Top 20 Of 2015
*Graphic by Angel Ancantara*
2015 certainly had unmemorable moments – a Global Force Wrestling invasion, a “Divas Revolution,” a ridiculous love rectangle, tater tot promos, among others.
However, we also saw fantastic ones – a Money In The Bank Briefcase Cash-In during the WrestleMania main event, a revamped Undertaker-Brock Lesnar feud, “four horsewomen,” John Cena’s United States Open Challenge, TNA World Title Series and that’s scratching the surface.
Below’s our list of the top 20 moments of 2015.
20) Kalisto’s Salida del Sol Off One Ladder And Through Another Below (WWE TLC, 12/13/15)
A late addition, but worthy nevertheless. Headed in, we saw strong potential for this to steal TLC since it featured six individuals capable of high-flying ladder spots. We wondered how far they’d go and evidently, there were no barriers. In what may be the year’s most insane spot, jaws dropped when it looked like Kalisto would actually pull it off and the picture speaks for itself. As a result, Kalisto has begun to breakout on his own and 2016 holds limitless potential for him.
19) James Storm Comes To NXT (WWE NXT, 10/21/15)
NXT started 2015 off hot after the critcally-acclaimed success of NXT TakeOver: R-Evolution and only furthered their momentum. TNA on the other hand, suffered from financial troubles. They thought things would turn around with a television deal with Destination America, bringing Impact back to American television screens. The relief was only temporary. Contractual troubles left TNA with numerous talent leaving, James Storm one of them. It must’ve not felt good for TNA officials to see Storm’s name (a TNA original) grace NXT’s LCD screens, again giving us the impression that NXT was “the place to be.” Keeping most of his likenesses right down to the cowbell, hat, ring attire and even the Last Call Superkick finisher, Storm now performs for a bigger audience arguably in the prime of his career. Though his role in NXT looks to be that of a “veteran mentor,” we wouldn’t be surprised if WWE strikes while the iron’s hot with what few years he may have left.
18) Roderick Strong Uncrowns Jay Lethal As ROH World Television Champion (ROH Wrestling, 11/25/15)
Ring Of Honor made waves when they announced a 26-week national television deal with Destination America, which first aired Jun. 3. The DA era ended Nov. 25 and had people talking about the main event regardless if it aired almost a month later. ROH’s biggest 2015 rivalry was arguably between Jay Lethal and Roderick Strong. Lethal beat Strong the first time with his ROH World Championship on the line and again retained the Title in a 60-minute draw the second time. Hellbent on a mission to beat Lethal, Strong laid down a challenge, with Matchmaker Nigel McGuinness making it for the ROH World Television Championship. What we got was a fantastic bout, complete with nail-biting near-falls and the notion that it was two guys fighting who truly knew each other’s styles inside and out. Lethal had been TV Champion for 18 months at that point and we expected him to somehow retain, but ROH threw a curveball and actually awarded Strong with the belt. This was smart since it gave Strong something to walk away with and could build himself with the Title, while Lethal was still ROH World Champion and wouldn’t lose his top spot on the card. Of the Strong-Lethal matches this year, this was the easy favorite based on the quality and result.
17) The Dudley Boyz Return (WWE Raw, 8/24/15)
With a packed Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, the stage was right for The Dudley Boyz to make their first WWE return in 10 years. This was also perfect timing for the tag team division, featuring a dominantly popular New Day as its Champions with only a couple of teams in competition, The Prime Time Players and The Lucha Dragons. This immediately gave New Day instant challengers and what a reaction. The place nearly came unglued for the theme music and as “get the tables!” echoed through its walls, with Xavier Woods getting 3D’d through a table. Surely, the aftermath was disappointing since The Dudleys never gained the Tag Titles despite getting several chances and the team has since lost steam, being portrayed as a nostalgia act more than anything relevant. Did Bubba Ray make the right decision in signing a long-term deal with WWE? 2015 made us not so sure, but 2016 should hold a definitive answer.
