WrestleMania season is once again upon us. For WWE, that typically means that big names in years gone by will be returning to have honorary matches. Whether or not you believe it is fair that Superstars who are not there on the road at live events, doing promotional work across the world and working most days of the week get the considerable spotlight at WrestleMania while most of the main roster is left to languish, this is not a foreign practice by WWE. This has been the status quo for quite some time, but one has to ask. How long can this possibly go on?
WrestleMania has and will forever be WWE’s cash cow. It is the biggest spectacle in sports entertainment, which means WWE will have to put their best foot forward and do their very best to ensure that they give the fans the greatest show possible. While WrestleMania remains undefeated in being WWE’s biggest show, what also remains undefeated on a bigger scale is father time. This year’s WrestleMania is a signaling of things ending. Batista said he wanted to end his WWE career on his end by retiring Triple H. Kurt Angle is having his retirement match at WrestleMania. We haven’t even made any mention of The Undertaker thus far. The fact is, no matter how badly some want it to be untrue, there comes a point where Superstars either get disinterested in WWE and chase other pursuits, or the wear and tear gets too great.
WWE’s reliance on big names and those who have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame has been something that has been taking place for some time. Just take a look at some of the names of those who have been in the main event at WrestleMania recently. The Undertaker. Triple H. Brock Lesnar. Before that, The Rock was main eventing WrestleMania in consecutive years. These aren’t people that are going to be on Raw every week. It is not 2002 anymore, but when WrestleMania comes, they all come crawling back. How long can something like this possibly go on?
Here are some harrowing facts. The Undertaker is 53. Kurt Angle is 50. Batista is 50. Triple H is 49. Some of the prominent stars of the Ruthless Aggression Era such as Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar and John Cena are starting to reach their late 30s and early 40s. Hell, even some of the people deemed to be the future of WWE such as AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Finn Bálor and Shinsuke Nakamura are on the higher end of 30 or already over 40. Now, in wrestling years, this could be irrelevant, as we have seen constant Superstars be enabled to perform at a high level no matter how old they get. Case in point, see how R-Truth and Rey Mysterio (47 and 44 years old respectively) have been performing admirably in SmackDown LIVE’s mid-card. But eventually, WWE is going to have hear the music and know that a changing of the guard has to come soon.
Now, of course, one of the reasons why having part-timers perform at WrestleMania is generally seen as a safe bet is because they do not perform at the frequency with which full-time Superstars perform. Meaning, that when WrestleMania comes, all they need to do is ensure that they shake off the ring rust just for one match at one PPV of the calendar year, and go back to whatever they were doing before. Brock Lesnar is still a freak of nature, but he also won’t be at live events. So when it comes time to defend the Universal Title at WrestleMania, he’ll be fresh, and if he’s motivated, put on a show.
WWE can also be hardly blamed for wanting to rely on the star power and name recognition of WWE’s biggest stars. John Cena has a clear balding spot in his hair, but if you were to ask the casual viewer if you’d rather see John Cena, or someone younger like, say, Andrade, people would pick John Cena in a mile. Why? Because they have legacies that are set in stone, and we always like to reminded of the good ol’ days of what our heroes growing up were like. We hate to see more wrinkles on their face, their hair turn gray and see them visibly struggle in the ring, but we want to keep the memory fresh in our minds in a way the WWE Network cannot. I’d like to think that WWE has a similar mindset. They are never truly ready to say goodbye, and around March and April, they welcome them back with open arms for one show.
Hell, take the whole beef with D-Generation X and The Brothers of Destruction in the fall late last year. You literally could not have scripted The Undertaker’s feuds with Triple H and Shawn Michaels spanning from WrestleMania 25 to WrestleMania 28 any better. If all three of their careers in that capacity ended there, it literally would have been perfect. Triple H’s continuing performance is understandable, and The Undertaker was still a WrestleMania regular. But, it was still a storybook ending. Yet what do they do about 8 years later? They bring back Shawn Michaels, Kane, Triple H and The Undertaker for a brutal tag team match that desperately showed their age. It was a match that did not need to happen, but it was forced out of them. This once again showed that WWE never likes to truly say goodbye unless they must absolutely go.
I am personally kind of sad to see Kurt Angle’s retirement, just because he was arguably the greatest amateur wrestler WWE has ever signed. But I also know when it’s time to say goodbye.
Now, whether it is because the young talent WWE has now just does not have the same spark of generational talent that the eras before them had, but I suggest WWE start to at least select a few to carry WWE into its future. We already have some in the form of Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman (maybe?), Drew McIntyre and others. However, sooner or later, WWE is going to realize that the stars of old eventually become old. The torch must then be passed to the new generation until they themselves become old and the cycle continues.
Once again, WWE is not wrong for doing so, and it’s certainly not hard to understand the value in star power at WrestleMania. But with each passing year, WWE must acknowledge that they have a duty to fulfill to prep the talent they have now to be put in those kinds of positions. That entails not putting brutes like Braun Strowman in meaningless feuds against non-athletes.