The year saw more competition in the wrestling world than there has been since the Monday Night Wars ended some 18 years ago. All Elite Wrestling targeted World Wrestling Entertainment's business model, giving stars like Cody Rhodes, Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley a new lease on life. On top of that, upstarts such as the National Wrestling Alliance and Major League Wrestling gained ground on the usual competitors such as Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling.
Beyond just the competitive aspects, WWE experienced a turbulent year, including major programming changes, management shuffles and more than a few pieces of talent who were looking for a new home by year end.
In counting down the Top 50 Wrestling Headlines of 2019, 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!
After many years out of the spotlight, the National Wrestling Alliance returned to the spotlight, this time with an brand new (yet old) look. The Billy Corgan-run company debuted online in October, displaying a similar studio look to the promotion's run in the 1970s and 1980s, only with modern stars and storylines.
Fury vs. Strowman
During the debut episode on SmackDown on Fox, lineal boxing champion Tyson Fury was shown in the audience, which quickly led to an altercation with Braun Strowman. The two giants squared off at WWE's Crown Jewel PPV with Fury winning by countout. It's possible The Gypsy King will return to WWE soon.
Ashley Massaro passes away
Ashley Massaro, best known for winning WWE's Diva Search in 2005 and appearing on a season of Survivor, passed away in May at the age of 39. Massaro had a brief but impressive three-year run in WWE, peaking when she challenged Melina for the WWE Women's Championship at WrestleMania XXIII.
Goldberg vs. Riddle?
While WWE Hall of Famer Bill Goldberg and NXT star Matt Riddle have never met in the ring... they may very well want to. The off-screen rivalry began when Riddle criticized Goldberg's match on Twitter. Later, the two had an intense meeting backstage at SummerSlam, with Goldberg saying "I'm not your Bro."
Tessa Blanchard vs. Sami Callahan
Proving that Charlotte Flair isn't the only daughter of the Four Horsemen to make wrestling history, Tessa Blanchard became part of the first intergender match to headline a pay-per-view. At Slammiversary XVII, Blanchard battled Sami Callihan and by November, was preparing to face him yet again.
Becky Lynch, Seth Rollins get engaged
Around the time of WrestleMania, rumors began circulating that Becky Lynch and Seth Rollins were an item, confirmed fairly soon thereafter by Lynch confirming as much on social media. Several months later, The Man took to Instagram to show the world that she and The Beastslayer were now engaged.
All Elite Wrestling begins
Right from the very first moment All Elite Wrestling went public with their intentions to start a competitive wrestling company, big things were destined for the Jacksonville-based group. At a press conference, AEW announced their new executive team, their first pay-per-view, and the signing of one Chris Jericho.
All hail King Corbin
Whether it was in a role as authority figure on Raw, or the man who retired Kurt Angle at WrestleMania, fans weren't truly able to buy in to Baron Corbin. That changed at the finals of the King of the Ring tournament, when Corbin topped Chad Gable in an excellent match, solidifying him as a top heel.
Boss n Hug ups n downs
The Boss n Hug Connection of Bayley and Sasha Banks had a year of ups and downs. In February, they were the first to win the WWE Women's Tag Team Championship. After WrestleMania, Sasha Banks took a hiatus from WWE, upset with her direction. And by year-end, both women went through heel turns.
Undisputed gold era
On an episode of NXT television, Roderick Strong captured the NXT North American Championship from Velveteen Dream. Strong then celebrated with NXT Tag Team Champions Kyle O'Reilly and Bobby Fish, and NXT Champion Adam Cole, as all four members of The Undisputed Era were on top of the brand.
Jim Cornette's run as commentator on NWA Powerrr ended before it had a chance to get going. The manager -- never any stranger to making controversial remarks -- made a comment seen as racist, forcing the NWA to apologize. Shortly thereafter, The Louisville Lip resigned his position with the upstart promotion.
Goldberg vs. Undertaker
While Bill Goldberg vs. The Undertaker should have been a dream match of epic proportions, their contest at Super ShowDown in Saudi Arabia didn't exactly deliver. Several botched moves, combined with an apparent concussion suffered by Goldberg early in the match, led to a sudden finish that led fans disappointed.
Kurt Angle retires
Kurt Angle has accomplished things most people only dream of, including four WWF/E World Championships, six TNA World Championships, a WWE Hall of Fame ring and, of course, an Olympic Gold Medal with a broken freaking neck. His in-ring career ended at WrestleMania XXXV, losing a match to Baron Corbin.
King Kong Bundy passes away
One of Canadian Bulldog's all-time favorites, King Kong Bundy passed away at the age of 63. Bundy was best known for his main event at WrestleMania against WWF Champion Hulk Hogan in a steel cage, although he also terrorized the likes of Andre The Giant, Hillbilly Jim and Bret Hart during his WWF career.
Rollins slays The Beast. Twice.
Speaking of Brock Lesnar, his 2019 wasn't quite as dominant as in the recent past. At WrestleMania XXXV, The Beast Incarnate quickly dropped the Universal Championship to Seth Rollins. Lesnar cashed his Money In The Bank contract on Rollins at Extreme Rules, and then lost (again) to Rollins at SummerSlam.
