Giving Thanks for the 9 Best Things from WWE in 2018 on Thanksgiving
There have been far too many bad things that have happened in WWE this year, ranging from poor booking decisions like making a joke out of Bobby Roode to more serious matters such as Roman Reigns' leukemia.
It's been a rough ride more often than not, but thankfully, there have also been a lot of positives along the way.
To embrace the holiday spirit and to be more optimistic for Thanksgiving, let's take a look at some of the best things that have happened this year and give thanks to the good times in WWE from 2018.
Believe it or not, this list would go on far too long if everything was given an equal share of the limelight, so we have to crunch down some of them into more bite-sized blurbs—and even then, some things are still going to be left out.
A few moments that took place that deserve some credit are as follows:
- Titus O'Neil's slide during the Greatest Royal Rumble was one of the funniest things to happen, whether it was intentional or not.
- Braun Strowman's impressive feats of strength and amusing backstage segments, such as dismantling the set multiple times and even eating some guy's cake.
- As ridiculous as it was, seeing The B-Team win the Raw Tag Team Championships was silly and fun.
- Elias has been a constant hit, and his stardom only continues to grow.
- Raw 25 and SmackDown 1000 were milestones.
- Shawn Michaels came out of retirement and still put on a great match to show that he somehow still has it, even after eight years away from the game.
- Rey Mysterio has returned home and is looking better than he has in a long time.
- Ronda Rousey has been quite the success and has given WWE more mainstream coverage since joining the roster in January.
- WWE finally allowed Rusev and Lana to turn babyface, which freshened up their characters much more than any temporary heel push would have done and allowed fans to celebrate Rusev Day.
- R-Truth's return to being a senseless character keeps providing bright spots on shows, as he's always good for a laugh.
That is just a sampling, but let's dive deeper into some other things from this year to be thankful for.
Major Progress in the WWE Women's Evolution
Perhaps the biggest thing to mention is the collective series of steps forward for the advancement of women's wrestling.
This year started with the first Women's Royal Rumble match, which not only saw the return of several legends but was also the first time a women's match was the main event of one of the Big Four pay-per-views.
That achievement was quickly followed by the first Women's Elimination Chamber, which wasn't as grandiose but was still another positive.
Later in the year, there was a fantastic Mae Young Classic tournament, which featured several amazing matches with top-notch performers such as Mercedes Martinez, Deonna Purrazzo, Mia Yim, Toni Storm, Meiko Satomura and Io Shirai—many of whom are now on the roster.
That tournament culminated at the WWE's inaugural women's pay-per-view, Evolution, which drew the short straw in terms of build and budget but still managed to exceed expectations in many ways.
And then there's Renee Young, who made company history as the first woman granted a true spot on the commentary team.
This was a phenomenal year for the Women's Evolution, and it goes to show that the movement wasn't just a publicity stunt or fad. It's here to stay, and every bit of progress will continue to push things in the right direction.
Daniel Bryan Was Cleared to Return to the Ring
After his numerous injuries, Daniel Bryan's in-ring return felt like an impossibility.
It was sad to see so many talented Superstars get signed to WWE, only to know they would never be able to wrestle Bryan and put on the fantastic matches we all dreamed about.
But somehow, against all odds, he was able to get the medical clearance needed to step back into the ring—not just for a guest spot or a tame bump here and there but as an active member of the roster.
For the most part, he picked up right where he left off. His in-ring work has been great, his popularity hasn't wavered and it's nice to see his passion for wrestling hasn't left him.
Since his return, he's put on some great matches, particularly with AJ Styles, and he was even able to get something worthwhile out of Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series.
His comeback was one of the best sources of inspiration and pure joy for the fans and something to cling to when looking back on what to be thankful for in 2018.
The Creation of the NXT North American Championship
As NXT continued to improve and grow, the brand reached a point where the need for a midcard title became apparent. There were far too many Superstars with nothing much to do, and there is no chance for everyone to share the NXT Championship.
Thus, the North American Championship was created and put up for grabs in one of the best matches of the year at TakeOver: New Orleans.
This gave the roster one more belt to fight for to help propel storylines and allowed a few more wrestlers a chance to shine.
The only champions have been Adam Cole and Ricochet, but they have set a great standard for the title's prestige by making sure it didn't get pushed aside too much in comparison to the NXT Championship.
Had it not been for the creation of this title, their feud would have just been a regular rivalry and might not have lasted as long while staying as good as it was given the primary goal driving them wouldn't have existed. They might have been viewed as two guys not good enough for the main event.
With the North American Championship in the mix, no longer are people like Tyler Breeze and Apollo Crews going to be moved up to the main roster without much success to tout, as NXT's Superstars have another prize to strive for.
NXT UK Finally Becomes an Actual Brand
On December 15, 2016, Triple H announced that a United Kingdom champion would be crowned as the first step toward creating a new brand for WWE.
Tyler Bate won the title in January 2017, and everything seemed to be off to a great start before it came to a screeching halt.
Two more specials took place, and a new champion was established in Pete Dunne, but despite a few appearances here and there on the regular NXT shows, the United Kingdom brand didn't exist, as it had no roster, no air time and no separation.
Finally, on October 17, NXT UK aired its first episode and has been running every Wednesday since, trying to catch up to the tapings from the summer.
It's been a bumpy road, but things are smoothing out, and the establishment of the NXT UK Women's Championship and NXT UK Tag Team Championships will help round things out soon enough.