16) Grave Consequences (Lucha Underground, 3/18/15)
For those unfamiliar with Lucha Underground, you’re missing out on possibly the best overall product out there. Packing the cinematic elements WWE tries to pull off with the stellar athleticism ROH boldly boasts and the progressive storylines TNA would have you think they fathered, you get the complete package with LU. This particular match – a basic casket match – gave us the young upstart Fenix battling against Mil Muertes, the “man of 1000 deaths.” With a nod to Mexican death culture (Dia De Los Muertos) beforehand, we had an appropriate setting for both men to deliver and that’s what they did. Fenix pulled out a breakthrough performance as we saw unconventional spots for a casket match with the actual casket used in the ring as a weapon. We even liked the little moments of brutality, like Muertes biting Fenix’s face and spitting out his blood, also trying to unmask him, the lowest you could go in Mexican wrestling tradition. Catrina, initially introduced as Muertes’ faithful vixen, suddenly found a liking for Fenix and guided him to a hard-fought victory which put Muertes in a long absence, though in the end, it was a ruse for Catrina to bring him back stronger. Nevertheless, we give kudos to an awesome effort and a casket match that was more than a casket match.
15) Sami Zayn Debuts On Raw And Answers The John Cena United States Championship Open Challenge (WWE Raw, 5/4/15)
In his Raw debut, the ball was given to Zayn with everything set to make him look good in his own Montreal hometown. Cena had the tough task of turning a heckling crowd into his favor by saying the right things and introduced Montreal’s favorite homeboy, Bret Hart, who had the easier transition of making the crowd erupt when he introduced Zayn. You could’ve questioned WWE’s strategy of presenting Zayn as an NXT star as opposed to starting him anew, but name recognition worked dividends since the guy would fight a few weeks later in the marquee match for the NXT Championship against Kevin Owens at TakeOver: Unstoppable. Naturally, Zayn flashed his upstart, underdog-esque offense but it was apparent before the bell that something went wrong with his shoulder. The good part was that the injury was used as a metaphor of his fighting spirit, taking Cena to the limit while getting to perform some signature spots like the turnbuckle DDT and even kicked out of an Attitude Adjustment as well as an excellent near-fall when he hit his own finisher. Surely, we knew the inevitable: Cena would win, but Zayn got the proper introduction that he could build off of. Even though he was sidelined by the shoulder injury for seven months, there was no denying what he did to make a bold first impression.
14) Finn Balor Wins The NXT Championship From Kevin Owens In Japan (WWE Network – Beast In The East, 7/4/15)
American wrestling fans braved a 5 a.m. alarm to trudge through a live broadcast from the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan to see a glorified house show advertising Brock Lesnar’s post-WrestleMania 31 return as well as the NXT Championship match between Balor and Owens, where many expected a title change. Balor made his name overseas as Prince Devitt, honing his craft in Japan, so this was like a homecoming for him. Of course, we got our full-length thematic “Rising Sun”-inspired Balor entrance and the Championship bout feel of streamers and flowers in the ring, which Owens brilliantly used as props for cheap heat by spitting on Japanese culture. The spot of beating Owens for the NXT Championship in Japan was likely set up for Hideo Itami, but a sidelining injury nixed those plans. However, it worked out to have Balor. This was the match everyone expected to be great and it excelled in this unique environment, giving us some nice near-falls before Balor won on his second Coup de Grace. Obviously, Balor has ran with the ball, becoming the new “face of NXT” when guys like Zayn and Itami were shelved.
