History of WWE

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Founded January 7, 1952
Style Professional wrestling
Sports entertainment
Headquarters Stamford, Connecticut
Founder(s) Jess McMahon
Toots Mondt
Owner(s) Vince McMahon (1982-present)

Capitol Wrestling Corporation (1952-1982)
Titan Sports (1980-1999)
World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. (1999-2002)
World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (2002-2011)

WWE, Inc. (2011-present)
Formerly Capitol Wrestling Corporation
World Wide Wrestling Federation
World Wrestling Federation
World Wrestling Entertainment
Website WWE official website

The history of WWE dates back to the early 1950s when it was founded by Jess McMahon and Toots Mondt in 1952 as Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC). It underwent numerous name changes throughout the years, from World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) to World Wrestling Federation (WWF) to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and currently to simply WWE in 2011.

WWE is the largest professional wrestling company in the world. It has promoted some of the most successful wrestlers and storylines, and featured some of the most iconic and significant matches and moments in the history of the sport. WWE currently airs several high-profile programs such as Raw and SmackDown in more than 150 countries, hosts 12 pay-per-view events a year including WrestleMania, and holds approximately 320 live events a year throughout the world. In 2014, WWE launched the first ever 24/7 streaming network which will eventually showcase the entire WWE Library.[1]

World Wide Wrestling Federation[edit]

The official WWWF logo from 1963 to 1979.

The NWA recognized an undisputed NWA World Heavyweight Champion that went to several different wrestling companies in the alliance. The championship was defended around the world. The NWA generally promoted strong shooters as champions, to give their worked sport credibility and guard against double-crosses. While doing strong business in the Midwest (the Alliance's core region), these wrestlers attracted little interest in the Capitol territory. In 1961, the NWA board decided instead to put the championship on bleach blonde showman "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, a much more effective drawing card in the region.[2] The rest of the NWA was unhappy with Mondt because he rarely allowed Rogers to wrestle outside of the Northeast. Mondt and McMahon wanted Rogers to keep the NWA World Championship, but Rogers was unwilling to sacrifice his $25,000 deposit on the belt (championship holders at the time had to pay a deposit to insure they honored their commitments as champion). Rogers lost the NWA World Championship to Lou Thesz in a one-fall match in Toronto, Ontario on January 24, 1963, which led to Mondt, McMahon, and the CWC leaving the NWA in protest, creating the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) in the process.[citation needed]

In April of that year, Rogers was awarded the new WWWF World Championship, supposedly winning an apocryphal tournament in Rio de Janeiro. He lost the championship to Bruno Sammartino a month later on May 17, 1963, after suffering a heart attack shortly before the match. To accommodate Rogers' condition, the match was booked to last under a minute.[citation needed]

Bruno Sammartino and Kathy Segal
Bruno Sammartino (right) is the all-time longest-reigning WWWF (World Heavyweight) Champion and one of the most prolific wrestlers in the sport.
André the Giant, Big John Studd, Hillbilly Jim, and King Kong Buddy
André the Giant (middle right), King Kong Bundy (center), Hillbilly Jim (right turnbuckle), and Big John Studd (middle corner).

Sammartino would retain the title for seven years, eight months and one day, making his the longest continuous world championship reign in men's wrestling history. Although Sammartino was the face of the company, wrestlers such as Superstar Billy Graham and Bob Backlund were also hugely popular.[citation needed] The WWWF gained notoriety in the 1970s by holding their biggest shows at Shea Stadium or Madison Square Garden and doing strong business across the entire Northeast megalopolis. They leveraged former, but still popular, wrestlers such as Captain Lou Albano, Ernie Roth and "Classy" Freddie Blassie to act as managers for Sammartino's heel opponents. At this time, only babyface wrestlers were allowed to have long championship reigns, such as Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales and Bob Backlund, who all retained for more than one year each. The heel champions, such as Ivan Koloff and Stan Stasiak were used to transition the championship from one wrestler to another, they generally kept the title for no more a single month-long program before dropping it to the next babyface. Graham was the only heel character to keep his championship for longer than one month, as the company felt it needed time to build Backlund up as championship material.[3]

The WWWF was relatively conservative for territories of its day; running its major arenas monthly rather than weekly or bi-weekly.[citation needed] Programs generally involved a babyface champion facing a heel challenger for one to three meetings in each programmed town; for longer programs the heel would often win the first match in a non-decisive manner such as a count-out or via blood loss, and the champion would then retain in a brawling-type blow-off match such as a steel cage match or Texas Death Match.[4] Unlike most territories, the main event would occur in the middle of the arena show cards, allowing the company to build upon the match's finish in order to sell tickets to the next event; reliable, popular workers such as Chief Jay Strongbow would then wrestle at the end of the show to send the crowd home happy.[5][6] The company also featured popular wrestlers based out of non-WWWF territories such as Dusty Rhodes and retained the services of (at the time) the most popular and highly paid wrestler in the world, André the Giant in between his territorial and international obligations.

