By Brian Yuran
With floundering ratings and AEW’s soaring popularity, WWE finds itself at a crossroads. This past week’s RAW saw the lowest ratings in the modern PG era (excluding holiday episodes).
Part of the reason is stagnant writing with poor storylines and underutilized talent.
But the main reason WWE is suffering is due to its lack of a transcendent star. Ever since John Cena left to become a full-time actor and the legendary Randy Orton was delegated to mid-card status, WWE has been without its guy.
It seems like Vince and company believe they’ve found their main-event man in the “Beast Slayer”, but while the former Shield member is one of the most skilled in-ring performers of his generation, he doesn’t possess the charisma or captivating presence of a John Cena or Hulk Hogan. Without a doubt, he puts on some spectacular matches. His bout at SummerSlam 2015 with John Cena was nothing short of extraordinary.
But the difference between him and Cena is his bland, cookie-cutter persona that fails to evoke a strong response from the WWE Universe. The only reason he has become a babyface is due to the world’s mutual disdain of Brock Lesnar.
Is this really the man poised to take the reins and become the next Hogan or Cena? Is he going to be telling kids to say their prayers and take their vitamins? Or is he going to be arrogantly waving his hand back in forth telling his opponents, “You Can’t See Me!”
Long gone is the golden age of wrestling with bloodied battles and jaw-dropping, death defying stunts. WWE has ushered in its era of PG programming, but rather aimlessly.
It may sound cheesy, but part of the appeal of wrestling is having larger-than-life characters with superhuman potential. The '80s and '90s had Hulk Hogan and the 2000s had the Cenation leader. This business needs its Superman that optimistic fans can rally behind and pessimistic ones can criticize for their goody two-show beliefs.
My intention here isn’t to put down Seth Rollins. I truly think he is one of the best in-ring talents I’ve seen in years. The Architect lives up to his name in the ring. He just isn’t the “It Guy” WWE is missing. It doesn’t seem like anyone is poised to take that position.
Or maybe some are, but backstage hasn’t quite realized it yet.
The heart and soul of 205 Live and the new addition to the blue brand oozes with charisma and babyface wonder. His matches with Buddy Murphy never disappointed and were always candidates for match-of-the-week. On top of that, he is a star of foreign descent that has not succumbed to stereotypical gimmicks. He’s giving people of all backgrounds someone they can look up to and someone they can follow on their quest to “Chase the Light”.
Besides being a role model in the ring, he is more of a hero outside. About a year ago, Ali interacted with a fan via social media that was on the brink of committing self-harm. In a video directed to the fan, Ali said, “Despite what you’re going through, try to be the reason people believe there’s still goodness in this world. Whatever it is your facing, you’re going to get through this. I believe in you.”
That’s something you expect out of a John Cena-esque character. When you have someone who is like that in real life, beyond the squared circle, you have someone truly special on your hands. Especially when that person can throw down with any talent in the company.
The fans adore Finn. When he beat Rollins to become the inaugural Universal Champion, the WWE Universe went wild. Unfortunately, the injury he suffered during the match derailed his career and he has never been able to get back to that monumental peak. WWE has given him the virtually meaningless Intercontinental championship now, but Finn has all the makings to be a major star. His demon persona is thrilling and always seems to put up the biggest fight of the night.
The phenomenal one could be the face that runs the place, but at this point he is too old. At 42-years-old, Styles has said this will be his final contract with WWE. Unfortunately, he came to the WWE when he was older, but if he started as a young performer, he could have truly been one of the best characters and faces the company has ever seen.
Despite these few, the roster doesn’t really have any key players big enough to transcend an industry, to define a generation. Pop culture knows Hulkamania and John Cena but not Seth Rollins.
But maybe they could get to know Ali or Finn.