Hello all. Great to see you folks again, for this, my sixth year of writing the Look Back.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure that I would even take on the list this year. Since February, I’ve been writing scripts for my good friends at Cultaholic for their YouTube channel, and in April, I would assume many more roles with them, including content writer, social media host, and podcaster (The Cultaholic Classic Raw Review with my buddy Tom Campbell). It’s the most work I’ve ever done in any wrestling-related field, and while I’m grateful for it all (especially to Adam Pacitti for hiring me), it is, as noted, a lot of work. So I was actually looking forward to taking these two weeks around Christmas and New Year’s to decompress from it all, to rest my brain.
But a few messages came my way from some loyal Crappers, asking if I was going to write the year-end list once more. Quickly, I rationalized doing it, knowing that I can’t sit idle for too long without working on something. And besides, RD was kind enough to join Tom and I for our King of the Ring 1993 watchalong podcast – I’m always happy to pay Uncle Deal back.
That is, until I began the research a few weeks back. And there’s where it hit me.
2018 was filled with wrestling-related rancidness.
This should come as no surprise to somebody who wrote the previous five lists, but this was a different beast altogether. Whereas in some of those years I had to dig deep into the core for 50 viable options, this time around, 50 came to mind quickly enough. More than 50, in fact. Just paring the list down to 50 was harder than compiling the candidates because, as noted, this year was putrid.
But not all of it was bad. Events like Wrestle Kingdom, the NXT TakeOvers, and some select WWE pay-per-views delivered mightily. Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks helmed All In, which was both a critical and financial success, drawing more than 11,000 fans, and selling out in about a half-hour. Becky Lynch became a certified phenomenon, leaving her smiling babyface midcarder life behind for good. Ronda Rousey proved to be an absolute natural inside the ring, the most gifted and compelling rookie grappler in eons. Daniel Bryan’s return to wrestling was a feelgood story, and his eventual heel turn has brought out some interesting characteristics and quirks that have made him fresh once more. Chris Jericho has had the time of his life reinventing himself, particularly in New Japan, while cementing his legacy as one of the boldest and most accomplished wrestlers of all time. IMPACT Wrestling has begun putting on a slicker, fresher show, now that there are actual intelligent people at the wheel.
But we’re not here to discuss the good stuff. We’re here to delve deep into the bad. And boy, is there a ton of bad.
I noted in last year’s list that, for the most part, I’ve narrowed the scope of this list so that the items pertain to the on-screen product. Basically, could these items one day end up as WrestleCrap inductions? That’s the idea that I labored under then, as well as for this 2018 list, focusing more on gimmicks, events, angles, and presentation, as opposed to backstage dealings and social media squabbles. It’s more fun that way, I’ve found.
In the interest of fairness, I always look back at the prior year’s list, to see if there’s anything from it worth retracting, stuff that I would eventually come around on. Sure enough, I found two items from the 2017 list.
-37. The “BURN IT DOWN” in Seth Rollins’ entrance music. It’s still a bit annoying, but since fans have recognized it as a signature phrase attributable to Rollins (chanting “Burn it Down” when he stomps the mat), I can recognize that it’s productive.
-8. Jason Jordan as Kurt Angle’s son. If not for the injury, Jordan would’ve possibly lived up to his potential as a smiling vessel of smarm, and would have been a faaaar better choice of heel authority figure (taking his babyface dad’s spot) than the tedium that we were given instead.
Any comments, debate, and general grievances can be sent my way via Twitter, and I’m more than happy to respond.
And of course, this list is merely the prelude to RD announcing the 2018 Gooker nominees a week from now. The Look Back is simply the appetizer, as always. There’s always that person or two (or twelve) that has to ask in the comments, “Does that mean there’s no Gooker voting because of this list?” Naturally, those same people will miss this paragraph. I just wasted 75 seconds writing it. Bummer.
And away we go!
50. “Paige here!”
We begin this list with the face that launched a thousand memes, and the question of who, exactly, determined that Paige’s possibly-spaced out intro to the “Fighting With My Family” trailer was the best take (There *was* more than one take, right?). Can’t really call this ‘crap, though excluding it would make the list feel rather hollow. Consider it a good starting point.
