No Chamber for Young Men: WWE’s Age Problem on Full Display in Raw Elimination Chamber Match

Raw Elimination Chamber
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In 2017, WWE took geriatric wrestling to a new level when it staged a Survivor Series match between Team Raw and Team SmackDown. Team SmackDown, which was led by then 47-year old Shane McMahon, featured wrestlers whose average age was 40.2. The team included then 37-year old Randy Orton, 37-year old Shinsuke Nakamura, 40-year old Bobby Roode, and 40-year old John Cena. This was only to be outdone by Team Raw, who clocked in with an average age of 41, featuring then 49-year old captain, Kurt Angle, 48-year old Triple H, 38-year old Samoa Joe, 36-year old Finn Balor, and the picture of youth, 34-year old Braun Strowman. 406 years of life took part in that match, creating a bout with an average age of 40.6 among the 10 performers. While certainly not the oldest match in history, the fact that in a 10-person field, not one man was under 34 is hard to believe. And it seemed unlikely to happen again, especially in a structure such as the Raw Elimination Chamber

However, in a hold my beer moment directed at themselves, WWE announced on Monday that 35-year old Drew McIntyre would be defending his title in a Raw Elimination Chamber match that truly is a who’s who of the last two-plus decades in WWE. They just so happened to also be a combined age of 244 years old. In addition to McIntyre, the match will also feature the 40-year old Orton, 40-year old Miz, and a trio of 43-year olds in Jeff Hardy, Sheamus, and AJ Styles. That brings the average age of the Raw Elimination Chamber match to 40.7, just a tick higher than the Survivor Series main event of four years ago.

In some ways, it’s impressive. It’s impressive that some two-plus decades later, the same people who were winning titles in the early 2000s are competing for championships into the 2020s. But for as impressive as it is, it is equally concerning that the Raw Elimination Chamber and by larger extent the brand’s entire main event scene, currently consists of a bunch of over the hill, past their primes, 40+ year old men. Men who seem to have been chosen for the chamber for little less than the fact they are all former champions with name recognition and starpower borne out of year’s being on top. There were no qualifying matches and really no logical rationale given many of the group are less than deserving of a title shot than say, some of their younger compatriots. That someone thought it to be a good idea to put these men of a certain age into a match that is gimmicked as the most dangerous structure in WWE as well as one that shortens careers, is also somewhat contradictory to what we’ve always been led to believe about the chamber. At 40+, there isn’t much of a career to shorten here for these guys. If anything, an injury could be a career-ender. Though with the padded floor and safer fencing, the chamber’s danger seems to be in name only these days.

All of that aside, this match, and in some ways, both chamber matches (though the average age of 36.5 in the SmackDown chamber makes them feel like babies in comparison), are testament to a growing issue within WWE. This company has an age problem and it refuses to admit it.

In WWE, 40 is the New 20

There was a time when some of WWE’s top stars were in their teens or early 20s but now, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of those such wrestlers on either brand. In fact, a quick look at Raw’s roster shows that within the men’s division only three of the 43 wrestlers are under 30. That would be 28-year old Angel Garza, 25-year old Humberto Carrillo and 27-year old Omos, who has yet to wrestle an official match. There are a few others aged 30-31 but for the most part, the roster largely consists of guys aged 33+. Even the guys newer to WWE, such as Matt Riddle, Damian Priest, and Keith Lee, all didn’t hit the main roster until they were already in their 30s. Priest, who is being presented as a hot young star, is already 38. Lee is 36 and Riddle just turned 35. Normally age comes with longevity but in the case of those three, they share a combined less than three full years on the roster with Lee and Riddle making their debuts midway through 2020 and Priest just hitting Raw a few weeks ago. It’s a bit old to be a rookie but not entirely unexpected given the way WWE comes by its wrestlers these days.

Two decades ago, before the Performance Center, NXT, and an indie wrestling boom, WWE built their own stars from the ground up. Guys like Cena and Orton and Brock Lesnar, were hand-picked from the football field or the amateur wrestling arena. Very few had extensive pro wrestling experience making them perfect candidates for WWE to mold into the superstars they envisioned. But now, with so many indies creating so many stars, WWE doesn’t have to do the legwork anymore. Instead, they merely have to sign the hot hand and bring his/her following with them. Many of WWE’s signees these days aren’t unknowns. They built a reputation and name recognition. They spent years traveling the world. After a stint in NXT, that often has meant wrestlers not reaching WWE in some cases, until being in their late 20s or early 30s.

They say age is only a number and you are only as old as you feel. Modern innovations in science have made it so that athletes can continue performing at a high level even at an advanced age. Look no further than Tom Brady, who just won his seventh Super Bowl ring at the ripe old age of 43. Wrestling has long since been a sport where you can wrestle into your 40s, 50s and even 60s. So it’s not to say that seeing 30 year olds just starting their WWE career is that much of an issue. But when your entire roster is comprised of 30+ year olds who are just starting their main roster career as well as 40+ year olds who are still holding main event spots, there is a question of whether age can be a factor in the future of the company.

This Raw Elimination Chamber match is a prime example of that and it truly puts WWE’s age problem on display. At 35, McIntyre is the youngest man in the match by five years. All of his challengers are 40 or older. All of them have also won the WWE Championship at least twice before, a choice seemingly made by design to give McIntyre the ultimate challenge. None of them need the win nor will they be hurt from a loss. If anything, the biggest beneficiary has the potential to be McIntyre, who could make quite the claim beating five former champs in one match. None of the men are new to this stage as combined, they’ve all been in more main events and more title matches than one has time to count.

Among the five of them, Orton, Miz, Sheamus, Styles and Hardy, only Styles spent significant time in the indies before coming to WWE, namely with TNA, Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. The rest were products of WWE’s developmental system or bypassed that altogether. Contrast that to SmackDown’s chamber match, where all but Jey Uso and Baron Corbin, have spent significant time in the indies. The other four, Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn, all came to WWE following lengthy careers in ROH. Much like Raw however, neither of these guys is particularly young either and all have been on the roster already for a significant amount of time. Again, none really need a big win nor would they be hurt by a loss. However, the major difference in the two chamber matches is that SmackDown’s wrestlers seem to have a purpose to be there. There were qualifying matches and each person included has been part of noticeable pushes as of late. Age is still an issue in the SmackDown match, but for the Raw Elimination Chamber, it’s age and overexposure that are providing that lethal pairing.

For better or worse, WWE continues to rely on its past to a great extent. Those stars aren’t getting any younger however and eventually, the company will have to start replacing them and they can’t do that with others already in their 30s. There are no shortage of guys waiting on the sidelines and the chamber match would have been a great opportunity to start building up new, younger stars. Or even featuring new, older stars like the aforementioned Priest, Lee, and Riddle. The chamber is an opportunity to put over new talent with a statement performance like Shayna Baszler‘s from last year. Instead, WWE is presenting a match that may have sold a PPV card 10 years ago, but that now feels stale and overdone. It is a match that feels and is old, and not in the fun nostalgic way.

WWE’s age issue hasn’t been a tipping point problem yet but over the last few weeks, it’s been on display and now this upcoming chamber match is forcing everyone to stare it in the face. The names on top are the same ones who have been on top for decades. And age aside, that may be an even bigger issue for WWE to confront. Reliance on old stars will only go so far and the Raw Elimination Chamber should serve to remind us that the clock is ticking. Age may only be a number, but it’s one that WWE can’t continue to ignore forever.

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