2015 was, in many respects, not a banner year for professional wrestling.
We lost four prominent Hall of Famers; the industry took its lumps on a number of fronts; and a rash of unfortunate injuries added to an already-depleted talent roster in the WWE.
That's not to say it was all bad. We saw new and old faces make their mark; competition heated up across the industry; NXT coming into its own; and at year end, WWE looks to have (finally) created a somewhat new, bankable superstar.
2015 was decidedly different from the names making news in 2014. It's up to you to decide whether that's a good or bad thing.
In counting down the Top 50 Wrestling Headlines of 2015, Canadian Bulldog's World considered the following criteria:
Was the event unique to this year? Or does it happen quite frequently?
What were the overall ramifications for said event?
Did the development have a profound impact on how this wrestler or promotion did business?
Did this development receive any mainstream publicity outside of the wrestling community?
When possible, we have tried to add a date to each development. Some of them combine more than one event, and some lump a string of developments to demonstrate an overall trend.
If you'd like to be a part of this conversation, Tweet us at @canadianbulldog using the hashtag #Top50, or leave a comment below.
Ready? Here we go!
Tough Enough returns
WWE resurrected its reality show Tough Enough for a sixth season, returning to the USA Network. Hosted by Chris Jericho and featuring Daniel Bryan, Paige and Hulk Hogan as judges (later, The Miz would replace Hogan), the season was won by Josh Bredl and Sara Lee, neither of which have made it to NXT yet.
Seeing (stunt) double
For months, Damien Mizdow (err... Sandow) made his living as the stunt double of The Miz, mimicking his employer's every move, but it was apparent that the relationship would be short lived. At WrestleMania 31, Mizdow finally went his own way and finished second last in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
The new TLC generation
Nearly 15 years after the last encounter between Edge & Christian, Matt & Jeff Hardy and The Dudley Boyz, a new rivalry was formed featuring WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day, The Usos and The Lucha Dragons. In many ways, their ladder match at TLC was reminiscent of the Attitude Era series.
Finn's NXT moment
Finn Balor had been expected to achieve great things during his run in WWE's NXT division, and has lived up to the hype. In July, he defeated Kevin Owens for the NXT Championship, and has since defended the belt worldwide against the likes of Owens, Apollo Crews, Baron Corbin, Rhyno and Samoa Joe.
AJ Lee retires
WWE announced in April that AJ Lee, who was (up until later in 2015, at least) the longest-reigning Divas Champion of all time, was retiring from wrestling at the age of 28. Speculation circulated that the "retirement" was largely caused by mounting legal disputes between WWE and her husband CM Punk.
"Anyone but you, Roman."
Roman Reigns was determined to climb his way up the ladder for another shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He was about to do just that at Money In The Bank when Bray Wyatt suddenly appeared and cost Roman the match. Wyatt's rationale - "Anyone but you, Roman."
GFW vs. TNA
Wrestling "invasion" angles don't typically work because both companies are owned by the same entity. Not so when Jeff Jarrett's upstart Global Force Wrestling invaded Total Nonstop Action wrestling for several months this summer. While the rivalry has since ended, it made for some novel television.
The Dudleyz return
During the post-SummerSlam Monday Night Raw from Brooklyn, Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley made their WWE return following a ten-year absence from the team. Since then, the Dudley Boyz have put members of The New Day and The Wyatt Family through tables, but it remains to be seen where they end up.
Mysterio leaves WWE
After more than a dozen years with WWE, which included runs with almost all of the company's main championships, Rey Mysterio ended his contract with the company. Since then, Mysterio has appeared in Mexico's AAA promotion and recently announced he would be on the second season of Lucha Underground.
Samoa Joe joins NXT
Arguably the biggest free agent signing this past year was Samoa Joe's jump to WWE's NXT brand. Although Joe had already left TNA, the fact that he was able to use his own name and character signaled the start of some new policies by WWE officials, which later included the debut of TNA original James Storm.
Fight Owens Fight
Very few people in the history of wrestling (Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Goldberg) have had such a push out right of the gate, but Kevin Owens managed to have a career year in 2015. Between his NXT Championship reign, a feud with John Cena, and an Intercontinental Title reign, Owens clearly moved to the next level.
Sheamus in the Bank
At the same time that Roman Reigns lost his shot at the Money In The Bank briefcase (see # 40), Sheamus surprised just about everyone by climbing the ladder and securing the title opportunity. Even more surprisingly, Sheamus cashed in after Reigns captured the gold at Survivor Series and became Champion.
RIP Perro Aguayo Jr.
Although 2015 had its fair share of wrestler death, Perro Aguayo Jr.'s was especially notable because it happened in the ring. On March 20, Aguayo and Manik were facing Rey Mysterio and Xtreme Tiger when the lucha legend suffered what was later revealed to be a stroke caused by fractured vertebrae.
NXT Takes Over
Although it was formed in 2012, the NXT developmental territory broke out from the back in 2015. Not only did the group sell out live events in cities such as London, Brooklyn and San Jose, touring outside of Florida for the first time, but their TakeOver specials on WWE Network have routinely become must-see.
