A look at the WWE’s five strangest moments of 2016.
Strange is actually a pretty appropriate word for the 2016 year in the WWE. Stubborn booking combined with the addition of legitimate talent acquisitions made the year frustrating yet left the fans hopeful that things could turn around in 2017. For every bad decision made in 2016, there was one that made up for it. The Roman Reigns experiment was an utter disaster but was followed up by an exciting Dean Ambrose title run. Watching the newly signed AJ Styles lose cleanly to Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 32 was a head-scratcher, but that was all erased when Styles became WWE Champion.
The list could go on and on but the gist of it is that the WWE seems to be at a crossroads creatively and because of that there were some very odd moments that took place in the last 12 months. Questionable gimmicks, useless returns from superstars most had forgotten, and shocking match results highlight this countdown.
Over the years, pro wrestling has had its fair share of strange moments and 2017 will undoubtedly be no different. But the big question is if these moments can be built upon in a positive way next year as opposed to the inconsistent way they were in 2016.
Ahead we break down the 5 strangest moments in the WWE in 2016.
Now there’s a lot speculation surrounding what really went down between a real-life couple of Alberto Del Rio and Paige and the WWE but one thing seems clear, their relationship has severely damaged their WWE careers. And from most of the speculation, both parties share the blame.
Del Rio, a 4-time world champion, returned to the company in October of 2015 and immediately snatched up the United States title from John Cena and looked like he was in line for a big push. But as quickly as that started, it stopped as he dropped the U.S. title to the diminutive Kalisto and then got stuck in the pointless League Of Nations stable. Paige had spent the past couple of years as one of the top female wrestlers in the company, winning the Divas title twice. However, she seemed to take a bit of a step back when the “Women’s Revolution” began in the Summer of 2015.
In May of this year, it was reported that Paige and Del Rio were an item. And that’s when things went south in a major way. Three months after the relationship started, Del Rio and Paige were both suspended for violating the WWE’s Wellness Policy. Del Rio then asked for, and was granted his release from the company. Two months after that, Paige was suspended once again for the same thing just before undergoing neck surgery, a claim she vehemently denied.
As if all of this wasn’t crazy enough, in September it was reported that the WWE attempted to break the couple up, going as far as to separate them during the brand split in July and threatening termination from the company. So now Del Rio is back wrestling in Mexico and Paige is on the shelf, but the couple is still together.
Why the WWE would want to break the couple up is anyone’s guess but if it’s true, that is an absolute disgrace. Shutting down two careers over anger about dating each other? Are you kidding? Well, it happened. And now the WWE needs to pick up the pieces.
When The Miz enlisted the help of Mikey and Kenny from the Spirit Squad in his feud with Dolph Ziggler there was immediately one question on just about every WWE fan’s mind: why? The Spirit Squad was a ridiculous male cheerleader group from a decade ago that for some insane reason were tag team champions for the better part of 2006. And although they carried those belts, the faction was an overall bust. They were cheesy and borderline unwatchable during their run and the idea that they had feuds with Degeneration X and Kane and Big Show is a travesty.
So to see 2 members of the defunct faction show up in a Smackdown ring was not only strange, it was cringe-inducing. Even Ziggler looked uncomfortable with it, most likely because he knew that his career was the only one that survived after the stable disbanded. To make matters worse, Kenny and Mikey got a tag team title shot against Heath Slater and Rhyno that fortunately for everyone involved was unsuccessful. The only saving grace from this entire ordeal was The Miz. His utter commitment to his heel persona and over the top gimmick was the only thing that stopped this angle from being a total disaster.
Resurrecting old, silly gimmicks can be entertaining in short bursts. Heck, Heath Slater made an entire year in his career out of wrestling former legends but those matches for one night only and certainly were not for title contention. The Spirit Squad was originally seen as a group of 5 young stars with huge potential. But after the angle failed miserably, only one of them was able to battle through it. Why rub any more salt in that wound?
