Over the last couple of months or so, I have been writing about guys that have stood out to me in the current wrestling landscape.
Guys like Bron Breakker, Cody Rhodes, and Eddie Kingston are just a few names that run in my head when I think of guys that harken back to a day where pro wrestling was considered “cool”. Alright, well maybe not cool, but an industry that wasn’t frowned upon as much as wrestling seems to be in the mainstream.
Come to think of it, you don’t nearly see the wrestling industry featured on mainstream shows all that often, and when they are, it is usually the same guys or the same old words bring thrown around. It doesn’t have the same zest as it once did in the past, and that’s because I think there is a lack of stars, aside from a few, and a lack of genuine storylines for the fans to sink their teeth into. I also don’t think this is just a WWE issue, but one that plagues both big companies and anyone else competing for their piece of the pie.
You have to start at the head of the snake though, which in this case is WWE. To say their product has been stale over the last couple of years would be fair, at least to me, although there have been some standout moments as well. I am not an anti-WWE crusader like some AEW fans have become because we have to realize that this is the same place that has generated memories for us that will live on as long as we are a fan of the business. I understand the last couple of years have been on cruise control, but this is WWE, and they are who they are.
We have all heard about Vince McMahon not wanting to be a “Wrasslin” company (for over 20 years now) and would rather be an entertainment company, and I have come to grips with that. WWE has an ability to create personas, though, that carry guys past the industry into new ones and that can’t be ignored. Obviously, the list of guys gets shorter and shorter as time winds on and that’s a big reason why we have seen a drastic decline in ratings.
The Attitude Era was a time that will be heralded as wrestling’s absolute peak, but more than that, it was the last time that the wrestling industry as a whole felt “big time”. The big stars like Steve Austin and The Rock were featured everywhere from commercials to movie and TV shows the likes that wrestling has never seen, Hogan included. The above clip is from Saturday Night Live in March 2000 when The Rock was a host and other WWE stars were on the show as well. It hasn’t felt like the modern-day stars have that same pulling power.
There are a number of factors at play, most of which being, it just doesn’t seem like the stars have a mainstream attraction like stars from the past might have had. It’s no slight on the talent, all of which I have a lot of respect for, it’s just the way they have been presented. Outside of Roman Reigns, I can’t really think of many other guys that get opportunities to do things outside the WWE landscape on mainstream TV. During the 90’s and early ’00s, it felt like everyone was a star. Even guys like Mick Foley, who didn’t fit the traditional mold, was featured everywhere that Austin and The Rock were.
With AEW, it’s more about the storyline progression than lacking star power that I have a major issue with. Now, a lot of you know I am an AEW fan and am actively rooting for the product to succeed. Not so much because of my frustration with the WWE, but because they have done things that I believe are good for the industry as a whole and have given us moments that we will remember for a long time, even in the short time they have been a company. The thing they have kind of dropped the ball with is given us extended storylines that we can get invested in. I am not talking about the storyline of “Hangman” Adam Page to the AEW World Title, but just a feud between two guys that lasts for longer than one match. We have seen it a couple of times, with Chris Jericho and MJF for instance, but as a whole, it seems like most of the feuds in AEW are one and done.
I wrote about the struggle between Eddie Kingston and CM Punk and thought it had the potential to be something we would remember. They had their match and have moved on to different things. That match will be awesome to go back and watch, but it will just stand by itself and there won’t be any conclusion to the story. Almost every storyline in AEW has these tendencies, and I would like to see it change in the future. Imagine only getting one match between the aforementioned Rock and Austin while both of them were at their peak. That would be kind of anti-climatic. I am not saying that every feud needs multiple matches, but in the main event scene, a series of matches can go a long way to building both characters.
I feel like wrestling, as a whole, is dying for a revolution. Something that comes along like a shot in the arm of an industry that needs it desperately. It could be anything really, whether it’s a stellar title run by a top star or compelling television, something just needs to happen to break up the stagnant nature and dropping interest.
In 1997, ECW was gaining steam and really changed the landscape of the business in one form or another. “The Monday Night Wars” was something that drew fan interest and led to some of the biggest ratings and houses that wrestling had ever seen.
Guys like John Cena, Randy Orton, and Batista came in and picked up where The Attitude Era left off and carried the WWE for a lot of years. Wrestling has always been something that evolves and stays with the times, and now more than ever, they are looking for something to come along and take the business into the next phase of what it will look like. It seems like for a while their momentum was picking up, but it has been too inconsistent to say that something is here to stay.
It’s time for wrestlers and fans alike to wake up to realize that all of us want the same things, and that is great storylines and matches with guys and girls we can get behind. The question is how long it will take for wrestling to truly be accepted once again? How long will it take for wrestling stars to be mentioned with the elite of the mainstream? After all, we see a lot of these people on TV than we do anyone else since there is no off-season and just that fact would make wrestlers some of the most recognizable faces to the public. Maybe it’s time for something to come along and makes wrestling something a bigger group of people can enjoy.
What do you think wrestling needs to propel itself into the next generation? Let me know your thoughts over @Collectiveheel on Twitter as always. Next week, we will be diving deeper into 1999 WCW and I hope to see everyone there. Take care of yourselves, and more importantly, each other. I will be back soon with some more Collective Thoughts.