After John Cena, WWE stopped producing stars.
That hurts a star-driven business like pro wrestling. For the last 80 years, the industry was built around a top star. Lou Thesz carried the torch in the late-’40s and into the ’50s. Bruno Sammartino was a top-drawing star in the ’60s and well into the ’70s. The ’80s belonged to Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, the ’90s were run by Steve Austin and the Rock. The ’00s were headlined by John Cena.
But after Cena, WWE stopped producing stars. Wrestlers weren’t protected anymore and 50-50 booking has made the entire roster feel the same. Sure, the personalities might be different, but there’s not a top guy.
As a result, WWE has relied upon bringing in the last remnants of the last top stars the business has produced. Last night on Raw, Goldberg returned and challenged Drew McIntyre for the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble.
If WWE isn’t relying on 54-year-olds like Goldberg, they’re reaching outside of pro wrestling altogether. They’re signing Ronda Rousey, Tyson Fury, and Cain Velasquez, in hope that they can use the star power built from another industry altogether.
The problem isn’t WWE utilizing Goldberg. There’s a spot on every show for some nostalgia. The problem is a 54-year-old Goldberg, who can’t wrestle, challenging the babyface WWE Champion.
If Goldberg were programmed to squash the Miz in three minutes at the Royal Rumble, no one would be upset. That’s a fun nostalgia segment.
Three minutes is the max you can get out Goldberg at this point. His last three matches have combined to go 7:02 (2:13, 2:59, and 1:50). Since returning to the roster in 2016, five of his seven singles matches have been less than three minutes. The only ones longer were his second match against Brock Lesnar (4:45) and the injury-riddled mess of a match he had with the Undertaker in Saudi Arabia (8:35).
On last night’s Raw, McIntyre defended the WWE Championship against Keith Lee in a physical 20-minute slugfest. That match was almost as long as all of Goldberg’s matches combined since his return.
Why? He can’t do anything else. He could barely wrestle a coherent match in his prime.
Somehow, four of Goldberg’s seven singles matches have involved the WWE Championship or the Universal Championship. He’s pushed immediately into title matches upon every return, yet he’s a 54-year-old who only has a spear in his repertoire at this point.
WWE continues to do this because they know Goldberg is still one of the biggest names they have on the roster. Therein lies the problem. WWE stopped producing stars. So, Goldberg is still one of the biggest names on the roster.
Until WWE corrects this problem — and it will take a long time to correct — they’ll be forced to keep going in this direction. Truthfully, they’ve been doing it for a while. Brock Lesnar only showed up for WrestleMania and SummerSlam every year, with a few more matches sprinkled in. Undertaker would wrestle once per year and in recent years WWE has done the same with Cena.
Triple H would often come out of retirement once or twice per year to beat a rising star (CM Punk). But I guess give him credit, he did put over Daniel Bryan when he was the hottest thing in pro wrestling.
The over-reliance on those guys never puts the new talent in a position to be stars. If the main-roster talent is relegated to the mid-card on every WrestleMania, clearly defined below guys like Lesnar, Goldberg, Undertaker, and Triple H, how are they supposed to rise up? How are they supposed to be the “stars” of the company the other 364 days out of the year?