A look back at wrestling in 2018 could easily be summed up in exactly the same way as 2017 (and presumably 2019); wrestling is drunk. The last few years have been a blur of unexpected happenings, with just about everything you could have ever dreamed of in wrestling coming true. WWE have expanded into the UK, New Japan has moved into the US, everyone is in all of our living rooms through the plethora of streaming services, and David Arquette fought a convicted felon in a death match.
As always – or at least for the last two decades – the headlines were grabbed by WWE, but not always for the best of reasons. Sure, they expanded their token women’s division into another yearly tournament and a network special, and hired a female announcer for Raw for the first time, but they also went to Saudi Arabia twice, where the WWE women are banned, and with the second time coming weeks after the brazen, “what are you gonna do about it?” murder of a journalist by the Saudi regime. Oh, and they brought back noted racist Hulk Hogan, too.
Still, they did give a more concrete feel to their UK expansion, with TV tapings and a swank do at the Royal Albert Hall of all places (when your correspondent last saw wrestling there, the evening was capped off by Penta el 0M gleefully playing a sousaphone). More UK talent was signed to the mysterious contracts that – let’s start the rumour! – bind the wrestlers in perpetuity and surrender their first born, and this has had a knock-on effect on the UK scene as a whole.
In fact, cash-rich WWE have been hoovering up wrestlers this year – with Matt Riddle, Keith Lee, and Io Shirai amongst the more notable names – and scientists predict that by the end of 2021 the only wrestlers not collecting the McMahon silver will be Nick Gage, Nick Aldis, and CM Punk. The US indie scene has reacted by going signing crazy itself, with Major League Wrestling racing to secure the signature of Barrington Hughes and Jimmy Havoc, while Ring of Honor have had to content themselves with hot young thing Brody King, hot old thing PCO, and the flappy-masked Bandido.
Ring of Honor old boys The Elite have pretty much settled on starting their own promotion, but bafflingly decided to call it All Elite Wrestling. Still, they have the deep pockets of Jacksonville Jaguars (Bortles!) owner Shahid Khan, and a pretty solid talent base in those guys you’ve heard of.
The rest of the US scene has retreated into freakshow booking, making stars of fifty-year-old men (but – not yet, anyway – fifty year-old men), shock-haired tiny fellas, the very region-specific Alabama Doink (RIP), and Courtney Cox’s ex-husband. Needless to say, this all meets my approval.
Over in the UK, no-one knows anything. That’s mandated by law right now, to prevent food shortages and medicine-killings over Brexit, but it also handily covers the WWE contracts and how they affect the UK scene. The likes of Pete Dunne, Trent Seven, and Tyler Bate have said farewell to some promotions, but not all promotions, whereas their contemporaries Mark Andrews and Eddie Dennis have said farewell to none. It’s all very confusing. If only someone could write an open letter to the scene to clarify matters…
New Japan continued to dominate the orient, although it’s not the 1950s anymore and you really shouldn’t use terms like that. They have the best wrestlers, the best matches, and keep women wrestlers as far away as humanly possible from their product, and one of these things has become a bigger talking point of late than the other two. Under new management – or at least new a new President (hey, maybe this one should grab some… NO – Ed) – they’ve instituted a ban on swearing in-ring to help break through to the mainstream, even though no-one in that mainstream could understand a word Tama Tonga was saying, anyway. Their international expansion took a hit, with underwhelming ticket sales for their US shows, and their UK shows being a MASSIVE F**UD (Ed). Still, they sold out Madison Square Garden, which is something not even Bumblebee star John Cena can do these days.
So, yeah, wrestling, eh? It’s AMAZING. And rubbish. But mostly INCREDIBLE. And it’s drunk. What will happen in 2019? Who knows?!? I’m betting on aliens, wolfmen (wrestling needs more wolfmen), and Vince McMahon to lose his freaking mind. Whatever happens, SteelChair will be covering it. Happy New Year!