Toots Mondt left the WWWF in the late sixties, and Vincent J. McMahon rejoined the organization in 1971.[citation needed] Later that year, The Mongols created controversy after they left the WWWF with the WWWF International Tag Team Championship.[citation needed] The championships would be considered inactive as a result until Luke Graham and Tarzan Tyler won a tournament to claim the championships. They then defeated the Mongols in November 1971, voiding any claim the Mongols had to the titles. In March 1979, for marketing purposes, the World Wide Wrestling Federation was renamed the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).[citation needed]

World Wrestling Federation[edit]

1984–1993: The Golden Age[edit]

Vince McMahon, the owner of WWE.

In 1980, Vincent K. McMahon, the son of Vincent J. McMahon, founded Titan Sports, Inc. and applied for the initials WWF. In 1983, McMahon purchased Capitol Sports from his father and associates Gorilla Monsoon and Arnold Skaaland.

Seeking to make WWF the premier wrestling promotion in the world, he began an expansion process that fundamentally changed the industry.[7] In an interview with Sports Illustrated, McMahon noted:

Upon taking over the company, McMahon immediately worked to get WWF programming on syndicated television all across the United States. This angered other promoters and disrupted the well-established boundaries of the different wrestling promotions. In addition, the company used income generated by advertising, television deals, and tape sales to secure talent from rival promoters.

Capitol Sports already controlled most of the northeastern territory, but the younger McMahon wanted WWF to be a national wrestling promotion; something the NWA did not approve of. He shortly defected his promotion from the NWA, much like the American Wrestling Association, which controlled the U.S. Northern Midwest. To become a national promotion, WWF would have to become bigger than AWA or any NWA promotion.

McMahon's vision for his promotion was starting to become possible when he signed AWA talent Hulk Hogan, who had achieved popularity outside of wrestling – notably for his appearance in Rocky III as Thunderlips,.[8] McMahon signed Rowdy Roddy Piper as Hogan's rival, and shortly afterward signed Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Other wrestlers who were part of the roster included: André the Giant, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, The Magnificent Muraco, Junkyard Dog, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik. In 1984, Hogan was pushed to main-event status. He defeated the WWF World Heavyweight Champion, The Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden on January 23, 1984 and thus evolved into one of the most recognizable and popular faces in sports-entertainment.[citation needed]

Hulk Hogan And Brutus Beefcake
Hulk Hogan (left) and Brutus Beefcake (right) were mainstays of 1980's WWF wrestling.

With reasonable revenue being made, McMahon was able to secure television deals, and WWF was being shown across the United States.[citation needed] McMahon also began selling videotapes of WWF events outside the Northeast through his Coliseum Video distribution company, again angering other promoters.[citation needed] The syndication of WWF programming forced promotions to come into direct competition with the WWF.[citation needed] The increased revenue allowed McMahon to sign more talent, such as "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Brutus Beefcake, Tito Santana, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, The Honky Tonk Man, the British Bulldogs and The Hart Foundation.

For McMahon to truly turn WWF into a national promotion, he needed to have WWF touring the United States.[citation needed] Such a venture was impossible with the revenue WWF currently had, and McMahon envisioned a way to obtain the necessary capital through a risky all-or-nothing gamble on a supercard concept called WrestleMania in 1985. WrestleMania would be a pay-per-view extravaganza, viewable on closed-circuit television and marketed as the Super Bowl of professional wrestling. WrestleMania was not the first supercard seen in professional wrestling, as the NWA had previously run Starrcade. However, McMahon's vision was to make WWF and the industry itself mainstream, targeting more of the general television audience by exploiting the entertainment side of the industry. With the inaugural WrestleMania, WWF initiated a joint-promotional campaign with MTV, which featured a great deal of WWF coverage and programming, in what was termed the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection. The mainstream media attention brought on by celebrities including Muhammad Ali, Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper at the event helped propel WrestleMania to become a staple in popular culture, and the use of celebrities has been a staple of the company to the present day.

