind a wrestler. Ronda Rousey is a trendsetter in that regard. Despite being ridiculed toward the end of the her MMA career, she has become a figure of endearment among certain sets of fans because of her dedication and love for pro-wrestling. WWE has also booked her strongly all year. She hasn’t just elevated her status by joining WWE, for she has effectively boosted the popularity of everyone she’s worked with thus far, especially that of Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch.
14 Hurt The Product: Making Baron Corbin An Authority Figure
The big takeaway from a Baron Corbin performance can only be his moveset, which does include lots of pop-worthy moves. Promos, however, have never been his strength. For some reason, though, WWE has chosen to replace Kurt Angle, one of the best talkers of the Attitude Era, with him. While he hasn’t been horrible in his role as the Constable or General Manager of Raw, he has been far from exceptional. The former United States Champion probably makes an excellent bodyguard-like character for a heel authority figure, but he fails as the solitary authority figure of the WWE’s flagship show.
13 Saved The Product: Turning Dean Ambrose Heel
Dean Ambrose returned looking like Goldberg Lite upon his recent return from a lengthy injury layoff. Most wrestling fans wanted WWE to repackage him as a reward for the hard work he’d put in, and WWE duly delivered, turning him heel. His Tommaso Ciampa-esque turn that saw him decimate Seth Rollins on Roman Reigns’s emotional night had the hardcore fans excited for what laid ahead of him.
WWE has since transformed him into a weird germaphobe, but his recent incarnation is miles better than his last manifestation; a lanky Lunatic Fringe who pulls off annoyingly predictable rebound lariat every single match.
12 Hurt The Product: Weak Raw Tag Team Division
WWE’s drafting their three best main-roster tag teams, The Bar, The New Day and The Usos, to SmackDown has worked wonders for the blue brand. For Raw, however, the change has seen their tag-team division flounder big-time. Singles wrestlers Matt Hardy, Jason Jordan, Bray Wyatt, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose holding the Raw Tag Team Championship for long periods of time – not because of storyline reasons – is proof Raw writers are uninterested in investing in their original tag teams like The Revival. Their recent silly title change of Bobby Roode and Chad Gable getting a fluke title win only highlights the bizarre tag team booking on Monday nights.
11 Saved The Product: High-Quality Matches
WWE, unlike most indie promotions, hasn’t banked heavily on match quality as their focus has always primarily been on storytelling. However, there’s a small section of pro-wrestling fans who follow the art form mainly for the high-quality matches only few wrestlers are capable of creating. To cater to the vocal minority, WWE has significantly tweaked their production style in recent times, with more emphasis now given to workrate, high spots and comedy. Such fans now no longer need to scour the internet for NJPW-esque matches, as one gets to watch five-star matches at every NXT TakeOver and most main-roster PPVs.
10 Hurt The Product: Big Departures
Although the hardcore fans never bought into Roman Reigns following The Shield’s split, he did produce solid matches day in, day out, winning over the casual fan base. Their losing him to his leukemia battle prompted WWE to put the Universal Championship back on Brock Lesnar’s shoulders which, as discussed above, has only hurt the product.
Plus, their losing two former Cruiserweight Champions, Enzo Amore and Neville, in the same year meant the company had to produce new stars again. Big Cass, meanwhile, could've been a solid addition to the Baron Corbin’s heel stable. They didn’t get a chance to fully tap into the Woken Matt Hardy brilliance either.
9 Saved The Product: Launch Of NXT UK
The launch of NXT UK hasn’t bode well with a few British wrestling enthusiasts, who feel WWE are killing the British indie scene. While it’s true their prohibiting certain wrestlers from performing for other promotions hurts the indie scene, it does wonders for WWE. Signing all the big indie names means WWE now has a monopoly in not just the United States but also the United Kingdom, a burgeoning market. Also, WWE can now promote the NXT UK wrestlers to NXT or even the main roster if they deem them good enough. WWE have hit the jackpot with NXT UK.
8 Hurt The Product: Raw Sweeping Survivor Series
Although Survivor Series five-on-five matches don't spark as much excitement as the Royal Rumble match, fans do enjoy witnessing wrestlers setting aside their differences to fight for their brand. Most fans find heels and faces teaming up to fight a common enemy intriguing. It hasn’t evolved into one of the Big Four PPVs without a reason. This year, however, WWE botched the show big-time. Most of the matches had hardly any build-up, but what hurt the product most was Raw claiming a clean sweep. It essentially buried SmackDown and its talents. Moreover, they did the PPV dirty the following Monday and Tuesday nights by choosing to act like it never happened.