13) Ethan Carter III Vs. Rockstar Spud – Hair Vs. Hair Match (TNA Impact Wrestling, 3/13/15)
Already building off a “friends turned rivals” storyline that spawned back to early-to-mid 2014, there was history between EC3 and Rockstar Spud that made their feud all the more better. For fans unaware of EC3’s ever-growing charisma or Spud’s underdog tendencies, this match fused all into one action-packed main event in front of Spud’s own hometown crowd. As far as TNA standards, this was insanely good, especially towards the end. Many will point to this bout as Spud’s breakthrough moment, as he practically wore a crimson mask in the match’s second half, pushing Destination America’s envelope, who went black-and-white at points. Why people remember this match though was Carter’s brilliant post-match promo where he teased turning face by acting genuinely concerned for Spud and seemingly wanting to end on good terms only to sucker him in to toss him back into the ring to shave his head as per the stipulation. This match also cemented EC3 as one of the business’ best heels in the ring and on the mic while also giving Spud his overdue spotlight moment. We initially feared that moving out of this rivalry with no payoff win and a shaved head for Spud would hurt him long-term and despite an eye-blink reign as X-Division Champion not long after this, it appears our fears are concrete. Maybe 2016 will pen a different story for our lovable Spud.
12) Jay Lethal Becomes ROH’s Undisputed Champion (ROH Best In The World, 6/19/15)
Lethal began the year as ROH’s red-hot top heel as the centerpiece of the House Of Truth faction. With Truth Martini at his side, he could seemingly do no wrong. More importantly, Lethal was the longest-reigning ROH Television Champion and was beginning to brag that he eclipsed the ROH World Championship in importance. It didn’t take much to make a match to settle things once and for all – “Battle of the Belts” as it was deemed – with Lethal taking on Jay Briscoe in ROH’s biggest match to that point. The bout picked up greatly towards the end with convincing near-falls and if we had any doubts of ROH backing Lethal as a legitimate player, this was the night those were erased when he became the Undisputed World and Television Champion.
11) Samoa Joe Comes To NXT (NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable, 5/20/15)
With Zayn sidelined by injury even before this match took place, we expected a flimsy finish that would have Owens retain his NXT Championship. What we didn’t expect was for Joe to make his NXT debut in a show-ending standoff when Owens retained his belt through Referee Stoppage and continued to attack Zayn, officials and NXT General Manager William Regal with a headbutt. Joe had left TNA in March and rumors of him in NXT surfaced on the internet, but those seemed to be disputed when stories broke out of him accepting independent bookings. Seeing it for ourselves was as close to the classic 90’s moments of WWE main talent jumping ship to WCW as we could get. Even more ironic – this was the same day a story broke that Destination America supposedly canceled Impact Wrestling, only adding salt to the wound that one of TNA’s former top stars as recent as two months prior was now in NXT, “the place to be.”
10) Roman Reigns Becomes WWE World Heavyweight Champion… Again (WWE Raw, 12/14/15)
For all the flack Roman Reigns caught from the Philadelphia crowd when he won the Royal Rumble, it was telling that almost 11 months later, they’d be on their feet cheering for him winning the Title, but that’s how it went down. Of course it was with help from Triple H, Stephanie and Vince McMahon, but Reigns finally got over simply by being a badass. The match’s buildup was told excellently through the night, as Reigns was backed into the ultimate corner in the eleventh hour – win the Championship or lose his job. We had some usual teases of the heels getting one over yet again, as Rusev and Alberto Del Rio tried to intervene and even McMahon himself pulled the Referee out of the ring when he was about to count to three. Reigns overcame the moment by Superman Punching McMahon on the apron and survived a nail-biting near-fall when Sheamus hit a sudden Brogue Kick. It was set up so well that when Reigns actually got the pinfall, the crowd ate it all up. This was arguably Reigns’ career-defining moment and he has carried himself well as Champion thus far, but the real test has just begun for him.
