Earlier this week, we celebrated the best of the year with our top 10 pro wrestling matches of 2015. Today, as we’re known to do, it’s time to celebrate the worst. Maybe “celebrate” isn’t the right word. Sternly remind?
Below are my choices for the 15 worst things that happened in WWE in 2015. I tried to keep the list related to what we actually saw on the shows, or things that happened offscreen that directly affected what we saw on it. The deaths of WWE legends Dusty Rhodes and Rowdy Roddy Piper are obviously the very worst things that happened in wrestling this year, but you can read a lot about them at those respective links.
Let’s take a look at the goofiest, most disappointing and most unexplainably bad things that went down on or around WWE TV this year, from Eva Marie’s reflexes to Roman Reigns’ mouth.
15. Axelmania Ends Up Worse Than Hulkamania
Before Hulk Hogan was fired for being a humongous racist, he and Snoop Dogg teamed up to reminisce about WrestleMania III, make weed jokes and beat up Curtis Axel. Snoop and Hulk did muscle poses, and Axel developed some kind of weird PTSD that caused him to start dressing in full Hogan cosplay. More on that a little later.
WWE probably should’ve fired Hogan for the sentence, “I knew Snoopamania was gonna be dropping it like it was hot forever, brother!”
Note: There’s a running theme of “old stars and celebrities beat up new stars to make sure they have as little support and momentum as possible” in 2015. Also in 2014. And in every year ever.
14. Eva Marie Forgets To Kick
Eva Marie in developmental has been a difficult conversation all year. On the one hand, you want her to develop. You want her to practice and improve and stop wrestling like a wizard’s curse brought a mannequin to life, but not all the way. On the other, NXT has evolved into something a little more than “developmental.” It’s its own brand (especially if you listen to the people at the top) and is more “get comfortable with how WWE TV works” developmental than “learn the basics of wrestling” developmental. Cagey two-year veteran Eva Marie didn’t seem to be comfortable with either version.
On the September 2, 2015, edition of NXT, Eva wrestles Billie Kay. Kay hits a suplex and covers, and … Eva forgets to kick out. Well, she kicks out at about five. The referee stops halfway down and has to wait for her to roll over. The best part? This is the edited version.
To NXT’s credit, they turned the moment into a story — the referee wanted to suck up to Eva so he helped her win (or avoid losing, I guess) on purpose — and Eva became a sort of corporate teacher’s pet. She and Bayley had a surprisingly good NXT Women’s Championship match later in the year, but it doesn’t matter if Eva turns into Manami Toyota by the end of 2016 … we’ll always have the No Kickout.
13. Kiss Me Arse
Poor Dolph Ziggler can’t find a storyline that isn’t embarrassing as hell for everyone involved. The first of two big spots on this list goes to the “Kiss Me Arse” story, in which Sheamus attacked Ziggler a bunch and they ended up in a match where the loser would have to kiss the winner’s ass. Sorry, “arse.” Me arse. They’d have to kiss ye arse. Because WWE, both guys had to sell kissing their opponent on the hip like they were going nose-first into the asshole.
The first match happened at Extreme Rules, and was won by Ziggler. Instead of kissing he arse, Sheamus low-blowed him and forced Ziggler to kiss HIS arse. Whoa! That caused about a month of everyone going, “so what, Sheamus loses the match, but doesn’t have to legally follow through with the stipulation they both agreed on and signed a contract about because he doesn’t want to?” They had a rematch at Payback, in which Ziggler got … uh, payback by rubbing the outside of his upper thigh against Sheamus’ chest. Sheamus sold it like someone poured diarrhea down his throat.
Sheamus won that match, too. Dolph Ziggler, everybody.
12. The Ascension Get Beaten Up By Old Teams For No Reason
Getting called up from NXT can be a worst case scenario.