49. Excessive eye makeup
I’ll leave out Ronda Rousey’s Black Swan-meets-The Nightman makeup scheme that actually possesses a quality of terror to it, since that’s practical. But what about those times Ronda and Bayley, among others, showed up on WWE TV looking like Jonah Hill and Jason Segel broke wind on their pillows? It does serve as proof that Homer sold at least one of his patented make-up guns, though.
48. Midget impersonations are funny
The wrestling simulator Extreme Warfare Revenge has “midget impersonation” as an angle option, and that game came out in 2003, when The Rock’s Booker T satire was only beginning to collect dust. Jump ahead 17 years to 2018, and here’s Big Cass reminding us that Daniel Bryan is a wee one. Given the oftenness of such angles, is there an enterprise that rents midgets for this purpose?
47. Pat McAfee
Well, NXT can’t be perfect. In fairness to McAfee, outside of wrestling, he can be a pretty funny guy, and there’s no lack of enthusiasm on his part. But man does he come off excessively over-caffeinated on those TakeOver Kickoff shows, like Booker without the stream-of-consciousness hilarity. Though in McAfee’s defense, he’s got much more upside than faux-heel Peter Rosenberg.
46. Dolph Ziggler just shows up in the Rumble
The last year-plus of Ziggler’s WWE run has been bizarre, to say the least. First, he spends an inordinate amount of time ripping off the entrances of legendary figures. Then he vacates the US Title before walking out of SmackDown in late in 2017, saying the fans didn’t deserve him. Then…he just shows up as #30 in the Rumble match, no explanation. Okie doke.
45. Survivor Series presents: the new math
Apparently, Raw was supposed to squash “inferior” SmackDown on Survivor Series night, recording a clean sweep in their head-to-head match-ups. Guess nobody clued in the agent and/or participants of the pre-show 20-man fracas, as SmackDown won there to ostensibly go up 1-0, only for that result to be strangely ignored. The angle that was to come of it (Shane turning heel) was also dropped.
44. Corey and Renee’s anti-chemistry
At one time, Corey Graves was a suitable millennial rendering of Jesse Ventura, while Renee Young brought articulacy and gravitas to her NXT commentary performances. Together on Raw, partnered with an increasingly-droidish Michael Cole, they serve to grate the eardrums, spewing buzzphrases and inane talking points. Even worse, their awkward bickering over what Renee’s spouse says and does at home makes Cole the lesser of three evils.
43. Vampiro wants his music, damn it
At AAA’s TripleMania 26 event this past August, color commentator Vampiro was supposed to hit the ring for an angle with longtime nemesis Konnan. Except his music didn’t play. So Vampiro, on headset and audible to the home audience, kept demanding his music, even cursing angrily at the producers. Matt Striker explaining the special relevance of Vampiro’s music to the audience was hilariously surreal.
42. The ending to Reigns vs. Strowman, Hell in a Cell
Braun’s Money in the Bank cash-in concluded in a way that was unsatisfactory for all, as Brock Lesnar stormed the Galoob WCW steel cage, broke in, and annihilated both Braun and Reigns with F5’s. Doing a non-finish in a match that’s supposed to be a theoretical fight to the death didn’t exactly sit well with the San Antonio crowd.
41. Even bank holidays couldn’t stop The Shield
I’m torn on this one. One the one hand, The Shield was arrested, booked, and posted bail in record time – on Labor Day, when US courts are closed, which is a plot hole that even Evel Knievel wouldn’t dare jump. On the other, the social media outrage from fans (many of whom celebrated Joey Ryan’s resurrection alongside penile druids 48 hours earlier) seemed a bit contrived.
40. A “sincere” message about anti-bullying
The Nia Jax-Alexa Bliss feud over the Raw Women’s title pretty much came to a head at Backlash, when defending champion Jax retained the belt in the rematch, before seguing into a post-match PSA about anti-bullying. Nia’s buzzword-laden speech went about as smooth and seamless as a projectile-vomiting session. This was the product placement in Wayne’s World, minus the self-awareness.
