One of the most intriguing aspects of wrestling that keeps the fans constantly tuned in is how the product as a whole evolves and changes over time. A myriad of factors affect how the final product is presented – even some as unrelated, except perhaps on the basis of matrimonial bond, as Linda McMahon's political aspirations.The journey of evolution that the product has undergone has not always been well received by the audience, but in the Reality Era that we currently find ourselves in, enough information about the internal workings of the business has filtered through via the internet to buy a certain degree of clemency. Conversely, the WWE has subjected its product and superstars to the purview and dissection of the audience like never before through social media. However, the WWE did not always function like this. The previous eras have seen WWE superstars glorified and followed as larger-than-life characters, not the normal people with normal lives who are working in a certain profession – which is how we view them today, thanks to the internet. The allure that yesteryear WWE superstars had to the audience could be compared to the way gladiators held the Colosseum in attention. On that note, here is a look back at WWE's most important eras, and their respective superstars who are still fondly reminisced about today.
#5 Reality Era ( 2011 - present )
The Reality Era that we currently find ourselves in the midst of, marks the thankful end of the PG era, and can be attributed mostly to CM Punk’s sensational shoot promo in 2011. Whether Punk realized it or not, when he spoke about “the glass ceiling” in the WWE hierarchy, he was breaking a completely different “glass ceiling”.
His promo on Raw generated so much internet attention that it also filtered into the audience reaction. WWE had to bow to the pressure and grant Punk a run as the face of the company, and credit to him, CM Punk delivered. Other superstars who are currently dominating the Reality Era are Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and the new king-in-waiting Roman Reigns.
This era has seen an important change of dynamics in the ring. Matches have become more intense, faster and more realistic. The style of fighting has evolved from mostly showmanship punctuated with an occasional feat of strength to actual MMA-style, well-choreographed fighting sequences.
The audience reactions are being considered with greater brevity each passing day in the creative decision-making process of the WWE. The company’s considerable presence on social media coupled with the advent of the WWE network has made this possible.
Fans nowadays can read and understand the nature of the wrestling business online, and this is an advantage considering that it has led to WWE pushing “smaller guys” like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan into the main-event picture.
Hopefully, the reality era will be an era that brings about a never before witnessed cohesion between the WWE and the audience in determining the course that the product should take.
#4 PG Era (2007 - 2011)
The least favourite era that the WWE has had the ignominy of putting forth is undoubtedly the PG era. Coming on the back of Chris Benoit’s controversial murder-suicide, the WWE felt the need to maintain a slightly lower profile, so as to not attract unwelcome attention. Added to that, Linda McMahon’s political aspirations also forced the hand of the WWE.
The product was watered down and the expletives, sauciness, scandal, gore and excessive violence were cut out. In some senses, the WWE reverted back to the programming that the Hogan Era had. Except, the polarizing John Cena had replaced Hulk Hogan as the face of the company.
His gimmick though had and still has the same cartoonish feel to it. Other stars of the PG era were Randy Orton, Batista, Edge and Jeff Hardy. One can only imagine how the character that is Randy Orton would have thrived and survived in the Attitude Era. It was perhaps a tad unfortunate that his peak coincided with the PG era.
The PG era was a strong message to wrestling fans worldwide that the WWE was subject to one man's compulsions and whims, as the WWE kept pushing the product down our throats though fans were vocal about their displeasure. It came as a relief when the PG era met its demise at the hands of CM Punk, who went on to headline the next era.
#3 Ruthless Agression Era (2002-2007)
A green John Cena’s defiant cry of “Ruthless Agression!” before he proceeded to slap champion Kurt Angle is not a debut likely to be forgotten easily. The Ruthless Aggression era, that started approximately at the time of the brand extension, brought in-your-face, intense wrestling that did not leave a moment to breathe for the viewers.
The brand had come about due to the sudden influx of wrestlers that bolstered WWE’s ranks after the acquisition of WCW in 2001. Some of the best matches and rivalries played out during this time, as this era was mainly wrestling-centric.
The stars of this era were Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Eddie Gurrero, Goldberg, Jeff Hardy, Edge Rey Mysterio and the controversially maligned Chris Benoit. This period served up the same in-ring intensity with respect to wrestling as the Attitude Era, but cut back on the shenanigans and the peripheral entertainment that had otherwise characterised the Stone Cold-dominated era.
Perhaps the reason why the WWE does not officially recognize this era lies in the fact that the majority of the dominant superstars have either departed the from the company or just departed. As for Chris Benoit though, just forgotten.
In an attempt to avoid delving into the taboo subject of mental illness, not just his death but even Chris Benoit’s career has been erased from memory by the WWE. Perhaps in time, when the negative attention diminishes, Chris Benoit, and the Ruthless Aggression era of which he was a vital cog, shall be remembered yet again by the WWE.
#2 The Attitude Era (1997-2001)
The most popular era for the WWE in terms of global appeal was arguably the Attitude Era. Wrestling had won itself many young fans in the 1980s, who then went on to outgrow the childish, cartoon-character like programming of the WWE by the 90s. This called for WWE to change their product in order to cater to the changing age demographic of their fans.
Added to that, the Monday Night Wars ushered in a new level of competition – from the WCW – that the WWE had not experienced until then, nor since. So WWE created storylines that were more intense, violent and scandalous, portrayed by characters who were given extra dimensions and depth.
Thus the Attitude Era was born, as much out of necessity as out of the natural evolutionary process. Stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Undertaker, HBK, Mick Foley (in his various avatars) burst on to the scene, taking over from Bret Hart, who had been the face of the company for five previous years.
The Attitude era saw the introduction of Vince McMahon to TV programming, sparking what would turn out to be arguably the most interesting feud in WWE history – Stone Cold versus Vince McMahon.
This was the era that witnessed WWE superstars successfully crossing over from the wrestling business to the show business, with The Rock pioneering the way. The Attitude era sold the business of wrestling to many new fans, who bought it all hook, line and sinker.
#1 The Golden/Hogan Era (1983 - 1993)
This was the era where professional wrestling took up its place as part of mainstream TV, where it has been ever since. When Vince McMahon purchased the company from his father and devised designs to market the product outside of the region where wrestling shows used to run, he was met with resistance. McMahon persisted, and the future of the WWE boiled down to one make-or-break extravaganza that Vince referred to as "the Superbowl of Wrestling" – WrestleMania.
Though only around 20,000 people attended the event at first, it was telecast to millions of people, who were watching wrestling programming on TV for the first time. In order to seize and capitalize on the new wave of interest that wrestling had generated, "The Rock 'n' Wrestling" connection was established.
This was a cross-promotional marketing strategy employed by McMahon in order to put wrestling on the map. Music stars from MTV and other Hollywood stars started appearing on WWE shows and started involving themselves in storylines. The main stars who headlined this era were Andre the Giant, Randy Macho-Man Savage, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Iron Shiek and most notably, Hulk Hogan.
Hulk Hogan was the epicentre of wrestling's growth in stature and popularity from the 80s to the 90s. Though incredible feats of strength feature regularly in the WWE nowadays, the collective gasps of disbelief that emanated from the audience when Hogan picked up and body-slammed Andre the Giant at WrestleMania 3 was indicative of the novelty that wrestling represented to the audience.
The Hulkster’s impact on the popularity of the WWE was such that an era in wrestling, let alone a cartoon, stands named after him.