Alex loves writing about WWE and critiquing their major shows.
2018 was quite a year for WWE—for both good and bad. But this article is focusing on PPVs, and this was a year for big shakeups in that department too. For one, WWE ended the tradition of each brand having their own PPV. This was a move I did not agree with. Raw and Smackdown having their own shows was good because it gave them wiggle room to let their stars shine. With dual-branded shows, the mid-carders had to jockey for position. Shows bloated up to four hours, which may also be why WWE had to deal with rowdier crowds than ever. Plus the booking staff hammered in the message that Smackdown was a B-show. Very few Smackdown matches headlined any PPVs, even with an absentee Universal Champion. And that also meant few shows were headlined by World or Universal Title matches. Not a good look for what are supposed to be top titles. I just wanted to address that elephant in the room so I don’t have to repeat these gripes every time they come up.
There was a lot of good and a lot of bad. And here’s a ranking of every show from best to worst.
I was debating if I really wanted to pick this as the best PPV of 2018. I mean, am I really picking it just for the sake of being WWE’s first women’s PPV? I’m sorry to say the real reason I picked this may be worse. Nearly every other PPV this year disappointed me in some way. By the time this show was over, it was the most satisfied I felt after any WWE show all year. Fans described this show as the women wrestling like they had something to prove. Even TV-quality matches like the six-woman tag and the battle royale were more entertaining than they had the right to be.
Not to mention, this show provided the best main roster match all year. Full stop. Becky-Charlotte had a war. It wasn’t just a spot-fest, these two told a story of two women trying to destroy each other. And the fact, that the best WWE match of the year was a women’s match speaks volumes. One of the few drawbacks of this show was the main event wasn’t up to that level. Giving credit where it’s due, Ronda-Nikki was a fine match. But following up the best women’s match in WWE history with Ronda-Nikki felt like a step down. Still, if some averageness and a main event that wasn’t on par with a gift-from-god match are the worst things I can say, Evolution was in good shape.
Survivor Series has felt like the redheaded stepchild of the big four, but since 2016, it’s managed to hover towards the top of the best WWE shows of each year. Much like the previous year, this show exceeded more for its singles matches. If Becky-Charlotte was the best match of the year, Daniel Bryan-Brock Lesnar was a close second. This was storytelling in a way WWE needs to embrace more often. After getting mauled, Daniel Bryan just getting in a lick of offense was more satisfying than some crazy spots I’ve seen. Lesnar brought his A-game for his annual good match and I found it fair that he got the duke. HBO produced a documentary about Andre the Giant and discussed how it was understood that Andre always won. But he sold like a champ, so hurting him looked like a victory. That’s how Daniel looked in this match.
Charlotte/Ronda was amazing too. I normally consider it a knock when a big match ends in DQ. But Charlotte annihilating Ronda was the type of match where that was a necessary evil. Between Bryan/Lesnar and Charlotte/Rousey, this was a rare exception where a WWE show built to a crescendo and ended on a high note. Additionally, Nakamura/Rollins and the cruiserweight title match were really good. So why didn’t this get top honors?
For one, The Bar vs. AOP devolved into a comedy match. What should have been a fine match lacked heat because of the heel-heel dynamic. But Drake Maverick’s “accident” made this the number one problem with this show. The men’s survivor series match was really good, but the lionization of Shane McMahon and the burial of Samoa Joe brought it down several pegs. And was it really necessary for Raw to win a clean sweep? (Minus the pre-show) What was accomplished?
Hell in a Cell
If you read my review of this edition of Hell in a Cell, you might remember this was a rare instance where every match—even the pre-show—scored 3 stars. Despite what Dave Meltzer may think, star ratings aren’t everything. This show started with a bang with Randy Orton mauling Jeff Hardy in one of the most unique Cell matches I’ve ever seen. They kept within a PG-rating and still made me squirm more than most blade jobs I’ve ever seen. Becky won the Women’s Title in a good match. Ziggler and McIntyre beat the Shield in a match of the year candidate. Then Joe and AJ warred over the WWE Championship.