Sting's Mania moment
For decades, wrestling fans wondered whether WCW icon Sting would compete in a WWE ring, specifically at a WrestleMania. Although it was late in his career, The Stinger did just that this year, competing in a losing effort to Triple H in a match that featured interference from D-Generation X and the nWo.
Rusev (Streak) CRUSH
After more than a year of defeating everyone WWE threw in front of him, Rusev finally lost a match at WrestleMania 31, dropping the United States Championship to John Cena. The defeat set The Bulgarian Brute back quite a bit in his career, with him beginning to rally only after making amends with Lana.
RIP Nick Bockwinkel
Long seen as a symbol of class and excellence in professional wrestling, WWE Hall of Famer Nick Bockwinkel passed away at the age of 80. A four time AWA World Heavyweight Champion who held management positions in the WWF and WCW, Bockwinkel was universally respected for his superior in-ring ability.
TNA's (E)X(odus) Division
As TNA continues to struggle with finding an audience and business model that work, several of its talents have left to find work elsewhere. In addition to the aforementioned Samoa Joe, TNA also lost top stars such as Taz, James Storm, Magnus, Miss Tessmacher and MVP, while others yet remain in flux.
For years and years, fans have been asking when Randy "Macho Man" Savage would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Although it happened after his passing in 2011, the company finally recognized the Macho Man and seemingly repaired a strained relationship with the remains of the Poffo family.
WWE injuries pile up
WWE and NXT suffered one of the highest active-to-injured wrestler ratios in recent memory, with Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Sting, Randy Orton, John Cena, Sami Zayn, Nikki Bella, Rusev, Lana, Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, Jey Uso, Hideo Itami, Ryback and Erick Rowan all suffering injuries and missing ring time.
WWE, TNA World Titles vacated
Although it happens from time to time in any major wrestling promotion, it was unusual that both WWE and TNA didn't have World Champions for a period this fall. WWE's title was vacated because of an injury to Seth Rollins, while TNA's was held up following Matt Hardy vs. EC3.
The Rock & Rousey Connection
When Triple H and Stephanie McMahon came out to brag about The Game's WrestleMania 31 victory, it wasn't a massive surprise that The Rock would interrupt him; after all, he had had been expected at the show. But when The Rock was aided by UFC's Ronda Rousey, it became a WrestleMania moment.
Superfly Jimmy Snuka apparently lost his spot in the WWE Hall of Fame after being arrested in September on 32 year-old charges that he murdered his girlfriend in 1983. While an ailing Snuka pleaded not guilty to the murder allegations in a Pennsylvania courtroom, the case hasn't yet gone to trial.
Roman Reigns started 2015 by winning the Royal Rumble and being booed for his efforts. After a long, painful rehabilitation, Reigns captured his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Survivor Series, holding the belt for five minutes. When he regained the gold in December, Reigns was finally cheered.
Thank You, Hot Rod
WWE Hall of Famer Rowdy Roddy Piper passed away in July from cardiac arrest. During his career, he was one of the most influential wrestlers during The Rock and Wrestling Era, going toe to toe with Hulk Hogan, Adrian Adonis, Superfly Snuka and many of the other top stars. Piper's influence, both as an active competitor and as a master of the microphone were unparalelled. Hot Rod's passing was covered extensively in the mainstream press.
A Kane dividend against himself
After months of being pushed around by Seth Rollins, Corporate Kane returned to action.... only in his more familiar Demon Kane role. On the way to a showdown with Rollins, Corporate Kane attempted to prove he wasn't the same person as The Devil's Favorite Demon.
Austin - Lesnar?
An otherwise amicable podcast on the WWE Network between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Paul Heyman took an unexpected turn right near the very end, when Heyman suggested a WrestleMania 32 match between Austin and Brock Lesnar. Austin's hostility suggested to fans that the seeds for a match were being planted.
Bizarre Lana triangle
To capitalize on Lana's sudden popularity, WWE attempted to separate her from her client Rusev. After a convoluted love triangle storyline that also involved Dolph Ziggler and Summer Rae, things returned back to normal in October when TMZ reported that Lana and Rusev were engaged in real life, ending the angle.
In 2015, Jay Lethal transformed from "top prospect" to "top guy" in Ring of Honor. After holding the ROH Television Title for more than a year, Lethal turned his attention to ROH World Champion Jay Briscoe and unified the titles. While he lost the TV Title after 500-plus days, he's still ROH World Champion.
The return of Del Rio
A year after he'd been released by WWE, Alberto Del Rio returned at the Hell In A Cell event and successfully challenged John Cena to end Cena's impressive run as United States Champion. Although Del Rio's alliance with Zeb Colter was brief, he's since joined The League Of Nations.
WWE Network has developed lots of great original programming this year, but perhaps the best has been "Breaking Ground", a documentary-style look at NXT. Narrated by William Shatner, the program has managed to shed considerable light on Bayley, Baron Corbin, Jason Jordan and many other NXT up and comers.
Return of the King (of the Ring)
In an effort to broadcast more special events on WWE Network, the company brought back its King of the Ring tournament in 2015 the first time in five years. The tournament finals featured a match between Bad News Barrett and Neville; which King Barrett won.
