As another year has just ended, it's time to run down the biggest news stories we covered over the past 12 months here at Cageside Seats; just like we did for 2010 and 2011. Once again, you may disagree, but here are my own personal picks for the ten biggest developments in the wrestling business during 2012:
1. The Three-Hour Raw:
After prolonged pressure from the USA Network, WWE Monday Night Raw finally moved to a weekly three-hour format on July 23rd, coinciding with the 1,000th episode of the show, which quickly led to Raw's ratings falling to their lowest levels in 15 years, as well as backstage chaos.
On Oct. 8th, Vince McMahon went on the warpath, removing Brian Gewirtz as the head writer of Raw, after having been in the position for over a decade, and telling the rest of his creative team he wanted either, "results or resignations". Since then, ratings have remained pretty sluggish, but due to the combination of lowered expectations, and the excuse of stiff competition from Monday Night Football, McMahon has yet to take any further action.
It looks like the third hour is here to stay, barring an even bigger slump in Raw's viewership sometime during 2013.
2. Long Live the The King:
Colour commentator Jerry "The King" Lawler, suffered a heart attack during Monday Night Raw on Sep. 10, just minutes after competing in an impromptu tag team match with Randy Orton against CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler.
Thankfully, he was resuscitated on-site by paramedics. After a worrying couple of days for the WWE Universe, it became clear he would not only make a full recovery, but soon be able to return to his WWE announcing job. His first live appearance back on WWE television should have been a fondly remembered, feel-good moment, but it wasn't to be.
That's because WWE's creative team blew it on the Nov. 12 Raw, by sleazily airing real-life footage of Lawler's backstage medical treatment, just so they could set up an angle where Paul Heyman faked a heart attack while Punk gloated in his face; which really did no-one any favours.
3. WWE did the right thing:
WWE shocked the world at WrestleMania 28 by doing the right thing and having The Rock cleanly defeat John Cena in the main event, while The Undertaker kept his streak intact by defeating Triple H for the second year running in another classic match. This winning combination led to the show drawing a near record 1,219,000 worldwide buys on pay-per-view (PPV), and putting Rock over has set WWE up for an even stronger start to 2013.
The Rock vs. CM Punk for the WWE Championship at this year's Royal Rumble is expected to yield the event's biggest PPV buyrate in at least five years, and Rock vs. Cena II will have a good shot at breaking the company's all time PPV record, partly due to the show being held near America's media capital of New York City.
4. Vince hemorrhages more cash for his wife:
Linda McMahon spends another $50 million of her husband's fortune to lose her second Connecticut U.S. Senate election by the exact same margin of defeat (12 percentage points) that she did in 2010. Though she ran a much tighter ship for the majority of the race, she spectacularly imploded in the final weeks, and ended up making herself a local pariah.
The lowlights included: running around the state to pay off all her remaining 1976 bankruptcy creditors when the records were published by the press; getting hammered hard in the early debates by her opponent Chris Murphy; alienating powerful people within her own party by releasing an ad that encouraged ticket splitting; husband Vince giving Linda the evil eye during her concession speech; and post-election complaints about bounced paycheques and even condoms being put in one disgruntled worker's pay packet.
Linda has been in hiding ever since her election loss, but unfortunately, I doubt this is the end of her career as a Connecticut politician and public figure. Expect her to do something newsworthy this year, though it remains to be seen what that would be.
5. WWE hemorrhages more cash for their Network:
The WWE Network was supposed to be unveiled on April 1st, 2012, but in January the launch date was indefinitely postponed, which led to a year's worth of broken promises to stockholders of a future announcement about their start-up plans for the channel that never came about.
The main development was that WWE were forced to change tack when they couldn't find any major carriers willing to pay rights fees for their network, and instead prepare for it to be a subscription channel. They're still pouring millions of dollars into the project, after conning themselves into believing the results of a survey that suggested there are 58 million homes in the United States that have at least one wrestling fan, 20% of them being passionate hardcore homes.
They might learn the hard way in 2013 quite how erroneous that statistic is.
6. TNA's ship is listing:
In February, TNA owner Dixie Carter sadly parted ways with Vince Russo, her senior script writer, who had struggled to work alongside former bitter enemies Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff for many months, in a decision that should have been made five years ago.
Unfortunately, she didn't kick Hogan and Bischoff to the kerb while she was at it, who aided and abetted by Russo's replacement Dave Lagana, continued to make a real pig's ear of the company's key storyline direction.
They completely botched James Storm's quest for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship leading to Jeff Hardy being shoehorned into the spot at the last minute, turned AJ Styles into a complete patsy with the crackhead Claire Lynch fake date-rape pregnancy storyline, came up with the Aces and 8s mystery masked jabroni stable angle that was cool for a few weeks, but is now about as appealing as mouldy old bread, and made Brooke Hogan the focus of the show in a completely unbelievable relationship with Bully Ray.
It's perhaps no wonder that TNA Impact's ratings fell to their lowest level in years over the autumn, but nevertheless the company's future is safe as Spike TV believes the company's viewership will rebound once football competition is out of the way, and that it will be a strong lead in for the Viacom owned MMA promotion Bellator.
