The stars crashing, shooting upward and flying in tandem were WWE's biggest stories in 2013.
The victories and failures of Daniel Bryan, The Wyatt Family, Rob Van Dam and others give fans a preview of what's to come in 2014. We learned that even the most electric responses from crowds can only take a Superstar so far, that partnerships empower rookies and, as Aaliyah once sang, "Age ain't nothing but a number."
Those lessons will shape what happens to the Superstars who make the jump from NXT to WWE next.
They will affect what fans and the company expect from Batista and temper expectations for anyone poised to reach the pinnacle of the WWE hierarchy.
Hesitance to Place the Crown
When it looked as if WWE was ready to anoint new kings, the old ones snatched back their thrones.
Bryan twice held the WWE Championship in 2013, but only for a few hours total. Dolph Ziggler took home the World Heavyweight Championship the night after WrestleMania, but lost it in his first title defense. Damien Sandow couldn't turn his Money in the Bank briefcase into championship gold, even against a one-armed man.
Each time, WWE instead went with a man who had already been champion, an established top-level Superstar.
Randy Orton stood in Bryan's way. Alberto Del Rio dethroned Ziggler. John Cena bucked Sandow's attack.
It didn't matter how loud the chants were for Ziggler and Bryan. It didn't matter how much promise each of these men showed. WWE still held back from giving them a shot at the top.
The company reverted back to what's worked in the past: Orton and Cena as the two titans battling atop the WWE world.
That means fans of Roman Reigns, Big E Langston and Bray Wyatt should be guarded with their optimism for 2014. Judging by the opportunities they've been afforded so far, those three wrestlers will have big years.
Just don't count on any changing of the guards, though.
Climbing upward in the company is doable as Ziggler, Sandow and Bryan showed last year. It's making it to the top tier that's the challenging task.
Putting someone not named Cena, Orton or CM Punk in a headlining position requires a leap of faith, one that WWE was unwilling to commit to in 2013. The difference for Reigns and Langston, though, is that their physiques may afford them the sort of upward movement that evaded Ziggler, Sandow and Bryan.
Those powerhouses are built like superheroes and won't have to suffer the debate of whether a smaller champion is believable.
Still, WWE showed that it has built a glass ceiling that is difficult to penetrate for more than just a few moments.
Tag Team Prominence
From the fun of Team Hell No's reign to the compelling drama of Cody Rhodes and Goldust's redemption, 2013 was a year powered by the tag team division.
When the main storyline fizzled, it was The Shield, The Usos, The Wyatt Family, Bryan, Kane and the Rhodes brothers that WWE could depend on.
Time and time again, tag team matches were the best part of Raw, SmackDown and Main Event. That was even true when the writers didn't give these squads any stories to work with. When WWE creative did give them narratives, the tag teams thrilled.
What this means for 2014 is that the division is no longer a limbo to send Superstars without direction—it's a desirable place where one can succeed and get noticed.
Roman Reigns, Luke Harper and the Rhodes have used their tag battles to showcase their talents and force WWE to consider bigger opportunities for them. The excitement factor of so many different types of wrestlers clashing in a single match is a part of that.
The rise of each of The Shield members and the rapid growth of The Wyatt Family gives WWE a blueprint of how to introduce and elevate incoming prospects.
Would Erick Rowan have made much of an impact on his own? Who knows if Seth Rollins would have been given a true shot to succeed had he come to the main roster as a solo act.
Xavier Woods has already attached himself to R-Truth. The next prospects to get called up will likely follow his path, finding a partner to battle with. That allows them to share the pressures of the main roster before venturing on their own.
For NXT's top talents like Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville and Corey Graves, the WWE tag team division appears to be the best place to begin for them to have the kind of prosperous year that The Shield and The Wyatt Family enjoyed in 2013.
The Ageless Ones
With as fantastic as Rob Van Dam, Goldust and Chris Jericho looked in 2013, one has to rethink just when the twilight of a career occurs.
Jericho and Van Dam are both 43 and Goldust is a year older. All three men, though, returned to provide some of the best matches of the year.
Jericho hasn't seemed to lose much with each passing year. Van Dam made his underwhelming TNA run a distant memory with inspired ring work. Goldust looked quicker and more athletic than he has in years.
The three-headed success story points to the power of taking time off between runs, but also gives WWE confidence in having older wrestlers come back to the company.
Batista, who is 44, will have a high standard to live up to. His latest tenure won't be a nostalgia tour, but one expected to produce quality entertainment.
"The Animal" appears to have the same tool that helped Van Dam and Goldust maximize their returns—being in great shape. The training he does for his film work appears to have kept him from losing his edge post-retirement.
DDP Yoga has helped Jericho, Van Dam and Goldust hold back Father Time. That program will also up the chances that Jake Roberts (57) will succeed if asked to go on a mini-run in 2014.
The coming year will be one of returning vets like Batista making an impact, newcomers from NXT forging alliances and a new crop of rising stars looking to step onto the rung that Cena and Orton occupy.
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