Alex loves writing about WWE and critiquing their major shows.
2019 was not a good year for WWE. Some fans have theorized that WWE got lazy because it didn’t have real, direct competition from another company the way it did with WCW. 2019 was also the year of AEW. Finally, a big budget company with big names and a cable TV deal. WWE clearly saw the company as a threat. So how did they respond? Instead of upping their game, they seemed to double down on things that were driving fans away.
Numerous articles could be written on the crazy goings on of WWE in the last year of the decade. But let’s focus on the shows. Honestly, a lot of them were pretty good. It was still hardly a banner year for the company—even the best of this year wouldn’t stack against recent shows such as Survivor Series 2016 or Royal Rumble 2017. But the company showed moments of brilliance this year. So here’s a ranking of the PPVs from worst to best.
This was the worst PPV of 2019. You know what really sucked? For the most part, it wasn’t really bad in an interesting way. Yeah, the previous year’s Crown Jewel was a notorious trainwreck, but it was at least a trainwreck worth talking about. Super Showdown was mostly boring. According to rumor the blistering heat left a lot of the men too tired to bring their A-game. Stuff like Ziggler/Kofi is WATCHABLE, but trust me: That match sounds better on paper than it really is.
I say the show was MOSTLY boring because… that main event. After recent showings, no one really had high expectations for Undertaker vs. Goldberg. There was like a minute where it looked like they could still go. But an early concussion from Goldberg turned this into a botch-fest. A botch-fest where it looked like either man was going to die. Undertaker looked noticeably PO’d at the end of this match. The feeling was mutual for everyone who watched.
Hell in a Cell
One could be fooled into thinking this was a good PPV… if they only watched the first three matches. This PPV came right after Raw’s big season premiere and Smackdown’s debut on Fox. Only a handful of matches were announced beforehand. And boy did this show feel cobbled together last minute. The Hell in a Cell match between Sasha and Becky was an absolute barn-burner, possibly the women's match of the year. Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns teaming up to face Luke Harper and Erik Rowan didn’t sound promising but it was a sleeper hit and a damn good match. The women’s tag match and Orton vs. Ali were good but not great. Charlotte won a record-setting women’s title in a surprisingly dull match… only to lose the title back to Bayley days later.
What really sinks this show like a stone is the main event. Actually, most of the match was fine… before THAT ending. WWE was caught between a rock and a hard place: The Fiend was challenging pretty early for the title. But nerfing such a great character would have been horrendous. Solution? Have no finish! Fans were nuclear when a Hell in a Cell match – a match with a reputation for brutality – ended in DQ. It was later retconned to be ref stoppage. But it was still baffling. Not to mention this is the second year in a row the match that used to be THE feud-ender ended inconclusively. This match and Taker/Goldberg are duking it out for worst match of the year. And that’s a tough one: Taker/Goldberg was bad because of the numerous botches while Fiend/Rollins was enraging.
December PPVs have a bad reputation. People in and out of wrestling are occupied with the holidays. In WWE, December is between Survivor Series and Royal Rumble. While TLC usually delivers because of fun gimmick matches, this year it wasn’t meant to be. Few of the matches had build, and most were announced shortly before the PPV. Despite having at least one active champion, there were no world title matches on the card. Nor were any singles titles on the line.
The biggest waste of the evening was pointless match between the Viking Raiders and The O.C. that ended in a double countout. (The match also felt like it was just a KFC commercial.) Rusev vs. Lashley wasn’t the worst, but it was in the service of one of the worst feuds of the year. Miz vs. Bray Wyatt (a non-title match) was obviously just a pit stop between Fiend and Bryan. Corbin/Reigns wasn’t a mat classic but it was close to good – the kind of match one would forgive on a better show. Murphy/Black was really good but lacked drama because there was no feud. New Day vs. Revival was the only major highlight – and it was the curtain jerker.