39. Jonathan Coachman
It was a mercy killing when the rather-uninformed, gaffe-prone Coachman was removed from the Raw commentary team, “words of the hour” and all cast out. Granted, most WWE announcers suffer from the same personality-streamlining and non-invasive lobotomies these days, but Coach was a special case. Post-Raw, Coach mans the desk on Kickoff shows, rhapsodizing about punches that “actually connect.”
38. The Greatest Worked Shoot That Ever Lived
TNA, Impact Wrestling, Global Force, et al, has long struggled to keep the trust of its audience, due to a litany of poor decisions, but 2018 has seen them make some earnest strides. After a tremendous Slammiversary PPV over the summer, however, the company closed out a solid Bound For Glory with Austin Aries no-selling the finish, then “walking out” in a worked shoot straight out of Russo-era WCW. Sure, that’s a new one.
37. Extreme Rules
A strong contender for WWE’s worst pay-per-view of the year, owed to many forgettable matches, including a pointless Team Hell No reunion, yet another Shark Cage match, a cage match where the loser was happy, a six-second US Title change, and little to no matches that were memorable for good reasons. The range of Extreme Rules went from “middling” to “disastrous”.
36. Pittsburgh’s counting game
Extreme Rules reached legendary badness with an assist from the Steel City crowd, who’d sat through more than three hours of engineered malaise by the time the Seth Rollins-Dolph Ziggler IC title 30 minute Iron Man match kicked off. What could have been match of the night was marred by irked (and irksome) fans instituting their own Royal Rumble countdown with the match’s clock. Suppose no more Iron Man matches for a while?
35. Enzo invades Survivor Series
It’s hardly an understatement to say that 2018 was not the best year of Enzo Amore’s life, beginning with his sudden termination from WWE, and continuing with the further fragmentation of his public image. Amore did himself no favors when he showed up as a disguised fan at Survivor Series, before causing a scene that got him kicked out of the building, as well as the butt of more ridicule.
34. Squandering Asuka
Take a wrestler that fans 1) believe is an unbeatable wrecking machine, and 2) cheerfully buy into as an unbeatable wrecking machine, and then crush all of their accumulated optimism. Between having her unbeaten record shattered in WrestleMania’s second match (great as the match was), to being unable to solve the Carmella Crisis, Asuka became ordinary. Hopefully winning the SmackDown Women’s belt at TLC can rebuild the powerhouse a bit.
33. Squandering Rusev Day
Rusev found new life as the namesake of a daily holiday, complete with an opera-singing sidekick that rhapsodizes about his majesty. The act, while absurd, caught on like nobody’s business, and Rusev Day became a major deal. How did WWE capitalize? By keeping Rusev in the midcard, and later splitting he and Aiden English (in what resulted in a throwaway blowoff). However, like Asuka, Rusev is getting a championship push with this new “for the fans” initiative, so there is that.
32. Jinder Mahal: man of peace
WWE ended the Jinder as WWE Champion experiment a little more than a year ago, coming to their senses when they realized that lifelong undercarder Mahal wasn’t moving international metrics. For a second act, WWE showed what few ideas they actually have for Mahal by casting him as the same inner-peacenik that most forgot he briefly played in 2016. This is usually what’s meant by “creative has nothing”.
31. Ring Warriors on WGN
Usually it’s exciting when a wrestling promotion gains national TV clearance, but not in the case of Howard Brody’s Ring Warriors promotion. Up until recently, the far-too-retro Ring Warriors was airing Saturday mornings on WGN at eight AM, and worse: it was a paid time slot (as in, commercial programming). Basically, it’s AWF, minus the round system, and far less stars that once drew on top with Hogan.
30. The Manhattan Center portion of Raw 25
It was cool that WWE decided to run The Manhattan Center, birthplace of Raw, for the show’s 25th anniversary special (complete with ICOPRO banner!). What was less cool was the galling lack of activity in the building, which fans in attendance (some of whom dropped three figures on tickets) loudly noted. When Jim Ross has to fend off claims that he fell asleep, that tells you a lot.
