A year can be defined as 365 and a quarter days or one full rotation of the Earth around the sun. That’s roughly 52 episodes of Monday Night Raw, about 12 WWE Pay-Per-Views and approximately 15 Big Show heel and face turns. A lot can happen in a year, especially in the non-stop world of the WWE. With SummerSlam 2016 just around the corner, it’s time to look back and reflect on the things have changed since the last event. A year ago, Brock Lesnar faced off against The Undertaker, The New Day won the tag team titles for the second time and Seth Rollins became the first man to hold both the WWE and United States Championship at the same time after some help from Jon Stewart (maybe I should have left that one out). Since that day we’ve had debuts, retirements, championships change hands, championships retired, championships reinstated, a Royal Rumble that broke the records and that Brand Split thingy, too.
A lot has changed, but has all of it been good? Of course not, otherwise we’d have no list, idiot! In the past 12 months, so much has happened in the WWE, and here are some of the best and worst of those changes. Some changes, like Seth Rollins getting injured, might have badly affected the WWE at the time, but since then Rollins has returned as a top level star, so the change hasn’t affected the current WWE product that badly. Any changes like that will not feature on this list, but changes that are still affecting WWE in the build up to SummerSlam are fair game. So, set your GPSs for Memory Lane and put on your nostalgia caps, people, because it’s time to review the 7 worst and 8 best changes in WWE since last year’s SummerSlam.
29 BEST: New Day Rocks
We begin with, undoubtedly, one of the most popular tag team in recent years, but, until not that long ago, this was not the case. Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods entered SummerSlam 2015 as annoying, ultra-positive heels, chasing a second WWE Tag Team Championship win in a Fatal Four Way match also featuring The Prime Time Players, Los Matadores and The Lucha Dragons. Following their victory in the match, the fans were less than happy; at this point, New Day’s Power of Positivity shtick was annoying and fans genuinely hated the trio, especially when they were champions.
What followed over the next year was a crazy transformation. After a series of defences against The Dudley Boyz, The New Day started to win over some of the audience with their heelish antics, ridiculous segments and team chemistry. After a stellar triple threat match against The Usos and The Lucha Dragons at TLC, fans really started to warm to the unicorn horn-wearing, trombone-playing, hip-gyrating team, especially after they defeated The Usos at the Royal Rumble, after which signs of a face turn started to show. After a confrontation with The League of Nations at Fastlane, The New Day entered a rivalry with the international J.O.B squad, during which the trigger was finally pulled on the turn and, by the time WrestleMania rolled around, New Day fully embraced the fans who had been cheering for them for months. A few more title defences and breaking the record for longest WWE Tag Team Championship reign of all time (previously held by Paul London and Brian Kendrick), The New Day are more popular than ever before and head into this year’s SummerSlam with all the momentum in the world.
Kofi, Big E and Xavier overcame what should have been a fatal gimmick to become of the greatest teams of this generation and in such a short space of time as well. Who knows where The New Day will be in another year’s time, but I can tell you for sure, it’s going to be epic. Why can I tell you that? BECAAAAAAAAUUSE.... nah, I’m not doing it.
27 WORST: Down And Out In Dudleyville
As the old saying goes – out with the old and in with the new. And nobody knows this more than Bubba Ray and D-Von. After ten years away from the company, The Dudley Boyz made their grand return to WWE the night after SummerSlam 2015, interrupting The New Day in dramatic fashion, putting Xavier Woods through a table with their patented finisher, the 3D. The Dudleys’ return was met with huge support from the fans; the two were bona fide legends and had been responsible for some of WWE’s greatest moments in their battles with Edge and Christian and The Hardy Boys in the early 2000s. The Dudleys had a clear motive for going after the tag team titles; not only were they massive faces against The New Day’s heels, but also they were chasing a tenth tag team championship win in WWE, which is a nice round number to focus a story on.
However, despite a few matches for the tag titles on Pay-Per-Views and Network Specials, the Dudley Boyz fell down the card dramatically, being demoted to the pre-show on most Pay-Per-Views and jobbing out to The Usos of all people at WrestleMania 32, again, on the pre-show. Whilst I’m not saying that the aging Dudleys should be top of the tag division, the way WWE have treated these legends has been a little disheartening, especially considering how excited people were to see them the night after SummerSlam. Whether D-Von and Bubba Ray’s careers do pick up in the future remains to be seen, but at least they’ll always have TNA to fall back on. Actually, best not bank on that.