With the success of WrestleMania, other promotions which tried hard to keep the regional territory system alive started to merge under Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP).[citation needed] Starrcade and The Great American Bash were the JCP versions of WrestleMania, but even when operating outside of its territory, JCP had trouble matching the success of WWF.[citation needed] After Ted Turner purchased majority of JCP's assets, the promotion would become World Championship Wrestling (WCW), providing WWF with a competitor until 2001, when WCW and its trademarks were purchased by WWF.[citation needed] WrestleMania would become an annual pay-per-view phenomenon, being broadcast in nearly 150 countries and in almost 20 different languages.[citation needed]

McMahon's focus on entertainment rather than sports, a policy that became the concept of sports entertainment, led to great financial success for WWF.[citation needed] During the 1980s, Hogan would cross into mainstream as an all-American hero. Hogan and McMahon carried professional wrestling into success that was truly considered a sport.[citation needed] Hogan's time as face of WWF would last until he left in 1993.[citation needed] Hogan was not the sole reason for success of WWF, but rather the company's biggest draw.[citation needed] Other stars such as Piper, Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, Steamboat, Roberts, Orndorff, Volkoff and the Iron Sheik all helped make WWF a financial success.[citation needed] While these talents were recognizable as individuals, some talent became known for their teamwork as tag teams. Stables or groups such as Demolition, Strike Force, The Hart Foundation, the British Bulldogs, The Rockers and The Fabulous Rougeaus helped create a strong tag-team division for WWF.[citation needed]

Perhaps the peak of the 1980's 'Wrestling Boom' was WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome,[citation needed] which set an attendance record of 93,173.[9] McMahon used the success of WrestleMania to create more pay-per-views, and traditions such as SummerSlam, Survivor Series and Royal Rumble were created, the latter two both with its unique stipulation matches.

1993–1997: The New Generation[edit]

Logo used for the era from 1995-1997.
Sycho Sid
Sycho Sid was one of WWF's big names during the 1990s, managing to earn the WWF World Heavyweight Championship by defeating the champion at the time, Shawn Michaels.

In 1991, it was reported that Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Rick Martel, Brian Blair, and Dan Spivey were to testify that they had purchased steroids from WWF physician Dr. George T. Zahorian, who was being charged with the illegal distribution of the drug.[10] Two years later, Vince McMahon was indicted due to his connection to Zahorian,[11] and faced a possible eight-year prison term and a $500,000 fine if convicted.[12] The trial began on July 7, 1994, with the prosecutor promising to expose "the dark, corrupt underbelly", claimed McMahon distributed steroids "like candy", and that he pressured wrestlers into taking the drug.[13] Wrestler Nailz testified that McMahon had once said to him "I strongly suggest you go on the gas".[14] Days later, Hogan admitted that steroid use amongst WWF wrestlers was common, but denied ever being pressured into doing so by McMahon.[15] A week later, McMahon was acquitted of all charges, and was quoted as saying "I'm elated. Just like in wrestling, in the end the good guys always win".[16]

With business down in 1992 because of bad press from the steroid scandal, Vince McMahon began pushing younger talent into the spotlight over the next several years. Bret "Hit Man" Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Razor Ramon, Diesel, Lex Luger, Yokozuna, Owen Hart and others all became the stars of what the WWF branded as the "New Generation".[citation needed] Hart would defeat Ric Flair to capture his first WWF World Heavyweight Championship on October 12, 1992. Hulk Hogan would leave the company in the summer of 1993 and Hart would remain one of the most popular stars of this period until his departure in 1997.[citation needed]

1995–1998: Monday Night Wars[edit]

Main article: Monday Night Wars

Also during this era, beginning in January of 1993, WWF created their prime time cable TV program WWF Monday Night Raw on the USA Network.[citation needed]

Meanwhile, competition between the major wrestling companies increased. In 1994, WCW signed Hulk Hogan and other former WWF stars, and in 1995 launched WCW Monday Nitro on TNT, to go head to head with WWF's Raw, starting the Monday Night Wars.[citation needed] In mid-1996, the introduction of the the New World Order (nWo), a stable led by former WWF wrestlers Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, started a two years of ratings domination by Nitro.[citation needed] More talent left WWF to go to WCW, including Ted DiBiase, Curt Hennig, and former WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze, while Bret Hart decided to stay with the WWF in spite of a lucrative offer by WCW.[citation needed]

1997–2001: Attitude Era[edit]

Main article: The Attitude Era
Logo used for the era December 1997-May 2002.

In 1997, Vince McMahon responded by taking the WWF in a different direction with more realistic characters and edgier storylines. Rising stars included the D-Generation X group (consisting of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Chyna) and Stone Cold Steve Austin, whose rise to popularity began with his 1996 King of the Ring win and famous 'Austin 3:16' speech. Despite starting out as a heel, Austin's popularity exceeded those of the top faces in the promotion.[citation needed] At Survivor Series 1997, WWF debuted the "scratch" logo which would be the company's signature throughout the Attitude Era and on December 15, 1997, Vince McMahon aired a promo on Raw addressing the audience on the company embarking on a "more innovative and contemporary campaign", which would advise parent discretion for a younger audience.

