On this very day five years ago, I watched my first full episode of Monday Night Raw and was absolutely astounded by what I witnessed. The night’s main event pitted then-WWE champion Randy Orton against then-Raw general manager William Regal, a match that I will forever remember as the match that convinced me to become a wrestling fan.
After that night, I was instantly hooked on the product and haven’t missed an episode of Raw since. While I mainly credit Regal and his sheer awesomeness for getting me into wrestling, there are plenty of other factors behind it as well.
From the compelling characters to the bright lights to the elaborate entrances, I loved almost everything about it. At that point, there was no turning back, as I was already addicted to everything that was WWE.
Five years later, it’s amazing to think how much the WWE has evolved since when I first started watching. The business has changed in more ways than one since 2008, both for better and worse.
The first major change that comes to mind is the amount of wrestling that was available on television at the time. In a normal week, members of the WWE Universe would tune in to a two-hour episode of Raw on Monday Night, an hour-long episode of ECW on Tuesday night, a two-hour episode of SmackDown on Friday Night and the occasional three-hour pay-per-view on Sunday.
Even then, that seemed like an excessive amount of wrestling for just one week. However, over the last five years, WWE has expanded its television programming to almost every day of the week.
In addition to the three-hour episode of Monday Night Raw, there is WWE Main Event, Friday Night SmackDown, Saturday Morning Slam and the monthly pay-per-view event. Of course, this is not counting WWE Superstars, NXT and pay-per-view pre-shows, all of which are available on the official WWE website.
While more wrestling may seem like a good thing to some fans, I know of quite a few fans (myself included) who are burned out by the end of the week. It definitely affects one’s viewing experience, as most of the shows that WWE has to offer on a weekly basis feature nothing more than rematches or recaps from Raw.
One of the main reasons behind that is because of the lack of depth on the roster, as very few of the top stars from 2008 are still around today. Five years ago may not seem like all that long ago, but it’s still stunning to think how many main-event players have departed the company since then.
Notable names such as Batista, Edge, Shawn Michaels, JBL, Ric Flair and others have all since retired from the squared circle. While they are technically still under contract to WWE, part-timers such as Triple H, Undertaker and Chris Jericho have taken a backseat to the stars of today due to their sporadic schedules.
Speaking of such, who exactly are the stars of today? Sure, John Cena, Randy Orton and CM Punk are all still on top, but how many fresh faces has WWE built in the last five years?
Sheamus is a prime example of a young, hungry star that quickly ascended to the the top of WWE in a short period of time, but he hasn’t had a change in character for almost two years. Ryback still might have drawing power at this point in time, but he hasn’t won a match on pay-per-view since last July, which is absolutely unacceptable for a future face of the company.
That being said, there are a handful of names that WWE has built up nicely in recent years. Daniel Bryan wasn’t even around in 2008, but he's now one of the most over guys on the whole roster due to his two simple catchphrases.
In late 2008, Dolph Ziggler was nothing more than an enhancement talent that introduced himself to other people. Five years later, he is the reigning World Heavyweight champion and one of the WWE’s brightest young stars.
With a few exceptions, WWE has done an exceptional job of creating new stars in the last five years, but these guys still have a long way to go before they can be considered replacements for guys such as Cena, Punk or Orton.
Another obvious difference between then and now is the brand extension, which seemingly ended in August 2011 following the birth of the SuperShow concept. With the company being so short on top stars, it was forced to merge the Raw and SmackDown rosters in order to allow Superstars to switch shows whenever they please.
I, for one, miss the days of when the two brands were rivals and the annual WWE draft, which was always a fun night filled with unpredictability. The merging of the brands wouldn’t have been as bad if we didn’t see the same names at the top of card each and every week.
The WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Championship pictures, respectively, are equally as interesting now as they were five years ago, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the divisions. The midcard, Divas and tag team divisions all used to mean something in 2008, but now they’re nothing more than a shell of what they once were.
Again, I would like to think that’s due to the lack of star power in each division, but it can also be blamed on the WWE Creative Team for not investing more time into creating more storylines. Hardly any of the titles have a shred of prestige at the moment, mostly because they’re rarely ever defended, and the Superstars holding them almost always lose non-title matches.
However, not all the changes that have occurred over the last five years have necessarily been bad, as there are a number of things that have been beneficial as well.
The rise of social media has allowed fans to connect with their favorite Superstars and easily access the WWE programming if they happen to miss an episode as it airs live. Furthermore, WWE’s revamped developmental territory NXT has groomed some of WWE’s rising stars, including The Shield and Big E Langston.
In the summer of 2008, WWE was officially given a PG rating, which many fans were critical of at the start. Although the product suffered from it at first, the PG rating hasn’t been as prevalent in recent years, with WWE getting edgier with both its storylines and Superstars.
With technical wrestlers such as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler on the rise in WWE, the in-ring quality of most of the matches has improved drastically as well. With more of the focus being on the actual wrestling, we’ve witnessed instant classics since 2008 such as Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker as well CM Punk vs. John Cena.
As much as you may want a certain time in wrestling history to return, it’s not happening. You can’t recreate the past, but you can reminisce on it and look to build a better future.
Although the WWE has its respective issues, there’s no denying that there are a number of things that WWE has done right in the last five years. Regardless of how many things I may not like about the current product, I’ve still seen my love and passion for the business grow each day.
There will always be things to dislike about WWE, but it’s important to appreciate the things you do like about the business and watch as they grow and evolve over time. I look forward to what the future has in store for WWE and what it will do to continue to make its product exciting, entertaining and enjoyable.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on how WWE has changed over the last five years. As always, your criticism and overall feedback of my latest piece is welcomed and greatly appreciated.