Before we completely close the book on 2011, it is useful to recap the top news stories of last year. Indeed, many of the biggest developments of 2011 had their seeds sowed in 2010. You may disagree, but here are my top ten Cageside Seats news stories of 2011:
1. In another one of WWE's poorly kept secrets, The Rock finally returned to WWE last February with a sheer breathtaking promo, which kicked off his ongoing feud with John Cena and set up his role as the guest host of WrestleMania 27. In an unprecedented move, after The Rock cost Cena the WWE title in a flat finish to that show, WWE announced the main event of WrestleMania 28 one year early where the two would finally face one another. Which certainly seemed like a shrewd move when Rock's mere presence at WrestleMania 27 alone led to the second most successful pay-per-view in WWE history. But then WWE creative totally dropped the ball with the hype for Rock's return match at the Survivor Series, leading to a very disappointing buyrate for the show. Surely they can't screw up another dream scenario so easily again? Right, Cagesiders?
More after the jump.
2. Speaking of badly blown opportunities, CM Punk got once in a lifetime momentum when he cut arguably the best shoot promo ever and followed that up by leaving Money In The Bank as the WWE champion after defeating John Cena in one of the most heated matches in company history. For a few weeks he was a merchandising juggernaut, with his Best In The World T-shirt selling like hotcakes, and there was considerable intrigue at how WWE would handle his unique storyline where he walked out on the promotion with their top belt in hand. In a worrying development for the future, the payoff was a convoluted mess where Kevin Nash treated Punk as a modern day vanilla midget ("a short order cook in a Pikeville Waffle House") and Triple H soundly beat him at Night Of Champions, before he became bosum buddies with Hunter in a tone deaf move when he refused to join the Solidarity Rally against his new found friend in the worst episode of Raw of the year. For his loyalty and rabid following in the Big Apple, Punk was rewarded with another WWE title victory from the struggling Alberto Del Rio at Survivor Series in a nice moment, but he hasn't been setting the world on fire since then. The long expected programme with the returning Chris Jericho should hopefully set him back on track.
3. Perhaps the most shocking and saddest news story of the year was the death of "Macho Man" Randy Savage from a heart attack while driving his car. Our then site manager David Bixenspan did a fantastic job of memorialising the career of one of the most captivating all round performers ever in a series of posts covering his early years when he was blackballed, despite his obvious talent, by the NWA for being the top star of his father's outlaw ICW territory, his WWF prime when he was the third biggest star in the business behind only Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, and his own personal memories of the great man himself. Savage's autopsy report made for depressingly familiar reading, as he was suffering from atheriosclerotic cardiovascular disease and an enlarged heart, almost certainly caused in part by his use of steroids for well over two decades, and had a cocktail of painkillers and sedatives in his system, at the time of his passing.
4. Thanks in part to TNA's non-existent drug testing policy, the Hardy brothers went from being complete laughing stocks to hitting scary rock bottoms. TNA should have sent Matt home after his wretched debut at Genesis where he turned up sluggish and glassy eyed, which would have hopefully sent a message to his equally troubled brother Jeff. Of course, they ignored it like the dozens of other warning signs with this duo, which bit them in the ass not long thereafter in spectacular fashion. Yes, they were finally forced to send Jeff Hardy home after he became inebriated at Victory Road and the idiots in TNA management were stupid enough to send him out in front of the cameras for the world to see, leading to the most shambolic ending to a PPV in wrestling history. It didn't take long for Matt to also be suspended himself due to repeated tardiness and a YouTube video where he got his brother to taser his girlfriend Reby Sky. Cue a train wreck of unparalleled proportions, as Matt was arrested for a DWI and fired by TNA, released a bizarre video claiming that he was being haunted by ghosts before "falling at his home" and being rushed to hospital, left apparent suicide notes on social media in a sick cry for attention, was involved in another DWI at a local airport in the middle of the day, and was forced to go into WWE sponsored rehab after he was arrested yet again when Sky was so concerned about his behaviour that she told the cops where he stashed all his illegal drugs. All this in the space of a month. Not only that, but in the middle of this unholy mess, TNA thought it was the perfect time to bring back brother Jeff for a TV taping on the road. It turned out to be perfectly bad timing, as on the same day as his return to Impact aired, Jeff was finally convicted in his long delayed drug case and sentenced to ten days in jail for being caught receiving 262 hydrocodone pills from a fan via FedEx. Thankfully both Matt and Jeff seem to be in better shape now, but has left the former with his career in tatters, while the latter, once the hottest star in wrestling, is now a turn off to TV viewers. It's hard to see how they'll ever fully bounce back from their annus horribilis and be the stars they once were.
5. WWE "prepares" for the launch of their network on the same day as WrestleMania 28 next year. I put prepares in inverted commas because everything we hear about the WWE network is how they are completely unprepared for running it come April 1st. This seems to be the case of putting ego before business, as Vince McMahon decided to bring forward the start date to jump the gun on UFC, who had been in talks to buy a majority share of the G4 cable network from Comcast, before plumping for the safer FOX deal. Like Dana White, Vince even attempted to initiate negotiations to buy an existing cable channel, Universal HD, from his partner NBCUniversal, but Bonnie Hammer immediately nixed that idea. Such an approach would have been much more costly initially, but at least they would have had all the infrastructure in place to ensure a smoother beginning. With less than three months to go, we have no confirmed carriage deals and largely only vague brainstorming ideas for the programming. The only guaranteed hit is airing their "B-show" pay-per-views for free on the network, but that will costs them tens of millions of dollars in lost PPV revenue in the process. So television insiders are expecting the network to be an expensive bomb, similar to the Oprah Winfrey Network, making it impossible for WWE so far to hire executives to run their new division. This is all looking very ominous and will be the top story to keep your eye on in the months ahead.
