Looking back on 2015, North American wrestling fans should hope that the people who write and promote their favorite shows have a long list of resolutions for 2016. To be blunt, mainstream professional wrestling simply wasn’t very good in the year that was. WWE, the titan of sports entertainment, saw their television ratings find new bottoms while TNA Wrestling found itself looking for its third television home in as many years and Ring of Honor continued its seemingly lifelong struggle for relevance. When the wrestling history book is written, 2015 will certainly be remembered as an off-year, a downtime, a creative and commercial nadir.
The biggest and most obvious reason that 2015 will go down as a disappointing year for the wrestling business would have to be industry leader WWE’s stumblebum transition into their company’s next era. For the first time in a decade, a healthy John Cena was pushed down from the very top of the card to free room in the upper tier for the likes of Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. Regrettably, this did not bring about the instant freshening of WWE’s television product that so many frustrated fans assumed it would.
Rollins enjoyed the lion’s share of time in the top spot during 2015, but his uneven push and subservience to the Authority of Stephanie McMahon and Triple H did much to weaken the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and Rollins’ own upward trajectory. Even though “The Architect” held the world title seven months and defended it in athletic, memorable fashion, he was never the singular star of the WWE’s flagship program, Monday Night Raw. Like Daniel Bryan before him, Rollins was only there to play a supporting role on a show whose real featured centerpieces were the bosses. The result was a wrestling show on which wrestling didn’t really matter and willingness to jump into bed with corrupt leaders was more important than athleticism.
As for Reigns, he spent 2015 as the perfect embodiment of everything broken within the WWE system. He was pushed with tooth-grinding force at times when he failed to connect with the crowd, found himself undercut by rigid and poorly-written scripts, and fell short of performing consistently in the ring at a level that justified his positioning. With that said, Reigns is in no way the cause of WWE’s substandard year; he is merely the symptom, the fluid-filled pustule on wrestling’s plague-ravaged body. Reigns is just as much a victim of the lazy, self-insistent way WWE has booked him as the fans are.
Meanwhile, acts the WWE could have been making money with were rotting on the vine in the midcard. This year saw the last drop of cool credibility sadly wrung out of the disillusioned heap that once was Dolph Ziggler. Around the same time, Kevin Owens was introduced to a strong reaction, made an historic impact in his feud with Cena, and was quickly pushed back down the card to the interchangeable level that makes up everything below the very top tier of WWE. Tyler Breeze, Adrian Neville, and even Sasha Banks saw their huge success in NXT reduced to mediocrity on the big stage in mere weeks. To anybody with an eye for talent, the picture was clear: WWE had the pieces to produce a strong TV show in 2015, they just refused to put them together in a sensible way.
Injuries also contributed to the flop that was 2015. Rusev, one of the great rising stars of 2014, was sidelined by an ankle issue only to be inserted into a disastrous comedy angle with the aforementioned Ziggler upon his return. Cesaro, one of the company’s best and most versatile in-ring workers, also lost significant time to a shoulder while his tag team partner Tyson Kidd experienced what may have been a career-ending broken neck. Sami Zayn’s promotion to the main roster was cut short almost instantly by his shoulder injury, which stole away his chance to become one of the year’s breakout stars. And, of course, no discussion of shoulder problems would be complete without mentioning the time missed by Randy Orton, one of the best-established and most recognizable WWE Superstars. Even the Usos, one of the company’s most reliably over babyface acts, were removed from the tag team mix due to Jey’s injured arm in 2015.
Outside the WWE, Discovery Communications’ foray into professional wrestling was another perfect example of the mess that was 2015. When TNA Wrestling and Destination America got married, both jumped into bed with unreasonable expectations of the other. TNA expected huge cross-platform promotion and the friendly loosening of purse strings they had enjoyed for years with SpikeTV. Destination America expected close to a million viewers per week – a number Impact had ceased reaching on a better network several years ago. When neither partner could satisfy the other, ROH swooped in from the rafters, offering Discovery largely comparable viewership for pennies on the dollar just to make TNA look bad. It was a level of tear-each-other-down soap opera drama that wrestling companies should be trying to present, not getting entangled in. The final effect was not just another cancellation for Impact Wrestling; the ordeal served to cement entertainment industry stereotypes that non-WWE wrestling companies are rinky-dink and untrustworthy.
Overall, 2015 was a gut punch for the wrestling industry and their fans. Week in and week out, the mainstream North American product confused, angered, and ultimately underwhelmed the viewing audience, while those creating the content seemed inflexibly defensive of it. The good news is that fan dissatisfaction became so quantifiably clear in the final months of the year that wrestling promoters should have ample motivate to do better in the next 52 weeks.
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