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Doctor's Orders: Bray Wyatt in the Midst of a Top 10 All-Time WWE Rookie Year
By The Doc
Jun 10, 2014 - 9:52:00 PM
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The Snowman is a genius
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Where would you rank Bray Wyatt’s rookie year against his peers in WWE, historically?
If there is one adage that adulthood has proven true, it is that old saying that “time flies.” Five years ago this month, I married my wife. Our daughter is almost two. Our dogs turn eight in 2014. The year that my dogs were born, I attended my first WrestleMania. Life is flying by.
It seems like just yesterday that the vignettes began to air for The Wyatt Family. That was over a year ago. Bray Wyatt, in particular, debuted to much hype on July 8, 2013’s RAW. Legends in the business had overtly praised the third generation star. After eleven months of uniquely entertaining character work and at least an arguable Match of the Year candidate at four of 2014’s five PPVs, Bray has shown us all what the fuss was about. As we prepare to put his rookie campaign in historical context, I find myself wondering if Bray Wyatt has had one of the best debut years in WWE history. Some may consider it bold and others may be nodding in agreement, but his resume is worthy. Let’s see how he stacks up against his peers…
Top 10 Rookie Years in WWE History
#10 – The Dudley Boyz (1999-2000): When Bubba Ray and D-Von debuted in September 1999, the WWE Tag Team Championship division began its ascent toward the highest place on the card that it would ever occupy. They set in motion the Golden Age of Tag Team wrestling in WWE. By the turn of the century, they had put enough people through tables – women, particularly – that the Tables match was created for a mainstream audience at the 2000 Royal Rumble. For their rest of their rookie campaign, they were sitting pretty. The Dudleys not only headlined the January Classic, but they also continued their innovative streak at both WrestleMania and Summerslam, debuting the Triangle Ladder match and the Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match, respectively, with Edge, Christian, and the Hardy Boys. The Mania 2000 spectacular earned them Match of the Year from PWI. They won the World Tag Team Championship during that stretch, carrying the titles into “The Show of Shows.” The year 2000 was the pinnacle point in WWE Tag Team history and the Dudleys were one of the primary reasons why.
#9 - Undertaker: The biggest moment of The Deadman’s rookie year in WWE was his title-winning match with Hulk Hogan on the anniversary of his debut. He was the mystery man on Ted DiBiase’s Survivor Series team in 1990, but spent most of 1991 demolishing opponents, such as Jimmy Snuka at WrestleMania VII, to build his credibility. Though he did have a feud with Ultimate Warrior in the summer, there were no major PPVs back then to feature their matches, so Taker just kept on learning his craft and adapting to his unusual gimmick. At Summerslam ’91, he took a leap forward into a major angle, aiding Jake Roberts in his quest to ruin Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth’s wedding reception. He played a major role in that feud, which put him in position to step up even further when Hulk Hogan needed a challenger for the WWE Championship at Survivor Series 1991. It was Hogan who had actually helped Taker land his job in WWE after the two were involved in a movie starring Hulkster. Thanks to help from Ric Flair, The Deadman was World Champion within a year of his first televised appearance.
#8 – Sheamus: The Celtic Warrior’s official debut came on ECW in the summer of 2009, but it could be debated that his actual WWE career did not start until being called up to the Raw brand in late October. Ratings-wise, ECW was not a good representation of the overall viewing audience, so for this conversation’s sake, we will bypass his C-show run despite its critical acclaim (i.e. his feud with Goldust). Within two months of his first Raw appearance, Sheamus was WWE Champion. He lost the title during WWE’s WrestleMania build-up, but he was not pushed to the backburner, engaging immediately in a feud with Triple H that culminated in a very underrated headlining bout at Mania 26. Not a bad start just six months (or nine months depending upon your point of view) into his tenure, was it? He proved to be an outstanding addition to WWE TV. By the time that he regained the title in June 2010, he had already been involved in several praiseworthy matches and had also rounded into form as an engaging heel character with the ability to put himself and his matches over on the microphone. His blending of old Irish tales into his promos was a creative touch that helped set him apart from his peers.
