The 411 on the New Era
So, here’s the low-down on the New Era in WWE. As of Payback May 2016, World Wrestling Entertainment was dubbed by Shane McMahon to have entered a New Era. Although this term had been floating around pre-Wrestlemania (April), it wasn’t officially accepted in WWE’s chronology of generational phases until Payback. Guys like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and Cesaro were carrying the torch over from the wrestling revolution in NXT and shining it on the main stage, where Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns were already leading the pack at the end of the Reality Era. Post-brand split, we have two distinctive rosters (one on Monday Night Raw, one of Tuesday Night Smackdown), buffered with men and women whose stories we journeyed with, be it through NXT or elsewhere in the world, and we now celebrate with them as they set out to prove to the world why they’re here. That is the premise of this New Era; competition, and desire to be the best wrestlers in the business.
The first post-brand extension episodes of Raw and Smackdown aired this week, and I picked up a few things about what the New Era is all about.
It’s still hot in the kitchen for Reigns. Roman copped a lot of heat on the first rebranded Raw, and it was uncomfortable. He’s still getting burnt, and it would appear that even management aren’t high on him anymore, Steph calling him out for causing Seth and ultimately Raw to lose the WWE Championship the night prior, then taking a clean pin from new upstart and NXT call-up Finn Balor. Smarks are finally getting what they asked for, the public roast of Roman Reigns. It might have been a tad harsh, but it’s one way to step aside for new talent.
Speaking of, Finn FUCKING Balor. He’s here people, and if you haven’t seen any of him until now, prepare to have your mind blown. Balor represents everything the New Era should value; ridiculous work ethic, sportsmanship, competitive fire, charisma, connection, versatility, and dedication. It’s been a long time coming for Fergal, but it doesn’t look as if it will be long at all until he’s fully recognised as the new future of the company. He faces off with Rollins for the WWE Universal Championship at Summerslam. More on that soon.
Another wrestler who boasts these values, is the new WWE Women’s Champion, Sasha Banks. The Boss submitted former champ Charlotte on Raw in an epic title match, highly deserving of a main event spot. Womens wrestling has been around for some time — it was knocking at WWE’s door once more in the Diva’s Revolution originating from NXT, and it kicked the door down at Wrestlemania 32, demanding to be heard. Now it’s here to stay.
Cruiserweights are coming back big, and who better to connote this than former NXT champion and recent injury returnee, Neville. I’m super hyped to see what signings come from the WWE Cruiserweight Classic, with names like Zack Sabre Jr and Noam Dar already doing the rounds.
The New Era draws a noticeable emphasis to “wrestling”. Both male and female superstars are referred to as “wrestlers” rather than “performers”. Commentary courtesy of Mauro Ranllo and Corey Graves add a new dynamic to the sound of the announce table, one that is much more pleasurable than JBL’s utter cluelessness.
While we have stars on the rise on Raw, Smackdown appears to be giving veterans a second crack, while balancing this out with new comers. Dean Ambrose will face Dolph Ziggler at Summerslam for the WWE Championship, and as much as I would have liked to see Bray or Styles in his place, Ziggles is probably owed a chance at redemption more than anyone.
So we somehow stepped back in time to 2005 with dodgy looking graphics on Raw and Impact wrestling inspired logos that a toddler could have better designed. Raw has adopted an oddly futuristic industrial set design that maintains the industrial “Raw” feel, while Smackdown boasts a much more palatable sleek space age design. A wider range of camera shots and spiraling aerial shots made me more queasy than visually enticed. The sets worked — On-screen visual effects aside it was clean and allowed for breathing room — and will just take some time to get used to. But it’s a wrestling ring, not a 120 yard football field. Relax. Just let me watch some wrestling.
Yep, even management hate Roman now. From day one, it was clear where Finn Balor belongs, but not it’s no longer quite so for Roman. Maybe THIS TIME, he gets a break to reinvent himself, because to put it bluntly, he’s boring and has been wearing the same cargo pants for four years. It’s plain painful to watch talent suspended in a crippling state of limbo. Turn him heel, dammit!
the WWE Universal championship. What a horrible name. As if Raw could dig at Smackdown any further, they just dropped this bombshell of a title name. It’s almost a subliminal cry made by WWE to stop paying attention to other promotions because they are the alpha. The flagship. Calm down. But the match for this title is too much of a dream come true, I don’t really deserve to complain.
