The future is now

WrestleMania XXX was the most unpredictable, shocking, and arguably best WrestleMania in the spectacle’s recent history, if not its entire 30-year existence. Yes, the 30th anniversary of WrestleMania saw The Undertaker’s 21-0 streak at WrestleMania end, but after two weeks of WWE programming following WrestleMania XXX, hindsight truly is “20/20.” The Undertaker’s “demise” at WrestleMania was significant because of its symbolism: this is the beginning of a new era in WWE. The Undertaker is one of the few remnants of past eras in WWE who is still active in some capacity. In fact, he is the most prominent of those left, and as discussed in the last column, the end of “The Streak” allows The Undertaker — Mark Calaway — to rest his body and live his life; it also alleviates the pressure for there to be a match involving The Streak at future WrestleManias. Today, as of Monday’s Raw, there has been an immediate shift in focus in WWE, a “changing of the guard,” and it could not be better for WWE, let alone the entire professional wrestling industry.

Technically, the future began at WrestleMania XXX. First, The Shield won a quick squash (a short match to establish the victor(s)’ dominance) against three remnants of the “Attitude Era” (1990s – early 2000s), Kane and the New Age Outlaws (Road Dogg and Billy Gunn). Next, Cesaro won the 31-man André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, lifting the (over) 400-pound Big Show over the top rope, an image reminiscent of Hulk Hogan lifting André the Giant at WrestleMania III to retain the then WWF Championship. Finally, after 8 months of being held down by The Authority, Daniel Bryan finally won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship after winning not only one, but two matches in the same night. Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose (The Shield), Cesaro, and Daniel Bryan were the stars at WrestleMania XXX. In the same show that saw The Rock, Hulk Hogan, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in the same ring together, the impact made by the aforementioned men, who portrayed such greatness at the biggest and most important event in professional wrestling, stands above anything else that happened that night, because it was the beginning of the future of WWE, a reality becoming more evident on the following Raw.

If you’re unaware, the Raw after WrestleMania is usually the most exciting show of the year — and it was. Bad News Barrett wrestled his first match in month, defeating Rey Mysterio quickly and definiteively, indicative of good things to come in Barrett’s future. Alexander Rusev made his Raw debut and squashed Zack Ryder, establishing his presence on the main roster. In what was the most shocking moment of the night, WWE Divas Champion AJ Lee called out someone from the locker room, answer by NXT Women’s Champion Paige. Lee taunted Paige and put her title on the line in a match against the “rookie.” It was a quick match, but Paige made a quick counter to hit the Paige Turner on Lee, winning the Divas Championship in an upset victory. At the end of the night, Daniel Bryan defended his title (not by his own volition) against Triple H. On the verge of being cheated a victory with interference by Randy Orton and Batista, The Shield came out to prevent injustice from occurring, and Bryan retained his title.

Not to be outdone, the following Raw would begin a tournament where the winner would earn a match for the Intercontinental Championship against its champion, Big E. This was the beginning of a quest to add legitimacy to the Intercontinental Championship, as Rob Van Dam, Cesaro, Sheamus, and Bad News Barrett advanced to the semi-finals (to be held tonight on SmackDown). Paige would win her first match as Divas Champion, Rusev would continue his dominance, and The Shield would be beat down in an 11-on-3 handicap match made by Triple H, following a further beat-down by reunited Evolution in Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista.

Thus far, I’ve been rattling off specifics. While I vowed not to do that anymore, I needed to provide these details to make my concluding statements. The next generation of WWE talents is being pushed greatly. WrestleMania XXX was a “reset button,” and while NXT bandies the motto, “The future is now,” every chance it can get, that phrase is no longer a marketing gimmick — it’s reality. I have not been this elated as a fan of professional wrestling in years, dating back to the moments when I first began watching in 2001. In addition, and this is not to be undervalued, there is an emergence of quality stories. Prior to these Raws, there has been a distinct lack of cohesive storytelling, and that has finally returned. If you have never watch professional wrestling before, now is the time to watch. A new wave of talent is taking the spotlight, and WWE is changing for the better. With more talent waiting in NXT, a call away from being on the main roster, and stars like Adam Rose and Bo Dallas being promoted persistently on the main shows via vignettes (video packages to promote an incoming superstar), there is so much potential at WWE’s disposal. All that is left is for them to tap into, which they have already begun doing.