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Veterans Affairs: Where Do WWE's Experienced Players Fit in the Youth Movement?   

We are a few weeks removed from Wrestlemania XXX, and it feels like there has been a shift in WWE regarding who their stars are.  It seems like the WWE youth movement that so many have clamored for over the years has finally come to fruition with men like Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, and The Shield leading the way.  This is great news for WWE as their biggest issue over the last decade or so has been their ability, or lack thereof, to build new stars.  This new direction has already had a huge impact, and will continue to affect many within the company, including the long list of experienced veterans within the WWE locker room.  What does it mean for the men and women who have helped carry the load of WWE thus far?  As with most things in wrestling, it needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis, so today we will look at some of the individuals who stand to lose and gain the most from this shift.

Rob Van Dam: The last time we saw Rob Van Dam was last fall, when he was riding a small wave of popularity after not being seen in a WWE ring for years prior.  When he returned for last year’s Money In The Bank, the hype for his return felt important, and people couldn’t stop talking about him.  What a difference a few months make.  This time around, Rob Van Dam came back to WWE not with a bang, but with a quiet whimper, returning the night after Wrestlemania to a reaction that wasn’t near what it was the year prior.  Obviously, RVD’s “Q” factor has diminished slightly, but there is still some great opportunities for dream matches with the young crop of upcoming talent.  Rob Van Dam could always make his opponents look good.  I suspect you’ll be seeing lots of that in this run with the company.

The Big Show: The case of The Big Show is a little trickier than most on this list.  He is still a draw for WWE and a unique attraction for the company, but with a career spanning nearly two decades it is becoming harder and harder to come up with fresh ideas for the world’s largest athlete.  That being said, The Big Show hasn’t made any declarations of retirement and can still be used effectively, if sparingly.  Although he is not quite at the mystique level of someone like The Undertaker, The Big Show may be best utilized with a part time schedule, only to be brought out to really make an impact when needed.

Evolution:  Judging from the current line up for Extreme Rules, the team of Randy Orton, Batista, and Triple H will be doing just fine in this youth movement.  Both Triple H and Batista are part time players who know their job is to come in, shake things up, and hopefully leave WWE a little healthier than when they came in.  They have already put this idea into practice by elevating Daniel Bryan recently.  The same could be said about Randy Orton, but he is in a different situation than his Evolution counterparts.  Orton is still a player with many years ahead of him.  He stands to benefit greatly from not only this Evolution reunion, but this youth movement in general as it will give him fresh opponents to face, test, and mentor.

Brock Lesnar:  The Beast incarnate made the biggest impact out of anyone at Wrestlemania by doing what many thought was impossible and breaking the Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak.  He hasn’t been seen or heard from since, and that’s probably a good thing.  Even though Brock Lesnar could work a full time schedule and is likely just beginning to hit his prime, his infrequent appearances give him the mystique previously discussed with men like The Undertaker and The Big Show.  Brock Lesnar feels like a natural disaster, which makes him the perfect story telling element for the future of WWE.

Christian:  Of all the men on this list, Captain Charisma is the man I feel worst for.  Christian has proven that there is still lots of gas left in the tank, if only he could keep the car out of the shop.  Few men have been plagued with as many injuries in such a short span of time as Christian has.  His last real healthy run was a few years ago when he had a string of top notch matches with Randy Orton over the World Heavyweight Championship.  Since then he seemingly has a pattern of getting momentum, then getting hurt.  That being said, Christian has a wealth of knowledge to pass along and if he can’t get his injuries under control, I think he’ll end up finding a home at Full Sail University, working with the up and coming stars of NXT.

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Goldust:  Since returning last fall, Goldust has formed one of the most successful WWE tag teams in recent memory and helped revitalize the WWE Tag Team division along with his brother Cody Rhodes.  In doing so, he has also shown that an old dog can learn new tricks and become relevant in a world of young pups.  A split between the brothers Rhodes hasn’t happened officially, but if and when it does, Goldust has made it clear that he will be happy to ride off into the sunset, having been given one last run to end his career on a positive note.  My guess is that by next year’s Hall of Fame, Goldust may be inducted by his brother Cody.

