It was recently the WWE Network’s fifth birthday, which is actually pretty mad. The original concept for the Network came bout back in the mid 00s, and it was something that was being worked on for years before finally becoming a reality on February 24, 2014.
WWE spent a lot of time building up their classic video library, buying rights to other companies’ back catalogues and digitising them, in preparation for the Network. But the key selling point has always been the new, original programming. WWE have tried a lot of different show formats over the last five years, some have worked and some haven’t.
With five being a fairly round number, I though I’d take this opportunity to look back at some of the highlights of WWE programming in the Network era year by year. 2014 was a changing of the guard in WWE, both in and out of the ring. So, as I used to say in these posts fairly regularly back around that time, without further ado…
The Network was a massive deal for WWE, and it revolutionised the way their business worked. Suddenly, PPV buy-rates were redundant, because the people watching them were subscribed to the Network instead. So what was the first live in-ring show to be streamed? The forerunner to the TakeOver events: NXT Arrival. Those shows would become far bigger and better than this one, but just by virtue of being the first it deserves a place on the honours board. The opening match featured Sami Zayn v Cesaro in a rematch of what was called the 2013 match of the year across all of WWE’s shows, and that was a shrewd move. Straight away, fans were given a great match. Other highlights in that show included Paige v Emma for the NXT Women’s Championship, and Bo Dallas v Adrian Neville for the NXT Championship in the first ever ladder match in the yellow and black brand. A new champion and a new face of the show stood tall at the end of the night to welcome in a new era in WWE.
The first real blockbuster event streamed on the Network. There were some great moments on this show – the opening segment featuring Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steven Austin and The Rock was phenomenal in terms of hyping up everyone watching in the crowd or at home; the ending of the streak was an incredible moment even if the match itself wasn’t a classic, and the crowning of Daniel Bryan as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion in what would be dubbed Yes-tlemania. This show had the nostalgia factor, the heartbreak, and the delight of the ultimate underdog rising to the very top of the industry. What else could you want from a wrestling show?
Raw, April 7
The night after Wrestlemania is always worth watching. Although in 2014 there arguably wasn’t the ‘oh my god’ moment of, say, a Brock Lesnar return, there were still some really cool moments. The Shield had their official face turn standing up to The Authority, Cesaro alligned with Paul Heyman, and Paige made her main roster debut and won the Divas Championship. Admittedly the long-term impact of some of those things would be hurt, but on the show itself they got big reactions.
The Shield v Evolution
Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista. We knew back in 2014 that The Shield would all be stars in their own right, they’d had too much success and been too good as a trio not to be. In 2019, it’s safe to say that this was an all-star rivalry. Evolution reformed on April 14 in response to The Shield’s face turn, and the two teams would do battle at Extreme Rules in May and Payback in June. The first was a great match, and the second was booked surprisingly from what I remember expectations to be at the time.
Spoiler: there is going to be a lot of NXT on these lists throughout the five years. This one was notable for crowning a new NXT Women’s Champion after Paige moved to the main roster, and Natalya v Charlotte is what put the latter on the map as well as being one of the best matches in the former’s career. Bret Hart and Ric Flair were both at ringside to add to the grandeur around the occasion, but that neither man got involved was a testament to the trust Triple H clearly had in both women to go out and steal the show – and really this was the first of many times that happened. Plus, it’s always entertaining to see future superstars before they became proper characters on the show, for example Becky Lynch and Braun Strowman are both clearly seen as Rosebuds before the opening match.
Raw, June 2
This was a notable Raw for a single, show-long storyline that would play into angles over pretty much all of the next five years. This was the night after Payback, and this would be the night that Batista left WWE after a 2014 run that didn’t quite go to plan. And this would be the night that, in looking to destroy The Shield, Triple H executed his Plan B. This was the night The Shield imploded.
Two words: Suplex City. The WWE Championship had been held up as everyone waited to see how serious Daniel Bryan’s injuries were, and when he finally vacated it to take time off it was John Cena who reclaimed it at Money In The Bank. Brock Lesnar, the top guy in the company after ending the streak at Wrestlemania, made his title intentions clear, and what we had was this main event. But nobody saw this domination coming, as Lesnar destroyed Cena with 16 German suplexes to become the new champion.
I think we have the worst TakeOver ever guys. In terms of match quality, in terms of star power, this one struggled compared to the rest. But even then, Charlotte defended the NXT Women’s Championship against Bayley in a good match. A good match, but both women have had far better since. The main event was a fatal-4-way (hence the event’s name) between Adrian Neville, Sami Zayn, Tyson Kidd and Tyler Breeze for the NXT Championship – and honestly I was not expecting this to be as great as it was. The crowd were on fire for it, and even though Neville and Zayn would be legendary in NXT folklore as faces it was Breezr who the crowd seemed most behind at times. As it turned out, this was the last stand of the original NXT era, and what a way it was to go out.
Raw, October 6
Any time The Rock shows up, he’s going to be included in these kinds of lists. On this occasion Raw was in Brooklyn, and the People’s Champion showed up unannounced, I believe because he was filming in the area. He interrupted Rusev and Lana in full pro-Russia mode, which was just an excellent combination. The crowd, as you can imagine, loved every single second of the Brahma Bull’s appearance.
Raw, October 20
This was in the build up to Hell In A Cell 2014, and though this is a moment that really stuck out with me at the time I think it’s one that goes underappreciated for the most part. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were building up to their main event match inside the cell, when they were joined – again unexpectedly – by Mick Foley. Foley would do a similar thing a couple of years later as the Raw General Manager before Charlotte faced Sasha Banks inside the steel, but he cut a promo warning Rollins and Ambrose against taking the cell lightly. There was an intensity that only Foley would be able to bring in regards to talking about Hell In A Cell, and his promo was, I thought, fantastic.
The final TakeOver event of the year was the dawning of a new era for NXT. The show opened with the NXT debut of Kevin Owens. Hideo Itami and Finn Balor made their TakeOver in-ring debuts, with Balor bringing out The Demon for the first time since signing with WWE. Charlotte had a great match that was a sign of things to come as she defended the NXT Women’s Championship against Sasha Banks, and in the main event Sami Zayn finally captured gold from Adrian Neville. Look back at those names and tell me this wasn’t an all-star cast? This was the first time that a TakeOver card had such depth, Owens was the first debut hyped to that magnitude on a TakeOver (something that has become a staple of the shows), and the show-ending angle was a thing of beauty. Similarly to Becky Lynch and Braun Strowman as Rosebuds, there are plenty of future stars on NXT, Raw and SmackDown in the post-main event celebration to look out for.
Stone Cold Podcast with Mr McMahon
The first of the Stone Cold Podcasts on the Network went live on December 1, and they could not have gone with a bigger guest to kick things off as the chairman himself went behind the mic. It is so rare to see McMahon speak in this kind of setting that this is worth a watch, even if some of the things he says have to be taken with a pinch of salt. The big point of interest going in surrounded the streak – McMahon confirmed that it was his decision to end it back at Wrestlemania. But his comments about people failing to grab the fabled brass ring were, well, questionable at best.
The takeaway: The highlights of the year were mostly do to with NXT or returning stars. The only main roster success story was Daniel Bryan, and he missed the latter part of the year because of injury. I looked through the descriptions of every Raw and SmackDown for the year to see if I was forgetting things, and there was really nothing that stood out. NXT went through a pretty severe chance over the year, but on every single TakeOver there was something worth watching. By the end of the year, they had built a roster that would be capable of outstripping anything the main roster was doing. From there, it was time to prove it.