Past Meets the Future
June 20, 2005 by Steve K.

The year 1984 marked the beginning of an incredible era for the professional wrestling industry, otherwise known as "sports entertainment". Hulk Hogan dethroned the Iron Sheik for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship and then moved on to main event the first ever WrestleMania the following year. Wrestling had moved into the mainstream of pop-culture and its future had never looked brighter.

Over the following decade and beyond, the hype generated by the "Hulkamania" years helped pave the way for a variety of other larger than life personas in the industry. Names such as The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Shawn Michaels come to mind. Throughout the 1990's, wrestling hit an all-time high in popularity, largely due to the excitement of the "Monday Night Wars" that brought about the rise to stardom of the above mentioned talent, as well as WCW-created stars like Bill Goldberg.

But now, the year is 2005 and most of the stars that were huge in the eighties and nineties are now either retired, working part-time schedules, or only make special appearances when needed for huge events. This means that wrestling is once again in a down cycle, as it entered briefly in the early nineties after the departure of Hulk Hogan, and the time has come once again for new stars to emerge.

When one looks back over the past twenty years of the professional wrestling industry, they remember huge names like Hogan, Ric Flair, Andre the Giant, Rock, Austin, and Michaels. What is an interesting prospect to consider is how the die hard wrestling fans that grew up in the "Rock n' Wrestling" era, and the newer fans from the "Attitude" era and beyond, will perceive the current WWE roster in another five to ten years. Will they stack up to the legends that have come before them" Will they be even greater" The best manner to formulate a hypothesis is to compare the existing and the up and coming stars to those they have modelled themselves after.

First in line, we have John Cena. Cena is a mix of Stone Cold's rebellious attitude, The Rock's microphone mastery, and Hogan's ability to capture his audience in the ring with his image and theatrics as opposed to a vast array of technical skill. There has never been another star like Cena. Despite his initial stereotype of being "just another rapping wrestler gimmick," he has proven himself to be one-of-a-kind and has risen to a height of mainstream stardom unseen since the departure of the above mentioned superstars. Cena's exposure and popularity will only grow as time passes, and he is virtually guaranteed to one day be a WWE Hall-of-Famer. Out of all the rising stars on the roster, John Cena shows the most promise to be a long term asset and franchise player for WWE.

Next up, "the Animal" Batista. Batista has followed a parallel line of success on a show opposite Cena, and though he may not be headed in the same direction of mainstream exposure, Batista has gained an incredible amount of popularity based on his look and aggression in the ring alone. If any comparison is to be made for Batista, it would be to another superstar who experienced a quick rise to the top while displaying a similar style of intensity and physical domination of opponents, Bill Goldberg. Batista's only real downfall is his lack of microphone skills. His limited technical ability in the ring is compensated for by his growing knowledge of in-ring psychology and storytelling. Also, like Goldberg, Batista is not expected to remain in the business for an extended period of time. Now at the age of 40, Batista's reign of terror may only reach into the next five years, barring any serious injury. Though, given his recent success and popularity with the fans, it is very likely that five years will be more than enough for this leviathan to make a significant impression in the pro wrestling history books.

Randy Orton is a third generation star, destined for greatness, which is evident as he is already the youngest heavyweight champion in WWE history. Everything about his style reflects the legends of yesteryear. The only downfall the WWE reportedly sees in him is his maturity level. Orton apparently likes to live his gimmick of the cocky, womanizing playboy, a behaviour that fifteen years ago, would have been quite acceptable among top tier performers. However, the typical lifestyles of WWE superstars have changed over the years and such habits are now judged to be detrimental to an athlete's focus on their profession. Regardless of WWE's possible disapproval of what Randy does on his off-time, he will still become one of the greatest in the business, given time. In fact, once that does occur and fans look back on what will no doubt be a storied career, comparisons may even be made to the career of "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Though it may be hard to visualize at this point in time, Randy's wrestling style, personality, and natural heel persona could lead him along a very similar path.

