Sooner or later, everything in WWE will change.
Like it or not, John Cena won't be the "man" anymore, CM Punk won't be dropping pipebombs and Vince McMahon won't be in charge.
That begs the burning question: what does the future hold?
It's almost impossible to answer. After Bruno Sammartino retired, nobody knew the outcome. More recently, just like Edge was forced to retire, who was going to replace him as the top guy on SmackDown? Let's face it, Undertaker was not working full time and Edge was the Friday night main event.
Sammartino carried the company and then a man named Hogan came along. After Hogan and Ric Flair brought the magic in the '80s, Shawn Michaels superkicked his way to stardom.
Michaels and Hart transcended wrestling until Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Mick Foley and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin brought in the Attitude Era with the help from Undertaker, Kane and Triple H. That was the era that boosted World Wrestling Entertainment.
Mind you, this was all due to the genius of McMahon and his band of writers that made the era quite possibly the greatest of all time.
Rock and Austin moved on while HHH was still there in the early to mid-2000s in the Ruthless Aggression era. Many believe it to be boring, but the matches were what the era's title suggests: very aggressive.
Up until that point, there was still no social media and the threat of WCW subsided. Once 2006 came, it was John Cena and Edge's turn to take over the reigns of pro wrestling.
That leads us to where we are today. Edge has been retired for two years and Cena just turned 36, so that can only mean we are closer to a new face of the company.
It's the kind of mystery that makes wrestling fun to watch for true fans of the sport. Who would have been able to predict that a year prior to Punk's big explosion on the scene, he would become one of the best WWE Champions of all time?
Nobody knew who would be WWE's saving grace when Hulk Hogan left the company. To this day, it is still a mystery who will lead SmackDown to the promised land and save it from obscurity.
Today, I'm proud to bring in former B/R writer Chinmay as we both tackle a debate that brings up six main questions about WWE's future.
- The future face of WWE
- HHH as the new head of the company
- Social Media's Impact
- Any Potential Threats to WWE
- Info about the wrestler's union
- A new era means a new audience
I will write the first three slides while Chinmay writes the final three and the conclusion. Enjoy the ride...
The days of Edge, John Cena, Batista, Rey Mysterio, Undertaker and Triple H are slowly coming to an end. Within the past two years, Randy Orton has won only a single World Heavyweight Championship.
Dwayne Johnson and Brock Lesnar are only back part-time. There have been rumors that Christian, MVP, RVD and Shelton Benjamin will return someday, but they will not be carrying the company on their back. That certainly begs the question: who will the next future face be?
At this point in the WWE time continuum, there is no way to actually tell who will be the WWE's flagship superstar.
Before John Cena's meteoric rise into stardom, not one single person knew he was going to be "the guy." I'm fairly certain that everyone thought Randy Orton would carry the wrestling industry on his back.
That certainly didn't happen the way we all thought.
There are a slew of names up above in that main image. From left to right: Damien Sandow, Miz, Dean Ambrose, Cody Rhodes, Sheamus, Dolph Ziggler, CM Punk, Antonio Cesaro, Roman Reigns, Daniel Bryan, Ryback and Seth Rollins.
If there is a future face of the WWE, he is in that company. Sadly, a diva or tag-team will not headline a show. The days of Trish Stratus and Lita as well as the Hardyz/E&C have slowly dissipated into nothingness.
Sandow and Rhodes do not have the "charisma" that it takes to match what Cena and Punk have done. Nobody will buy a PPV to watch them in a feud. Maybe I'm wrong, but the future is bright for those two—just not bright enough.
The Miz is very close to that status, but he is more of a celebrity than a performer in the ring with star power. His heel run with the belt was average at best. Cena put him over that night at Mania.
Daniel Bryan can be the guy. However, his star appeal doesn't scream "main event." Maybe it is the former slew of stars that set a status quo for the WWE Championship. Bryan will remain in SmackDown's main event, but never Raw's.
Antonio Cesaro has all of the potential in the world, but will never lead the company to prosperity. For example, look at his recent run...of nothing. He's a great wrestler with average mic skills and minimal charisma.
