With 2015 winding down and a new year on the horizon, it’s a good time to sit back and look at everything that happened in the past twelve months. WWE went through another roller coaster of a year, with spectacular highs and depressing lows, and everything in between. With that in mind, here are the 10 biggest new stories, whether good, bad, or indifferent, to come out of WWE in 2015.
10. Green Arrow Gets In The Ring
WWE has never shied away from bringing in celebrities whenever they can (as the much-maligned “Celebrity Wing” of their Hall of Fame can attest), and at SummerSlam, they had a golden opportunity to latch on to the biggest thing going in popular culture right now: superheroes. Stephen Amell, who plays the title character on The CW’s Arrow, one of the most popular shows on the network, has never made a secret of his lifelong WWE fandom. Meanwhile, WWE’s Cody Rhodes, a noted comic book aficionado, began interacting with Amell on Twitter in the guise of his Stardust persona. After much back and forth, Amell was brought in to work an angle with Stardust, culminating in a match at SummerSlam. For his part, Amell put in the necessary work, and at SummerSlam, Amell gave as good as he got. The actor looked far better than expected for someone with such limited experience (the fact that Amell does many of his own stunts on Arrow probably didn’t hurt his ability to perform), including a spectacular dive from the top rope to the floor that took a bigger risk than anyone would have expected from a celebrity appearing in WWE. Unfortunately, Amell’s TV-related duties didn’t allow for an extended feud, but it was certainly one of the highlights of the summer in WWE.
9. Seth Rollins Is Unlucky In Love
While it didn’t affect his in-ring career, it was clear over the course of 2015 that Seth Rollins doesn’t use the best judgment when it comes to his relationships. In February, his then-fiancee discovered nude photos of WWE developmental trainee Zahra Schreiber on his phone, and immediately posted them to his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, literally hours before that week’s episode of Raw went on the air. Obviously, the engagement ended shortly thereafter, and Rollins quickly moved on to openly dating Schreiber, who would appear with him when he sat ringside at the NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn special on SummerSlam weekend. Later in the year, however, it became public knowledge that Schreiber, who had just started making her first appearances on NXT house shows as a valet, had posted Nazi-related images on her Instagram account, along with statements that seemed to indicate a positive inclination towards the organization. The public outcry was immediate, and Schreiber was quickly fired, although at last report, she is still dating Rollins.
8. John Cena Wins Back The Fans
It’s no secret that the fans of WWE are sharply divided on John Cena, and have been for some time. But in 2015, after winning the United States title at WrestleMania, Cena seemed to be taking steps towards earning a positive reaction from the sections of the fan base that had grown jaded with his unchanging and increasingly stale character. Thus was born the John Cena United States Open Challenge, where Cena would regularly defend the title against a new, unknown opponent nearly every week, in a series where Cena appeared determined to have the best match of any particular night. Over the course of his reign, Cena would have several spectacular matches with other crowd favorites, including Dean Ambrose, Stardust, Cesaro, and NXT wrestlers Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, leading to an extended, critically acclaimed feud with Owens. In the fall, Cena would surprise fans yet again, taking several months off from WWE to film a reality show, leaving the organization without its top star for and extended period for the first time in years.
7. Daniel Bryan’s Career In Jeopardy
After Daniel Bryan spent nearly half of 2014 on the shelf with a mysterious injury, WWE fans were hotly anticipating his return when it was announced that he would be entering the 2015 Royal Rumble. Although he didn’t win (which caused immense fan backlash), it was still good to see Bryan wrestling again, and he would win the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania 31, in a move which appeared to be set up to attempt to give the title a new shot of credibility after years of mistreatment. Unfortunately, Bryan would once again find himself sidelined by injury, this time a concussion, and would be sidelined yet again, forced to vacate the Intercontinental title. This new health issue has persisted throughout the year, with rumors circulating that WWE doctors would not clear Bryan to return, and might never do so. Bryan himself confirmed those rumors late in the year, and even suggested that his in-ring career might potentially be over, to the dismay of the entire WWE fan base.
6. Reid Flair Controversy
The week before the Survivor Series Pay Per View, WWE decided to end their show with a contract signing between Divas Champion Charlotte and her challenger at the show, Paige. During the usual exchange of threats that happen at these sort of things, Charlotte brought up her younger brother, who died of a heroin overdose while training to be a wrestler and inspired her own career. Paige responded by saying that Charlotte’s brother “didn’t have much fight in him”, causing Charlotte to snap and attack her. In the week that followed, controversy reigned over whether WWE had crossed a line, with all sorts of people weighing in on the subject, including Charlotte’s mother, and her father, Ric Flair, who said he was not consulted about the angle before it happened. After issuing a public statement which implied that the angle had gone forward with Charlotte’s permission, WWE did not directly reference the line from Paige again, and the whole incident was ignored going forward.
