In the midst of media outcast and scrutiny, 2008 was the year the WWE starting to embark on a new era of wrestling for a new era of fans.
While previous years which attempted to make the transition were cut short by departures or deaths of legendary superstars, 2008 attempted to finally reconcile these struggles.
The term "WWE Universe" was born this year to embrace and rally the fanbase that stood by the company throughout the trials and tribulations. WWE.com would even make an online website dedicated to fan interaction.
In my opinion, these actions were the result of the first attempts to reconcile two divided fanbases.
By 2008, the Internet Wrestling Community was working in full force. From their displeasure in John Cena to getting backstage reports on wrestlers, this older wrestling fanbase took to the Internet to express their concerns as well as support for the business.
They differ drastically from the second fanbase that makes up the majority of WWE audiences.
The younger, casual wrestling fans were on the other side of the divide. They were the fans who could accept John Cena for the Superman that he was on television screens. They were the younger fans who accepted and even cheered when Triple H beat a younger talent like Umaga.
WWE of course would choose to cater more to the later fans, but still attempted to retain older wrestling fans' hearts.
Speaking of Triple H, 2008 was a historic year for the Cerebral Assassin.
After returning from another quadriceps injury, The Game went on a hunt for a record with his quest for another WWE championship run. At Backlash 2008, Triple H defeated John Cena, John Bradshaw Layfield and Randy Orton for the WWE championship.
Triple H's championship victory gave him his 12th world title. He tied the record for most WWE championship reigns with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
One of the most memorable feuds in 2008 occurred between legends Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho.
During an interview on The Highlight Reel with Michaels, Jericho would accuse Michaels of faking an injury. Jericho also accused fans of being biased toward Michaels, despite the fact that what Michaels was doing was wrong.
At the time, Jericho was in the midst of his return and a heavy face run. However, he would attack Michaels and transition himself into a newer and darker bad guy role. Smashing Michaels' face into the television screen, Jericho showed shades of rawness and realness that existed during the Attitude Era.
Michaels suffered a cut eye and yearned for revenge against Jericho. However, their rivalry was taken to a new level when Jericho accidentally punched Michaels' wife Rebecca.
The rivalry between Michaels and Jericho was very interesting considering we were still seeing two legends proving that they still had it. They created a captivating angle that was able to regain the interest of older fans.
In the previous article, I mentioned Cena suffering an injury that put him out of action. However, he made his return during the 2008 Royal Rumble held in Madison Square Garden.
Despite a surprise return in the legendary battle royal contest, Cena was still greeted by a mixed New Yorker crowd reaction. During this year, it was clear that Cena gained more love and approval from younger audiences—kids who looked up to the champ even started wearing his T-shirts in appreciation.
Even a face Triple H in a promo against Cena clowned Cena for his fans not being able to stay up past their bed time.
While the Michaels/Jericho feud was to be appreciated by older audiences, superstars like Cena and Rey Mysterio captivated younger fans. They dared kids to believe that anything and everything was possible.
One of the biggest names that began making their mark this year, though, was independent circuit legend CM Punk. From working with the likes of Raven and Daffney Unger, Punk exhibited a new look and mantra. His "Straight Edge" persona swore off drugs and alcohol and embraced a clean lifestyle while having a more alternative look in the process.
At WrestleMania XXIV, Punk won his first Money in the Bank contract. Later that year on Raw, Punk would cash in and win the World Heavyweight title against Edge, who suffered a beat down at the hands of Batista.
Punk's reign would end up foreshadowing a bigger event in that would take place later in his career. He displayed a new look that was different from the bodybuilding grappling types of Cena and Triple H.
Punk also sought to rid the image of a big steroid wrestler who sooner or later succumbed to the ills entertainment aspect of the business. But his full potential to reach both older and younger fans wasn't to be met until several years later when he spoke words that shocked the wrestling nation.
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