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   December 19, 2014



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The lost generation of WWE main event stars
By MATTHEW BYER - SLAM! Wrestling


Goldberg and Brock Lesnar faced off at WrestleMania XX.

Since the WWE Attitude Era, much has been made of the fact that the television ratings and PPV buyrates have been in decline. Various reasons have been given such as the loss of competition from WCW, the hiring of writers from Hollywood, the WWE becoming a publicly-traded company, to the product being too safe and predictable. However, when you really examine the issue, a lot of what has happened to the WWE's ratings and buyrates may be directly attributable to the company's losing of various main event stars, starting with Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg at Wrestlemania XX.

It is readily apparent that 2004 was the tipping point where WWE began to watch their next generation of main event talent, whom had been groomed during the Attitude Era, start to disappear.

Lesnar was clearly being positioned up until that point to be one of the focuses of the company and clearly viewers of WWE were interested. However, even with Lesnar's departure, WWE might have been better able to weather the loss if not for the deaths of Eddie Guerrero in November 2005, and Chris Benoit in June 2007. When you add to that Kurt Angle's departure from the company in August of 2006, that is a significant exodus of talent. Guerrero, Benoit, and Angle were each capable of carrying the main event storylines, putting on great matches, and connecting with the fans. They could have been the stalwarts for the company during this period and between the three of them ensured that the responsibility of carrying the main event storylines, and teaching the next generation, was shared.

Out of the remaining talent that had come up during the Attitude Era, arguably only Edge spent a lengthy period of time with the WWE as a main event star. (While Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam both spent some time as main event stars in the WWE, it was not for a huge amount of time, and in both cases once they had reached that level, they left the company.) As a result Edge was left to help groom and teach the next generation of stars, along with those main event wrestlers remaining from the Attitude Era, such as, Kane, Undertaker, Triple H, Big Show, Chris Jericho, and Shawn Michaels.

Thus, talent such as John Cena, Randy Orton, and Dave Batista may have been pushed too early, and far more heavily, before the audience had had a chance to truly connect with them. All three were pressed into the main event after only a couple of years with the WWE, while in comparison Edge was with the company for seven years before he was thrust into that role. The benefit of those seven years was that the audience had an investment in Edge as a character and were more receptive to his inclusion as a main event talent. Since John Cena did not benefit from this lengthier period, before being made a heavyweight champion, this may explain to some degree why he now receives such a backlash from fans on a nightly basis.

It is very obvious that to compensate the WWE decided to push John Cena in a very similar fashion as was done with Hulk Hogan in the 1980s. However, unlike the 1980s when there was a plethora of talent that could join Hulk Hogan in the main event picture, the loss of Lesnar, Goldberg, Guerrero, Benoit, and Angle lessened the options and resulted in an audience fatigue with John Cena.


Did John Cena and Batista get pushed quicker because of vacancies on top of the WWE? Photo by Mike Mastrandrea
Now the WWE is entering a period where they must start to elevate a new generation of wrestlers into the main event, such as, CM Punk, Dolph Ziggler, Cody Rhodes, Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus, Daniel Bryan and The Miz.

With the remaining Attitude Era stars such as Kane, The Undertaker, and Triple H approaching the end of their full-time careers, and Edge's recent retirement due to injury, there is a pressing need to ensure this next generation of stars is given the chance to connect with the audience before they are pushed too heavily. This will likely, not be the easiest of tasks, but hopefully the WWE has learned to take a more cautious approach going forward and will take the opportunity of having talent such as Chris Jericho, Brock Lesnar, and The Rock back for limited engagements, to help them build up the profile of this next generation. If they do, it will lead to the improvements in the television ratings and PPV buyrates the company has undoubtedly been seeking.

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  • Previous Mat Matters Editorial columns

    Matthew Byer lives in Victoria, BC, and will be moving to a new job as a Senior Project Manager. He looks forward to seeing where things go with the next generation of stars in the WWE.