The History of Wrestling: The Ups and Downs of the Much-Maligned Sport
"Gorgeous" George--The first wrestling TV star
Bruno Sammartino--the Longest reigning WWF champ ever
Andre the Giant--the Biggest thing in wrestling
Vince McMahon--Promotional genius or evil mastermind?
Hulk Hogan--the most popular wrestler in history
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin: The "Attitude Era" champion
"The Rock"--the first 3rd generation professional wrestler
Sport or "Sports Entertainment"?
Before we go into the history of professional wrestling, here’s a Glossary of industry terms that will help anyone unfamiliar with wrestling nomenclature better understand the details.
Face: A Good guy. A fan favorite. (Also called a “babyface”)
Heel: A bad guy.
Heel Turn: When a good guy (A Face) goes bad. (Turns heel.)
Face Turn: When a bad guy (heel) reforms and becomes a good guy (Turns Face).
Gimmick: An artificially created persona designed to make the wrestler more interesting.
Heat: A strong crowd response. When a wrestler evokes an extreme audience reaction.
Kayfabe: Protecting a plot or gimmick by insisting it’s real. Maintaining a fiction.
Over: When a character/gimmick succeeds and resonates with the audience.
Promo: An in-character interview. A speech or vignette done as part of a gimmick.
Promotion: A wrestling company.
Push: When a wrestling character/performer is given extra hype and screen-time.
Shoot: An unscripted, out-of-character interview. Speaking honestly.
Squash: A short, one-sided match where one fighter dominates the other.
Stable: A roster of wrestlers employed by a wrestling promotion.
Territory: An area used exclusively by a particular promotion, not shared with others.
Work: A scripted, pre-determined event.
**A (not so) Brief History of Professional Wrestling in the USA:
Wrestling goes all the way back to the Greek and Roman Empires. It began as a training exercise for soldiers and soon became a spectator event. This was the blueprint for the Olympic/amateur style of wrestling. Even today, traditional wrestling moves and techniques are called the ‘Greco-Roman Style’.
While wrestling has lasted through the centuries, its reputation has suffered. By the 1800s, wrestling was no longer considered a sport. It was deemed a third-rate past time for the lower classes and performed only in “At Shows” (Athletic showcases) in small venues.
By the time the 20th Century rolled in, boxing had become all-the-rage, and so many show business and sports promoters wanted to cash in on the pugilistic trend. They therefore focused on the possibility of making wrestling just as marketable to the masses as boxing. More “At Shows” began to pop up, and were more heavily advertised than before. Around 1905, a group of promoters got together and decided that a unified world wrestling title belt would help increase interest in the sport. They organized a tournament and Frank Gotch became the first recognized wrestling champion in America. To further build-up wrestling as a rival to boxing, Gotch was signed to fight the dominant European amateur wrestler, whose name as Hackenschmidt. Gotch beat Hackenschmidt and became the first World Champion of wrestling.
The first (of many) downfalls of wrestling came soon after, when the Gotch/Hackenschmidt rematch was announced but Hackenschmidt was injured and Gotch was accused to hiring someone to do a Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan. At the same time as this controversy, there were media rumors of pay-offs for wrestlers to take dives. Wrestling’s credibility suffered greatly.
By 1910, the brief popularity of wrestling had dwindled and the sport was reduced to the side-show circuit and carnivals. This is when legendary promoter P.T. Barnum stepped in to save the sport. Barnum, the king of the circus promoters, was looking for a way to exploit his wrestling stable. He raised interest in the sport by giving fake names/biographies to the fighters. He also introduced the world to woman’s wrestling. Barnum tried other gimmicks such as having the wrestlers take on all comers, and paying the challengers $100 if they lasted three minutes. Barnum would give the wrestlers scripts to study for interviews. Barnum rented out large arenas to give the sport a sense of grandeur.
