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Year in review: The biggest wrestling stories of 2014

In my humble opinion, when people look back at the year 2014, it will be remembered as a turning point in wrestling history.

Whether that turn will be for the better or for the worse remains to be seen, but a lot of things happened during the course of these 12 months that changed the industry.

New inventions came to fruition, a streak ended, a legend became immortalized and a flying goat won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Much more happened as well, so in no particular order (mostly chronological), lets take a look at the biggest stories in wrestling for the year 2014:

The WWE Network

The year started off with a bang when the WWE unveiled its very own network at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January.

However, the WWE Network wasn't an ordinary television service. The WWE rolled out an over-the-top digital medium similar to Netflix and Hulu that would house hours upon hours of content from not only the WWE, but also World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship and many others.

On top of all of that, fans would get every single pay-per-view the WWE has to offer for the low price of — wait for it — $9.99 per month.

I, along with many other wrestling fans, rejoiced at the news of the WWE Network. When the network launched in February, it was like an unofficial holiday for the wrestling industry.

Questions swirled around the WWE Network pertaining to its effects on the company's pay-per-view business and the effects it would have on the wrestler's pay-per-view payouts, but those were shoved to the background while all of its amenities for fans were pushed to the foreground.

Those questions persisted. The amenities for fans did not.

Launching a venture of this magnitude costs a lot of money, but it doesn't help the bottom line when you lose one of your biggest streams of revenue as a result. This is what happened with the WWE with the network.

The WWE Network not only cost the company a lot of money, it cannibalized its own pay-per-view revenue, and it did so by a large margin. The WWE's pay-per-view business has dwindled rapidly.

The WWE hoped to make up that lost revenue with a boatload of subscribers to the network. It reportedly needed just over a million to break even on the venture.

Unfortunately for the WWE, the lack of original content and subpar promotion of it hasn't helped it reach its goal just yet. The WWE and many others overestimated the demand for a streaming service solely dedicated to wrestling. I was guilty of this myself. So far, the lack of demand has made the subscribers come in much lower than what the WWE expected.

The ramifications of the WWE Network's low subscriber numbers have been massive.

The WWE cut away a good portion of its active roster and office employees in an effort to shave millions of dollars from its budget. The wrestlers that still are on the payroll are reportedly receiving less money than what they should be given that they work for by far the largest wrestling (or sports entertainment) company in the world.

The WWE has made noticeable cuts in the production of its television shows. Proof of this is the same exact stage that is used for Raw and Smackdown is now used for every pay-per-view with the lone exception being WrestleMania.

On top of all of that, the WWE fumbled the launch of the network in the United Kingdom. It was a fitting end to lackluster year on that front.

All hope is not lost for the WWE Network though. It is still in its first year of existence after all, and I'm certain the WWE recognizes it has a lot of ground to make up.

Hopefully, the WWE Network takes off in 2015.

Hulk Hogan returns to WWE

WWE may have endured a bit of a rough and tumble year financially, but the company did what was right for business in bringing Hulk Hogan, arguably the most recognizeable wrestler in history, back into the fold back in February.

Quite frankly, it was no-brainer for both parties. Hogan's value was essentially wasted in TNA and the WWE could definitely use the main draw for the first decade of WrestleMania for the 30th edition of the event.

It made perfect sense. It also felt very, very right. WrestleMania 30 wouldn't have felt right without Hogan being involved in some way. He's part of the reason the event is the massive extravaganza it is today.

The roller coaster year of Daniel Bryan

Daniel Bryan saw the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in 2014.

The year started off with a low that eventually turned into a high. That's because the fans in Pittsburgh essentially revolted against the WWE for not having Bryan take part in the Royal Rumble.

It sucked for Bryan to be left out of the match, but the fans' voices were heard that night. The WWE really didn't have any choice but to listen.

CM Punk bolted the WWE the very next day, leaving the company with no option but to put Bryan on the fast track to the main event of WrestleMania.

Bryan and what eventually became known as the "Yes Movement" continued to gain momentum seemingly with each passing day. Not only were fans at wrestling shows shouting, "Yes!" every chance they got, but mainstream sports teams were doing so as well.

