The world of professional wrestling experienced some landmark changes in 2018.
Some unfolded as millions watched on national TV. Others played out on the internet or sold out arenas and even quiet board rooms in America’s heartland. Some of these stories made international headlines; others scarcely made headlines at all. For this fan of pro wrestling, though, these were some of the most compelling, interesting and consistently watchable events, developments and personalities of the last year.
Roman Reigns’ Leukemia
Sometimes unexpected doses of reality are more shocking than any plot-twists pro wrestling could write. Roman Reigns proved exactly that this year. Whether fans of “The Big Dog” or not, viewers were collectively devastated to hear of the superstar’s failing health.
“My real name is Joe,” he announced to a hushed live and international home-viewing audience, “And I have leukemia.”
Making the shocking, televised declaration even more jaw-dropping, of course, was a Universal Title defense looming against former champ Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman in Saudi Arabia. Abdicating the belt just weeks before an already controversial PPV — thrown into question by the host country’s politically-charged real-world climate — only heightened the drama.
Not only were fans dismayed to learn of a top-tier WWE staple’s very serious health condition, they were also curious how the company would bounce back from a sudden vacancy in its main event roster. For better or worse, Reigns has been a focal point of RAW for years!
How WWE fares without Reigns is yet to be seen; however, the former champ’s obvious fighting spirit bodes well for a full recovery and return to the ring. When he does, fans will be waiting to cheer him on.
The WWE can then finally retire calling Reigns “polarizing” — a polite way of addressing its inability to get him fully over as the face of the company. This is perhaps the first battle the entire WWE Universe wants Reigns to win.
Consider it a silver lining to an otherwise distressing situation.
Becky Lynch Becomes ‘The Man’
Becky Lynch became a legitimate superstar with just one smack!
Though crowned the first-ever Smackdown Women’s champion, Lynch soon became an after-thought for years. A series of women filled the roster’s main event, trading the belt as Lynch subbed in occasionally as a viable if unlikely contender. (This is where being a “white meat babyface” got her, Road Warrior Animal!)
When Charlotte Flair was sidelined mid-2018, Lynch found her opportunity to shine. She chased champ Carmella throughout the summer, ready to recapture past glory. Unfortunately, her best friend’s return immediately redirected the spotlight, with “The Queen” even inserted into Lynch’s PPV opportunity against Mella. “The Irish Lass-Kicker”’s fate as second-banana (or worse) appeared sealed.
When Flair literally pushed Lynch out of the way to capture the title, though, the redhead snapped. Slapping her former bestie, she sparked a war which has yet to stop — and cemented herself as the single most “over” female in the business. Even fans, acknowledging Lynch’s deserved place in the main event, refused to jeer her no matter her transgressions!
Though a teased PPV showdown with RAW Women’s Champ Ronda Rousey was postponed, and Asuka has since taken the Smackdown title in controversial fashion (with Rousey’s help), Lynch remains the most talked-about woman in sports entertainment. What the Dubliner does next is anyone’s guess, but the world is watching.
While Rousey claims to be “The Baddest Woman” on the planet, 2018 unquestionably made Lynch the most interesting. Oh, yes, she’s definitely “The Man.”
Nick Aldis Reinvigorates the NWA
When Billy Corgan bought the National Wrestling Alliance, most wrote it off as a rich man’s folly. Many scoffed when the rock star emphatically stated there was a 20-year plan in place to breathe new life into the once-great promotion, especially with Nick Aldis as it’s new face.
In 2018, though, those watching might have started to believe. After capturing the coveted “Ten Pounds of Gold” from school teacher and part-time pro wrestler Tim Storm — less than a household name — the Brit began the long road to redemption for NWA…and, some might say, himself.
Match-by-match, promotion by promotion, the man-formerly-known-as-Magnus embarked on a truly global schedule of defenses. From homegrown favorites like Josephus and Storm to international superstars like Tommy Dreamer and Cody Rhodes — to whom he dropped the belt briefly at the “All In” super show in September — Aldis took on all comers.
His exploits, of course, were well-documented via the NWA’s growing social media presence and its ongoing web series “Ten Pounds of Gold.” Without overhyping itself, and while never shying away from the reality of what the product became, the NWA has delivered consistently compelling, emotional, character-driven web content.
Naturally, much of the credit goes to producers Corgan, a hands-on owner, and his right-hand man Dave Lagana. Their focus on the true-life stories of competitors has increased the star-power and credibility of names often unknown to casual audiences and the overall impact of their YouTube product.
However, Aldis deserves a considerable amount of credit as well. As the company’s telegenic, skilled, well-spoken champion, he’s exceeded even the highest expectations all but Corgan and Lagana seemed to have for him a year ago.
In many ways, Aldis pays homage to the roots of NWA — an organization built on a journeyman champion defending its title in a loosely unified network of territories. Meanwhile, he is paving the way for its future as well.
Few might have guessed how quickly the NWA would reemerge as a product worth watching. Certainly nobody could have predicted its World title would headline one of 2018’s most-hyped shows.
Yet, at “All In,” that’s exactly what happened. With Corgan and Lagana at the helm — and Aldis leading the charge — it’s literally impossible to predict what 2019 holds!