Analysing Baron Corbin's first year on the main roster
With WrestleMania 33 just a matter of days away, perhaps now is a more apt time than ever to cast our minds back to last year’s WrestleMania. 12 months ago, Baron Corbin made his highly successful main roster debut at WrestleMania 32, competing in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royale.
Of course, Corbin would go on to follow in the footsteps of Cesaro and Big Show by emerging from the Battle Royale victorious, as a raucous crowd at the AT&T Arena wildly cheered their approval with “NXT” chants. This emphatic, impactful debut was exactly the start that “The Lone Wolf” needed.
But how has the NXT graduate fared in the time between then and now? Despite some rough patches, the overall summary has to be that it’s been a very positive first year in the WWE for Baron Corbin.
Many fans initially saw Corbin’s triumph at WrestleMania as a clear indication that he would be handed a huge push right off the bat. These people were to be disappointed, as the rise of Baron Corbin ended up being a gradual one.
Following up from his debut, he entered into his first rivalry on RAW the very next night. He fought to a double count-out with Dolph Ziggler, before continuing to attack The Showoff after the bell, which culminated in Corbin hitting a brutal looking End of Days on Ziggler outside the ring.
The feud with Ziggler could have been spectacular, but it was badly handled and fans soon majorly lost interest in the storyline. The pair simply interacted far too many times, at a stage in Ziggler’s career when he clearly was not at his best.
Corbin lost to Ziggler via a roll-up at Payback, a decision which made no sense at the time and still doesn’t today. Corbin then defeated Ziggler on the May 9th edition of RAW, and again at Extreme Rules in a No DQ match.
Surely, you must be thinking, that was all she wrote between Corbin and Ziggler?
Not a chance. The following night, Ziggler challenged Corbin to a technical wrestling match. When this match came to be, Ziggler swiftly kicked Corbin below the belt, drawing a disqualification, before announcing that “the loser of this match is still Baron Corbin”.
If you ever needed tips on how to turn a potential breakout star into something resembling a joke in just two months, refer back to how WWE booked this feud.
Corbin bounced back, however, defeating Ziggler at Money In The Bank to finally book-end their seemingly never ending feud. On July 19th, Corbin was drafted to SmackDown LIVE, and the following week was put into a Six-Pack Challenge to become the new #1 contender for the WWE Title.
He was unsuccessful, but the fact that he was even in this match showed that his stock was very much on the rise.
Following this, Corbin entered into a short but relatively entertaining programme with Kalisto after he assaulted The King of Flight backstage, following defeat in a Triple Threat match, also featuring Kalisto and Apollo Crews.
The big man vs little man dynamic was a good one, but the feud came to an abrupt halt after Kalisto was injured at the hands of Corbin, once more cementing him as a dominant rising talent.
Another PPV victory came at Backlash, where Corbin defeated Apollo Crews on the pre-show. A short feud with Jack Swagger followed, culminating in a victory for Corbin over Swagger on the October 18th edition of SmackDown LIVE.
He was chosen to be part of Team SmackDown at Survivor Series, before being forced out of the event due to a knee injury. The injury in question was caused by a returning Kalisto, who hit a top rope splash to the knee of Corbin after he’d initially hurt it by slipping on the ring apron.
Baron responded by ruining Kalisto’s chances of bringing the Cruiserweight Championship to SmackDown LIVE, attacking both Kalisto and then-champion Brian Kendrick.
Corbin finally faced Kalisto on PPV at December’s TLC, defeating him in a Chairs match, before their feud concluded on the next episode of SmackDown with another victory for The Lone Wolf.
After this point, things seemed to switch up a gear for Baron Corbin, and he began to get treated as far more of a big deal. In late December, Corbin briefly reignited his feud with Dolph Ziggler, who had just become #1 contender for the WWE Title.
They faced off in a bit to determine who would get the title opportunity, which ended in a double count-out. Both men ended up facing AJ Styles for the WWE Title on the last SmackDown LIVE of 2016 in a Triple Threat match, during which Styles pinned Ziggler to retain his title.
Corbin may not have won, but the fact that he was protected in the finish showed that WWE were very high on him.
The Royal Rumble proved to be something of a breakout night for Corbin. He entered at Number 13 and would go on to last over 32 minutes in the match, in an incredibly impressive performance.
He managed to eliminate RAW’s resident monster Braun Strowman, which is itself a momentous achievement, particularly when you consider just how strongly Strowman is being pushed presently. Corbin was eventually dumped out of the match by none other than The Undertaker.
More than at any other time previously, it was well and truly clear that Baron Corbin was now firmly entrenched in the upper echelons of WWE.
Corbin was included in February’s Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Championship, at the Elimination Chamber PPV, a match which was eventually won by Bray Wyatt. Surprisingly, Corbin was the first man eliminated after being rolled up by Dean Ambrose.
He naturally responded to this by viciously attacking the Intercontinental Champion, hurling him against the chain link surroundings before smashing him through one of the pods, leaving Ambrose to be eliminated by The Miz.
These actions set up Baron Corbin for his first real high-profile feud, which is where we return to the present day. He now possesses a very real chance of winning the Intercontinental Title for the first time at WrestleMania 33, as he will face Dean Ambrose with that championship on the line.
So, given everything that Corbin has been through in his debut year in WWE, has it been a success? The answer has to be a resounding yes.
He came in looking like a threat, did his time in the mid card and has now undoubtedly moved onto bigger things.
The change in fortunes has been drastic; nearly a year ago, he was treading water in a lacklustre feud with Dolph Ziggler, and now has the opportunity to capture his first singles title, on the biggest stage in sports-entertainment.
Baron Corbin has finally hit the big time, there’s no doubt about it. If he’s able to defeat a man that once held the WWE Championship this Sunday, there will be no stopping The Lone Wolf in 2017.
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