So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #056: 2019 Year-End Wrestling Wrap Up!

Greetings smart-marks! I’m back one last time in 2019 to put together a list of my personal bests-and-worsts that ran afoul in the pro-wrasslin’ business. The highs were higher, the lows perhaps never lower. And while I’m no doubt cross-pollinating with a large swatch of other smarky writers? I don’t care. I learned to not care from my cousin Maxwell.

Best: MJF. Just everything about this guy this year tracks positive. Admittedly, like most of AEW stars, I had nary a clue who Maxwell Jacob Friedman was prior. But ever since that Burberry scarf sporting scallywag snarled on screen, I was hooked. He’s young. He’s cocky. I’ve yet to even see him in a full-on match. That I honestly don’t care I’ve NOT seen him in long-format yet is a testament to the worthy work he’s putting in. Part Million Dollar Man, part Internet Troll… he’s awaiting several beatings I can’t wait to see.

Worst: Sasha Banks. Let me preface my micro-rant: I did not watch her WWE Chronicle documentary about her taking time off. I didn’t because it’s unnecessary. Banks — a victim of WWE’s awful creative team (more on them later) — was dropped into a tag team program with her best friend around Wrestlemania season, and has yet to recover. Once seen as the rising heel star of NXT’s amazing women’s division… this year reduced to changing her hair color as a sign of reinvention. Honey? Call Chris Jericho. Take some notes. And maybe head back to NXT for some in-ring pointers while you’re at it.

Best-then-Worst: Kofi’s title run. I mean, this one is essentially self-explanatory at this point, right? It was the feel-good-story of Mania season. Veteran mid-carder Kofi Kingston was finally given the opportunity to shine after a series of organic plot developments and massive fan support. Winning the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania and then carrying it for 6 months with many awesome title defenses in between was a boon for Kofi and the fans. And then… Buh-rock… Lesssssnerrrrr. Well, it was nice while it lasted, right?

Worst-then-Best: The fall of Dean Ambrose, the rise of Jon Moxley. Hey! WWE Creative! Stop it! Dean Ambrose played Vince McMahon. Seriously. He sold that that the end of his contract — which he patiently worked all the way through without showing his hand — would be some form of semi-retirement. In light of it all, Dean Ambrose was given lousy angle after lousy angle to work through. Including applauding cancer one week, and getting shots in the ass the next week to prevent the fans from infecting him. Seriously. And with that, Ambrose is torched. The millisecond the ink was dry on his exit interview? Jon Moxley drops a cinematic trailer. He backs the bus over Vince McMahon on Talk is Jericho, and ever since, has reinvigorated his career as his former self. Moxley chews the scenery on AEW, and seriously has never been been more interesting.

Best: NXT’s Women. I may not personally find Triple H to be very interesting a competitor. But if he is behind the booking and magic of NXT as all believe him to be? Then given him a separate Hall of Fame ring for it now. The women of NXT continue to be the story of the brand. Each class of ladies has seen a range of well-developed gimmicks. Inspired by old-school characterization, bolstered by fearless in-ring work… it’s rare a match of women on NXT isn’t wrestled well bell-to-bell. That right now their division has no less than half a dozen genuine stars is a testament to what a division can be.

Worst: AEW’s Women. Nothing makes me sadder to choose here, and trust me: I had to. Given the sheer quality of NXT’s division, nothing points out AEW’s shortcomings worse than their women’s division. Where do I start? How about with Brandi Rhodes thinking she can be 2015 Bray Wyatt in a dress while her hubby is the white-meat babyface of the company? Moving on… how about their champion Riho? Who, I’m sure can go, but is also 90 pounds dripping wet, and Jim Ross can’t get over it. Pair this with uneven matches, lame character work, and a lack of actual storylines? You get a wet-fart of a division in a company making strides a plenty in their male single and tag teams.

Le Best: Chris Jericho. Who else? He left the stifling creative cesspool for clearer waters. As AEW’s first singles male champion, he’s perfectly taken on yet another persona in a career of beautiful turns. A bit of dad bod, a little bit of the bubbly, and anti-Lesnar level of love for the business — by way of him putting over Scorpion Sky, Jungle Boy Jack Perry, Sami Gueverra, and a litany of others. He’s an elder statesmen owning the role of “Chickenshit beatable heel”. And the business is better because of it.

The Worst (In the World): CM Punk’s wet fart of a return. Look, I’m one of the biggest CM Punk apologists out there. His MMA run? Props for being on his bucket list! His loss of friendship with Colt Cabana? Business between bros. Give it time! And now… his return to WWE by way of a Fox contract? I’m out of excuses. The voice of the voiceless promised he’d change the culture in his mic drop first appearance back on WWE television. And then the following week? He admitted that he’d not actually watched the product with any regularity anymore. Look, I agree with him: WWE’s current stuff sucks. But if I’m coming back to actually be more than a snarky talking head on a barely watched recap show? I’d actually drop more than a polite snipe or indifference on my monthly check-ins. It’s a check-cashing… not a comeback. Weak.

Worst and Shortest: Baron Corbin and Shorty G. Corbin isn’t doing his best work as a heel. He’s a one-note sack of flour with a handful of spots to check down in every one of his repeatably banal matches. And the less said about the repackaging of someone genuinely compelling like Chad Gable into a basketball short sporting babyface suck up… the better.

The Sleaziest: WWE’s deals with Saudi Arabia and Fox. Smackdown is shiny, but remains a billion dollar blunder. And simply put: WWE’s choice to take blood money from a regime as sketchy as that of MBS meant I dropped my WWE Network subscription. I’ve yet to miss it.

The other best things in 2020 (again, things I personally liked):

  • Daniel Bryan coming back and immediately selling us on a heel turn. And now, one beard-rip later, reborn as American Dragon Daniel Bryan.
  • Private Party vs. The Young Bucks on the first episode of AEW Dynamite. It proved how different and engaging tag team matchups could be.
  • Cameron Grimes vs. Matt Riddle. It was an innocuous mid-card match on a random episode of NXT. I’d not seen either guy wrestle. And bell-to-bell, I saw a story unfold that captivated me frankly more than almost any other match this year. An expat MMA fighter against a young and hungry scrapper? Hell yes.
  • Becky Lynch getting herself over.
  • Mauro Renallo. Best commentary, without pause or equal. And for good measure? Eat a bag of dicks, Corey Graves.
  • The launching of AEW; the first legit contender to pull actual focus away from WWE. (Yeah, go ahead, label me a hater)