Wrestling is great right now. More specifically, WWE is great right now. It might be overly optimistic to claim that WWE is better than they’ve ever been before but when lining up the pros and cons, there happens to be a ton to love about the current product. There are negatives about the current product as there are in even the best times in wrestling past but the truth is that WWE is getting many things right.
Sure, there’s plenty to celebrate about plenty of the previous eras. The boom in the 1980s with Hulk Hogan made wrestling mainstream. The Attitude Era found new life with a way edgier product. Even the Ruthless Aggression era boasted strong technical prowess thanks to guys like Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, and Eddie Guerrero on the rosters. It’s purely subjective to say that now is better than any of those periods but that’s exactly the claim that’s about to made.
The following 15 points will outline the many reasons why the current product is better than ever. The in-ring talents such of a specific few, a few of the divisions themselves, as well as the business model itself all deserve highlighting. Let’s face the wonderful truth, it’s a glorious time to be a fan.
Even though the recent brand split raided the WWE developmental roster and it has now found itself in a rebuilding phase, NXT has consistently been one of the best products in all of wrestling for the better part of two years. The Four Horsewomen and the beginnings of the WWE chapter of the Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens feud are two examples of the way this yellow and black roster have influenced the current main rosters of Raw and SmackDown.
NXT has taken the reputation of losing some of its buzz in recent months and that’s quite a shame. The roster may not currently be as deep as moments in the past but with talent like Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode, and The Revival as the bigger names on the card, nobody can accuse NXT of being a weak product. Plenty of fantastic TakeOver shows can be expected in the short term and as long as Triple H is steering the ship on this WWE Network-only product, they will continue to excel for quite some time.
14. Return Of The Jobbers
The return of the enhancement talent seems like a nominal issue to get excited about, but it really is something to celebrate. For starters, it helps buck the 50/50 booking that’s been complained about for many years. Wrestlers can demonstrate regularly that if they face off against just anybody, they’re going to dominate them. Jobbers also get over not just the talent themselves but also their finishers. Seeing specific moves put away wrestlers over and over again makes it an even bigger deal when someone kicks out of them at a Pay-Per-View.
Not only can enhancement talent do wonders for the WWE roster, they’ll also occasionally get themselves over as well. Nobody expected James Ellsworth to become instantly endeared when he first appeared on Raw but because of his unique look and his chance to speak briefly on the microphone, he was a hit. Braun Strowman crushed him on that night, which was a win for Braun and for Raw. Fans now clamor for more Ellsworth and he even got a subsequent appearance on a Tuesday night, which is a win for SmackDown. Now Ellsworth is in demand more than he’s ever been during his lengthy career so for even him, his loss was a win.
13. It’s The Kevin Owens Show
Even with Monday Night Raw being considered the current number two brand in the eyes of the fans, they get one thing beautifully right and that’s their Universal Champion. Kevin Owens has been consistently one of the best performers in WWE since his arrival to NXT when he Powerbombed his way into all of our hearts (…except for Sami Zayn, who was simply Powerbombed onto the apron.) KO then shocked all of us when he beat John Cena in his first ever main roster match and has been booked consistently well in the duration.
While Owens can have very physical contests like when he went over the corner ring post and through a few tables during a Last Man Standing Match against Dean Ambrose at this year’s Royal Rumble, his greatest asset has to be his mouth. The fans naturally want to cheer for the man because of how good he is but Kevin knows to use his time on the mic to turn everyone in an arena against him. He’s also been known to talk trash to his foes quite a bit during matches, which makes it vital to turn up the television volume when he locks on a chinlock.
Kevins Owens can wrestle great matches and he is abundantly blessed with the gift of gab. As the face of Monday nights, even the weaker WWE show gives fans more than enough reason to tune because of the Champion of the Universe.
12. Tag Team Psychology
One doesn’t have to look too far to find a few quality tag teams under the WWE banner these days. American Alpha is universally praised, and rightfully so. The Revival are holding it down as NXT Champions while Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano could easily make a credible run for the straps on any brand they might find themselves a part of. Even The Usos have reimagined themselves as of late and instead of relying more on the fan favorite moves like the Superkicks and the dives over the top rope, they’ve used a more strategic moveset that targets an opponent’s body part until it writhes in pain.
There are more great tag teams for other reasons, like the lovability of Heath Slater & Rhyno and the raw power of the Authors of Pain, but old school psychology and technical wizardry can be found all over WWE’s current programming. While it does feel like the current three brand system thins out these talented duos a tad too much, the positive here is that less teams are getting lost in the shuffle. So if a great tag match is something you happen to enjoy, there’s a good chance that you’ll see several on a weekly basis.
11. More New Wrestling Than Ever Before
It’s totally understandable if people suffer from wrestling oversaturation in this day and age. That can feel at times to be a bad thing but as long as you’re being a little choosy and not watching every show from every promotion, then that is actually a very, very good thing. There’s more wrestling offered by WWE on more nights of the week than ever before, and also their PPV schedule has been ramped up to offer plenty of big shows for Raw, SmackDown, and NXT.
