Looking back to the beginning of 2012, this picture was taken of all the champions in WWE, which was meant to be a major shift to a new generation of wrestlers within WWE. I thought it might be fun to pick this picture apart & look at each individual’s career heights & where they are now.
This “revolution” within WWE began after CM Punk dropped his now-famous “Pipe Bomb” on Raw in June of 2011 leading into his match with John Cena for the WWE Championship at the July 17th, Money In The Bank pay per view. Leading into that match, Punk felt there needed to be a lot of changes made within WWE, and as explained on his Best In The World documentary made by WWE after his return, he decided that the only way to invoke change is to do it from within.
First up, naturally: WWE Champion, CM Punk. We all know his story. 434 days with the WWE Championship, quitting the company, marrying AJ Lee, a podcast with Colt Cabana, lawsuits galore, doing acting to making a return on WWE Backstage on FS1. His career high clearly was that 434-day reign with the WWE Championship, however during that time, his matches were often second or third down the card in favor of longer-tenured WWE talent like Undertaker, Triple H & John Cena. He recently made his “return” to the professional wrestling world as an analyst on WWE’s Backstage program on FS1, where he’s employed by FOX (not WWE).
Next up: World Champion, Daniel Bryan. DB has had a heck of a story to tell over the course of 8 years. Unfortunately, he lost that World Championship at that year’s WrestleMania XXVIII to Sheamus in a heartbreaking 18 seconds. Following the loss and a breakup with on-screen girlfriend, AJ Lee, Bryan was forced to go to Dr. Shelby’s anger management classes and upon completion of said classes, “Hugged It Out” with Kane and formed the ultra-popular tag team known as Team Hell No.
Team Hell No went on to win the WWE Tag Team Titles and held those for a surprising 245 days before losing them to Shield members Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns. Following the breakup of Team Hell No, Bryan would go on to be John Cena’s hand-picked opponent for Summer Slam in 2013, where he would defeat Cena for the WWE Championship only to lose it to Randy Orton when he cashed in his Money In The Bank contract moments later. Bryan and Orton would feud over the WWE Championship for a few months while teasing the fans with wacky finishes which would have Bryan winning the title only to have the decision reversed shortly there after. It was during this time when fans would take notice of Bryan and thus started the YES Movement.
Fans began clamoring for Bryan to get the push & respect he deserved from WWE and basically forced WWE to put the then-unified WWE & World Heavyweight Championship on Bryan, which culminated in a heck of a night for Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX, when he would defeat Triple H –authoritarian figurehead of WWE on television at the time– to earn entry into the main event, later on that evening. Bryan would be inserted into the match pitting the returning, Royal Rumble winner of that year, Batista vs. then-WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Randy Orton. Bryan won that match by making Batista tap out to the YES-Lock.
Following that incredible night, Bryan’s career took a major dive. After having to relinquish the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and a lengthy time away from the ring, Bryan would return the following year just before the Royal Rumble. His storyline that year led him to winning the Intercontinental Championship in a 7-person ladder match. Again, shortly after winning a championship at WrestleMania, Bryan would have to relinquish it due to health concerns. Due to lesions on his brain, a teary-eyed Bryan would inform the live crowd on Monday Night Raw that he would have to retire from in-ring action.
Bryan would become the Smackdown General Manager in 2016 and make a full return to in-ring action nearly 2 years after retiring, making his return to the ring at WrestleMania 34 in the same stadium he won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship 4 years prior. After a heel run as WWE Champion, he also helped to elevate Kofi Kingston in 2019 and dropped said title to him at WrestleMania 35 in New
York Jersey. Bryan continues to be a pushed commodity in WWE and is constantly one of the top performers on every show he wrestles on, most recently losing to Intercontinental Champion, Sami Zayn at this year’s WrestleMania 36.
Up next, Intercontinental Champion, Cody Rhodes: Cody’s had quite the rollercoaster ride here. After losing his title to the Big Show at WrestleMania XXVIII, and feuding with Show for a couple months, he would eventually form a tag team with Damien Sandow called Rhodes Scholars and pursue the WWE Tag Team Titles unsuccessfully.
After moving on from that team, he would form a team with his half-brother, Dustin, a.k.a. Goldust to fight for their family honor against The Shield. They would defeat The Shield (Reigns & Rollins) for the WWE Tag Team Titles in October of 2013. Eventually, Cody would change his gimmick to more match his “bizarre” brother, Goldust and change his name to Stardust. This was the beginning of the end for him in WWE. Though he would be featured on TV each week and even had a feud with actor, Stephen Amell, of Arrow fame, he was never seen as much more than a midcard talent by WWE brass, so he bet on himself and asked for his release, which he was granted.
