WWE Wrestlers: Is There a Right Age Range to Become World Champion?

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WWE Wrestlers: Is There a Right Age Range to Become World Champion?
Randy Orton is the youngest ever champion, crowned at age 24 (credit: extremein.com).

After watching a myriad of WWE biographical documentaries over the years, the one obvious and cliche observation which even the most casual fan would be able to ascertain is that the business has changed over the years.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty details that would take this article into "Parts Unknown," the character and gimmick of each long standing champion has generally shaped what direction the WWE was headed towards and vice versa.

That said, should there be an appropriate age range for wrestlers to hit or max out at before the WWE anoints them as long-term World Champion(s) for the first time? Or is it as simple as a wrestler connecting with the audience at the right place at the right time?

A long-term champion represents the company and to a larger degree, can define the generation. Will a young champion be too immature to have the ball? Will an older wrestler be worth investing into since the sand in his hour glass is almost up?

But wait, isn't the adage, the wrestler makes the belt, not the other way around?

Now the logical argument against a decree (official or not) of this magnitude is that age, especially in this sport, is just a number. Everyone is different and one's wrestling style is what can really boost or hinder one's longevity. Jeff Hardy will not be able to do flips and fly like a rag doll at 50. But Sting can still wrestle reasonably well at that age.

Does Vince McMahon care about the clock? Bret Hart is a great example of a wrestler who is widely believed to have been the most 'fighting' champion in history and won his first championship at 35.

The Hitman won his first World title at age 35 (credit: starscolor.com).

 

He led the WWE to unprecedented heights but it's possible that the only reason he was given a shot was because Ric Flair was leaving and McMahon needed to move away from the outrageously muscular champions due to the steroid scandal.

Regardless, all that should matter is whether or not the wrestler connects with the fans, puts tushes in the seats and makes merchandise fly.

Moreover, by making it known that there is an age barrier in place, it would cause fans to deduce who would be in the title picture, thereby further narrowing the product while hampering potential story lines. Plus, some of the grizzled veterans have loyally paid their dues over the years and "deserve" a run.

 

 

However, seeing as leagues in other sports are heading towards age restrictions (the NBA immediately comes to mind) to simply join, one has to wonder whether the WWE would benefit by taking a peek and seeing the positives of putting a loose age range in place for first time world champions who are expected to shoulder the load of the company and be fully trusted.

Ideally, I would assume you want a first-time world champion (I'm talking REAL superstars, not bit players like Jack Swagger) to be in his prime and capable of carrying the company in main event feuds for the next 6-8 years and then slowly phase out by putting younger talent "over" while riding off into the sunset.

The third generation superstar held the record for the youngest ever WWE champion (credit: WWE.com).

 

So what age range is a wrestler's prime to be a first time world champion for the long term?

Let's take a look at the age of a few former world champions when they won their first big one, VERY briefly walk down memory lane to see how long he was with the company afterwards and estimate a potential good age range for a wrestler to hold the strap for the first time (we're going to only look at the last 20 years and not delve into the 80's or before):

Twenties

 

Wrestler: Randy Orton
Age of first World Championship: 24
Career:
In my opinion, the company gave Orton his month-long reign to erase Lesnar's record of being the "youngest world champion."

Randy Orton is absolutely having a fantastic career by most standards, but early on, he was skating on thin ice and was reprimanded several times for his well-publicized behavioral problems.

Furthermore, there were rumors about how he was one strike away from being let go (per ProWrestling.com). Needless to say, his backstage demeanor has matured with age.

 

Randy Orton has the current record of being the youngest champion (credit: WWE.com).

 

Wrestler: Brock Lesnar
Age of first World Championship:
25
Career:
The Next Big Thing became a three-time world champion who had a road paved towards immortality, laying out legends like The Rock and Undertaker in his wake. Instead, he quit the company (first time) a year and a half after his first WWE title at the age of 26.

 

Wrestler: The Rock
Age of first World Championship: 26
Career: Just like Austin, this man was a once-in-a-generation phenomenon. He was bigger than the belt. Luckily, most of us got to see them both in their infinite glory.

Yet by 30, The Rock was a part-time talent and held the WWE/WCW/World championship for more than 44 days only twice out of his nine reigns.

I'm aware Hollywood was a knockin' but I'm positive McMahon (and all of us) would have preferred Dwayne Johnson stay a full-time wrestler.

 

Wrestler: John Cena
Age of first World Championship: 27
Career: Easily the most polarizing figure in the WWE that anyone can remember, he is Zeus and Superman rolled into one. Fans can boast his accolades and stack it next to anyone who has ever laced a pair of boots. Enough said.

Current champion CM Punk with his belt in 2008 (credit: enfinity1productions).