Batista's back... for a bit
Soon-to-be WWE Hall of Famer Batista returned to WWE programming in 2019, crashing the 70th birthday celebration of Ric Flair and continuing to hold a grudge against long-time rival Triple H. The Animal and The Game faced off at WrestleMania XXXV and after he lost, Batista claimed he'd just had his last match.
The day after his WWE contract expired, Dean Ambrose (using his former ring name of Jon Moxley) released a vignette of sorts, a high-quality video that showed the former Shield member brutally breaking out of prison. It turned out to be a metaphor, as Moxley had broken out of WWE prison and went to AEW.
Stranded in Saudi Arabia
Following the Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia, the WWE roster was set to board a charter plane back to the U.S. for the following day's SmackDown taping. However, the plane was significantly delayed, causing rumors to run rampant about whether competitors were delayed by the Saudi government.
Shortly after winning the Universal Championship at WrestleMania XXXV, Seth Rollins took to Twitter to defend his abilities and his company, even getting into it with the likes of Will Ospreay. The rants actually helped turn Rollins heel, with his current role leading AOP being based on that persona.
"I'm in remission, y'all!"
Last year, we wrote about Roman Reigns' diagnosis of having leukemia, and how that may affect the industry. The Big Dog returned in February -- overhwhelmingly hearing cheers for the first time in many years -- and announced that his cancer was in remission and that he was returning to WWE.
Heyman, Bischoff put in power
WWE announced that former ECW head Paul Heyman and former WCW head Eric Bischoff were going to be Executive Producers of Raw and SmackDown. While Bischoff only lasted a few months, it was a sign that WWE was finally looking at new creative direction.
WWE talents voice displeasure
A common theme in 2019 was WWE talents voicing their displeasure through social media. These included Jon Moxley, Hideo Itami and Tye Dillinger, who landed jobs elsewhere; Sin Cara and Luke Harper, recently released; and Mike Kanellis, who hasn't (yet) been released.
Let Him In
One the most shocking transformations in recent history was the makeover of Bray Wyatt, which began shortly after WrestleMania. Vignettes introduced us to the Firefly Fun House version of Wyatt, and then we met his alter-ego The Fiend, terrorizing WWE and eventually winning the Universal Championship.
Thank you, Mean Gene
One of the biggest announcers in wrestling history, Mean Gene Okerlund passed away at the age of 76. A WWE Hall of Famer (not to mention a spokesman for this very site!), Okerlund's rich, familiar voice was the soundtrack of numerous great moments in the AWA, WWF/E and WCW.
The Wednesday Night Wars begin
To counter the debut of AEW Dynamite on TNT, WWE landed a spot on the USA Network for its weekly NXT program. This meant that, for the first time since 2001, two competitive wrestling programs were on the air at the same time on cable television. Who will ultimately win the Wednesday Night Wars?
Impact changes the channel (again)
Following the acquisition of AXS TV by Impact Wrestling parent company Anthem Sports & Entertainment, it only made sense that Impact would find (yet another) home on television. The switch allowed Impact to air on Tuesday nights, one of the few nights left unopposed by competition.
Lars Sullivan push begins, ends
After months of vignettes touting the main roster debut of NXT's Lars Sullivan, the giant showed up on the Raw after WrestleMania and decimated Kurt Angle. Then a slew of personal matters and injuries stopped his momentum before anything could truly happen in WWE.
Gargano, Cole begin epic rivalry
Adam Cole and Johnny Gargano rekindled a feud that began on the independent scene years ago, and did so with style. The latest run began with Gargano besting Cole for the vacant NXT Championship at NXT TakeOver: New York. Cole then defeated Gargano in the main events of NXT TakeOver: XXV and NXT: Toronto.
NXT call-ups galore
While it's not unusual to see NXT talents come to WWE's main roster, this particular talent move was odd. Instead of waiting until after a major PPV, WWE announced that Ricochet, Aleister Black, Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa were free agents for Raw or SmackDown. Team DIY eventually returned to NXT.
WALTER wins NXT UK Championship
Austrian wrestling sensation WALTER made an immediate impact in 2019 by showing up at NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool and confronting the brand's champion Pete Dunne. A few months later, Dunne lost his NXT UK Championship to WALTER in an immediate classic at NXT TakeOver: New York.
Lana, Rusev get "divorced"
On the other end of the spectrum.... Rusev returned to WWE this fall, only without his wife Lana by his side. The following week on Raw, Rusev was having a match when Lana returned, but this time with her new love interest Bobby Lashley. Lana and Rusev signed their divorce paperwork late in 2019.
Finn Balor returns home
NXT needed to make a big splash on their first head-to-head showdown with AEW Dynamite. As a result, they signaled that Finn Balor -- who hadn't been seen on WWE programming since SummerSlam -- was coming back to the NXT brand. This move signified in many ways that NXT was part of the main roster.
