Ten years ago this week, VoicesofWrestling.com was born.
Originally designed to be a website and podcast series where people would discuss how they became wrestling fans and why they are fans today, the website eventually evolved into what you see today. This week, to celebrate our 10th anniversary, we invited VOW contributors past and present to re-create that original concept with a twist: why did you become a wrestling fan and how has your wrestling fandom changed in the last ten years.
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Thank you for a great ten years. Enjoy.
Looking back now on the past 10 years of my fandom, it has been a very interesting ride. Rather than giving a novel with a year-to-year breakdown of my viewing habits, favorite matches, and particular interests, I will highlight two seminal years from the decade.
When fans think of 2014, the first thing that comes to mind is most likely the Daniel Bryan storyline and its culmination at WrestleMania XXX. After that, I generally don’t hear too much positive about the year. Bryan was injured a month or so after reaching the mountaintop and the rest of the year featured sporadic Brock Lesnar appearances and one of the many attempted builds of Roman Reigns. I’ll let you all in on a little secret though – I personally enjoyed the hell out of 2014 WWE. I recently listened to a classic “List ‘em and Learn” episode by Matt Foy featuring Joe Gagne and Justin Shapiro from 2015 in which they presented the top 10 best years in WWE history.
I don’t think anyone mentioned 2014 at all, but it was honestly one of the first years that popped into my head. I’ll let y’all in on another little secret here too, one that I think explains why I remember this year so fondly—I was never much of a regular WWE PPV watcher in real-time. As a kid, my parents were never going to shell out the money for these things. I had to rely on friends to be able to randomly catch Backlash 1999 or WrestleMania 2000. The lone exception to this is the year 2001, in which I had a good friend who would get nearly every PPV. We had a great time that year watching the Royal Rumble, King of the Ring (Austin/Jericho/Benoit triple threat was great), the rise of RVD, and great feuds like Angle/Austin and Rock/Jericho. I bring this up, because with the launch of the WWE network in 2014, this marked the first year in a long time that I was able to regularly watch WWE PPVs and follow the product closely as it happened.
Now, I haven’t gone back and watched a ton of this stuff, so I can’t say how well it all holds up seven years later, but there are plenty of matches and feuds that live on with high marks in my mind. I don’t need to re-hash the great Daniel Bryan performance at WrestleMania, but I will take a moment to defend his first and only title defense against Kane at Extreme Rules 2014. Now, will I defend the bad horror movie build with Daniel and Brie Bella running scared from “The Demon” Kane? No, I will not. But the match itself was a great homage to the crowd brawling of the Attitude era. It took the tropes of those matches with backstage fighting and various weapons, but added enough to it, especially with Bryan’s abilities to make it modern and exciting, and unique to their characters. I especially loved Bryan using a forklift in a reference to the Judgment Day 2003 match between Brock Lesnar and the Big Show. Bryan really showed his versatility in being able to execute a hardcore style plunder match which escalated to a great finish with the use of a flaming table.
Extreme Rules also featured the incredible Shield vs. Evolution trios match. While the six-man tag against the Wyatt Family earlier in the year at Elimination Chamber is mentioned more often, I always preferred the Evolution match. While the second match at Payback with its elimination rules was still good, and served a very good storyline purpose in putting over the Shield definitively, the frenetic energy of the Extreme Rules match – with Rollins and Ambrose running and diving all over the place, and then ending with a colossal battle between Reigns and Batista made it a near-instant classic to me.
These matches did exactly what they needed to do in establishing Rollins, Ambrose, and Reigns as the future of the company. And then after the heel turn by Rollins, I felt that his feud with Ambrose that summer and fall did a great job in continuing it. Ambrose especially was great at constantly showing his disdain and rage for Rollins. The Money in the Bank ladder match that year excelled because it centered the match around the story of these two feuding, rather than just being a plodding spotfest. Their lumberjack match at SummerSlam exceeded all expectations of what is typically a yawner of a stipulation. They headed into the fall with tons of heat and continued to produce great matches and moments.