 

Wrestler: CM Punk
Age of first World Championship:
29
Career: Over four years after winning his first title, the self proclaimed Best In The World has shown no signs of slowing down.

 

Early Thirties

Wrestler: Shawn Michaels
Age of first World Championship: 30
Career: Considered to be one of the best ever, the Showstopper was top dog for eight full months after first winning it at WrestleMania XII and later became the leader of the most controversial, envelope-pushing stable in history.

Also, as evidenced by his high quality of matches after his return from injury, there's no doubt in anyone's mind Shawn Michaels would have had many great feuds during his time off from 1998-2002.

 

Wrestler: Triple H
Age of first World Championship: 30
Career: Headlining WrestleMania after WrestlleMania, he rose to become one of the most decorated champions in WWE history and has had legendary battles with foes in nearly every type of match conceivable.

credit: prowrasslin.com

 

Wrestler: The Miz
Age of first World Championship: 30
Career: The reality star turned world champion just turned 32 last month and has slowly faded from the main event scene, but had the strap for five months and was the Intercontinental championship as recently as two weeks ago.

 

 

Wrestler: Chris Jericho
Age of first World Championship: 30
Career: One of the last competitors to truly hone his craft around the world, he has done it all. Over a decade after winning his first championship with the company, he was a large part of world championship story lines as late as this year.

Wrestler: Kurt Angle
Age of first World Championship: 31
Career: Possibly the most talented natural wrestler the industry has ever scene, the Olympic gold medalist shot to the top faster than he could spit his 3 I's. He was linked to drug use by Sports Illustrated, and despite ending his tenure with the WWE six years later, he has (somewhat) flourished with the lighter schedule in TNA.

Wrestler: Sheamus
Age of first World Championship: 31
Career: A mixed reaction resonated from the WWE Universe when the relatively unheralded wrestler became World Champion. Three years later, he's one of the major stars the company banks on and is the set to face the current Heavyweight champion at Survivor Series. 

YES! (credit: enfinity1productions).

Wrestler: Edge
Age of first World Championship: 32
Career: Another fantastic career which was cut short by injury. He's ranked up there for the overall total number of championships won. Unfortunately, his time in the ring was done five years later after years of wear and tear on his neck and spine.

 

 

Mid to Late 30's

Wrestler: Stone Cold Steve Austin
Age of first World Championship: 33
Career: Hold your horses, I'm not criticizing putting the belt on arguably the greatest superstar in WWE history. No force on earth could stop the 3:16 train in the late 90's. What I am saying is that because of an earlier injury, his career was never the same after his hiatus subsequent to Survivor Series 1999, at the age of 34.

Yes, he came back in late 2000, had his moments with the Invasion angle and won more championships, but we know it didn't feel the same.

He set records, moved more merchandise than anyone, wrestled hurt, and sold more tickets to than any wrestling entity in history, but I'm sure the WWE wished he was a few years younger so he could've been an active wrestler through some of the recent leaner years.

Wrestler: Batista
Age of first World Championship:
36
Career:
Involved in multiple main events of WrestleMania among other high-profile matches, but the injury-prone superstar quit the WWE soon after his 40th birthday.

Wrestler: JBL
Age of first World Championship:
37
Career:
A very late bloomer who was a background character in several entertaining moments in the company's history, but broke through with the JBL gimmick then won his sole championship and carried it  'til John Cena defeated him at WrestleMania 21.

 

The next year, he suffered a serious back injury and flirted with retirement. For the remainder of his tenure, he was sporadically injured, joined the commentary booth, and while he was in a few more WWE title matches, he officially closed the curtain on his in-ring career a few years later without putting any significant young talent "over."

 

Analysis

There are several more that I didn't list like Daniel Bryan (30), Undertaker (26, who lost six days later, but later won a longer run at age 32), Eddie Guerrero (36) etc. but it seems as though the WWE will have their best chance of success if they build the company around a mature superstar, aged around 30-32.

It has to be someone who has enough gas in their tank for at least a half decade more, as opposed to a young hot shot in his mid-20s who could burn out or an older superstar who may not have many Pay Per Views left in his holster.

 

In this current era, that leaves Dolph Ziggler (32), Damien Sandow (30),  Kofi Kingston (31), Antonio Cesaro (32), Wade Barrett (32) in their early 30's, followed by Sin Cara (29), Cody Rhodes (28) and Zack Ryder (27), among a few others.

So that begs the million dollar question: Does age matter?
If so, am I in the wrong "age range" by looking at a skewed sample size?

Should the WWE judge it on a case-by-case basis and only plan for the next year or even only the next pay per view?

Should the WWE keep ages in the back of their minds before pushing wrestlers to the top, regardless of fan reactions?

If so, to what extent?

What do you think?

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