The Dawn of a New Era in the WWE

The past two weeks, the announced retirement of Daniel Bryan has dominated much of the WWE news, and for good reason. Bryan was one of the pioneers of the new era of WWE programming, so it was sad to see one of the flagship characters of the new direction retire from in-ring action at seemingly the top of his game. But as we turn the corner on a new era, it’s with a hint of sadness, as other smaller stories from Stamford indicate that while a new era is indeed upon us, it means we’re getting very close to closing the doors on three other eras – the Attitude Era, Ruthless Aggression and the much lamented PG Eras.

It’s no secret that WWE is now fully embracing the independent stars of the world (as we mentioned last week), with their roster predominantly built up of former indie stars and/or NXT graduates. In-ring style is getting more exciting, they’ve loosened up the language a bit, allowed minimal but impactful bleeding, and began some new feuds that aren’t as rehashed as prior eras. But in order for that to happen with it’s full impact, the stars attached to the past will need to be shed. Much like the Attitude Era stood out because it lacked the DNA of the 80s Rock and Wrestling Era (and with only a few ties to the Next Generation), this new Indie Era won’t get its full steam until the majority of it’s connections to the past three Eras has withered to it’s rightful pantheon of nostalgia. And if the past week is any indication, it looks like that transition is in full effect.

Big Show appeared on the Stone Cold Podcast this past Monday and stated he would be retiring in two years. And if the connect the dots of other smaller stories align right, that’s when the Indie Era will be hitting it’s proverbial stride. And not just because The World’s Largest Athlete will be leaving the squared circle.

Another story out of Monday Night Raw was the seeming injurt to Mark Henry in his match versus Big E. Early reports out of WWE seem to be that Henry injured his ribs taking a few of Big E’s splashes and when administered into the Big Ending, it was further aggrivated to the point that Henry had to awkwardly wiggle his way out of the move in order to not take its impact. The timing is horrible as it was genuinely considered to be Henry’s final year of active competition with WWE before his own retirement and if it turns out to be broken ribs, Henry could potentially miss out on his final Wrestlemania experience. A true veteran of the industry, Henry went back and forth from formidable threats (in the Nation of Domination) to comedic side man (Mae Young and “The Hand”) to one of the most imposing big men of the last decade (“The Hall of Pain”). A dedicated and loyal worker for the company, Henry is one of the most beloved performers in the WWE. One of the few roster members to have been part of the past three Eras, Henry is clearly on his swan song. It would have been nice to see him win the 2016 Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale at Wrestlemania 32, but that looks increasingly unlikely now. That’s two of Vince’s favourite “Big Men” gone within 24 months.

Speaking of Big Men, another product of all three Eras, The Big Red Machine and the Devil’s Favourite Demon Kane is most likely on the final stretch of his own equally Hall of Fame career. The return to his Demon character after languishing over a year in a mostly lauded role as a suit and tie Authority figure seems to indicate he’ll go out the way he came in (as Kane, let’s forget a certain dentist and faux Nash), leaving the Grandest Stage of Them All as the character he was most beloved in. Much like Henry and Big Show, I would expect Glen Jacobs to remain an employee of the WWE long after the boots are retired. They’re knowledge of the industry would serve well in either NXT or behind the scenes in an agent (or even ambassador) position.

And then there’s Kane’s “big brother”, the Undertaker. WWE’s greatest gimmick wrestler of all time and one of the most universally loved McMahon creations, Mark Callaway is indeed in his Undead Twilight (and I’m not talking about glowing vampires). Rumours of his retirement have been abounding for the past few years and it’s safe to assume it’s no longer a question of if but when. Taker is the only member of the roster who can say they were part of five eras. Debuted at the very tail end of the Rock & Wrestling Era, one of the cornerstones of the New Generation, a General in the Monday Night Wars of the Attitude Era, the War Admiral of Ruthless Aggression and the stately Senator in the PG Era, The Undertaker has a career that warrants admission to the Hall of Fame the year he retires. But as long as the spectre of the Undertaker looms over the presence of the ring as an active wrestler, no new character can ever lay claim to being the face of the next Era.

The Divas are also going to feel the bite, but for some it may be the death knell they’d all been clamouring for. With the impending retirement of Brie Bella and the likely retirement of Nikki Bella from injury (unless she’s gained her own beau’s uncanny mutant healing factor), two of the beacons for what was wrong in the Diva’s division (hiring models with no experience) will be gone, severing the ties to the misdirection of women’s wrestling for the better part of the last 15 years. With true independent wrestling talent in Paige, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Asuka leading the way, a new era of Women’s Wrestling is upon us.

Most of the remaining holdovers have found their roles within the company. The Dudley Boyz, Chris Jericho, Goldust and R-Truth – all holdovers from the past three Eras – are playing their parts well. There’s no illusions these guys are Main Eventers anymore and they’re using their well earned knowledge to put over and teach the incoming Superstars how to work the WWE style. But chances are most of these names will also be in the retired list within the next two years as well.

Which leaves the last two soldiers of the Ruthless Aggression and PG Era. John Cena and Randy Orton. Both are starting to feel the toll of carrying the company for the last 15 years. Injuries are piling up, as are opportunities beyond the Bright Lights Big City of Stamford. Their crowd reactions have gone from genuine fandom and hero worship to nostalgic pops or childhood excitement. Both have developed their characters so deeply and for so long that any evolution of either seems improbable at this point. While Cena still sells a lot of merch for WWE, remember that up until his Gawker exposure last year, so did Hulk Hogan. So still does The Rock and Steve Austin. You can still sell merch and not be in the ring. While it’s highly doubtful these two will be retired in two years (although Orton may be closer than Cena), these two will no doubtedly be shifting to the Senator role than Undertaker occupies now. A big feud once a year until it’s time to head out to other options.

Which will finally usher in the Era that so many people have been craving. An Era of new faces, new attitudes, and new hope. And while people clamour, often in pre-self defence in case their hopes backfire, that they may have the talent but will mess up the booking, remember that the Attitude Era and Ruthless Aggression all had their fair share of lousy writing. The Superstars who became Legends found a way to shine like a diamond from within their coal casing – The Rock emerged from Rocky Maivia, “Stone Cold” blossomed out of the Ringmaster. Like Big Show said on Monday, the difference between then and now is that back then, everyone was in competition to make sure they shone through and challenged each other to have a better match, a better spot. Today’s roster just seems content sometimes to be paid a paycheque with Vincent Kennedy McMahon‘s name on it. Let’s just hope that the all of our cries for new talent from the independents was the right call, because if this new Era fails, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves for demanding it.