The Ascension are The Ascension, let’s be honest, but on NXT they were portrayed as the promotion’s most dominant tag team. They held the NXT Tag Team Championship for 364 days — still the longest reign ever by almost 150 days — and are treated like celebrated heroes when they return for guest appearances. The closest they’ve gotten to relevancy on Raw is a plot point where they believe they’re better than WWE legends of the past. That didn’t sit well with JBL, who threw them under the bus on every available second of commentary. What was the payoff? The Ascension beating him up?
How about, “The Ascension interrupts the nWo, who are now babyfaces because they’re old guys we remember, and get beaten up by not only the nWo, but the New Age Outlaws AND the APA.”
The Ascension got a win over the Outlaws at the Royal Rumble, but the damage had been done. They’ve been enhancement talent, henchmen at best, ever since. It’s a slightly worse version of Hogan and Snoop Dogg clipping Axel’s balls, mostly because of the image of a ring full of legends just kinda meandering around, waiting for their turn to beat the future out of someone.
11. The Curb Stomp Goes Out Swinging
At WrestleMania 31, Seth Rollins’ Curb Stomp got two of the greatest moments of the year:
1. stomping out Roman Reigns, allowing Rollins to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion in the main-event
2. maybe the single greatest finisher counter EVER
Shortly thereafter, with almost no explanation, the Curb Stomp was banned. As the story goes, WWE was worried about kids googling “Curb Stomp” and finding out its origins, which you know well if you’ve ever seen American History X. Googling “five knuckle shuffle” is fine.
Rollins changed his finisher to an iffy-looking DDT, then began using a (really bad-looking) Pedigree as a tribute to his Authority authoritarian, Triple H. At least the move got to go out in style.
10. Paige Turns Face By Insulting A Dead Kid
On November 16, a Divas Championship contract signing between the champion, Charlotte, and the challenger, Paige, turned into a teary-eyed promo about how Charlotte was only here to fulfill the dreams of her brother, Reid, who tragically passed away from a drug overdose at only 24 years old. Like the truest, old school heel, Paige turned that around on her and used her (again, for-real) dead brother as an example of why she wasn’t strong enough to be champion. They brawled, and the match was on.
The Internet Outrage Machine (of which I am admittedly sometimes a bright, shiny cog) was on as well, and the segment proved so controversial that it was edited out of the match hype video. Nobody’s mentioned it since.
Oddly enough, Charlotte’s character started to become more of a heel, and Paige’s character became more of a face. Did … Paige turn face by insulting a dead kid? Really? The characters in the Divas Division don’t have clear alignments or motivations already, but man, you’d think saying a dead guy died because he didn’t have enough fight in him would make you a villain for life.
9. A.J. Lee Bails
See if this rings any bells: “CM PUNK! CM PUNK! CM PUNK!”
In 2014, crazy popular former WWE Champion CM Punk left the company to write comics, shoot movies and train for a career in UFC. His wife, former Divas Champion A.J. Lee, stayed with the company. It was … awkward. Crowds chanted her husband’s name at her for a year. Only a few days after WrestleMania, she left the company, as well.
She wrestled her final match — possibly ever — on March 30. She put on a Bayley t-shirt and teamed with Paige and Naomi against the Bella Twins and Natalya, and that was that. The woman who called for a Divas Revolution before anyone stepped away a few months before it could become a reality. Well, before it could become an onscreen story.
A.J.’s retirement is one of those things you can totally understand, but it’s still a bummer. We miss you, The Chickbusters. We’re crazy without you.
8. The IC Title Elimination Chamber Garbage Fire
You might not think Sheamus, King Barrett, R-Truth, Ryback, Dolph Ziggler and Mark Henry in an Elimination Chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship would be one of the worst matches of the year, but hold on to your butts. From the Best and Worst of Elimination Chamber:
There’s a moment near the end of the match where Sheamus and Ryback are standing on the metal floor of the Elimination Chamber trying to slam each other where I might’ve forgotten wrestling was happening at all. It was like staring at an impressionist painting.