After all this wait, it has become a brand. And once this roster has its own pay-per-view, which may come as early as the first quarter of 2019, it will be a legitimate entity within WWE.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Aleister Black
At this point, with the track record NXT has, TakeOver events are essentially guaranteed to be amazing no matter who is on the card. The MVPs of this year are undoubtedly Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano and Aleister Black.
This has been the longest-running story in NXT, with various twists and turns along the way keeping things interesting. It has produced some of the best matches of the year, not just on that brand but in the entire company, making fans crave more.
Ciampa has become one of the best champions NXT has had, Gargano has managed to be the next Daniel Bryan as well as a bitter heel, and Black held his own as the top of the food chain before falling victim to an injury that only made the story even better because of the mystery surrounding his attacker.
With the amount of times fans have chanted "fight forever" at them in 2018, it's doubtful anyone would complain if that were to happen. This trio can seemingly do no wrong.
They steal the show every time they perform, and we should be thankful they are on the front line of NXT programming.
Seth Rollins Cements His Legacy
As if there were any reason to doubt his talent, Seth Rollins silenced his detractors in 2018 by picking up the slack on multiple occasions and proving himself one of the best wrestlers of this generation.
At the end of last year, he was thrown a curveball, as his partnership with Dean Ambrose and their storyline breakup plans were put on hold because of an injury to The Lunatic Fringe.
Rollins was put in a tag team with Jason Jordan—not the best thing in the world—and he kept looking like the one holding down the fort, which helped keep his star from falling.
Then, on February 19, The Architect produced the standout performance of his career when he wrestled for one hour and five minutes, breaking the record for the longest match by a wrestler in Raw history—and it was a good one too.
In that seven-man gauntlet, he managed to take out John Cena and Roman Reigns, further establishing his skills.
And his successes didn't stop there, as Rollins would go on to win the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 34, being the first man to pin The Miz on that show and, in the process, becoming a Grand Slam champion.
He still has the IC title, has added another brief Raw tag team title reign to his list of accomplishments and is wrapped up in one of the most high-profile stories in WWE.
This year has been kind to Rollins in terms of building him up as a top-tier talent.
Co-Branded Events Return
Based off what happened last time, it was inevitable that when the second brand split occurred, there would come a point when the pay-per-views felt like they stopped being as important.
This was due to the cards for these events' make-up of lower-card wrestlers fighting for the sake of filling up time, particularly on SmackDown-branded shows.
WWE was basically splitting the difference with the bigger stars, so there would be times when a pay-per-view would feel like there were only one or two things worth checking out.
Thankfully, in the first step toward the inevitable end of the latest brand split, WWE opted to make all events from WrestleMania forward co-branded.
This meant less time was wasted on feuds, which needed to stretched out for an extra month until the next Raw or SmackDown event, and more utilization of the most popular people to draw the most eyes to the shows as possible.
It hasn't always worked out, but it is the right model for success and has often saved events from being even worse.
Once WWE stops being as frenetic with its booking decisions and sometimes horrible execution of storylines, the likes of which have plagued the product in recent months, this co-branded methodology will be a much more sustainable framework for providing the best possible PPVs.
Buddy Murphy's Career Resurgence on 205 Live
Buddy Murphy was an NXT tag team champion but fell so far down the totem pole that he only had one televised match in 2017.
The Australian was referred to as NXT's best-kept secret, although it didn't seem like there was anything to rave about and that his WWE career would wither away in no time.
Then, in February, he popped up on 205 Live looking better than ever after having dropped enough weight to compete on the show. And since then, he has rejuvenated himself.
From zero to hero, Murphy took his career in the opposite direction and proved he was capable of putting on amazing matches, wrestling stars like Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali in fights so good that it's criminal more people don't watch 205 Live.
He achieved enough recognition that WWE went ahead and put the Cruiserweight Championship on him at Super Show-Down in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
This has been, without a doubt, the best year of Murphy's career. His success has only helped 205 Live and the cruiserweight division, so everybody wins—especially the fans who tune in to his matches.
Becky Lynch Hits Her Stride
Even as SmackDown women's champion, Becky Lynch always came off as not being quite on par with Charlotte Flair, Bayley and Sasha Banks, who perpetually received more admiration and focus.
But something sparked in The Irish Lass Kicker several months ago, and even though WWE tried desperately to make her a heel, the fans connected with her on a whole new level and turned her into one of the biggest babyfaces the company has seen in quite some time.
She's only just getting started, and she's managed to achieve such a level of success that people are comparing her to Daniel Bryan and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin—someone who can be the true focal point of not just the entire women's division but WWE itself.
Lynch has taken to calling herself The Man, and the WWE Universe not only accepts it but revels in it, so much so that even while she's out of action with an injury, the buzz around her continues to grow.
She seems poised to have an absurdly successful 2019, with a match against Ronda Rousey looming either at Royal Rumble or WrestleMania 35; if it's the latter, she is likely to go down in history as one of the two women who were the first to main-event the biggest show of the year.
For fans of Lynch who have waited for her to achieve her fair share of recognition, it finally came in 2018.
What's great is that this list is just a taster; there are plenty of other things to be thankful for this year. So if you loved something that wasn't mentioned here, make sure you keep the discussion going by leaving a comment below.
It's important to keep all of this in mind and not lose perspective of how, despite the bad things going on, not everything is always so bleak, even when it comes to WWE. For all the frustration, there are still moments that can put smiles on the faces of the fans.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.