5. Hulk Hogan Fired For Racist Statements
During Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against a popular website for leaking a sex tape involving him (which had been made without his knowledge), the audio from the recording (which had previously been left out of the video) was released to the public. Literally hours before the audio went public, Hogan was fired from his position in WWE, having apparently revealed to his employers the content of the tapes, allowing WWE to distance themselves from Hogan ahead of time. It turned out, during a conversation which was recorded as part of the sex tape, Hogan made several racist remarks about his daughter’s new boyfriend, and upon hearing these statements, the public response was immediate and decidedly negative. Hogan remains unemployed by WWE at this point, but it is widely expected that he will be brought back when the controversy over this entire fiasco dies down.
4. Jimmy Snuka Arrested
In 1983, Jimmy Snuka’s girlfriend was discovered in his hotel room, dead. Snuka claimed no involvement in the tragedy, and a police investigation failed to uncover enough evidence to connect him to the incident. The popular rumor for years was that Vince McMahon, who was with Snuka while he was questioned by police, had coached Snuka on his responses, and potentially impeded the investigation, although no one has ever been able to provide proof. However, in the fall of 2015, police re-opened the investigation upon the discovery of new evidence by an investigative reporter, and found enough probable cause to arrest and formally charge the now-72 year-old Snuka with third degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Snuka pleaded not guilty to the charges, with the trial scheduled to commence in February of 2016. In response to his arrest, WWE suspended his Legends contract and severed all ties with the Hall of Famer.
3. Roman Reigns’ Journey To The Top
At the 2015 Royal Rumble, WWE had decided that Roman Reigns would win the titular match, earning himself a guaranteed WWE World Heavyweight Title shot at WrestleMania 31. There, Reigns was expected to be the one to unseat Brock Lesnar, who had dominated all others in his path ever since destroying John Cena to win the title at SummerSlam. However, a number of poor decisions, including the unceremonious elimination of heavy fan favorite Daniel Bryan early in the match, turned the entire live audience in Philadelphia against Reigns. WWE’s ppor attempts to satiate a disgruntled fan base only engendered further hatred, with Reigns clearly struggling under the pressure, and a last-minute decision was made to have Seth Rollins cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase at WrestleMania, defeating both Reigns and Lesnar to become champion. The rest of 2015 was spent attempting to rebuild Reigns into a potential champion who would be accepted by the fans, with mixed results. Finally, on the Raw after the last PPV of the year, WWE took advantage of a sudden show of fan support (coincidentally, in the same city of Philadelphia which had booed his Rumble win) for Reigns and had him win the title, with the hopes that they could now, finally, establish him as the next big star of the future.
2. The Rise of Women’s Wrestling
Thanks to the increased quality and visibility of the women’s division in WWE’s developmental territory, NXT (which we’ll talk more about in a second), the WWE fan base grew increasingly discontent with the poor treatment of the Divas division on the main roster, seeing it as nothing more than a commercial for the Total Divas reality show, with wrestling taking a back seat. Things reached a breaking point early in 2015, when a tag team match between four of the main roster’s more talented female wrestlers featured their entrances taking place during a commercial break, with the match itself lasting barely thirty seconds. This led to the hashtag #GiveDivasAChance becoming a popular trend, as fans and wrestlers alike took WWE to task for their handling of the Divas division. By the end of 2015, several of NXT’s top female competitors were brought up to the main roster in an attempt to revitalize the division, while in NXT itself, a pair of spectacular matches between Bayley and Sasha Banks at consecutive TakeOver specials are legitimate contenders for Match of the Year across either gender, and several highly touted women from around the world were brought in to fill out the roster. In the eyes of many, after 2015, women’s wrestling in North America is in a position to be stronger than ever before.
1. NXT vs WWE
It wasn’t just the women’s wrestling in NXT that caused a push for change on the main roster, but the entire NXT brand itself has widely been seen by wrestling fans to be the superior brand in WWE, and reached new heights in 2015. With a consistent booking strategy, highly-skilled talent from all over the world, and bi-monthly specials that continually raised the bar for in-ring content, NXT became a touchstone for many fans who had grown disillusioned with WWE’s televised product. Over the year, NXT continued to expand, running live show tours outside of its home base in Florida, including a year-ending tour through the United Kingdom. In the summer, an NXT Title match was added to a WWE live event taking place in Tokyo that aired on the WWE Network and in many eyes, stole the show. A TakeOver special in Brooklyn sold out a 15,000 seat arena, and one in the UK sold out a 10,000 seat venue as well. With WWE spending much of the year in a creative rut, many fans gravitated to NXT as a way to get their wrestling fix, and hopefully, NXT’s success will continue to provoke changes within the larger WWE organization.