2015 was, if nothing else, an interesting year for World Wrestling Entertainment. The WWE aligned itself with legitimate sports superstars such as Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey. Both of those athletes helped the company receive positive press from outlets such as ESPN. The WWE was also in the news, however, because of the fact that ratings for television show Raw dipped during the National Football League season. Monday Night Football is now over for the current campaign, and thus the start of “WrestleMania Season” will hopefully spark some needed momentum for a product that has, in the eyes of some fans, become stale.
2015 may not have been a banner year for the WWE, but the company still managed to provide fans with a plethora of memorable moments that can be re-lived via websites such as YouTube and via the WWE Network. In the past, moments such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin attacking Vince McMahon and Mankind winning the World Wrestling Federation Championship proved to be pivotal events that helped make the company popular among diehards and also among casual viewers. We cannot yet know if the WWE gave viewers anything like that in 2015. Those looking for Roman Reigns to be the next Austin or Rock may want to lower such expectations heading into 2016.
20. Sting Attacks Rollins
Maybe things could have gone differently for Sting had the franchise of World Championship Wrestling linked up with the WWE in 2004 rather than in 2014. With that said, Sting ruining Seth Rollins’ statue unveiling was a nice throwback to the character who was a significant part of World Championship Wrestling in the 1990s. It is possible that we have seen the last of Sting as an active wrestler, as a serious neck injury that he suffered during a match with Rollins could mean the end of the veteran’s career. Sting should, at the very least, have his night at a WWE Hall of Fame ceremony in the future.
19. Beginning of the Diva’s Revolution
Basically everything about the so-called “Divas Revolution” following its debut on Raw has been awful and poorly booked. That first night when the women of NXT became members of the WWE roster was, however, one of the best moments of the year. There is still plenty of time for the wrongs of this idea to be righted, of course, and part of that process should involve additional talent from NXT being called up to the main roster. The “Four Horsewomen” storyline is there for the taking for the WWE. We shall see if the company reaches out and embraces the obvious.
18. Triple Powerbomb on Orton
The Shield is the best group that the WWE has come up with in years, maybe even since Evolution. While that group needed to be broken up so that Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose could go their separate ways, the three did enjoy a brief reunion during a Fatal 4-Way when they came together to hit their Triple Powerbomb move on Randy Orton. While that proved to be nothing more than a tease before the match continued on, it was a moment that generated a huge pop from the in-arena audience. Side note: It’s going to be well received when The Shield reunites for real down the road.
17. NWO vs. DX
Yeah, it might have been a little sad to see members of the New World Order and D-Generation-X meet up at a WrestleMania nearly two 15 years after those factions were relevant. It was also at least a little awesome for those of us who grew up watching WCW and the WWF during the “Monday Night Wars.” Best of all about this particular moment is that the WWE realized that it was best if the NWO vs DX idea was only a one-off. Just imagine what might have occurred if the WWE thought it wise to have a match between those two factions. Ew.
16. Rusev’s WrestleMania Entrance
There was plenty that was goofy about the “evil Russian” character of Rusev, which was a throwback to about three decades ago when the Soviet Union was still in existence. The entrances of Lana and Rusev at WrestleMania 31 were, however, highlight-reel moments of that show. Rusev entered the staged portion of the stadium in a tank – a TANK! While Rusev’s run as the United States Championship had run its course by the time he faced John Cena at WrestleMania, nothing that Cena could accomplish on that evening could match what Rusev had done before the match.
15. Finn Balor Wins NXT Championship
One of the objectives of the NXT brand is to create performers who can eventually be stars on the main WWE roster. The WWE seemingly has a top star in the character Finn Balor, who could get over as either a heel or babyface. With Kevin Owens needing to drop the NXT Championship in July 2015 – Owens was about to become a full-time member of the main roster – Owens and Balor met for an encounter in Japan. Balor, the heir to the NXT throne during the early stages of the summer, took his first step toward WWE stardom by winning the championship. That should represent only the beginning of a special run in the WWE.
14. Super Salida del Sol
Certain wrestling moves can make even the most jaded and most cynical fan cringe and even yell. One such move occurred during the 2015 Tables, Ladders and Chairs show when Kalisto delivered a Salida del Sol to Jey Uso. Kalisto and Uso fell off of the top of one ladder and then crashed clear through another ladder that had been positioned on the ground. While replays showed that the impact was not as horrific as it looked in real time, it was nevertheless a move that probably should, in future instances, be avoided unless it was to occur at a major event such as a WrestleMania.
13. Izzy Cries!
The imaginary “It’s Still Real To Me, Dammit!” award of 2015 goes to this moment. Bayley and Sasha Banks were in the middle of their NXT Women’s Championship rematch, a 30-minute Iron Man encounter, when Banks went ultra-heel and made Bayley superfan Izzy, a mainstay at NXT shows, cry. While we may never know if Izzy and her family were in on the gimmick, it was later learned that the young Bayley supporter and “The Boss” made up after the match. Banks was, for a night, the best heel in all of the WWE, a throwback to the days when kayfabe was alive and well.
12. Jon Stewart Helps Seth Rollins
Two things will be remembered about the main event of SummerSlam 2015. The first is the all-white attire that Seth Rollins wore on that evening, an outfit that would have made the White Power Ranger proud. Second is that Jon Stewart of The Daily Show fame helped Rollins defeat John Cena. Rollins had appeared on Stewart’s show multiple times in the past, so the final sequence of the contest probably should have been predictable for loyal followers of the product. Cena would later get his revenge on Stewart, and the entire matter was largely lost to history after SummerSlam.
