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A New Chapter Begins In WWE

By 19 April 2024Featured, Opinion

By Andrew Spoors

Triple H raises the hand of new champion Cody Rhodes on Night 2 of WrestleMania XL

Tune in to any WWE programming right now and you will undoubtedly hear a similar phrase repeated across all of their shows. “It’s the start of a new era!” or “Welcome to the new era!”. It doesn’t matter if it’s Raw, SmackDown, NXT or WrestleMania. The ushering in of the ‘Renaissance Era’ has begun. But what should we expect? Why does it matter? And when exactly did it begin?

A chilly Pennsylvanian wind whips around Lincoln Financial Field. Just over 70,000 members of the WWE Universe are stood on their feet. Many of them can barely believe what they have just witnessed. A new champion crowned, legends returned, a story finished and a reign vanquished. For 33 minutes and 25 seconds, fans not just inside the Linc but around the world, were glued to Roman Reigns vs Cody Rhodes for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. This was the culmination of not just weeks or months, but years of prime storytelling. Some may argue the best saga the company has ever laid out. 

The world has changed a lot since Roman Reigns started his run with the title. WWE itself has changed hands since he was last without a championship around his waist. But as referee Charles Robinson’s hand hit the mat for the third time to crown Cody Rhodes the new face of WWE, fans were already under no illusion that the landscape had shifted.

The Paul Levesque Era

Away from the ring, WWE have been facing intense scrutiny in the ongoing legal proceedings levied against not just its now former owner Vince McMahon, but the company itself. That particular saga will continue for the foreseeable future (as rightly it should), but new owners TKO, have seemingly placed their faith and support firmly behind one man.

Paul “Triple H’ Levesque spent great swathes of the weekend hearing his name chanted, seeing his name adorned on fans’ signs and receiving compliments from Superstars at every opportunity. Fans of NXT during its fabled ‘Black & Gold’ era already knew what was possible under the leadership of The Cerebral Assassin. A more grounded approach yet one not afraid to steer into the wackiness so often witnessed in professional wrestling.

Triple H opens Night One of WrestleMania 40

Time To Play His Game (Photo by WWE)

The last few months under his creative vision with no limitations or a dated pair of eyes constantly watching over him, has allowed the company to flourish. Selling out arenas, capturing mainstream media attention and more importantly gaining regular plaudits from fans. To paraphrase a quote from The Rock…for the first time in years, wrestling has become cool again.

Superstars feel more relaxed in interviews, production has been tweaked to include simple yet effective camera angles and shots and the WWE Universe has become a better place for it. At WrestleMania XL, there was relatively little reference to the 39 other ‘show of shows’ that preceded it. A sign of the times under Levesque that WWE is no longer happy to rest on its laurels and past achievements. It’s time to move the company into the future and showcase the incredible talent up and down the current roster.

Did they need a sprinkling of Superstars of eras past? Absolutely. Did that detract from the final glorious moment that the grandson of a plumber finished his family’s story? Not one bit…

A Nightmare Lives A Dream

With the creative pen in the hand of Triple H, it is incredible that the man he chose to begin his brave new era, be one that so publicly challenged him inside one of WWE’s biggest rivals. Back at Double Or Nothing in 2019, Cody Rhodes took a sledgehammer, Triple H’s weapon of choice and smashed a throne eerily similar in appearance to one The Game had sat upon during a past WrestleMania entrance.

Yet, Triple H was one of two men, Cody pleaded with to come and join his championship celebration. The sight of Levesque warmly embracing his new champion before sharing a few whispered words not only completed Rhodes’ infamous story, but once again showed nothing is impossible in professional wrestling.