In 1997, McMahon also informed Bret Hart that he could not longer afford to pay him what his contract stated, and suggested that he go back to the more lucrative deal that WCW had offered him.[citation needed] Hart signed with WCW but a behind-the-scenes controversy developed over Hart's final matches, resulting in the Montreal Screwjob. Hart was defending his WWF World Heavyweight Champion against Shawn Michaels at 1997 Survivor Series, when McMahon ordered the referee to award the match and the championship to Michaels as if Hart had submitted.[citation needed] While Hart went on to WCW, McMahon received enormous backlash from wrestlers and fans alike, inspiring him to create the "Mr. McMahon" character, a villainous extension of his status as promoter.[citation needed]

Following Hart's departure, the company was heavily pushing Stone Cold Steve Austin, now a fan favourite, whose rise in popularity mirrored that of Hogan in the 1980's. At WrestleMania XIV Austin became WWF World Heavyweight Champion, beating Shawn Michaels, and began a long-lasting feud with Mr McMahon. Later in the year, new talent began to emerge for WWF: The Rock, Triple H, and Kane strengthened WWF's singles division while stables such as D-Generation X and Nation of Domination helped the fight against rival company WCW.

Steve Austin is often called one of the most popular stars in WWE history.

WWF rebounded in its ratings and popularity, with Raw finally beating Nitro for the first time in 84 weeks on April 13th 1998. On September 27, 1999, Raw achieved its highest viewership rating of 8.4 with a "This Is Your Life" segment featuring The Rock and Mankind.[17][18]

The Rock's popularity was fueled by his charisma and speaking abilities, which led to many catchphrases and merchandising opportunities.

The Attitude Era saw WWF expand its television coverage and its business structure as well. During this period, WWF's parent company Titan Sports was renamed World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. (WWFE, Inc. or WWFE) and on October 19, 1999 became a publicly traded company, offering 10 million shares priced at US$17 each,[19] and began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in October 2000.[20]

On April 29, 1999, WWF launched a secondary program known as WWF SmackDown! on the UPN network to compete with WCW Thunder, months later until August 26, 1999, the new WWF program show became a weekly series on network television. In 2000, WWF, in collaboration with television network NBC, created XFL, a new professional football league. XFL, however, was a failure, having only lasted a single year before closing its doors.[citation needed]

Head writer Chris Kreski replaced Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, who defected to WCW in 1999.[21] Kreski's work was admired for well planned and detailed storylines, and the transitional period saw feuds and storylines such as the Triple H/Cactus Jack feud, the Triple H/Kurt Angle/Stephanie McMahon love triangle, and a highly successful feud between the Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian, and the Dudley Boyz.[citation needed] At Survivor Series 1999, Steve Austin was ran over with a limousine to write him off of television due to a serious neck injury.[22]

Prior to WrestleMania 2000, the McMahon family had gone into an on-screen rivalry with each other, setting up the "McMahon in Every Corner" Fatal 4 Way elimination main event between The Big Show (managed by McMahon's son Shane McMahon), The Rock (managed by Mr. McMahon), Triple H (managed by McMahon's daughter Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley), and future WWF Commissioner Mick Foley (managed by McMahon's wife Linda McMahon). Triple H won after Mr. McMahon turned on The Rock and thus retained his WWF Championship.[23] In the weeks leading up to No Mercy 2000, Steve Austin made his return to WWF to gain revenge on Rikishi. Austin would go on to win the next year's Royal Rumble match and come out victorious against The Rock for the WWF Championship at WrestleMania X-Seven with help from his former rival, Mr. McMahon, turning heel in the process.[24]

2001-2002: The WCW/ECW "Alliance" Invasion and the nWo[edit]

In the Invasion storyline, Shane McMahon (kayfabe) acquired World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in April 2001 and WCW personnel invaded WWF. For the first time since the Monday Night Wars, WWF's purchase of WCW had made a major American inter-promotional feud possible, but the Invasion turned out to be a disappointment to many fans. One main reason would be that many of WCW's big name stars were still under contract to WCW's old parent company, AOL Time Warner, rather than WCW itself, and their contracts were not included in the purchase of the company. These wrestlers chose to sit out the duration of their contracts and be financially supported by AOL Time Warner rather than work for WWF for a cheaper salary.