The women made a statement on Smackdown… all six of them. I get it. It gives them room to stretch their legs. But if we don’t make another title for the women’s division, what’s the point?
In an effort to draw legitimacy to wrestling as a sport in the New Era, a few new tactics have been implemented. Graphics with statistics during backstage interviews, and even ringside post-match interviews. These things are hardly necessary. While this attitude draws success in places like NJPW, and a shift towards a UFC style of presentation could benefit in ways, casual wrestling fans are fully aware that what they are watching isn’t a bona fide contest. I feel as though this will only light the fire under those ignorant haters who refuse to understand the technical aspects of wrestling itself (my Mother).
Wrestling hurts. These guys do put their bodies on the line when they take powerbombs to the back of the head on a wooden mat, or take to the air and perform a series of high-risk maneuvers. Even simple striking moves take a certain accuracy and attention that these wrestlers have acquired over years of training, and this is something that the New Era demands be respected. These men and women want you to see them for what they are. Hard working athletes with dreams. They are indeed performers who showcase an unbelievable range of skills — the ability to cut a great promo, in-ring psychology, technical and athletic ability, an aura or presence — they’re on a whole other level, and that’s what I respect about them, and you don’t need to try convince me they’re worthy of that respect. It’s theirs.
Frankly, there’s no plausible way that WWE can maintain the momentum they’ve achieved with Raw. Smackdown could lift their game — announcing returns like Shelton Benjamin two weeks in advance are barely going to cut it. Battleground was a stellar pay-per-view, but was still an obvious filler moving towards Summerslam, with no hugely obvious power shifts or title changes.
There are some things that are certain. Rollins and Ambrose are the new faces of their brands and the company. Zayn, Owens will get their push, it’s surely just around the corner, after what was a match of the year contender at Battleground. As for Cesaro, who didn’t even receive a match at Battleground, after a brutally honest backstage promo, this might have been the media attention he needed to get ahead again.
The women’s division will not lie down and die, despite being severed down the middle. It can’t survive on squash matches for Nia Jax alone, but they do add an element that has since been forgone with and could be incorporated usefully in moderation. We don’t have to see Summer Rae jobbed out every week, and likewise in the men’s division.
What does “entertainment” now mean? Clearly humour is still a necessary aspect of the entertainment prospect of professional wrestling. Comedy can be conveyed in an unlimited number of ways; backstage segments, promos, wrestler gimmicks. But aside from the obvious Golden Truth stunts (which actually made sense for once on Monday), you can bet that comedy will transcend onto a more complex level, becoming prevalent in in-ring psychology, characterisation and story-telling, as opposed to throw-away fillers.
In-ring interviews and segments are still essential, but could be shortened. WWE is clearly drawing influence from UFC programming in adding a sense of realism (no, not like the Reality Era and Total Divas, much more tasteful than that). One can only hope that we are moving towards an NXT structure, where backstage promos are tight and the emphasis is on what happens in the ring. Let the wrestlers do what they’ve trained to do all their lives. Tell stories, without the cheap gags and ten-minute sketches
The “Authority” still exists to some extent, primarily on Raw, where Stephanie remains the awkward overseeing dominatrix (totally not in a sexual way) she wont ever let go of. And I think this will be okay. It balances out Smackdown’s ethos of freedom. JBL actually said something intelligent: “The future is in their hands,” and it belongs to us — it’s OUR product. It is undoubtedly just an illusion, but if #SignHeathSlater tells us anything, plus the build to Summerslam (I guess), it’s that WWE is the land of opportunity.
Learn from thy enemy, WWE. Lure us in, week by week, and give us something to look forward to whenever we turn on our screens. Patience is key. Book steady — We want stories, not summaries. Take us on the ride with our favourite stars and suspend our disbelief once more. Make us fall in love all over again.
Originally published at ezonrasslin.tumblr.com.