How WWE Is Secretly Building The Next Face Of The Company

...and this wrestler is AWESOME in the strictest definition.

Julius Creed

During the days of the "brand is the star", the face of the company role was still treated with the utmost importance. Now, with rights fees generating more money for the promotion than Steve Austin, the Rock and Hulk Hogan combined, you might think it matters less than ever. That isn't true.

WWE has always, throughout its history, positioned one man as the absolute star of the show.

In the Vince McMahon Jr. era, the following names were the undisputed face of the company. They were the men tasked with driving business, the men to whom the World title always circled back, the men so prominent in the narrative and the marketing that fans effectively had to like them, were they to get anything out of the promotion.

Hulk Hogan was designated with this role between 1984 and 1991. Vince attempted to pass the torch to the Ultimate Warrior in 1990, but it did not work. Was the Warrior too one-dimensional a fad? Had he already worked every top heel? Was the WWF itself fated to cycle out of fashion regardless?

A convergence of those factors, Hogan's dwindling box office magic and Vince's federal indictment compelled (or forced) Vince to go with Bret Hart between 1992 and 1996. He wanted to go with Diesel, between 1994 and 1995, but the decision was taken out of his hands. The remaining few loved Bret's technical brilliance and earnest quality too much. Shawn Michaels failed to seize the throne in '96 - his WrestleMania XII ascension was a disaster in terms of PPV buys - and 1997 was meta-premised on Shawn and Bret tussling over the role and indeed the very direction of the company. Steve Austin actually took the mantle to a level higher than Hogan in 1998, and a similar, onscreen development unfolded between Austin and The Rock in late 2000/2001 after the latter ran with the ball when Austin was struck by a major neck injury.

When the WCW Invasion angle fizzled to sh*t, WWE attempted to rebuild itself in the image of Brock Lesnar. He hated the lifestyle. John Cena absolutely loved it, so much so that he embraced it - overshadowing Batista in the process - between 2005 and 2015. Since then - to debilitating, competition-spawning failure and staggering resurgent success, Roman Reigns has been the man. He's so entrenched in the role and so prosperous at it that WWE has the next John Cena, Cody Rhodes, ticket-moving monster - and still haven't put him over. Yet.

WrestleMania headliners aren't necessarily the face of the company. Triple H, the Undertaker, Randy Orton, Batista, Seth Rollins: they were never it. Rollins at a push got the big push in 2019, including two big four PPV wins over Brock Lesnar, but it was still Roman's world. That's why he was on SmackDown ahead of the FOX move. Vince McMahon outright told Daniel Bryan in 2014 that the events of WrestleMania XXX were temporary. Roman was the guy, not him.

All of which is to state that this role, a sacred WWE tradition even when it's not strictly as important as it once was, is very exclusive.

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Michael Sidgwick is an editor, writer and podcaster for WhatCulture Wrestling. With over seven years of experience in wrestling analysis, Michael was published in the influential institution that was Power Slam magazine, and specialises in providing insights into All Elite Wrestling - so much so that he wrote a book about the subject. You can order Becoming All Elite: The Rise Of AEW on Amazon. Possessing a deep knowledge also of WWE, WCW, ECW and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Michael’s work has been publicly praised by former AEW World Champions Kenny Omega and MJF, and current Undisputed WWE Champion Cody Rhodes. When he isn’t putting your finger on why things are the way they are in the endlessly fascinating world of professional wrestling, Michael wraps his own around a hand grinder to explore the world of specialty coffee. Follow Michael on X (formerly known as Twitter) @MSidgwick for more!