Combining the different perspectives provides an interesting viewpoint on the modern history of wrestling. The four people I mentioned all have different things which interest them and different qualities which attract them to various characters.
When I thought about all of those things after Summer Slam and the Raw which followed and how they intertwine throughout the fabric of today’s WWE, it occurred to me that today’s generation of “superstars” should be one of the best ever since it has a little of all of those elements.
Cena is Hulk Hogan Jr. I know he got the beating many have wanted him to get for years at the hands of Brock Lesnar Sunday, but his run at the top has lasted since April of 2006 when he main evented WrestleMania for the first time, and his run has never involved a heel turn or any deviation from his wholesome character with the exception of a few edgy promos. Cena’s young fans are pumping money into the WWE machine, which is why he won’t be far from the main event for years to come and do so as a babyface in the truest sense. Hogan’s turn only came after he had beaten his rival in a dream match and had finally become stale.
The old WWE had consistent workhorses like Randy Savage and Bret Hart. Today there’s Randy Orton, who always seems to be around and a factor in the storylines. He might not have Savage’s charisma, and he certainly had his issues early on, but he has grown into someone the WWE can count on week after week. There are still high-flyers, as Jimmy Snuka has morphed into Kofi Kingston, and there are still tag teams, no matter how hard the WWE tries to kill the division. And there are clowns, as the Rhodes boys are providing laughs the way the Bushwhackers once did.
Most important, there are still rivalries. The WWE isn’t great at setting up stories these days, but they have figured out how to extend them, as we’re currently seeing with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. Their original group, the Shield, was kept together much longer than anyone could have expected, and the big feud to come from its split shows no signs of letting up (much to the enjoyment of those who love watching them fight every week).
Cena and Lesnar are telling an interesting story which dates back a couple of years, and the Miz and Dolph Ziggler are starting something which could go on for years off-and-on as the Clevelanders climb the card. I believe they will headline a WrestleMania together someday.
So if the WWE didn’t screw up the Shield the way WCW ruined the NWO, there are stars for kids and rivalries for the fan who appreciates work, why does this current era feel like it doesn’t measure up to the past to many fans?
The answer is simple. There’s no longer any edgy wrestlers who straddle the line between face and heel. There are wrestlers who harken back to the old days in just about every category except the ones who changed wrestling forever. There’s no Rock or Steve Austin. And there’s certainly no DX.
In some ways, I’m OK with this, as I wasn’t as big on the “Attitude” era as others were. It is clear to me, however, the WWE lacks the heelish-face role Austin and Rock in particular filled. It’s even clearer how many people miss it.
The Shield had some NWO qualities, but they weren’t funny and controversial like DX was. WWE is catering to a younger audience again as it did in the 1980s, and the roster reflects it. Sure there are stars, but there isn’t someone who is so bad they’re good.
Triple H has mellowed as he moved to a corporate role on and off screen. Brock Lesnar, despite Paul Heyman’s exceptional promos, is in between because the WWE can’t figure out what to make him, not because he can fill the dual role well. The Rock and Shawn Michaels were often cheered even as heels. Now the crowd usually only pops for a heel if he’s fighting Cena.
Lesnar should be the guy who is a heel people love, something the WWE hasn’t had since Edge. He has the physical toughness and the right mindset for it, since he really doesn’t care what the fans think as long as he gets paid, but to truly fit into the Rock role, you can’t have your 5-foot-nothing manager do your talking. The tough guys of the 80s often had Bobby Heenan, the best heel manager ever, with them, but they could talk when they had to.
Bray Wyatt might be as close as the company has now to filling this void, but his heel tendencies come from a dark place in his past, not a badass quality. He’s different, but doesn’t truly fill Austin’s role and isn’t bitingly funny like the Rock.
WWE is doing just fine these days trying to copy the 1980s. Summer Slam was the best card the company put forth in a while. If the WWE wants to truly reach its biggest heights, however, it must scrap the old-school approach, lose the PG rating and find the next badass. No one on today’s roster will be driving any trucks down to the ring and spraying everyone with beer or cutting hysterical but borderline offensive promos the way the Rock once did. Heyman’s promos are incredible, but they don’t count since he can’t get in the ring and back up his words.
If you like rivalries, watch Rollins-Ambrose. If you miss Hogan in his prime, you’ll love Cena. If you like good old wrestling, there are plenty of strong workers you can watch work. If you miss shock value and someone you’re supposed to hate but don’t because you love their take-no-prisoners attitude, you’ll have to buy the WWE Network and find some old Austin-Rock feuds.
They are about the only thing the current WWE can’t replicate. Unfortunately, for many it’s what the company needs to bring back the most.