25 BEST: Rusev Crushes His Past
Rusev had the world at his feet in 2015 – United States Champion, unpinned or submitted and he had Lana, which is makes all his other accomplishments meaningless in comparison. But then things went downhill pretty quickly for the Bulgarian Brute, all thanks to one of the greatest forces of destruction known to mankind – John Cena. After losing to Cena numerous times, Rusev was in dire straits heading into SummerSlam. He was knee-deep in a cesspool of a storyline with Lana, Dolph Ziggler and Summer Rae and fought the show-off to a double count-out at the Biggest Party of the Summer. He then lost to Ziggler at Night of Champions, lost again in a six-man tag match at Hell In A Cell and then got injured, shelving him for a month.
After returning as a part of the League of Nations alongside Sheamus, Wade Barrett and Alberto Del Rio, Rusev continued to flounder in the boring group before it split up in April 2016. Then, just when things looked bleak for Alexander (remember when he was called Alexander? That was fun), at Extreme Rules 2016, Rusev destroyed Kalisto in a United States championship match, winning the title for the second time in convincing fashion. Rusev has remained dominant ever since, crushing Titus O’Neil and Zack Ryder and heading into SummerSlam with a full head of steam. Whilst the Bulgarian has yet to have a credible opponent as US, you can bet the WWE have something big planned for him in the future and it could all start at SummerSlam.
When you think of how far Rusev has come in a year, you have to applaud the Super Athlete; his talent, athleticism and dedication have proven to the WWE that he deserved much better than the damn Love Quadrangle. However, whilst Rusev has risen up WWE’s standings since last year, it’s a shame the same can’t be said for his other half...
23 WORST: Lana’s Career Gets Ravished
Oh, Lana, what did you do? Did you eat Triple H’s sandwiches by accident? Did you forget Steph McMahon’s birthday? Whatever you did, it must have been pretty damn bad, because you got well and truly screwed over. Lana made her name in WWE as the manager of Rusev, impressing fans and management alike with her skills on the mic, commitment to kayfabe and, of course, her enormous... charisma. What did you think I meant? You’re disgusting.
Anyway, what began as a managerial career looked like it was becoming a promising wrestling career when it was announced that Lana was undertaking training to become a wrestler. Over with the fans as manager and, later, rival to Rusev, Lana as a wrestler looked like sure fire money and it’s highly possible that the entire Love Quadrangle was set up to introduce Lana to wrestling gently. Then it all fell apart. And bad.
On October 11th 2015, American media vultures, whoops, I mean “journalists”, TMZ, reported that Lana and Rusev were engaged after Lana posted a picture of the wedding ring online. Now, as all us sensible people know, wrestling ain’t real. However, if your name is Vince McMahon, sometimes you have trouble remembering that concept and this was one of those times. Lana and Rusev being engaged completely ruined the current storyline WWE had for the two and so it was scrapped. As punishment it would seem, Lana’s push was cancelled and she was demoted back to Rusev’s manager and love interest, only with not nearly as much mic time and character development. Even whilst managing the champion, Lana only gets a few lines on the mic each week, taunting the crowd about how Rusev is “the only man who can have her”, which is a massive waste of Lana’s potential and is pretty insulting to C.J. Perry, the performer who worked so hard to create the Lana character fans know and love today.
Lana and her husband have completely reversed fortunes since last SummerSlam and it’s a real shame that something as silly as a TMZ article could be to blame for such a promising talent suffering so badly. Let’s just hope Lana gets back on track soon, because not only is she incredibly talented, but also, as she’s stated in the past, quite friendly with Vladimir Putin. And we all know what he’s capable of.
21 BEST: NXT Is The Place To Be
NXT is the one of the greatest wrestling brands in the world and, without a doubt, is the best one without the letter “W” in it. Last year, NXT was a pretty incredible place, but it was really around SummerSlam weekend in 2015 where the show as we know it today started to take shape. At NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, the day before SummerSlam 2015, Finn Balor defended the NXT Championship for the first time against Kevin Owens in a ladder match, Apollo Crews debuted and a little known female performer won the Women’s Championship, Bayley, I think her name was...