Becky and Charlotte vs. the Kabuki Warriors had the potential to be a banger. Yeah, it was cool to see a women’s match headline a PPV. Yeah it was nice that the Kabuki Warriors got a big win. But Kairi Sane suffered an injury early on but kept going. Seeing Kairi muscle through botches when she obviously wasn’t in good shape made this one hard to watch. Even without that misfortune, the match kind of left me wondering what the point was. If there was one good thing about this show, it harkened back to the three hour days – so at least it was a concise bad show.
Clash of Champions
After WWE had a surprisingly good summer with PPVs that overdelivered or at least… delivered, the company had a Clash of Champions that sure… happened. Not one match cracked the four-star mark and only a handful made it to three stars. The best match of the evening was a wild brawl between Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks that ENDED IN DQ. The two world title matches were fine but nothing to write home about as the once exciting Braun Strowman continued his slippery slope into just another guy on the roster. Not a terrible PPV, but it’s one that viewers will forget 5 minutes after watching it.
It… didn’t suck. It didn’t suck! A Saudi Arabia show wasn’t a dumpster fire! But does that make it any good? Not really. In fact, this is the pivot point from decent shows to the weaker ones. The opening bout between Brock Lesnar and Cain Valezquez was obviously done in the style of a UFC fight. It was very important for Lesnar to earn his win back... in a worked match. Any potential drama was gone because – unlike WWE – UFC is a shoot. I’m not normally this pointed, but if I wanted to watch UFC, I’d watch UFC. Tyson Fury vs. Braun Strowman was okay but nothing to really write home about.
WWE finally wised up and made the old fogies team leaders instead of wrestling. And honestly with a large crop of current talent, Team Hogan vs. Team Flair was pretty good. WWE could finally pat themselves on the back for the legit accomplishment of having a women’s match in Saudi Arabia. Lacey Evans vs. Natalya had been done to death by this point so it’s hard to escape the impression that they were being used as pawn sacrifices to see if the Saudi crowd would boo them out of the building. I mean, if they put Charlotte up there, they couldn’t have HER getting booed. Lastly, in a rare moment of good booking at a Saudi show, The Fiend dethroned Seth Rollins for the Universal Title. It seemed like WWE booked themselves into a corner with this one, but for once did the right thing by putting the strap on the best thing in WWE. Oh, and WWE wrestlers were detained in Saudi Arabia because every one of these shows needs SOME kind of controversy!
WWE capped off a surprisingly decent summer with an okay Summerslam. Most matches hovered around the good but not great mark. Sadly, a lot of matches that sounded good on paper were shockingly underwhelming. Bayley vs. Ember – disappointing. Kofi vs. Orton - ending in a disappointing draw. Styles vs. Ricochet – How this feud ended up so dull is baffling. It’s like giving away their first matches on TV was a bad idea or something. Brock Lesnar surprisingly put on a good match with Rollins. Still not as good as when he gave a frig, but better than his usual efforts. But star ratings don’t mean everything. The highlight of the evening was the Fiend making his proper debut, looking like an unstoppable killer against Finn Balor. Summerslam has hovered around the good but missing a certain spark level for a while now and this year felt no different.
It feels like Wrestlemania hasn’t truly excelled since 31 and this was another show of peaks and valleys. The peak was Kofi vs. Bryan. The plucky underdog and fan favorite finally won the WWE Championship in an absolute nail biter. Besides being the feel-good moment of the year, it was quite possibly the best WWE match of the year. The show went downhill after that. In the battle of who’d get injured first, Joe squashed Mysterio. Kurt Angle was vocally opposed to facing Baron Corbin in an underwhelming retirement match. Balor vs. Lashley was underwhelming and fans didn’t exactly sink their teeth into Styles vs. Orton thanks to bad lighting. Miz/Shane was an exciting brawl, but it was weird that Miz never got his revenge on Shane. Reigns and McIntyre did better at Money in the Bank. Lesnar vs. Rollins also felt as good as it was gonna get but they did manage to improve on the formula for Summersalm. Batista vs. HHH was uniquely brutal but kinda slow-paced.