6. WWE signs CMLL's top star Mistico and repackages him immediately as Sin Cara, but despite being Triple H's first project in developing new talent, the year is a frustrating one for everyone involved. The signing itself was a wise move, as it cemented WWE as the major league in Mexico, while dealing a substantial blow to the local promotions there, especially CMLL who lost their top draw of the past five plus years. Since then not much has gone right for Luis Ignascio Urive Alvirde apart from the fact that he got over easily with children and his merchandise has sold well to that demographic. He struggled to adapt to the WWE in ring style, leading the company to make the unusual move of asking Alvirde who he wanted to work with and he chose his former CMLL rival Averno. Before Averno could be brought in, Alvirde failed a drug test for steroids. This was almost the straw that broke the camel's back that could have led to his firing, as he had rubbed up the whole locker room with his prima donna attitude. Hunico was even put under the Sin Cara mask for a while without kids noticing, but Vince McMahon quickly lost patience with him after a ridiculous botchfest of a match with Heath Slater. So instead we got a brief and lacklustre real Sin Cara vs. fake Sin Cara feud, which ended when the Blue hero unmasked the Black villain by winning a poorly hyped mask vs. mask match in Mexico City. Alvirde ended the year on the disabled list, as a bungled dive at Survivor Series led to a ruptured patella tendon. At least he can't rub anymore shoulders up the wrong way till he returns in the summer.
7. Cary Silkin sells Ring Of Honor to Sinclair Broadcasting who subsequently try to make syndicated wrestling work in 2010 and largely fail, which is perhaps unsurprising given that Joe Koff came across as almost as much of a duplicitous mark as Dixie Carter does. So far ratings have been acceptable for the new ROH TV show on Sinclair affiliates, but it doesn't seem to have had any significant effect on their iPPV business and their attempts to expand into new markets off their increased exposure have so far drawn weak crowds. Don't expect this trend to change in a hurry.
8. TNA owner Dixie Carter continues to display stunning incompetence and mistreat her mid card talent. Following on from her lame performance in 2010, she killed her credibility with Spike TV by promising them a Main Event Mafia reunion which she couldn't deliver when Kevin Nash and Booker T returned to the WWE fold at the Royal Rumble. Amazingly she willingly cut her own throat by letting Nash out of a legally binding contract so he could re-sign with WWE. We've already covered her buried head in the sand handling of the Hardy brothers obvious drug issues. She also continued to waste money on bringing in reality TV stars like Jersey Shore's Angelina Pivarnick and Ronnie Ortiz-Magro for Impact appearances, while not providing a liveable wage or pay medical costs for her under-appreciated undercard workers. We exposed the sad story of Shannon "Daffney" Spruill, who suffered four concussions amongst other serious injuries, some from risky stunts and wrestling with green talent, while working for TNA and had to file a Workers Comp claim against them when they told her that she was responsible for all the medical bills consequentially incurred. Jesse Neal himself exposed how bad his wages were when he tweeted to his girlfriend Christina Von Eerie about his joy at qualifying for food stamps, while Jimmy Yang had to take to Twitter himself to complain about his TNA pay cheque bouncing. The Young Bucks even jumped from TNA to ROH, as they weren't being booked on house shows and didn't receive a downside guarantee. I suppose we've just got to be grateful that Carter's trust fund can keep Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair from filing for bankruptcy.
9. Edge forced to retire while World Heavyweight champion due to spinal stenosis. This was a major headache for WWE, as at the time of his injury Edge was the third biggest full time wrestling star in the business and was carrying the Smackdown brand. WWE made the obvious move and switched Randy Orton to the Friday show during their annual draft and immediately inserted him into a lengthy feud with Christian over the World Heavyweight title, which was the programme Edge was pencilled in to have done. Despite this, it wasn't until Mark Henry won the Smackdown World belt at the Night Of Champions PPV that its ratings turned around. Though Edge said goodbye umpteen times, he hasn't been seen since his Appreciation Night suggesting that he has indeed successfully moved on from wrestling, a rarity in this business.
10. Despite erroneous news reports and a misleading video by WWE suggesting otherwise, Sting opts for more of the same with TNA instead of signing with WWE. This just makes the cut as it received so much buzz at the time, but would have been much higher up the chart if the biggest star never to have worked for Vince McMahon had chosen differently. It was the right decision for both sides, as WWE in fact didn't need Sting at this year's WrestleMania because they already had The Rock up their sleeves and I'm not sure Triple H would have stepped aside to allow Sting to take on The Undertaker instead of him at that show. Instead, Sting got to defeat Hulk Hogan in his first PPV singles match in over five years at Bound For Glory, which should have been a lot bigger deal than it actually was.
What are your thoughts on this list, Cagesiders? Have I overrated some of these stories and shortchanged something that doesn't appear on the list? Let me know in the comments section.