As 2014 came to a close, it was undoubtedly a phenomenal year in pro wrestling. We got to see the rise of one of the most talented and beloved superstars in the industry, as Daniel Bryan won the WWE World Heavyweight title at WrestleMania, and we also witnessed the fall of arguably the greatest legend to have performed inside a wrestling ring. The Undertaker’s coveted streak was broken by none other than his arch nemesis and the current WWE World Heavyweight champion, Brock Lesnar.
2014 will also be remembered for few other reasons. CM Punk quit the WWE and eventually retired from professional wrestling altogether, before signing up with the UFC. The former champion Alberto Del Rio was unceremoniously fired from the WWE, and as details emerged about the circumstances which forced the WWE to release him, the fans expressed their displeasure which resulted in WWE releasing the employee who had made racist remarks towards Alberto.
But perhaps, 2014 will be known as the year of independents and professional wrestling in general. To put things in perspective, in the first 4 days of 2015, the wrestling fans got to witness not one but two amazing shows. First, Ring of Honor taped their first TV show last night, which included the return of ODB as well as the debut of Alberto El Patron, the former Alberto Del Rio in the WWE. Not long after, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) rolled out with their annual extravaganza – Wrestle Kingdom 9.
Not only were there at least two 5 star classics on the card, but good old Jim Ross donned the announcer’s hat once again along with Matt Striker. The card also featured the former TNA World Heavyweight champion and former IWGP World Heavyweight champion, AJ Styles, who was arguably the best wrestler of 2014. AJ had an amazing year, as his release from TNA can only be seen as a blessing in disguise. But what were the other highlights of 2014? Let’s take a look.
The rise of ‘Indy wrestlers’ in the WWE
For years, the sports entertainment fans have labeled the independent wrestlers as ‘glorified’ and ‘overrated’. With NXT now becoming the place to be for wrestling fans, Triple H had the idea of bringing some of the best talent in the world under one roof.
Starting with the signings of Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn, Triple H formed the best roster any company can only dream of. Beginning with the amazing 2 out of 3 falls match between Cesaro and Sami Zayn, we got to witness some of the best wrestling matches involving the likes of Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn and Tyson Kidd. But the best was yet to come, as the recent NXT TakeOver R – Evolution show saw the debuts of two of the hottest new superstars in the WWE.
Hideo Itami, who for years has been the best Japanese wrestler teamed up with Finn Balor, who amazed the WWE Universe with his unique character. The wrestling fans around the world were waiting to see how WWE would utilize their talents, and they weren’t disappointed. The show also marked the debut of Kevin Owens, who is now scheduled to feud with the current NXT champion Sami Zayn.
The ‘War of the Worlds’ saga
If it wasn’t enough to feast your eyes on one amazing promotion, Ring of Honor (ROH) and New Japan Pro Wrestling joined forces to produce the War of the World iPPV. The fans had the opportunity to see the best of both worlds, as some of the finest talent in professional wrestling assembled under one roof to put on an amazing show.
AJ Styles defended the IWGP Heavyweight title in a three – way match against Okada and the soon to be face of ROH, Michael Elgin. The co – main event saw Adam Cole defend the ROH world title against the legendary Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. One of the standout performers in the Japanese wrestling circuit, Shinsuke Nakamura took on Kevin Steen, when he was still performing for Ring of Honor.
Similar to the cross promotional events WWE and ECW did back in the late 90s, such events not only give the performers a bigger stage to perform, but also gives the fans a taste of what they aren’t accustomed to watching, which can only be good for the business.
Familiar faces find success outside of the ‘Top 2 companies’
In North America, WWE is seen as the undeniable numero uno when it comes to sports entertainment organizations, while TNA is considered to be the second biggest promotion. It is also believed that a superstar cannot go anywhere else except for the ‘big two’ to have a successful career. However, two superstars have proved it otherwise, and have had a phenomenal 2014 outside of these two organizations.
AJ Styles went back to the independents after he could not reach a deal with TNA to extend his contract, and rediscovered his passion for the business. AJ has since put on numerous 5 star matches, and won the prestigious IWGP Heavyweight championship. For the majority of 2014, AJ was undeniably the hottest commodity in professional wrestling.
Another superstar with a similar story was Drew Galloway, better known to the WWE fans as Drew McIntyre. After he was released from his contract by the WWE, Drew went back to the independent scene, where he won the Evolve championship as well as the ICW Heavyweight championship, capping off 2014 in style.