By the 1920s, promoters were renting arenas around the country to showcase their stable of wrestlers. The most popular and dominant of the 1920s wrestlers was Ed “the Strangler” Louis. After a time, Louis became discontent with the way the promoters were treating the wrestlers like chattel. He teamed with fellow wrestlers “Toots” Mondt and Billy Sandow as The Gold Dust Trio and they started their own league. The trio innovated a new, wilder, rough-and-tumble style of fighting and also began to choreograph the conclusion of matches, beginning the era of the kayfabe match, setting the blueprint for wrestling’s future. ‘Handsome Al’ became the first sex-symbol wrestler.
In 1930, just as the popularity of the sport was beginning to climb, two events happened to cause the second downward spiral of the industry. Firstly, a disgruntled wrestler admitted that the results of the matches were scripted. Around the same time, a reporter got hold of some wrestling results and printed them *before* the matches happened. The combination of these two events caused the industry to lose and credibility and it sank almost completely. Wrestling was considered a joke! The pastime of idiots!
The dominant wrestler of the 1930s was Lou Thesse, a talented wrestler whose legacy is still well respected today. He was the youngest ever champion at age 21. He was called the successor to ‘Strangler’ Louis. He was champion during the sport’s lowest ebb in the 20th century. Newspapers had stopped writing about it. There were no more ‘big arena’ events, and wrestling was relegated to gyms and small halls. There were no more ‘national’ or ‘world’ title belts and wrestling had been broken up into dozens and dozens of mini “territories”.
*The TV Era begins:
In the late 1940s, wrestling had a surge in popularity due to the new medium of television. During the early days of TV, (before scripted TV programs became the norm) networks were looking for material to fill up their airtime with whatever they could find, and so wrestling began to be shown on network TV. This introduced the sport to many who hadn’t seen it before, particularly young kids, who latched onto it more than adults. (Wrestling was once again held in Big Arenas.)
Lou Thesse became a TV star in the late 40s/early 50s (despite being past his prime) but although Thesse was the main Face of wrestling, the real ‘star’ of the show was a wrestler named ‘Gorgeous George’ (George Wagner). He understood the nature of mind-games and psychology in sports and in show business, so he created the persona of the vain and somewhat effeminate Heel character of ‘Gorgeous George’. (He wore glittery robes and had a manservant who followed him around spraying perfume on him.) He knew how to play the audience and get some heat. He was the first wrestling superstar and nicknamed himself “the sensation of the nation”. All this was unheard of before but would soon become the norm, because he ushered in the era of the ‘character’ or gimmick wrestler.
Other gimmick characters followed. “Killer” Kowalski, “Classy” Freddie Blassy,” the ‘French Angel’, the “Crusher”, Hans “the Nazi” Schmidt, Angelo Poffo, (Whose son Randy “the Macho Man” Savage would be one of the biggest crowd draws of the 80s), Larry ‘the Ax” Hennig, (Father of Kurt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig), the Von Eric Brothers, the “Indians” Chief Strongbow and Chief Maivia (Maivia is the grandfather of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, one of the most popular wrestlers of the 90s), and many more.
The second most hated Heel after Gorgeous George”, was the flamboyant “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, (the inspiration for future superstar ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair). Rogers was so good with his on-the-mic promos that he set the standard for future promos. Verne Gonge became the number one Face of wrestling in the 50s, after the aging Thesse faded out. He had a female valet called ‘Slave Girl Moolah’, who would soon become a wrestler herself under the name ‘Fabulous Moolah’. She would become the most dominant female wrestler in history, holding the title on-and-off for over 30 years.
By the time the 1960s rolled in, wrestling was starting to stagnate once again. TV ratings were falling and the wrestling broadcasts were moved out of prime time. To counter the trend, companies started to make flashier, wilder matches. The habit of ‘cutting’ (using a hidden razor to cut themselves open to give the appearance of being injured) became a typical tactic to make the matches seem more real. The most popular crowd draw of the 1960s was Bruno Sammartino, who was champion of the biggest territory (the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut or “tri-state” region of the USA) under the banner of the WWWE (World Wide Wrestling Federation.) Sammartino held the belt from 1962-1971.