On 9 July 2001, the stars of WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (acquired by Stephanie McMahon in a related storyline) joined forces, forming "The Alliance" with WCW owner Shane McMahon and the new owner of ECW Stephanie McMahon, and supported and influenced by original ECW owner Paul Heyman. At Invasion, Steve Austin turned on WWF and helped the Alliance win the 'Inaugural Brawl'.[25] At Survivor Series, WWF finally defeated WCW and ECW in a "Winner Takes All Match" and this concluded the angle. In the aftermath of the Invasion angle, WWF made several major changes to their product. Ric Flair returned to the company as "co-owner", feuding with Vince McMahon. Jerry Lawler returned to the company after a nine-month hiatus, after his replacement on commentary Paul Heyman was fired on-screen by Vince McMahon. Several former Alliance stars were absorbed into the regular WWF roster, such as Booker T, The Hurricane, Lance Storm, and Rob Van Dam.

Eventually Vince McMahon brought back Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall to reunite the nWo at the No Way Out pay-per-view in February of 2002. However the storyline proved unpopular with fans and Hogan soon turned face at WrestleMania X8 after his classic match with The Rock.

World Wrestling Entertainment[edit]

The official WWE logo from 2002 to 2014.

In 2002, the World Wrestling Federation lost a lawsuit initiated by the World Wildlife Fund over the WWF trademark.[26] World Wrestling Federation was forced to rebrand itself, and in May 2002 the company changed its business name to World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (WWE). Shortly thereafter, they eliminated all elements that used the term Federation; this affected licensed merchandise such as action figures, video games, and home videos with its previous logo, which was replaced by a new "scratch" logo.[citation needed] The last-ever WWF-branded pay-per-view event was the UK-exclusive Insurrextion 2002.[citation needed] WWE Studios was formed in 2002 as WWE Films,[27]

2002–2007: Ruthless Aggression[edit]

Undertaker as the World Heavyweight Championship
The Undertaker (pictured here in March of 2008) has been a highly popular figure in WWE for 25 years, holding an undefeated WrestleMania streak until 2014.
Main article: WWE Brand Extension

In 2002, with an excess of talent employed as a result of having purchased WCW and ECW, WWE needed a way to provide exposure for all of its talent. This problem was solved by introducing a 'Brand Extension', with the roster split in half and the talent assigned to either Raw or SmackDown in a mock draft lottery. Wrestlers, commentators and referees became show-exclusive, and the shows were given separate on-screen General Managers. Shortly thereafter, on the June 24th 2002 episode of Raw, Vince McMahon officially referred to the new era as "Ruthless Aggression".[28] After WWE Champion Brock Lesnar announced himself exclusive property of the SmackDown brand and with the creation of the World Heavyweight Championship, all the championships became show-exclusive too. Additionally, both Raw and SmackDown began to stage individual pay-per-view events featuring only performers from that brand – only the major four pay-per-views Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series remained dual-branded.[citation needed] The practice of single-brand pay-per-view events was abandoned following WrestleMania 23.[29] In effect, Raw and SmackDown were operated as two distinct promotions, with a 'draft lottery' taking place each year to determine which talent was assigned to each brand. This lasted until August 2011, when the rosters were merged and the Brand Extension was quietly phased out.[citation needed]

Goldberg on a ship
Goldberg made his WWE debut at Backlash 2003, defeating The Rock in the main event.

Two of the top stars of the Attitude Era, Steve Austin and The Rock, eventually left the company in 2003 and 2004 respectively, while newcomers such as Brock Lesnar, who would become the youngest WWE Champion and Randy Orton, who became the youngest World Heavyweight Champion, saw huge success. Triple H would also be featured prominently during this time, winning several of his thirteen world championships, as would The Undertaker whose streak started gaining fame during this time frame. Rey Mysterio, Kurt Angle, Edge, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, JBL and Rob Van Dam were also given main event opportunities. From mid 2002 to 2003, WWE attempted to bring to prominence several WCW stars, such as Eric Bischoff, Scott Steiner, Goldberg, Kevin Nash and Ric Flair. The Great American Bash, originally a WCW pay-per-view event, made a return in WWE.

However the biggest breakout stars of this era would end up being John Cena and Dave Batista. Upon his debut, Cena quickly proved popular, receiving a WWE Championship match against Brock Lesnar at Backlash in 2003, having a major feud with The Undertaker during the summer. At WrestleMania 21, he won his first world championship when he defeated JBL for the WWE Championship. Cena's popularity soared when he was drafted to Raw, where he quickly became the face of WWE, a rise not seen since Austin and Hulk Hogan. Cena's popularity has led to him becoming the all-time record 'wish maker' for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, with having 400 wishes as of February 2014.[30]

John Cena
John Cena was the biggest superstar to emerge following the end of the Attitude Era.