No Laughing Matter
Bill De Mott, who once competed under the name Hugh Morrus, resigned as head trainer for WWE's NXT system in March amid allegations of misconduct and abuse by a number of former trainees, allegations that De Mott has denied. Matt Bloom (formerly A-Train) has replaced De Mott as NXT's head coach.
Although Lucha Underground technically began in 2014, this year the groundbreaking promotion has received universal praise from wrestling fans looking for a different type of product. The Mark Burnett-produced series has already taped a second season, which will air on El Rey beginning January 2016.
Although he'd been booted out of The Authority months earlier, everyone was shocked to see the Orton was still in the faction's good graces depsite an attack on them at the Fastlane PPV. Soon, Orton was full-fledged babyface and had a series of matches against Seth Rollins, including their match at WretstlMania.
At the beginning of 2015, TNA had a "multi-year" deal to air Impact and other programming on Destination America. By May, the network shocked wrestling fans and even TNA by signing ROH to compete directly against TNA. By year end, both promotions had left the network and were ready for new Destinations.
Bryan injured again
After spending most of a career-high 2014 on the injured list, Daniel Bryan returned to active competition in January and even captured the Intercontinental Title in a ladder match at WrestleMania 31. But shortly after that win, Bryan suffered another concussion-related injury and may ultimately have to retire.
A New Day for New Day
The New Day began in late 2014 as a "doomed to fail" trio featuring Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and Big E. By April 2015, they not only turned heel with a fresh new gimmick, but they captured the Tag Team Championship at Extreme Rules and again at SummerSlam. That's something to trombone about!
Cheap POP for TNA
After losing their contract with Destination America (see # 29), TNA found a new home on POP TV, a CBS and Lionsgate-owned network that actually has more viewers than Destination America. However, TNA's challenge will be revenue, as they won't be funded by a network for the first time in over a decade.
Banks, Bayley main event
A major victory for women's wrestling was scored this year when WWE held its first PPV-type event main-evented by women. Following their Match Of The Year-worthy encounter at TakeOver: Brooklyn, Bayley and Sasha Banks competed in a 30-minute Iron Man match at the conclusion of TakeOver: Respect.
Seeing the huge success of women in sports this year, Stephanie McMahon announced a Diva Revolution on Raw in July, calling up NXT's Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch and integrating them with Paige, Nikki Bella and others. The results have been mixed, but it signifies a change in direction.
Brothers of Abduction
Following his loss to Brock Lesnar at Hell In A Cell, The Undertaker briefly acknowledged his fans before the house lights went out. Moments later, all four members of the Wyatt Family abducted The Dead Man. One night later, The Wyatts did the same to Taker's brother Kane, setting up a match at Survivor Series.
Thank You, Verne
WWE Hall of Famer Verne Gagne passed away in April at the age of 89. Of course, Gagne was better known as the backbone of the American Wrestling Association, holding the AWA World Heavyweight Championship 10 times, running the promotion for its 31 year run, and competing in the 1948 Olympics.
Brock vs. Undertaker II and III
When Brock Lesnar ended The Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania 30, it was largely assumed there wouldn't be a rematch. But The Dead Man challenged Lesnar to matches at both SummerSlam and Hell In A Cell. Lesnar won the series 2 - 1.
Jon Stewart's Moment of Zen
Early in 2015, Jon Stewart made an appearance on Raw, a continuation of his Daily Show rivalry with Seth Rollins. So it was a shock when Stewart, the host of SummerSlam, supported Rollins in his match against John Cena by hitting Cena with a chair and costing him the U.S. Title.
It may not sound like much on paper, but WWE's partnership with ESPN (the first wrestling ESPN has really had since the AWA days) may be a game-changer, with the wrestling company getting much-valued mainstream publicity, and the sports network creating a source of exclusive content.
John Cena's Open Challenges
One of the most consistent highlights of 2015 was John Cena's Open Challenge for his United States Championship. Over the year, Cena battled names as diverse as Sami Zayn, Kane, Kevin Owens, The New Day, Rusev and many others before finally dropping the championship in October to Alberto Del Rio.
Thank You, Dream
WWE Hall of Famer "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes passed away at the age of 69. A legendary wrestler who captured the NWA World Championship three times, Rhodes was also a creative force in Florida, Jim Crockett Promotions, WCW, TNA, and NXT, where he was employed at the time of his passing.
The rise of Rollins
Seth Rollins transformed himself in 2015 from being a featured member of The Authority to cashing in his Money In The Bank briefcase at WrestleMania and pinning Roman Reigns to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. By the time Rollins joined WWE's injured list, he had become a legit main eventer.
The biggest Wrestling Headline of 2015 came from WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan, whose ties to WWE were severed in July on the heels of remarks Hogan made during a leaked sex tape. Allegedly, Hogan made several racist and homophobic slurs on the tape, which he has since said were offensive and inconsistent with his own beliefs. While WWE erased any mention of Hogan on their website and stopped selling his merchandise, it's not out of the question that The Hulkster could return one day.