In the 1970s, literally the biggest thing in wrestling was Andre the Giant. The behemoth from France stood at 7-foot-5, and weighed a whopping 525 pounds. No one had ever seen anything like this wrestling leviathan. He became a sensation not only in wrestling but also in the mainstream, which saw him as a curiosity or a freak. He was interviewed in the legitimate media and also interviewed on The Tonight Show and in other non-wrestling venues. He appeared in some TV shows (Such as in The Six Million Dollar Man) and became the first cross-over superstar.
*Enter Vince McMahon Jr:
Vincent McMahon Sr. owned the WWWF, the biggest of the wrestling territories. His son Vince jr. was being groomed as his successor. Young Vince left the company for a while and worked on his own as a wrestler; because his father thought he should get a feel for the business from the bottom-up. Working in the various territories gave Vince Jr. some ideas. Eventually, Vince Jr. returned and inherited the company from his dad. Vincent senior had no idea what Vince junior had in mind.
Vince Jr. was very ambitious (some would say ruthless) and he immediately started breaking the unwritten law of never-put-on-a-show-in-another-promoter’s-territory. Vince incited the anger of his fellow promoters by expanding his reach across the North East and into Canada. This was simply not done at the time! It was an unbreakable taboo, but McMahon Jr. broke it. Having the money to outlast the competition, he put many other territorial promotions out of business and bought them up. One of his biggest conquests was when he took over Stew Hart’s popular Canadian league The Calgary Stampede. Among the acquisitions McMahon won from Stew Hart’s stable was Stew’s son Bret. Bret “the Hitman” Hart would go on to become one of McMahon’s marquee wrestlers.
By the 1980s, McMahon’s company--which he had renamed the WWF (the World Wrestling Federation)--had gone national, and even international, expanding into Canada and Mexico. He had put most of the territorial competition out of work except for a few survivors. The second biggest league—and the oldest existing one—was the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance). The NWA had some notable success thanks to the popularity of Nature Boy Ric Flair and the Four Horsemen. Flair was a hit with wrestling fans due to his swaggering arrogance and showmanship. His team, the 4 Horsemen (Flair, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson and Ole Anderson, who would soon be replaced by Barry Windham) were hated Heels in the NWA and they brought in the crowds who were always hoping to see Flair and his cronies get their comeuppance. In order to counter the rising popularity of the Horsemen, McMahon created his own mega-star.
*Hulkamania and the Wrestling Boom of the 1980s:
Hulk Hogan was born Terry Bolea and began wrestling as Terry Boulder, but to cash in on the popularity of “The Incredible Hulk” TV show in the 70s, promoters changed his name to Hulk Hogan. He was a Heel for his early career. His big break came when he was cast by Sylvester Stallone to play wrestler ‘Thunder Lips’ in “Rocky 3”. McMahon took advantage of the press Hogan got from the film. He had Hogan do a Face Turn and gave Hogan a major push into marquee status. McMahon recognized the natural charisma and great promo skills Hogan had. That, along with his size and impressive 24-inch biceps made him a good image to put forward as the WWF’s champion and main-eventer. In 1984, he did just that. By having Hogan defeat the current champ, the hated Iron Sheik (An Iranian wrestler whose gimmick was to be anti-American), Hogan’s popularity soared. He used his all-American image to cement his place as the hero of the American working class. Hogan had a particularly strong appeal to children. Hogan came up with his ‘3 Demandments’ of “Exercise, say your prayers and eat your vitamins” because of his new status as a role model to kids. Hogan was given a Saturday morning cartoon show called “Hulk Hogan’s Rock and Wrestling”.
“Hulkamania” was the name given to Hogan’s unprecedented popularity. He was drawing bigger crowds than any wrestler ever in history and his merchandizing was selling-out all over the country. He was a main-stream phenomenon, appearing on all the talk-shows and on TV shows like “the A-Team”. Hogan’s popularity started the ‘Wrestling Boom’ of the 80s, where wrestling finally climbed out of the shadows and into the limelight. Finally, it was OK to admit liking wrestling again. All of a sudden, it was cool to be a wrestling fan. Lovers of wrestling came out-of-the-closet and could proudly display their Hulkamania shirts without fear of being called idiots. Big celebrities began guest-appearing on WWF Wrestling programs. Also, for the first time in years, wrestling began to appear in the evening instead of just mornings or afternoons. The ‘Saturday Night Main Event’ showed that wrestling could survive after children went to bed.
