Making a list of the best wrestling stories of 2019 was a challenge.
We’ve covered in detail that 2019 has been a year of train wrecks in professional wrestling. Most of them coming from the WWE track.
But there have been bright spots enough to make it all worthwhile.
Stars were made and reborn this past year. Lapsed superstars made their way back to the limelight. And Wednesday nights were made way more exciting.
With no further delay, here are the best wrestling stories of 2019.
(VERY) Honorable Mention – Kofi-Mania!
Kofi Kingston becoming the WWE Champion deserves a spot on this list. It should have been the best wrestling story of 2019.
But, as they do, WWE screwed that up.
Kingston’s rise in 2019 was a complete accident, as he replaced an injured Mustafa Ali in this year’s Elimination Chamber match.
But the momentum just wouldn’t stop, and WWE couldn’t ignore it. In the blink of an eye, Kingston went from pancake-flipping comedy act to WWE Champion. Because the fans willed it.
Of course, when SmackDown debuted on Fox, Brock Lesnar destroyed him in eight seconds. And Kingston has been an afterthought ever since. It’s like it never happened.
WWE cut this ride’s legs out from under it. But it was fun while it lasted.
10. Roman Reigns Re-Climbs The Ladder
Late in 2018, Roman Reigns left WWE television to battle leukemia.
Argue among yourselves whether it was a “work” or not. One way or another, Reigns organically regained the goodwill of the fans. Something he hasn’t had since he and the Shield were coming up the ranks in 2014.
WWE tried and tried again to get him over and nothing worked. But since his return in advance of WrestleMania 35, Reigns seems to have the fans back on his side.
And, while I don’t want to jinx it, it seems to be that WWE is letting him do it by playing to his strengths. Being a bad promo doesn’t mean a guy doesn’t have charisma. Reigns is finally getting to show what he’s got.
He isn’t in the title picture yet (let’s not make that goodwill evaporate). But his organic return to prominence is one of the best wrestling stories of 2019.
9. The Ratings Aren’t There — But The Exposure Is
There’s never been more professional wrestling on television.
Never in the history of the sport has it been so easy to get your hands on pro wrestling action.
It hasn’t exactly been a “success,” but WWE’s SmackDown being on the Fox network is the most exposure the business has had in years. Raw is still chugging along on Mondays, and the Wednesday Night Wars between NXT and AEW are in full swing.
Meanwhile, NJPW and Women Of Wrestling is on the air every Saturday. Ring Of Honor continues to roll right along. Impact Wrestling found a new home on Tuesdays.
And, thoughtless comments from grumpy old men notwithstanding, NWA Powerrr is one of the highlights of YouTube.
The ratings aren’t there, because the mainstream audience isn’t there. Pro wrestling hasn’t been mainstream hot since the Attitude Era.
But the immediate availability of whatever product you like is one of the best wrestling stories of 2019.
8. NXT Graduates
NXT isn’t just a developmental territory anymore.
To be fair, it never was. But WWE has done such a masterful job of making NXT feel like an in-house “indy” promotion that you’d never notice.
With its debut on the USA Network in September, NXT hit the big time. And in November, by a happy accident involving Saudi Arabia and WWE’s brilliant business dealings there (insert eye roll here), it became clear that the black and gold brand will stay there.
The NXT invasion didn’t amount to ratings, but it did bring some entertaining segments. And with NXT taking the bragging rights for brand supremacy at Survivor Series 2019, they won’t be looked at as the “other” brand anymore.
NXT was always legit. But now they’re perceived that way. Which makes them one of the best wrestling stories of 2019.
7. Moxley Breaks Free
Jon Moxley’s arrival at AEW Double Or Nothing was probably the least shocking surprise in the history of always.
it was exciting.
Shortly after this year’s Royal Rumble, WWE announced that Moxley (Dean Ambrose in WWE) would not re-sign with the promotion.
As soon as midnight passed on his contract, Moxley broke free. He put together his own prison break promo for Twitter at his own expense.
And ever since, he’s been a legit top guy in pro wrestling. He claimed the NJPW United States Championship and competed in the G1 Climax tournament. Now in AEW, he’s feuding with the likes of Kenny Omega, Pac, and — soon — Chris Jericho.
Moxley’s blistering appraisal of WWE creative got him headlines among the smart fans, and his self-crafted character has been enthralling the week-to-week fans.
The career Renaissance of Jon Moxley is definitely one of the best wrestling stories of 2019.
6. The Fiend Emerges
WWE hasn’t had a character that’s resonated in the way the Fiend has in a generation.
The last character to even come close might be Kane.
For years, Bray Wyatt was stuck in this weird netherworld. He’d get a reaction, and he was always played off as this ominous figure. But we had no idea what he wanted.
