Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wrestling: WWE Needs New Stars

During the declining years of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock -- approximately the turn of the century -- an awareness was being reached by fans who recognised the inevitable need for new talent to fill the void of two of wrestling's biggest stars. This preoccupation turned into an obsession over the course of the decade, operating under the assumption that unsung old horses, like Undertaker and Kane, would not last long enough to fill the void of their late nineties superstar contemporaries.

The longevity of names like Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and those already mentioned, has only fuelled the belief that WWE is in perpetual need of new stars. As the company enters into a record run based on title matches featuring either John Cena or Randy Orton, you can certainly make an argument against the tried and true model of holding one or two top stars on a pedestal. Then again, when you consider the relative youth of those two enduring names, it also becomes apparent that WWE has been creating plenty of new names to reign over it's roster.

As a general rule of thumb, superstars recruited into World Wrestling Entertainment generally have some experience in another company, or medium. In wrestling terms, they've "created" their fair share of new stars, even though many have gained noteriety before reaching WWE.

Perhaps the most prominent example of this is Kurt Angle, a wrestler who debuted in 1999, and quickly captured his first WWF Heavyweight Championship in October, 2000. Angle's star continued to rise after this, seeing him headline several Wrestlemanias in the canonization of one of the biggest names to develop in the post-Austin and Rock reign. He was, of course, already a noteworthy individual for winning an Olympic Gold Medal in 1996 for greco-roman wrestling. He now wrestles for Total Non-Stop Action wrestling.

Of a similar pedigree is another one of WWE's most prominent alumnists, Brock Lesnar. Like Angle, he was a greco-roman "amateur" wrestler, with a similar pedigree to Angle, including a reign as NCAA Champion. Lesnar debuted in March of 2002, part of a manufactured creation process that led him to become the then-youngest WWE Champion in August of 2002, after defeating The Rock at Summerslam. Lesnar's fast-tracked rise through the ranks has seemingly left a legacy apparent in the elevation of wrestlers who've followed, but none can claim to have had Lesnar's impact. Before winning the belt, he entered into a submission victory over Hulk Hogan on Smackdown, defending his King of the Ring-won #1 contender status in what was billed as a match that would finally retire Hogan. This ultimately proved untrue, but painted a vivid picture, which included Lesnar's subsequent decimation of a 90s star, The Rock, after his brutalizing decimation of the 80s' biggest star. Lesnar is now a household name for his time with Ultimate Fighting Championship, where, until recently, he was the Heavyweight Champion.

John Cena and Randy Orton have remained fixtures of the WWE main event since their elevation to headlining status. Cena debuted in June of 2002, earning his first championship in 2005, after some close calls in '03. Orton debuted in April, 2002, and claimed his first WWE Championship in 2007, also after an extended association with big names. Mixed opinions about the legitimacy of their rise and reign at the top of WWE cards has ironically contributed to the perception that WWE continues to need to develop new stars. For all intents and purposes, they have been overlooked as being exactly that, even if by 2010, they have enjoyed a similar duration of success to Stone Cold Steve Austin, who gained noteriety in 1997, established himself a year later in 1998, and was ultimately phased out by 2003.

Sheamus reached the pinnacle of a relatively long career in the UK and Ireland, debuting on WWE's ECW show in June, 2009. He won the WWE Championship in December, marking the most recent rapid rise in the WWE ranks. He has been superceded as champ by The Miz, Mike Mizanin, a wrestler who gained exposure in 2001 as part of The Real World reality series, and subsequent shows. In 2004, Miz was a runner-up in the WWE Tough Enough talent search reality show, and returned to TV in 2006 as a full fledged member of the roster. He captured the WWE Championship in November, 2010, as a winner of the Money in the Bank shot.

Since 2000, WWE has also made a conceited effort to elevate stars of various statures into main event, title holding status. Chris Jericho led the way, earning the first ever Undisputed Championship at the end of 2001, lasting until the main event of 2002's Wrestlemania. Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit are of a similar vintage, having earned dedicated followings for their World Championship Wrestling work, despite mixed recognition from the defunct company. Booker T, Rob Van Dam, and Rey Mysterio are other names assimilated during the WCW/ECW buy-out, which were elevated to championship holding status over time. John Bradshaw Layfield, Jeff Hardy, Umaga, Hardcore Holly, and Mark Henry were among the internally elevated stars who previously occupied positions lower on the card. Edge was brought up the card and has won an absurd number of championships in a short span of time, solidifying himself as a headlining fixture.

Bobby Lashley, The Great Khali, Jack Swagger, and Batista are more names who were established in WWE over the last few years. Batista began his WWE career in 2002 as henchman to Reverand Devon Dudley, but went on to enjoy a successful career as a multi-time champion before his departure in 2010. CM Punk had gained noteriety in Ring of Honor, but joined WWE to soon earn two reigns as a champion, benefitting from the Money in the Bank gimmick.

Ultimately, what all of these names exhibit is the fact that WWE have made an effort to create, elevate, and recruit new stars. John Morrison, Wade Barrett, and Alberto Del Rio are among the current names sitting on the fringe of big things. Ultimately, what they and others suggest is that the complaint of many fans isn't about the creation of stars, but rather, the management of them. Names like Edge, John Cena, and Randy Orton have been elevated quickly and without the credibility of the predecessors, only to be rammed down the throats of fans who may or may not have accepted them. Conversely, names like Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Jeff Hardy, who solidifed a successful period earlier in the decade, have all been taken from the company due to one circumstance, or another.

No comments: