WWE Must Not Rely on Nostalgia to Move Forward

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Hi folks. Today, I’d like to discuss the topic of WWE’s reliance on aging stars in a time when NXT proves they no longer need to.

Having watched the show since the late 90’s, I’m one of a few still clinging on to hope they can find similar success. A youth movement encouraged a new generation to get over by any means necessary, resulting in the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Kane, Big Show, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, and more.

This was in stark contrast to WCW, who wasted little time signing as many of their rivals stars as possible: Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Bret Hart, Ted DiBiase, Lex Luger, Roddy Piper, Jeff Jarrett etc. The problem? They were not helping in the long term. And by the time WCW realized their opposition was doing a better job? It was too late to do anything about it.

The New Blood

In an attempt to turn things around in its last year, Eric Bischoff & Vince Russo promised shifting changes to encourage the new blood to flourish. And while it was a healthier philosophy, WCW was so used to marketing the established it never learned how to make new ones. Guys like Goldberg and Booker T? They were lucky to be going over mega stars of the industry. Before we continue, I’d like to divert your attention to a video.


It’s not the only one of its kind, but it highlights the philosophy the WWF had in the late 90’s. Understandably, officials were offended by those who jumped ship for Ted Turner’s money. To fight back, they decided it was time to push the young to the forefront. A 45-47 year old Jim Ross sarcastically says “we don’t need people my age wrestling”. He goes on to blast the Piper vs. Hogan encounter at Starrcade because “people will do anything for money”. Clearly offended by the WCW questions on LiveWire, he claims both Piper & Hogan don’t belong in a ring anymore, and he fell asleep watching it. Boy, how times have changed.


What if we applied JR’s logic to present day WWE? Who would belong if management adopted this approach?

When life is tough, one may turn to the past for a warm, fuzzy feeling of times gone by. A teddy bear. A familiar song. Drawings you made as a kid. Hell, even the woods where your mates used to hang out to get drunk. So many good memories we cherish .. but there’s a reason we leave ’em behind. Life doesn’t stand still, and if we stop, the world moves on while we’re stuck like a needle on a record.


How many WrestleMania’s need veterans who (according to younger JR) don’t belong on the card? It may be tough discussing this, but let’s talk about those who I believe should .. at the very least, be considering letting go. If not for themselves, but for the sake of the next generation.


McMahon/Helmsley Era

I can’t be the only one tired of seeing the McMahons and Triple H all over the product? Granted, they sometimes play their parts well. The backstage work? Valuable. NXT? Wow! Thanks Hunter, it’s one of the best shows in the game. Seriously though .. Shane McMahon beating The Miz at WrestleMania? Triple H going over Batista with Flair’s help? When will it end? Can anything stop the McMahon/Helmsley regime?

What is it going to take for them to realize they’re holding others back? Yes, they’re booking shows and help to get some over .. but when the endgame is to get to WrestleMania? And they’re taking up airtime? It’s not the 90’s anymore .. it’s almost 2020 and they can’t let go of their TV personas. Why can’t we have new authority figures? Someone we can love/hate the next ten years (who don’t have to answer to the McMahons)? Did Daniel Bryan and Kofi Kingston need The McMahons to get over? Or could they have done it on their own?

The fact of the matter is, if Vince “must” feature them at WrestleMania .. at least have make ’em lose. What’s the point in winning? There’s nothing to gain. For the fans who have been away for years? They’ll get some cheap nostalgia .. but aside from that? I might have seen (almost) every Triple H match on TV since the 90’s, and he did nothing spectacular against Batista. In fact, I think he stole part of his match plan from Pete Dunne. Shane O’ Mac however? He was great, but he didn’t convince me he deserved the spot over anyone else.

The Giants

This is going to hurt to say but .. The Undertaker? Please, just have one last match at WrestleMania 36. Put over a younger giant like Braun Strowman and pass the torch while it’s possible. Or if not? Book him against Kane in their last match ever .. with The Deadman winning. Afterwards, let the rosters surround the ring and pay their respects. Allow the man behind the gimmick to lay down his hat & boots for good.

This year, WWE did the right thing by not booking him at all; but the fans still need closure. WWE must be planning his last days to leave him off on purpose. Mark Henry did the right thing (retiring), and I think Kane & Big Show should consider following his lead. WWE needs guys like Braun Strowman and Lars Sullivan to fill the void, so the former giants should be putting over the new ones. Knowing the right time to bow out? Can preserve a legacy forever.


