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WWE: Death of the Mega Star


In all sports, the need for the mega talent is dwindling in favor of a super team. Never is this more apparent than in the WWE.

In sports, we have seen greatness. In my lifetime, I have seen perhaps the greatest player in each sport. Wayne Gretzky was at the end of his career in my childhood, as was Michael Jordan. I have grown up watching LeBron James. Albert Pujols, now a shell of what he once was, might have been the best pure player ever. Tom Brady has dominated the NFL for much of my teenage to adult life. But as we move forward, as these players near the end of their storied careers, I begin to wonder, have we seen the last of the mega stars?
In wrestling, for decades there have been periods that were dominated by one single figure. That didn’t mean there weren’t other greats of that time, but there were always huge undeniable names. Whether it was Hulk Hogan, or Steve Austin, or John Cena, there was a mega star to be found. Is that changing? Before we dive into wrestling, let’s look at how this has affected other sports.

Basketball

Whether you like him or not, LeBron is the biggest star this sport may have ever seen. He will always be compared to Michael Jordan, much the same way Jordan was compared to the greats before him. In any situation with a comparison of players, there will be arguments on both sides. I am sure the LeBron detractors will mock me for saying he was better than M.J., but there is a case to be made.
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I will not go down this rabbit hole and bore you with stats and subjective claims that LeBron has more range or is a better man on the glass. Any NBA fan will make their own opinion. Statistics can be bent and twisted in manners that can stress, or weaken, any point made. That is a different subject for a different time.
But what we can agree on it this: LeBron James is the biggest star in the NBA. It is not out of the realm of possibility that he may be the last star of his caliber. While he makes his home in Cleveland, a small market, he makes headlines with whatever he does. He is the sole challenger for the throne of the NBA with Golden State sitting atop of the basketball kingdom. He is the only star in the NBA that can turn a lottery pick team into a title contender by himself.
When (or if) LeBron leaves Cleveland, the Cavaliers, despite the talents of Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, will go back to contending for the Number One pick in the draft. He is the last NBA player left that can prevent this from happening. When LeBron leaves the NBA, the Association will have an inescapable void that no one man can fill.

Hockey

There may have never been a talent before, and certainly not once since, like Wayne Gretzky. He was the best player, not just of a generation, but in a lifetime. His ability has been unmatched in any sport (Secretariat in horse racing and maybe Michael Phelps in swimming are close). He was the very definition of dominance.
When the Great One hung up his skates in the Big Apple, the NHL, and the sporting landscape as a whole fell greatly. Say what you will about Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, but the two of them combined could not tape Number 99’s stick. I can continue heaving superlatives his way, no words cannot do justice to just how great Gretzky was.
Perhaps the biggest indictment on Gretzky was that when he was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles, the Canadian Parliament had a motion on their floor to block the trade. A sovereign nation tried to prevent an athlete from changing teams.
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With all due respect to Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Glenn Hall, and a host of other names that have come before and after Gretzky, he is the best. No other player has had their number retired by every team in their sport in recognition of their greatness. (Jackie Robinson has number 42 retired by all 30 Baseball clubs, but for a different, and more important reason)
There will never be another player like Gretzky. It is impossible in today’s game. With goaltenders becoming bigger, faster, stronger, and more agile than ever before, goal scoring is tougher. With defensemen and defensive strategies becoming tougher and limiting time and space on stars in the NHL, we may never see someone eclipse the 150 point plateau. Gretzky did this a whopping nine times. If he were to never score a goal, he would still be the leading scorer in NHL history. He was a transcendent talent that is largely responsible for the growth of hockey in the Southwest United States.

Baseball

This may be the one where I catch the most flack. I said in the intro that Albert Pujols was probably the best pure player ever. Feel free to disagree with me, but before you do hear me out.
With all the respect that is warranted to the likes of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and a plethora of players, no one did what Pujols did. While his years in Anaheim will surely take him out of the conversation, it was what he did in St. Louis that make him the Greatest.
He had 10 years of 30+ home runs and 100+ RBIs. He was a 3 time MVP, a Rookie of the Year, a 3 time World Champion, and a Batting Champion (all with the Cardinals) He has made the All-Star team at three different positions. He has already amassed over 600 home runs, and will finish his career with over 3000 hits. He was (and still probably is) the face of one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. His humanitarian efforts put him in higher esteem, and the fact that he was a transcendent star in a time of blatant steroid abuse, and remained clean, is a marvel in and of itself.
He pretty much single handedly got his team to the World Series in 2004 (and ran into fate against Boston). His clutch hitting was overshadowed by David Freese in one of (and in my opinion the number one) best World Series games played ever. His emergence turned the Cardinals, a team that was known for Mark McGwire and a heated rivalry with Chicago, into a franchise that was at the top of the NL Central for most (if not all) of his tenure in the Gateway City.
While I am sure there are people thinking I am off my rocker by saying Pujols was better than Mickey Mantle or Tony Gwynn or Mike Schmidt, no one was as consistently good, both on and off the field, as Number 5 on the Birds on the Bat.
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While the big names of today, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw, have a chance of eclipsing Pujols, it is a tough mountain to climb. Injuries have plagued both Trout and Harper in their careers thus far. Kershaw is a pitcher, albeit the most dominating one we have seen in quite some time, but will always have the stigmata that playing every fifth day pales in comparison than 162 in 200 days.
So rip it apart. Tell me that Miguel Cabrera, Cal Ripken, Pete Rose, or anyone else is, or was, better than Albert. I encourage you to do so. However, when it is all said and done, it cannot be argued that Pujols is a once in a generation megastar that may not be seen again.