Beginning in early 2005, Batista's popularity would soar much like Cena's, winning the 2005 Royal Rumble and the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 21. Although Batista would have major success in the months following his championship win, he would suffer an injury in early 2006 and miss that years WrestleMania. After returning and eventually winning another world championship, at WrestleMania 23 in 2007, Batista would lose it to The Undertaker in a classic match. Both Cena and Batista would not face each other for the first time until SummerSlam 2008, with Batista winning.

Shawn Michaels would also return as a wrestler at SummerSlam 2002 after a hiatus of over four years. He would achieve great success, winning a World Championship and main eventing WrestleMania. In 2006, Michaels would reunite with Triple H to once again form the popular 90's group D-Generation X. They would have major feuds with The Spirit Squad, The McMahon Family, and the newly established Rated-RKO (Edge and Randy Orton), which ended prematurely when Triple H suffered a torn quadriceps muscle.[31]

Money in the Bank[edit]

The concept for the Money in the Bank match was introduced in March 2005 by Chris Jericho.[32] Jericho pitched the idea on an episode of Raw to general manager Eric Bischoff, who liked it and promptly signed it for WrestleMania 21 naming Jericho, Christian, Chris Benoit, Edge, Shelton Benjamin, and Kane to participate in the match. Edge won this inaugural match, and since, many times the match became a way to help elevate new stars to the main event, with winners such as CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Alberto Del Rio.[33] The match format was originally exclusive to the annual WrestleMania until 2010, when the Money in the Bank PPV debuted.

The Return of ECW[edit]

Main article: ECW (WWE)

By 2005, WWE began reintroducing Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) through content from the ECW video library and a series of books, which included the release of The Rise and Fall of ECW.

On May 26, 2006, WWE officially announced the relaunch of the franchise with its own show on NBC Universal's Sci Fi Channel, later to be known as Syfy, starting June 13, 2006.[34] Despite initial concerns that professional wrestling would not be accepted by Sci Fi's demographic, network President Bonnie Hammer stated that she believed ECW would fit the channel's theme of "stretching the imagination".[35]

On June 13, Paul Heyman, former ECW owner and newly appointed figurehead for the ECW brand, recommissioned the ECW World Heavyweight Championship to be the brand's world championship and awarded it to Rob Van Dam as a result of winning the WWE Championship at One Night Stand 2006. Under the WWE banner, ECW was presented in a modernized style to that when it was an independent promotion and was produced following the same format of the other brands, with match rules, such as count outs and disqualifications, being standard. Matches featuring the rule set of the ECW promotion were classified as being contested under "Extreme Rules" and were only fought when specified otherwise.[34] The brand would continue to operate until February 16, 2010, when the brand was rendered defunct.

In 2009, during a storyline involving then Raw (kayfabe) owner Donald Trump, he initiated the guest host concept, in which various celebrities, athletes or past wrestlers made weekly appearances and were incorporated to the shows and stories. This lasted from 2009 to 2010. On January 4th 2010, Bret Hart returned to a WWE ring after a 13-year absence, where he reconciled with Shawn Michaels on screen. At WrestleMania XXVI, Michaels retired following a loss to The Undertaker. Another top performer Edge, retired a year later. In early 2011, The Rock returned to WWE when he was announced as the host for WrestleMania XXVII.[36] He started a cross-generational feud with John Cena, defeating him in a match one year later at WrestleMania XXVIII.

In August 2011, WWE began to phase out the Brand Extension when they gave Raw the tagline "SuperShow", meaning wrestlers could appear on both Raw and SmackDown.[37] WWE held 9 draft lotteries. As of Raw's 1,000th episode, airing on July 23, 2012, WWE Raw removed the "SuperShow" tagline as well as becoming a three-hour broadcast, extended from two-hours, a format that had previously been reserved for special episodes.[38] Around this time new superstars were pushed to the spotlight such as CM Punk, Alberto Del Rio, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and Sheamus.

CM Punk, who had become a top star during the summer due to his now infamous 'Pipe bomb' promo would hold the WWE Championship for 434 days before losing to The Rock at Royal Rumble 2013, a reign recognized by WWE as the sixth-longest reigning champion of all-time.[39] The Rock carried the title until he was defeated by John Cena at WrestleMania 29 in a rematch from their bout the previous year.

