Debuts and returns have always provided some of the biggest crowd responses in WWE history. With WrestleMania 34 only days away, rumours surrounding debuts and returns at the event are already flying around. Ember Moon, Drew McIntyre, and Johnny Gargano are just a few of the wrestlers rumoured to be making the step up to the main roster during WrestleMania week, all of whom will provide fresh storylines and competitions to some divisions which are in dire need for a shakeup.
During WrestleMania week last year, the returns of Kurt Angle and The Hardy Boyz and the debut of Shinsuke Nakamura and many others provided the biggest crowd reactions of the week. Although these crowds were excited to see them initially, after a few weeks, without a good storyline, they faded into the background. Now, as we enter WrestleMania 34, some wrestlers who debuted last year have really struggled since WrestleMania 33. Here, we will look at all the debuts and returns made by wrestling stars during WrestleMania week last year and grade their year.
The Hardy Boyz
The Hardy Boyz provided the biggest pop of WrestleMania weekend with their shocking return in the tag team ladder match. Their eventual victory in the ladder match was definitely one of the feel-good moments of the entire event. Although people were excited to see the tag team reunited, most fans eagerly awaited the debut of "Broken" Matt Hardy and possibly Brother Nero. An injury to Jeff Hardy provided WWE the opportunity to re-brand Matt into "Woken" Matt Hardy. Although the gimmick seemed to start slowly, the long awaited Ultimate Deletion against Bray Wyatt lived up to expectations. Despite the rough beginnings, the future looks bright for Matt and his woken warriors.
Grade: B (slow start, but plenty of potential in the future)
Mick Foley’s tenure as general manager was largely forgettable because his physical condition meant there was no way any of his storylines would end in a match. This was not the case with Angle, and many people quickly imagined dream matches that they wanted to see Angle take part in. With relative confidence, I think I can say that not many predicted he would be in a mix tag with a debuting Ronda Rousey. Regardless, it will be a good match and good to see him back in action. Besides this story, his tenure hasn’t been great. Despite a surprise moment teaming with The Shield and some involvement in Survivor Series most fans have willingly forgotten, Angle hasn't found himself in many big moments. It will be interesting to see whether he continues as GM post-mania, but if he doesn’t, I think many will see his tenure as a missed opportunity given they could have used it to create a dream match with someone like Rollins, AJ, or Nakamura.
This is a difficult for me. Nakamura still seems to carry the same mystique that he arrived with when he debuted in the Smackdown after WrestleMania. Fans still seem to get behind him as much as ever and his quirky, border-line creepy character has been used perfectly for his feud with AJ Styles. However, it is unclear what he has actually done over this year. He had a stellar match with Cena on SmackDown and won the Royal Rumble, which for many superstars would translate as a very successful year. Given the expectations before his debut, I can’t help but feel he hasn’t hit the heights many would have predicted. This is thanks in large part to his disappointing and stagnant feud with Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam. I’m sure his match with AJ Styles will be box-office, and hopefully, such a match can thrust Shinsuke into the limelight and provide him with the springboard for the truly successful year that his fans hoped for when he came to SmackDown.
Their debut match saw them beat The New Day, and many fans thought this feud could see them become key players in the tag team scene. Out of no fault of their own and due to a series of unfortunate injuries, the tag team has been out of action for almost the whole year. Hopefully, post-mania, they can switch brands and make a fresh start.
Besides some awkward third-wheeling in the US Championship feud between AJ and Baron Corbin, and a predictable entrance at number 10 in the Royal Rumble, this year has been particularly uninspiring for The Perfect 10. Unfortunately, his talent would have almost certainly been better spent in NXT.
So, as one can see, no WrestleMania debuting or returning star had a killer year, and some had years they would rather forget. However, for a couple, most notably Nakamura and "Woken" Matt Hardy, the future could be very bright after WrestleMania 34.
What do you think? Which debuting or returning star had the best year? Let me know in the comments below!