29. Callihan, Edwards, a bat, and a chair
The “How much is too much?” question gets thrown around plenty in wrestling these days when it comes to risks and violence. It was asked once more after an incident on Impact, in which Sami Callihan positioned a chair on Eddie Edwards, and smashed said chair with a baseball bat, creating a mishap that resulted in Callihan breaking Edwards’ nose and various other facial bones. As Frank Costanza said, “There’s got to be a better way.”
28. The Becky/Nia incident
Less than a week away from the heavily-anticipated Ronda Rousey-Becky Lynch battle for supremacy and the storyline plowed over one helluva spike strip. During a brawl between women of both brands, Nia Jax hauled off and slugged Lynch right in the face, fracturing her nose, and concussing her, with the reckless strike. It wasn’t Nia’s first time hurting one of her peers, either.
27. Cinderblock toss
The prior two entries were mere child’s play compared to the guy who took an unexpected cinderblock to the back of the head, thrown by his opponent. Angel o Demonio launched the heavy projectile at the head of Cuervo, who wasn’t even looking, and just about killed him with the stunt. Cuervo would be diagnosed with a fractured skull, epidural hematoma, and cranial bleeding, and is expected to be out of action for quite some time.
26. No Way Jose
It may seem crass to stagger this list so that a go-nowhere gimmick ranks ahead of three disturbing incidents involving avoidable injuries, but the more carefully-planned ‘Crap gets higher billing. And the idea to resurrect Adam Rose’s perpetually-cheerful Rosebuds for a conga line gimmick is like remaking Bio-Dome, without the “heart”. Admittedly, the theme song is catchy, albeit in a somewhat-maddening way.
25. Carmella, SmackDown Women’s Champion
In a perfect world, Carmella could’ve been the Honky Tonk Woman, the detestably-undeserving titleholder that manages to retain the gold through the skin of their teeth. Being less skilled than Charlotte and Asuka is fine, but their matches should at least be passably-decent, right? Carmella’s matches in that run were 60 percent restholds, 35 percent screams, five percent substance, and 100 percent dreadful.
24. Stalker Joe
The matches that AJ Styles and Samoa Joe had together in TNA were in the neighborhood of a (subjective) five-star rating. Their WWE rivalry, while boasting some very good matches, felt like the total opposite, and resided in the realm of cartoon. Joe stalked Styles’ family, and even visited the Styles’ residence, in a poorly-told story that was about as tense as an episode of Kevin Can Wait.
23. Constable Corbin
Between the bald head and the prog-rocker attire, Corbin looks more like Caillou found a gig teaching improv classes than a heel authority figure. His punchable bully-demeanor is fine in doses, and he does make a natural villain, but too much Corbin (especially with his half-nelson chinlock that puts more viewers to sleep than NyQuil) was not a recipe for success.
22. Nicholas, Raw Tag Team Champion
Ultimately, it was harmless: big, scary Braun Strowman finds a 10-year-old kid and tells him to just stand there while he annihilates Cesaro and Sheamus for the belts at WrestleMania 34, before vacating them a night later. But when you’re six hours deep into WrestleMania, and a mystery partner is promised, you may wanna deliver something bigger than “cutesy and ironic”.
21. Brock doesn’t watch WWE
Talk about the jokes writing themselves. In a year where Raw’s cable viewership receded like Baron Corbin’s hairline, WWE thought it was a great idea to swing fans Roman Reigns’ way by having SummerSlam opponent (and interminable Universal Champion) Brock Lesnar state that he doesn’t watch Raw, and he doesn’t give a fraction of a damn about WWE. Finally, a wrestler lapsed fans can identify with!
20. The cursed Mixed Match Challenge
The first run of the mostly non-canon mixed tag bouts didn’t seem to move many folks one way or another. The second season, however, would gain infamy for a litany of injury-related substitutions, resulting in a tournament final that saw R-Truth and Carmella battle Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox, with the thirtieth spots in the respective Rumbles at stake. That’s like giving the WrestleMania title match to the winner of a battle royal on Shotgun.
