Contrary to what you might think, there were a lot of good moments in WWE’s 2015. Kevin Owens pinned Cena clean and is a legitimate star, Seth Rollins became the boy-god we always knew he was, Neville, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Tyler Breeze, and the Lucha Dragons debuted on the main roster, and Brock Lesnar didn’t lose to Roman Reigns. Not bad right? As wrestling fans we’re predisposed to focus on the dumb, stupid stuff, but we should also offer credit where credit is due. It could be so much worse. David Arquette is not champion. Life is good.
Okay, now that that’s taken care of, let’s talk about the dumb stupid stuff. Here are my choices for some of the worst, cringiest, most ill-conceived moments from the WWE this year. Why? Because it’s fun to commiserate, but also because we’re never gonna get better without first acknowledging the problem. Consider this step one in Bad Wrestling Booking Anonymous.
Worst Championship Reign – Ryback
Poor Ryback. The guy has been through more ups and downs than practically anyone else on the entire roster. From Tough Enough, to Ohio Valley Wrestling, to The Nexus and a monster push, and back down to, erm, Rybaxel, he’s the epitome of inconsistent, here-today-gone-tomorrow WWE booking.
So it was actually kind of nice that top brass gave him a run with the Intercontinental Title earlier this year. Unfortunately it came from 2015’s worst match (more on that later), and an empty, untethered feud The Miz and Big Show which got protracted way longer than it should’ve thanks to an untimely staph infection. Seriously. Ryback’s first moment with a title was wasted on two dudes who are built to take pinfalls, and he wrestled them for months.
Eventually Kevin Owens showed up, took the title, and now gets to have real matches with actual important people like Dean Ambrose. I’m not complaining! But it feels like Ryback deserved better, right?
Worst Feud - Dolph Ziggler/Lana vs. Rusev/Summer Rae
Maybe it’s weird to say this was the worst feud of the year. I mean, it was really, really bad, but it was still memorable right? I’ll remember Dolph Ziggler desperately emulating the most cringe-worthy playboy of all time. I’ll remember Rusev, a former world-conquering badass, get ruthlessly emasculated by the booking, the commentary, his former valet, etc. I’ll remember Lana, someone who was once rumored as the future female face of the WWE, morph into a bleached, day-glo groupie, completely robbing her of all the things that made her interesting and unique in the first place.
So, in some ways this feud is more interesting than, say, Randy Orton/Sheamus. You know, in the same way a plane crash is more interesting than a car crash.
That being said, I can’t think of a recent feud that’s been more destructive to two careers quite like this one. A few months before he ran off with Lana, Dolph Ziggler looked like the second-in-command babyface, producing one of the most heroic Survivor Series matches ever and saving the good guys from complete annihilation. Now he’s the most obnoxious, played-out character in all of wrestling. Rusev was on a killer undefeated streak, got toppled by John Cena, became a groveling, whiny, pushover mess, and is now an anonymous member of a meaningless stable. So yeah, I think I’d always rather be mediocre than spectacularly bad.
Biggest Disappointment - The Diva’s Revolution
We all knew this would happen.
Raw is a show with a very specific list of priorities. It is here to drive subscriptions, sell merch, and draw eyeballs before it is here to make stars. That’s why Cena, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker have been the only relevant people on the show for years, and guys like Seth Rollins and CM Punk can win championships and still feel like total NPCs. Things are different down in NXT; the audience is smaller and the booking is more flexible, which allows the show to build massive, complicated, multi-year storylines that culminate in beautiful matches, like, say, the Bayley/Sasha Banks barnburner that might very well be the most cathartic moment in recent WWE history.
Unfortunately, we also knew that when the once-in-a-lifetime crop of women cultivated down in NXT made their main roster debut it was going to be a struggle. Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch should be a big deal, and the WWE treated them as such, but they were immediately put in listless, go-nowhere tag matches which forced someone like Lynch, who's wrestled all over the world since 2002, to take the worst offense in the universe from Brie Bella.
These women got over for their great matches, sure, but it was also because their characters were beautifully orchestrated. Charlotte is the overconfident, prototypical hoss who can take on all comers without a doubt in her mind. Sasha Banks is a career second-banana who finally, desperately turned on the only friend she had for a chance to scamper to the top of the heap. On Raw, Sasha’s only real character trait is that she’s a heel and wears stunner shades.
That has to change, and I’m confident it will. Unfortunately in 2015 the Diva’s Revolution represented all our worst fears about main-roster WWE booking.
Most Brutally Squandered Momentum: Cesaro
All WWE has to do is say “hey, Cesaro! Cesaro is awesome,” and they’ll have a brand new star.
I don’t salivate quite as hard for the Swiss Superman as the rest of the internet underbelly, but he’s undeniably one of the most technically gifted wrestlers on the roster, sporting some inhuman strength and a genuinely endorsable personality. He kicked off the year with a couple great matches in the tag-team division, and caught fire after two fantastic Raw matches with John Cena. This prompted one of the most memorable moments of the year, when The Face That Runs The Place held a special post-match speech to put him over as fervently as possible.
You can’t get much better than that. And naturally Cesaro was immediately put in a program with Kevin Owens, which he lost. No big deal. What’s next? A bunch of middling tag-matches and no significant pay-per-view appearances? Oh.
Like I said, I’m not saying Cesaro should be world champion, but it’s occasionally baffling when WWE has a perfect opportunity to turn someone into a big deal and just … refuse. Who knows? Maybe he was in line for a giant WrestleMania push before he got injured, but it still smells like that all-too-common conundrum of a wrestler who’s categorically ready by every identifiable metric except Vince’s arbitrary judgement.
Worst Match: Ryback vs. Sheamus vs. R. Truth vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. King Barrett vs. Mark Henry, Elimination Chamber
I still don’t know what happened with this thing. Here are six veterans who are more than capable of working a reasonable match, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything break down quite as thoroughly on WWE programming. There’s the whole bit where Sheamus is apparently sabotaging the entrance to his pod with his necklace, which goes completely unexplained by commentary and just sorta lingers around for a few minutes. There’s a bunch of people breaking up pins, even though it’s an elimination match, which is totally counterintuitive and stupid. Mark Henry’s pod breaks and he’s not sure if he’s supposed to come out and join the match or stand around like a goober. It’s bad.
My favorite part is towards the end where Dolph Ziggler starts barking out spots to everyone, desperately trying to get things back together. A valiant effort, but this match still ends with Sheamus and Ryback doing listless power moves after 25 minutes to probably the deadest pay-per-view crowd of the year. There’s only so much you can do.