Watching every PPV for the first time in a long time was great in seeing this feud hit so many different beats, and also allowed me to see things that I otherwise probably would have missed. If I didn’t have the WWE network I’m not sure if I ever would have watched Night of Champions 2014. But I did, and in doing so was able to see a great show-long story play out. Rollins was supposed to face Reigns that night, but shortly before the event Reigns required emergency hernia surgery. This then lead to Rollins coming to the ring and bragging about a forfeit victory. This, of course, allowed Dean Ambrose to return and attack him. Ambrose had been out after a vicious cinder block curb stomp by Rollins and he filled in for the injured Reigns perfectly here. The two then had a wild brawl with great crowd heat. It was more than just a segment but wasn’t an official match, something that I call a “non-match match.” For the record, my favorite “non-match match” is Erick Stevens vs. Roderick Strong at ROH Supercard of Honor III.
The two finished their feud in a Hell in a Cell match, that much like the Bryan/Kane match earlier in the year is an underrated match and fantastic homage to the past, while not being a boring replica of it. There was brawling on top of the cage at the start (Mankind/Undertaker 1998). There was a great bump where they both fell off the side of the cage through the announce tables like Shawn Michaels in the original 1997 match. The match then featured callbacks to their own feud including Ambrose hitting chairshots to Rollins in an echo of the heel turn and setting up a finish with the cinderblocks that had previously taken him out. Even the spooky Bray Wyatt stuff to end the match didn’t bother me too much, as I just saw it as a nod to Kane debuting and interfering in the Badd Blood HBK/Undertaker match.
Ambrose was so good and so over during this whole time, that many of the stupid stuff in the Wyatt feud (exploding televisions) and the rodeo clown stuff with Rollins (hot dogs, mustard) worked at the time for me. It all fit in with the reckless character that Ambrose was portraying and evoked Stone Cold in such a way that it seemed like Ambrose was a star on the rise. He would eventually get some big moments in WWE, but of course we would have to wait another 5 years before he unleashed his full potential in AEW and NJPW.
Continuing on, the end of the year featured the incredible Survivor Series elimination match with Rollins perfecting his great heel character, a wonderfully quick Cena elimination, Ziggler doing his best HBK impression, and the WWE debut of Sting. TLC that year is most remembered in meme form for the stair match between Erick Rowan and Big Show, but it also included a great ladder match between Luke Harper and Dolph Ziggler for the IC title. It honestly is one of the best ladder matches in modern WWE history, and outside of the Orton match at Elimination Chamber 2017, it is the best singles match of the late great Brodie Lee during his time in WWE. TLC also had Seth Rollins once again making a gimmick match better than it had any right to be. After updating the lumberjack and Hell in a Cell match with Ambrose to modern standards, he and John Cena put together a very entertaining tables match.
In between those WWE PPVs, we had yet another highlight of 2014 – the NXT Takeover: R Evolution event. You can hear Rich wax poetically about the Sami Zayn vs. Neville main event on the Voices of Wrestling Flagship Patreon and honestly every part of it is earned there. In addition to that Match of the Year contender, the show also featured a great tag match with KENTA (…Hideo Itami) and Finn Balor very early in their runs and forming a puro nerd dream team against The Ascension—who, I kid you not, were actually good at one point in NXT. The Kevin Owens debut in a squash of the future Juice Robinson and the angle where he destroys Sami at the end of the show just takes it all up another level.
I kept my Network subscription into 2015, but slowly the interest drained from me. The Roman Reigns victory at Royal Rumble 2015 and push just didn’t work – even though his match at WrestleMania against Brock was incredible and could have saved it. After Extreme Rules 2015 featured a terrible overbooked cage match of Rollins vs. Orton with way too much nonsensical Kane involvement, I canceled my subscription. While I enjoyed the Kane match in 2014 with Bryan, WWE really pushed their luck here and it failed. It was a good run.
Having the WWE at my fingertips really grew my fandom and while 2016 was a high-quality year for the ‘E, it was 2014 where my interest and enjoyment of their product really peaked. It started to go downhill fast after 2016, and eventually, I reached my breaking point in the next year I will be discussing: 2018.