A big part of McMahon’s plan to keep Hogan popular was to make sure he had hated opponents. One of his best heel opponents was “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (AKA “Hot Rod”). If Hogan was the # One Face of the company, Piper was # 1 Heel. Piper was the regular villain on Hulk Hogan’s cartoon show. Piper had incredible mic-promo skills and he was able to out-wit and humiliate every Face wrestler who appeared on his talk-show segment, “Piper’s Pit”. The Hogan/Piper feud culminated in another of McMahon’s innovative ideas—Wrestlemania! The concept was to have an annual All-Star Showcase of his best wrestlers all on one massive card. Many celebrity guest-stars appeared at the first one, including Mr. T, Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin and Cindy Lauper.
The first Wrestlemania was done on closed-circuit TV and was very profitable for McMahon, so it became a yearly event. (Currently, it’s up to Wrestlemania # 28 in 2012) The event moved from closed circuit to PPV, making it more accessible to home viewers. The most successful and talked-about of all the WrestleMania’s was #3, which featured Hulk Hogan fighting the large-sized legend Andre the Giant, after Andre’s unexpected Heel Turn. The event broke an indoor attendance record, drawing in 94,000 people at the Silver Dome.
Many other popular wrestlers appeared during the eighties wrestling boom, including Jake “the Snake” Roberts, Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorf”, George “the Animal” Steele, The “Undertaker”, the “Ultimate Warrior”, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, “King Kong” Bundy, The “Earthquake”, the ‘One-Man-Gang’, Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat, Hercules Hernandez, “Bam Bam” Bigelow, Rick “the Model” Martel, the “Mountie”, the ‘Big-Boss Man’, The “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiassi, and most notably, Randy “the Macho Man” Savage, who was nipping at Hogan’s heels as the number two crowd draw in the company. (When Hogan took a hiatus from wrestling to film a movie, the Macho Man took his place as the world champion.) Hogan and the Macho Man teamed together for a while as “the Mega-Powers”, until they fought each other in the main event of Wrestlemania 5.
*The End of the Wrestling Boom/The Steroid Scandal:
The 1992 Steroid Scandal was a big black-eye for McMahon and the WWF. When a disgruntled former wrestler spilled the beans about steroids, and the story was confirmed by a doctor who admitted supplying the drug to the WWF, the media jumped all over it. McMahon was on the defensive and (initially) most of the wrestler adamantly denied it. However, as the interrogation built and the official hearings were held, wrestlers began to change their tune. Both Hogan and the Macho Man eventually admitted to steroid use (which was the beginning of the end of their WWF careers.) At the same time as the steroid scandal was happening, there were also a number of sexual abuse lawsuits occurring regarding the company, one of them aimed at McMahon personally. These twin scandals would ruin the reputation of the WWF which had been considered kid-friendly, family entertainment during its ‘Boom’ years.
In 1994, the almighty money-maker Hulk Hogan left the WWF. There was some bad blood between he and McMahon since the steroid testimony. After that—according to insiders—McMahon began to comment more and more on Hogan’s slowly declining box office clout. McMahon was hinting around that the era of Hulkamania was over. McMahon suggested that his protégé Bret ‘the Hitman” Hart (One of his earliest acquisitions) should be the new champion and main Face of the company. That would mean a pay-cut for Hogan. Hogan decided that the time had come to part company with the WWF and focus on his movie career. To make it worse for McMahon, the Macho Man left soon after for similar reasons. The WWF experienced a huge ratings drop without its two biggest stars. Although Bret Hart did reasonably well as champion, and rising star Shawn Michaels filled in nicely as the number-two man, they couldn’t replace Hogan and the Macho Man.
