History of WWE
|Founded||January 7, 1952|
|Parent||Capitol Wrestling Corporation Ltd. (1952–1982)|
Titan Sports, Inc. (1982–1998)
World Wrestling Federation, Inc. (1998)
World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. (1999–2002)
World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (2002–present)
|Formerly||Capitol Wrestling Corporation|
World Wide Wrestling Federation
World Wrestling Federation
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) in 2002.
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 would eventually showcase the entire WWE video library.
- 1 World Wide Wrestling Federation
- 2 World Wrestling Federation
- 3 World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE)
- 4 Other
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
World Wide Wrestling Federation
The National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) recognized an undisputed NWA World Heavyweight Champion that went to several different professional wrestling promotions in the NWA. 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 NWA's core region), these wrestlers attracted little interest in the Capitol Wrestling Corporation territory. In 1961, the NWA board decided instead to put the championship on bleach blond showman "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, a much more effective drawing card in the region. 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 Heavyweight Championship, but Rogers was unwilling to sacrifice his $25,000 deposit on the championship belt (championship holders at the time had to pay a deposit to insure they honored their commitments as champion). Rogers lost the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to Lou Thesz in a one-fall match in Toronto, Ontario, Canada 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.
In April 25 that year, Rogers was awarded the new WWWF World Heavyweight 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.
Sammartino would retain the title for seven years, eight months and one day (2,803 days), making his the longest continuous world championship reign in men's wrestling history. Although Sammartino was the face of the WWWF, wrestlers such as Superstar Billy Graham and Bob Backlund were also hugely popular. 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, "Grand Wizard of Wrestling" Ernie Roth and "Classy" Freddie Blassie to act as managers for Sammartino's heel (villainous) opponents. At this time, only babyface (fan favorite) 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, and 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 WWWF felt it needed time to build Backlund up as championship material.
The WWWF was relatively conservative for promotions of its day; running its major arenas monthly rather than weekly or bi-weekly. Programs generally involved a babyface champion facing a heel challenger for one to three meetings in each scheduled town; for longer programs the heel would often win the first match in a non-decisive manner such as a countout or via excessive blood loss, and the champion would then retain in an ultraviolent blow-off match such as a steel cage match or Texas Death match. Unlike most of the NWA 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. The WWWF 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 assumed complete control of the organization in 1971. Later that year, The Mongols created controversy after they left the WWWF with the WWWF International Tag Team Championship. The championship would be considered inactive as a result until Luke Graham and Tarzan Tyler won a tournament to claim the championship. They then defeated the Mongols in November 1971, voiding any claim The Mongols had to the championship. In March 1979, for marketing purposes, the World Wide Wrestling Federation was renamed the World Wrestling Federation (WWF).
World Wrestling Federation
In 1980, Vincent K. McMahon, the son of Vincent J. McMahon, founded Titan Sports, Inc. and applied trademarks for the initials "WWF".
1982–1993: The Golden Era
Seeking to make WWF the premier wrestling promotion in the world, he began an expansion process that fundamentally changed the industry. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, McMahon noted:
|“||In the old days, there were wrestling fiefdoms all over the country, each with its own little lord in charge. Each little lord respected the rights of his neighboring little lord. No takeovers or raids were allowed. There were maybe 30 of these tiny kingdoms in the U.S. and if I hadn't bought out my dad, there would still be 30 of them, fragmented and struggling. I, of course, had no allegiance to those little lords.||”|
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. McMahon signed Rowdy Roddy Piper as Hogan's rival, and shortly afterward signed Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Other significant wrestlers who were part of the roster included: Big John Studd, André the Giant, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, "The Magnificent" Don Muraco, Junkyard Dog, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, and Nikolai Volkoff. In 1984, Hogan was pushed to main event status. He defeated WWF 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 professional wrestling.
With reasonable revenue being made, McMahon was able to secure television deals, and WWF was being shown across the United States. McMahon also began selling videotapes of WWF events outside the Northeast through his Coliseum Video distribution company, again angering other promoters. The syndication of WWF programming forced promotions to engage in direct competition with the WWF. The increased revenue allowed McMahon to sign more talent, such as Brutus Beefcake, Tito Santana, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Butch Reed, and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan.
However, for McMahon to truly turn WWF into a national promotion, he needed to have WWF touring the entire United States. Such a venture was impossible with the revenue WWF currently had, so 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 ran Starrcade in 1983. 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). Starrcade and The Great American Bash were the JCP versions of WrestleMania, but even when operating inside of its territory, JCP had trouble matching the success of WWF. 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. WrestleMania would become an annual pay-per-view phenomenon, being broadcast in nearly 150 countries and in almost 20 different languages.
Perhaps the peak of the 1980s wrestling boom was WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome, which set an attendance record of 93,173. In the main event Hulk Hogan retained the WWF Championship against André the Giant. McMahon used the success of WrestleMania to create more pay-per-views and traditions such as SummerSlam, Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble, the latter two both receiving their names from unique stipulation matches featured at the event.
McMahon's focus on entertainment rather than giving his product a legitimate sports feel, the policy that became the concept of sports entertainment, led to great financial success for WWF. During the 1980s, Hulk Hogan would crossover into mainstream prominence presented as an all-American hero. Hogan's time as the face of the WWF would last until he departed from the company in the summer of 1993. Other stars such as "Macho Man" Randy Savage, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, The Ultimate Warrior, The Honky Tonk Man, "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, and others also helped make WWF a financial success in this time period. Jim Duggan won the first ever Royal Rumble match in 1988. While these talents were recognizable as individuals, some talent became better known for their teamwork as part of 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. Towards the end of the "Golden Age", Bret Hart of the Hart Foundation began to break out on his own as a singles competitor, with his most memorable match early on taking place at SummerSlam in 1992 against "The British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith. Hart would eventually capture the WWF World Heavyweight Championship from Ric Flair later that year and would win the King of the Ring tournament the following year.
