Ronda Rousey and the Biggest Winners of 2018 in WWE

Anthony Mango@@ToeKneeManGoFeatured ColumnistDecember 25, 2018

Ronda Rousey and the Biggest Winners of 2018 in WWE

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    Previously in recapping the biggest losers of WWE in 2018, the most unfortunate Superstars who had a bad run this year were examined.

    Now, on the brighter side of things, we can look at the men and women who had the opposite type of luck and managed to achieve a significant amount of success in some form or another.

    For every Curt Hawkins who can't win a match, there was an undefeated Ronda Rousey. While the ratings for Raw and SmackDown have suffered, an entire new brand's show was launched this year.

    There have been triumphs that need to be celebrated and victors who should be commended for what they achieved, so let's take a look at some of the biggest winners in WWE for 2018.

Honorable Mentions

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    Lots of Superstars in WWE have had a good year and are worth talking about, even if they don't quite rank as influential as others on this list.

    For instance, AJ Styles held the WWE Championship for an entire year, retaining it at WrestleMania 34, overcoming the odds against Samoa Joe and cementing his spot as a major player in the company.

    Had his title reign been more impressive in terms of quality, rather than consisting largely of two feuds with Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura that dragged on too long, The Phenomenal One would have been included here.

    Shayna Baszler became the first-ever two-time NXT women's champion, which is something to hang her hat on. Dropping the title to Kairi Sane killed some of the unstoppable mystique she had, though, even if it was only temporary.

    Elias has yet to win a big match or a championship, but he may be one of the front-runners to be the next intercontinental champion. In 2018, he was the subject of Walk With Elias: The Documentary, released an album and was part of one of the biggest heat moments in a long while when he upset the Seattle crowd on October 1.

    The B-Team deserve a nod for turning around their roles as enhancement talent and winning the Raw Tag Team Championship, which was unthinkable at the beginning of the year.

    In terms of pure shock in the tag team division, though, perhaps nobody is a better honorable mention than Nicholas—the 10-year-old who will go down in history as the youngest WWE champion following his Raw Tag Team Championship victory with Braun Strowman at WrestleMania 34.

    Just by standing on the apron on the biggest show of the year, he will forever be able to say he won a title at WrestleMania and is undefeated in professional wrestling. That is wild.

Daniel Bryan

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    At the beginning of 2018, Daniel Bryan was still medically disqualified from competing in WWE and there was a fear he would leave the company once his contract expired. After all, it had been two years since he wrestled and WWE didn't seem to budge on the issue.

    The comeback happened, though, and Shane McMahon had Bryan by his side against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at WrestleMania. Just like that, the underdog overcame another obstacle and was back in the ring.

    Bryan's return alone would merit his inclusion on this list, but he didn't just stop at returning. He wanted to do more.

    It took a while for it to happen, but Bryan captured the WWE Championship on Nov. 13 and is now the official top dog on SmackDown Live. On top of that, he has turned heel and is trying out a new character that will keep him fresh.

    When it comes to starting from the bottom and working your way to the top, few can compare this year to Bryan's success.

Buddy Murphy

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    After dropping the NXT Tag Team Championship in 2015, Buddy Murphy was left going nowhere fast. He barely competed on NXT, and he was always losing when he did.

    It got so bad that he only had one televised match throughout 2017, and it's arguable he wouldn't have even had that if they weren't taping in his hometown at the time.

    Despite calling himself NXT's "best-kept secret," his career was heading nowhere and he could have easily been released.

    Out of nowhere, though, he appeared on 205 Live after cutting weight and looking better than ever.

    He found a new spot on the roster where he could be a big fish in a small pond, carving a niche as "the juggernaut" of the cruiserweight division.

    The highlight of his year came on October 6, when he won the Cruiserweight Championship in front of his home crowd in Melbourne, Australia, at Super Show-Down.

    This has easily been the best year in Murphy's career. Without that switch to 205 Live in January, he could well have had a very different situation going on ahead of 2019.

Seth Rollins

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    Seth Rollins started the year with the Raw Tag Team Championship around his waist, and even though he would drop it in late-January, he followed it up with another accolade.

    On February 19, Rollins managed to put on the longest performance in Raw history when he wrestled for one hour and five minutes in a Gauntlet match that featured a win over both John Cena and Roman Reigns.

    The Architect then won the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 34, and held it for 72 days. Even after dropping it to Dolph Ziggler, he managed to win it back 62 days later to keep it for another 119 days.

    During that time, Rollins also had a two-week stint as Raw tag team champion for the second time in the year.

    He's hit a few bumps in the road this year when his friendship with Dean Ambrose was fractured and how poorly their match at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs went over with the crowd, but he's still arguably the top babyface on the red brand at the moment.

    That may be the biggest contributing factor to him being geared up for a Royal Rumble victory that can lead to him dethroning Brock Lesnar and winning the Universal Championship for the first time.

    It has been an impressive year for Rollins. And if this trend continues, 2019 can be even better for him.