CM Punk and Sheamus are in the same boat. Both are carrying their respective brands at the moment as far as popularity and skill, but they are old. Punk is 34 and only has three really good years left. Sheamus is one year older than Punk. Nobody can carry a company at 40 years old.
Now, these four guys coming up next are the future of WWE. Dolph Ziggler, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and ultimately the man to lead WWE, Dean Ambrose.
Each guy has the innate ability to wrestle. Even Reigns can do battle in the ring. He's the muscleman Vince will love. To counter the muscleman is the workhorse. Rollins, Ambrose and Ziggler are world-class wrestlers.
The mic work will be improved with Reigns (who might get a manager after all), Rollins (who is improving every day) and Ziggler (who has finally reached the promo level to be a main event guy).
To further Ziggler's case, his charity work is unbelievable. Not quite the level of Cena's, but the guy can promote anything.
After all, all three men are under the age of 33 with the Shield all under 28.
To transition from the future face of WWE to the future owner of the company, let's dive in to the man who will be in charge as soon as Vince McMahon calls it a career: Triple H.
Sooner or later, the man who created everything we see on Monday nights and occasional Sunday evenings will have to stop coming to work everyday.
The 67-year old Vince McMahon will retire within the next 10 years.
That being said, who will be the person to step up and run the mega-billion dollar company? Triple H, who has been by McMahon's side since he married Stephanie McMahon, is that man.
He has been with the company since 1995 and has never left. The true act of courage and respect towards his boss was easily identified by the interest and willingness to stick with one company for 18 years. Fun fact: HHH was in WCW for one year as Terra Ryzing in 1994.
It started out as the Hunter Hearst Helmsley in the Connecticut Blueblood. He was then the leader of Degeneration-X, the coolest and most controversial faction in WWE history. Then HHH was the Game and now the COO behind the scenes learning the ropes.
What does that mean for the future of WWE?
Levesque has already started to make his presence felt within the system. Not so much on screen, but behind the curtain; HHH is a presence now. He finally has a say that doesn't warrant the comment of "burying" somebody.
His revamp of the tag division is noted. Team Hell No, Primo and Epico, the Uso's, the Shield and Team Funky have collectively put on great matches and provided excitement to a division that couldn't have been more irrelevant two years ago.
Everybody from the IWC complains about the Divas division dying, but Kaitlyn is an excellent wrestler, AJ can do everything, Paige in NXT is an outstanding talent and the phenomenal Sara Del Ray is now training divas to be the best.
CM Punk's title trek that lasted over a year had to be something accredited to the mind of HHH, not Vince McMahon solely. Before his shoot promo, McMahon was clearly not an advocate of the Straight Edge Savior.
With HHH's participation in DX and Evolution, more stables are now forming that weren't there four years ago. 3MB, Nexus and now the Shield is the best thing in WWE at the current time.
What is working with Hunter is his realization of the crowd and what the audience wants to see.
People want to see the Shield beat down the Undertaker and look like the best group in history. People want to witness a year-long title reign, because it is different. Looking at the ratings, it has been the best in quite some time.
But the clear success of HHH's power so far has to be NXT.
Currently at Full Sail University, NXT, a former reality show turned into FCW, is now sheltering a slew of future great WWE stars.
I named a few above, but Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Antonio Cesaro and Damien Sandow all came from NXT. Coming up soon are Bray Wyatt, Adrian Neville and Paige/Summer Rae. I package those two together because their feud currently is just astounding.
Within the last couple years, we have seen the transformation of Vince's WWE into Vince and HHH's WWE. HHH is the man to take over when Vince retires and for good reason. It is a bright future and the man with a bright past and young mind has the skills to take WWE to the next level.
If you don't have Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, then you are "put in demise" by the rest of the online wrestling community.
The power of social media is what created the IWC, which began when CM Punk and Samoa Joe entered the scene. As soon as you enjoyed those guys before WWE grabbed them, everyone else knew about it and became instantly cool too.
This may be the hottest thing going on in professional wrestling at the moment, without the actual wrestling. If you were to ask somebody what Tout is outside of a wrestling capacity, the look on their face will shock you.
A complaint, criticism or favorable event that happens on pay-per-views, Raw, NXT, Main Event, Superstars or SmackDown is instantly tweeted or facebooked for the world to see.