Following his exit from WWE, he began working independent bookings, working down a list of potential opponents he posted a picture of on his Twitter account. He worked for EVOLVE, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Northeast Wrestling, Global Force Wrestling & What Culture Pro Wrestling, wrestling for and winning numerous titles along the way. He won the Ring of Honor World Championship, defeating Christopher Daniels at Best in the World in 2017, and even joined the Bullet Club. He also wrestled for TNA/Impact Wrestling during the same time period since neither deal was exclusive.
After finishing up with TNA/Impact, he debuted as “The American Nightmare” in New Japan Pro Wrestling as a part of the Bullet Club. While in NJPW, he won the NJPW United States Championship. He would leave NJPW and go on to promote an independent show called All In (you may have heard of it) with the Young Bucks, which ROH helped to produce & distribute on pay per view.
Following the success of the All In show, Cody, the Young Bucks & Kenny Omega founded their own promotion with Tony Khan — most notably the co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL and the Fulham FC of the English Premier League. Cody is an on-air talent as well as an Executive Vice President in the upstart company called All Elite Wrestling.
On the opposite side of the picture, United States Champion, Zack Ryder: Zack is a bit of a sad story here, unfortunately. While Ryder is a very likable character, he also is quite the goofball, thus it seems the company never seems to fully get behind him. Ever.
Zack lost the United States Title to Jack Swagger a few months later, and followed that up with being booked to pursue Eve Torres in storylines. He was also made to look like a fool when it was revealed that Eve had eyes for Zack’s friend, John Cena who had saved her from being kidnapped by Kane. Ryder, having been confined to a wheelchair after taking continual beatings from Kane (Once even being run off the entrance stage while in said wheelchair!), was later made a participant on Team Teddy in the 6-on-6 tag team match to determine the General Manager of Raw and Smackdown against Team Johnny. Eve Torres would once again make Zack look like a fool, and be the reason Zack lost the match for Team Teddy.
The de-push of Ryder would continue as he was primarily only seen on Superstars & Main Event, only appearing on either Raw or Smackdown in losing efforts. He would appear in the Royal Rumble, only to be eliminated two minutes later and also as basically a nameless opponent in a 11-on-3 elimination handicap match against The Shield.
He would be moved down to NXT to form a tag team with Mojo Rawley known as the Hype Bros, and while they would be generally pretty successful in NXT, their shot at the NXT Tag Titles would be unsuccessful.
Following a promotion back to the main roster, Ryder would split his time between singles competition and tagging with Rawley as the Hype Bros. He would be thrust into a 7-man ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship as a replacement for the injured Neville at WrestleMania 32, which he would shockingly WIN! He even got to celebrate backstage with an idol of his growing up, and former Intercontinental Champion, himself, Scott Hall (a.k.a. Razor Ramon). Success for Ryder though, was short-lived as he would lose the Intercontinental Championship the following night on Raw to The Miz.
Following a number of losses, the team of the Hype Bros began to fall apart, thus starting a feud between him & Rawley. Following the conclusion of that feud, which saw them trade victories, Ryder came to the aid of an old tag partner, Curt Hawkins & reformed a tag team with him. They earned a Raw Tag Team title shot against The Revival at WrestleMania 35 and successfully defeated them for the titles on the WrestleMania Preshow. The team would hold the titles until June(!) of last year, however were rarely seen on television to defend them. Zack has remained under contract with WWE, but the way they continue to use him further underlines the fact that WWE just doesn’t see much in him besides being an able body. And just as I’m typing this today, amid massive cutbacks by WWE, both Curt Hawkins & Zack Ryder have been issued their releases. Sadly, WWE wishes them the best in all their future endeavors.
Onto the WWE Tag Team Champions, Air Boom (Kofi Kingston & Evan “Air” Bourne): Air Boom didn’t last very long as a tag team. They held the titles until January 15ᵗʰ, when they lost them on a house show to Primo & Epico Colón. Air Boom would receive a return match the following night on Raw, but fail to regain the titles. The team was broken up following Bourne violating the WWE wellness policy for the second time, earning him a 60-day suspension on January 17ᵗʰ.
Bourne suffered a broken foot when involved in a motorcycle accident while on suspension. While he made a return a year later in NXT, he was never seen on WWE television for another year before being released.
Since leaving WWE, Bourne — now going by his previous gimmick name of Matt Sydal — returned to Ring of Honor, wrestling against top stars there such as Adam Cole, AJ Styles, Cedric Alexander, Tommaso Ciampa, ACH, Chris Sabin, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s KUSHIDA, Kenny Omega & the Young Bucks over the next two and a half years.