Michigan State did it after it won the Rose Bowl, NFL Network did it on live television, the San Francisco Giants and Pittsburgh Pirates did it after every home run.

It just kept building and building until the day of April 6, when Bryan and the "Yes Movement" reached its zenith. That's because Bryan defeated Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista all in one night to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

The WWE had finally gotten a mainstream star not named John Cena, only everyone was willing to get behind this guy.

I distinctly remember walking up and down Bourbon Street in New Orleans after he won the title hearing "Yes!" chants for blocks at a time. It was truly his and the WWE's time to step into the mainstream limelight.

Bryan compounded his success by marrying the woman of his dreams days later. Things could not have gotten any better for the guy formerly known as The American Dragon.

But just like any roller coaster, just when it reaches its highest point, a descent usually follows.

Within the span of two months, Bryan's father suddenly passed away and he was forced to hand over the WWE World Heavyweight Championship without being pinned due to neck surgery that has kept him out of action until this day.

However, Bryan's year ended on a high note, as he announced on the final Raw of the year that he was entering the 2015 Royal Rumbleho.

Brock Lesnar breaks The Undertaker's streak

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, but no one, and I mean no one, thought that The Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania would end.

I mean, it couldn't happen right? Oh, but it did and I was fortunate enough to bear witness to it in person.

From a live perspective, it was unlike anything I've ever experienced in any realm of sports. I've covered numerous sporting events in my journalism career and have never documented an experience quite like that.

When the referee's hand hit the mat for three, all 75,000 fans in the Superdome gasped in shock. They then all fell silent. As most of you saw on television, people were in genuine shock. Some people were legitimately crying over this. That may seem silly, but that's how much the streak meant to wrestling fans.

Seeing The Undertaker lose like that was like was seeing your dad get beat up right in front of your eyes. It was that deep for people.

When the "21-1" graphic popped up on all of the screens, the people gasped in horror. It was as if the fans couldn't believe their eyes. It was as if they all just witnessed a gruesome murder.

Eventually, the horror turned into adulation as The Undertaker gingerly made his way backstage, but the atmosphere completely changed from that point forward. It sucked the air completely out of the building.

During the Divas Championship match, the crowd was mostly silent just out of pure shock.

Whether you thought it was the right decision is a completely different discussion. But The Undertaker's streak brought outside eyeballs and attention to the WWE, as news of The Undertaker losing made headlines on mainstream websites.

How crazy that the result of a pre-determined match made headlines on USA Today? That's good business, folks.

The Undertaker losing at WrestleMania is not only one of the biggest happenings for the year 2014, but it is one of the biggest occurrences in the history of wrestling.

The untimely death of The Ultimate Warrior

Life can work in mysterious ways sometimes.

On April 5, Jim Hellwig, better known to wrestling fans as The Ultimate Warrior, took his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame.

He enjoyed the night with his family, as it not only cemented him as one of the biggest stars in the history of the company, but it was also the start of new relationship between him and the WWE. Better days were seemingly ahead.

On April 6, Hellwig stood on stage with the rest of the Hall of Fame class in front of 75,000 people in the Superdome. He was the last one to be introduced and was given a massive ovation from thousands of adoring fans.

On April 7, he made what turned out to be his last public appearance. He delivered a stirring and somewhat eerie speech about life and immortality. It was almost as if he as foreshadowing his own demise.

For three consecutive days, the smile never left Hellwig's face. On April 8, he was gone. At the age of 54, Hellwig passed away in Arizona.

Just as Hellwig had buried the hatchet with the WWE and was ready to embark on a new chapter of his life with the company, he died.

It was almost like it was his time. He had made peace with the WWE and other former colleagues within the industry, he had one last moment with the fans, and that was his signal that it was okay to move on. He had accomplished everything he needed to accomplish in life.

When Hellwig donned the face paint of The Ultimate Warrior, he enthralled fans young and old alike and left a lasting impression on the collective conscious of the people.