It is very rare that we find an intelligent criticism of a wrestling-related circumstance.
The burning question remains, however: how has the impact of social media hurt the WWE? It's very simple. Everyone has an opinion and everyone will voice that, which won't sit well with some, and that begins a fight.
Wrestling shouldn't be something to complain about. Back in the day of Bruno Sammartino and Dusty Rhodes, nobody tweeted about how the match was very disappointing. It was much more enjoyable because it was simple.
Everything was much more simple even 10 years ago. Throughout the Ruthless Aggression Era, it was simple. Twitter didn't start to surface until 2008-2009. By that time, Vince McMahon and the WWE struck "gold" in their minds.
Now, we are tweeting what matches we want to see. It is a lot more interactive. When WWE goes off camera, it doesn't matter. We can use social media to watch what is going on.
To play devil's advocate a bit, it helps the WWE get fans and connect with them. Any fan can tweet their favorite wrestler and if they are lucky, that wrestler will respond or give it a good ol' fashioned retweet/favorite.
What happened to kayfabe? What happened to having characters?
That is a complaint from many areas of the fan kingdom. There will never again be another Undertaker or Kane. Even Kane is becoming a "real-life" figure.
No matter how much anyone writes or says, a grey area will always stay. However, I still believe that social media has ruined many aspects of World Wrestling Entertainment and even the entire pro wrestling community.
Last but not least, spoilers. Spoilers are a wrestling fan's best and worst enemy. It all depends on what kind of person you are. Sometimes, you don't want to watch, so you read the spoilers and see what happens on Smackdown.
In other cases, a superstar could be "rumored" to return and the pressure to not find out is killing you. Yes, I've been guilty of it as well and it sickens me every time I search Wrestlezone.com or Prowrestlinginder.com.
Social Media spreads spoilers and everyone knows. The days when Raw is taped, the twitterverse knows that will happen before it happens. So, if you are trying to avoid the results, no social media for you and that keeps the casual wrestling fan content.
Now, the social media boom has came with a new era of wrestling. Coming with a new era is a new audience.
The wrestling audience has changed a lot in the last decade. The evolution of social media and consequent torrents of information has completely changed the game.
Gone are the days, when WWE could treat its audience like sheep. While the company still likes to shove things down people’s throats, people now have a chance to completely denounce it. The new audience has a voice, which it never had before.
It has resulted into some curious developments.
Many people do not buy the KayFabe anymore. They rather stick to their choices, instead of suspending disbelief.
It is fans who often decide who’s the heel and who’s the face. They will cheer the vilest act of a superstar, if they wish to. They will boo a face, when he is giving some ailing kids a moment of their life.
Their information has made them impatient and cynical. Since such fans know a lot of things, they naturally predict some more. It kills the unpredictability of the product, as well.
The vocal dissent is now apparent in almost all arenas. Whether this behavior is right or wrong is a different question altogether. But evidently it is affecting the viewing experience of other segments of the audience, and it does not augur well for the company.
Story writing and its implementation has become a complex process on such a backdrop. The age old storytelling of good vs. evil has to go through a serious evolution.
The changing paradigm poses a huge threat to the WWE. In combination with our next topics of discussion, it very well holds the key to the further evolution of the company.
The biggest threat that WWE faces at this moment is the overexposure.
WWE, at the moment, has a show on every single day of the week, including a monthly pay-per-view on a Sunday. And although the USA network might be profiting, there are negative implications for the WWE.
From a business perspective, two classic economic phenomena work against this overdose of WWE.
First of all, it is a blatant case of supply exceeding demand.
WWE is producing more than what it’s audience can ideally consume.
The second is the case of diminishing utility.
This valid economic law states that a person would derive less and less pleasure from a product as he or she consumes more of it. In case of WWE fans, it would mean that by the end of the week, one would develop wrestling fatigue.
The fact that, apart from NXT, the other five shows mainly feature the same set of wrestlers just increases the gravity of this issue. It, in fact, strikes at the very soul of WWE, as this overexposure works heavily against the wrestlers
The overexposure is shortening the shelf life of wrestlers in two prominent ways.