Football

Do you want to argue? Here ya go…Tom Brady is the best player at the most important position in football history. Just like every other player I have mentioned in this article, I can warp stats to make this a fact. Just like every player on this list, his detractors can do the same thing in the opposite direction.
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Was he the benefactor of the Tuck Rule? Yes. Can he thank Adam Vinatieri’s leg for a Super Bowl? Yes. Was he suspended over a cheating scandal that rocked the football world for much longer than it should have? Yes. Was he at the helm of a team that won a game against the biggest choke artists in Super Bowl History? Yes. If you are focusing on the negatives in these sentences, you are missing the biggest point of all. He won those games.
While football may be the sport that has plays live on forever, whether famous or infamous, it also has another thing that lives on forever. Diamonds. No, not the kind you will find in Fenway Park, the kind that you will find in the 5 Super Bowl rings that Brady has.
He will go down as having one of the best seasons a QB has ever had (2007), and one of the best careers a QB has ever had.
While the G.O.A.T. player in the NFL is one of the toughest to decipher, it becomes easier to do so, once you remove team bias and use logic. Other than the center, the quarterback touches the football on virtually every offensive play. Not only that, they are solely responsible for managing the personnel on the field in a manner to score.
When a team loses a game, the blame does not fall solely on the shoulders of the left cornerback, the defensive tackle, or the fullback. It almost always falls on the shoulders of the man under center. The QB is the face of the team, whether good or bad. When a receiver runs the wrong route on a timing pattern, the incompletion, or interception, goes against the QB. When the offensive line misses a block and the QB is sacked, the yardage counts against the QB’s passing yards. When a running back goes the opposite way on a pitch and the ball is fumbled, the fumble goes against the QB. It is the most important position on the field, and thusly, the best at that position should be recognized as the best of the sport.
In the history of the NFL, no QB has had the success of Brady. Additionally, no QB has come close to winning as much, or having the statistics, as Brady has with less around him (Drew Breesis almost in the conversation). Whether we want to believe it or not, whether we admit it or not, Tom Brady is the best ever at the most important position ever.

Wrestling

And all of that leads us to this. Wrestling is in a unique situation. Never before has one company dominated its opposition in the way the WWE has. Never before has the independent wrestlinggenre been this big. Stars are being made in the Indies, jumping to the bright lights and big money of the WWE, and, in several cases, going back.
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Most of the major stars in the WWE (save five), were built in the nontraditional WWE style. AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan, and a host of others made names for themselves outside of the WWE. Now, with more names in either NXT or rumored to be on their way to the Performance Center, the WWE is heading more in an indie direction.

WWE through and through

Remember those five names I saved from the discussion? John Cena, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, The Miz, and Randy Orton are who I was referring to. All five have been either exclusively, or almost exclusively, WWE homegrown talent. With the exception of the Miz, their time at the top is coming to an end. Cena, and his 16 world title reigns, has one foot in Hollywood, and will most likely join The Rock as a crossover star.
Brock Lesnar is part time for the here and now, and could leave any second. He has said wrestling was not his first love and is not his priority. He is one of the biggest draws in sports, and while his MMA career may or may not be over, his wrestling career might not be long for this world either.
Randy Orton is a veteran of 17 years in the ring, and many of them in the main event. His character has become stale in many eyes of the fans. While his RKO outta nowhere has become a legend, especially in the meme society in which we live in, there is not a lot left for the third generation superstar to do in the WWE. Fans no longer want Orton in the title picture. They would rather see those indie grown stars like Styles and Owens compete for the WWE Championship.

