As 2011 quickly approaches, it’s time to reflect on the 10 biggest pro wrestling stories of 2010.
1. Shawn Michaels retires: His body battered after 26 years inside the ring, Michaels decided to call it a career. But before leaving World Wrestling Entertainment, the 45-year-old Michaels turned in one final performance worth remembering: a fabulous headline bout last April against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 26. Unlike Ric Flair, another grappling legend who resurfaced in 2010, Michaels actually seems committed to staying out of action. Michaels could return as a guest referee for Wrestlemania 27 provided The Undertaker is able to wrestle following recent rotator cuff surgery.
2. The short-lived Monday night “war”: So much for TNA Wrestling recapturing the magic of the mid-1990s, when World Championship Wrestling and WWE battled for television ratings supremacy. After a January special drew surprisingly strong numbers on Spike TV opposite USA Network’s Monday Night Raw, TNA shifted its Thursday night Impact shows in March, hoping to provide WWE with full-time opposition. This became a bigger slaughter than the Hart family demolishing Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 26. TNA ratings fell despite an influx of former WWE talent like Hulk Hogan, Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam. The experiment lasted about two months before Impact retreated to Thursday nights, where ratings are roughly the same as before TNA owner Dixie Carter went on her ill-advised spending spree.
3. WWE begins a youth movement in earnest: At this time last year, Wade Barrett and Alberto Del Rio were working for Florida Championship Wrestling as WWE developmental talent. Both enter 2011 as headliners for WWE’s Raw and Smackdown brands, respectively. Barrett and other newcomers — such as David Otunga, Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater — were successfully packaged as The Nexus, a group of outsiders who began running roughshod over WWE’s established talent. Mike “The Miz” Mizanin and Jack Swagger also enjoyed their first stints as WWE champions. Creating new stars was a necessity with veterans like Michaels, The Undertaker, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, Chris Jericho and Dave Batista either injured or having left the company.
4. The trials and travails of Extreme Championship Wrestling: No company in pro wrestling history had as many lives as ECW. But this cat finally ran out of luck in 2010. WWE canceled the ECW brand in February to push a revamped show for developmental talent (WWE NXT). That didn’t stop TNA from invoking the ECW spirit. TNA hired a slew of ECW talent from the promotion’s 1990s heyday — notably Tommy Dreamer, Scott “Raven” Levy and Terry “Sabu” Brunk — to form a group called EV2. But after an ECW-themed August pay-per-view show (Hardcore Justice), most of those grapplers were phased out. If the ECW nostalgia ever resurfaces, it will likely be on the independent circuit.
5. Linda McMahon loses her bid to become a U.S. senator: The former WWE CEO and wife of chairman Vince McMahon spent $50 million of her personal fortunate campaigning as the Republican nominee in Connecticut. Call it money for nothing. McMahon fell to Democrat Richard Blumenthal. McMahon’s wrestling background was a turn-off for many of the state’s voters, especially among women.
6. WWE continues living up to its name: WWE is drawing better crowds for international tours than shows in North America, with Mexico and Europe particularly strong markets. WWE also made its debut in China, which could become a huge source of revenue, and will begin airing again in Russia in February. Such expansion is helping to compensate for domestic woes. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that pay-per-view buy rates in the U.S. were down almost 20 percent from 2009.
7. WWE Smackdown shifts from MyNetworkTV to Syfy Network: The demise of WWE’s “B” brand continued with Smackdown leaving the broadcast television airwaves in October for basic cable. WWE didn’t have a choice with MyNetwork streaking toward irrelevance. But it wasn’t as if other broadcast networks were frantically bidding for the product, either. The first 12 Friday-night Syfy shows have averaged 2.6 million viewers, down from the 2010 MyNetwork ratings. WWE, though, remains committed to Smackdown and is trying to better cross-promote through its more successful Raw brand.
8. Ring of Honor keeps rolling: Following in the footsteps of Daniel Bryan, Tyler Black (aka Seth Rollins) became the latest ROH star raided by WWE. But the Philadelphia-based company is still staying strong with the industry’s best technical wrestling and most logical storylines on its weekly telecasts (8 p.m. Mondays, HDNet). Young workers like Kevin Steen, El Generico, Davey Richards, Eddie Edwards and Roderick Strong continued to improve. The company also received a boost from the addition of former WWE and TNA talents Christopher Daniels, Nelson “Homicide” Erazo, and the World’s Greatest Tag-Team (Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin).
9. Hulk Hogan’s personal and professional spiral: His TNA debut was a bust. His surgically repaired back is a mess. Even his wedding was ruined by a confrontation with an uninvited photographer. In some ways, the 57-year-old Hogan has become a real-life version of washed-up grappler Randy “The Ram” Robinson from the award-winning 2008 movie, The Wrestler.
10. Wrestler deaths: Unfortunately, drug abuse contributed to the premature deaths of two more ex-WWE performers: Lance Cade, 29, and Luna Vachon, 48. Another former WWE grappler, Chris Kanyon, 40, committed suicide. The wrestling world also lost some of its most legendary performers from yesteryear in Jack Brisco, John Tolos, Edouard Carpentier, “King” Curtis Iaukea and Gene Kiniski.
Alex Marvez writes a syndicated pro wrestling column for Scripps-Howard News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com or followed via Twitter at http://twitter.com/alexmarvez