It was a welcome sight to see when in July some vignettes for the return of Curt Hawkins were aired. Hawkins had been a member in some way shape or form in the WWE from 2006 until 2014 but he never really seemed to catch much fanfare and it was a shame. A solid in-ring worker and an outstanding talker, “The Prince of Queens” had a chance to make a big splash in the company but it just never really panned out.
So when the company re-signed the 31-year-old it seemed like he had a shot at redemption after reinventing himself on the indy circuit. But then WWE Creative got their silly mitts on him and what suddenly looked like a career kick-start almost immediately turned into a career derailment. From his original Chuck Norris-style sayings to his refusal to compete in actual matches (much like Eva Marie) Hawkins never really had a chance to make himself relevant again.
And then as if things couldn’t get any worse, the November 1st episode of Smackdown happened. Hawkins, answering Intercontinental Champ Dolph Ziggler’s open challenge made his way to the ring and what could have potentially been the start of something big for him. However, 7 seconds later it was all over via a superkick and pin by The Showoff. I can steal hear millions of wrestling fans scratching their heads.
So let’s take it all into account. The company re-signs a 31-year-old talent for what seems like a second chance at stardom. After months of time and money spent filming and airing vignettes for the guy, he refuses to wrestle a match and then when he does, loses in 7 seconds. What on Earth was the point of all this? It’s not shocking to see the WWE bury a guy, but to see them bury him before he’s even wrestled is unprecedented. If there was ever a reset button available for the company, now would be the time to use it.
So there it was. The Wrestlemania 32 main event. In front of over 100,000 screaming WWE fans at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, a young, emerging star who would carry the company for the next decade, in the process becoming one of the greatest legends to grace the sport after toppling a 14-time WWE world champion on the biggest stage there is was about to take place. In this one match, the WWE Universe would unite as one and get behind the new face of pro wrestling, and all would be right in the world. I’m just assuming this is what the WWE brass believed would happen.
Why they would believe that is anyone’s guess but the fact that they went ahead with this main event is an indication that they did. At this point, we all know the Roman Reigns story. The WWE loves him, the fans don’t and yet they’ve all been subjected to watching him dominate the main event scene for the better part of 18 months. This match against Triple H at Wrestlemania was undoubtedly the biggest example of the disconnect between the WWE and its fans. It was 27 minutes of awkwardness, with the fans in attendance completely disinterested and waiting and praying for some sort of outside interference to end the Reigns nightmare title program.
In the end, what everybody had expected yet didn’t want to accept, happened. Still, even after the match was over everyone was still grasping for something else and it just never came. The show went off the air and it might as well have 30 minutes earlier. In the history of Wrestlemania, there has never been a main event that so many people cared so little about and it made for almost a surreal encounter, one we all hope is never replicated.
Yes, the idea alone of James Ellsworth as a WWE superstar is about one of the strangest things the wrestling world has ever seen. A 14 year veteran of the sport, he took the one shot he had in a WWE ring and turned it into a contract, albeit as a comedic routine as opposed to a legitimate wrestler. In his first match in WWE, he was dominated by Braun Strowman but he quickly developed a cult following due to his gooey frame and lack of athletic ability, plus his “any man with 2 hands has a fighting chance” pre-match promo was just awesome.
Now, here’s where it gets really strange. Ellsworth has now defeated current WWE Champ AJ Styles, not 1, not 2, but 3 times and has himself positioned for a crack at the belt. Now obviously he’s not a real threat to the title as his 3 wins over Styles have been dubious at best. But the fact that he’s been a main figure in the Smackdown main event scene for the past 3 months proves that anything is possible in the wrestling business.
Chances are Ellsworth will probably wash out of the company within the next 12 months, as sideshow acts rarely pan out long term (although Santino Marella managed to get 7 years out of his) but it won’t hide the fact that on occasion good guys can finish first. Ellsworth, although not ever expected to make it anywhere near the biggest pro wrestling company in the country can always say that he has 3 victories of over one of the greatest wrestler’s of all time. That alone is enough to shock the world.