Peaking Late

Unsure why this is, but if you analyze careers of the past decade .. it seems the average age of those making it to the big time has gone in the wrong direction. We used to see stars made in their twenties, or early thirties at least. But nowadays, it’s rare to see anyone made so young. Many have to wait patiently before enjoying the top of the mountain. For example, AJ Styles was the poster boy of TNA for years, yet it took til his late-thirties to get to WWE. To make matters worse, many have to go through NXT for a year or two before they can be promoted to the main roster. Unlike the old days, WWE refuses to risk unproven commodities, no matter how experienced (AJ was the exception).

When you look at NXT & NXT UK, they have breakout stars like The Velveteen Dream, Pete Dunne and Toni Storm in their mid-twenties. They are being held back because WWE doesn’t have room in their bloated rosters. If WWE really wanted to focus on new blood we’d see them promoted right away. Instead, only a fraction of the WWE Universe are likely to enjoy their best work over the next few years. NXT is all about the next generation, but it does too good of a job compared to what Raw & Smackdown can handle.

And another issue with wrestlers peaking late? They have less of a window to forge their legacies. Guys like Shawn Michaels? Enjoyed many years of tag team success before becoming the Heartbreak Kid .. but the clock is ticking on guys like AJ Styles or Samoa Joe. Speaking of Joe, he’s in amazing shape .. but he’s 40 now. Are they going to push him for two more years? Five? Ten? It’s clear .. at least to me, that he’s doing everything in his limited time to make his run memorable.


Retirement Promise

Did we need Batista to return? Would bringing back The Rock help WWE? No, not really. Short-term gains only. Although, I am happy Batista announced it was his last. And even more so for Kurt Angle, who retired in the right way! Some hated that he lost, but I saw it as being a consummate professional to the end; passing the torch on in the way it should. But do you know the legend I respect the most? Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Despite having to retire early because of his neck, Austin could’ve easily made a return any time he wanted. We’ve seen he’s healthy enough to have one last match. He recently joked how he likes to “torture” Vince with the possibility .. but he knows it would be selfish. And if he were to return? It wouldn’t be to win.

I don’t want to see Austin return. Not because it wouldn’t be fun, but because it’s not his era. We can watch YouTube/WWE Network for the best of Austin 3:16. When Shawn Michaels came out of retirement for the Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia? My respect for him fell dramatically. Brothers of Destruction vs. D-Generation X had no right main eventing any card, and it was embarrassing to watch. Both teams did everything to make it worthy, but it reminded me how past it they are; and how old I’m getting. The perfect example of how stuck in the past WWE is, along with how money motivates people to go back on their promises.


Letting Go

Vince McMahon has emotional ties to the old guard. They’ve gone through the good and bad times together. He knows the veterans still draw somewhat, and he’s right. We live in an age where everyone wants to “make things great again”. We want to play our old Sega games, listen to 80’s music, and watch remakes of our movie classics. And I can admit to doing the same. I loved playing Resident Evil 2 as a teen, and in 2019 .. find myself back in Raccoon City playing as the same characters in a similar, yet different way.

Nostalgia is powerful and easily extorted. How do you make something new when everything’s been done? When we do find anything new, comparisons are made to whatever came before. So instead of saying .. “this is Dean Ambrose, he’s fun”, we say, “this Ambrose guy reminds me of Pillman/Austin/Piper/Foley”. The young are always having to overcome the comparisons, so one day they can become the comparisons.

It’s tough for old habits to die. WWE doesn’t necessarily need to change, and it likely won’t while Vince is at the helm. As I get older, there’s a new feeling in me. I want the young to be the focus. And NXT does that for us, which I’m incredibly grateful for. We ain’t seen the best out of the Velveteen Dream or Pete Dunne. And there’s much more to come from big men like Walter, Keith Lee and Dijakovic. It’s exciting when you don’t know what to expect. The best talents are those on the road to their peak, as opposed to those who are long past.

Conclusion

The veterans are proven commodities. They still draw, and I admire everything they do, and have done for this business. But when I’m 60, I want to look back and know WWE did all it could to embrace the new. Just like in Creed II (spoilers if you ain’t seen it!) .. when Rocky passes the torch to Adonis, time stands still for nobody. We should embrace our twilight years, knowing we passed on the essentials to those who’ll do the same when they’re old enough.

What do you think? Is WWE hurting NXT’s success? Are they making problems for themselves by promoting talent too soon? How old does a wrestler need to be before they hang it up? Is the current system sustainable? And if not, what changes would you make? Or is it all a moot point? Are there no logical answers .. because it’s up to the new talent to force out the old like a young lion ousts the leader of a pride? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading guys, it’s always a pleasure.

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