#7 - Mankind: On April 1, 1996, the WWE began their trend of having major happenings occur on the Raw after WrestleMania. That was the night that Mick Foley introduced the wrestling world to his Mankind persona. Famous as it eventually became, Mankind also had an excellent first year, which was mostly consumed by a lengthy saga with the Undertaker. Though nobody knew for quite awhile just what to make of it, the character got over as a dangerous, deranged threat. He defeated The Deadman in his first PPV outing at King of the Ring, earning a rare clean victory over a superstar that only on occasion lost to anyone. They proceeded to innovate the Boiler Room Brawl – during which Paul Bearer turned on Taker and aligned himself with Mankind – and the Buried Alive match. The only thing that could have honestly made his rookie campaign any better would have been the WWE Championship. He had his first opportunity to earn it during his first six months, having one of the greatest title bouts of the 1990s against Shawn Michaels. For many years, Foley would claim the match as his personal favorite and it remains a favorite of many wrestling fans, myself included. Mankind’s loss to Taker at Survivor Series sent him on a multi-month streak of being depushed, but by the last few weeks of his first year in WWE, he was back to feuding with Taker with the World title on the line.
#6 – Kurt Angle: If you were to take into account a wrestler’s first two or three years, then Angle might be at the top of the list. He debuted at the 1999 Survivor Series and embarked on a remarkable run that showed him to be one of wrestling history’s prodigies. You could see it in his progression as he went from a bit unsure of himself during his first quarter of year one to quietly confident in his second to incredibly talented in his third to bordering on the all-time great kind of status that he earned from his second year onward by his anniversary at the 2000 Survivor Series. He was the recipient of numerous kayfabe accolades in 2000, winning the Intercontinental and European Championships to become the Euro-Continental Champion. He also won the 2000 King of the Ring tournament, which was the event that saw him turn the corner and start gaining steam as an in-ring savant. Summerslam was the first PPV that he ever main-evented for the WWE Championship. It was around that time that his work in a love triangle with Stephanie McMahon and Triple H displayed a rare charisma not often seen in a WWE Superstar. Angle could literally do it all. And by 2000’s end, he had pretty much done it all, winning the WWE title from The Rock at No Mercy in a borderline classic match.
#5 – Bray Wyatt: If he were to win the title at Money in the Bank, I might actually slot Bray a little bit higher. The numbers do not lie for this talented young man. The last six months have skyrocketed him up this list. He did well in the first half of his rookie year, getting the people exposed to his uncanny abilities on the microphone, but 2014 has been his year. Hell, it’d be easy to look at Daniel Bryan and call this the year of the “Yes! Movement.” I’m just not sure that it would be fair to Wyatt. With the last two months of Bryan’s life being about injuries and tragedies, it might more accurately reflect the year to call it the year that we have all “Followed the Buzzards.” An attraction match at Summerslam in 2013 started his PPV career under the Wyatt name, but since Survivor Series he has been a headlining act on every card. The critically acclaimed matches in 2014 have really been what have put his rookie campaign over the top. His match with Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble, much like the rest of his work thus far, still has to past the test of time, but it was hailed on the night of as one of the finest matches in the event’s history. His effort in the 6-man tag, with his Family, against The Shield in February was outstanding; that might be well end up the Match of the Year. Few have made a better first impression in their WrestleMania debuts, especially in such a prominent position. New Orleans proved that Wyatt has a bright future on the grand stage. Most recently, he offered up what I, personally, referred to as the modern blueprint for the Last Man Standing match. What more does he need to do in order to earn universal inclusion in this conversation?
