The 15 Most Unforgettable WWE Stories of the Decade

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2019

The 15 Most Unforgettable WWE Stories of the Decade

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The decade that was in WWE provided fans with unforgettable moments including memorable introductions, tearful goodbyes, monumental returns and historic main events. All proved the power wrestling can have, the emotional impact it can leave and the reasons we love it.

    From altering the course of one gender's role in the sport to shining the spotlight on the future of the industry, the decade gave fans hope that the next 10 years will be even better than the 10 preceding them.

    As 2019 comes to a close, relive these top 15 most unforgettable stories.

15. Edge Retires from in-Ring Action

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    One week after WrestleMania 27 in April 2011, then-world heavyweight champion Edge took to the squared circle for what was billed as a major announcement.

    Fans were saddened when The Rated-R Superstar revealed he had to retire from professional wrestling due to continuing health concerns following a neck injury in 2002.

    One of the biggest stars of his generation, a multi-time world champion and one of the most successful heels ever, Edge walked away from the industry he had loved from childhood, physically unable to give it any more than he already had.

    Like other curveballs thrown at WWE throughout the course of the decade, it forced the company to move in a different direction, focus on fresh faces and elevate performers to new levels of competition.

    One such Superstar to benefit? Christian, who captured his first world title with the company by winning a ladder match for the vacated title his lifelong friend and former tag team partner had carried with such pride.

    As the decade comes to a close, rumors continue to hint at a possible in-ring return for Edge, as noted by PWInsider.com's Mike Johnson.

14. Nexus Unleashes Hell

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    The summer of 2010 brought the arrival of a new faction of young, hungry Superstars who would not be denied an opportunity.

    Wade Barrett, Heath Slater, David Otunga, Justin Gabriel, Darren Young, Michael Tarver, Skip Sheffield and Daniel Bryan emerged from obscurity to form the Nexus faction and attacked John Cena, CM Punk and anyone else in their path of destruction on the June 7 edition of Raw.

    The group destroyed the ringside area, pulling back mats and tearing apart the squared circle. They targeted ring crew, announcers, commentators and left everyone employed by WWE scurrying for protection. Their debut was unlike anything ever witnessed before and left fans genuinely excited about the creative path they would take in the coming weeks and months.

    Unfortunately, the writing team was not up to the challenge and ended up killing their heat sooner than later, and they became little more than the latest tackling dummies for Cena.

    Still, there is no denying the massive angle that closed that June episode of Raw and its place in the annals of WWE history.

13. Sting Finally Arrives in WWE

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    There was no competitor more loyal to World Championship Wrestling and Ted Turner throughout the existence of that company than Sting.

    The face-painted hero of WCW was its top babyface, and when the New World Order erupted in the mid-1990s as part of the Monday Night Wars, he became its silent guardian and savior. Not even Ric Flair could claim to be as synonymous with WCW as the Venice Beach native.

    Even when Sting had the opportunity to join WWE after the demise of WCW in March 2001, he opted to sign with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, still wary about what awaited him in WWE. After all, Vince McMahon and Co. had not exactly utilized former WCW talents to their strengths, often opting to welcome them by booking them to lose to WWE stars.

    Sting would go on to enjoy a lengthy and successful run with TNA, but the dark cloud and constant questions about a run in WWE continued to hang overhead by 2014. And after resisting for so long, he finally joined the company for a string of shows leading into WrestleMania 31.

    Arriving at Survivor Series, he was greeted by a massive ovation from a fanbase that still recognized him as one of the biggest stars of his generation.

12. NXT Arrives

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    NXT had earned quite a reputation for itself prior to the launch of the WWE Network, blending old-school storytelling with some of the most innovative and exciting young stars in the industry.

    So, when WWE launched its streaming network, management offered COO Triple H and the NXT brand the first crack at a live event special on the platform in February 2014.

    Appropriately dubbed "NXT Arrival," it would feature Paige vs. Emma for the women's title, Neville vs. Bo Dallas in a ladder match for the NXT title and another classic encounter between Sami Zayn and Cesaro.

    The Superstars involved tore the house down, demanding the audience's attention and announcing to the world they were the future of the industry.

    Ever since that night, NXT has become the breeding ground for WWE's stars of tomorrow. It has also developed into the most consistently great of the company's products and delivered its best matches.

    Despite other companies labeling themselves as an alternative to Vince McMahon's particular brand of sports entertainment, it has been the black and gold of NXT that has repeatedly given fans something different, something extraordinary and something worth investing in emotionally.

    That does not appear to be ending any time soon.

11. Daniel Bryan Retires, Unretires

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    There was no Superstar whose climb up the WWE mountain inspired fans and made him a more popular and beloved competitor over the last 10 years than Daniel Bryan.

    Screwed over in the opening match of WrestleMania 28 when he was booked to lose his world title in seconds to Sheamus, he then rode a wave of momentum. Suddenly, fans began chanting "Yes!" with him, cheered him despite his obvious status as a heel and were very vocal in their support.

    When his two-year journey back to the top was capped by his WWE World Heavyweight Championship win at WrestleMania 30, it looked as though the industry was his to reign over for the foreseeable future. Instead, his body had different plans.