The Entire NXT UK Roster

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    The first-ever WWE United Kingdom champion was crowned when Tyler Bate won the title in January 2017.

    His victory and the tournament itself were meant to start an entire new brand that had been promised, but the year went by without anything happening.

    A handful of wrestlers such as Bate, Trent Seven, Pete Dunne, Wolfgang and Mark Andrews competed randomly at NXT events just to remind everybody this division was going to be a thing, yet nothing came of it.

    Finally, though, the first episode of NXT UK aired on October 17, and the brand has had a home every Wednesday on the WWE Network.

    Since then, an NXT UK women's champion has been crowned in the form of Rhea Ripley and the process to decide the first tag team champions is underway.

    In 2017, the division was made up of a few people with nowhere to go, but in 2018, it has become a true offshoot of NXT with a roster of over 30 men and women who are about to have their first brand-specific pay-per-view at NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool on January 12.

Tommaso Ciampa

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    When it comes down purely to performance quality, there's an argument to be made that nobody has had a better year than Tommaso Ciampa.

    Whether facing Aleister Black, Johnny Gargano or Velveteen Dream, he has taken part in more than a handful of the best matches in the entire yearnot just in NXT, but also the entire WWE as a whole.

    During that process, Ciampa captured the NXT Championship and is now the figurehead of the division—stealing that dream right out from underneath Gargano.

    In fact, Ciampa has gone so far as to turn his nemesis into a villain just like him, so there's essentially nothing that hasn't gone his way for much of 2018.

    That type of consistent winning and amazing performance level is unmatched, and 2018 goes down as the best Ciampa has had.

The Undisputed Era

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    At the tail end of 2017, Bobby Fish and Kyle O'Reilly won the NXT Tag Team Championship from Eric Young and Killian Dain.

    They would carry those titles into 2018 and add more gold to their team when Adam Cole became the first North American champion at TakeOver: New Orleans in one of the best matches this year in WWE.

    At that same event, Fish and O'Reilly retained the tag titles against The Authors of Pain and Pete Dunne by adding Roderick Strong, who was a perfect fit to boost his career.

    It often gets overlooked that in that match, The Undisputed Era also won the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, which is particularly impressive because they weren't even in the tournament to begin with.

    While Cole eventually dropped the North American Championship and hasn't regained it since, the tag team titles are a different story.

    Strong and O'Reilly temporarily lost the belts to Moustache Mountain, largely as a stunt to give NXT UK some momentum.

    Two days later, though, Undisputed Era recaptured the belts and will be going into 2019 still holding them.

    Now, Fish is back in action and the group is on the cusp of joining the main roster at some point next year, with the only thing keeping them in NXT being that they're so good that the brand relies on them to be anchors of the show.

    There's a reason it's believable when they say they have started a decade of dominance. They've already proved it in 2018.

Becky Lynch

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    Going into 2018, Becky Lynch wasn't the biggest priority on the roster by any means.

    She failed to win the Royal Rumble and was relegated to being another loser in the women's Battle Royal at WrestleMania. She was perpetually booked as second place to Charlotte Flair and not much else.

    It took until a winning streak after Money in the Bank for the ball to get rolling, but once she started picking up momentum, The Irish Lass Kicker didn't look back.

    Over the past few months, Lynch has positioned herself as the WWE Universe's go-to wrestler to support and has been fully embraced as "The Man" on the roster.

    She took this newfound surge in her popularity straight to the top of the roster, winning the SmackDown Women's Championship, retaining it in the first Last Woman Standing match at Evolution before losing it in the first women's TLC match due to outside interference from Ronda Rousey.

    That loss isn't even a ding against Lynch, because it furthered the feud between her and Rousey that is going to be one of the main catalysts towards having the two main-event WrestleMania 35.

    The first half of the year was rough for The Man, but she turned it around to make the latter half so phenomenal that she is the most talked-about woman in professional wrestling today.

    That is as good a definition of a winner as you can get.

Ronda Rousey

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    If anybody can challenge and surpass Becky Lynch as the top woman in WWE for 2018, it's Ronda Rousey.

    She made her debut at Royal Rumble, stealing the thunder from Asuka's victory in the main event simply by showing up and pointing at the WrestleMania sign.

    That took her to the Show of Shows itself, and her first match—in which she teamed with Kurt Angle to defeat Stephanie McMahon and Triple Himpressed the fans.

    Over the course of the year, she has continued to get better both in the ring and on the mic. She's a natural and now fits perfectly on the roster.

    Despite being a Raw regular, she hasn't lost that edge that marks her out as a special attraction, partly because she remains undefeated as the Raw women's champion.

    She main-evented Evolution and it seems inevitable that she will headline WrestleMania 35, too.

    Whether she fights Lynch or Charlotte Flair, or both at the same time in a Triple Threat, they'll be making history as the first women to accomplish such a feat.

    Within one year of her debut, Rousey could retire and never wrestle again but still be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.


    Who else qualifies as one of the biggest winners of 2018 in WWE? Tell us in the comments below.

    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.