5. The Reality Era (2011-2016)
2011-2016 represented a clear shift in the way fans viewed professional wrestling and what they expected from it.
Gone was patience for the corny, cartoonish tropes of old, supplanted by a desire for more realistic programming. The Reality Era effectively kicked off with CM Punk’s era-defining pipe bomb in 2011, and if it were handled a little differently, it may have gone down as WWE’s greatest period overall.
The Summer of Punk started with a bang, but WWE made a huge mistake in bringing Punk back to television so quickly after “walking out” with the WWE Championship. The movement’s momentum was dealt further damage when Triple H got involved, and like most good things to happen within WWE in the past ten years, it died with a whimper.
The Reality Era saw stars like Zack Ryder and Daniel Bryan get over organically and win the crowd’s support in spite of an apparent lack of push. It brought the Yes! Movement, Bryan’s big night at WrestleMania XXX, and Brock Lesnar’s game-changing return. Conversely, the era also brought with it the wholesale burial of these wrestlers (Lesnar aside) in favour of overexposed guys like Triple H and Cena, and routinely disappointed fans as often as it entertained them.
Furthermore, the Reality Era saw the advent of the WWE Network, which forever changed the way wrestling fans consume the product. It’s one of the biggest advances WWE have ever brought to the industry, and while this period was far from perfect, it was a clear step forward from the previous three-four years - and provided a foundation for today’s product.