    A neck injury forced Bryan to the sidelines for a year. When he returned, concussions knocked him back out of action. A long history of brain injuries and the effects they had on him forced him to announce in 2016 that he would have to retire from the squared circle.

    He would remain a key member of the television product, serving alongside Shane McMahon as SmackDown general manager. Then, in 2018, Bryan revealed that after years of hard work and dedication to his body and well-being, he had finally been cleared to compete.

    There followed a high-profile feud with The Miz, a heel turn that sparked one of his most creative personas and another WWE Championship reign. Not bad for a guy who was too small, then too injured to find sustainable success in the land of the giants.

10. Shane McMahon Returns to WWE

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    Shane McMahon had not been seen on WWE television since 2009 when he made a shocking return to the company as part of the never-ending McMahon family saga in February 2016.

    The prodigal son walked the aisle, came face-to-face with father Vince and sister Stephanie, and soaked in the thunderous welcome from fans who were genuinely excited to see him back on screen.

    Shane-O-Mac quickly found himself booked inside Hell in a Cell with The Undertaker, one of the marquee bouts of that year's WrestleMania, and he would become the on-screen authority figure of SmackDown when the company initiated the brand extension again.

    While it took McMahon a little while to refamiliarize himself with the industry his father had been king of since he was a child, he eventually found his footing and became one of the centerpiece characters of the WWE product in the second half of the decade.

9. The Women's Evolution

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    A seemingly unimportant, 30-second match between The Bella Twins and the team of Paige and Emma on the February 23, 2015 episode of Raw sparked a social media movement known as #GiveDivasAChance.

    Born of frustration with WWE's use of its female talent and the lack of opportunities presented them to prove themselves on the same level as men, it took off.

    Meanwhile, in NXT, a quartet of competitors known as the Four Horsewomen were having the type of matches typically reserved for their male counterparts. Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley repeatedly tore the house down, building on a foundation laid by Natalya, Paige and Emma a year earlier.

    Women were now having the most acclaimed matches on the NXT live event specials. And at WrestleMania 32, after Flair, Lynch and Banks were called up the main roster, they featured prominently on the show. They stole it, too.

    As women's wrestling built momentum heading into the second half of the decade, WWE coined the phrase "women's evolution," a back-patting buzz term that made it an official company objective. The role of the female competitors increased, their stars burned brighter and their opportunities became greater.

    Then, in October 2018, WWE held its first all-female pay-per-view, appropriately entitled Evolution. A critical success, it proved the women of WWE were strong, independent, engaging, interesting and that fans would show up to watch them.

    It would not be the last bit of history the women of WWE would make by the decade's end.

8. Roman Reigns Announces Return of Leukemia

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    Roman Reigns had worked so hard to finally defeat Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at the 2018 SummerSlam event that when he finally did, most assumed his reign would be a lengthy one. Unfortunately for The Big Dog and his fans, it was not to be. 

    On October 26 of that year, Reigns took a microphone and introduced himself to the WWE Universe as Joe, then revealed he was battling leukemia for the second time in his life. He would go on to relinquish the universal title and walk away from the industry he had devoted the decade to.

    The outpouring from fans and friends alike proved inspirational for Reigns. The following February, with WrestleMania 35 drawing near, he announced the cancer was in remission and he had been cleared to compete once more.

    For the first time since his massive singles push began, fans were united in their support of the second-generation star.

    Reigns would return to the ring at The Granddaddy of Them All against Drew McIntyre and pick up right where he left off: kicking ass as the lead dog in Vince McMahon's traveling circus.

7. Brock Lesnar Returns

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    Just 24 hours after a massive WrestleMania 28, Brock Lesnar stunned the world by returning to WWE, leaving behind an MMA career that had been extremely good to him.

    Setting foot inside a WWE ring for the first time in eight years, he dropped John Cena with an F5 and stood tall to close out the post-Mania episode of Raw and announce to the world that no Superstar was safe from his unrelenting fury.

    Lesnar returned to the company on a massive deal and immediately earned critics for his part-time status. This, despite the fact guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan were putting in a ton of work but could barely sniff the figures offered to the former UFC heavyweight champion.

    That special treatment would become a hallmark of fans' dislike for Lesnar over the next seven years, while his smashmouth style and box-office appeal helped differentiate him from others on the roster.

    You didn't have to like him, but Lesnar was going nowhere. And over the course of the rest of the decade, he would demolish anything and everything in his path en route to several more title reigns.

6. CM Punk Leaves WWE

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    When CM Punk was denied the opportunity to main-event WrestleMania 29, despite a red-hot program with The Undertaker, the writing was on the wall for his eventual departure from the company.

    Creatively frustrated and physically battered, he finished out his contract with the company and left in January 2014.

    The shockwaves of his departure were felt for months afterwards as management was left to fast-track planned storylines, break up highly successful factions and push Superstars earlier than they may have been ready for.

    Later that year, on a memorable Thanksgiving day podcast hosted by Colt Cabana, Punk laid out his frustrations with his former employers, even going as far as to accuse them of an unsafe working environment due to alleged interactions with one of the company's doctors.

