With 2018 quickly slipping away, many media outlets typically take the time to look back at the year that was and project a bit into the near future. Some of the wrestling radio shows and podcasts have actually tried to rank the most important pro wrestling stories of 2018, which is great for stirring debate, but extremely difficult to do because that order depends upon so many variables, the most important of which might be perspective.
Everybody views everything in life from his or her own perspective. Point of view means everything. That may sound like something Captain Obvious would say, but it is a simple truth that many people don’t always seem to recognize. We don’t all look at the same things the same way. For example, the death of Bruno Sammartino made several people’s list of the top ten stories of the year, but different people ranked it higher or lower. Some didn’t have it on their list at all. Personally, it would be at the top of the list for me because the more I learned about his extraordinary life and wrestling career over the years, the more fascinated I became with him as an individual, especially after I had the privilege of getting to know the guy a little on a personal level starting with attending college with his nephew and interviewing him for this column many years ago.
Due to my interest in finding out what was going on behind the scenes at the time of some of the angles and matches that filled so many arenas during Bruno’s active career, I spent a good bit of time acquiring VHS compilation tapes of his matches and interviews and listening to interviews he gave to various media, wrestling and otherwise, up until the last few months of his storied 82-year life. As I wrote at the time of his death, wrestling will never be quite the same for me in terms of interest level, but that’s me.
That is the perspective with which I viewed his passing. A wrestling fan for 47 years who saw him during the peak of his career, was fortunate enough to get to know him a little and always wanted, as Paul Harvey used to say “to know the rest of the story.” While I have a number of biographies and autobiographies of wrestlers and others on my bookshelf that continue to interest me, the passing of wrestling’s “Living Legend” would be the top story of the past year in my book. For young fans or older ones who did not have my personal experiences, it would be easy to understand why it would hardly be such a big deal. He has been retired longer than many current fans have been alive and having been estranged from WWE for many years, was persona non-grata on their shows during that time, so modern fans would hardly have reason to know or miss him.
Other huge stories of 2018 would have to be the revelation of Roman Reigns relinquishing the Universal title to battle leukemia, the ascent of women to the forefront of the business, the successes of the indie show, All In, and the combined ROH/New Japan sellout of Madison Square Garden, a long-time WWWF/WWF/WWE exclusive facility for pro wrestling, the controversial WWE visit to Saudi Arabia, the enormous television deals WWE signed, the deaths of former stars such as Nicolai Volkoff, Vader, the Dynamite Kid, Johnny Valiant, Brian Christopher, Jim Neidhart and Larry Hennig and various surprise match results and heel turns (notably Daniel Bryan going to the dark side) during the course of the year. The importance or order in which you would rank the stories would depend upon your personal perspective.
The one thing we can expect for sure for 2019 will be that there will once again be the inevitable changes that routinely occur in wrestling each and every year, many of which we won’t see coming. One of the changes WWE will likely be hoping for would be better television ratings. Another would be improved house show attendance. Creative had better be, well, creative. Company stock is near an all-time high this week, despite all the recent troubles of the market in general, so go figure. WWE has diverse revenue streams, but will have to address the television ratings if it wants to avoid getting canceled by Fox, much less be renewed for subsequent years, so that has to be a priority in the new year.
Christmas Eve and Christmas ratings for Raw and Smackdown were low, as expected. Equally troublesome was the attendance at Madison Square Garden for the annual day after Christmas house show, as only about 11,000 fans gathered for the event this past week. That was with the return of John Cena. With the high cost of running the world’s most famous arena due to steep union fees, WWE probably lost a good bit of money on the deal. Not a good sign.
The next night in Long Island, Cena subbed for AJ Styles, who was reportedly suffering from the flu, in a steel cage match with Daniel Bryan. Bryan retained the belt with a win over Cena, who continues to put people over when he makes periodic returns from his movie career. Vince returned to Smackdown last week in a weird vignette designed to fire up Styles in his feud with Bryan. Not convinced here that it will make a substantial difference.