At Takeover: Brooklyn, NXT as the world leader we know it today started to take shape and from there things could only get better. So many high points have come from the past year; Finn Balor’s incredible title run, the Iron Woman match between Bayley and Sasha Banks at Takeover: Respect and the amazing show that was Takeover; Dallas, NXT’s version of WrestleMania. However, perhaps the greatest thing to happen to NXT since SummerSlam last year is the massive influx of outside talent that has flooded NXT from around the world. International stars such as Andrade “Cien” Almas, Asuka and (of course) Shinsuke Nakamura have all made their way to NXT, joining incredible American talent such as Austin Aries and, more recently, Bobby Roode (whilst we’re on the subject of Roode, if you haven’t heard his new entrance theme, check it out, it’s so good).
For years, WWE has struggled to get some of the biggest talent from other promotions through their doors, but, thanks to NXT and its incredible success, it seems like WWE has the perfect bait to lure in some of the world’s greatest competitors. Hopefully NXT’s rich array of talent will go on to make some incredible memories when they ascend to the main roster. Whenever that happens. I mean, it’s not like there’s just been a draft or anything...
19 WORST: Breeze Gets Blown Away
Stars down on NXT often make a big splash when they finally debut on the main roster. Kevin Owens beat John Cena is his first match, The Shield cost Ryback the WWE Championship and Finn Balor beat Roman Reigns, which was a great way of getting him over. However, being a big name on the yellow show doesn’t necessarily translate to main roster success. Exhibit A – Tyler Breeze.
Breeze was a huge name down on NXT; challenging for the NXT title numerous times, main eventing a Takeover show and even fighting Japanese legends, Jushin Thunder Liger, in his only WWE appearance to date. When Tyler made his main roster debut in September 2015, fans of the Sultan of Selfies were ecstatic to see such a talented performer finally ascend to the big stage. Then they realised it was happening on Smackdown. And it was going to be as a follow on to the Dolph Ziggler-Rusev feud. And it was happening on Smackdown!! R.I.P Tyler’s career. Despite an initial push, including a win over Dolph Ziggler on his first Pay-Per-View appearance, Breeze found himself a certified jobber within weeks of the Ziggler feud, losing over 20 matches on TV in early 2016, all traces of his stellar NXT run completely eradicated.
Breeze is getting a little bit more attention now that he’s in a team with Fandango, but his stock has been so badly damaged by awful booking that it’s hard to see Prince Pretty regaining anywhere near the amount of momentum he had in NXT, which is a real shame as he is an amazing talent. Breeze’s fall from grace has been a struggle to watch for fans of the Superkicking Supermodel. Let’s just hope Breezango actually comes to something. We’re gonna need a lot of hope.
17 BEST: Kevin And Sami – Fight Forever
WWE’s history is littered with best friends behind the scenes who put on amazing rivalries in the ring. Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, Triple H and Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, some of WWE’s greatest enemies have really been the best of pals in real life and the latest in this long line of warring friends is “The Underdog from the Underground”, Sami Zayn, and “The Prizefighter”, Kevin Owens. Zayn and Owens made a big splash in NXT with their incredible feud, beginning when Owens attacked Sami straight after he won the NXT Championship at Takeover: R Evolution. Owens would defeat Zayn for the belt at Takeover: Rival and would kayfabe injure Zayn (in real life Zayn had a legitimate shoulder injury), putting him on the shelf for months.
Owens ascended to the main roster a few months before SummerSlam, engaging in a great feud with John Cena and defeating Cesaro at the event itself. Owens would go from strength to strength, winning the Intercontinental title twice and having a great feud with Dean Ambrose. However, it would be at the Royal Rumble at which his old rivalry would reignite. Sami Zayn was a surprise entrant in the Rumble and eliminated Owens from the match. He then cost Owens the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania and the two have had two amazing singles matches at Payback and Battleground, as well as featuring in a number of other fantastic matches with one another.
Having Zayn and Owens on the main roster has been a real treat for WWE fans; the two can put on an amazing match every single time they step into the ring and old and new fans alike have warmed to both men, which looks very promising indeed for their long term careers. Whilst it looks like this feud might be on a break for now, you can be sure that it is far from over. Just, please, no more Michinoku Drivers onto ladder please, lads? It looked great and all, but I’d rather you both had working spines. Sorry to be a killjoy.
