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.
Few superstars have been as off-the-rails all year as Impact Wrestling’s Sami Callihan.
From his errant baseball bat to the face nearly blinding Eddie Edwards early on to a fiery war with first Pentagon, Jr., then the Lucha Brothers, the leader of Ohio Versus Everything (OvE) has been one of the most consistently controversial superstars of 2018.
Though handing Brian Cage his first Impact Wrestling pinfall loss, Callihan fell short of capturing the X-Division title. That certainly hasn’t put a damper on this degenerate’s prospects.
Fans of Impact even named him “Wrestler of the Year” in annual voting. Not too shabby for a man who has yet to capture a belt in the company!
After a career-defining 12 months, the sky is the limit for Callihan. It seems only a matter of time before he has championship gold — and bears all the ear-marks of a future Impact World Champion.
WWE Evolution PPV
There was a time when the thought of women headlining a pay-per-view was implausible. By 2018, though, the WWE’s former “Divas Division” was so transformed, it supported a rather outstanding pay-per-view all its own!
In October 2018, WWE Evolution presumably changed the landscape of pro wrestling forever. It was the first PPV event in company history to solely consist of women’s matches with Raw Women’s champion Ronda Rousey defending against Nikki Bella in the co-main event.
The evening highlighted female favorites, present, past and future. Legends like Lita, Trish Stratus, Michelle McCool, Molly Holly and even Alundra Blayze(!) returned for the show which also saw Toni Storm defeat Iio Sharai to win the Mae Young Classic. However, two cornerstones of the modern women’s movement stole the show.
Becky Lynch retained her Smackdown Women’s title against Charlotte Flair in a historic, hard-hitting Last Woman Standing Match which not only met the brutality of most any men’s PPV match of the year, it exceeded most. Their unparalleled skill, unrivaled in-ring chemistry and drive to forge a new path for not only women but pro wrestling as a whole was on full display in this instant classic and “Match of the Year” candidate.
Sadly, some still decry the success of women as less than revolutionary. Lynch’s immense popularity has been used to slight the WWE’s men’s product (“When a woman is the most over person on your roster…”) while still others say the company’s focus is exclusively on seeming “PC” or “making history.” Those individuals are either out-of-touch or simply haven’t been watching.
A multi-billion dollar corporation does little to seem “PC.” Perhaps they retain an LGBTQ wrestler for speaking engagements or promote an otherwise unremarkable talent like Titus O’Neill because he is an amazing father. They certainly do NOT invest literal millions into a division that isn’t paying dividends.
Rather than comparing success for the women’s division in an effort to put down men, 2019 should demand all wrestlers prove their worth in the ring as these grapplers did in the year past. As John Cena said while teaming with “The Man” to kick off the New Year, “Step up or step aside.”
The WWE’s women are certainly leading by example.
Al Snow Buys OVW
Ohio Valley Wrestling has long been a breeding ground for future superstars.
Once an acclaimed WWE feeder system, future World Champions like John Cena, Batista and Randy Orton honed their crafts there along with countless others. In more recent years, the company started by iconic indie wrestler “Nightmare” Danny Davis has been affiliated with Impact Wrestling and is a stop-off for top names passing through America’s heartland.
In April 2018, the landscape of OVW took an unexpected turn when news broke it was purchased by hardcore legend Al Snow. The former WWE superstar had previously worked with OVW as both a producer and trainer at various times over the previous decade.
Since Snow took the reigns, one of the nation’s best-known indie promotions — televised weekly throughout Louisville, KY, and surrounding areas — has taken noticeable steps forward. Fans are now treated to a roster combining long-time OVW favorites, up-and-comers and tried-and-true stars known worldwide.
Impact Hall-of-Famer Abyss currently wreaks havoc as OVW champion, recently fending off a challenge from “Hurricane” Shane Helms. Former NWA World champion Jax Dame and partner Crimson — duds as Impact’s blandly patriotic Veterans of War — are dominant OVW Southern Tag Team champs The War Kings.
While global audiences might not necessarily be watching as the drama — in-ring or out — unfolds, the value of OVW’s resurgence is undeniable. Snow has breathed new life into a thriving independent federation which recently celebrated its 1,000th televised broadcast.
For pro wrestling to remain strong and successful, young talent must have a place to cut their teeth, gaining valuable experience and exposure. Ohio Valley, like many other regional promotions, is a hot bed for this.
Reigning TV champion Dustin Jackson, already a multiple-time title-holder in the company at just 20-years-old, has the build, charisma and skills of a future blue-chipper. Others like Justin Smooth, Randall Floyd — who went 95-5 as a collegiate grappler — and twin duo King’s Ransom are also on their way.
With Snow now in charge, more than just OVW’s TV product has improved. So, too, are opportunities for the company to remain a proving ground for the future of the business.
For any who want to see “Tomorrow’s Superstars Today,” that is compelling indeed!