It is the main reason behind people’s apathy towards the likes of Sheamus and John Cena. They are just everywhere. There should be some scope for the people to miss their favorite stars.
People are getting this break only due to injuries, which is the direct outcome of such a grueling schedule. Just this year, we have seen a lieu of wrestlers getting injured. WWE totally exploited CM Punk. It does same with the other stars as well.
This practice is hampering WWE's future profoundly. God forbid, but there might come a day when the company would lose their brightest future prospect due to such a ruthless work culture.
It’s unfortunate that wrestlers have little to no say in these matters. The only way they can have some is their institutionalization, which is a very contentious issue as we will see.
Pro Wrestling is one of the toughest industries to work in on the planet. Physical pain and wear and tear of the body are very obvious challenges. However, the real hardships lie in the historical work culture and business practices of the industry.
The wrestlers are always treated as “independent contractors,” which means that they have no benefits that a normal employee would enjoy. These include healthcare, social security, pensions or even a guaranteed paid annual leave.
These factors assume a sinister proportion when we consider the 300 day schedule of wrestlers and thousands of miles of travel.
People often look at big stars and their big checks, but for every John Cena and Undertaker, there are countless faces that perform on meager salary.
Some of them are jobbers in big leagues like WWE, and many of them perform in shady dungeons across the globe. They have to take care of their healthcare in case they are injured. Their bills often exceed their earnings. In case of a career ending injury, they have a very few alternative means of livelihood due to their lack of education.
I am going to cite a couple of bits from a fantastic article by Stephen Sonneveld to provide you a glimpse of the grim reality of wrestling. He cites several horrifying clauses in the contract of the deceased wrestler Chris Kanyon (1970-2010)
“clause 9.12 (c) ensures the promoter cannot be sued or held liable if the wrestler is seriously injured or dies, "whether caused by the negligence of the PROMOTER, other wrestlers or otherwise."
"In the event that WRESTLER is unable to wrestle for eight (8) consecutive weeks during the Term of this Agreement due to an injury suffered in the ring while performing services at PROMOTER's direction, PROMOTER shall have the right thereafter to terminate this Agreement or suspend WRESTLER without pay." (Bleacher Report – March 19, 2012)
If this is not discouraging enough, then here is a quote by Vince McMahon himself. Adam B. in Daily Kos notes an answer from Vince on question on WWE’s counseling services for retired stars.
"Two words. Public relations. That's it. I do not feel any sense of responsibility for anyone of whatever their age is who has passed along and has bad habits and overdoses for drugs. Sorry, I don't feel any responsibility for that."
It is a truly a horrible state of affairs.
However before accusing WWE of being a complete devil, one has to concede that the company has come a long way.
It pays its wrestler way more that any promoter ever did. It has a concrete health and wellness policy. WWE also looks after wrestlers in a fairly commendable way. And compared to small wrestling promotions, it appears almost angelic. In small promotions there is complete absence of safety and security. The situation of wrestlers is very much precarious there.
Due to the constraint of space, I am not going to dive into factors that make wrestlers’ union a very complex matter. I beg your pardon for that. To redeem myself a little, I would most sincerely implore you to Stephen’s comprehensive review, which you can read here.
As of now, I will leave you with a burning question-mark.
Will Pro Wrestlers ever have a union or another institutional mechanism to look after their rights?
(P.S. Thank you Stephen for your invaluable inputs, and for allowing me to cite you. I appreciate it.)
The future is fatally fascinating. It entices us with questions. Some of them lead to a dead end, whereas some trap us in an endless loop of speculation. And we, being the pawns of our curiosity, fall prey to its game.
Jon and I decided to give in to our curiosity. We, thus, chose six themes that will be some of the defining aspects of WWE’s future.
The future face, Triple H’s reign and changing nature of the audience are three factors that will decide the fate of the in ring product and WWE's overall success. Social media and over exposure will influence the business strategy of the company. Trade union of pro wrestlers on the other hand will affect the lives of pro wrestlers. Together, these are capable of changing the entire landscape of the WWE.
How these changes would play out is anybody’s guess. No one knows how the die will be cast.
We took our guesses.
Now it is your turn.
We thank you all for taking your time to read this article. We sincerely hope that it gave you something to ponder upon.