9) TNA World Title Series
Okay, we know what you’re thinking – why reward TNA for falling victim to the wrongs of their delayed taping schedule? We’ll tell you why. Post-production allowed TNA to treat these old matches like anew with a good mix of more “current” promos thrown in to portray the feeling of a tournament to crown a new TNA World Heavyweight Champion. Sure, the initial rules sounded goofy of a “round robin”-esque first round where four members of eight four-person teams would square off in separate matches and advance based on which two from the group drew the most points, but it allowed Impact Wrestling to feel more “sports legitimate” and actually produced some intriguing matches and emphasized other talent in a new light (Robbie E, Madison Rayne, etc.) all the while following the predicted path of Mahabali Shera, Matt Hardy, Ethan Carter III and Eric Young advancing to the final four. Hell, even the Knockouts had a chance to compete. The tournament dominated TNA’s last quarter of television, yet every episode gave us something unique. What was expected to be the last of TNA TV turned into a nice surprise when POP TV picked up Impact Wrestling to begin airing this month. Will we chalk it up to the TNA World Title Series? Nobody knows for sure, but it had to play some factor. When it comes to how to properly present a tournament for a new Champion, TNA blew WWE out of the water this year.
Ultima Lucha – Lucha Underground’s “WrestleMania” to some extent – was the two-week spectacular that provided a payoff to the majority of season one’s storylines while setting up potential ones if the show was picked up for season two. The Temple crowd seemed extra amped-up and there was a heightened tension in the air, but the pins were set up for talent to steal the show and what we got was one of the best top-to-bottom shows this year. Let’s see, the first part gave us a well-done street fight between Cage and The Mack, Catrina’s Disciples Of Death uncrowned Angelico/Son Of Havoc/Ivelisse as Trios Champions and a solid “Believer’s Backlash” bout between Hernandez and Drago. The second part gave us Michael Schiavello on commentary, a closely contested match between Alberto El Patron and Johnny Mundo that ended with the return of Melina to help Mundo, El Dragon Azteca getting killed off, a downright brutal “Cero Miedo” match between Vampiro and Pentagon Jr. that featured blood, thumbtacks, fluorescent light tubes, a flaming table and the shocking reveal of Vampiro being Pentagon Jr.’s “Master,” Fenix winning the Seven-Way “Gift Of The Gods” match to earn a future Lucha Underground Championship match and a morbid ending when we saw Mil Muertes cap off his rocket-sized return by knocking Prince Puma off his throne as Lucha Underground Champion. The final video package “wrapped things up” in case it was a series finale, but now that we know it’s back for season two, we’re restless to continue the journey. LU meshes fantasy and reality so seamlessly, you don’t even need to like wrestling to appreciate its art.
7) Three “Horsewomen” Make Their Mark On The Main Roster (WWE Raw, 7/13/15)
Sure, the later #DivasRevolution flaws were evident in this segment, but nobody could deny the rabid reaction of the long-awaited call-up of NXT’s Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Sasha Banks to the main roster. The set-up was simple: Nikki Bella, her sister and Alicia Fox stood in the ring as the Divas Champion complained of there being no competition 232 days into her reign, which prompted Stephanie McMahon to come out and “shake things up.” This was an attempt to include WWE in the conversation of successful women changing the sports world. The Divas Division’s creative staleness prior to this called for WWE to play their hand to change things up. The problem was that change is something that can’t be forced, but rather happens organically on its own. Not only that, but WWE relied upon NXT’s popularity to carry the segment and though it worked here for the name recognition of the new Divas, it failed long-term because unlike on NXT when Lynch, Charlotte and Banks were allowed to grow and develop on their own, they were strung together and forced to “make a revolution” as assigned teams. Still though, the image of the “NXT Three Horsewomen” giving simultaneous submission maneuvers to Team Bella with the crowd on its feet, chanting “N-X-T! N-X-T!” is something that still stands out in our minds.