The biggest news of the night was that for the first time, a women’s championship headlined Mania. And… Look, the company’s heart was in the right place. After several underwhelming matches in a row, the crowd just wasn’t into it. There was just a certain spark missing. The company did pick three great women for the job. Becky winning the Raw and Smackdown Championships was a feel-good moment, but it was hampered by a botched ending.
It’s the show everyone just knew was going to suck and… it didn’t suck. It didn’t exactly give Wrestlemania X-Seven competition in terms of classic shows. But considering most fans were expecting another Battleground 2013, this show overdelivered. It felt like the wrestlers heard the fans making fun of this show before it even happened and decided to prove them wrong. The WWE Championship, US Championship and Smackdown Tag Team Championship match were all superb. New Day vs. Zayn and Owens was good and McIntyre vs. Reigns was a wild brawl. Pre-King Baron Corbin challenging for the Universal title in the closing match was no one’s dream match. However, Corbin calling in Lacey Evans to guest referee was creative. Admittedly it was a novel approach that propped up what could have been a disappointing main event. Speaking of Evans, she brought one of the low-lights. Fans were questioning why this woman was brought up from NXT AND featured in high profile matches. Lacey botched her way through a match with Becky Lynch, who had to call out moves and was visibly frustrated.
Talk about another show that overachieved. Who would have guessed that in 2019 the Undertaker would deliver? Granted, there was one noticeable botch, but Taker recovered. And surprisingly Taker/Reigns vs. Shane/McIntyre was the match of the night. The rest of the show was surprisingly good. Stuff like Cesaro vs. Black and AJ vs. Ricochet just missed the mark of being truly great, but were both good matches. There were only a handful of disappointments. KO needlessly squashing Ziggler was – as Egon Spengler would say – short but pointless. Kofi vs. Joe sounds like a slam dunk, but it was disappointingly average. The main event was a strange affair. Becky Lynch and Seth Rollins defended their gold against Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans. The team of Corbin and Evans just made fans scratch their heads and ask “These two? In a main event? Really?” But it was an entertaining match – not a mat classic but entertaining. And to the delight of nobody, Brock Lesnar cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase.
Like last year, it was hard to be objective with this show because I was in attendance. I watched it on the Network, and yes it still held up… mostly. I hate to say this considering how progressive WWE is getting with women, but the ladies did not shine this evening. Asuka vs. Mandy felt like a so-so TV match. Banks/Bayley vs. Jax/Tamina was replete with botches I could see from my nosebleed seats. Charlotte and Becky didn’t have one of their better outings, but because it was buildup to Wrestlemania, it was a necessary evil.
That’s kind of how some of this show felt – a lot of necessary evil on the buildup to Mania. That begot the low light of the evening as Kofi faced the Bar in a pointless handicap match. But there was still more good than bad. WWE was wise to savor Kofi vs. Bryan for Mania and Bryan defended against Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali got that WWE Championship match in a great bout. Shane/Miz vs. the Usos may have been a repeat from the previous month but the added drama of Shane turning on Miz in his hometown made it more engaging. The US Title and Smackdown Tag Title Matches were wild multi-man affairs that excited the audience. Roman Reigns made his dramatic return from leukemia and Dean Ambrose made his dramatic exit for AEW in the Shield’s last PPV match. The baddies may have just been an ad hoc team to be cannon fodder for the Shield, but the main event tore down the house.
The Royal Rumble is usually one of the more reliable PPVs of the year. This year, definitely in the good but not great category. The two women’s title matches were the best matches on the card. Lesnar surprisingly delivered against Finn Balor. This began a year for Lesnar where he… I don’t wanna say he was good. Let’s settle on “not the drizzling (you know what).” The women’s Rumble match was a marked improvement over the previous year’s because the women had acclimated to the match type.