*The Big Confession—Wrestling comes-out as being fake:
It was about this time that McMahon decided he needed to ‘bond’ with the viewers and be seen as a man of some integrity. With this in mind, he admitted what almost everyone had known for years. Yes, wrestling was rigged and pre-rehearsed. It was performance art, not a sport. McMahon coined the new term “Sport Entertainment” to describe his product. From then on, wrestlers were permitted to break character in public (before this, they had to play their roles at all time) and speak honestly. Kayfabe was gone for good. The age of the shoot interview had begun.
*The WCW and the ‘Monday Night Wars’:
The WCW (World Championship Wrestling) began in 1988, owned by wealthy businessman Ted Turner of Time-Warner. Always one to spot an opportunity, Turner noted the 80s Wrestling Boom and wanted to get a piece of the pie. He began WCW with a stable of wrestlers purchased from the old NWA promotion, including former Horsemen member Arn Anderson and the company’s main Face, who was known as Sting. However, Turner wasn’t going to settle for a B-List cast. He wanted the big names that McMahon had been collecting for years and he had the reserves of cash to draw them away from their old employer.
Slowly, WWF talents started defecting to the WCW. Some were unhappy with the politics of the WWF (McMahon was a notorious taskmaster, and the new superstar Shawn Michaels was using his clout to squash the push of other wrestlers) and others saw the decline in WWF ratings as a warning sign. When Turner offered them more lucrative contracts to flee to his rival promotion, many of them took the deal gladly. The biggest coup for WCW came in 1994 when biggest star of all, Hulk Hogan, joined their ranks. Macho Man would come to WCW soon after.
The Executive Producer and head of the creative direction for WCW was Eric Bischoff, who came up with a winning idea that helped launch WCW in the ratings. His idea was actually a rehash of a storyline done in New Japan Wrestling several years earlier but he saw an opportunity to revamp the idea for the current climate (meaning the growing rivalry between WCW and WWF) and get it over with the crown. The idea was to create an “invasion’ storyline, where former WWF wrestlers such as Kevin Nash, Scott hall, Shawn Waldman and others (Including the Macho Man later on) would form a league-within-a-league, led by Hogan and Bischoff, and would attempt an internal coup of Turner’s WCW company. The new faction called itself the NWO (New World Order) and it began a storyline which was essentially a Civil War between the old, loyal NWA crew and the newly arrived WWF ‘invaders’.
Hulk Hogan surprised everyone with his startling Heel-Turn in 1994, when he took control of the NWO and started the ‘hostile takeover’ of WCW. No one saw that coming, but Hogan agreed to the Heel Turn (and it fact, had even been the one to first suggest it) as a way of staying relevant in the industry, because his old goody-good image had been tarnished by the steroid scandal, and his kiddie fan base had fled, so he needed a new gimmick. Thus he became the evil “Hollywood” Hogan, leader of the NWO. To oppose Hogan, Sting (the former biggest marquee draw of WCW/NWA) was revamped into a darker, more sinister anti-hero figure who became a thorn in evil Hogan’s side. Also, a brand-new wrestler named Bill Goldberg burst onto the scene and became an overnight sensation by specializing in squash matches. He would eventually take the belt from Hogan.
Turner, owning his own network, TNT (Turner Network Television) put his new WCW prime time TV show “Monday Nitro” on opposite “WWF Monday Night Raw”. The two shows ran in head-to-head competition in what came to be known as The Monday Night Wars. (“Monday Night Raw” even changed its name for a time to “Raw is War”.)
The early winner of the rating wars was WCW, who was the first league in over 20 years to dethrone McMahon and the WWF as the kings of wrestling. The writing in WWF had become lackluster (probably due to so many of the top talents jumping ship, that it left the WWF to scramble for a new creative direction) and couldn’t compare to the riveting NWO Invasion storyline. Also, the WWF top-tier trio of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker just couldn’t match the trendy popularity of Hogan/Sting/Goldberg. (Bret Hart would soon have a falling out with McMahon and flee to the WCW as well. McMahon’s son-in-law, wrestler Hunter Hearst Helmsley, would step up to complete the top WWF inner circle. Michaels and HHH would form a popular duo known as DX.) For two consecutive years, WCW would lord it over WWF as the top wrestling promotion in the world.