On December 15, 2013, the World Heavyweight Championship and WWE Championship were unified in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match between Randy Orton and John Cena. The match was won by Orton and the unified championship was renamed the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.[40]

Launch of NXT[edit]

Main article: WWE NXT (TV series)

On February 23, 2010, WWE launched a new program on SyFy, called NXT.[41] The premise of the show was a reality-like show which saw 8 new stars (Rookies) being mentored by Superstars from the main roster (Pros), and ran for just over three months, with the last episode of the first season being on June 1, 2010. The winner of the season was Wade Barrett, mentored by Chris Jericho. Six days after the end of the first season, the rookies interfered in the Raw main event match between John Cena and CM Punk, attacking both competitors as well as the announcing team, before dismantling the ring area and surrounding equipment.[42] During the segment, Daniel Bryan strangled ring announcer Justin Roberts with the announcer's own tie, which WWE reportedly felt was too violent for their family-friendly programming. As a consequence, WWE announced via their official website four days later that Bryan had been (legitimately) released from his contract.[43][44] NXT lasted for a further 3 complete seasons, which were won respectively by Kaval, Kaitlyn, and Johnny Curtis. A fifth season, dubbed NXT Redemption and featuring former NXT participants, never announced a winner and quietly ended with Derrick Bateman being the sole remaining participant. Eventually, the show morphed into both a television show and WWE's new official development territory, replacing Florida Championship Wrestling, and is permanently located at Full Sail University.[45][46]

2014 began with high-profile spots for young superstars such as Daniel Bryan, who would headline Wrestlemania XXX, after he defeated Triple H to be inserted into the main event, where he would defeat both Randy Orton and Batista to win the WWE World Championship.[47][48][49] The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and Erick Rowan), Cesaro, Bad News Barrett, The Usos (Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso), and The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns) were also popular superstars during this time.[50][51][52]

At WrestleMania XXX, The Undertaker was defeated for the first time at the event by Brock Lesnar, following 21 consecutive victories dating back to 1991.[53][54] WCW legend Sting, who had a long hold out on signing with WWE, made his debut at Survivor Series 2014 and had his first-ever match in WWE at WrestleMania 31 against Triple H - a match that Sting lost.


WWE Online[edit]

In 1998, Shane McMahon helped form WWE's digital media department and launched WWF.com on May 21, 1998 (now known as WWE.com), a site that receives more than seven million visitors a month.[citation needed]

Death of Owen Hart[edit]

Main article: Owen Hart

On May 23, 1999, Hart fell to his death in Kansas City, Missouri during the Over the Edge pay-per-view event.[55] Hart was in the process of being lowered via harness and grapple line into the ring from the rafters of Kemper Arena for a booked Intercontinental Championship match against The Godfather. In keeping with the Blazer's new "buffoonish superhero" character, he was to begin a dramatic entrance, being lowered to just above ring level, at which time he would act "entangled", then release himself from the safety harness and fall flat on his face for comedic effect—this necessitated the use of a quick release mechanism. It was an elaboration on a Blue Blazer stunt done previously on the Sunday Night Heat before Survivor Series in 1998.[56]

While being lowered into the ring, Hart fell 78 feet (24 m), landing chest-first on the top rope (approximately a foot from the nearest turnbuckle), throwing him into the ring.[57]

Hart had performed the stunt only a few times before. Hart's widow Martha has suggested that, by moving around to get comfortable with both the harness and his cape on, Hart unintentionally triggered an early release. Television viewers did not see the incident. Moments after the fall, a pre-taped vignette was being shown on the pay-per-view broadcast as well as on the monitors in the darkened arena. Afterward, while Hart was being worked on by medical personnel inside the ring, the live event's broadcast showed only the audience. Meanwhile, WWF television announcer Jim Ross repeatedly told those watching live on pay-per-view that what had just transpired was not a wrestling angle or storyline and that Hart was hurt badly, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation.[58]

Hart was transported to Truman Medical Center in Kansas City. While several attempts to revive him were made, he died from his injuries; some believe he died in the ring.[59] The cause of death was later revealed to be internal bleeding from blunt force trauma.[60]

Legends program and WWE Hall of Fame[edit]

Main article: WWE Hall of Fame

The Legends program began informally with the return of the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony in 2004, held annually during WrestleMania weekends. The introduction of WWE 24/7, WWE's on-demand television service, and the success of career retrospective DVDs such as The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection, Roddy Piper: Born to Controversy, and Brian Pillman: Loose Cannon has invested WWE's present product with a sense of heritage, and allows a new generation of wrestling fans to witness matches and events they may only previously have heard of.

Death of Eddie Guerrero[edit]

Main article: Eddie Guerrero

On the morning of November 13, 2005, Chavo Guerrero checked into a hotel with his uncle, Eddie Guerrero, in Minneapolis, Minnesota where they were both scheduled be a part of a planned Raw and SmackDown! "Supershow" (a show where both Raw and SmackDown! would take place the same night in the same arena). After Eddie missed a wake-up call, security opened his hotel room and Chavo found his uncle unconscious. Chavo attempted CPR, but 38-year-old Eddie was declared dead at the scene. Vickie Guerrero, Eddie's wife, later announced that an autopsy ruled the cause of death to be massive heart failure.

