Last week, at the request of a few people, I tried to make a case as to whether 2002 was the worst year ever. Yes, it had plenty going against it (Triple H's reign of terror beginning, TNA struggles out of the blocks and nearly goes broke, quick fixes, Austin and Rock both leave, Katie Vick), but it also had plenty going for it (Smackdown Six, roster split creates more opportunities, many comebacks). I had a feeling the good from 2002 would outweigh the bad...
...and you overwhelmingly agreed. Now onto the year I was originally going to do last week.
There's an old saying: if you try to please everyone, you'll end up pleasing no one. Professional wrestling tried that in droves in 2009, and a lot of people came out displeased, or worse, jaded. Apathy among wrestling fans really began to sink in, and there seemed to be no hope in sight. I know you don't want to go back, because let's be honest: it was a pretty bad year for EVERYONE with the economy sinking into a depression not seen since... The Great Depression (yeah, I know the experts called it a recession, but let's be honest. How was your wallet doing in 2009? I rest my case). But we're going back. 2009, here we come.
THE CASE FOR 2009 BEING THE WORST YEAR EVER
As mentioned at the top, when you try to please everyone, you please no one. WWE going PG was definitely a play to attract a new audience as the audience from the Attitude Era was a decade older (in attempting to attract said new audience, WWE's audience actually got older. A report from Wrestling Observer Newsletter last November said that WWE's audience on average is the oldest it's ever been). I'm going to come back to this, but WWE's biggest story in 2009 involved... scary, scary drugs.
The year began with Henry Waxman, less than three weeks from being out of work as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform revealed what anyone even remotely paying attention already knew: there's a steroid problem. 40% of WWE performers and 25% of TNA performers tested positive for steroids. Chris Benoit tested positive three times prior to his 2007 murder-suicide, but was never suspended. People were purposely skirting the Wellness Policy to speed up recovery. Needless to say, this was another black eye for a business that couldn't exactly use them at the time.
And that may have been only the second most shocking drug-related story in the WWE that year. #1 (technically) goes to Jeff Hardy, who less than one week after his release from the company, gets busted on felony drug trafficking and felony drug possession. Yup. The man who spent the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009 as WWE Champion was looking at some serious jail time. And yet, it did not stop TNA from rehiring him. Not. One. Bit.
Onto WWE trying to be everything to everyone. In the summer of 2009 in another effort to drive up sagging ratings, they tried to convince us that Donald Trump bought the rights to RAW. They put out a press release and everything. No I'm not kidding. And guess what? Nobody bought it, much less the Securities Exchange Commission who threatened to do an investigation. Neither did investors, as their stock dropped 7% in the hours following the announcement. While it had the look of being interesting, the E was forced to reverse course and abort the storyline just a week later.
Unfortunately, one of the things left behind was the guest host initiative. Celebrities would be granted general manager duties for the night and would have free reign to do whatever they pleased. This gimmick went on for-get this---52 consecutive weeks, starting in the summer of 2009 and not ending until the following summer. It continued periodically until... well, save for 2013, they're pretty much still doing it. In fact, the cast of Modern Family will be guest hosting RAW in April (sorry for the spoilers). Guest general managers range from spectacular (Bob Barker) to good (Shaq and Bret Hart) to serviceable (Snoop Dogg and Seth Green) to... well, terrible (looking at you, Jeremy "Summerfest" Piven, Al Sharpton, and Dennis Miller). It was during this year I came to a realization I didn't even see coming, but quite frankly should have: WWE wasn't for 30-year old Eddie Mac anymore. And it sucked.
Didn't like childish humor? 2009 was most certainly not your year, where Chavo Guerrero vs. Hornswoggle was a thing. So was "Little People's Court".
The real Super Mario died. The dad from "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" died, you guys.
Know who else died? Mitsuhara Misawa. His death was even more tragic. He died in the ring. A suplex damaged his spinal column, then his heart stopped beating. I know this part probably doesn't mean a whole lot to you, but Misawa, who founded puroresu promotion Pro Wrestling NOAH when he basically took all of All Japan's top talent with him in a major coup in 2000, was as big as Hulk Hogan in America, Bret Hart in Canada and Konnan in Mexico.
A moment to list the main events of the PPVs of 2009 (speaking of which, gonna revisit this topic not too far from now):
- Royal Rumble match: Randy Orton won, last eliminating Triple H.