#4 - Kane: Glen Jacobs suffered through a lot of bad ideas before the WWE finally gave him something that he could make successful in 1997. Kane, brother of Undertaker, made a splash when he interfered in the inaugural Hell in a Cell match. To this day, it is considered to be one of the most impactful debuts in pro wrestling lore. He proceeded to mow through stiff competition in the likes of Vader and Mankind before picking up steam of his feud with Taker for Mania. It is not often that a character headlines the very first WrestleMania on which it wrestles, but Kane did so in grand fashion against Taker in 1998. Doubling the importance of his card placement was how vital it was for WWE to hit a homerun that night given their battle for survival with WCW. Kane delivered and then kept on delivering, debuting the Inferno match with Taker a month after Mania XIV and the First Blood match (in WWE) with Steve Austin at King of the Ring. The latter actually earned Kane the WWE Championship for one night and, though he would lose the belt on the ensuing Raw, he remained a fixture in the title scene for the rest of the year. During that time, he also won the World Tag Team Championships twice with Mankind.
#3 - Yokozuna: In late 1992, Yokozuna’s debut was not heralded as the dawning of a new WWE era, but that is what it turned out to be. He won the 1993 Royal Rumble match – the first to earn the victor a guaranteed title shot at WrestleMania – and appeared to be little more than a mammoth challenge for the new face of WWE, Bret Hart, to overcome en route to better credibility, but he turned out to be the man that carried the company that year. He feuded with Hulk Hogan, winning the title from him at King of the Ring. He was the focal point of Summerslam’s top match, main-eventing the show in a successful title defense against Lex Luger. Though Survivor Series 1993 came after the anniversary of his October ’92 debut, he main-evented that, too. Few big men were ever able to move as nimbly as the 500-pounder could and, though his matches were never considered to be barnburners, he was more than capable of having serviceable headlining bouts (and he delivered more often than not in 1993). He was asked to carry an enormous figurative weight in his initial run and he did it well. In fact, I’d argue that nobody in modern wrestling lore was asked to bear such a burden as Yokozuna was in his rookie campaign.
#2 – The Million Dollar Man: Ted Dibiase’s first year in WWE was his best year. He helped WWE sustain their momentum during one of the biggest wrestling booms of all-time. The Hulkamania Era was the lengthiest of WWE’s boom periods on the merits of men like Million Dollar Man. It started with arguably the finest vignettes ever developed for a WWE Superstar. His debut in late 1987 helped WWE build on the Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan feud, breathing new life into it as an evil rich man who wanted to buy the WWE Championship. He could not get Hogan to sell it to him, so he paid off a referee to help Andre win it. The Giant was all too happy to oblige in pawning off the title just to get even with the Hulkster. It was pro wrestling television magic and one of the single greatest moments in WWE history (and occurred on the most watched WWE program ever), thrusting Dibiase into the peak of his career as the catalyst for the concept behind WrestleMania IV. The Million Dollar Man made the finals of the WWE Championship tournament, losing to the next opponent that he would spend several months feuding with in Randy Savage. Dibiase vs. Macho Man offered us some of the best main-event matches in the WWE during the 1980s. His continued work with Andre helped WWE create a third PPV, Summerslam, to add to their yearly docket. If it was not for this next guy, Dibiase would have easily been #1.
#1 – Brock Lesnar: There are wrestling prodigies and then there is Brock Lesnar. He belongs in a class all by himself. It would have been one thing for him to impressively maim each and every one of his opponents, as he did like no one else ever had before (or has since) during his first few months on WWE TV, but it was quite another for him to have classic matches with three of the all-time greatest by the time his rookie campaign had ended. At Summerslam 2002, he battled The Rock, won the WWE Championship, won over the people in an important market, and had one of the most underrated matches in WWE history. Two months later, he clashed with Undertaker in his second excellent title defense in as many months, showing off a barbaric side while wearing a crimson mask during a marvelous Hell in a Cell match. Somehow, both the Summerslam and No Mercy bouts have flown under the radar when discussing the best matches from the “Brand Extension Era,” but I proudly champion both as must-see when studying that period. As if becoming the youngest WWE Champion in history was not enough, he proceeded to win the 2003 Royal Rumble match and main-event his very first WrestleMania, where he won the WWE title for the second time in another excellent match with Kurt Angle. Triple H said it best in the “Mania of WrestleMania” documentary filmed at Mania XIX – “Next Big Thing? He’s a pretty big thing right now, isn’t he?” If anyone ever tops Lesnar, I’d be shocked.
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