WWE continued to bolster its women's wrestling division, trying to put it on equal ground with the men's division wherever possible. And while the company tried to elevate new talent top positions throughout the year, a rash of injuries and other outside factors halted their progress.
Outside of Stamford... the momentum of professional wrestling continued, led by a group of upstarts who had never staged their own show before. In addition, New Japan Pro Wresting continued to thrive, followed distantly by progress from Ring of Honor, Major League Wrestling and other promotions.
In counting down the Top 50 Wrestling Headlines of 2018, 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!
Braun Strowman, Child win Tag Team titles
In one of those "only in professional wrestling" moments, Braun Strowman was forced to pick a partner to take on Raw Tag Team Champions The Bar at WrestleMania XXXIV. He picked Nicholas (the 10-year old son of referee John Cone) and the two teamed up to win the gold.
Adam Cole becomes first NXT North American Champion
NXT finally established a second championship for male competitors to vie for in the NXT North American Championship. Adam Cole became the title's first holder after defeating five others in a ladder match at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. Cole held the title until August, when he dropped the gold to Ricochet.
There seems to be one of these terrible stories at least once a year. In Mexico, Angel o Demonio and Cuervo were facing off at an independent show, when Demonio hurled a concrete block at Cuervo's head, causing a blood clot on his brain. Thankfully, Cuervo had immediate surgery and appears to be recovering.
In a move that wasn't popular with wrestling fans, Baron Corbin was appointed the "Constable" of Raw by Stephanie McMahon. Within months, Corbin became interim General Manager, replacing Kurt Angle, and making life miserable for most of the brand's fan favorites until being removed from power in December.
This is NXT... UK
Nearly two years after WWE established a United Kingdom Champion, the company announced a separate division under the NXT brand that would hold television tapings in August. About two months later, a weekly program began, introducing the world to the likes of Pete Dunne, Rhea Ripley and many others.
Who attacked Aleister Black?
Early in 2018, Aleister Black became the top name in NXT by becoming the promotion's champion. However, a legitimate injury ahead of an upcoming title defense forced Black to vacate the gold. As a result, NXT create a unique Whodunit storyline, with the attacker revealed to be Johnny Gargano.
Big Cass released
Fresh into a run as a singles competitor and in the midst of a rivalry with Daniel Bryan, Big Cass was released by WWE in June. According to rumor and speculation at the time, Cass was let go because of "behavioral issues," including alleged public intoxication and disobeying direct orders from Vince McMahon.
Johnny Valiant passes away
WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Valiant passed away at the age of 71 after being hit by a pickup truck near Pittsburgh. Valiant, also known as Luscious Johnny V, was a former WWWF Tag Team Champion with storyline brothers Jimmy and Jerry Valiant, and also managed Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake.
Charlotte attacks Ronda
At the Survivor Series, Charlotte Flair was a last-minute substitute for SmackDown Womens Champion Becky Lynch in her match against Raw Womens Champion Ronday Rousey. At the conclusion of the match, Flair violently attacked Rousey with a chair and kendo stick, suggesting a heel turn.
Mysterio comes home
It was hardly a surprise that Rey Mysterio returned to WWE - after all, he'd appeared in the Royal Rumble and Greatest Royal Rumble earlier that year and was a title character for WWE 2K19. Still, Mysterio's return to the company was an exciting one for SmackDown fans and is likely to lead to a Hall of Fame ring.
ROH, NJPW book The Garden
One of the biggest wins in the history of Ring of Honor was the announcement that the perennial number two/three North American wrestling promotion would host an event with New Japan Pro Wrestling next year at Madison Square Garden -- a venue that has long been the sole domain of Vince McMahon's WWE.
RIP Volkoff, Christopher, Brown
A trio of professional wrestlers passed away on July 29. WWE Hall of Famer Nikolai Volkoff was a staple of the first few WrestleManias and once challenged Hulk Hogan. Brian Christopher was best known as Grandmaster Sexay during the Attitude Era. Brickhouse Brown was once a top name in the Memphis area.
April 16 / 17
Superstar Shake Up
The annual Superstar Shake Up saw several top stars switch brands, including The Miz, Kevin Owens, Jeff Hardy, Asuka, Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode. In addition, the main roster found spots for NXT stars Sanity, Andrade Cien Almas, Drew McIntyre, and Bobby Lashley, who returned to WWE after WrestleMania.
Nakamura turns on Styles
Following their classic WWE Championship match at WrestleMania XXXIV, longtime rivals AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura embraced in the middle of the ring, playing off the earlier Charlotte-Asuka title match. Seconds later, Nakamura delivered a low-blow to Styles, signaling that The Artist turned heel.
Raw sweeps SmackDown
At Survivor Series 2018, Raw and SmackDown battled for brand supremacy. Surprisingly, the Red brand swept the show, winning all six interpromotional matchups (beyond the pre-show match, which apparently didn't count). Unfortunately, neither show did little after to follow up on the stunning sweep.
Bullet Club civil war
One of the biggest storylines to play out in New Japan Pro Wrestling throughout 2018 was the self-destruction of The Bullet Club. Elite members Cody, Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks made various allegiances throughout the year, followed up with an ambush by The Guerillas of Destiny.
WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels had his first match since 2010's WrestleMania XXVI, returning at Crown Jewel to team with D-Generation X partner Triple H against The Undertaker and Kane. According to Michaels, the Crown Jewel match was a one and done, with no plans to continue a comeback.
The final Undertaker - Triple H match
A match at Australia's Super Show-Down pay-per-view between long-time rivals The Undertaker and Triple H was billed as being the last time ever, a bout that was won by The Game. However, Triple H would team with Shawn Michaels just one month later, to face The Undertaker and his brother Kane.
An Elite new promotion?
In what may become one of the biggest stories of 2019, Cody and The Young Bucks finished with their ROH and NJPW commitments to create what has since being dubbed All Elite Wrestling. We now know that the upstart promotion will launch soon, run by Jacksonsville Jaguars owner Tony Khan.
Goldberg to HOF
After a career of headlining wherever he went, Bill Goldberg main evented the 2018 WWE Hall of Fame class. Others in this year's class included The Dudley Boyz, Mark Henry, Hillbilly Jim, Ivory, Jeff Jarrett (who had previously been persona non grata with WWE) and in the Celebrity Wing, musician Kid Rock.
Lesnar loses the gold
Speaking of incredibly long championship reigns, Brock Lesnar had been tied to the Universal Championship since WrestleMania XXXIII.... despite barely defending it. After squeaking past Roman Reigns in a pair of matches in 2018, The Beast was stopped by The Big Dog at SummerSlam, ending a 504-day reign.
New deals for Raw, SmackDown
Despite claims that WWE business is in trouble, the company signed huge deals in 2018 for its flagship programs: Raw with USA Network and SmackDown with Fox Sports, both five-year deals beginning in the fall of 2019. Reportedly, the two contracts will be worth as much as $462 million in revenue, by the year 2021.
Crown Jewel controversy
WWE's return to Saudi Arabia in November was mired in controversy. Fresh off the alleged government killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Daniel Bryan and John Cena refused to work the pay-per-view. Despite pressure on social media and from the likes of John Oliver, WWE decided to proceed with the event.
Cody and The Young Bucks did what they were told couldn't be done, selling out a 10,000 seat stadium in Chicago with the ALL IN pay-per-view event. The show featured Ring of Honor, Impact, AAA and New Japan stars (and a cameo by Chris Jericho), and included Cody winning the NWA Championship from Nick Aldis.
Ronda Rousey debuts
One of the most high-profile talent signings in recent memory happened at the conclusion of the 2018 Royal Rumble, when UFC Hall of Famer Ronda Rousey made her presence known at the conclusion of the main event. Committing to a full-time wrestling schedule, Rousey will be a key to WWE's womens evolution.
The Cruise of Jericho
Chris Jericho reinvented himself yet again in 2018, this time as a cruise director for Chris Jericho's Rock 'n' Wrestling Rager At Sea. Aboard the ship were numerous Hall of Fame wrestlers and legends, several musical acts, and there was even a Ring of Honor show, headlined by Jericho teaming up with The Young Bucks.
Team Awe-suka wins Mixed Match Challenge
WWE introduced the Mixed Match Challenge this year, a tournament televised on Facebook Watch, where male and female competitors battled side by side for supremacy. The first tournament began in January, and ended in April when the unlikely duo of Asuka and The Miz defeated Charlotte Flair and Bobby Roode.
Lethal regains ROH Championship
Jay Lethal became Ring of Honor World Champion, defeating Dalton Castle, Matt Taven and Cody at a television taping in Fairfax, Virginia. In Lethal's second reign as ROH Champion, he has defeated Johnathan Gresham, Will Ospreay and Cody, and now stands at the second-longest combined title run in ROH history.
Paige put in power
Unlike Baron Corbin, Paige's promotion to General Manager of SmackDown was largely a favorable one. Announced one day after she announced her in-ring retirement due to injuries, Shane McMahon annointed Paige to lead the blue brand. She led the show without controversy until being removed in December.
Aries 'shoots' on way out of Impact
Austin Aries has had controversy throughout his career. Fresh off a WWE run, Aries joined Impact Wrestling and quickly won the promotion's top championship. After losing the gold to Johnny Impact, Aries no-sold the finish and began cursing the promotion.
Greatest Royal Rumble
WWE held its first major event in Saudi Arabia in April, headlined by an unprecedented 50-man "Greatest Royal Rumble," won by Braun Strowman. The event also featured high-caliber rarities such as John Cena vs. Triple H, Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar in a steel cage, and The Undertaker vs. Rusev in a casket match.
Enzo Amore released
Six months before Big Cass was released, his former tag team partner Enzo Amore suffered a similar fate. Amore was released amidst sexual assault charges (which were later dismissed by police), leading to him launching a music career. Amore was in the audience at Survivor Series, and was subsequently kicked out.
Johnny Gargano vs. Andrade Cien Almas
Johnny Gargano and Andrade Cien Almas made history at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia with their sleeper match that became one of the year's best. The NXT Championship match had dozens of near-falls in more than 30 minutes of action, which ended when Almas pinned Gargano to retain his championship.