- Elimination Chamber: Triple H won the WWE Championship, last defeating Jeff Hardy; Edge won the World Heavyweight Championship won, last defeating John Cena
- Wrestlemania 25: Triple H defeated Randy Orton to retain WWE title; John Cena defeated Edge & Big Show to regain world title; Undertaker defeated Shawn Michaels
- Backlash: Randy Orton wins six-man tag to win WWE Championship; Edge defeats John Cena to win world title
- Judgment Day: Batista defeated Randy Orton (DQ); Edge defeated Jeff Hardy
- Extreme Rules: Batista defeated Randy Orton for WWE title; Jeff Hardy defeats Edge to win the title, only to lose it moments later to CM Punk
- The Bash: Randy Orton defeated Triple H to retain WWE Championship; Jeff Hardy defeated CM Punk (DQ)
- Night of Champions: Jeff Hardy defeated CM Punk to win world title; Randy Orton defeated Triple H & John Cena to retain WWE title
- Summerslam: Randy Orton defeated John Cena; CM Punk defeated Jeff Hardy
- Breaking Point: CM Punk defeated Undertaker; John Cena defeated Randy Orton to win WWE title
- Hell in a Cell: Randy Orton defeated John Cena to win WWE title; Undertaker defeated CM Punk to win world title; DX defeated Legacy
- Bragging Rights: John Cena defeated Randy Orton; Undertaker defeated CM Punk, Batista, and Rey Mysterio
- Survivor Series: John Cena defeated Triple H & Shawn Michaels, Undertaker defeated Big Show and Chris Jericho
- TLC: Sheamus defeated John Cena; Undertaker defeated Batista; DX defeated Jerishow
If you didn't like Triple H, Randy Orton, John Cena, Edge, or Batista, 2009 was probably not for you.
A 25-woman battle royal at Wrestlemania... was won by a man.
The TNA Knockouts Champion at one point in 2009... was a man.
Vince McMahon is a dick to Denver.
BOTH Linda and Shane McMahon quit the WWE. Linda quit to run for Senate-again. Shane quit to run some Chinese media company.
By the way, what the hell happened to PPV names in 2009? It seems with the PG initiative, PPV names took a nosedive. No Way Out became Elimination Chamber. No Mercy became Hell in a Cell. Armageddon became TLC. Unforgiven became Breaking Point. Vengeance became Night of Champions. Gimmick PPVs for some odd reason would lower the quality of the gimmick matches they're named for. Speaking of suckage, holy hell does the Hell in a Cell and Elimination Chamber gimmick need to go away. Maybe take TLC with you.
Remember when the Matt Hardy-Lita-Edge story got out? Remember how it got turned into a shoot that became a work that became a worked shoot? Well, TNA took that to another level. Kurt Angle, his wife Karen, and TNA founder Jeff Jarrett were in a love triangle of their own, with Jarrett living with Karen and Kurt's kids. How did this all become public? An anonymous call to the Bubba the Love Sponge radio show. Oh, and at the time, Kurt was the TNA world champion and Jeff was in charge of creative. The story, as do all scandals eventually, gets out and Jarrett is sent home. Some of his allies were given the gate too, leaving (1) Vince Russo in charge of creative, and (2) opening the door for Hulk Hogan to sign with TNA. Jarrett would return a few months later, but his main event days were over. Oh, and surely enough, Angle and Jarrett would be turned into a storyline because fuck you, that's why.
Speaking of Angle, he done got himself arrested the day before a PPV. His reward: he got to keep the TNA world title.
Did I mention Hulk Hogan was coming to TNA? He was fitting to declare war on the WWE. It was going to be sooooooooo on, you guys.
Daffney gets chokeslammed by Abyss. You didn't see it unless you were there. Or watched it on PPV. Daffney got hurt. TNA wouldn't cut the check for her medical costs. Daffney would eventually sue and get her money.
A PPV was deemed so bad by a reviewer he tried ON AIR to get a refund for it. (He didn't get that refund.) And that PPV wasn't Victory Road.
You know Victory Road. The one that had...
MINUS. FIVE. STARS. Legitimately. One of the two people involved in this match reportedly got $500,000 for her brief run with the company, causing their most successful Knockout Gail Kim to leave WWE.
And because TNA is basically a reboot of WCW, TNA reboots the Millionaire's Club vs. New Blood Angle with the Main Event Mafia vs. The Frontline. The Frontline split up after three weeks. World Elite joined the Mafia. They too broke up, but not until the new year. The Mafia jobbed out the Frontline again, and again, and again. In the end, like the heel nWo before them and the heel New Blood before them, the heel Main Event Mafia never got their comeuppance.