One man who will, and already does generate an incomparable amount of legitimate disgust for not only his character, but his real-life actions as well, is Adam "Edge" Copeland. Edge is already on the verge of championship success, his character seemingly being groomed for an eventual title victory in the near future. The only man in the industry who Edge could compare to in regard to his out of character heat is Triple H. Though Triple H is still at the top of the industry right now, he is still a star that was born out of the infamous "Monday Night Wars" and will be remembered for two things: Dominating the WWE title picture for nearly a decade, and being hated by many fans for allegedly using his marriage to the boss's daughter to propel his career. Edge's career path is shaping up to be similar in the aspect that something that occurred behind the scenes has influenced his character direction in a manner that is beneficial to him. Playing on the true hatred that most fans seem to have for Edge, Vince McMahon will certainly see this as an opportunity to develop another evil heel champion that we will all pay to see get beaten to within an inch of his life.

Resilience and technical innovation helped shape the career of "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels, and so they have begun to shape the career of current Intercontinental Champion, Shelton Benjamin. As Michaels is known to be one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions of all time, so will be Benjamin, after having held the title at the time of this writing for approximately eight months, even longer than Randy Orton's seven-month reign in 2004. Everything about Shelton Benjamin says "blue chip prospect" and he is a lock to be a major player on the main event level within the next few years.

"Iran number one! USA... pphht!" The Iron Sheik is without a doubt the most notorious practitioner of the cheapest of all heel heat creation gimmicks, the anti-American foreigner. This angle has been repeated again and again over the past twenty years, with each attempt resulting in varying levels of success. Sergeant Slaughter, Lance Storm, Yokozuna, and even the Hart Foundation have all used this effective tool to help turn the fans against them, but today, a new foreigner has emerged with a fresh twist on an old trick. Muhammed Hassan is an Arab-American... who LOVES America! What he hates is the amount of disrespect that non-Arab citizens are apparently giving to him and his fellow Arab-Americans since the events of September 11, 2001. WWE has struck a chord, playing off a real life issue once again, much like the Iron Sheik (with Nikolai Volkoff) was a reflection of the Cold War era and it's effect on the emotions of the American fans. In any fictional scenario, the best villain is always one who believes that their cause is just, as does Hassan in his views on American society. This believable and intense character will propel Hassan into a long and prosperous career that is likely to overshadow that of even his Hall of Fame predecessor.

Carlito Caribbean Cool struts lazily to the ring, an apple in his hand, which he may spit into his opponent's face to begin the match. Razor Ramon would strut lazily to the ring, a toothpick in his mouth, which he would throw at his opponent to begin the match. Thick Puerto Rican accents heighten the comparison between the two, and more comparisons will likely follow as Carlito continues his WWE career. Already a former United States Champion, Carlito has demonstrated the potential to be a very successful upper mid-carder, and chants of "Carlito" echo throughout the arena every time he picks up a microphone. An eventual face turn is in the cards for the second generation star, as well as a career that could potentially overshadow that of Mr. Scott Hall.

Matt Morgan is a giant, currently outsized only by The Big Show. At 6'10", Morgan's intimidating stature and dark features are reminiscent of Kevin Nash's "Diesel" personna of the mid-90's. Having demonstrated sufficient microphone skills thus far, some feel that Morgan's talent is being dampened by the "stuttering" gimmick imposed upon him by the SmackDown creative team. But with time, Morgan's size and talent will help him outgrow the gimmick, and help fans to forget it as he climbs the ladder of imminent success. To what extent that will be, it is much too early to tell.

Speaking of the Big Show, the only comparison that could possibly be made for him is to the late Andre the Giant. The question is, by the time Show's career is over, will he carry anywhere near the amount of prestige of Andre, the man who's shadow may be much too large to escape" There is one important difference between the careers of these two giants. Even at the time of his passing, Andre the Giant had only laid down for one man (that can be recollected), and that was Hulk Hogan, arguably the greatest star to ever grace a wrestling ring. At the halfway point of his career, Big Show has fallen to more opponents than Andre had probably faced at the halfway point of his own. The only legend in the industry that could come close to measuring up to Andre's invincibility would be The Undertaker, yet another opponent who has laid the Big Show to rest on many an occasion. In answer to the query, no. Big Show will come nowhere near eclipsing the legend that is Andre the Giant, and through no fault of his own. In the days when wrestlers had creative control, Andre was always utilized as an ominous immovable object, but Show has never been portrayed as such by WWE, and probably never will be.