The Intercontinental Championship Elimination Chamber didn’t work for a lot of the same reasons the tag version was lame, but it just didn’t accomplish anything. It didn’t build to any response from the crowd. Listen to their reaction when Ryback pins Sheamus, becomes IC champ and holds his first-ever singles championship. It’s nothing. Absolutely nothing. They watched six guys who are ostensibly supposed to be the most important people besides whoever’s in the title match wrestle a lengthy, gimmicked cage match full of props and violence, culminating in a babyface defeating a dastardly heel and winning the title formerly held by the former most popular person in the company. Nothing. Silence. It could’ve been six Erick Rowans wrestling in a Stand Still match and it would’ve gotten the same reaction.
I think people just super don’t care. The story heading into the match with Ziggler vs. Rusev, but Rusev got hurt. We were left with WHOOPS, NO STORY. King Barrett is the most pathetic wrestler to ever earn a WWE contract, I guess, and loses to R-Truth, a guy every person aware of the show picked to go out first. Guys are hitting finishing moves and taunting instead of going for pins. People don’t seem to know it’s elimination despite it being called THE ELIMINATION CHAMBER, and break up pins. Mark Henry gets applauded for being smart enough to know how to wrestle the match, then forgets in the middle and starts breaking up pins too. That works in the tag version because you’ve got someone looking out for you, but Jesus, guys, can you at least ATTEMPT to understand how and why these matches work? I don’t need wrestling school and 15 years of experience in This Business to know “if I’m in an elimination match I should want the other guys to get eliminated.”
Cue the replay screen with the crickets.
When I close my eyes, I can still hear Ziggler yelling instructions.
I wouldn’t recommend watching it, but there it is.
7. TMZ Destroys An Angle About Shower Harassment And Cheater Gifts And Abandoning Everything You Believe In To Wear Airbrushed Jean Jackets
An angle so bad it makes you long for the days of Kiss Me Arse.
I can try to recap this, but it’s probably impossible. Okay, so, Lana was a Russian business lady who managed the “Bulgarian Brute” Rusev, converted him to Russian (or whatever) and made him so successful and famous that Vladimir Putin gave him a gold star medal. They hated America. Eventually WWE crowds started liking her anyway because she’s super pretty, and the attention made her stray from her mission. Rusev lost an I Quit match to John Cena when he yelled in Bulgarian and Lana translated to help him out. She was worried about him, because they are/were in love. All good so far?
Okay, so Rusev gets humiliated and they break up. Later in the SAME SHOW, Lana shows up and awkwardly makes out with Dolph Ziggler for no reason. If you missed it, Lana and Ziggler had the chemistry of a frying pan and a potted plant. Rusev stalked Lana for a few weeks, but ultimately replaced her with Summer Rae, also known as “Hot Summer,” who started dressing in Lana cosplay. You’d think that’d just end in a Rusev/Summer vs. Dolph/Lana match and we could move on with our lives, but nope, suddenly we were balls-deep in this story about how Summer and Dolph were secretly hooking up or maybe not, Summer sexually harassing Dolph in the shower but maybe not, and Dolph giving her apology gifts for being mad at her for … sexually harassing him in the shower? I don’t know. Rusev gave Summer a dog and a headless fish and it’s like it didn’t even MEAN ANYTHING. Oh, and Lana was mad at Dolph for being harassed.
Out of nowhere, Lana broke her wrist and was taken off TV, and the angle lost most of its momentum. Then, even more out of nowhere, TMZ broke the news that Lana and Rusev were engaged in real life. The angle was dropped and everyone made fart sounds, and now the story is that everyone involved is a virgin but maybe not.
6. Damien Sandow Fizzles Out And Ends Up Cosplaying
Poor Damien Sandow. Poor, poor Damien Sandow.