15 WORST: Farewell Sting And Daniel
All good things must come to an end. Original ECW, The Attitude Era, Triple H’s long hair; all classic wrestling establishments that disappeared and, since last SummerSlam, the world of WWE has lost two amazing talents. The first being Sting, who was injured in his match with Seth Rollins at Night of Champions 2015, the Pay-Per-View following SummerSlam. After months out of action, Sting was announced as the first inductee in WWE’s Hall of Fame class of 2016, which was the first hint that his legendary career was over. A neck injury (possibly sustained during a ridiculously dangerous table spot) ended Stinger’s incredible career and, unfortunately, it wasn’t on the highest of notes. After avoiding WWE for years, Sting lost his first match at WrestleMania 31, disappeared for months, then lost his next Pay-Per-View match to Rollins, ending his career a loser. Sting should have been treated far better in WWE and his Hall of Fame induction was the one saving grace of his time under McMahon.
However, the fact that WrestleMania will never host Sting vs The Undertaker, even though the chance to do so was right there, will leave a bad taste in many diehard wrestling fans that can never be erased. Then there’s Daniel Bryan. Oh, Daniel. Reoccurring neck injuries and concussions forced Bryan to forfeit the Intercontinental Championship he won at WrestleMania 31 and, by SummerSlam 2015, Bryan hadn’t been seen on WWE TV for months. Whilst some still had hope for Bryan’s return, this was confirmed as impossible when, on 8th February 2016, Bryan formally announced his retirement, ending that evening’s episode of Raw with a heart-felt retirement speech that would have left every wrestling fan in the world with a tear in their eye had it not inadvertently got Titus O’Neil suspended. Both Sting and Bryan will never wrestle again and that feels deeply wrong. Whilst both men’s legacies live on in the memories on the fans, it’s just not the same as seeing the two men compete in the squared circle. Not at the same time, I mean, that would be a weird match. Might be fun though. Play it on 2K17.
13 BEST: The American Dragon Flies Again
The WWE likes money. Daniel Bryan on TV equals money for the WWE. How anyone was surprised by his return is beyond me. The return of the brand extension not only split the rosters in WWE, but also the opinions of WWE’s fans. One thing, however, that everyone is behind is the return to WWE programming of a certain Mr. Daniel Bryan. Forced to retire for the reasons I stated above, Bryan was off WWE TV for months. However, once you taste the spotlight, you always want more and Daniel Bryan had gorged himself on the spotlight as a wrestler.
On the episode of Raw before the WWE Draft, both Stephanie and Shane McMahon announced their new General Managers; Steph had Mick Foley, Shane went with The American Dragon. Yes, it was a pretty easy guess and yes, it was actually leaked, but Daniel Bryan returning was like Christmas Day to the WWE fans; they knew exactly when it was coming, but they were just so excited for it that it didn’t make a tiny bit of difference. Bryan returning to WWE TV as the General Manager of Smackdown was amazing; not only was Bryan back, but he would be back permanently and the fans could see him every week. Smackdown may have been given the short straw in the actual draft and with its time slot, but having Bryan on board would have been more than enough to secure viewership. Bryan is one of wrestling’s most beloved figures – now and of all time – and his presence on WWE programming is a welcome return. This great moment might have only come from a terrible one in Bryan’s premature retirement, but his return is still one of the feel good stories of the year and it really couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. God bless you, Daniel, welcome back. I don’t actually know why I put that, there’s no way Daniel will actually read this. I can dream...
11 WORST: Sandow Gets The Boot
Every year, WWE undergoes what some have termed “spring cleaning”; the releases of numerous wrestlers in an attempt to make more room on the roster. This year’s round of cuts featured numerous big names: Santino Marella and Christian were released from their performers’ contracts, Wade Barrett was sent packing and, perhaps worst of all, the WWE had to say goodbye to the Intellectual Saviour of the Masses, Damien Sandow. For over a decade, Aaron Haddad wrestled on and off for the WWE, working a number of characters and gimmicks, but really finding fame in 2012, when he debuted on the main roster as Damien Sandow. This was a really original gimmick that allowed Sandow to pick up some decent wins and plenty of support.