Guerrero's death fell on the day that he had been scheduled to compete in a match for the World Heavyweight Championship versus Batista and Randy Orton. The company held tributes to Guerrero on both Raw and SmackDown during the week following his death. On April 1, 2006 at the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremonies during WrestleMania 22 weekend, Guerrero's wife Vickie accepted his posthumous induction into WWE Hall of Fame by Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit and Chavo Guerrero.

Following Guerrero's death, Vince McMahon announced a new drug policy under which performers would be subject to random drug tests by an independent company and would receive regular medical physicals with an emphasis on cardiovascular health.[61]

Chris Benoit's double-murder and suicide[edit]

In June 25, 2007, the Fayette County Police notified WWE around 4:15 p.m., informing them that they had discovered three bodies of Chris, Nancy, and their seven-year-old son Daniel Benoit at their home in Fayette County, Georgia, and the house was now ruled as a "major crime scene". WWE canceled the scheduled three-hour-long live Raw show on June 25 (which, coincidentally, was supposed to be a scripted memorial for the Mr. McMahon character), and replaced the broadcast version with a tribute to his life and career, featuring past matches, segments from the Hard Knocks: The Chris Benoit Story DVD, and comments from wrestlers and announcers from the RAW, SmackDown and the now-defunct ECW brands. Shortly after the program aired, many of the aired comments were posted on WWE.com. It was not until the program was nearly over that reports surfaced that police were working under the belief that Benoit murdered his wife and son before killing himself over a three-day period.[citation needed]

The next night, after some of the details of the deaths became available, the company aired a recorded statement by its chairman Vince McMahon before their ECW broadcast:

Following the double-murder suicide committed by Chris Benoit the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform began investigating WWE regarding their Wellness policy.

Social media and WWE HD[edit]

In January 2008, WWE began broadcasting in high-definition, beginning with the 21 January Raw, while the 2008 Royal Rumble was the first pay-per-view event presented in HD.[62][63]

On November 19, 2008, WWE officially launched their online social network, WWE Universe. It opened in April as WWE Fan Nation, and adopted the name WWE Universe a few months later. The website was similar to MySpace, with blogs, forums, photos, videos, and other features.[64][65] Despite a heightened popularity the site was shut down on January 1, 2011 and has since replaced with WWE InterAction.[66] Since closing down their social media website, WWE has created accounts on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tout, and Instagram, with executive vice president of digital media Perkins Miller stating that "social media is going to transform our company".[67]

The SmackDown stage, an example of the universal WWE High Definition stage set.

In July 2012, WWE invested $5m into Tout,[68] and a month later released an official app.[69] In 2013, WWE's main Twitter account was cited as one of the top 25 most engaged brands on the website.[70] In 2014, WWE launched WWE SuperCard, a trading card app game, which was downloaded 1.5 million times in the first week of its launch.[71]

WWE Network[edit]

Main article: WWE Network

In September 2011, WWE officially announced plans to launch the WWE Network in time for WrestleMania XXVIII.[72][73] WWE's official website featured a countdown clock that would have expired on April 1, 2012[74] however the clock was quietly removed, and the network did not launch as advertised.

At the Consumer Electronics Show on January 8, 2014, WWE announced the WWE Network would launch on February 24, 2014 in the United States. WWE called the network "the first-ever 24/7 streaming network".[75][76] On February 27, 2014, the WWE Network aired its first ever live event, NXT Arrival, which featured three championship matches and a well-received match between Cesaro and Sami Zayn.[77] The network reached 1 million subscribers in January 2015.[78]

Despite #CancelWWENetwork [79] trending on social media in early 2015 after angry fans were upset with the booking of the 2015 Royal Rumble match, the trend did not prevent the Network from reaching a milestone of over 1 million subscribers the very same week.[80]

Pink Ribbon campaigning[edit]

Starting in October 2012, WWE formed a partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to promote breast cancer awareness.[citation needed] As part of the campaign, WWE adorned their sets with pink ribbons, put a pink middle rope on the ring, filmed numerous PSAs, and sold special John Cena "Rise Above Cancer" merchandise.[citation needed] All of these efforts culminated in a donation from WWE of $1 million, which was presented to Susan G. Komen representatives in an in-ring ceremony during the 29 October 2012 episode of Raw.[citation needed] The widespread pinkwashing continued into 2013, this time with a wider variety of Superstar merchandising.[81]

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External links[edit]