When the year started, he was Damien Mizdow, The Miz’s stunt double and one of the hottest acts in the company. Before The New Day was The New Day, he was that bright spot on even a bad episode of Raw. Everyone thought the story was building to Mizdow vs. The Miz in a big blowoff match at WrestleMania, but some combination of Miz’s schedule and dot dot dot question mark send the angle payoff to “near the end of a battle royal neither of them wins on the pre-show.” Mizdow had finally had enough and tossed Miz in a Slammy Award-winning moment. A Slammy Award presented on the pre-show, in an announcement made earlier in the day. You know the drill.
Regardless of the terrible execution, we were ready to embrace Sandow. He cut a promo on Raw about how he could finally be himself, which ended up being him doing mean-spirited, sarcastic impersonations of people while they talked. Pretty soon “being himself” meant “dressing up like the Macho Man,” which is not only the most played out wrestling impersonation possible, but damning for a guy who couldn’t even do a good Macho Man.
“Macho Mandow” (sigh) and the Hulk Hogan cosplay version of Curtis Axel teamed up at the very, very bottom of the card as “The Mega Powers” until, you know, Hulk Hogan was fired and scrubbed from WWE history. As the year ends, Sandow occasionally pops up at live events in his old gimmick or teases Raw appearances on social media that never happen. Maybe he’s Heath Slater’s stunt double?
5. Alberto Del Rio Sells Out
Former WWE Champion Alberto Del Rio was unexpectedly fired from the company in 2014 following an incident where he reportedly struck a social media manager for making a joke about how he should wash his own dishes, because he’s Mexican. Del Rio claimed WWE’s racism went all the way to the top, and did numerous interviews where he said things about how he had to stand up for himself because he didn’t want his kids to grow up unable to respect him.
Pretty soon, Del Rio showed up on Lucha Underground and cut one of the best, most fired-up promos of the year about honoring his family’s tradition of lucha libre royalty, the value of respecting yourself and performing in a place where you aren’t held back by the color of your skin. It was incredible.
In October, somehow unable to find another suitable “top Hispanic star,” WWE dropped a giant bag of money with a dollar sign in front of Del Rio. He returned at Hell in a Cell, won the United States Championship from an already-out-the-door John Cena, and started an angle where he and the most overtly racist and xenophobic character on the show, Zeb Colter, had decided to start their own nation. “MexAmerica.”
Del Rio has spent the remainder of the year kinda dead behind the eyes, sleepwalking through matches built around how much time it takes him to set up a double-stomp in the corner. It’s depressing. It’s absolutely depressing, and the living, breathing opposite of that Lucha promo.
4. Your Balls Are Like Tater Tots, Tater Tots!
And now, the worst promo of the year.
WWE wanted to build to Roman Reigns vs. WWE World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus in a TLC match at TLC. To sell this, the Raw before TLC began with Roman pinning Sheamus clean, and ended with him spearing Sheamus through a table. In the in-between, Roman cut a promo about how Sheamus’ balls must be tater tots, because he’s Irish and … your balls should be the size of uncooked potatoes?
The promo goes something like this. From the Best and Worst of Raw:
Roman: Hey Irishman you’re supposed to have POTATOES, but all you got is tater tots, son! I’m gonna beat you up with TOYS!
Roman: get in the ring, son, you’re like tater tots
Sheamus: no I’m not getting in the ring
Roman: why, is it because tater tots
Roman: tater tots tater tots
Sheamus: I’m going to beat you up!
Roman: all you’re doing is talking, son! You talk like tater tots
Sheamus: not gonna fight you now
Roman: tater tots tater tots in a dish, how many pieces do you wish
Sheamus: okay I will fight you but you have to get rid of that table
Roman: boom, table gone, get in the ring tater son
Roman: come on, what are you, tater tots?