And neither did WWE, apparently. By the end of his “eater of worlds” phase, he was trying to gross Randy Orton out with bugs and hanging out with Matt Hardy, telling people how wonderful they were.
But with the arrival of the Fiend in the Firefly Funhouse vignettes, WWE let its creativity run rampant. Even when they screw up his matches and segments (which is often), he’s still the most engaging character on any WWE show.
We never know what he’s going to do next. And odds are, we won’t understand what he’s doing next. But anything involving the Fiend has become can’t-miss WWE television.
And that earns him a spot among the best wrestling stories of 2019.
5. The WWE Exodus (Sort Of)
It’s pretty well-documented that WWE has never had a more stacked roster.
And a lot of them want out. Pretty badly.
Sin Cara, Mike Kanellis, and Luke Harper all publicly asked for their releases and were denied. ACH (formerly Jordan Miles in NXT) and Jon Moxley broke free from WWE. And the Revival has been hesitant at best to re-sign with the wrestling juggernaut.
So wait. Shouldn’t this be a bad story? Not one lumped in with the best wrestling stories of 2019?
Quite the contrary. WWE holds most of the cards, and most of the guys asking for their releases don’t have a chance at getting them. But the fact that they can land elsewhere (and probably become bigger stars) is something we haven’t seen in almost 20 years. Since the days of WCW.
For the first time since WWE became beholden to stockholders rather than fans, the talent has the chance to write its own story.
And given the aforementioned success of Moxley, that has the potential for great, great things.
Not everybody is going to be a Moxley, obviously. Just as many are likely to fall on their faces when cut loose of the WWE machine.
But the machine is vulnerable. And on a long enough timeline, even WWE will have to adjust accordingly.
4. CM Punk Is Back! (Sort Of)
Chants of “C-M-Punk!” have been ringing out in arenas for six years.
But it wasn’t WWE that got CM Punk back in the wrestling limelight. And it wasn’t AEW either. It was Fox.
Punk is now a Fox employee as a contributor to their WWE Backstage show on FS1. He won’t be back in a wrestling ring. But, as great a wrestler as he was, I don’t think any of us really wanted to see Punk on the mat.
We wanted to hear him on the mic.
On his first full episode, he referred to a SmackDown segment as “garbage,” admitted there were few bright spots in the WWE product over the last few years, and said the company worried too much about hashtags and not enough about letting their women’s division evolve organically.
An unfettered, unplugged CM Punk. On what is ostensibly a WWE show.
How could this not be one of the best wrestling stories of 2019?
3. Chris Jericho Lays Legitimate Claim To GOAT Status
Prior to 2019, it was a foregone conclusion that Chris Jericho would be a hall-of-famer one day.
But in WWE, they always treated him like a top guy they didn’t need to put in the main event.
He would get programmed with guys WWE wanted to be top guys. But he never seemed like a top guy himself.
In AEW, he’s the franchise. Le Champion. He’s got the ball, and he’s running with it.
Week after week on AEW: Dynamite, he’s killing it in the ring and on the mic.
Jericho was always a guy we knew maybe deserved a spot on wrestling’s Mount Rushmore. After 2019, the case is becoming a lot more serious.
Definitely one of the best wrestling stories of 2019.
2. The Rise Of AEW
All Elite Wrestling isn’t perfect.
Their PPVs run way too long. Some of their top talent is ill-defined from a character standpoint. The Young Bucks don’t know how to tell stories within a match.
None of that matters. It’s big-time wrestling. On a big stage.
That isn’t WWE.
Not to say that WWE is the devil in all things. They were the only game in town for a couple decades, and that’ll make anybody complacent.
But the sheer excitement that AEW has given rise to is impossible not to get caught up in. Their weekly battles with NXT have made Wednesday night destination TV for core wrestling fans.
And, most importantly, they’ve proven there is a market for another big-league wrestling promotion.
That alone merits a spot among the best wrestling stories of 2019.
1. Women Headline WrestleMania
CM Punk is right that WWE made a mistake by turning the resurgence of women’s wrestling into a hashtag.
But that doesn’t mean that the rise of women’s wrestling isn’t a huge deal. And that huge deal was cemented this year at WrestleMania 35.
Becky Lynch, Ronda Rousey, and Charlotte Flair headlined the biggest show of the year. The match wasn’t great from a technical standpoint. Some of the wrestling was sloppy, and the finish was absolutely botched. Horribly.
But sometimes the moves on the mat don’t matter as much as the moment. The feeling. That “oh man, here it comes” excitement about the main event of a big show. That’s what’s important.
And Lynch, Rousey, and Flair all made us feel like we were watching something special. The real beginning of a women’s revolution, hashtags need not apply.
This was the best wrestling story of 2019. It was a breath of fresh air in an increasingly-stale WWE. And exactly what wrestling needs right now.
Feature image courtesy of WWE.