7. ROH's Jim Cornette melts down as iPPV's implode:
Due to a combination of creative burnout, fan backlash and Sinclair Broadcasting incompetence, Ring Of Honor's head booker, Jim Cornette, finally cracked under the pressure of helping run the struggling company, leading to a demotion in early October and going "on sabbatical" after an unprofessional temper tantrum less than two months later. It's almost a miracle that it didn't happen earlier in the year, given Cornette's high-strung nature and having to deal with four iPPV events being blighted, or completely ruined, by streaming difficulties.
ROH's long term future is uncertain, but by signing a deal with industry leader Ooyala to be their new iPPV distributor and closing the year with a well received Final Battle iPPV under new booker Hunter "Delirious" Johnston's stewardship they seem to be finally making some baby steps in the right direction.
8. Brock Lesnar returned, only to re-disappear:
Brock Lesnar signed a one year deal with WWE over WrestleMania weekend and made a promising return to Monday Night Raw the next day by killing John Cena with an F-5. This really should have been the biggest news story of the year, but his momentum was quickly impeded by Cena cleanly defeating him in his first match back at Extreme Rules. That and the nature of his limited dates contract, which led to long absences from WWE television.
On the two pay-per-view shows he headlined, Lesnar boosted business by a large enough margin that it's expected he'll re-sign with WWE for another year in 2013, but one wonders whether it'll be worth bringing him back again after Triple H is done with him at WrestleMania 29.
9. TNA vs WWE: No Law and Order -
In May, TNA filed a lawsuit against WWE for contract tampering shortly after being informed that their former office worker, Brian Wittenstein, had illegally given WWE confidential information during his short stint working for the competition, and Ric Flair had quit the promotion hoping to jump ship.
The litigation is still ongoing, which had a huge impact on the industry. It led to a self-imposed embargo by WWE on signing any current TNA talent, thinking this would aid their defence. This was a huge boon to TNA, as it enabled them to lowball their contract offers to all those performers whose deals were coming up for renewal, like Matt Morgan, Devon, Bully Ray, Velvet Sky and Eric Young, who had no option but to eventually re-sign with TNA, as going to WWE was completely out of the question.
For Flair, it meant he had to spend the rest of the year on the sidelines, outside of a triumphant one-off appearance on the Dec. 17th Raw, which was designed to force TNA to "shit or get off the pot" with their flimsy legal games.
Surely, the lawsuit will be settled in 2013, "The Nature Boy" will be back where he belongs and the occasional flow of talent from TNA to WWE will resume, but it remains to be seen how many more months this will take.
10. Deep Throat: The Sex Tapes of 2012
Hulk Hogan unwittingly steals Chyna's sex tape thunder! The Hulkster's worst nightmares came true in early October, when Gawker.com published clips of him having sex with Bubba The Love Sponge's ex-wife, Heather Clem.
Ever since then, Hogan has wasted his money by filing lawsuits against all the parties involved, with the only thing to show for it so far, being a worthless apology from the weaselly Bubba.
The legal battle against Heather and Gawker is still ongoing, but even all the prayers and vitamins in the world won't stop Hogan from doing the job in this war. That spotlight hogging egomaniac stole the wrestling porn headlines from poor Joanie Laurer, who astonishingly claimed that her wrestling Royal Rumble inspired porn movie, Chyna Is Queen Of The Ring, made her feel sexy and wanted. Our intrepid fanposter Kanenite did a detailed review of the heartwarming experience (here's partsone, two, three and four).
Narrowly missing the cut were:
- Paul "Triple H" Levesque excelled in his corporate role of WWE's Executive Vice President, Talent and Live Events, being the main person responsible for overhauling WWE's developmental system and giving new talent, like Damien Sandow, Antonio Cesaro, Ryback and The Shield, strong pushes on WWE television.
- After a shaky start, and a much needed heel turn, CM Punk grows into his role of WWE Champion and rightly becomes the first person to hold the belt for a whole calendar year since Hulk Hogan in 1987, even if he did recklessly punch the wrong fan on the Oct. 8 edition of Monday Night Raw. Speaking of that unfortunate incident Dario Teyes wins the award for dumbest wrestling fan on Twitter of 2012 for lying about being the person responsible for causing Punk to lose his cool.
- On May 30, Randy Orton was suspended by WWE for 60 days after his second Wellness Policy violation. Original reports were that he tested positive for the steroid Dianabol, but then came claims that his punishment was due to elevated levels of testosterone in his system at the time of the test. Rumour has it, Orton was lucky to keep his job, since powerful people within WWE were lobbying for his dismissal, which may explain why he tread water for the rest of the year on WWE television after he returned from his suspension. Having served his time in the doghouse with humble dignity, Orton is finally going to get the heel turn he's been craving for in 2013, which should bode well for his future.
- Orton wasn't the only WWE superstar who had his push reduced for a second Wellness Policy violation, Rey Mysterio did too, after a failed drug test for amphetamines in February. This eventually led to a babyface turn for Alberto Del Rio, taking Rey's spot as the lead Hispanic good guy on the WWE roster.
What do you think, Cagesiders? Have I forgotten anything important?