Best Rookie Year
1992-1993 - Tatanka
1992-1993 - Yokozuna
1993-1994 - Diesel
1995-1996 - The Giant
1997-1998 - Goldberg
1997-1998 - Kane
1999-2000 - Kurt Angle
2002-2003 - Brock Lesnar
2009-2010 - Sheamus
2010-2011 - Alberto Del Rio
These are arguably the top 10 “rookie” years in wrestling. Now, I must state that this list is obviously in terms of kayfabe. Tatanka and Goldberg went undefeated for over a year after their respective debuts, Giant won the World title in his first match, while Brock and Angle had meteoric rises up the ladder to becoming the top champions of their time.
Yet, how many of these years were actually entertaining? Tatanka was undefeated, but never had a memorable match or storyline. Yokozuna, Diesel, and the Giant had size to their advantage, but it still kept them out of the top performers lists (hell, WWF’s 1993-1995 is one of the darkest periods of main event wrestling partially thanks to those 2 names). Goldberg had an amazing aura to him, but much like the Ultimate Warrior, it fizzled once the “streak” came to a halt, because he wasn’t much more than sizzle. Kane had a great gimmick, but it was essentially useless outside of his “brother’s” involvement until long after his first year. Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar became known as some of the all time greats, but their first year wasn’t where we saw their best work. Sheamus and Del Rio are on their way to being all time greats, but their first years also were a bit disappointing for a variety of reasons.
So, has there ever been someone who in their rookie year has been able to deliver success not only in kayfabe, but also deliver top quality matches in the ring?
2012-2013 - The Shield
In a period where WWE was shifting behind the scenes with the effect of HHH taking charge of more and more, we’ve seen a tremendous revamp of the tag team division. As much as I’d love to give credit to HHH for brainstorming this idea, I really think the major influence has been the amount of awesome 6 man tag matches we’ve seen since TLC 2012 involving the Hounds of Justice. It’s very easy to point out how a year ago, we were witness to a tag team tournament to determine the #1 contenders to Team Hell No and claim that WWE was already making efforts to develop the teams to a stronger position on the card. But how quickly did the teams not involving Daniel Bryan and Kane drop off the face of the planet? Team Rhodes Scholars were cut off way too early, the Prime Time Players were most definitely not given enough to work with, while the Sin Cara/Rey Mysterio team certainly was plagued by injuries. No matter how you put it or for whatever reasons, it was a short lived resurgence.
Then along came 3 NXT rookies in black. Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and Seth Rollins were given an amazing push upon their debut last Survivor Series. Being a 3 men stable, they were able to avoid the push towards the tag team titles for a decent amount of time, while earning wins over 3-man teams consisting of Ryback, Team Hell No, Randy Orton, Big Show, Sheamus, and even John Cena. This consistent array of 6-man tag matches delivered not only some of the best tag team wrestling we’ve seen in a long time, but just sometimes the best matches of the night, including TLC 2012. Eventually, the 3-man team needed some separation and had some singles and standard tag matches on TV and PPV, and we saw a continuation of solid wrestling in matches involving Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose (I would put Rollins vs Daniel Bryan from Raw and Smackdown among the best TV matches of the year). This led to the obvious confrontation for the Tag Team Titles at Extreme Rules, where we saw Rollins and Reigns win the championships from Team Hell No. Meanwhile, Dean Ambrose used his time to win the US title. And, in a glorious move that I doubt anyone predicted, all 3 members of The Shield continued to look equal. While the expectation is for Dean Ambrose to be the breakout star in many circles, he has not been portrayed as the leader.
Post-Extreme Rules, when The Shield won their championships, many were crying their doom since they had lost direction. In our generation of immediate gratification, I should expect people finding reasons to be negative about the direction of these obviously talented rookies, but I was still surprised. On a regular basis, The Shield were still appearing on TV and PPV and staying in the mix of the top stars in some capacity. And at no point did they start to lose matches nonsensically. Their domination as a stable was well designed, and it carried into the post-SummerSlam plans of a heel HHH authority. To this day, The Shield have been in prime position on the card as the security force for “The Authority,” and have been the heel portion of easily my favorite storyline of the last 2 months (Rhodes Family vs The Shield/Authority).
All that time, The Shield have been vicious opportunists who used their numbers to their advantage. Thankfully, we haven’t been witnesses to N.W.O. style smozz matches either, as we’ve been given more than a fair share of show stealing matches that have ended cleanly. For a full year, The Shield have been delivering some the best matches of 2012-2013. Being a trio, it’s a bit tough to pick one man who stands out enough to outshine the amazing in-ring output of Daniel Bryan or CM Punk in that timeframe, but if we were allowed to vote on the WWE App as the best of the year between Punk, Bryan, and Shield (as a unit), my vote would go to the Hounds of Justice.
One of the best parts of this rookie year is how fresh everything still is for them, even after working with so many of the top names. Imagine they broke up tonight at the Smackdown tapings, and had to start singles careers at Hell in a Cell or the post-PPV Monday Night Raw. Is there any contest that would not be a fresh feud? Even Ambrose as the US champion hasn't exhausted his options against Dolph Ziggler, Kofi Kingston or Rob Van Dam who were his notable opponents for the title. Heel or face, these 3 men have laid a tremendous foundation to a WWE career, winning consistently, being dominant, and not overkilling their rivalries to the point of no longer caring what else they do (which is exceptionally rare in the Cena-era WWE).
They have been a major focal point for this new era of tag team wrestling.
They have been a major force in delivering some of the best matches of 2013.
They have cemented their futures as WWE superstars for years to come.
Just imagine what comes next for any or all of these 3. The future is bright for The Shield, and it’s all because of how well established they’ve been as a product of WWE creative and their own talents.
The rookie year for the The Shield is the best in wrestling history, in my opinion, because of the unrivaled combination of creative drive and in-ring product.
And on that note, Peace out
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