John Cena:  At Wrestlemania, John Cena made it very clear what the future holds for him.  He is now the torch bearer and measuring stick for talent who want to break into the main event.  This is the perfect place for him to be, but don’t think that this means we have seen the last of John Cena on top of WWE.  Consider John Cena’s future to be similar to that of Triple H in the past.  For a period of time, Triple H was still the man, having several championship reigns all while building new stars who hadn’t yet tasted the main event.  Men like Batista, Randy Orton, Jeff Hardy, and others.  John Cena is still THE man in WWE, and much like Randy Orton, this youth movement means more opportunities for the leader of the Cenation.

Kane:  Kane has done a great job in the last few years of building up, and putting over younger talent.  He is another veteran who has made it clear that his  career is slowly coming to an end.  We have already begun seeing this with Kane’s reduced schedule and his new focus on his real estate business outside the ring.  His future may be the hardest to predict.  He is preparing for a life outside the ring, however I think he’s far too valuable to WWE to let him go anytime soon.  Kane has one of the brightest minds in WWE, and over the next few years it wouldn’t surprise me to see him move into an agent or producer role  that would allow him to make sporadic appearances in the vein of an Arn Anderson.

Mark Henry: Mark Henry has had a career full of ups and downs, but one of the career high points was last year when he was part of a fake retirement angle, leading to a showdown with WWE Champion John Cena.  Ever since then however, Henry seems to have slipped back into the midcard status that he was stuck in for most of his WWE tenure.  Henry is another veteran who has openly discussed the idea of legitimate retirement coming sooner rather than later, but before he hangs up the boots for good, he might want to follow the lead of fellow attitude era alumni Goldust and elevate a young talent by teaming with them and travelling with them on the road.  WWE planted this seed with Big E. Langston, and it could work well post Mania as well.  Perhaps he could form a new generation Nation of Domination filled with today’s powerhouses.

The Miz:  It’s kind of stunning to think of The Miz as a veteran, but we are closing in on his 10th year with WWE, and he has done just about everything there is to do with the company.  Sadly, this is also where his problem lies.  Although the Miz is getting better, his act is bland and nothing WWE does seems to change that.  Many years from now, The Miz will make an outstanding manager or broadcaster, but for the next few years, it’s hard to imagine The Miz as anything but a good hand for the company.  Unless some dramatic changes are made, The Miz is likely to end up becoming a journeyman performer for WWE.

Rey Mysterio: Of all the performers on this list, Rey Mysterio may be the greatest embodiment of this generational conflict.  Mysterio is a huge star, making money hand over fist for the company, and his decades long career has allowed him to reach never before thought possible for a man of his size.  Because of this, his underdog status has become less believable to fans in the wake of men Mysterio’s size no longer being considered a rarity.  It puts him in a tough spot, because despite a laundry list of injuries, he is still an exciting performer, but his best days are behind him.  This youth movement will allow Mysterio to pass along his knowledge to the next generation, while making new stars by putting them over.  Even though it has been a few years since he was World Heavyweight Champion, a win over Rey Mysterio still holds tremendous weight.  That will likely be his most important tool in the years to come.

The WWE is headed into a brave new world, and it will be up to these veterans to adapt or get left behind, just as they have in the past.  This is certainly not a death knell for those men and women who have put in their time.  On the contrary, many of them will surely thrive or maybe experience a career renaissance of their own.  In fact, I would say what they do from here may make an even bigger impact than the generation of wrestlers moving into the spotlight now.  They need a foundation on which to stand upon, and the veterans and locker room leaders of WWE will be there to provide it.  The only unknown factor will be how they will do it.

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