7 Saved The Product: Solid Undercard Storylines
WWE received a lot of flak in 2018 for poor storylines like Bobby Roode and Chad Gable vs. AoP. However, they did manage to write some solid undercard storylines throughout the year. For instance, the R-Truth and Carmella’s dance break segments proved to be a success among fans, as did the friction between Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose.
More recently, their making Heath Slater put on the referee’s attire and acting as Baron Corbin's stooge made him more relevant than he’s been in a while. Sometimes, they even manage to intertwine the undercard storylines with the main-event storylines, striking gold in the process.
6 Hurt The Product: Many Big Names Sidelined
2018 really was a year of injuries. Sami Zayn has been on the shelf for what feels like an eternity, while his best friend Kevin Owens and Jason Jordan have also not been seen in ages. Plus, Dean Ambrose was unavailable for many months. Finn Balor and Braun Strowman became the newest casualties in the final weeks of the year. Bray Wyatt also found his momentum taking a hit again thanks to undisclosed injuries. Most importantly, Becky Lynch sustaining a concussion and facial fractures meant the biggest match of Survivor Series didn’t take place in the end. Alexa Bliss, Fandango, Rowan, Big Show and Goldust are also currently nursing injuries.
5 Saved The Product: Creating New Stars
Wrestling fans have been calling every week’s Raw 'the worst ever' for many years now. In reality, however, Raw in 2018 actually helped the company produce new stars who could go on to become Universal Champions one day. Elias, Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre and Jason Jordan all saw their stocks rise in the last 12 months.
SmackDown, meanwhile, despite putting the limelight mainly on Randy Orton, Jeff Hardy, AJ Styles, Rey Mysterio and Daniel Bryan, all seasoned veterans, did legitimize Samoa Joe, Becky Lynch, Sonya Deville and Carmella. WWE’s booking in 2018 wasn’t all bad, when all things considered.
4 Hurt The Product: Failing To Push Fan Favorites
Pushing the fan-favorites is what will keep the fans coming back. While WWE did a good job transforming Becky Lynch into the man and turning Daniel Bryan and Dean Ambrose heel, they did numerous other names dirty. Finn Balor, for instance, found himself lost in all the Raw madness for long periods of time. The Club, Luke Harper, Shelton Benjamin, The Revival, Ruby Riott, Sasha Banks and Bayley all found themselves on the periphery.
Indeed, you can't always please everybody, but it seems WWE isn't paying attention to the desires of their more hardcore fans, who play a huge role in shaping the opinions of the masses.
3 Saved The Product: Signing Top Indie Names
WWE is often censured for hoarding wrestling talents, but it means the fans need to subscribe to WWE Network to watch their favourite wrestlers perform. Plus, it also helps the company boost its status among the internet fans. For instance, the fans love seeing wrestlers turn down WWE contracts, so when Keith Lee, Walter, Matt Riddle and Ricochet, wrestlers wrestling fans consider cool and talented, sign on the WWE’s dotted lines, the company automatically becomes much more legitimate. Signing top-class indie names also means there’s little complacency in the locker room and ideas are fresh. As long as WWE has the resources to sign top indie names, they’ll remain unrivalled.
2 Hurt The Product: Crown Jewel
Crown Jewel was a PR nightmare, especially considering the timing of the show. WWE faced backlash for not cancelling the show, with some fans even claiming they would boycott the show. Nobody seems bothered about Crown Jewel now, but it did affect the company’s repute and their Survivor Series preparation. Not to mention, top names like Daniel Bryan and John Cena chose not to go.
Since Crown Jewel, though, there's been no mention of WWE reconsidering for future events there. Not to mention, the show itself was bad, with the illogical outcomes of Brock Lesnar winning back the Universal Championship and Shane McMahon swooping in to win the World Cup.
1 Saved The Product: Everything About Seth Rollins
Every wrestler had their lull in 2018. Even AJ Styles went through a creative lull because of some lazy booking. Seth Rollins, on the other hand, had an amazing year despite not winning the Universal Championship. Starting the year as the Raw Tag Team Champion, along with Jason Jordan and ending it with the prestigious Intercontinental Championship in itself was a great achievement, but The Architect did so much in between that solidified his status as the face of the company in 2018: the 65-minute gauntlet match appearance on Raw, amazing promos and matches, becoming a Grand Slam Champion, joining hands with Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns and an engaging rivalry with the former. Monday Night Rollins, indeed!