After winning Money In The Bank in 2013, everyone had high hopes for Sandow to become World Champion. Then John Cena happened. Cena defeated Sandow in his cash-in match – the first time a briefcase holder had been pinned during their cash-in match – and Sandow’s career flashed before his eyes. Sandow’s career went downhill rapidly after this defeat, but, the plucky performer would manage to salvage some success of nothing when he started appearing as “Damien Mizdow”, stunt double to The Miz. Through his impersonations (both in and out of the ring) and hilarious partnership with The Awesome One, Sandow genuinely became one of the most over guys on the roster, leading to fans chanting “We want Mizdow!” and popping like mad when he did wrestle. As Mizdow, Damien won his first WWE titles – the Tag Team Championships with Miz at Survivor Series 2014 – and had a major WrestleMania moment when, after months of suffering, he eliminated his bullying mentor, The Miz, in the Andre the Giant memorial battle royal at WrestleMania 31. Ok, maybe he didn’t win the whole thing, but it was still a great moment. Damn Big Show. Anyway, following this, everyone wanted a Mizdow vs Miz and everyone wanted Mizdow to win. Instead, they had one match, on Raw, and Miz won. After this, Sandow was demoted back down to jobber status and was finally released May 6th 2016 after being thoroughly ruined by WWE.
An absolute star in the making, Sandow’s chances of the big time were devastated and through no fault of his own. John Cena, Big Show, The Miz, hell, even Hulk Hogan ruined The Meta Powers and he’d been retired for years! Sandow’s release was a real shame and, despite never amounting to much in terms of championships, he will always hold a special place in the hearts of many WWE fans. What a guy.
9 BEST: True Blue – Smackdown Goes Live!
Hey, it’s that brand split thingy again and this time it’s all about Smackdown, which makes a pleasant change to be honest. On July 19th, Smackdown went live for the very first time in its history and sparked the beginning of what has now been dubbed “The New Era”, complete with a return to the brand split and even some new General Managers (see point 7). Smackdown going live, oops, sorry, Live!, is a huge, huge step in the right direction for the blue brand, which has long been treated like a second class show in comparison to Raw.
To be totally honest, I hadn’t seen an episode of Smackdown in well over a year before it went Live, now I watch it weekly. A return to the brand split has also given Smackdown a new meaning; beforehand, if you missed Smackdown, it didn’t actually matter – just tune into Raw on Monday, you’ll catch up. Now, if you miss Smackdown, you’ve missed a whole week of storyline development. Smackdown has purpose again and this is great news for WWE, even for Monday Night Raw, as some element of competition between the two brands could make for some killer TV. The Brand Split in general has made for some really interesting viewing over the past few weeks, but the Blue show has definitely benefitted the most from the process, especially considering where it stood last year. Going into SummerSlam this year, something truly incredible has happened to Smackdown; it actually matters. Wow. Either WWE has actually employed some decent business sense here, or voodoo. Yeah, it’s probably voodoo.
7 WORST: Suplex City Has A Drug Problem
There can be no doubt that Brock Lesnar is one of the biggest draws in WWE history. An absolute freak when he debuted in 2002, Lesnar’s amazing physique and crazy athleticism made him a one of a kind performer back then and it showed with how WWE booked him. When he left in 2004, the fans were gutted and WWE felt like they’d lost an absolute megastar, because they had. What happened next was insane. After a short spell as a football player, Lesnar decided to try his hand at MMA and signed on with Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Of course, he was amazing, winning the UFC Heavyweight Championship in his third ever fight and being the main draw at UFC’s biggest show at the time, UFC 100. After getting sick of beating people to a bloody pulp, Lesnar returned to WWE in 2012 to beat some different people to a bloody pulp and, of course, he was awesome at that too, so awesome that UFC, like a crazy ex-girlfriend, wanted him back. This is where things went wrong.
After returning to fight Mark Hunt at UFC 200 (which he won, obviously), it was revealed that Lesnar had, supposedly, failed a series of drugs tests, issued by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), leading to doubt over his victory at 200 and the sobriety of his entire career, both WWE and UFC. Now, nothing has been explicitly proven and there is still much debate surrounding this issue, but the damage has been done to Lesnar’s image. At SummerSlam 2015, Lesnar was the absolute stuff, having just defeated John Cena is destructive fashion to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the main event. Whilst his match against Randy Orton has been heavily hyped and may end up being the main event of this year’s show, the way in which Lesnar is viewed has changed entirely. Even the slightest doubt over an athlete’s use of PEDs will change the way in which they are viewed and even the slightest chance that Lesnar could have doped has delat a huge blow to the image both he and WWE have worked so hard to create. How can fans boo Roman Reigns for using drugs and not Lesnar? And why did Roman get suspended and Brock didn’t?