And… that’s where the show kinda peaked. Everything else was fine, but like too many shows this year, everything petered out toward the end. The Hell in a Cell match between Roman and Braun was the brawl we were expecting marred by the finish. Halfway through, the Shield; McIntyre and Ziggler interfered. They brawled until Lesnar came in. At the time, it was maligned. Lesnar’s return begot another Universal Title run, but it also begot that great Survivor Series match. So take the good with the bad. I could be more forgiving of Lesnar’s return if the match ended with a victory. Several columnists pointed out how easy it would have been for an unconscious Roman tumble onto Braun. Warts and all, this was a satisfying show.
Not gonna lie: Hell in a Cell and TLC were neck and neck in my ratings. In the end, I gave Cell the edge because TLC was flabby in parts, especially the first half. The Mixed Match Challenge Opener left me scratching my head as to why it was on the main card. The following match was a triple threat tag for the Smackdown Titles. Nothing new, but everything right. Mysterio/Orton, Natalya/Riott and McIntyre/Balor all fell under the “good but not great” banner. Still, there was a lot good about this show. Strowman/Corbin wasn’t even a real match, but it was still satisfying. Ronda Rousey and Nia Jax had a surprisingly good match. Daniel Bryan-AJ Styles was excellent. Ambrose-Rollins wasn’t the war we expected, but it was good enough it didn’t deserve those “boring” chants. It was refreshing to see a Smackdown match headline a show, not to mention a women’s match. Asuka, Becky Lynch and Charotte put on an absolute barn-burner. Though there were a few bumps that looked brutal. Asuka FINALLY won the women’s championship. Setting up the bad blood between Charlotte and Becky with Ronda was a smart move. Maybe a few missteps, but overall one of the better WWE shows of the year.
In 2014 and 2015, the Rumble PPV felt cursed. Over the last few years, the event has been on the upswing again. Maybe this show wasn’t as good as ’16 and ’17. But this Royal Rumble was still a solid show. This was the first year WWE experimented with a men’s and women’s Royal Rumble. The first women’s Royal Rumble was entertaining. Okay, it was pretty much a glorified role call of famous ladies from the past and present, but it was fun. Even if the men’s Rumble match was better, I think it was wise for WWE to have the women’s rumble go on last because it sold the importance. More importantly, we got Ronda Rousey’s debut. The men’s Rumble was up there with ’92 or ’01 as one of the best ever. It was a nail-biter that combined comedy segments with psychology. Alas, despite two great rumble matches taking up half the show, there was a lot of averageness elsewhere. The two world title matches were fine. The handicap match for AJ’s WWE title was the best of the other matches but felt more like a TV matches. The Universal title match was fun but nothing mindblowing. Though it will be remembered for Strowman taking a legit blow from Lesnar. The Smackdown tag match was marred by an awkward ending. Meanwhile the Raw tag title match was the last gasp of two teams that had wrestled too many times by that point. Still, those two Rumble matches made up a large part of the show and the Rumble did nothing horrendously wrong.
Money in the Bank
Ever since the match was given its own PPV, I don’t think any Money in the Bank has been all bad. But that doesn’t mean every show has been perfect. There was a lot to like about this show. Money in the Bank lived up to its name with both eponymous matches delivering. The women’s Money in the Bank was an improvement over last year’s practice swing. The men’s told a unique story with Braun playing a one-man wrecking crew on his opponents. Ronda Rousey proved she could carry a match by herself. Nakamura and Styles finally delivered in a dramatic Last Man Standing Match. I remember being on the edge of my seat, mostly because I was worried it would end in another wall-banger of a draw. Unfortunately, Money in the Bank was a show of peaks and valleys. Before his firing, Big Cass jobbed to Daniel Bryan in a match that could best be described as serviceable. Also forgettable was Roman toppling Jinder in the dream match of nobody. Bobby Lashley squashed Sami Zayn in a forgettable match. The low light of the show was Asuka falling for a blatant trap from James Ellsworth. That’s a decision hindsight does not defend.
Full disclosure, I saw this show live. But I can still remain objective. Remember how I said Evolution excelled because of lack of bad? I feel like the same could be said for this show. The weak link was the women’s tag match which just felt like a vanilla Smackdown match. The non-finish of Uso’s/New Day was also a disappointment. But it was a necessary evil towards making The Bludgeon Brothers look like killers. Even if this show was mostly good, there was very little exceptional about it. There was a vibe of wanting to put on good matches but not wanting to give away the A-material before Mania. From that perspective, mission accomplished. The main event was a classic example of how cramming six people into one match can make it hard to tell a good story, but they still bring chaotic action. And yes, it was a blast to see live. This was not only the final Smackdown PPV, but the last brand exclusive PPV. Having made it clear I don’t agree with the decision, I think this was a good show to go out on.
