There’s been a good few eras in WWE show history, and we’re told that, right now, we’re in ‘the new era’. Well, it seems more like we haven’t changed at all, but okay, let’s run with that. If we’re calling it the new era, when we look back, how are we going to talk about this era, what’s going to make it stand out against the others?
Well, what we seem to be seeing more than anything is an era in which physical prowess is honoured over showmanship, acting, and mic skills. That’s not to say that those aren’t still important, and that the most loved characters aren’t those that are examples of all the wrestling skills, but physicality seems to be the most important, overall.
Has this not always been so? Well, no. There was a time when a wrestler, particularly the men, could get away with doing two or three moves pretty well, but being a strong character, or even be pretty average in the ring, but rely on their promos and attitude to sell their persona. While we’ve got people now who aren’t great talkers or characters, but exceptional in the ring, which would have been anathema before. This is all part of wrestling needing some legitimacy, wanting to brush up against UFC and seem aggressive, physically real, and dangerous. While a lot of moves that cause injuryhave been banned, that doesn’t stop superstars taking risks in order to get noticed by the crowds and management.
Women wrestlers, in particular, seem to be throwing their bodies on the line recently. As part of losing the ‘diva’ moniker, and the damn stupid butterfly belt, they’ve taken on a sense of needing to be legitimate, needing to be great in the ring, or else what has it all been for? This has led to a lot of risk taking, especially from Sasha Banks and Charlotte on the Raw roster. Don’t get me wrong, I’m loving the matches that we’re getting, and how acoomplished these women are, but there’s risk, and then there’s downright dangerous.
We only have to look at Clash of Champions to see how much this is becoming a trademark of the era. Cesaro and Sheamus, in the final match of their best of seven series, had a brilliantly exciting match, but there was a spot where Cesaro went for a suicide dive, and managed to land head down, right onto head, neck, and shoulders. The landing was bad enough that the cameras caught Sheamus cradling his rival’s head, clearly checking whether he was alright. It was a spot that was hard to watch, and even harder when it was played multiple times on replay.
And therein lies the problem. If you play a dangerous, badly-timed and painful spot over and over on a replay, sure, it gets talked about. But every time a reply is done of a dangerous spot that goes well, it just glorifies those moves, makes them more likely to happen, makes the crowd hungrier for them. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have those incredible spots, or that wrestling hasn’t always been about putting your body on the line, but there’s such a thing as too much risk, too much danger, and not stopping when something hurts.
There’s been a lot of talk about how Seth Rollins is dangerously reckless, injuring other stars and himself – mostly by Bret Hart, weirdly. However, it’s more likely that we’ve just got people pushing themselves more these days, injuring themselves or being injured during matches but carrying on. Sure, Seth’s got a reputation now; Cena, Sting, Balor, they’ve all left the ring injured after bouts with him, but no one’s blaming Kevin Owens for the way the gut buster landed at Clash of Champions. No one blamed Kane for Seth’s knee. And there don’t appear to be any hard feelings backstage, so is it really something we, as fans, need to focus on?
All in all, we as fans are expecting more high-flying spots, more danger, more moments that make us catch our breath. Solid wrestling isn’t good enough anymore, it has to be exceptional, every time, and chasing those pops is bound to make the superstars push themselves harder. When we look at the matches that have captured us recently, they owe a lot to those breathtaking moments; think about Ospreay vs. Ricochet and the way that match was about stunts over story and blows actually connecting. Visually, we as audiences are waiting for those heart-stopping moments – and the wrestlers want to give them to us. Even when that sometimes means being reckless.