My word. I'm on page four again, and you know something? I don't think I've touched on even half of the bad stuff. Did ANYTHING good happen in 2009?
THE CASE AGAINST 2009 BEING THE WORST YEAR EVER
The man that saved the WWF from extinction in the mid-1990s finally took his place among the greats in the WWE Hall of Fame. Six-time WWF Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin made a name for himself as a brash, no-nonsense athlete that didn't take guff from anyone. His colorful personality and even more colorful language made Austin the featured attraction of the Attitude Era and would birth a slew of men and women who would make a name for themselves in very much the same way. Joining Austin in the WWE Hall of Fame were former NWA champions Ricky Steamboat, Terry Funk, and Dory Funk, Jr., the Von Erich family, Koko B. Ware, controversial booker Bill Watts, and ring announcer Howard Finkel (still the only person to appear in every Wrestlemania).
Speaking of Wrestlemania, the mathematically challenged "25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania" (when it wasn't even 24 years old yet) was saved from being the worst Mania ever thanks to two men who haven't met on PPV since Bill Clinton was in office. The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels were about as opposite as two men could ever be in professional wrestling. Undertaker was quiet, brooding, methodical. Shawn Michaels was loud, cocky, flashy. When they were on, they're among the absolute best in their craft. And on this night, both men were so very on. These two men were proof that all you need's a good story and a couple of people that know what they're doing to put on a classic. They did. It was made even more awesome in the fact that the two world title matches essentially got crickets from the Houston crowd.
It is said in wrestling that one of the biggest mistakes a babyface can make is allowing the heel to have a point. The truth is most great heels usually offer a hint of truth. Even if you don't believe it, you at least think about it. Case in point, the Sami Zayn-Kevin Owens rivalry. Kevin Owens made an interesting point that while Sami was focused on himself, Kevin had to succeed for his family. Kevin had a reason for going after Sami and it was nothing personal-at least in his eyes. It was strictly a business decision. Being a champion meant having a bigger paycheck, meaning more food on the table for the wife and kids. Hard to argue against that.
CM Punk made a name for himself in Ring of Honor much in the same way in part by promoting his straight-edged lifestyle, meaning he doesn't smoke, drink, or do drugs. He debuted in the rebooted ECW in 2006 promoting said lifestyle, but it wasn't until 2009 Punk broke through. All he need was a rival who was his complete opposite. Jeff Hardy had a history of drug problems. He was let go from all three companies because of said drug problems. Yet, WWE made Punk the bad guy in their feud. Sure Punk might have sounded preachy, but when you get down to basics, he was right. And it made people uncomfortable. That, my friends, is how you make an effective heel. CM Punk arrived with his rivalry with Jeff Hardy. And Punk was proven right less than a week after Jeff Hardy left the WWE. CM Punk was straight edge. And straight edge means he's better than you. Come on. Don't act like you didn't pop the first time you heard that line in a WWE ring. I sure as hell did.
Speaking of Ring of Honor, "the best wrestling on the planet" found themselves on national television for the first time that year. That match quality sorely missing from WWE and TNA programming could now be found on a television set, and you didn't have to trade DVDs or videos or scour dark corners of the Internet to find the likes of Austin Aries, Tyler Black, Colt Cabana, Kevin Steen, El Generico, and a host of others who would find themselves in greener pastures years later. You know how many fans feel about NXT (the current incarnation, not the "reality show" version)? That's how they felt about ROH on HDNet in 2009.
Two of ROH's alumni found themselves in the big leagues, something many thought would never be possible: Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness. They were both WWE bound, but McGuinness failed his physical, and to TNA's credit, they were quick to snatch him up. McGuinness, rechristened Desmond Wolfe, found himself in a featured feud with Kurt Angle (that would fizzle out when the Hogan-Bischoff regime came in), while the newly renamed Daniel Bryan struggled through NXT before being eliminated early in the competition. McGuinness would have to retire about two years later due to health issues, while Danielson (who was once fired from the company) became a featured player and four-time world champion. Ring of Honor: providing mainstream wrestling with its future since 2009.
So Jeri-Show was kinda cool, right?
And so was this. I mean, Necro Butcher was in a movie, you guys.
I've made my case. Now the decision is yours. Vote and discuss.
I'm thinking about doing the year after next. Should I?