Jim Neidhart passes away
Former WWF Tag Team Champion Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart passed away at the age of 63 after suffering a fall in his home. Neidhart is best known for his team with brother-in-law Bret "Hitman" Hart and more recently as the father of Natalya on the E! Series Total Divas.
Cena vs. Undertaker (kind of?)
One of the more disappointing "dream" matches at WrestleMania XXXIV was the long-awaited John Cena-Undertaker bout. Cena campaigned for weeks, suggesting the match may not happen. It was finally announced at WrestleMania, only to have Undertaker win in less than three minutes.
The Gargano-Ciampa feud begins
In a confrontation that was nearly a year in the making, Johnny Gargano finally got his hands on former DIY partner Tommaso Ciampa in an unsanctioned match at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. The two would go on to do battle at the next two TakeOver events, eventually putting their differences aside -- both men now heels.
Alpha vs. Omega
2018 began with Chris Jericho's first non-WWE match in almost 20 years, as he took on fellow Winnipeger Kenny Omega as part of the co-main event of New Japan Pro Wresting's Wrestle Kingdom XII. Omega retained his IWGP United States Championship in the match, which resulted in a prolonged run for Jericho in NJPW.
Cena, Bella break off engagement
One of the Top 50 Wrestling Headlines of 2017 (and in the # 25 spot, oddly enough) was John Cena's in-ring engagement to Nikki Bella. A year later, wrestling's power couple called it quits ahead of a planned wedding the following month.
Ambrose turns on Rollins
On a night in which The Shield was facing some very tough challenges (more on that later), members Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins put aside some temporary bickering to capture the Raw Tag Team Championship. After the match, Ambrose attacked Rollins and DDT'd him, signaling that The Shield was over.
Rousey wins gold
Ronda Rousey's signing with WWE in 2018 was a surefire sign that the UFC Hall of Famer was destined for big things. At SummerSlam, Rowdy Ronda captured her first wrestling title - the Raw Womens Championship - defeating Alexa Bliss by submission in just four minutes, beginning a reign of wrestling dominance.
Prior to 2018, Becky Lynch had always been seen as the most underwhelming member of The Four Horsewomen, despite success in both NXT and WWE. At SummerSlam, she changed that perception, turning on Charlotte Flair and deeming herself to be "The Man" in an impressive PR campaign later in the year.
Dynamite Kid passes away
Tom Billington, a/k/a The Dynamite Kid, passed away on what would be his 60th birthday. Half of The British Bulldogs tag team, he was one of the most influential high-flyers of his era. A slew of health problems plagued the former WWF Tag Team Champion in recent years.
Big Van Vader passes away
Leon White, known as Big Van Vader and Vader, passed away at the age of 63 following heart problems and a battle with pneumonia. One of the most talented big men ever, Vader was a three-time WCW World Champion and headlined in the WWF against opponents such as Shawn Michaels and Kane.
Were Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada able to best their top-rated series of matches in 2017? The pair's fourth encounter at Dominion was a two out of three falls match that saw Omega defeat Okada for the first time in his career. The contest was called "The greatest match I've ever seen" by Dave Meltzer.
Styles loses the gold
The staff of Canadian Bulldog's World unanimously voted AJ Styles as male wrestler of the year, thanks to his 371-day WWE Championship reign (tied for the eighth-longest in company history). In November, Styles surprisingly lost the title to Daniel Bryan, and just days before AJ was to take on Brock Lesnar.
"YOU. ARE. CLEARED."
A series of concussions had forced Daniel Bryan to stop wrestling in 2015, formalized when he officially retired a year later. But WWE's and Bryan's doctors cleared him for in-ring competition in March, leading to a WrestleMania match and towards the end of 2018, a heel turn and a run as WWE Champion.
Asuka wins first Womens Royal Rumble
WWE made history at the 2018 Royal Rumble by holding mens and womens Rumble matches at the same event. The first womens Rumble featured names from the past and present. Asuka, who was undefeated at that point, won the match and would stay undefeated until losing to Charlotte at WrestleMania.
Days before the controversial Crown Jewel aired, WWE hosted an event that should result in fonder memories. Evolution was the company's first all-women pay-per-view, including the returns of Trish Stratus and Lita, plus title matches featuring Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Ronda Rousey and Nikki Bella.
Thank you, Bruno
Bruno Sammartino, one of the most successful and celebrated professional wrestlers ever, passed away at the age of 82 in April. The longest-reigning champion in WWE history had only recently made amends with Vince McMahon and family, punctuated by his inclusion in the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame.
Roman faces his biggest battle yet
Despite a less-than-thunderous response from wrestling fans in recent years, Roman Reigns has clearly been deemed the future of WWE by Vince McMahon and everyone else in charge, headlining the last four WrestleManias and holding numerous championships. In October, that changed when Reigns admitted that he was fighting leukemia after an 11-year remission. Abdicating the Universal Championship, Reigns now faces his biggest battle yet -- we wish him the best of luck.