On July 10, 2012, former WWE writer Andrew Goldstein put the current state of professional wrestling (which we all know means WWE) in perspective by writing an article entitled “I Can Finally See John Cena” (which I highly recommend reading before proceeding with this post). To quickly summarize, Goldstein pointed out that John Cena was basically the modern-day Bob Backlund, the one from the Late 70′s, not the crazy guy from 1994, in that despite being the top draw for the WWE in the last 10 years or so, Cena’s era wasn’t so much an “era” as it was a transitional period.
As was the case during Bob Backlund’s five year reign as WWF Champion. Backlund’s era bridged the gap between the golden age of Bruno Sammartino to the Hulkamania/Rock N’ Wrestling craze. The most interesting part of that article was that, at the time, Goldstein assumed that we were about to enter a new era having had CM Punk and Daniel Bryan walk into Wrestlemania 28 as respective world champions, and Austin Aries having just won the TNA World Title. Unfortunately, he was wrong.
These three wrestlers are three of the top internet/indy darlings. Yet, fast-forward just half a year later, to now, and Aries is still in the world title mix, but not a focal point of TNA; Daniel Bryan is in a comedic, but great, tag team with Kane; and Punk is still the WWE Champion, although now as a heel — which we can all agree is where he belongs. That is, if the WWE actually wants to move forward in creating the next booming wrestling era, which they clearly don’t want to, which is evident by how they cling on to the glory days of the Attitude Era.
I get it, wrestling fans are nostalgic by nature. Hell, everybody appreciates a good callback to an old pop cultural reference because it reminds us of the “good ol’ days.” But have you ever seen an old cartoon you liked back when you were a kid, only to realize the animation was horrible and the writing was a little preachy? I’m looking right at you He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. It’s kind of the same feeling I got when I watched the Attitude Era DVD collection. The matches were spotfests and most of the wrestlers spent their time fighting outside the ring than inside, but it was okay, because there was talking and catchphrases. That appealed to me when I was in high school. Obviously, I can still appreciate the era now and fondly look back on it, but I’ve changed as people tend to do.
From the end of Bruno Sammartino’s era (1977) to the beginning of the Rock N’ Wrestling/Hulkamania boom (1984) it was roughly 7 years. From the end of Hulkamania (1991 or so) to the beginning of the Attitude Era (1998), it was roughly another 7 years. The Attitude Era ended around 2002. Statistically speaking, the next era should have started some time in 2009, during the 25th anniversary of Wrestlemania. Yet, the usual suspects were still on top headlining: Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, John Cena, and Triple H.
Jeff Hardy was in the mid-card fighting Matt Hardy, despite having a breakout year as WWE Champion and eventually World Champion. A perfect candidate to lead us into a new era. Jeff Hardy had the high-profile experience and a huge following. On that same Wrestelmania 25 card CM Punk, already a former world champion, won the Money in the Bank ladder match for the second time and would eventually go on to cash in against Jeff Hardy. I’m not saying this was generally the right time and place, but the WWE definitely had two potential superstars to get us to that next level. Straight edge CM Punk against recovering addict Jeff Hardy was a great program. It was way better than anything that was happening on RAW at the time. Their TLC match at SummerSlam ’09 not only closed, but stole the show.
But then Hardy left the WWE and CM Punk dropped the title to The Undertaker, and for the next few years the status quo held sway. There was no new era. There was no new anything. Then, on June 27, 2011 a beacon of hope emerged in the form of a pipebomb, literally taking the world of wrestling by storm overnight. This was the second-coming of Austin 3:16. This is what we, wrestling fans, had been waiting for. Wrestling was relevant again. Guys like Bill Simmons the ESPN Sports Guy were interviewing CM Punk and showing a renewed interest in wrestling. Bloggers and fans alike rushed to their twitters and blogs and scrambled to come up with a name to coin this new era that hadn’t even begun yet. The Reality Era they called it. And within two months it was over just as quickly as it had begun. CM Punk lost to Triple H at Night of Champions ’11, which did nothing for Triple H’s character as the new COO, but make the internet hate him even more. And, more importantly, derailed CM Punk’s momentum.
Punk became a babyface thereafter and, despite winning the WWE Title once again, was still taking a backseat to John Cena. Nothing had changed, the WWE seemingly missed their window of opportunity to usher in a new era. After waiting 9 long years, as opposed to the statistical 7. But there’s still hope. Even after Stone Cold Steve Austin quoted “Austin 3:16″ at the 1996 King of the Ring it still took him 1 year and 9 months to win the title at Wrestlemania 14 and lead us into the Attitude Era. As of this writing, it’s been around 1 year and 7 months since CM Punk first dropped that pipebomb. Granted, CM Punk went into last year’s Wrestlemania as WWE Champion and got a decisive win over Chris Jericho, but he didn’t headline. He didn’t win the big one.
No offense to Chris Jericho, but if the WWE ever plans on moving into the next successful era they need to have CM Punk face someone big AND main event Wrestlemania 29. Granted, that may not be the case given the fact that the WWE seems to be behind Rock/Cena II (which was supposed to be once in a lifetime). The WWE’s still clinging on to their part-time Attitude Era stars because they seem to lack faith in their current full-timers, but if there’s one full-time guy who can carry the company on his shoulders and lead by example, it’s CM Punk. He showed us that once again on the first RAW of 2013, when he made The Rock look foolish and dated by comparison.
Despite being a heel, this Wrestlemania needs to be Punk’s more than ever. CM Punk is the WWE’s only hope in leading them into another successful wrestling boom. With the release of WWE ’13, The Attitude Era DVD set, and The Rock coming back, again, the WWE has officially bled the Attitude Era dry. It’s time to move on. Which must be hard with no WCW to force them to be creative, or no ECW to steal concepts from, but there is still independent wrestling. With CM Punk and others like Daniel Bryan and Antonio Cesaro proving to be capable hands, this is one well the WWE needs to keep drawing from. And with the recent news of another indy darling, El Generico, being signed to the WWE it seems like the they’re catching on.
2013 will prove to be a turning point for the WWE. If they don’t capitalize on Punk’s seemingly endless potential now then we might be looking at another 7 years of a transitional phase.
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