Seems WWE protocol in the prevenient years has been such: bolster the programming with legendary names, cycling the icons in and out in chip-clip fashion to prevent staleness. This is done while keeping just enough established stars on the marquee to avoid the audience dropout from pushing reset with an entirely insolvent stock.
There’s a curious paradox to these rulers of kingdoms crumbled: seeing The Rock spout off his customarily-sharp putdowns reminds any veteran viewer of simpler times, affording a comforting distraction from the impasses of adulthood and parenthood.
Opposite of that, there comes a point when the wheels need to turn, and time must march on with new soldiers. World Wrestling Entertainment has made new stars better than any other wrestling outfit, and it’s their preeminent quality. Trouble is, with Vince McMahon’s line changes consisting of stars from eras old, there seemed to be little room for tomorrow’s class to find footing.
There was much criticism of Dwayne Johnson’s most recent jaunt inside the ring, when “The Great One” occupied top notch on the caste, with only John Cena and CM Punk allowed co-residence. The oversaturation of WWE’s spire of mainstream contribution seemed to wear on fans (“Rock Appreciation Night!”, “Raw Gets Rocked!”), who watched some of their modern favorites knocked down a rung during Rock’s timeshare.
WrestleMania XXIX would be Rock’s denouement, after a two-year run in which he’d lost only one match, to Cena (the only star on the roster who had nothing to gain from upending a fellow made man) and also ended Punk’s marathon WWE Championship reign.
After the WrestleMania buyrate dipped from the previous year, one wonders if McMahon and his aides realized that even the Spring of Yesterday can run dry when forcefed.
Nostalgia, it seems, comes better in doses, not taking up large portions of the catering spread. An ‘Old School Raw’ once a year, not to mention WrestleMania weekend, don’t require the old oil can.
Monday Night Raw on January 20 didn’t come with the Old School Raw subheading, as the January 6 edition had, but this past broadcast was patched together with a “Ruthless Aggression” decor.
2002’s newfangled foursome of John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, and Brock Lesnar all appeared on the same telecast for the first time since WrestleMania XX in 2004. Orton engaged in hostilities old and new with Cena and the returning Batista, while Lesnar tussled with The Big Show, his scourge from that rookie year. Each man is 12 years older now (Batista eldest at 45), and each will play an underscored role at this Sunday’s Royal Rumble.
It should be noted that the biggest selling point of the show, the 30-man Rumble match, is free of three of that Big Four. Orton and Cena will compete for the former’s WWE Championship, while Lesnar and Show pull back the curtain on 2003 Bizarro World (“It’s so different! Heyman’s in BIG SHOW’S corner this time!”).
As it stands now, there are 20 official entrants in that Rumble, and Batista is one of only five former WWE/World Heavyweight Champions taking part. Punk, Alberto Del Rio, Rey Mysterio, and The Miz are the others. For a company that once doled out title belts like rolls of Sweettarts to its developmental grads, in the hopes that fans would magically connect with them, this is kinda novel.
For the groaning critic that brays about a lack of new stars being created, he’s right inasmuch as Cena, Orton, and others glued their asses to the seats of Main Event Musical Chairs when they sat down a decade ago. However, this Rumble is one of faith, a faith that promises a confident stride in the direction of replacing the old calendar.
Of the 20 participants, 12 of them are 32 years old or younger: Big E Langston, Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, Cody Rhodes, Fandango, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Erick Rowan, Damien Sandow, and The Uso Twins. Of the 12, only Woods and Fandango have yet to be taken seriously at the main event or upper midcard level.
Already, you’re talking guys that have at least mingled with names, if not outright been imbued sustained pushes like The Shield and Rhodes. Sandow, Kingston, and the Usos have poked their heads through the gaps in the glass ceiling, like prairie dogs sniffing out opportunity.
But what’s creating these opportunities? Developmental classes of the past have had some diamonds among the clunkers; could it be better care with this set? Reigns and Langston are heavily protected, to few complaints. Ambrose, Rollins, and Rhodes win more than they lose, without it looking out of place. Kingston and The Usos serve to both put over, and to triumph in amiable fashion, a role all three excel at.
Certainly the WWE’s youth holds much promise, but it’s more than just the packaging and handling that’s smoothly shipping them all. With the launch of WWE Network next month, there’s no longer an internal fear that the hackneyed PPV line-ups are weakened by unproven names. When buyrates sagged for lack of interest, and illegal viewing means, ratcheting up cards with big name vs. big name rematches, with little promise of major payoff, grew tiresome (Battleground on October 6 is exhibit A).
Now the office-chair-junkie who craves a nostalgia fix (it comes full circle) gets a bonus with his trove of Raw and Nitro episodes: the entire upcoming pay-per-view calendar at no additional cost. That $60 (six month commitment for ten bucks per) has already bought him Extreme Rules and Night of Champions and all the like. There’s no more need to waterlog the big names in rematch-a-thons month to month, because the buyer’s $55 is no longer at stake.
This more passive approach will, hopefully, allow for relaxation in frenzied story changes. If Raw and Smackdown somehow wound up on the Network, there’d be no more TV executives running interference with empty questions on why the 3.4 last week is a 3.2 this time, and who needs to be depushed to fix this borderline war atrocity.
Regardless of what that future holds, the Royal Rumble on Sunday looks to be an apt showcase for a company that’s launching ‘the future of television’ next month, by offering ‘the future of the new shows’ in one collection of stars.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
[amazon_link id=”B00GOYHSCO” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]WWE Royal Rumble 2014 DVD[/amazon_link]
[amazon_link id=”B00HRUQA8C” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Wrestlemania 30 DVD[/amazon_link]