WWE’s biggest show of the year has been divisive in the last few years. 31 set a high bar and the shows have been hit and miss since then. There were a lot of big things going into the show. McMahon finally got his wish of Reigns-Lesnar. The match was acceptable with the visual of bloody Roman. For better or worse, Lesnar retaining was a surprise. There was also the big return of Daniel Bryan in a tag match. Ronda Rousey made a huge splash in her debut match – a mixed tag where she teamed with Angle to face Triple H and Stephanie. Charlotte conquered Asuka’s undefeated streak in a great match. Plus Seth Rollins won the IC title in a wild triple threat. Taker squashing Cena and Braun Strowman winning the tag titles with a 10-year-old weren’t exactly mat classics. But they were fun. There was a lot to like about this show, but it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Like a lot of shows, Wrestlemania was extremely front-heavy. AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura surprisingly underperformed. I mean the match was good – better than average. But this didn’t feel like their A-game. The US title and Smackdown tag matches were relatively forgettable. And this show was LONG. I try to avoid talking about personal experiences, but I watched this with a friend who nodded off during the show.
Summerslam felt like Wrestlemania – a decent show that was a little hit and miss. Though the biggest party of the summer didn’t quite have the peeks that Mania had. First of all, this show was overloaded with squashes. There were not one, not two, but THREE sub-five minute matches. The best of these was Ronda Rousey plowing through Alexa Bliss to win her first women’s title. Strowman needlessly squashed Owens. Balor crushed Corbin, but it was cool to see the Demon again. Highlights included Rollins toppling Ziggler for the IC title (in what felt like their series of infinity). Charlotte won the women’s title, which ignited the fa – I mean heel turn that made Becky Lynch the company MVP. The Smackdown tag and WWE title matches were great matches marred by DQ finishes. Joe suckering AJ into losing his temper made sense but twice in one night was annoying. We also saw what we thought was the final chapter of Lesnar-Reigns. And it felt like a Raw match. Summerslam was fine to watch, but I don’t know if I’d watch it again on purpose.
This is a rare show that seems to deliver all three flavors: Good, bad and okay. AJ-Joe, The Cruiserweight Title and the Shield Match were all excellent, definitely raising the grade of this show. Everything else was take it or leave it. The two openers were fine, but we’ve seen better from New Day-Bar and especially Becky-Charlotte. Cena’s match was remembered for all the wrong reasons – Cena’s dad hair and the bizarre karate chop ending. Daniel Bryan and Miz had one of the top feuds of the year, but Daniel Bryan finally getting his win over Miz ended in less than 3 minutes. It’s hard to tell if that was a botch or it was planned, but it happened. And it stunk. The last hour—THE LAST HOUR—was dedicated to Triple H vs. Undertaker. This match may not have been as bad as fans may have said, but it was sloppy, botchy, and both men showed their age.
The final Raw PPV didn’t exactly go out on a high note. The first women’s Elimination Chamber match was a good opener. The men’s Chamber match was pretty good too. Though it was kind of annoying seeing Strowman play MVP of the match only to come up short. It was the beginning of WWE’s always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride treatment of Braun. Sadly, in between two really good Chamber watches was what felt like an episode of Raw. You’d think the Ronda Rousey contract signing would be most like an episode of Raw. But besides the chamber matches, it was the best part.
Greatest Royal Rumble
It’s hard to believe that between WWE’s two ventures to Saudi Arabia, this was the “good” show. The opening match between Triple H and Cena was fine. The Cruiserweight title was one of the best of the night. Then everything started going downhill. The second half of the show was better. The match of the night was a solid four-way ladder match. Nakamura/Styles had the chance to be good, but was the beginning of lame finishes. Lesnar-Reigns was fine, but ran like two guys playing Here Comes the Pain gave themselves infinite finishers. The so-called Greatest Royal Rumble was pretty exciting as far as Rumbles go but will forever be remembered for Titus O’Neil’s trip. Though Daniel Bryan going the distance was pretty cool too. There was a vibe that WWE wasn’t going to take too many risks. Greatest Royal Rumble was caught between a major show and a taped house show. It was fun to watch at the time, but I can’t see myself re-watching it on purpose.
The gulf between this show and the bottom two is surprisingly wide. Alas, this show isn’t much of a prize either. The first half of this show was a joke. B-Team vs. Wyatt/Hardy and Corbin vs. Balor were both forgettable. Nakamura won the US Title from Jeff Hardy in a 6 second squash. After Asuka was made to look like a chump at Money in the Bank, WWE decided to up the ante. The first women’s Royal Rumble winner lost a comedy match where James Ellsworth fell out of his cage and they couldn’t even hide his harness. It was a strong contender for worst WWE match of the year. But putting Ellsworth in a cage was the one thing they got right. Team Hell No reuniting to face The Bludgeon Brothers was treated with a lot of hype but fell apart. The show wasn’t all bad. But the good wasn’t much to sing home about. Rusev-Styles was good but not great. (Though it was nice to see Rusev in the world title picture.) Lashley-Reigns was one of the better matches of the night but nothing was accomplished. Rollins-Ziggler had the chance to be great, but it was marred by a disrespectful crowd. They chanted a Rumble countdown every minute because… that’s a countdown.
What went wrong? I think a shorter answer would be what went right? This show started with a bang. Rollins vs. Miz has already gone down as one of the best main roster matches of the year. And sadly this show has gone downhill from there. Backlash was the first show to be dual-branded and this did not make the case for it. There’s a Japanese expression: “If you chase two rabbits you won’t catch either.” Backlash happened so soon after Greatest Royal Rumble that WWE just didn’t have the time to properly book another major show. So most matches had no drama behind them. Matches like Strowman/Lashley against Zayn/Owens felt like the definition of filler. It was already a troubling sign when Nakamura/Styles wouldn’t headline despite an MIA Universal Champion. But the wound was salted when the (admittedly decent) Nakamura/Styles ended in a double nut kick.
The fans dumped all over Reigns/Joe. Kevin Dunn’s direction came into question when he inexplicably cut to a shot of fans exiting in droves. Whether or not Joe and Reigns deserved such treatment, can you blame the fans for being upset? They sat through a slog of a show. (This was hard enough to watch on TV.) The headlining match between Joe and Roman was a completely pointless grudge match. For crying out loud, the video package focused entirely on Reigns’s battle with Lesnar. Other than some random promo, there was no reason for these two to be fighting.
I hoped nothing would get worse than Backlash. Backlash spent half the year as the go-to example of a bad show. But somehow, they did it. Where do I even begin? I won’t delve too deep into the controversy over performing a show in Saudi Arabia. However, it created a lot of bad blood even before showtime. Several fans boycotted this show as did John Cena and Daniel Bryan. They felt like the lucky ones. Crown Jewel was built on the World Cup… Todeterminethebestintheworld. (Fun fact, with the right kind of ears you could actually hear Vince McMahon barking to include that phrase in the commentators’ head sets every time they mentioned World Cup.)
Fans rightfully criticized this tournament for being dominated by American wrestlers. Never mind that Drew McIntyre, Rusev, Shinsuke Nakamura and Andrade “Cien” Almas are all on the main roster. (Though the inclusion of Mysterio and Lashley assured there were at least two people of color.) Most tournament matches were acceptable. Ziggler/Angle was hardly the dream match we expected. My eyebrow was raised when Miz and Ziggler made it to the finals, despite both being heels. Then I saw the solution when Shane McMahon usurped the tournament. I have always liked Shane, but he finally succumbed to that McMahon hubris. (Adding salt to the wound: The two finalists were Clevelanders and they STILL choked!) Even though most matches were fine, this ending cast a pal all over the whole tournament. More so!
Joe/Styles was serviceable, but it was obvious they didn’t bring their A-game. Lesnar re-gaining the Universal Title was bad enough, but fan favorite Braun Strowman was pointlessly squashed in the process. Lastly, there was the final match between DX and the Brothers of Destruction. Shawn Michaels’s return to the ring was tainted not only by the show’s controversy but also this botchy fiasco. Kane lost his mask and Shawn nearly killed himself with a moonsault. Triple H also tore his tricep, and giving credit where it’s due: I’m not questioning the man’s toughness. Was there ANYTHING good about this show? Well, they SOMEHOW got Rene Young on commentary. That’s an accomplishment, but if that’s the nicest thing I can say about this mess, skip it.