*The Attitude Era and the coming of Stone Cold Steve Austin:
After two years of playing second fiddle to Bischoff and Turner, McMahon took off the gloves and decided to play dirty. In 1997, he abruptly transformed the WWF from PG family entertainment to rated R raunchiness. McMahon started catering to a different audience. WWF started pushing the envelope of what was acceptable on TV. The language became crude and crass. Lots of sexual references and innuendo, as well as occasional bits of nudity, began to pop up all over. The violence increased, becoming what is known in the industry as “hard core” style, with more blood being spilt. The old, colorful characters of the 80s were replaced by a stock of angry bad-boys in dark colors. (The old ‘Good Guy vs. Bad Guy’ paradigm was replaced by ‘Bad Guy vs. Worse Guy’). The Women’s Division was changed when the old pros who could actually wrestle were replaced by beautiful young models. Women’s Wrestling was reduced to an exploitative sideshow of silicon-enhanced girls participating in mud wrestling, bikini contests and stripping the clothes off each other. McMahon would go as low as he had to in order to get the ratings as high as he wanted. This period became known as the Attitude Era.
McMahon’s secret weapon during the Attitude Era was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Austin had been around for a number of years, in different leagues, using several different gimmicks (“Stunning Steve” and the “Ring Master”) before McMahon allowed him to just be himself. Austin had a gift for acerbic, no-holds-barred promos, punctuated by his middle finger being raised. “Stone Cold” began to catch on with the fans that saw him as the epitome of the angry-young-man of the Attitude Era. McMahon came up with a storyline that made Austin a superstar.
McMahon had become very unpopular since the steroid and sex scandals, as well as his loutish behavior on interview shows at the time. Parents groups were also condemning him for the new rated ‘R’ content of his programming. The public had come to hate him and McMahon embraced the hate by playing the Heel on TV. He frequently appeared on “Raw” playing a totally corrupt and cruel corporate CEO who liked to torment his employees and mock the fans. Austin, on the other hand, was a Texas hick who liked monster trucks, guns and beer. Their images were totally opposite and so in 1997, McMahon had the idea to create a feud between them. Austin was portrayed as the man-of-the-people while McMahon was the evil rich jerk.
The Austin/McMahon feud was ratings gold and the fans ate up the storyline of one man battling his horrible corporate boss. Austin (who became WWF champion) became a huge superstar in the industry and was drawing crowds the likes of which no one had seen since Hogan at the peak of his popularity during the 80s Boom. Austin attained mainstream fame, doing the talk show rounds, appearing in films and TV shows.
There’s always a number-two man just behind the main event star, nipping at his heels to take his place at the top. In this case, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson was Austin’s rival for supremacy in the WWF. The Rock was a third generation wrestler who rose up just behind Austin. Like Austin, he had a great gift for hit-em-hard, in-your-face promos. The two of them fought many times and the crowd was almost equally divided between them during their famous feud. When Austin left the company for a while due to an injury, the Rock stepped in and became the new WWF champion.
The controversial popularity of the Attitude Era, combine with the popularity of the one-two punch of Stone Cold and the Rock, was too much for WCW to deal with. Eric Bischoff only had the one good idea in him and after a few years, the novelty of the NWO Invasion plot faded and became dull. Bischoff tried to tweak it in different ways (Like having the NWO break apart and have an internal civil war against each other) but nothing worked. Hulk Hogan left the WCW in a disagreement of the creative direction of the company and Goldberg was out with an injury. The ratings for WCW started to drop quickly.
*McMahon buys out his rival WCW:
The once-high ratings of WCW continued to decline. Also, following the AOL/Time Warner merger, the company decided that wrestling was no longer in line with the corporate image they wanted to project. They decided it was time to sell the WCW. And McMahon wanted to buy it. Negotiations proceeded and the deal was done. In 2001, Vince McMahon appeared on the final episode of “Monday Nitro” to announce that he’d bought the company. “Nitro” was cancelled and the roster of WCW talents were transferred to the WWF. (With a few notable exceptions, such as Sting, who didn’t like the WWF Attitude Era and quit instead. Goldberg would go to the WWF for a time but would also soon quit due to similar objections regarding the controversial direction of the WWF.)