Cody Rhodes celebrates during Night Two of WrestleMania 40

A Nightmare Champion (Photo by WWE)

It is also a moment that will no doubt find its way onto future documentaries charting the rise, fall and rise of Cody Rhodes. In toppling Roman Reigns, The American Nightmare has also washed away some of the last remnants of Vince McMahon’s creative choices. Reigns was the modern day Hogan, the merits and content of his title reign will more than likely be debated long after The Tribal Chief hangs up his boots. He may have been an NXT graduate, but his push was very much one of Vince’s crown jewel creations. Where a chief without a tribe goes now would have been interesting under any creative team. Under this one? It becomes tantalising. For both Rhodes and Reigns, the story never ends, simply a new chapter begins…

A Fitting Shift

Of course the most marked changes have come inside the squared circle, but other changes have caught the eye of the television audience too. One of the biggest shifts in WWE programming has come with a personnel switch in production. December saw the exit of 30 year veteran Kevin Dunn, shortly followed by the hire of a new Head of Media & Production, Lee Fitting. Why is this important?

For three decades, Dunn’s position within WWE grew, leading to increasingly powerful levels of influence inside the company. His choice of production techniques became what many wrestling fans would consider the norm for professional wrestling.

That’s not to say his choices were met with universal acclaim, dizzying amounts of camera cuts over the course of a match or promo and exaggerated camera bounces to enhance the feeling of impact just two of the major gripes viewers would often voice on social media.

In January, the company announced the arrival of Fitting from a 25 year tenure with sports giant ESPN. For all intents and purposes, this was an outsider to the industry. One however, that could bring a plethora of production knowledge from mainstream sports media. Little tweaks began to leak into Monday Night Raw and SmackDown. Long flowing camera shots from different perspectives around the arena, allowed the audience at home to understand the scope of WWE in an arena.

As ticket sales and attendances began to skyrocket, simple yet effective camera angles blew into weekly programming like a breath of fresh air. Social media posts raving about the production value have become increasingly regular. Seeing Superstars make their entrance from the backstage area through to the ring or skulking back from a tough defeat only to bump into the participants of the next match up added a dose of realism.

For decades, matches and rivalries have lived in isolation from each other. Sure they appeared on the same programming, but unless Superstars were directly involved in the same feud or story, rarely would their paths cross. With this new production flow, stars have a chance to interact as though they live in the same universe and suddenly we can see the start of a rivalry or team happen in a natural way.

This was never more evident than on the April 15 2024 episode of Raw. After picking up a win against Finn Balor, Jey Uso made his escape from the rest of Judgment Day through the lively Montreal crowd and into the arena’s concourse. Walking out the front door, Uso noticed Sami Zayn stood outside looking up at the arena.

A short anecdote later, Zayn made his way into the building, whipping fans standing in the concourse up into a frenzy, before making his own entrance through a now frenzied hometown crowd and down towards the ring. In one continuous camera shot, WWE enhanced two stories. A smartened up challenger for a world title, not afraid to back away from an unfair fight before pivoting to a returning hometown hero, that in all honesty needed a little warming up after a shock Intercontinental Championship win at WrestleMania.

Wrestling Renaissance  

This is now a company, unafraid to try new things and actively listen to what fans want. It’s all well and good saying you are in a new era, but false dawns have been promised before and fallen flat within weeks. Using talent that have remained backstage waiting for an opportunity, has become routine now. Guys like Ricochet and Ivar feature with regularity on Monday Night Raw. Not as jobbers, but as characters and Superstars in their own right, not content with sitting in catering each week.

Women’s storylines outside of the world titles have begun to appear across all three brands. NXT has once again become the conveyor belt of future talent that it once was, while breaking their own attendance records and putting on banger matches in the process. It may not be perfect, but neither should it be. The Superstars themselves seem more relaxed during media interviews, unafraid to show the world who they really are, yet wiley enough to blur the lines of what is real and what is kayfabe.

Just as it is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment the Attitude Era started and ended, it will come down to a matter of opinion when this new era began. One thing is however undisputed. On a cool April evening inside Lincoln Financial Field, a new champion was crowned. Legends of the past were greeted as returning heroes. A record breaking reign acknowledged. But more importantly, something in that Philadelphia Spring air signalled for the first time in decades that maybe, just maybe, the future of professional wrestling looks brighter than its past…

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