With the decade coming to an end, wrestling has seen an enormous amount of changes over the course of the past ten years. While during the 2000s, the major changes in the wrestling landscape happened to become at the beginning of the decade, with WCW and ECW both closing their doors in 2001, as well as the birth of ROH and TNA in 2002; the major changes in the 2010s tended to come at the end of the decade, with NJPW and for a time ROH finding unprecedented success for promotions without major television deals in the US, culminating in the formation of All Elite Wrestling at the start of 2019.
While no major companies were created or folded in the earlier half of the 2010s, plenty of eventful matches and events did take place, setting the table for the changes in wrestling that would go on to take place later in the decade. Over the next five weeks, I’ll be looking at the 10 biggest events in wrestling over the past ten years. Obviously, this is going to be subjective and with literally thousands of options to choose from, there is going to be a lot of disagreement. When it comes to selecting the ten moments, I decided to choose events that had significant long-term impacts on the business, whether it would be the rise of a new superstar talent, the end of an era of wrestling, or something that changed the way fans viewed the product.
To start things off, let’s look back at the most memorable promo of the decade:
CM Punk’s “pipebomb” promo
The way a lot of fans viewed wrestling in 2011 is significantly different than how they view it today. While social media certainly existed, the content it contained was not as ubiquitous as it is today. In 2011, it was hard to imagine programs being launched based on social media angles or wrestlers getting into fights on Twitter. Very few people relative today understood how to use social media as a way to market themselves and the product.
I say this because in 2011, I think wrestling fans understood that there was some frustration with the product. A lot of fans for years had been clamoring online that John Cena was too dominant in WWE, that he always went over more talented performers, wasn’t a very good wrestler and held other talent down. Whether or not that was accurate or not is debatable, but what isn’t debatable is that the constant push of John Cena had created a negative atmosphere regarding WWE that the company has been unable to shed to this day.
What was different about Punk’s promo was that really for the first time, a WWE wrestler on WWE television was essentially agreeing with the fans. Punk thought that Cena (and The Rock) were pushed too much at the expense of “better” talent; in this case himself. Punk called out Vince McMahon and said that Cena just kissed his ass and that was why he had his spot, and Punk didn’t so that was where he was at. Was that really true? Probably not, but the point is that Punk said it on WWE television and there was a segment of the population that was dying to heat someone say something like that, and Punk was an effective messenger.
Punk also cleverly threw in other aspects of his promo to make fans believe that this wasn’t a scripted or pre-approved act. He mentioned Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, and also said that the company might be better off once Vince McMahon dies, but admitted that it would only fall into the hands of his “idiotic daughter and doofus son-in-law.”
Following Punk’s promo, which really was part of a storyline where Punk was challenging for the WWE Championship in a few weeks and his contract was allegedly running out so that if he won the title, he would take the title on his way out the door, he received widespread praise for his promo. Some fans thought it was a complete shoot and he was in major trouble with the company, while others celebrated that the fourth wall had been broken and someone on TV had finally told Cena and McMahon exactly what they were thinking at home.
This all led to Punk winning the title at Money in the Bank in his hometown of Chicago and “leaving” the company. The match was probably the best WWE match of the decade and certainly the best match of Cena’s career. However, the reason this moment was so important was not necessarily because it elevated Punk into being a major superstar.
Yes, the promo took Punk up a level and he would have a long title reign (although he was often overlooked as champion in favor of feuds that involved Cena) but realistically, what Punk accomplished following the promo was not that important. He would be one of the most popular wrestlers in the company for a few more years before departing in a swirl of controversy in 2014.
The value his promo had was it opened the eyes of both fans and WWE to the power of someone speaking the truth, breaking kayfabe, shooting, whatever you to call it; and using that to build storylines and wrestlers. Something that struck me about watching the promo again is that in 2019, this wouldn’t have been seen as nearly as exciting or controversial. Really, most of the language used isn’t that different than in the Kevin Owens promos cut earlier this year during his feud with Shane McMahon. It is clear that WWE (and other promotions) saw what worked in the Punk promo and have tried to copy it.
That brings me back to what it was like in 2011, before everyone under the sun had a podcast and all of wrestling seemed to unfold on Twitter. It wasn’t surprising to find out that a wrestler was dissatisfied with what was happening in WWE, but it was shocking to hear somebody say it. Sure, there were the shoot interviews where old wrestlers would talk about this and that, but that was a far cry from a major star going on WWE television and talking about how crappy everything was, and not in a kayfabe way. Today, it is almost a daily occurrence where somebody who works for WWE will fire off a Tweet acknowledging how dumb an angle is, or ask to be released from the company. Hell, WWE brought Punk back into the company so he can appear on a talk show on FS1 where he talks about how annoyed he is with the company; cutting a “pipebomb” every Tuesday night.
To that extent, the angle has been bastardize so that if a wrestler comes out on RAW and says something like “Vince McMahon is doing a terrible job running this company and I hope he dies” wouldn’t generate that much buzz because fans would see through it. However, Punk’s promo back in 2011 did tear down some barriers fans felt existed between the talent and themselves. Things such as talent dissatisfaction were kept under wraps and you almost never head about it; today it is used to launch major angles. Punk’s words completely changed the way dissatisfaction was used in wrestling and since then it has often been encouraged to use that for storytelling purposes. The push Punk gained from the promo may have fizzled out a few years later, but in other ways it changed the business forever.