Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The WrestleMania Main Event: No New People Allowed

So I'm getting ready for work this morning and my mind wanders, as it does more frequently than I care to admit, to the subject of pro wrestling (Oh CHRIST, here he goes again....).  Specifically I was thinking about WWE's inability over the past decade-plus to create new top stars, and how that correlates with who gets to main event The Show of Shows, WrestleMania.  The idea popped in my head once again that, wow, no matter what happens to him from here, whether his in-ring career resumes or not, Daniel Bryan got to headline WrestleMania.  It's an honor bestowed on so few, and he's one of them.  Forever.

The fact that these guys got to main event 'Mania but Punk didn't is just unreal.

But then I decided to go back over all the 'Manias since the show was created 33 years ago and count exactly how many men got to main event the spring spectacular.  Just how exclusive is this club?  And the numbers are pretty striking when you think about them.  The overall total is 33, which is an average of one new guy per year.  But it's the decade-by-decade numbers that are really telling.  First let's review exactly who's on this list and then I'll show you how revealing this trend is as it pertains to WWE's stagnant star factory.  I'll give you some totals after each ten years of Manias.

The following is a list of NEW WrestleMania main event participants by year:

WrestleMania I: Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Paul Orndorff, Mr. T

WrestleMania 2: King Kong Bundy

WrestleMania III: Andre the Giant

WrestleMania IV: Randy Savage, Ted Dibiase

(WM5 had Hogan and Savage, who had both headlined before)

WrestleMania VI: Ultimate Warrior

WrestleMania VII: Sgt. Slaughter

WrestleMania VIII: Sid Justice

WrestleMania IX: Bret Hart, Yokozuna

(WM10 had a rematch of the WM9 main event)

In the first ten years of the show thirteen men got to headline WrestleMania.  That's a pretty good number considering Hulk Hogan alone was in seven of those main events.  The WWF averaged 1.3 new WM main eventers per year.  Moving on to the next ten events....

WrestleMania XI: Bam Bam Bigelow, Lawrence Taylor

(Yes, this should by all rights be Shawn Michaels and Diesel, but in Vince's brain the Bam Bam-LT match was worthy of headlining the biggest show of the year.  I will never understand it, so we'll move on.)

WrestleMania XII: Shawn Michaels

WrestleMania 13: Undertaker

WrestleMania XIV: Steve Austin

WrestleMania XV: The Rock

WrestleMania 2000: Triple H, Mick Foley, Big Show

(WM17's main event was a rematch from WM15)

WrestleMania X8: Chris Jericho

WrestleMania XIX: Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar

(This show is noteworthy for snapping a five-plus year streak of literally every single WWF/E PPV main event featuring one or more of the following guys: Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H and The Undertaker)

WrestleMania XX: Chris Benoit

The company maintained their original average during this decade, with another thirteen fresh faces in the main event spot.  Not too shabby at all.  New main eventers abound from Manias 11-20.  Now let's look at the last thirteen years of WrestleMania (really fourteen since by all accounts we already know what this year's main event is going to look like) and see how it adds up.

WrestleMania 21: Batista

WrestleMania 22: John Cena

(WM23's main event was John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels)

WrestleMania XXIV: Edge

WrestleMania 25: Randy Orton

(WM26's main event was Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels)

WrestleMania XXVII: The Miz

(WM28 and 29 were both headlined by Cena vs. The Rock)

WrestleMania XXX: Daniel Bryan

WrestleMania 31: Roman Reigns

(WM32 was main evented by Triple H vs. Reigns, and WM33 by Undertaker vs. Reigns.  WM34 will almost certainly feature a Lesnar-Reigns rematch.)

Seven.  The last thirteen years of WrestleMania have produced seven new main event players on the grandest stage of them all.  That's an average of one new main eventer every two years, once WM34 is said and done.  Compare that with the 13 per decade prior to 2005.  The company actually started out alright during this most recent period, with Manias 21, 22, 24 and 25 all giving someone new a chance to shine.  Then they hit a deep-freeze period that continues to this day, where almost no one new got to ply their craft in the company's most valued position.  And Daniel Bryan wasn't even supposed to get that spot originally.  Vince had his heart set on a Randy Orton-Batista main event.  That would've meant only TWO new WrestleMania main eventers in the past eight years.  That's disgraceful.

In the event's first ten years, when the company's top babyface literally dominated the main event scene for nearly a decade, the WWF still managed to include twelve other guys in the WrestleMania main event picture.  In the past fourteen years, when aside from John Cena there hasn't even been a true face of the company, somehow they've only given seven new guys a chance at the plate.  And we wonder why no new main eventers ever seem to catch on anymore in this company.  Maybe it's because they never get the chance to be presented as the main attraction on the company's biggest night of the year.  Instead let's just trot out the same names from a decade ago, or keep doubling down on the one current guy no one wants in that spot.

Let's look at it again:

1985-1994: 13 new WM main eventers
1995-2004: 13 new WM main eventers
2005-2018: 7 new WM main eventers

This is an unsustainable model, folks.  A wrestling company that never creates new stars cannot last forever.  Eventually the old stars cease to be a viable crutch, and then you're left with an entire roster of young talent that's never been presented as particularly important to the company.  Something needs to change pretty goddamn fast.  It's amazing to me that the man in charge of the most successful pro wrestling promotion of all time can't grasp the basic tenets of pro wrestling.  I'm really curious to see how WrestleMania 40 plays out, when Triple H, Undertaker, Cena and Lesnar are no longer available for these big matches.  Hell, even Randy Orton will be nearing his mid-40s by then, and he was never much of a big draw to begin with.  Who will be left to carry the ball, other than Roman Reigns, who will probably still be getting booed silly despite being the company's top babyface?

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