Following his exit from ROH, he headed over to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, where he continued to wrestle against top talent including Ricochet, Rey Fenix & Pentagón, Jr, Roderick Strong, Pete Dunne, Will Osprey, Sami Callihan, Zack Sabre, Jr. & Marty Scurll during his three year stay. After leaving PWG, he would wrestle for more independent promotions like RevPro, FWE, BCW, AAW & the CWA before signing with Impact Wrestling in April of 2017. While wrestling for Impact, he defeated EC3 for the Impact Grand Championship and Taiji Ishimori for the X Division Championship.
He eventually lost the Grand Championship to Austin Aries & the X Division Title to Brian Cage before exiting the company at the end of 2019. Clearly, while he’s wrestled some top players around the world since leaving WWE, his career trajectory certainly wasn’t what one might have seen him him when he first debuted in WWE.
On the other side of team Air Boom, Kofi Kingston has had quite a ride in WWE! Following the breakup of Air Boom, Kingston went on to be a standout performer in the 2012 Royal Rumble when he walked on his hands on the floor to get himself back to the ring to avoid elimination. That sequence was talked about and replayed numerous times on WWE television, and in the years following, the Royal Rumble would continually be a showcase for Kofi to display his athleticism and creativity in finding ways for him to avoid elimination.
Kofi was then paired with R-Truth as a tag team and went on to defeat Primo & Epico for his 3ʳᵈ run with the Tag Team Titles in April on Raw. After defending the titles for a few months, they lost the titles to Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane) and disbanded the team shortly after.
October saw Kingston win the Intercontinental Championship for the 4ᵗʰ time from The Miz on an episode of Main Event, which he would hold for 74 days before losing it to Wade Barrett. In April of 2013, he would defeat Cesaro for his 3ʳᵈ United States Championship, which he would only hold for roughly a month before losing it to Dean Ambrose. Following various short-term feuds with Curtis Axel, Bray Wyatt & The Miz, Kofi formed a group known as The New Day along with Big E
Langston & Xavier Woods. Initially, the team would be portrayed as a heel group with a southern baptist style gimmick and routinely received chants of “New Day Sucks”, during their proclaiming that “New Day Rocks”.
The team went through their own growing pains as WWE brass didn’t seem to understand what the three of them intended to do with this grouping, but after some time, things for the team began to fall into place. The team was turned babyface and was fairly unanimously loved by the WWE fanbase. (I refuse to call them what WWE announcers drill into our heads on a weekly basis.) During this time, Kingston would win his 4ᵗʰ & 5ᵗʰ Tag Team Titles with Big E and The New Day would defend the titles fairly regularly under Freebird Rules where any two members of the three-man team could defend the titles. Kofi’s 5ᵗʰ run with the Tag Team Titles would be the longest of the modern era as it would last an amazing 483 days before they would lose them to the team of Cesaro & Sheamus, soon to be known as The Bar.
After a switch from Raw to Smackdown, Kofi became the first to hold the Raw Tag Team Championship, Smackdown Tag Team Championship & the original non-brand-specific World Tag Team Championship as he & Big E defeated The Usos for Kofi’s 6ᵗʰ run with the Tag Titles. However, a month later, the team of Big E & Xavier Woods would lose the titles back to The Usos. Kofi would regain the Tag Titles for his 7ᵗʰ & 8ᵗʰ runs with Big E and eventually lose them on Smackdown 1000 to The Bar in October of 2018. Are we seeing a pattern here with Kofi’s career yet?
Well, that pattern would finally come to an end (for a little while at least) in February of 2019, when he would be inserted into the Smackdown Elimination Chamber Match, replacing an injured Mustafa Ali, for the WWE Championship! Now Kofi didn’t win the match, but had a great showing…entering third, eliminating Randy Orton and found himself facing off against WWE Champion, Daniel Bryan as the final two in the chamber!
The WWE fanbase took notice during this match and got behind Kofi much the same way they had for Daniel Bryan heading into WrestleMania XXX. A storyline in which Daniel Bryan stated how Kofi wasn’t championship material followed, even with Vince McMahon as part of the storyline, stating the same & inserting Kevin Owens into the mix. Eventually, after gauntlet matches & a lot of teasing, the match was finally made for WrestleMania 35.
WrestleMania 35 became know as Kofi-Mania, as Kofi Kingston would become WWE’s first African-born WWE Champion, the 30ᵗʰ Triple Crown & 20ᵗʰ Grand Slam Champion! After debuting for WWE in 2007, now 12 years later, Kofi Kingston climbed the ladder to the top of WWE, winning a top championship in the company. Following winning the title, Kofi would take the WWE Championship with him in a homecoming trip of sorts to Ghana, West Africa — his first trip back to the country in 26 years!
