2011 was here and gone, and we have had time to digest the great, sad and horrible moments that the pro-wrestling industry served us up last year.
As we now enter 2012, the industry has reached what I would consider a make-or-break point. I will look at some key aspects of the industry and its competition and draw my thoughts on them.
Interest in the product—by any organization—has declined over the years since the epic Monday Night Wars or, preceding that, the '80s wrestling boom. With "legitimate" fighting organizations like the UFC now snowballing in popularity and the natural maturation of the "attitude" era fans, it seems the kicks are now being obtained elsewhere.
2011 stood out, though, as a year where not only the WWE attempted to ignite interest in the product, but the industry as a whole seemed to attempt a resurgence.
CM Punk lit up Monday Night Raw with a promo that got everybody talking. Ring of Honor landed itself a TV deal, and TNA re-branded itself as iMPACT Wrestling and promised to bring back "wrestling" to TV.
2012 will see these efforts culminate in either success or failure for the industry. In terms of rival sporting events this calendar year, there are a few noteworthy events that could further dissolve the wrestling fan base.
What are You more likely to watch in 2012
The UFC will feature the return of George St. Pierre after a long injury layoff, undoubtedly crown a new heavyweight champion, and with fighters like Chael Sonnen getting lots of promo and air time (not dissimilar to that of a pro wrestler), the UFC becomes an attractive option for the casual "fight" fan.
Beyond the UFC, an old foe in boxing has several big cards on the horizon for 2012. Boxing achieved success this past year with several marquee fights and properly booked events.
Exciting fighters like, Lamont Peterson, Amir Khan and Andre Ward are pumping some much-needed life into boxing. With the boxing bodies now appearing to recognize the sport's setbacks by holding events such as the "Super Six," 2012 could finally see the most talked about fight of 2011, Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Pro wrestling has a lot to offer for 2012, too. The WWE can boast a main event for Wrestlemania that actually brings back defected fans of yesteryear.
The Rock, the "People's Champion" and poster boy of the "attitude" era, will square off with John Cena, WWE's most recognizable superstar since the Monday Night Wars. They also have several big talents set to return, including Undertaker, while others such as Chris Jericho and Brock Lesnar—based on his retirement at UFC 141—could also come back.
2012 also marks a big year for the No. 2 wrestling promotion. Its growth has been steady, but you can't help feeling that they are rendered useless by their inability to go on the road week after week. TNA needs to literally throw the kitchen sink at 2012 and build up some momentum to issue a challenge to the WWE.
A lot of people brush TNA aside and use forums like this to rubbish them to the doldrums of extinction, but it is important to understand that the industry needs competition in order to survive and improve.
With the right people in charge, TNA could become that competition. Risks will have to be taken this year within the organization in order to achieve this, and sweeping out ex-WWE also-rans would help the company create its own identity.
Ring of Honor
My exposure to Ring of Honor is minimal, as I am from Ireland. But, with the company securing its first TV contract, things are looking up.
Ring of Honor has some very talented guys, and the main focus is their wrestling ability. They are also proven competitors, considering CM Punk now sits atop the pro-wrestling industry.
The more ROH guys that make it in WWE, the more exposure ROH gets for its core product as it attracts fans interested in seeing where these guys learned their trade. By continuing to grow such stars, ROH will attract interest from sponsors and, more importantly, the WWE.
Being the biggest means you have the biggest headaches. Whilst the other promotions are striving to be the best, the WWE has to attempt to maintain that mantra. Their decisions, from creative to marketing, greatly affect their industry standing.
They have already taken a massive gamble in announcing the launch of the WWE Network. It all seems very rushed, but then again, what doesn't within the WWE? We still have no real clear indication of what the network will be packaged as or what shows they will beam to it.
The network will either cement WWE's position as the best or become a media-worthy flop like the XFL. The success of the venture will have a massive effect on the industry as a whole.
It may very well reignite the passion of the older generation as classic encounters become easily accessible on network shows. It may bring fans a unique perspective on pro wrestling as an art, showing the dedication and hardships that are common within the industry.
Then again, highlighting the lack of interest in pro wrestling nowadays, it could flop, leaving the WWE shackled with tailoring shows to the merchandise-buying kids and alienating those that see past the T-shirts and pens.
Pro-wrestling scandals have been prominent again this past year. There was the infamous Jeff Hardy vs. Sting squash which, in my opinion, should have seen TNA prosecuted. Not to be outdone by his brother, Matt Hardy had a very public meltdown on YouTube, and several WWE superstars failed drug tests. Even Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan rekindled an age-old rivalry on Twitter, discussing "swinging" of all things.
2012 is a clean slate and all organizations should do their utmost to maintain that by getting strict on offenders. Pro wrestling cannot survive another Benoit incident.
In my opinion, the industry is on the verge of either rejuvenation or meltdown. 2012 will either be key in strengthening it or the start of its decline.
WWE has put all its eggs in one basket for 2012 with big name returns and their network launch. TNA needs to step up their "credible" efforts to compete with WWE, and ROH needs to focus on more lucrative deals.
Hopefully, the industry will come out of 2012 with higher buy-rates, better matches and positive competition amongst rival promotions and other "legitimate" fighting organizations.