Sheamus: okay I will fight you but you have to get rid of those chairs
Roman: boom, chairs gone, tater tots in the mouth bitch
Roman: I knew you were only tater tots
Sheamus: okay I will fight you but you have to get rid of the ladder
Roman: boom, ladders gone, I’m gonna dip them tater tots in room temperature water and then tot you in the ass
Sheamus: okay you ready to fight
Roman: does a tater tot in the woods
Roman: I said tater tots, ass damn hell
Sheamus: okay here goooooes
The actual promo is worse, because it takes 15 minutes.
3. Daniel Bryan Says Goodbye, Again
At WrestleMania XXX, smark favorite turned everybody everywhere favorite Daniel Bryan did the impossible by defeating Triple H, Batista and Randy Orton in two different matches to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. It was maybe the best single-night performance by a pro wrestler in WWE history. After that, things started to fall apart. Before we knew it, Bryan was being forced to vacate the championship due to injuries that would keep him on the shelf for most of the year. But hey, he’d be back!
And he was. Bryan returned, with the added bonus of every bump in every match making us wince because he didn’t want him to get hurt again. He competed in the Royal Rumble — more on that in a sec — but didn’t win. But he got to be involved in a storyline about people randomly stealing the Intercontinental Championship, and won a ladder match for the belt at WrestleMania! After that, things started to fall apart. Before we knew it, Bryan was being forced to vacate the championship due to injuries that would keep him on the shelf for most of the year. But hey, he’d be back! Maybe. Probably. Hopefully? :(
“How long have you guys been treating me like I was something special?”
Oh God. I can’t even watch it.
Bryan wants to come back. He says he’s healthy, but WWE doctors won’t clear him. He’s said he believes his WWE career may be over (and is considering everything from lucha libre to MMA as a backup), but the worst part is that nobody seems to know. We’re just sitting on our hands, waiting for something to happen.
I have no doubt that we’ll see Bryan in a WWE ring again. The problem is that if we do, there’s a chance that we’ll just go through the experience of losing him again.
2. A Royal Rumble So Bad People Are Booing The Rock
It’s so weird to say that the Royal Rumble is the worst WWE match of the year.
It was kind of a disaster. Daniel Bryan was unceremoniously eliminated in the middle of the match, killing not only the drama of the match itself, but the Philadelphia crowd. They spent the rest of the match booing everything, especially the eventual winner, corporately mandated Next Big Thing Roman Reigns. He spent most of the match leaning in a corner before winning with Triple H’s Royal Rumble win animations. The last few minutes of the match are Kane and Big Show boringly eliminating all the remaining fan favorites. It’s agony.
If you’re reading this and you’re like, “come on, I liked the Rumble, it wasn’t that bad,” remember: they got a WWE crowd to boo The Rock. The f*cking ROCK showed up, and the crowd was like “weeeeeeh boooooooo.” They made a man who hasn’t even considered a negative comment in a decade make a “the f*ck??” face.
It started a movement to cancel the WWE Network, outraged people for months, and they’ve spent the entirety of 2015 trying to rehab Roman and everyone else involved. Roman not getting booed the next time they were in Philly was seen as a major victory.
1. Everybody Gets Hurt Everywhere
You knew this had to be #1.
It’s been a depressing year for WWE injuries. There’s Bryan’s injury, obviously, but so much more. There’s Randy Orton’s shoulder injury, which is significant and will keep him out of action through WrestleMania. WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins blew out his knee as badly as a human can, vacated the title and is out for six to nine months. Sting needs neck surgery after a possible career-ending injury at Night of Champions. Cesaro is out half a year just as he was starting to gain serious momentum. Tyson Kidd almost died, needed spinal fusion surgery and is out for more than a year. There was Lana’s wrist, John Cena’s nose, Ryback’s staph infection, Erick Rowan’s bicep and on and on and on, all affecting onscreen stories. Even William Regal’s neck injury kept him away from NXT TakeOver: London.
If there’s one thing we can hope for 2016, it’s that WWE’s roster stays as healthy as possible. Let’s not do this again next year.