WWE fan favorite Kofi Kingston becoming world champion highlights the company’s biggest success … [+]
For all that went wrong for WWE in 2019, like the Crown Jewel controversy or the company’s plummeting TV viewership, it wasn’t all bad.
Last year, WWE had a number of surprising success stories, ranging from Elias to Becky Lynch to Ronda Rousey, even though it had its fair share of hiccups as well. This year, WWE hasn’t been without its typical booking woes and frustrating storylines, but it has also made a plethora of significant improvements to its product, starting with the push of a slew of previously underrated and overlooked talent like Ricochet, Nikki Cross and Humberto Carrillo.
Even though most of the strides made by WWE in 2019 haven’t exactly translated to financial success, they should give fans a reason to be optimistic about its 2020 and beyond. WWE, after all, demonstrated through the rise of once forgotten stars and its focus on improving its booking of poorly booked stars that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even though the product has been next to unwatchable at times.
Here are WWE’s five biggest success stories of 2019.
NXT made some huge strides in 2019.
Any which way you slice it, 2019 has been a banner year for NXT.
WWE’s so-called “third brand” was, far and away, the most consistently entertaining and quality product the company produced this year, as per usual delivering a strong slate of stellar matches, signing a boatload of the world’s top independent talent and moving to USA Network as part of a blockbuster deal that will earn WWE at least $30 million annually. NXT traditionally has not been a profitable brand for WWE, but that should change for this year due to its new TV deal, which–when combined with the added exposure and increased star power–has NXT performing as WWE’s third brand in name only.
The rise of stars like Velveteen Dream, Matt Riddle and Adam Cole as well as the influx of indie wrestling standouts ranging from Keith Lee to Chelsea Green to Kushida has given NXT a template for future success to add on to what has already been a stellar run for WWE’s best all-around product. Sometimes, it’s amazing to think that the same WWE that puts on such a low-quality Raw and SmackDown product can also produce NXT, and fans can probably thank Triple H for that.
NXT should now be a moneymaker for WWE, which is just the cherry on top of the yellow brand delivering consistently compelling storyling and making strides toward establishing new household stars.
Bray Wyatt Reincarnated As “The Fiend”
WWE has a major star on its hands in “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt.
Bray Wyatt’s run as “The Fiend” has hit a few roadblocks due to some questionable booking, but when looking at Wyatt’s new character as a whole, it’s difficult not to consider it anything but an overwhelming success.
Wyatt didn’t wrestle a match for nearly a year but returned to the ring at SummerSlam, where he defeated Finn Balor and instantly solidified himself as a huge hit among even WWE’s most fervent supporters. It’s nearly impossible for WWE stars to be universally liked or appreciated these days, and Wyatt’s gotten about as close to that level as you can get. The fact that Wyatt is already WWE’s No. 1 merchandise seller shows that he has a clear-cut connection with the WWE Universe, which is obvious just by watching any show he’s on.
Wyatt’s “The Fiend” alter-ego has been such a huge hit on the main roster that it’s even drawn comparisons to The Undertaker because of how captivating it is, which is essentially the biggest compliment that a guy like Wyatt can get. Although Wyatt–like anyone else–hasn’t been immune to the booking mistakes that are consistently made by the creative team, he has been a rousing success due both to his ability to innovate and the way he’s performed under his new character. Oh yeah, he’s also the Universal Champion.
Just over a year ago, it wasn’t clear if Wyatt would ever get a real push again. Now, he’s one of the best things going in WWE at a time when good things can be hard to come by.
Kofi Kingston’s rise took him all the way to the WWE Championship.
You probably know by now that Kofi Kingston’s push at the beginning of 2019 happened purely by accident. That push was originally reserved for Ali, whose untimely injury paved the way for Kingston to ride an incredible wave of momentum all the way to a world title match at WrestleMania 35.
Kingston’s epic performance in that unforgettable gauntlet match was followed up with yet another one at Elimination Chamber, and he forced WWE’s hand, getting himself his first-ever singles match at WrestleMania, where #KofiMania couldn’t be stopped and he defeated Daniel Bryan to become just the fourth black world champion in WWE history. On so many levels, Kingston’s victory was one of the biggest and most important in WWE history. Not only did it pave the way for other superstars of color to break down more barriers, but it exemplified what persistence and hard work can do for a superstar who waited 11 years just to get that opportunity.
Although Kingston’s reign was criticized for his inability to draw as champion, that was more so a reflection on WWE’s overall product than on Kingston, who performed very well in that role and was booked strongly with a series of victories over stars like Bryan, Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler and Randy Orton. Kingston was able to outperform all expectations of him when he held the WWE title for roughly six months, and though his reign ended unceremoniously in less than 10 seconds at the hands of Brock Lesnar, that doesn’t just wash away all that he accomplished this year.
For Kingston, his WWE title reign represented everything that WWE could and should be in the future.
Roman Reigns Returns
Roman Reigns has become arguably the most beloved babyface in WWE.
In October 2018, Roman Reigns shocked the world when he revealed that he was battling leukemia for a second time, and there was concern that “The Big Dog” might never wrestle again.
But Reigns was able to return to WWE in March, much sooner than anyone ever could have anticipated, and he made his triumphant return to singles action at WrestleMania 35, where he defeated Drew McIntyre. Prior to Reign’s gut-wrenching cancer diagnosis, he was consistently booed out of the building as fans rejected his massive push as WWE’s top babyface star. Fans have done a complete 180 since Reigns came back, however, consistently reacting to Reigns as the overwhelming fan favorite WWE hoped he would have become long ago.
Now, Reigns is in a great spot as a widely popular babyface who’s pushed well but not so strongly that his push has a negative effect on the remainder of the main roster. Although Reigns has always been an absolutely fantastic representative for WWE as the face of its brand, he’s excelled even more so in that role in 2019 after overcoming the odds, beating cancer and getting back into the ring to perform an elite level.
As fans have embraced Reigns, it’s hard for them not to get a little teary-eyed knowing what Reigns has gone through and how well he’s done since coming back from a life-threatening illness while in the middle of his prime.
Women Main Eventing WrestleMania
WWE finally gave its women’s division the spotlight at WrestleMania 35.
While WWE has reportedly “second-guessed” its push of the women’s division due to declining business in 2019, it’s difficult to classify what happened at WrestleMania 35 as anything but a massive success.
That’s when Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey became the first women to ever main event a WrestleMania, which generated $165 million in economic impact in the New York/New Jersey area but, perhaps more importantly, showed that WWE’s female superstars are more than capable of headlining WWE events across the world. Although the match itself fell a little short of its lofty expectations, that historic bout carved a path for WWE’s current and future generations of female stars to consistently main event its shows as frequently as its male superstars do.
Whether or not that happens is still anyone’s guess, but without Rousey, Flair and Lynch forcing WWE’s hand and catapulting themselves into that WrestleMania 35 main event spot, it likely wouldn’t be possible. With WWE also making history yet again when Natalya and Lacey Evans participated in the first-ever women’s match in Saudi Arabia at Crown Jewel while the women’s division also main evented Survivor Series and TLC, WWE’s female stars had a few major bright spots in 2019 that were undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
Of course, the women’s division was still plagued by poor booking and was often presented as an afterthought, but let’s take a “glass half full” approach here: Important strides were made for women’s wrestling this year, even if everything else was far from perfect.