In one of the more obvious comparisons, John Bradshaw Layfield is viewed by most as a twenty-first century Million Dollar Man. The Ted DiBiase character used his financial resources and influence to create numerous title opportunities for himself, owned his own stable of wrestlers, and even attempted to buy the then-WWF title at one point. JBL has his own personal security entourage in the Bashams, and a "Chief of Staff" in Orlando Jordan that seems quite similar to Virgil's role as DiBiase's bodyguard in the late 1980's. Given his single title reign alone, JBL will go down in history as being more successful than Ted DiBiase, but being a more notorious villain remains to be seen.

One of the greatest champions in WWE history is Calgary's Bret "Hitman" Hart. Out of the entire WWE roster, the closest comparison one could make to Hart would have to be "The Crippler" Chris Benoit. Hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, Benoit was trained by Hart's father in the infamous Hart family "Dungeon" and is regarded as one of the top three, if not the number one technical wrestler in WWE today. When future fans look back on this era of wrestling, Benoit will be viewed as a great mat technician and former champion, but it is doubtful that his legacy will surpass that of the five-time WWE Champion, Bret Hart.

Another superstar whose legacy is far from complete is "Y2J" Chris Jericho. The long-time host of "The Highlight Reel" can draw only one fair comparison to a WWE legend, and that would be "Hotrod" himself, Rowdy Roddy Piper. Though their styles are a stark contrast, Jericho and Piper have in common an always entertaining character of tweening disposition, known for charismatic and amusing promos. The advantage that Piper has in this comparison is his superior use of psychology in his promos, as opposed to Jericho's more prominent use of wit and catchphrases. However, Jericho has the advantage of being crowned the first ever undisputed World Heavyweight Champion after the WCW-WWE merger while Piper failed to capture the heavyweight prize in either company throughout his entire career. This is a comparison that is too close to call in regard to whose career will go down as being more notable in the WWE history books.

Finally, a name that less than two years ago carried the recognition of being the future franchise player for WWE and "The Next Big Thing," Brock Lesnar. Early on in Lesnar's short career, comparisons were made to Bill Goldberg, as Lesnar arguably displayed an equal amount of intensity as the former WCW Champion. The beginning of his career also mirrored Goldberg's meteoric rise to the top of the industry. Though the physical comparisons are obvious, Lesnar's career took a different path than Goldberg's after the first year, as the SmackDown creative team turned his over-the-top monster heel persona into a cowardly, rule-breaking champion, undeserving of his title. This was only a small factor in Lesnar's decision to leave the business immediately following WrestleMania XX in New York. To the average "mark" it would have seemed that Brock Lesnar disappeared overnight without explanation after a two year run of nearly unparalleled success. His short but storied career and sudden departure is reminiscent of a similar path followed by the legendary Ultimate Warrior. Warrior debuted in 1988, winning the Intercontinental Championship shortly thereafter, and moving on to main event WrestleMania VI with Hulk Hogan. Warrior was handed the proverbial torch that night, which he attempted to run with for most of the following year, only to drop the title in January of 1991 and disappear from the professional wrestling map a short time later. Warrior made two brief returns in the late nineties, one with what was then known as the World Wrestling Federation, and the other with World Championship Wrestling. However, each were followed by similar unexplained disappearances. It remains to be seen if Lesnar will ever return to WWE or any other form of wrestling for that matter, even if only for special events. Regardless of the choices he makes from this point onward, it will likely still be a long time before wrestling fans and former peers can truly forgive Lesnar for walking out. Unlike the Ultimate Warrior, Brock Lesnar will always have an aura of fan resentment and bitterness surrounding his short, albeit successful legacy and seemingly selfish departure. This factor will ensure that Lesnar, barring any unforseen circumstances that would bring about his return to wrestling, will not be a future Hall-of-Famer and will always carry the label of "quitter".

In conclusion, there will obviously never be another Hulk Hogan, or another Undertaker for that matter. We will probably never see another Andre the Giant and WWE will be hard-pressed to find another Rock or Mick Foley. On the bright side, though, we will see Cena, Batista, Orton, Hassan, Benjamin, and many more grow into superstardom that may outshine many of their predecessors. The professional wrestling industry is nearing the beginning of a new era that will see all of the stars mentioned here and many more play a part in revolutionizing the "sport" as we know it. "Rock n' Wrestling" and "Attitude" have come and gone, giving to us legends and taking most with them, but the future looks to be in good hands.

by Steve K...










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