6) Mario Bokara Vs. Fallah Bahh Vs. Dan Maff Three-Way Hardcore I (PWS Wrestling, 4/26/15)
What initially was to be a Chairs match between Bokara and Bahh for the Pro Wrestling Syndicate Championship turned into a hardcore three-way when Maff intended to cash in his On-The-Spot Title Shot Medallion “with honor.” Easily PWS’ match of the year, we saw three of their top talent truly go at it in a bout that had no limits. Sheer brutality ranging from customized steel chairs to everything else like mouse traps, kendo sticks, chairs wrapped in barbed wire, staple guns, teeth, thumbtacks and even a door were used here. Kudos to the guys for the staple gun spots, which were downright cringe-inducing. Even Bahh’s manager, “Shining” Edward Jackson wasn’t safe from the staple gun. If that’s not hardcore, what is? With outstanding action that had the crowd on its feet chanting “Better-Than-Mania,” Bokara emerged the winner when he threw Maff out of the ring after hitting his finisher. The match was so good it called for an encore months later where Maff would emerge victorious. Either way, it raised the profile of all three men and put PWS even more on the map, proving they can hang up there with other big promotions.
5) Kevin Owens-John Cena Feud
The rise of Owens was unlike any other before. He debuted in NXT, became its Champion in exactly two months and debuted on the main roster as the face of NXT on the May 18 Raw, standing up to Cena and laying him out with a Pop-Up Powerbomb. Elimination Chamber gave us a Match Of The Year candidate when Owens showed the world how big men could fly in a “Champion Vs. Champion” match and pinned Cena (the first to do so in his first match) and shattered already-high expectations after 20 intense minutes. At Money In The Bank a month later, the two set the world on fire again with an even better effort with more nerve-racking near-falls. Owens was supposedly slated to win if not for Cena’s falling merchandise sales, but he got the talking point when he Powerbombed Cena on the apron after Cena praised him following the bell. Afterwards, we got the storyline that Owens was furious his own son looked up to Cena and not him, blaming Cena for taking away the chance to be his son’s role model. With Owens having just lost the NXT Championship, his focus was on Cena’s United States Championship, giving them a reason to fight again at July’s Battleground Pay-Per-View. The third match gave us more of what made this rivalry work so well – quality wrestling, high-impact moves, intense near-falls and fabulous chemistry. Sure, Owens fell off the edge a bit after this feud, but he recovered some time after and got a run with the Intercontinental Championship. Nevertheless, it was Owens’ time to shine and feuding with Cena gave him the perfect platform to make his name.
4) WWE World Heavyweight Championship – Triple-Threat – Brock Lesnar Vs. John Cena Vs. Seth Rollins (WWE Royal Rumble, 1/25/15)
What do you get when you put a beast, Superman and an architect in the same ring for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship? Philly fans were able to see the answer play out in an excitable effort from all involved. The crowd was very pro-Lesnar, very anti-Cena and somewhere in the middle for Rollins. This was an extraordinary effort from Lesnar, who did beastly things like kick out of an Attitude Adjustment, got up after three more, endured a Curb Stomp, got speared through the barricade, put through the announce table with a Rollins elbow drop and even received shots to the face with his Money In the Bank briefcase. Rollins also had a breakthrough performance as fans began to take him seriously in the ring after this match. Not even to mention Lesnar worked the match with a “broken rib,” how could the fans not applaud this kind of performance? This was the first match that got us pumped for 2015 and already had fans saying “Match Of The Year,” which was just over three weeks old at this point. A blizzard the next night benefited cable viewers when they got to see the match again for free.
3) Sasha Banks-Bayley Feud
If anything put NXT or women’s wrestling on the map, it was this feud. The best part – this was all NXT’s doing. No “revolution,” just straight-out wrestling and an easy storyline relatable to anybody. Banks was the established NXT Women’s Champion and Bayley was the deserved challenger. Banks got in Bayley’s head that she wasn’t good enough to be Champion because she was too nice, while Bayley fought to prove her and all her doubters wrong. Bayley has an immediate charm about her that people love, even beyond the happy entrance, bracelets and hugs. It’s also easy to look at the stylish Banks and see instant charisma. Put them together in the ring and magic happens. Case in point – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, where the ladies stole the show in NXT’s biggest crowd to date, with 16,000 on hand for an excellent back-and-forth bout with clever spots and in-ring psychology. We’re still jaw-dropped over that Top Rope Reverse Frankensteiner. Bayley got her big moment and women’s wrestling made headlines again when it was announced that they’d headline the next TakeOver in a 30-Minute “Iron Woman” match and they did it again with another extraordinary effort that involved a hearty Bayley comeback, a vicious steel steps spot and even Banks making Bayley’s number-one fan cry real tears. Banks got her main roster call-up around the time the feud started and was a logical way to get the belt onto Bayley, yet nobody thought these two would have such slick chemistry. Go back and watch their two TakeOver matches if you want a tiny snippet of what 2015 was truly all about.