News of his death wasn't just reported those in the wrestling industry, it was all over the place, including ESPN. Hellwig was indeed that big of a name in wrestling.

WWE TV rights deal falls short of expectations

The WWE was expecting to hit a grand slam with its next television rights deal in 2014. The company saw the deal NASCAR received ($8.2 billion) and figured since the two entities had similar fan bases, and that the WWE drew a consistent rating for all 52 weeks of the year, that it would at least double its previous deal.

Unfortunately for the WWE, the company only hit a single. In fact, the WWE received merely a 50 percent increase from NBCUniversal.

All of this came after the WWE overestimated its value once again. The WWE opted out of its previous deal with NBC Universal with hopes of shopping its wares to other television conglomerates.

Shopping its wares would hopefully drive up the negotiating price. No one was willing to take the bait and the plan essentially backfired, which forced the WWE to go back to NBCUniversal with its proverbial tail between its legs and accept a deal that was less than what it wanted.

Because the WWE publicly stated that it expected to cash in big on its next television rights deal, the company's stock went through the roof early in 2014. An expected influx of money from a new television deal combined with the high expectations set for the WWE Network left investors salivating at the thought of receiving huge returns.

Neither of those happened and the WWE's stock plummeted at a dramatic clip soon thereafter. The WWE overestimating its value was a common theme in 2014.

Rocky year for TNA Wrestling

Although things were kind of rocky financially for the WWE, they could have always been worse. The company could have been TNA Wrestling.

The WWE got a 50 percent increase on its television rights deal and that was seen as a bit of a failure. Meanwhile, TNA almost didn't have a television deal at all.

News broke back in July that after nearly a decade in business together, Spike TV was not renewing its deal with TNA, leaving the promotion without a home for its flagship show, Impact Wrestling, for 2015.

But let's face it. TNA was already a sinking ship before that happened. That was merely the tip of the iceberg.

Before that news even broke, TNA had dramatically cut back on its touring schedule to the point that part of the business may cease to exist all together.

Television ratings and live attendance numbers were very low and decreasing by the week. And the television product itself was downright laughable at times.

It didn't help that big names the company backed up the Brinks truck for (Hulk Hogan, Sting and AJ Styles just to name a few) were prospering and earning quality livings elsewhere, without the stench of TNA Wrestling.

The WWE made a bigger impact with Hogan in two months leading up to WrestleMania than TNA did in the four years that he was under contract. The WWE was making money off Sting before he ever set foot on television. AJ Styles is now one of the hottest acts on the independent circuit and has found two great homes in New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor.

Despite all of the nails that were placed into TNA's coffin, the company somehow found a way to live to fight another day.

In the 11th hour, the promotion inked a new television deal with Destination America, which will begin in January 2015.

Although Destination America doesn't have the reach that Spike TV does, it's better than becoming extinct, which is what TNA would have been without television.

The release of Alberto Del Rio

One of the people TNA Wrestling could be looking to sign to a deal in 2015 is former WWE star Alberto El Patron, formerly known as Alberto Del Rio in the WWE.

Patron's career in the WWE abruptly came to an end in August when he was released due to what the company described as "unprofessional conduct."

Although that statement left a lot more questions than answers, it was soon revealed that Patron was involved in a confrontation with a WWE employee where he took offense to a racial statement the employee made about him.

When Patron confronted the employee about his remarks, the employee apparently wasn't very apologetic, which drove Patron to striking him in the face. Neither Patron nor the employee work for the company today, but it's interesting that the employee lasted a little longer than Patron.

It should make people wonder why was a racial slur of some sort tolerated by the WWE.

Patron and his former personal ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez have both spoken candidly in interviews since about the racist nature of the WWE and how it goes largely unchecked.

If this problem persists and more people speak out about it, this could become an even bigger story in 2015.

WWE debut of Sting

For years, it was merely a pipedream, but at Survivor Series it finally became a reality.

Sting (real name Steve Borden) made his first-ever appearance in a WWE ring in November. The importance of this occasion cannot be understated.

For whatever reason, Sting never let the lure of working for Vince McMahon and the WWE get to him.