Is it too hard to keep up with the constant torrent of content that even just WWE keeps offering? Yes, but if fans don’t overburden themselves with trying to watch everything then it’s not so bad. NXT isn’t as hot right now, so some might check out from weekly viewing. SmackDown is heating up, so many are probably watching for the first time in a while. WWE is offering options and there’s a good chance that something on most of their shows will be of interest to most viewers.
10. The WWE Network
Every WWE, WCW, and ECW is available for on demand streaming. Tons of content from classic promotions like AWA, Mid South, and the NWA are ready to be watched whenever you feel like it. Even new programming like Swerved and Ride Along are worth turning on every once in a while. The WWE Network offers a library of content that would’ve been worth thousands of dollars to tape traders from a few decades past.
The only real negative to WWE’s Network is their hesitation to put entire libraries online. Being a fan that grew up on WCW, there are a ton of Thunders and WCW Saturday Nights that would be a ton of fun to go through. With all of the new content WWE is constantly creating, why be hesitant about releasing it all? But that’s only a minor gripe. There is still far more content on demand than can possibly be viewed by any human that plans to ever leave their living room and experience daylight, so get to watching.
9. Authority Figures That Are Actually Liked
In an ideal world, WWE would forego their constant need to have authority figures involved so much in the main happenings of their on-screen product. That’s simply not going to happen though, so at least we can accept what WWE has given us – and it’s not all that bad.
NXT has the best representation of its authority, with Commissioner William Regal having minimal presence. He’s also not publicly trying to pick sides over who he believes should be the winners and losers of the big matches. SmackDown has the still-adored Daniel Bryan involved in their happenings while Shane McMahon is less active on screen than all of his counterparts. The worst offender is Raw, still having Stephanie McMahon so involved and put into situations where her endorsement of the Universal Champion is something that fans are supposed to care about. The fans don’t care, but at least her GM Mick Foley is there to balance things out. Foley still has some breaking in to do in his role, but he’s getting there.
Once again, an ideal WWE would phase out almost 90 percent of the authority figure nonsense, but they are absolutely committed to it. With the likes of Daniel Bryan, Mick, Foley, and Shane McMahon occupying those roles, at least that’s some sort of consolation.
8. AJ Styles
When it’s time to reflect on WWE’s 2016 and who among their rosters could be considered the best performer, the hands down MVP has got to be AJ Styles. The man had a well-received and lengthy showing in the Royal Rumble, holding his own in the midst of his new coworkers. He then briefly tagged with Chris Jericho only to then put on a solid match with him at WrestleMania. From there, he was inserted into the title picture opposite Roman Reigns and worked hard to prove that he was worthy of those main event matches. He then moved on to a couple of surprising wins against John Cena, then a defeat against Dean Ambrose to capture the WWE World Championship. Talk about a quick rise to the top!
AJ was well-known prior to this 2016 run with WWE and even though his match quality was not surprising, the recent Pay-Per-View wins and now a title reign have been. Vince and the powers that be have not just booked The Phenomenal One well, they’ve made him the focal point of the Tuesday night show. The level of his work is undeniable and if the fact that the man who is arguably the best talent on the planet is carrying the most prestigious title in the company doesn’t prove that WWE is better now that it’s ever been before then nothing will.
7. Talking Smack
One of the reasons why SmackDown has generally been received slightly better in general as compared to Raw in this modern brand split has been its benefit of only being two-hours long. It fills like there’s way less filler and the major players don’t get overexposed as much. Two hours is the perfect length for a WWE show and viewers would likely grumbling if time was added to the program. That’s what makes Talking Smack so clever.
Renee Young’s talk/interview show is essentially an extra half hour of SmackDown but it doesn’t feel like they’ve baited us on the hook for more of our viewing time. WWE totally has, but it’s because it’s so good that you won’t find anyone complaining. Regularly accompanied by Daniel Bryan and guested by a variety of mostly in-character blue brand talent, the discussion on this WWE Network show helps further storylines, give character development, and even offer opportunities for the occasional violent outbursts. Considering the best WWE promo of the year was cut by The Miz on this very program, other wrestlers are likely begging for a chance for some mic time with Renee.
6. Women’s Wrestling
Gone are the days of Bra & Panties Matches. Whether it’s because WWE’s fan base has matured beyond their teenage lusts, actual in-ring talent is what’s now in demand, or if the appeal to corporate sponsors and the almighty dollar is what’s driving this Attitude Era departure (hint: it’s probably the third option) the present reality is absolutely fantastic.
Initially kickstarted by the likes of Paige, Emma, and the Four Horsewomen on NXT, this trend towards female athletes performing in the ring with the same stylings as their male counterparts has produced some of the best wrestling of the current era. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, for example, was considered by many to be the Match of the Year for 2015.
Whereas adult fans might’ve been leery about what kind of role models their daughters might’ve been subjected to in years gone by, the Becky Lynches of today’s programming are exactly the kinds of heroines that parents can feel good about their children looking up to. When it comes to female wrestling, the current state of WWE, and actual bell to bell excitement, it’s undeniable that this is the best era that their division has ever seen.