Despite no solid proof, this whole situation has thrown up far too many difficult questions for fans to ask of The Beast and the consequences this may have on his status in WWE might be devastating if these allegations prove true. Lesnar might be a top star, but a scandal like this might go a long way to reducing Lesnar’s allure in a way that could be a nightmare for the Nightmare of Suplex City. At least the guy he’s fighting at SummerSlam can be a good role model in his place. Oh, wait. Never mind.
5 BEST: The Lunatic Champion
Jesus Christ, rollercoaster doesn’t even begin to describe Dean Ambrose’s year. Last SummerSlam, Ambrose was teaming with Roman Reigns against The Wyatt Family in a feud entirely devoted to getting Roman over (great job with that one, guys). After failing to defeat the Wyatts at Night of Champions, Ambrose main evented Survivor Series and lost out in the final of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament against Roman Reigns. Then Dean would win the Intercontinental Championship against Kevin Owens at TLC, defend it at the Royal Rumble, which he also came runner-up in, again, almost winning the world title. Then, at Fastlane, he once again came within inches of being in the title picture, being pinned by Roman Reigns in a triple threat to determine the challenger for Triple H at WrestleMania. Fans had been crying out for WWE to put Ambrose in that match at Mania, but instead, Ambrose would challenge for the world title at Roadblock, losing out to The Game. Over as hell with the fans, Ambrose went into WrestleMania and a Street Fight with Brock Lesnar that plenty of people, myself included, thought he could win. He was destroyed. This loss was seen by many as the final nail in Ambrose’s coffin; he’d been the “almost” man for far too long, so close and yet so far and fans were beginning to give up hope that, one day, the Lunatic Fringe would be champion.
Then came Money In The Bank. After two back to back Pay-Per-View wins over Chris Jericho, Ambrose entered the Money In The Bank ladder match and only went and won the briefcase. Excitement levels: rising. Then, in the show’s main event, Seth Rollins came out of nowhere and defeated Roman Reigns to win the WWE Championship. Excitement levels: still rising. Then Ambrose’s music hit. Excitement levels: almost fatal. After striking Rollins with the briefcase, Ambrose became only the second man in history to cash in on the same night as he won the briefcase, hitting Rollins with a Dirty Deeds and winning the WWE Championship. Excitement levels: heart attack. After spending so long in the shadows of Reigns and Rollins, after spending so long as the “other” former member of The Shield, after spending so long on the cusp of greatness but never quite making it, Dean Ambrose was finally, finally top of the mountain.
Now finding himself as leader of the Smackdown brand and about to defend the WWE Championship at SummerSlam, Dean Ambrose is living the dream and I don’t think anyone is upset by it. A true underdog who scratched and clawed his way to the top against all the odds, Ambrose is a worthy champion and could be one of the biggest stars WWE has ever produced. He might be called a lunatic, but Ambrose’s career over the last year, now that’s been truly crazy.
3 WORST: The Rise And Fall Of Roman Reigns
As one former Shield star rises, another plummets back down to Earth. I believe that was Confucius. Roman Reigns looked like he had it made last year. After his disastrous push to the main event of WrestleMania 31, Reigns was out of the title picture at SummerSlam 2015, facing the Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper in a tag match with Dean Ambrose. However, fans had their sneaking suspicious/fears that Reigns would once again rise to the summit of the card and, boy, were they right. Following the climax of his feud with Wyatt at Hell in a Cell 2015, Reigns became number one contender to the WWE Championship at Survivor Series. However, this became irrelevant after then-champion, Seth Rollins, blew out his knee at a house show. Reigns did get his moment in the sun at Survivor Series when he won the final of a WWE Championship tournament, only to lose the belt to Sheamus who cashed in his Money In The Bank.
What followed was an “overcoming the odds”” storyline, with Roman eventually toppling The Authority by defeating Triple H in the main event of WrestleMania 32 to win the world title. Roman was the number one guy in WWE ever since the split of The Shield and the time between SummerSlam 2015 and Money In The Bank 2016 only cemented that view in the eyes of the fans. The audience simply wasn’t invested in Reigns’ struggles; his smug, self-entitled behaviour meant that, when he had his ass handed to him, the fans had no sympathy and when he got what he wanted, the fans simply didn’t care. Reigns was booed to high hell every time he stepped into the ring and it only got worse the more he got pushed, his title win at Mania 32 being one of the worst crowd reactions to a Mania main event of all time. But then, oh, but then.