11. Kevin Owens Wins NXT Championship
It was a storyline stolen straight out of Ring of Honor, and it was beautifully executed by all involved. Sami Zayn won the NXT Championship in December 2014, but his celebration was cut short when he was attacked by storyline/real-life friend Kevin Owens. Owens, who had made his NXT debut on that same show, later explained that he did not want to wait for a shot at the championship. Zayn and Owens fought over the belt two months to the day after Owens debuted, and the match was stopped after Owens had powerbombed Zayn multiple times. A new NXT monster heel was born on that night.
10. New Day Serenade New York
All things considered, no group in WWE may have had a better 2015 than heel faction The New Day. New Day went from being comedic jokes that were even a little offensive, at times, to one of the more entertaining parts of some boring and downright awful Raw shows. Peak New Day occurred during the Raw following SummerSlam, when the group was celebrating the fact that the trio had won the tag team championships. Serenading the Brooklyn crowd would have been fantastic on its own, but the moment was made even better by Xavier Woods playing the trombone that became a part of his act.
9. RKO Out of Nowhere!
Randy Orton hitting his finishing move “out of nowhere” has become an Internet sensation parodied in videos. Orton and Seth Rollins may have saved the best “RKO” of all-time for WrestleMania 31. Rollins went for his “Curb Stomp” finisher, but Orton helped propel Rollins high into the air. With Rollins plummeting down toward the earth, Orton completed the RKO move that helped secure victory for the “Viper” of the ring. As awesome a moment as that was for all watching, Rollins was not yet done at the biggest show of the year. More on that later.
8. Suplex City!
The WWE needed to come up with a way to get the WrestleMania 31 audience to feel sympathy for Roman Reigns when Reigns was fighting Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The solution: Have Lesnar take Reigns to Suplex City. Lesnar dropped a profanity when informing Reigns about the trip the two were going to take during their WrestleMania match, but it was “Suplex City” that became a popular chant and a slogan that has been featured on WWE merchandise. This moment offered yet another reminder that Lesnar is just special when compared to everybody else on the WWE roster.
7. Kevin Owens Beats John Cena
You could not have been blamed for thinking that Kevin Owens was going to lose to John Cena in Owens’ official WWE debut match. A funny thing happened when the two met at the Elimination Chamber show: Owens hit Cena with the “Pop-up Powerbomb” finisher, the NXT Champion went for the cover, and the referee counted to three. There was no controversy. Owens was, per the writing and per that particular match, simply the better man on that night. It is, to date, the biggest win that Owens has notched since being called up to the main roster, and it was a memorable moment.
6. Alberto Del Rio Returns
Alberto Del Rio did not just make a return to the WWE at the 2015 edition of Hell in a Cell. Del Rio did not only defeat John Cena for the United States Championship. That match proved to be Cena’s farewell from the WWE for a time, even if his departure was not explained in storyline or on WWE programming. What is most disappointing about Del Rio’s return is that the WWE has mostly squandered what could have been a meaningful event. Del Rio is, as of the end of 2015, just another guy on the roster, so much so that it does not make all that much sense that he was brought back in the first place.
5. Roman Reigns (Finally) Wins the Title
There were to be no more “screw-job” finishes and no more fake victories on the night of December 14. Roman Reigns, who had been pursuing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship for most of the year, finally had his night on an edition of Raw when he beat Sheamus for the title. Reigns has, during the final month of the calendar year, been booked as the next main babyface to feud with heel authority figures such as Triple H and Mr. McMahon. Fans have, in the past, rejected the idea of Reigns being atop main event angles. Will that again be the case in the months leading up to WrestleMania 32?
4. Four Horsewomen
NXT Takeover: Brooklyn was a Show of the Year candidate for WWE, and it was co-headlined by a NXT Women’s Championship match that featured Sasha Banks taking on Bayley. The two talented women stole the show with one of the best matches to occur underneath the WWE umbrella all year, and it was Bayley who emerged victorious. Just as meaningful and memorable as it was to see Bayley have her hand raised was what occurred following the match. Becky Lynch and Charlotte joined the two competitors inside of the ring, and the ladies flashed the sign for the “Four Horsewomen” as the Brooklyn crowd erupted in support of women’s wrestling.
3. Seth Rollins Cashes In
The WWE sometimes attempts to outsmart itself rather than going with a logical outcome to a story. Such a miscue did not, thankfully, occur at WrestleMania 31. It made perfect sense for Seth Rollins to cash in his “Money in the Bank” privileges during the main event of that show, as doing so meant that neither Brock Lesnar nor Roman Reigns would have to do a clean job in the middle of the ring. Both of those performers were protected, and Rollins was awarded with the championship and his first run as the top heel in the company. We can’t wait to see what the company has in store for Rollins in 2016 once he is able to return from injury.
2. Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania 31
Months before she was shockingly knocked out by Holly Holm in November, Ronda Rousey was an unbeaten champion who was asked to participate in a WrestleMania segment that included The Rock, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Rousey, to the delight of those in attendance, made light work of both “The Game” and his real-life wife, setting up what some thought to be a future storyline involving those four individuals. The “Rowdy” one should be preparing for her rematch with Holm by the time WrestleMania 32 rolls around, but that does not mean that Rousey and the WWE will not again do business in the future.
1. Brock Lesnar Commits to WWE
Back in March 2015, there was speculation that Brock Lesnar could make a return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Lesnar went on ESPN program SportsCenter to announce that he had instead chosen to remain in the WWE and retire as a fighter. It was far and away the biggest WWE moment of the year in that it guaranteed that Lesnar, unlike any other promoter on the roster, would remain a draw for the biggest pay-per-view shows of the year. Lesnar brings an aura of legitimacy and realism that the WWE has been lacking during an era dominated by the likes of John Cena. The former UFC Champion is missed whenever he takes breaks from the company.