2) Brock Lesnar Annihilates The Ringside Area (WWE Raw, 3/30/15)
Every year, the Raw after WrestleMania proves itself to be a spectacle all its own. Most of the fans from the night before stay for this show as well to keep its energy going as WWE follows up on the year’s biggest event, with some notable debuts and shocking moments to get everyone talking. This past year wasn’t a difficult task since you had an irate Lesnar, who had his Championship ripped away from him in the main event the previous night before and wasn’t even pinned for it. Oh yeah, and Suplex City suddenly became the biggest thing ever. Take an angry man, promise him a fair rematch later in the night, have his rival sleazily back out of it when the time comes for it and watch him destroy the world. So… Lesnar shoved J & J Security over the Spanish announce table, flipped the English table onto JBL and Booker T, F5’d Michael Cole in the ring and then to Stephanie McMahon’s protests, F5’d a cameraman. It was like, “How far will Lesnar go here? I have to keep watching.” Even better, this was a logical way to write off the part-timer until the next time he’d return for his rematch, which turned out to be Battleground. Sure, Lesnar never actually had a fair rematch and we’ve been expected to sweep it under the rug, but this moment definitely had everyone in awe and eyes glued to the TV set.
1) Seth Rollins Cashes In His Money In The Bank In The Main Event Of WrestleMania (WWE WrestleMania 31, 3/29/15)
Money In The Bank cash-ins have become routine for WWE since its 2005 inception. Sometimes, it has the capability to take someone and give them a career moment when they finally cash-in (Dolph Ziggler) or they can cash-in, fail and slowly lose relevance (Damien Sandow) or those who were in-the-middle. Rollins had a career first-half of the year and capped it off by doing the unthinkable, a one-time golden novelty: cashing in the WrestleMania main event. What was best about the situation was that it allowed Lesnar to drop the belt without losing it to Reigns, who fans felt still wasn’t ready. To Reigns’ credit though, he hung in there with Lesnar to at least make it believable that he could win. The moment Rollins’ music hit though, the place came apart and there was no going back now. WWE might’ve did themselves a favor by giving Rollins the moment of his life at the biggest time during the product’s biggest match. What it also did long-term was give Rollins the ball, which he ran valiantly with until his unfortunate injury, which indefinitely sidelined him. Out of this, Lesnar was also able to become the “beastly” babyface fans were looking to cheer anyways and Reigns got the biggest gift – time to grow and develop.
Posted on January 4, 2016, in Lucha Underground, NXT, PWS, ROH, TNA, Uncategorized, WWE and tagged Alicia Fox, Bayley, Beast In The East, Becky Lynch, Bret Hart, Brie Bella, Brock Lesnar, Catrina, Charlotte, Dan Maff, Ethan Carter III, Fallah Bahh, Fenix, Finn Balor, James Storm, Jay Lethal, John Cena, Kalisto, Kevin Owens, Mario Bokara, Mil Muertes, Naomi, Nigel McGuinness, Nikki Bella, NXT, Paige, Pro Wrestling, Rockstar Spud, Roderick Strong, Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, Sasha Banks, Seth Rollins, Sheamus, Stephanie McMahon, TakeOver: Brooklyn, TakeOver: Respect, TakeOver: Unstoppable, Tamina, The Dudley Boyz, The House Of Truth, TLC, TNA World Title Series, Triple H, Truth Martini, Ultima Lucha, Vince McMahon. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.