WWE may be very different from every other television show out there – with the possible exception of soap operas, of course – but like any other television show, it’s not immune to the occasional bad season. Even if a TV show is a highly influential commercial success, it’s pretty close to a guarantee that it’s going to experience a season that even its most loyal fans would just as soon forget about.
Given that WWE is an almost non-stop form of entertainment, we tend to measure its seasons in calendar years. While nobody expects WWE to produce 365 days of pro wrestling perfection, for the most part fans tend to identify the company’s good years by looking at the ones that gave us the most classic moments, or perhaps just managed to avoid containing the most outright awful content. WWE’s best years are the ones we can look back upon with a smile for their ability to be mostly entertaining.
Then you have the bad years. While even the best years of WWE are going to have some bad moments in them, the funny thing about the truly awful years is that they seem to lack the ability to help themselves and provide any quality content at all. Sometimes bad years can be the result of factors beyond anybody’s control – like bad injuries – and then there are years when it feels like WWE has just completely run out of ideas and are trying desperately to cling on to life as they fill an incredible amount of weekly content requirements with an escalating series of awful decisions.
They are the years that just wouldn’t stop no matter how much you begged for the pain to end. They are the very worst years WWE has ever given us.
While it’s tempting to just say “WrestleMania II,” drop the mic and walk away, outside of that all-time disaster of an event, 1986 suffered from a lack of truly classic content. WWE was still suffering through something of a creative hangover following the overwhelming success of the original WrestleMania and found themselves struggling to recreate the magic of that time. Hulk Hogan was still doing his thing and you could always rely on the likes of Macho Man to have a great match, but 1986 was the year that WWE suffered through their growing pains the hardest.
Oh, 2001. How should we remember you? Are you the year that gave us some of the greatest wrestling PPVs of all-time – including the phenomenal WrestleMania X-Seven – or are you the year that saw what could have been the greatest wrestling angle ever crash and burn before our very eyes? As tempting as it is to give 2001 a pass for the good it did give us, the devastating impact of the botched WCW invasion is too great to forgive. What should have been a dream program for WWE turned into a nightmare of bad television that just wouldn’t end.
WWE was already coming off of a fairly forgettable stretch of wrestling years when they limped into 2010 and did themselves few favors during this period in terms of restoring faith in the brand. While programs like The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels and CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio were top-notch, this is also the year that gave us the unfortunate title reigns of superstars like The Miz and Jack Swagger. Even potentially hot angles like the arrival of The Nexus were run into the ground in this year that seemed to make everything it touched turn to dull.
After coming off of a wildly successful 2002, many expected WWE to continue going strong in 2003 and embrace a new era of dominance. Of course by new era of dominance, I do mean Triple H deciding to essentially hold the belt at will whenever the mood struck him. Aside from Triple H’s fabled reign of terror, 2003 also subjected fans to the first full calendar year of the split-brand PPVs and their incredibly uneven quality. Pile onto this all a muddled Bill Goldberg run and the unfortunate matches of Scott Steiner, and you’ve got a year that nobody will forget no matter how hard they try.
2013 should have been different. While it looked like WWE finally got their act together by positioning guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan at the top of the card, they just couldn’t help but fall back to their old ways by giving us a series of tired match-ups highlighted by the repeat WrestleMania main event of John Cena/ The Rock which was comically referred to as “Once in a Lifetime” just a year before. 2012 and 2014 are otherwise exceptional years but, for some reason, WWE refused to pull the trigger on true change during this meandering time.
Take comfort in the fact that the only people who seemed more confused as to what exactly was going on in 2006 than the fans, was the WWE creative staff. In a year where WWE was just seemingly throwing ideas against a wall, wrestling fans everywhere were treated to a seemingly infinite series of matches between the McMahon Family and DX, as well as the painfully over-the-top title reign of King Booker. Anyone not booked for one of several awful feuds this year were left to flounder in meaningless programs. They were the lucky ones.
This year just couldn’t help itself. Even though it contains one of the greatest moments in wrestling history – the famous “Summer of Punk” – and a few other highlights, it just couldn’t resist finding a way to turn nearly every good thing that came its way into something awful. Of course, even if angles like Punk’s weren’t ruined by questionable decisions such as the sudden appearance of Kevin Nash, the fact that this was the year that gave us The Miz as a WrestleMania headliner as well as the awful Michael Cole/Jerry Lawler feud would have sealed its fate. No wonder Punk was so angry.
About all you need to say to justify 2009’s place among the worst is “Raw Guest Host.” Yes friends, this was the year in which it was decided that what professional wrestling was missing most was a series of minor celebrities to come out and host Monday Night Raw by cutting awkward interviews for most of the night. As if that wasn’t enough, we were also treated to a hefty dose of particularly bad comedy segments involving Hornswoggle, and a rather tragic series of matches between Kane and The Great Khali. Could this really be the year that gave us that Undertaker/Shawn Michaels classic?
While there are plenty of reasons to despise 2007 from an in-ring standpoint – the almost year-long reign of John Cena and his increasingly dull series of challengers being one of them – nothing that happened on WWE television in 2007 could top what happened off-screen. This was also the year in which Chris Benoit shocked the world by killing his family, then himself. This singular event shrouded nearly everything that WWE would do in a haze of darkness that could not be looked past. Of course, the truly awful in-ring stuff that happened this year managed to break through even that.
Remember when WWE thought it would be a good idea to have a Roman-themed WrestleMania in Las Vegas filled with some of the worst matches in WrestleMania history? Oh, you’re saying you repressed that memory? Well then you’ve probably also repressed how this was the year in which Hulk Hogan won a Bret Hart/Yokozuna match, and Lex Luger was built to be the biggest star in the history of WWE for about a month before being forgotten. If so, that’s a good thing, because it also means you don’t remember what is, undoubtedly, the worst Survivor Series card ever put together. I envy you.
WWE’s Attitude Era may just be the most lucrative time period in wrestling history, but it also produced its fair share of awful moments. Unfortunately, most of them happened in 1999. This was the year in which Vince Russo’s “crash-tv” style of storytelling completely went overboard. Whether it was Vince McMahon being revealed as "the greater power" or Mae Young mysteriously giving birth to a human hand, a quick review of the storylines of WWE in 1999 will make you wonder just how it was this company became so successful during that period. Then you look at what WCW was doing at that time and it sadly starts to make sense.
Perhaps the biggest reason for this year's inclusion was the tragic accident involving Owen Hart at the Over The Edge pay-per-view. A needless stunt ended a man's life for no reason and the WWE still had the show go on following Hart's death.
It’s usually a challenge to come up with the number one entrant on these lists, but thankfully the unrivaled awfulness of 1995 stands high above any other contender. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the absolute worst year that WWE has ever produced. WWE’s talent pool was never more dry than during this time, and the result was such compelling programs as the rapping Mabel somehow clawing his way to the top of the card. Fans probably knew they were in for a truly awful year when Lawrence Taylor main-evented WrestleMania, but nobody could have predicted that this would be the year that almost sent WWE into bankruptcy.