MJF turns on Cody
Right from the beginning of AEW, it seemed to be a question of when -- not if -- MJF would show his true roots as a heel, instead of hanging out with the likes of Cody. At Full Gear, MJF signaled his true intentions, throwing in the towel during a match with Chris Jericho and then turning against his so-called friend.
Hart attacked at HoF
In what should have been a very touching scene, Bret "Hitman" Hart was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame for a second time, along with Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, who passed away a year earlier. With Neidhart's daughter Natalya in attendance, Hart was attacked by a random fan who ran into the ring.
"This is my Inner Circle"
One of the biggest moments on AEW Dynamite thus far happened in the program's second episode. In an incredible promo, AEW Champion Chris Jericho introduced fellow heels Sammy Guevara, Santana, Ortiz and Jake Hager as The Inner Circle. With this move, Jericho established his first faction.
WWE has held many drafts (and Superstar Shake Ups) in the past, but 2019's was historic in that put an end to the controversial "Wild Card" era where superstars were able to appear on both Raw and SmackDown. As well, draft picks were presumably made by USA and Fox executives, instead of authority figures.
Double or Nothing
All-Elite Wrestling's first pay-per-view has to be considered a massive success. With more than 11,000 fans in attendance and nearly 100,000 buys, the event concluded with Chris Jericho defeating Kenny Omega in a well-received match, only for the two to be attacked by John Moxley, who had definitively left WWE.
That's gotta be Cain!
Although the debut of SmackDown on Fox is likely to remembered for Brock Lesnar's multi-second defeat of Kofi Kingston for the WWE Championship, what happened after the bout was also significant. Cain Velasquez, who defeated Lesnar for the UFC Heavyweight Championship, had joined WWE.
Brock Lesnar wins Money in the Bank
After Sami Zayn was injured by Braun Strowman at the Money In The Bank pay-per-view, he was no longer eligible to compete in the main event MITB ladder match. In his place was Brock Lesnar, who hadn't been seen on WWE programming since WrestleMania XXXV. Lesnar won the coveted briefcase.
CM Punk joins WWE... Backstage
After exiting WWE in spectacular fashion in January 2014, CM Punk was not expected to ever return. Following an unsuccessful run in the UFC, Punk returned to WWE programming this year -- not in the ring, but as an analyst for Fox's WWE Backstage show. Will 2020 be the year Punk returns to WWE proper?
Morales passes away
WWE Hall of Famer Pedro Morales passed away at the age of 76. Back in the WWWF, Morales was the first man to hold the company's World, Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships (back when that was rare). Morales was a huge draw in the U.S. Northeast, particularly among Puerto Rican fans.
Months after he won a "Breakout" tournament in NXT, Jordan Myles took to Twitter to voice his displeasure with a WWE T-shirt design that he perceived as being racist. The competitor formerly known as ACH then launched a profanity-laden tirade against his employers, until he was eventually released.
The 24/7 era begins
Although WWE arguably already has a glut of championships, the addition of the 24/7 Championship led to some of the company's funniest moments in 2019. The spiritual successor to the WWF Hardcore Title breathed new life in the careers of R-Truth, Carmella and Drake Maverick, among others.
John Oliver vs. WWE
WWE suffered a major hit of negative publicity in March, when Last Week Tonight host John Oliver went public with some of the biggest criticisms about WWE, including its dealings with Saudi Arabia, how it classifies wrestlers as independent contracts and the general outlandishness of Vince McMahon.
NXT Survives the Series
2019 was the first year that NXT was on equal footing with Raw and SmackDown at Survivor Series, with superstars from all three brands competing in a series of inter-brand matches. At the end of the night, they won four of the evening's seven matches -- a very clear landslide for the NXT brand.
Chris Jericho added another trophy to his wall in 2019, when the former WWE Champion defeated Hangman Page to become the first All Elite Wrestling World Champion. Celebrating with "a little bit of the bubbly," Jericho helped bring the promotion international recognition when it needed that the most.
Harley Race passes away
WWE Hall of Famer Harley Race passed away at the age of 76. An eight-time National Wrestling Alliance World Champion and star in the AWA, NWA and WWF, Race is considered by many to be one of the legit toughest competitors ever to strap on a pair of boots and was universally respected by his peers.
SmackDown on Fox
Arguably WWE's biggest programming coup since the days of Saturday Night's Main Event in the 1980s, SmackDown on Fox debuted in October. This was the first time one of WWE's programs would regularly air on a television network, supported with the companion show WWE Backstage on Fox Sports.
What began as a last-minute replacement for the injured Mustafa Ali at Elimination Chamber became a huge story in 2019. Kofi Kingston replaced Ali and while he didn't win the match, the outpouring of fan support for the New Day member led to him winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania.
Women headline WrestleMania for the first time
It took 35 years to happen but finally in 2019, WWE headlined WrestleMania with a match featuring female competitors. Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey battled in the main event of WrestleMania XXXV with both Rousey's Raw Women's Championship and Flair's SmackDown Women's Championship on the line. Lynch won the bout, and for the first time in history, the show closed with The Man (actually a woman) celebrating.