After breaking down the top 10 blunders of the year, it’s important to bring attention to some of the good things that happened, because acknowledging only the bad isn’t fair.
Thankfully, despite all the rough patches, there were some amazing things that happened in WWE in 2018, and I’ve gone ahead and narrowed down what I feel to be my top five of those things, in a general sense.
Keep in mind that this won’t be an individual maneuver that took place or a single promo or anything like that, but more on the broad scale of things with the picture zoomed out.
With that being said, let’s begin…
Daniel Bryan is Cleared to Compete
As much as it seemed impossible, after waiting several years to get back on track, Daniel Bryan was finally able to get medical permission to return to wrestling in proper form and not just stand on the sidelines.
Not only was he able to step back in the ring, he wasn’t held back as the type of person who could take a bump once in a while, but not wrestle a full match or carry on a feud or anything of the sort.
He’s back to just being a regular member of the roster again, as if his injuries that prevented him from wrestling for that stint of time were less serious, like a perpetually broken thumb or something, rather than severe concussion issues.
Now, he’s trying out a new heel gimmick, and it’s fantastic to be able to look forward to his future feuds with various members of the roster we only previously thought would be dream matches that would have to exist in the What If category.
Major Strides in the Women’s Evolution
WWE touts all of the success in the progression of women’s wrestling all the time, so I don’t need to be too thorough here, but it’s still actually pretty amazing some of the things that happened this year in the Women’s Evolution.
2018 kicked off with the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble match, which also managed to main event the pay-per-view—another first.
Ronda Rousey came in during those final minutes of the event and got people talking about women’s wrestling and WWE in general on plenty of different outlets. Thankfully, she kept that upward momentum going and put on a great match at WrestleMania, wowed everyone with her skills, and she continues to impress as someone who has become justified as the focal point of this division.
The first-ever Women’s Elimination Chamber match happened. The first-ever Last Woman Standing match happened, at the first-ever all women’s pay-per-view Evolution. The first-ever women’s TLC match took place, too.
The Mae Young Classic was one of the most overall entertaining television programs of this entire year, in my opinion, as well.
Now, we’re ending the year with Becky Lynch being so popular with the audience that she’s being spoken about in the context of being “the next Stone Cold” by tons of people, which may be the first time ever that a female superstar has been talked about as the top of the food chain in WWE, rather than someone like Roman Reigns, John Cena, etc.
The Expansion of NXT
Early this year, NXT was finally given its own midcard title with the creation of the North American Championship.
I personally hated (and still don’t like) the belt’s design or the name of the title, but its debut was one of the best matches in the year, so that helped take the sting away.
But NXT itself wasn’t the only thing that saw an upgrade, as finally, the United Kingdom division wasn’t just a plan going nowhere.
It took nearly two years, but NXT UK became an actual thing that we can watch every Wednesday on the WWE Network, with an expanded roster, the NXT UK Women’s Championship and the soon-to-be-determined NXT UK Tag Team Championship.
At the start of 2019, the first special event of the year will actually be the first-ever NXT UK TakeOver in Blackpool, proving that the NXT formula is not only working for the American talent, but the concept of territories is starting to take shape.
We might see even more of an expansion for NXT in 2019 as WWE could move into Asia, Mexico, other parts of Europe, Australia, Africa and much more.
Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano vs. Aleister Black
The feud between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano was easily (in my mind, at least) the best bang for your buck out of everything WWE produced this year.
The matches were above and beyond, the passion was palpable and they somehow managed to bring others into the mix and not let it get watered down.
Case in point, Aleister Black, who was a bit of a third wheel and suffered an injury that stopped him from taking part in a Triple Threat, yet this all turned around for the better, giving us one of the better stories of the year with the mystery of who attacked him.
The heel turn for Gargano is something I still don’t fully comprehend the direction of, and if this were on the main roster, that would make me nervous, but knowing that these three guys and the NXT brand are involved, I’m simply sitting back and waiting for the next twist and turn along the way.
Co-Branded Pay-Per-Views Return
Some may disagree with me on this, but I think overall, one of the best decisions WWE made this year was abandoning the brand split pay-per-view method and putting everybody back on the same card.
This is the first of a handful of steps toward getting rid of the brand split again, and we’ve seen it all happen before, so once we start having the tag titles be co-branded and booking “Super Show” episodes of Raw, it won’t work as well. But for now, this is truly “the best of both worlds” in many ways.
Gone are the events where they would book Money in the Bank for SmackDown and not Raw, or lackluster feuds would get air time on pay-per-views just because they needed to fill another 30 minutes of material and couldn’t draw from the other show’s roster.
At times, this can be a little problematic when finding room for everyone, but that means there’s an abundance of talent not being utilized properly to make us feel like we want more, which is much better than feeling like half the card is a waste because the stories are terrible.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have the “problem” of not every great person getting on the card and the events being overall better, than to have two events per month where it seems like only half the matches are worth watching.