The 10 Biggest WWE Moments In 2018
From the development of new heels to the continuing growth of the women's division, the WWE didn't have to go far to find drama in 2018. A lot of it was simple follow-through: narrative threads begun in 2016 and 2017 that finally paid off in 2018.
But the most memorable moments this year occurred by chance, and in one distance, by extraordinarily bad luck.
Because it doesn't matter that the matches are scripted, performers getting hurt or shelved is an unfortunate, accepted part of doing business. It's on the company to react, improvise, and recover well from these random acts of fate, and find the silver lining in misfortune.
Here are the 10 biggest WWE moments of 2018.
10. Roman Reigns makes a tragic announcement
Let's start with the real-life moment, which deserves to stand apart from the other, more kayfabe entries in this gallery.
It's never a good sign when a wrestler heads to the ring wearing street clothes. And when Roman Reigns headed down to the ring on the October 22 episode of Raw, he dropped some devastating news on live television; he was a leukemia survivor, and the cancer had returned. Reigns promised to fight it and return to competition, and then laid the Universal Championship down in the ring.
The fans, even the ones who were booing mere minutes ago, cheered him and chanted, "Thank you Roman," as he walked away. It was a stark reminder of the man, Joe Anoa'i, behind the divisive character. Sometimes, it takes a tragedy to make people appreciate what they once had.
9. The Ultimate Deletion
When Matt Hardy returned to WWE with his "Broken" persona, fans hoped for a gonzo, short film on the level of The Final Deletion, with all its DIY charm in tact. And on the March 19 episode of Raw, WWE took a chance. The company gave Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy, Bray Wyatt, and Senor Benjamin the final 15 minutes of the show to broadcast "The Ultimate Deletion": the type of weird, wonderful entertainment that would only be possible in professional wrestling.
WWE, ever the cautious corporation, distanced themselves from the segment before it aired. Lead commentator Michael Cole stated, "I'm sorry for what you're about to watch." As it turned out, the company had no reason to worry.
8. Daniel Bryan becomes a "new" man
When Daniel Bryan returned to in-ring competition, his skills were still sharp but his character was a little stale. He could no longer play the anti-Authority underdog, and thus, was the sort of inoffensive, milquetoast babyface who was loved, but not enough to make a great WWE Champion.
So WWE made the perfect call; they turned him heel on the November 13 episode of Smackdown, and he gave AJ Styles a low blow to win the WWE Championship. A month and a half later, the metamorphosis, from hero wrestler to sanctimonious, left-wing elitist, is jarring. The boos are constant, and even the "Yes!" chants are a fraction of what they once were.
7. Dean Ambrose turns heel
On the same night that Roman Reigns announced he had leukemia and posed with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins on the ramp, in a show of off-script, brotherly solidarity, Ambrose turned on Rollins. He mounted and pounded his former best friend while Michael Cole yelled into his headset, "What the hell? Are you kidding me? Not tonight! Not on this night!"
It was the real-life-meets-fiction sort of narrative that WWE is famous for. Tasteless, for sure, but also a brilliant bit of booking. If there was a way to make the audience hate Dean Ambrose, this was surely it.
6. Becky Lynch turns heel
Becky spent the better part of three years putting up with Charlotte Flair's meddling, infighting, and backstabbing. And finally, she had all she could take.
After her Summerslam title match against Charlotte and Carmella (which Charlotte, who won the match, had inserted herself into at the last minute), Becky leveled her fellow Horsewoman with a haymaker, and then continued to punish her outside the ring.
WWE initially sold this as a heel turn, but it was clear the audience wasn't buying it. And pretty immediately, Lynch became the anti-hero badass we know and love today.
5. Shinsuke Nakamura low blows AJ Styles
After lots of buildup, the title match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestlemania 34 was just that: a match, which failed to live up to its lofty expectations. It's what came afterwards that became memorable.
Nakamura presented the title to Styles on bended knee, and then low blowed him; between Nakamura and Bryan, Aj Styles' family jewels have had a rough year.
Nakamura and Styles would later have a phenomenal Last Man Standing match at the Money in the Bank PPV; they now had the face-meets-heel chemistry necessary for a great match. And Nakamura could finally put his lewd, spastic movements to great use, and he became the subversive, underhanded heel he was always meant to be.
4. Ronda Rousey lives up to the hype
Ronda Rousey came to WWE with two embarrassing back-to-back UFC losses. This was no longer the invincible, undefeated juggernaut who had crashed the ring at Wrestlemania 31. And prior to her competitive debut at Wrestlemania 34, fans wondered if she could perform at an acceptable level, especially with so little pro wrestling experience.
Not only did Rousey exceed expectations, but her match turned out to be the best match on the entire card. Granted it was a tag match, she had Kurt Angle, Triple H, and Stephanie McMahon all helping her out. Rousey held her own, even in a handful of hot spots of against Triple H. Rousey had the sort of timing and ring psychology that takes some performers years to master.
3. Daniel Bryan returns to in-ring competition
It was never even supposed to be possible. After years of wrestling a style that could be best described as hedonistic, Daniel Bryan was forced to retire from professional wrestling in 2016, due to concussions, brain lesions, and seizures.
But through a combination of oxygen therapy and good old-fashioned time to heal, Bryan returned to in-ring competition at Wrestlemania 34, tagging with Shane McMahon to face Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. It wasn't a particularly memorable match; Bryan sat out the first half of it. But considering that mere months ago, a return seemed impossible, this was both incredible and inspirational to witness.
2. The inaugural women's Royal Rumble
The past couple of years have been filled with "firsts" for the WWE women. But there was something particularly special about the first women's Royal Rumble match. One, it guaranteed the winner a high-profile women's match at Wrestlemania. And two, the women's roster was finally big enough and uniformly talented enough to even have a 30-woman Royal Rumble.
The booking of the match was phenomenal and did a great job of celebrating the past (Alundra Blayze, Lita, Trish Stratus), acknowledging the present (Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch), and looking towards the future (Ember Moon, Kairi Sane). The right woman won; Asuka would go on to have a classic match against Charlotte Flair at Wrestlemania 34.
And Ronda Rousey's show-closing appearance was the perfect pro wrestling surprise; the image of her pointing at the Wrestlemania sign, wearing the late Roddy Piper's leather jacket, has become iconic.
1. Becky Lynch gets bloody
The most memorable moment of 2018 was a complete accident. In the show-closing segment on the November 12 episode of Raw, Becky Lynch and Smackdown crew were supposed to "invade the red brand" and lay a beatdown on the Raw women to promote the upcoming brand vs. brand Survivor Series PPV.
This all happened as intended. What wasn't supposed to was a reckless punch by Nia Jax, which broke Becky's face and left her with a concussion.
Intentional bleeding is banned in WWE. And Becky had a rare moment to display her toughness on a PG show. After recovering her wits, Becky beat Rousey with a chair, and then flaunted through the audience as the blood continued to stream out of her face.
It was comparable to other iconic "crimson mask" moments, like Bret Hart's bleeding at Wrestlemania VIII, and Steve Austin's bleeding at Wrestlemania 13. Becky is currently the hottest thing going in WWE right now. And it can be traced back to this, inadvertent key moment, when blood worked as a narrative device rather than shock for shock's sake.