He remained a loyal company man, whether is in the National Wrestling Alliance, World Champion Wrestling or TNA Wrestling, he wanted to help those companies compete against McMahon.

But when he and TNA parted ways in 2013, the wrestling landscape had changed dramatically since he was in his prime. The WWE was now the only place to go, meaning it was finally time for Sting to become a part of the WWE family.

All of the dream scenarios that wrestling fans such as myself had been drumming up for years are now a real possibility.

Brock Lesnar's title reign

A major topic of conversation for the latter part of 2014 has been the uneventful title reign of Brock Lesnar.

Fans have scoffed at the fact the Lesnar rarely shows up on television and has defended the title only once since winning at Summerslam in August.

Lesnar rarely showing up on television isn't much of a surprise. The contract he and the WWE agreed has limited dates he's scheduled to appear.

But the fact that he hasn't defended the on pay-per-view has even surprised me. I don't mind the fact that we rarely see Lesnar. It maintains his attraction. Every time you hear his music, an heir of danger enters the building. That only happens because he's rarely seen.

But the fact that he's essentially worked with one person (John Cena) since winning the title has been a letdown.

The WWE had an opportunity to really build Lesnar and his title reign to a much higher level with more title defenses against more people, but consider that opportunity squandered.

CM Punk breaks his silence, then the Internet

A story that had festered and built for the duration of 2014 was the situation between CM Punk and the WWE.

All the way back in January, CM Punk abruptly left the WWE without any explanation to the general public. The public comments CM Punk did make had nothing to do with why he left the WWE.

Despite rumors swirling as to what led to his departure, CM Punk and the WWE remained silent on the matter, leaving fans to constantly wonder what really happened.

Then, in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning, CM Punk finally broke his silence via Colt Cabana's (his personal friend) podcast and promptly broke the Internet in the process.

CM Punk held nothing back during his two-hour revelation session with Cabana and opened multiple cans of worms about the WWE, including the company's medical protocols, its wellness policies and its toxic culture among numerous other things.

It was more of a soul cleansing for CM Punk than it was a sit-down interview. Vince McMahon addressed CM Punk's comments on Steve Austin's podcast and said mostly nothing regarding the matter other than the fact that CM Punk receiving his termination papers on his wedding was merely a coincidence.

The wrestling world was buzzing for days after CM Punk's comments hit the Internet. The entire sports world began to buzz after CM Punk announced that he had signed a multi-fight contract with the UFC and make will make his MMA debut in 2015.

In a matter of weeks, we went from hearing nothing from CM Punk to seeing him on every major media outlet in the country such as ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and many others.

If you can't get enough of CM Punk, wait until 2015, because you're going to see and hear from him plenty.

The rise of New Japan Pro Wrestling

The WWE is by far the No. 1 wrestling (or sports entertainment) company in the world, and no other companies in North America even compare on any front.

But on the other side of the world, there is a company that is holding the fort down as a strong No. 2 promotion in the world, and that distinction belongs to New Japan Pro Wrestling.

New Japan Pro Wrestling's ascent isn't anything new. The company's resurgence has been years in the making, as it has cultivated some of Japan's brightest stars and filtered in great foreign talent alongside it.

The result has been great business at the box office and great business for the wrestlers' bank accounts.

But New Japan Pro Wrestling has not been content with its great success in Japan. The company has begun expanding into North America.

Their expansion began with its partnership with Ring of Honor for two shows in New York and Toronto back in May.

The company took it to the next level with its partnership with Jeff Jarrett's Global Force Wrestling to help bring its biggest annual event, Wrestle Kingdom, to pay-per-view here in North America with legendary announcer Jim Ross providing the English commentary.

Completely separate from its partnership with GFW, New Japan has inked a television deal with AXS TV to air weekly matches with American announcers.

To top it all off, New Japan launched its own digital streaming service titled New Japan World, which is available around the globe and will become available in English some time in 2015.

A number of strategic business moves combined with the deepest roster of Japanese and American talent the world has to offer has made for a very productive year for New Japan.