Back in the states, Kofi would retain the title in defenses against Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, Samoa Joe & Randy Orton. But the wheels came off on the debut episode of Smackdown Live on FOX when he was defeated for the WWE Championship by Brock Lesnar in under 10 seconds, ending his reign as WWE Champion at 180 days.
Unfortunately, the way Kofi was written after that was not what I would call strong by any means. Kofi never even attempted to get a rematch against Lesnar and was shoved right back into the Tag Team ranks again with Big E & Xavier Woods and never sniffed the main event of Smackdown Live since. While teaming with Big E again, he won his 9ᵗʰ Tag Team Title by defeating The Revival.
At the 2020 Royal Rumble, Kofi entered at number 6 to find Brock Lesnar standing alone in the ring waiting for him. Kofi would last about 5 minutes as he would get help from both Rey Mysterio
, Jr. (entering 7ᵗʰ) & Big E (entering 8ᵗʰ) in attempting to get a leg up on Lesnar. Kingston got more offense in on Lesnar in the Rumble than he did in his title defense on Smackdown Live (obviously)…but in the end, Kofi was shoved down yet again.
Following the Rumble, Kingston & Big E would lose the Smackdown Tag Team Titles to The Miz & John Morrison. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time until they regain them for a 10ᵗʰ time and so on & so forth. But one thing seems to be clear…Kofi reached the top of the mountain and most likely won’t be back to the summit.
And finally WWE Divas’ Champion, Beth Phoenix: Sadly, Beth’s story within WWE following this picture isn’t a terribly long one. Beth would hold on to the Divas’ Title until April of 2012, losing it in a Lumberjill match to Nikki Bella after successful title defenses against Kelly Kelly, Tamina Snuka (Yes, she’s STILL in the company!) & Eve Torres while competing rather sporadically during the time frame leading up to WrestleMania XXVIII, where she would compete in a tag team match with Eve Torres in a losing effort to Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos.
She was included in silly storylines involving Kaitlyn, Natalya, Eve Torres and then-Smackdown General Manager, Booker T & Raw Managing Supervisor, Vicki Guerrero. Her final match in September of 2012, before announcing her retirement had her lose to AJ Lee, only to have the match restarted by Vicki Guerrero, to allow her to win. With Beth opting to let her contract run out without re-signing with WWE, she announced her retirement from the business. Years later, she stated concerns and her frustration with how the women were being used within the company and while she did her best to try to change that, her frustration got the better of her and decided retirement to be the best option.
It was also just prior to when this picture was taken, that Edge & Beth began talking and started their relationship, which was another reason for her wanting to move on with her life. She wanted to have a family, and in December of 2013, their first daughter was born with their second coming in May of 2016. Beth & Edge were married on October 30, 2016 and own a beautiful house in Asheville, NC. In April of 2017, Beth accepted induction into WWE’s Hall of Fame, and was inducted by her longtime friend, Natalya Neidhart. Edge & Beth are the first real-life couple to both be WWE Hall of Famers.
Following the shift in the way that women were presented within WWE with the Womens’ Revolution, Beth has made sporadic appearances in matches, even reforming the Divas of Doom with Natalya on multiple occasions and she has even competed in the Womens’ Royal Rumble matches while also taking up a job within WWE as a color commentator for the NXT brand alongside Nigel McGuinness & Mauro Ranallo. She can also be seen in the most recent edition of WWE 24, where she gives her own perspectives on her life, being Edge’s wife & mother to two children. She’s also seen helping Edge to train for his return to the ring at this past year’s Royal Rumble — as Edge explained, to keep it quiet and a surprise to the world when he did return, he couldn’t train to get back into wrestling shape with just anyone, as the secret was sure to be leaked out…so his wife was the perfect choice!
Seeing Beth’s “second half” as I like to term is has been quite rewarding. She’s one of the few who were ready for the Womens’ Revolution (as WWE likes to term it) LONG before it actually happened and unfortunately, just had bad timing in her coming up through the ranks. But in seeing her home life in that WWE 24 documentary, hearing her commentary each week improve on NXT, and seeing her work with the current crop of women in WWE today is what helps to balance out her run in WWE.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking around…I may try to make this a series, where I take a moment out of time and do a “catching up” type of piece. I hope you’ve enjoyed this. For me, it’s been fun looking at the careers of a few of these people we haven’t seen featured prominently in WWE in years. Thanks for reading!