WWE has been on a bit of a roll lately.
For the most part, the storylines are interesting, the matches are entertaining and a few acts are starting to catch fire.
Sure, three wrestling programs a week can be a drain on most fans, but that just means they're missing out. The good things coming out of Raw and SmackDown are among the best we’ve seen in years.
The ratings may not yet reflect the improved product, but WWE television is easily more exciting compared to last year.
Here are 10 great reasons WWE is giving us to stay indoors this summer, and why the product is better than it was just 12 months ago.
A year ago, Mark Henry was nursing an injury on the sidelines. Before he left, his character had cooled off considerably from his initial Hall of Pain days.
The company seemed to have given up on him as a top star.
Something happened though, and WWE has now given Henry another chance in the spotlight. With this opportunity, he’s absolutely knocked it out of the park.
Henry's recent fake retirement speech was phenomenal, and he proved that he is hands-down one of the best actors in all of wrestling. He’s somehow made a match with John Cena into an anticipated event.
Let's hope he has a few more years in him, as he's currently one of the main reasons to tune into Raw every week.
For over six months last year, Sheamus was the World Heavyweight champion and the focus of SmackDown.
For many, this was not good.
The smiling, the Brogue Kicks and the terrible jokes were a focal part of the show. Some nights you either wanted to turn the channel or just give up and put your head through the TV. Yes, we still have all of his nonsense, but in smaller doses.
Sheamus is no longer being pushed as a big deal.
Since last summer, he’s fallen from the No. 2 babyface in WWE to arguably the 5th; CM Punk, Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan have overtaken him and Dolph Ziggler may also leap-frog him in the near future.
It’s a lot easier to stomach Sheamus’ nonsense these days when he’s not John Cena Jr. carrying the blue brand.
For far too long, it looked like Randy Orton would never be involved in a decent storyline again.
He’d show up on SmackDown or Raw, win his match, and that would be the last we’d hear of him for the night.
Most of all, he looked bored.
Orton now seems to have a fire lit under him. While he's still far from the most charismatic guy on the roster, he finally looks like he's not actively hating his job.
His feud with Daniel Bryan has been interesting, and the crowds are solidly behind The Viper. It's a good time for him to get motivated again, and at the age of 33, he should have years left of big matches in him.
Maybe WWE will learn to trust him again if he stays out of trouble for just a little longer.
For the most part, WWE has taken way too long to introduce new talent.
We kept reading about former ROH Champion Tyler Black (now named Seth Rollins) and indy darling Jon Moxley (now Dean Ambrose), and wondered when we’d ever see them on the main roster.
Rollins spent over two years in WWE developmental while Ambrose teased a feud with Mick Foley a year ago with nothing coming out of it.
Finally, the two were called up to the big leagues, with Roman Reigns as an added bonus.
It was well worth the wait.
Since their debut at Survivor Series, The Shield has injected a much needed dose of youth and "newness" into the company. Every member of the trio is under 30, and each seems to posses main event potential.
It will be interesting to see where each member is standing in WWE by next summer. Let's hope they are able to avoid any sort of classic Vince McMahon humbling process, and continue to produce for the company.
Last summer, Daniel Bryan was involved in the messy (but solidly entertaining) love triangle (or square?) with CM Punk, Kane and AJ Lee.
At the time, Bryan was a heel who mainly received cheers from Internet fans. His “yes” and “no” catchphrases were catching on wildly, but WWE still wanted us to boo him in his matches.
Now, we’re free to join in on the fun.
Bryan looks like he may be positioned for a big push in the near future, and unlike Ryback and Del Rio's babyface runs, it doesn't feel forced. It's the crowd themselves who are demanding more of him.
Anyone who complains about the lack of upward mobility in WWE should keep their eye out for Daniel Bryan. This guy has the potential to be big.
A year ago, WWE had a man named Michael McGillicutty on its roster.
It was one of the dumbest names the company had ever produced. You could say it was the modern day Gobbledy Gooker.
Luckily, that name died a sudden death. It was not mourned.
A few weeks ago, the man who was a McGillicutty returned. But now, he was christened Curtis Axel.
Sure, it’s not the greatest name (Joe Hennig would have sufficed), but it’s at least a name that can be chanted. Just try to imagine the crowd trying to shout out “Mc-Gill-i-Cutty” in unison.
At No Way Out 2012, Ryback defeated future superstars Dan Delaney and Rob Grymes.
The month before that at Over the Limit, he took on two jobbers as well. The month after No Way Out he defeated Curt Hawkins and Tyler Reks.
These were matches that fans were paying to see, and they were identical to the ones given away on Raw and SmackDown for free. It was getting very repetitive.
Perhaps no one has had more of a whirlwind year than Ryback has endured in WWE.
After months of squash matches, the WWE machine got behind him and he almost became a huge star. Now he seems to be one of the company’s top heels. He’s improved on the mic and has grown from his days of solely talking about eating other people.
The Ryback squashes were impressive the first few times we saw them, but WWE dragged them out way too long. Luckily, they're just a distant memory now.
Hopefully soon the "Cryback" moniker will also be long forgotten.
This slide isn't a dig at Matt Striker as a person. For all we know, Matt may be a delightful human being.
This isn't a dig at his overall talent either, as he was a pretty decent midcard heel in his early WWE run.
This is a dig at his ability as a babyface backstage interviewer.
Striker was flat-out awful at playing a likable good guy. He was miscast. His acting was lousy, his fake laughter was a bit creepy and everything else he did just felt fake.
At the age of 39, it's likely that his national in-ring career is over, but maybe he'll get another shot in the WWE someday.
Let's take some time away though. This break will be good for everyone involved.
JBL isn't the greatest color commentator in wrestling history, but the man knows his stuff.
He can also usually be counted on for a couple laughs on every episode of Raw or SmackDown.
After a lengthy absence from the WWE, JBL returned to the company full-time at Night of Champions to fill in for a recuperating Jerry Lawler.
His voice was a breath of fresh air on WWE television. Everybody's favorite wrestling tycoon returned. It was nice to have a true heel color commentator again. It also freed Michael Cole to be the straight play-by-play man.
While fans may long for the days of Good ol' J.R. and The King on commentary, having JBL, Cole and Lawler together isn't a bad combination at all.
Not since the days of Sean O'Haire has WWE put on such great vignettes as they have for the Wyatt Family.
The trio have yet to debut, but if they're even half as good as their videos suggest, then we could be in for a great time.
At times, it's best for talent to be spontaneously introduced like The Shield. Other times you just have to let things build slowly.
The rocking chair and the sheep masks in the videos could easily have been badly comical. However, the performances of the three, along with the brooding music and disturbing imagery have made the whole thing work perfectly.
The Wyatt family is coming, and we'll be watching.