The men’s Rumble was serviceable – not nearly as good as 2016 or 2001, but still better than 1999. The biggest anomaly of the evening was Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles. You had two of the most talented men in WWE, two men who tore down the house a month prior at TLC. Here, it felt like aliens from Space Jam sucked out their talent. Yeah, they had the unenviable task of following the women’s Rumble match. Yeah, they had given away a few matches on TV. And there was no stipulation to spice things up. But how often do wrestlers that talented have the worst match on the card?
Hey, Smackdown actually got to headline a PPV! And wouldn’t you know, the WWE Championship Elimination Chamber match was one of the best matches of the year. After Mustafa Ali suffered injury, WWE made one of the best audibles of the year and began Kofi-mania. Kofi felt like such a good dark horse candidate just to be in the Elimination Chamber but fans got behind the lovable underdog. And for once, WWE took notice. This match was the launching point (okay, after a gauntlet match) and with 5 other top talents, it was a barn burner. The other EC match saw Sasha Banks and Bayley win the inaugural women’s tag titles. (Yes, I’m aware there were women’s tag titles in the 80’s. Go soak your head, nit pickers.) The match wasn’t AS good, but it was still a wild ride.
The rest of this show… kinda just happened. The only stinker was Braun Strowman getting nerfed to Baron Corbin. Ruby Riott was cannon fodder for Ronda Rousey on the road to Ronda’s Mania match with Becky and Charlotte. The Intercontinental Title Match was acceptable and the tag match was pretty good. Some averageness sandwiched between two great chamber matches adds up to one of the better PPVs of the year.
Since WWE diluted the brand warfare concept with the absurd wild card rule, and because NXT made the jump to a network, mixing in the NXT brand was a smart move. (It’s also one of those situations where the question wasn’t if, but when.) The men’s Survivor Series match was good. Yeah, it kind of stunk that WALTER and Matt Riddle were nerfed but Keith Lee looked like a million bucks even in defeat to Roman Reigns. The NXT title match between Pete Dunne and Adam Cole was another barn burner. As was the triple threat between AJ, Shinsuke and Roderick.
Daniel Bryan vs. the Fiend was possibly the Fiend’s best match so far. Sadly, despite so many good matches, the show petered out by the end. Rey Mysterio vs. Brock Lesnar was the usual Lesnar squash fest, but Mysterio and son made it a little more entertaining than usual. With so many big matches on the card, it was nice of WWE to put the women’s triple threat on last. But it just didn’t click. I watched this show as it happened and in the main event, I waited for some big moment – like Ronda Rousey returning. But it didn’t happen and the main event just felt like a mid-card IC title match.
Money in the Bank
Word on the street was with AEW making its debut, Stephanie McMahon gave the wrestlers a pep-talk to do a good job. And they did… for the most part. The bad news first: Samoa Joe and Rey Mysterio had a short/botchy affair for the US title. Brock Lesnar absconding with the Money in the Bank briefcase felt like the most backwards response to AEW one could imagine. Though admittedly boombox Brock was entertaining. (Gotta find those silver linings where we can.)
Even if Lesnar’s win was undesired, the company would have to go out of its way to make the annual Money in the Bank matches bad. And they were barn burners as usual. Kofi Kingston defended his WWE Championship against Kevin Owens in his best match as champion. Seth Rollins defended the Universal title against AJ Styles in one of the best WWE matches of the year. One of WWE’s problems is how stringent everything has felt. Money in the Bank showed signs of the kind of wild, less predictable booking WWE needs to embrace. Reigns vs. Elias was a wild, Attitude Era-style brawl.
The women’s title saga was one of the best examples of single-night storytelling WWE has done in a while. Becky Lynch defended both women’s (singles) titles back-to-back. She won against Lacey who screwed Becky over so Charlotte could win. Then – shortly after winning the briefcase – Bayley swooped in and won the women’s title. Even if the three matches weren’t great, the culmination of all three in a row felt brilliant. It was like Survivor Series ’98 in one segment.
Money in the Bank showed moments of brilliance, but sadly the boneheaded decisions were closer to the template of the year.