Following Money In The Bank 2016 (and Reigns’ loss of the WWE Championship), it was announced that Roman Reigns had suspended for violating the wellness policy. This had happened in the past, but very rarely was a star of Reigns’ standing suspended for 30 days, especially not during such a hot storyline and the WWE certainly made him pay for his mistakes. Not only was he villainised by Seth Rollins during promos while he was away, but when Roman returned at Battleground, he was pinned clean to allow Dean Ambrose to take the WWE title to Smackdown, leaving Raw with no world title. The next night on Raw, Reigns was shamed by Stephanie McMahon for his loss in a brutal promo that cut just a little too close to the bone and then was beaten clean in the main event by Finn Balor, costing him a shot at the WWE Universal Championship at SummerSlam.
Whilst many fans will say Reigns’ suspension and subsequent treatment is the best thing since The Attitude Era, it’s pretty sad to see how far Reigns has fallen. Does he deserve it for disrespecting his top-tier standings? Maybe. But this level of shaming is way too much and will only do further damage to Reigns, who, despite all his critics, is a very good performer. Will Roman recover now that he’s taken his punishment? Is this actually the end of his penance? Only time will tell. But I can tell you one thing; nobody in the world would have seen Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose changing places in WWE in just under a year last SummerSlam and if you just said you did, then you’re a liar and you should be ashamed.
1 BEST: Divas? No Thanks
All the other changes on this list have been good, but none have been as fast, rejuvenating and long-overdue as this one. Heading into SummerSlam last year, the women of WWE were undergoing what had been heavily (and I mean heavily) branded as the “Divas Revolution”, which began with the ascension to the main roster of three of NXT’s biggest stars: Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks. Despite having been on the main roster for two months when it came to SummerSlam, the “Revolution” seemed to be going nowhere with the second Pay-Per-View appearance of the three NXT call-ups being the second straight multi-woman match; a dismal three-team elimination match. Because that’s what everyone wanted, especially the day after Sasha Banks and Bayley put on a classic at Takeover: Brooklyn. Yay.
However, the seeds had been sown by WWE and, over the next year, they would blossom into something truly wonderful. At the next Pay-Per-View, Charlotte would dethrone Nikki Bella to end her record-breaking (ugh) Divas Championship reign in what turned out to be a pretty decent match, as did their rematch at Hell in a Cell a month later. At Survivor Series 2015, Charlotte would defeat Paige to retain her belt and showed signs of a heel turn, one that was later confirmed at TLC, where Charlotte would once again retain against Paige. What followed next was the story everyone was crying out for; the three of the four horsewomen who came up to the main roster battling it out on the big stage. Well, unless you count that match Charlotte had with Brie Bella at Fastlane, but we can blame Daniel Bryan for that. Perhaps the crowning moment of the “Revolution” was WrestleMania 32; a triple threat match between Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, not for the Divas Championship, but for the Women’s Championship. Not the same Women’s Championship held by the likes of Trish Stratus, Lita and The Fabulous Moolah, but the belt looked amazing and the curse that was the pink, butterfly-encrusted mess of a championship that had plagued WWE’s women for years.
WWE’s treatment of female performers had been horrendous for years and years and the Divas Championship was one big symbol of that. However, with the new championship and the absolutely brilliant match that went with it (perhaps the best women’s match in WrestleMania history), it genuinely felt like things were changing. Yes, Charlotte may have defended the title twice against Natalya after this match in a pair of average clashes, but her feud with Sasha Banks, one that eventually lead to Bayley’s main roster debut and The Boss winning the Women’s Championship to a huge pop on Raw, has been amazing and the two are set to put on another brilliant match at this year’s SummerSlam, which, compared to last year’s women’s match, is like comparing a supercomputer to one of those fake phones full of candy.
The women’s division in WWE has come on leaps and bounds since last year; the mere fact that I could call it the “women’s” division is a huge step forward and who knows where the amazing female performers of WWE will take us now they’ve been given the right support. There have been plenty of changes over the last year in WWE, but the changes that are happening in the women’s division, those are the best ones for sure. Now, can we please change Byron Saxton? That’d be the icing on the cake.