    In every arena across the country, chants of "CM Punk" rained from the stands whenever disenfranchised fans became bored or angered by the product WWE put out there.

    Punk continued to distance himself from the industry, focusing his efforts in the world of mixed martial arts. It was not until Fox approached him with an opportunity to be an analyst on the new WWE Backstage show that he returned to the company in November 2019, just in time to wrap up the decade and reignite speculation that he may return to a WWE ring.

5. Women Headline WrestleMania for First Time

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    The signing of Ronda Rousey in 2018 brought the WWE women's division the right amount of star power it needed to take the next step.

    Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Bayley and Sasha Banks had all headlined pay-per-views before, but they needed a star of Rousey's magnitude to the opportunity to main-event the biggest night in sports entertainment, WrestleMania.

    On April 7, 2019, Rousey entered MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey as the Raw women's champion, while Flair was the SmackDown titleholder.

    Meanwhile, Lynch was the hottest star in the industry: The Man and a Lass Kicker ready to take all the gold. Together, the three etched their names in the history books, main-eventing the biggest show of the year and writing the latest chapter for the women's evolution.

    The star-studded event concluded with Lynch becoming the first competitor to pin Rousey in a WWE ring and the new Raw and SmackDown women's champion.

    Becky 2 Belts celebrated the show amid pyro exploding, with her star made. Together, the women basked in the glory of their accomplishments, their place in the annals of professional wrestling undeniable.

4. WWE Launches Streaming Network

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    On February 24, 2014, Vince McMahon became one of the true pioneers of streaming television by launching WWE Network, a sports-entertainment-centric platform that would provide fans with original content, pay-per-views and a massive video library...all for the price of $9.99. Also included? The annual sports-entertainment spectacle WrestleMania.

    In the five years since then, the network has aired live event specials, acclaimed documentaries and become the official home of NXT until its jump to cable and the USA Network earlier this year.

    The network altered the company's fortunes and made it one of the most successful entertainment empires in the world. It also provided fans a link to the rich history of the sport and ensued the giants of yesteryear would live forever.

3. The Rock Returns for Once-in-a-Lifetime Showdown

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    Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson established himself as an A-list actor in the seven years he had been gone from professional wrestling and had mentioned in interviews that his days as an in-ring performer were behind him.

    It was for that reason that his return to WWE in 2011 for a year-long, Once-in-a-Lifetime showdown with John Cena was so surprising.

    The Great One walked through the curtain on the Valentine's Day 2011 episode of Raw and was shown nothing but love from an audience delighted to see him back. He wasted little time targeting Cena, calling him out for derogatory remarks the franchise star had made about him in interviews of his own.

    That sparked a rivalry that would carry the icons through the next year and culminate with a massive, historic, big-money match at WrestleMania 28 in April 2012. In front of his hometown fans, family and friends, Rock overcame a game Cena and defeated him with a bone-crunching Rock Bottom.

    WWE somewhat ruined the moment by booking a rematch for the next year in New Jersey, but there was no denying the impact Rock's return had on the product, not to mention on Cena's star power and his own legacy.

2. 21-1

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    For 21 years, there were three certainties in life: death, taxes and The Undertaker winning at WrestleMania.

    His streak had become synonymous with the event and was as anticipated as any world championship match every year. The Phenom was the one performer Vince McMahon knew he could build his epic event around.

    That is why his loss at WrestleMania 30 to Brock Lesnar remains as shocking as it was at the time.

    Fans watched in stunned silence as The Beast Incarnate made his way up the ramp, enjoying the signature victory of his career while the conquered Deadman lay motionless in the center of the ring.

    Social media mourned the loss of The Streak, with fans equating it to the end of their childhoods. It was a moment in time picked up by mainstream media and reported on as if it was a legitimate sporting event.

    For so many, The Streak meant so much. The Beast becoming the one in 21-1 meant equally as much, even if fans continue to debate the wisdom of bestowing such an honor on an already-established star like Lesnar. 

1. CM Punk's Pipebomb

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    With his contract status uncertain at the time, CM Punk was given a live microphone on the June 27, 2011 episode of Raw and an opportunity to vent his frustrations to the world.

    He did just that, taking aim at the upper management he felt held him down, sycophantic suck-ups like John Cena and The Rock, Vince McMahon's "idiot daughter" Stephanie and "doofus son-in-law" Triple H, and the fans he felt were just as responsible for his frustrations as anyone. 

    The promo, later entitled "The Pipebomb," sparked a renewed interest in Punk and quickly elevated him to the top of the industry. Suddenly, late-night talk shows were covering The Straight Edge Superstar.

    Punk was a bona fide star entering his Money in the Bank match with Cena for the WWE Championship and the company capitalized on it. In front of his hometown fans in Chicago, he defeated The Cenation Leader and escaped through the crowd with the top prize in sports entertainment.

    The excitement surrounding Punk was ultimately ended by horrifically bad booking that put the emphasis on Kevin Nash and Triple H, but there was no denying that for a month or two that summer, there was no competitor in the entire pro wrestling industry hotter and more must-see than Punk.