19. The Riott Squad’s backstage hijinks
Called up with no real backstory, Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan, and Liv Morgan found themselves needing to have their unbridled anarchy fleshed out. This was achieved by having the three women knock things over backstage, rip t-shirts up, etc. When Homer quit the Power Plant, dumping over Mr. Burns’ wastebasket with one solitary paper ball in it, that amounted to far more hell-raising than what WWE came up with for this trio.
18. Jim Neidhart gets a storyline
There’s being edgy for the sake of garnering heat for the villain, and then there’s involving a real-life death in a ham-fisted manner. While I don’t doubt that Natalya gave the okay, having Ruby Riott break the apparent lone pair of sunglasses owned by “The Anvil”, before affixing a Neidhart decal onto a table, came off far too on-the-nose to be controversial. Sometimes, you can try *too* hard.
17. Finn Balor vs. Baron Corbin
Where do you start? Do you begin with the endless nature of the feud, which essentially ran off and on for many months? Or the elementary, “I’m tall, you’re short” core of the rivalry? A feud that lacked teeth ran through several pay-per-views, with a few interminable TV bouts, and was pretty much the best WWE could come up with for the popular Balor (that, plus smiling at a magical pigeon that only he can see).
16. Bane Ambrose
When Dean Ambrose said that Roman Reigns deserved to suffer through another battle with leukemia, it didn’t exactly draw the desired heel reaction that WWE sought. So Ambrose was made over into a sort-of Bane-meets-Howard Hughes, a masked iconoclast that fears contracting germ-related sickness from the towns he visits. May have been more riveting if he didn’t look like a de-hatted black Spy from Spy vs. Spy.
15. John Cena vs. The Undertaker
I’m still trying to figure out what this was supposed to be. Cena heelishly called out an ambiguously-silent Undertaker for WrestleMania, chose to attend WrestleMania as a “fan” when the calls went unanswered, but then got his wish maybe 40 minutes into the broadcast. And then Undertaker killed him in less than three minutes. “Do something” should’ve really been, “Do something interesting.”
14. Promos with words on the screen
The idea of having WWE talents do “selfie promos” was fine, as they felt evolutionary, the classic backstage monologue updated for the streaming age. But then WWE had to muck up a decent idea by adding words, clipart, and sound effects as a firm appeal to the ADD crowd. In 1997, Vince famously waxed on about how fans were tired of having their intelligence insulted. They still are, boss.
13. Lio Rush – mic’ed up version
It pains me to put a gifted CZW alum this high on the list, but to paraphrase Snitsky, it’s not his fault. When Rush was paired with Bobby Lashley as his pesky, chattery mouthpiece, it added something to the overall presentation, because Rush makes for an effective and confident loudmouth. But when his mic’ed-up verbiage was actively detracting from Lashley’s matches, it about sunk the gravy boat early in the voyage. Less is more.
12. Lucha House Party Rules
Like O’Doyle Rules, except nobody’s laughing, but with many rooting for the same fate. The gag is that the Luchas get to use “Freebird rules” within ongoing matches, as non-entrants can take the spot of regular entrants. This led to unfair advantages, drawing the ire of frequent victims The Revival. Did I mention that the Luchas were supposed to be babyfaces? Oh, those wacky protagonists.
11. Kevin Owens goes to crap
Many took umbrage with the angle in which Braun Strowman perpetually bullied KO, but I saw it as residual punishment for Owens plotting against him at Money in the Bank, so that was fine. But being that it’s WWE, bathroom humor has to rear its head, even if it’s the portable kind. Owens hides in a port-o-john to evade Strowman, gets caught, and gets pushed off the ramp, “blueing” himself in the process. Comedy!
10. Bayley vs. Sasha Banks
Never had an impending feud been so trapped in suspended animation, as Bayley and Sasha’s toxic friendship dragged along, missing more than a dozen exits marked “ONE DEFINITIVELY TURNS ON THE OTHER”. Then came the needless Dr. Shelby cameo and therapy sessions, many of which the commentators talked over. The crowd cheered when Bayley finally attacked Sasha, which apparently wasn’t the desired reaction. All of it would be dropped, and they’ve been besties since. Yay?
