Change is in the air, and we’re currently witnessing the birth of a new generation in WWE. When was the last time WWE had so many young, fresh faces on the roster? It seems like we’ve been living in the Cena-dominated era forever, but in reality it has only been about five years. Every few years, the entire landscape of WWE goes through a number of changes. The presentation, the performers, and the entire product are revamped for a new generation of fans. Some of the major shifts are covered below.
The Golden Age:
During the early 1980’s, Vince McMahon decided his company was going to be a nationwide promotion instead of a regional attraction. Wrestlers were starting to become more like giant cartoon characters, and most of them had flashy, over-the-top gimmicks. Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Honky Tonk Man, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake…these are the guys I grew up watching. The product was obviously marketed towards younger fans like me, as I was only eight years old when I watched my first live pay-per-view (1991 Royal Rumble). The larger-than-life superstars were enough to grab the attention of millions of young fans, and WWE quickly became the most popular and most successful wrestling promotion in history.
The New Generation:
Around 1994, many of the old WWE headliners jumped ship to WCW, and WWE programming began to feature guys who were athletic and flashy at the same time. Bret “Hitman” Hart, Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon, and The Undertaker dominated this era. This was considered a dark period by many due to the fact pro wrestling wasn’t generating as much interest as it did in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Kids who loved Hogan, Savage, and Warrior were getting tired of the cheesy gimmicks and tired of watching the same old wrestlers in the main events. So in 1997, WWE did something about it. Fans were starting to rebel against the traditional babyfaces, especially with the influence of ECW and the introduction of the New World Order in WCW.
The Attitude Era:
In 1995-96, three future stars were introduced to WWE fans. Hunter Hearst-Helmsley (formerly Terra Ryzing in WCW), “Ringmaster” Steve Austin (formerly “Stunning” Steve Austin in WCW) and Rocky Maivia (formerly Flex Kavana in USWA) all made their WWE debuts within about 12 months of each other. Who would have imagined these three young wrestlers would end up dominating over the next five years? Austin was probably the most likely to succeed. He was lucky enough to find his “Stone Cold” character after only about three months of wrestling for WWE, and he started gaining traction long before Triple H or The Rock did. Rocky was with WWE for almost a year before ditching his babyface character and becoming “The Rock," which probably wouldn’t have happened if WWE wasn’t going through major changes at the time. Triple H was lucky enough to be best buds with HBK, and his run with the original DX propelled him up the ranks and positioned him to become a future main-eventer. Several other young performers were heavily pushed during this period, including The Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian, Chris Jericho, and Kurt Angle.
When Brock Lesnar arrived on the scene in early 2002, WWE fans knew something big was happening. Unfortunately, the man who was supposed to lead us into the next generation became frustrated and decided he wanted to pursue another career, and this left a huge void. Goldberg’s much-hyped return to wrestling was also lackluster, and he left pro wrestling on the same night as Lesnar. This era, in my opinion, officially ended in 2004 at Wrestlemania XX, and WWE’s fall from grace was becoming much more apparent.
WWE went through an awkward transition period during 2004-2005. Triple H (with Evolution), Eddie Guererro, Chris Benoit, Undertaker, HBK, Angle, Kane, and JBL were some of the major players, and WWE wouldn’t officially enter a new era until Wrestlemania 21.
The John Cena Era:
In my personal opinion, this is when WWE started to become extremely predictable. John Cena and Dave Batista both became world champions at Wrestlemania 21, and they (along with Triple H, HBK, Randy Orton, Undertaker, and Edge) would headline nearly every show for the next five years. Batista was arguably more popular that Cena (fans mostly cheered for him, unlike Cena’s mixed reactions), but the injury bug kept biting him around Wrestlemania time (he missed WM22 and 24), so Cena became the main attraction by default. Cena overcame almost every challenge and fans quickly grew tired of his “superman” character and his Vanilla Ice Marine-wannabe gimmick. The man simply couldn’t be defeated unless foul play was involved. Don’t get me wrong—there were several positives that came from this era. Edge, Randy Orton, CM Punk, Booker T, and Jeff Hardy were all elevated to the main event and became multiple time champions, which basically saved an otherwise dreadful few years.
Here we are…it’s the dawn of a new era, and while many fans are complaining about lack of blood, foul language, brutality, sexuality, and overall raunchiness, this is actually a perfect time for WWE to make new stars. They have already elevated newcomers like Sheamus, Jack Swagger, and Wade Barrett. I can also see Alberto Del Rio becoming a huge star during this time. I think WWE is finally waking up and doing things right. Randy Orton’s “Viper” character is hotter than ever, and I believe he’s quickly becoming the new face of the company. The idea to form a new stable with the NXT Season 1 rookies was brilliant, and Nexus continues to terrorize Raw. John Cena being forced to join them (which WILL eventually lead to a Cena heel turn) was just the icing on the cake. In my opinion, several wrestlers will need character “makeovers” (much like Rock, Triple H, and Austin went through) before they’re truly considered main-event players. Swagger, Kofi Kingston, Drew McIntyre are a few wrestlers that fall into this category. These guys have massive potential, but they’re going to be held back if they stick with their current gimmicks.
Now I’d like to hear from the fans….Who do you think has the potential to be breakout stars during the WWE-PG era?