The outlier

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Roman Reigns, while young, at the present time, does not earn an exemption. The thing about Reigns is he is the personification of what the fans dislike about the WWE. He is a big, muscle bound man who is being shoved so far down our throats he can tell what we ate at dinner last night. Roman, despite being portrayed as a babyface for almost his entire singles run, is booed unmercifully. Now, some of that is intentional. Boos were especially loud the night after he retired the Undertaker. In large part, he is meant to be cheered.
The WWE has done this once before. Back in the early 1990’s, the WWE debuted a man fresh out of the WBF. He was big. He was chiselled. He was a favorite of Vince McMahon. The fans, not so much. The WWE went as far as giving him a tour bus to travel the country. It failed, miserably. He was built to be Hulk Hogan 2.0. All they built was a wrestler the fans resented and rejected so bad that he was the big name debuting on the very first episode of Monday Nitro. That man was Lex Luger.
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The WWE is in a unique spot with Reigns. All it takes is a turn and Roman will be in his right spot. We almost saw that at the first ever Great Balls of Fire PPV on July 9th, 2017. Roman loaded his opponent into an ambulance and smashed the emergency vehicle, in reverse, into a semi-trailer. It riled the fans to the point a petition on change.org was created to have Reigns charged with Attempted Murder. At last check, the petition was over 2300 signatures.

Who needs it worse?

I wrote a piece about how John Cena needs a Bash at the Beach kind of moment. While this still rings true, Roman Reigns needs it more. The shock of Reigns turning into a bad guy may not be as severe as when Hogan created the nWo, it will be just as important.
When Hogan traded his red and yellow in for black and white, it gave him a new lease on his professional life. Hogan went from being the vitamin pushing, God-talking superhero to the biggest bad guy in wrestling. For a decade Hogan pushed little Hulksters to do the right thing and be good. After the Bash at the Beach, he was spray painting letters on the backs of his foes and being the heel among heels.
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It would not take Roman much to turn. We have seen flashes of the bad guy. His “this is my yard now” promo, the night after retiring The Undertaker, showed no remorse for ending one of the greatest careers in the history of wrestling. He showed no respect for the death of the Dead Man.
The vehicle incident is another prime example. The following night on Raw, we could have seen Roman come out and be the bad guy. Instead, he came out and cracked jokes on Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe. His opportunity to lay waste to them both and take the helm of top heel was put to waste when Joe and Brock were the two having the stare down in the middle of the ring, and Roman was just, kind of there.

Just do it!

The sad thing is, it is not Roman’s fault. WWE creative has put him in this situation. He could have turned more than the two occasions I have mentioned. He could have gone full heel and been a bigger draw. Instead, he remains muddled in the tweener position. Only two men have made that work, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and John Cena. This will kill Roman if something does not change.
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With Cena, Brock, and Orton on the back nine of their careers, and Roman struggling to get out of the bunker, the last of the mega WWE stars will die with them.
What I mean by that is, the last of the WWE’s home grown talent, who have spent their ENTIRE careers of the bright lights of the WWE, who have risen to the top of the card and stayed there early in their time in the ring, will die. With the WWE looking to places like ROH, PWG, New Japan, and Impact for their next big things, the WWE talent fields are drying up.
It may not be this year, or next, or even in a decade, but as time marches on and the industry evolves, more and more of the big names in the WWE will be from the indie scene. If NXT is the “minor leagues” of the WWE, and the way talent is “brought up” from there, it seems fitting, examine that roster. Bobby Roode, Hideo Itami, Kassius Ohno, Roderick Strong, Aleister Black, Tomasso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, and Asuka were all huge names on the indie scene before being snatched up by the WWE. If NXT is the future of the WWE, then the future looks a lot like Independent stars in the WWE Universe.

Don’t panic

That is not necessarily a bad thing though. As things evolve, the need for the mega star dwindles. The star driven teams are dying all across sports. In the NBA, super teams form and the lone All-Star now plays for a team that is fighting to make the playoffs. In the NHL, Alexander Ovechkin, the second biggest star of his generation, has yet to receive Stanley Cup glory. Sidney Crosby has Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. Jonathan Toews has Patrick Kane. In baseball, one star cannot win you a pennant. In the NFL, while a star can get you far, it has to be at the right position and has to have complimentary pieces. Just ask Phillip Rivers.
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In wrestling, the days of the mega star being the only name on the card and people showing up are drawing to a close. Fans want more than just one match. Now more than ever, the entire card is important, not just the two guys going on last who could bench press a Volkswagen. When Cena, Orton, and Lesnar retire, and the fans finally say enough is enough with Roman, the mega WWE-only star will go. It’s not a mystery, it’s evolution. And that, is pretty cool.
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