5. Best Friends Forever
Easily, the best buddy dynamic in WWE right now comes not from childhood friends Enzo & Big Cass, not from twin brothers Jimmy & Jey, and certainly not from the mentor/protégé duo of Charlotte & Dana Brooke. The two people who’s bond runs deeper than even a biological link are none other Kevin Owens & Chris Jericho.
It feels like these two are tapping into a bully and his tagalong sort of vibe. If this were the 1983 classic A Christmas Story, WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens would be in the role of Scut Farkus while Chris Jericho would be the toadie known as Grover. Jericho hilariously accepts his role in this pecking order, like when he uses the “we” pronoun when referring to both himself and Owens as the holder of his pal’s singles championship.
Chris Jericho has always had a knack for reinventing himself and this current run is no exception. He’s bringing the funny for his own sake while giving depth to Owen’s character as well. Like the Zack Attack from Bayside High sang, we should cross our fingers that these two remain “Friends Forever.”
4. The Cruiserweights
Before addressing the new Cruiserweight Division on Raw, the WWE Network-exclusive Cruiserweight Classic was the finest wrestling show of the year and we were blessed with ten glorious weeks of it. It was a feature of some of the best wrestlers on the planet and succeeded in creating several new stars to WWE’s audience such as TJ Perkins and Cedric Alexander. The varieties of styles, from the hyper-technical to the fast paced and flippy, was a wrestling fan’s Christmas come early. Thankfully, the action didn’t end with TJ Perkins vs. Gran Metalik.
Now on Raw, the Cruiserweights have brought their talents to Monday nights. There is a ton of upside to these matches being interspersed on WWE’s flagship show, even if they aren’t used as effectively as what WCW did in the 1990s. These guys offer something different than what the rest of the show does and diversity will help keep the three-hour show entertaining when it has a tendency to drag on. Plus, Cedric Alexander might one day get a big push and that alone will be a ride to look forward to.
3. No Longer The John Cena Show
For most of the late 2000s and the early 2010s, John Cena had a supernova of a shining star while everyone else twinkled in the background. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because John Cena sold tons of merchandise and was a marketable face to the younger viewers. However, if he wasn’t your cup of tea or if you simply wanted to see other wrestlers get a taste of the limelight, you were out of luck. Cena was truly the face that ran the place and nobody was getting the opportunities that he was getting.
The landscape of WWE has changed quite a lot over the past two years and one of the biggest changes is that John Cena has not held a major title during that time frame. He last dropped the WWE World Heavyweight Championship to Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014 and then had a notable run with the secondary United States Championship in 2015. It’s likely we haven’t seen that last of Cena in the role of top title holder, but anybody who’s been watching for less than two years has never seen John Cena carry a world title in real time.
Cena is a talented guy who knows how to wrestle a great match, but lots of fresher faces have been occupying the title picture as of late. These newer faces have made this post-John era new and exciting again, which will even bode well for him. Whenever he finally wins that 16th World Championship, he will have tons of new stars that he hasn’t handedly defeated over and over to feud with.
2. 9.99! 9.99! 9.99!
Can we all be thankful that WWE stopped forcing the 9.99 chants in arenas? And remember those black t-shirts that said “9.99” that you could buy in the WWE Shop for 9.99? Get it? GET IT?! This entry isn’t meant to be negative but it feels right to initially cleanse ourselves of the memories of these cheers.
While the ad campaign that kicked off the promotion of the initial price point got old pretty quickly, that doesn’t change the fact that WWE Pay-Per-Views (if they can even be called PPVs anymore) are more of a bargain than ever before. Before this streaming service, an individual event could cost $40, $50, and beyond. Watching every one of the monthly big shows would amount to hundreds and hundreds of dollars over the course of a year. Today, the affordability of being a fan has defied inflation rates and our collective bank accounts are appreciative.
It’s inevitable that WWE will try to raise their prices one day, most likely through added tiers to their subscription plan. Even if that price does go up it’s still a long way away from the pre-Network days. When weighing the costs of being a WWE fan historically versus the costs of being a WWE fan now, it’s irrefutable that WWE is better now than ever before.
1. Just Look At The Champions
Many of these title holders have been mentioned already, but just like at this list: AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, and Shinsuke Nakamura. These are three guys that just a couple of years ago were considered highly successful wrestlers who never got a real shot at WWE. The way it was looking, they probably never would get a chance, either. Business philosophies have changed in Titan Towers and those three athletes not only found their way into WWE, they’re holding the top titles for Raw, SmackDown, and NXT. What a time to be alive.
The female counterparts for each of these brands is an equally impressive list of wrestlers. Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Asuka all carry the top singles straps for their division. Looking at the men and women who are the faces of this company and their technical abilities, you’d be hard-pressed to find an era in which WWE has ever had a stronger lineup of champions. These are competitors that if placed in any other ring in any other promotion in the world, they’d not only succeed but they’d wrestle circles around everyone on any roster.