9. DX vs. The Brothers of Destruction
With a median age of 51 and a half years between the four, it was foolish to expect something out of their athletic primes, and it certainly wasn’t. The match had “passably average” for its ceiling prior to Triple H effing up his pec while taking a corner bump, and it was all downhill from there. It was the sort of match (all 28 goddamn minutes of it) that WWE would mock WCW for doing 20 years earlier.
8. Shane McMahon – Best in the World
Shane (who now looks like Jack LaLanne spent three years running from the DEA) entered himself into the finals of the World Cup tournament after The Miz was injured, then quickly defeated Raw finalist Dolph Ziggler to secure the trophy. Three years ago, Shane’s return was a landmark moment, as he was seen as the “respectable” McMahon. How fast crappy punches, a reliance on stunts, and being shoehorned into various angles can undo that.
7. BRAAAAAAUUN turns HEEEEEEEEEEL
Braun Strowman became one of WWE’s absolute premier acts – a remorseless monster with punishing offense, tremendous presence, and an obvious sense of humor. Through strong booking, fans grew to love Strowman and his visually-pleasing mayhem, appreciating him far more than they did Roman Reigns, whose sustained push staggered onward. When Reigns regained the Universal belt, Strowman was hastily turned heel to feud with him, an arrangement that (surprise) didn’t take.
6. Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins
Consider this a tack-on to the “Bane Ambrose” entry, as the feud has (thus far) fallen way short of the high standards the pair set in 2014. Not only is there so little to work with (thanks to the ridiculous inoculation bit), but their IC title bout at TLC actually drew derision from the crowd, due to it being a paint-by-numbers “movez” match, instead of either man displaying palpable hatred and intensity.
5. It’s all Corbin’s fault
Bryan Alvarez correctly predicted that the very fans who loathed the lousy product would wildly cheer Vince when he appeared on the December 17 Raw. There, Vince, Stephanie, Shane, and Hunter promised sweeping changes and noted that they change with the times (shattering the Ironyometer), before blaming Corbin for all of the bad writing and not listening to the fans. Essentially, Vince pointed to Corbin and said, “It was him – let’s get ’em, fellas.”
4. Drake Maverick: Author of Piss
When WWE strikes gold with some sort of moment or gag, they’re very quick to repeat it over the ensuing weeks, milking it into oblivion. They even do the same thing for bits that fall flat, like when Drake Maverick peed himself in Big Show’s clutches at Survivor Series. In a staggeringly-dumb bit, Maverick stole Bobby Roode’s robe, stuffed it into the commode, then peed on it, while Roode suffered from astonishment paralysis.
“Beat the traffic!” rang out over the sluggish Samoa Joe-Roman Reigns main event, as the show dragged out deep into the night. After Seth Rollins and The Miz dazzled in the opener, nothing else on the show even approached that level the rest of the evening, as bad, heatless matches (Charlotte vs. Carmella, Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass) were marched through one by one, with seemingly no end in sight, culminating with resthold-a-mania in the Reigns/Joe finale.
2. Lashley’s sisters
When Sami Zayn threatened to expose Bobby Lashley on the following week’s episode of Raw, stomach-turning dread filled those who remembered “This is Your Life Bayley” and “The Old Day”. It was justified dread, as Zayn interviewed three men in drag playing Lashley’s sisters, all of whom claimed Lashley was horrible in many ways. Then a smiling Lashley came out and beat all of the faux-siblings up, long after the crowd had had enough of the entire sketch.
1. The Saudi shows
One show was passable (Greatest Royal Rumble) and the other atrocious (Crown Jewel), but match quality wasn’t the issue here. The issues stem from WWE’s big-money partnership with Saudi Arabia, which would include the exclusion of female performers (during the “Women’s Evolution” that they proudly take credit for), the “we’re changing for the better” video that aired during GRR, and the desperate gymnastics employed to keep Crown Jewel on the calendar after the appalling death of Jamal Khashoggi. Not WWE’s proudest moments, certainly.
Justin Henry is WrestleCrap's inquiring newsman, thirsting for knowledge always. He enjoys the art of satire, as you'll find in many of his works here at WrestleCrap. Drop him a line on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh) and Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/jrhwriting)