McMahon would introduce his new acquisitions by taking a page out of Bischoff’s book. McMahon copied the old NWO “Invasion” storyline which had almost sunk him in the 90s, and reused it. This time, the WCW wrestlers were the invaders, while the WWE guys were the ones defending their turf. Once again, there was an unexpected plot twist, as Stone Cold did a surprise Heel Turn, just as Hogan had done in the WCW. (The aging Hogan did eventually return to the WWF for a time before leaving again to join another, smaller league called TNA.)
In 2002, the WWF lost a long-fought lawsuit against the World Wildlife Fund for the use of the initials WWF. The issue started because the WWF was originally called WWWF when the World Wildlife Fund coined their WWF logo. When McMahon shortened WWWF to WWF, the World Wildlife Fund felt it was causing some confusion and thus the long, drawn-out lawsuit began, ultimately ending with McMahon losing in court, thus forcing the brand name change to the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment.)
*The Modern Era/ The 21st Century:
As the first decade of the 21st century rolled on, the controversial excesses of the Attitude Era were abandoned. (Most people believe it’s because McMahon’s wife Linda McMahon became involved in Republican politics and was running for office, talking about “family values”. Therefore, the WWE returned to family-friendly, rated PG entertainment.) Austin retired early due to numerous injuries, while the Rock quit to focus on making movies. Starting in 2005, the new star of the kinder, gentler WWE was John Cena. Cena has a Hulk Hogan-like appeal to kids and has created his own version of the ‘3 Demandments’, changing them to “Hustle, loyalty and respect”. He has often been referred to as ‘Hogan-Lite’. Cena has become a divisive figure among the fans, because half the fans think his Hogan 2.0 gimmick is stale, while younger fans, who don’t remember Hogan, love him. (He is always greeted by a mix of boos and cheers.) The number two man in the company became “The Viper” Randy Orton. (Orton’s father “Cowboy” Bob Orton was once partners with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, a rival of Hulk Hogan, just as Orton jr. is a rival to ‘Hogan-lite’ Cena.)
McMahon’s wrestling monopoly has irked and alarmed many wrestlers, who see only two options now—the WWE or unemployment. Over the past few years, this has given rise to a resurgence of the small territorial wrestling leagues. The most successful (to an extent, anyway) of these local promotions is TNA (Total Non-stop Action) where Hulk Hogan can be seen now, along with Eric Bischoff, Rick Flair and Sting. Ironically, although TNA started out as a place for young talents who wouldn’t or couldn’t work for McMahon to come and showcase their talents, the arrival of Hulk Hogan (Who is in charge of the creative direction of the company) has led to it becoming a place for over-the-hill wrestles to get a paycheck. Many stars of the 80s and 90s are main-eventers for the TNA now.
*The Future of Wrestling:
Many fans say wrestling is in a slump right now, with the writing lacking the creative cleverness of the NWO invasion or the Austin vs. McMahon class warfare feud. Also, many lament a lack of marquee talents like Hogan, Macho Man, Austin and the Rock. With Cena’s popularity uncertain and TNA focusing on old wrestlers from the 80s, who is the future of wrestling? The answer, most likely, is CM Punk. Like Austin, Punk paid his dues, working in the minor-league circuit in the mid-90s until 2005 when he came to the WWE. He’d been a fairly popular wrestler, going through several ups-and-downs and different gimmicks during his first five years in WWE. But it wasn’t until 2011 when Punk—much like Austin—was unchained and allowed to be himself, that he exploded in popularity. His tell-it-like-it-is, rebellious personality is winning over fans quickly. (His theme song “the Cult of Personality” is a perfect fit for this on-screen persona.) His habit of publicly discussing behind-the-scenes politics could potentially have sunk his career but the daring move paid off and he has become the new top-draw, marquee talent for the company and his merchandizing is outselling Cena’s. If he keeps this up, he’ll be the new Hogan or Austin of the wrestling in no time.
So, that’s where we stand now. Let’s see where it goes from here.