The Bucs Fan
Depending on what you believe, World Wrestling Entertainment today is either in a state of turmoil unmatched by anything that the federation has seen in years or is on the brink of providing fans with one of the (potentially) biggest storylines ever. Regardless of what backstage plans or antics are currently prevailing in Connecticut, one thing is certain. The company is right now experiencing the downside of a cycle. Not an economic cycle, which some people have said is a characteristic of the wrestling business that will not go away. WWE is now in a period that holds few interesting stars and is in the process of creating new ones.
This cycle has been going on for decades. Going back to Hulk Hogan's first run at the top of the then-WWF, fans can easily see it. WWE will create one or two new main eventers every couple of years, ride those stars' drawing power and popularity until it has been sucked dry, and spend a year or two creating more stars to repeat the process.
Hogan won his first World Wrestling Federation Championship in January 1984. For the next six years, while they created rivals for Hulk like Mr. Wonderful or Roddy Piper, the WWF had no reason to invest their time or effort into the elevation of a new top face because they had Hogan's success to cash in on.
Then, sometime after WrestleMania VI, Hogan began to lose steam. He was no longer maintaining fan interest like he once could. Vince McMahon saw the writing on the wall, and over the next three years Hogan played a less and less prominent role on WWF programming before he left for WCW in the summer of 1994. It was during these years, the first few of the 1990's, that saw the emergence of Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Mr. Perfect Ric Flair (then new to the WWF), Diesel, Lex Luger, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels as stars for the fed. It took several tries, but after a couple failures (Ultimate Warrior, Diesel, Luger) Vince found his face for the next era in Bret Hart.
Hart brought a new style-and a new kind of champion-to the WWF. His excellent wrestling and take-on-all-comers attitude as champion was very popular and made him a face the WWF could depend on. Hart then had his three years in the sun before it was time to welcome the new class of WWF superstars.
Shawn Michaels' WrestleMania XII WWF Title victory over Bret Hart was the symbolic beginning of the elevation of the next breed of wrestlers. While Michaels put on some excellent performances as champion, the fact remained that the WWF was being slaughtered by its archrival, World Championship Wrestling. As the WWF toyed with the introduction of Goldust, Mankind, Michaels, Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Rocky Maivia as the next guys to carry the promotion, they again suffered with several financial flops. Then, they found their next big thing, and what a big thing it was. Stone Cold Steve Austin arrived at the World Title scene with his WrestleMania XIV capturing of the belt, and has not looked back since.
Until now, that is.
Though he carried the WWF through perhaps its most challenging period, Shawn Michaels was nowhere near the draw Austin was. With the federation now free of former top faces Hart, Hogan and Michaels, as well as several other near top faces such as Luger and Kevin "Diesel" Nash, Austin was the valedictorian of the class of 1998. With a supporting cast of Triple H, The Rock, the reliable Undertaker, Kane and other midcarders to go with their new (anti)hero, the WWF was out of hot water again. In fact, the midcard lineup was so solid that for perhaps the first time ever, the WWF was able to produce two faces at once capable of carrying the promotion. When Austin was out for nearly a year with a neck injury, The Rock was more than able to fill in.
However now, like that of his predecessors, Austin's run at the top is nearing its end. WWE is obviously entering one of its rebuilding stretches. The solution to the federation's problem is a simple one, but will involve several wrong answers before they find a right one. Triple H, the reborn Hulk Hogan, the New World Order and the Undertaker are not the answers. They are drawing nothing. But then, who is? Rob van Dam is a nice place to start your search. History shows that each time a new face steps up to bring the promotion to new heights, he has to have something different to offer. Hogan had Hulking Up. Hart was a mat technician and a fighting champion like no other before him. Austin was the workingman's hero. And van Dam certainly has a wrestling style that could revolutionize WWE main events like Bret Hart did 10 years ago.
Another thing the past says is that there is no sure thing. Van Dam could be exciting and enjoyable, but fail as a draw. Perhaps Brock Lesnar is a worthy candidate. The underdog champion who always overcomes odds that are impossible to overcome may have run its course for the time being. Maybe wrestling is ready for another dominate champion. The only way WWE will find out is to try.
Maybe Chris Benoit is the man of the future. His wrestling-based character is something not seen in WWE main events in a long time, and is taken to an extreme even Bret Hart never reached.
What about Chris Jericho? He is certainly a step away from the brawling that has dominated the WW(E/F) main events for five years, and he is great on the mic.
Or just as likely, that next big savior for Vince McMahon is currently sitting on a bus on his way to some indy show in West Virginia, uncertain about his future. All it takes is one great story and the right person to see it through.
Nevertheless, all WWE has to do is keep throwing things out to the audience and see what sticks. It is like a game of pin the tail on the donkey. Vince sticks something out there, sees how hot or cold it is, then tries again with more experience. The method has worked before, and, as long as WWE listens to its fans, will work again.