1993–1997: New Generation Era
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. Two years later, Vince McMahon was indicted due to his connection to Zahorian, and faced a possible eight-year prison term and a $500,000 fine if convicted. The trial began on July 7, 1994, with the prosecutor, who promised to expose "the dark, corrupt underbelly" of WWF, claimed McMahon distributed steroids "like candy" and pressured wrestlers into taking the drug. Wrestler Nailz testified that McMahon had once said to him: "I strongly suggest you go on the gas". Days later, Hogan admitted that steroid use amongst WWF wrestlers was common, but denied ever being pressured into doing so by McMahon. 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".
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. By mid 1993, 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 eventually branded as the "New Generation". Hulk Hogan would leave the company in the summer of 1993 and Hart would become one of the most popular stars of this period until his departure in 1997.
Meanwhile, competition between the major wrestling companies increased. In 1994, WCW signed Hulk Hogan and other former WWF stars to multi-year contracts, and in 1995 launched Monday Nitro on TNT, to go head to head with Raw, starting the Monday Night Wars.
By mid-1996, with the introduction of the New World Order (nWo), a stable led by former WWF wrestlers Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall (Razor Ramon), and Kevin Nash (Diesel), Nitro started a near two years of ratings domination. More talent left WWF to go to WCW, including Ted DiBiase, Curt Hennig, reigning WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze and The 1-2-3 Kid while Bret Hart decided to stay with the WWF in spite of a lucrative offer by WCW. At Badd Blood: In Your House in 1997 the first Hell in a Cell match would be held between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, which Michaels won after interference from Undertaker's storyline half brother Kane. The Hell in a Cell match has since become one of the most popular gimmick match in wrestling history.
1997–2002: The Attitude Era
In 1997, Vince McMahon responded to WCW's big success 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, Rick Rude 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 villain, Austin's popularity would start to gradually exceed those of the top fan favorites in the promotion. At Survivor Series in November 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 Is War addressing the audience on the company embarking on a "more innovative and contemporary campaign", which would advise parent discretion for a younger audience. This same episode also marked the beginning of the scratch logo being officially used for WWF television broadcasts and went into full effect on March 2, 1998. WrestleMania XIV marked the last time that the New Generation logo was used.
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. Hart signed with WCW but a behind-the-scenes controversy developed over Hart's final matches, resulting in the Montreal Screwjob. Hart was defending the WWF World Heavyweight Championship 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. While Hart went on to WCW, McMahon received enormous backlash from the media, wrestlers and fans alike, inspiring him to create the Mr. McMahon character, a villainous extension of his status as promoter.
Following Hart's departure the company implemented a heavy push of popular anti hero character, Stone Cold Steve Austin whose popularity was rising and was similar to Hulk Hogan's popularity in the 1980s. During an angle involving Mike Tyson at WrestleMania XIV in March 1998, Austin became WWF Champion by beating Shawn Michaels, giving rise to the Austin era and the despotic Mr. McMahon character which began a long-lasting feud with Austin this feud would be very important in the WWF turning the tides in the ratings war with rival company WCW. Later in the year, new talent began to emerge for WWF: The Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley, and Kane strengthened WWF's singles division while stables such as D-Generation X and the Nation of Domination, helped the fight against rival company WCW.
WWF rebounded in its ratings and popularity, with Raw Is War finally beating Nitro for the first time in 84 weeks on April 13, 1998. Ratings would continue to rise through 1998 and 1999 a 12-minute match between Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Undertaker drew a 9.5 rating on June 28, 1999. It currently stands as the highest-rated segment in Raw history.
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 $17 each, and began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in October 2000.
In 1999, WWF launched a secondary program known as SmackDown! on the UPN network to compete with WCW's Thunder. SmackDown!'s pilot debuted as a special on April 29, 1999. Beginning on August 26, 1999, the WWF program was aired weekly. 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.
Head writer Chris Kreski replaced Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara, who defected to WCW in 1999. 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 and Christian, and The Dudley Boyz. At Survivor Series, WWF's top star Stone Cold Steve Austin was run over by a limousine to write him off of television due to a serious neck injury.
Prior to WrestleMania 2000, the McMahon family had gone into an on-screen rivalry with each other for the first time, setting up the "McMahon in Every Corner" four-way elimination main event between Big Show (managed by Shane McMahon), The Rock (managed by Mr. McMahon), Triple H (managed by Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley), and future WWF Commissioner Mick Foley (managed by Linda McMahon). Triple H won after Mr. McMahon turned on The Rock and thus retained the WWF Championship.
Stone Cold Steve Austin would make his return to the company at Unforgiven 2000 and then would make his in ring return at No Mercy, to gain revenge on Rikishi, who had been revealed as the driver of limousine that had struck Austin at Survivor Series. 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 into a villain in the process.
2001–2002: The Alliance Invasion and the nWo
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 July 9, 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 leading charge, with the support and influence of original ECW owner Paul Heyman. At Invasion, Stone Cold Steve Austin turned on WWF and helped the Alliance win the Inaugural Brawl. At Survivor Series, WWF finally defeated WCW and ECW in a "Winner Takes All Match" and the angle was concluded. In the aftermath of the Invasion angle, WWF made several major changes to their product. Ric Flair returned to the WWF as "co-owner" of the company, 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. At Vengeance 2001, Chris Jericho went on to unify the WCW Championship and WWF Championship, beating both The Rock and Steve Austin on the same night.
Eventually Vince McMahon brought back Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall to reunite the nWo at the No Way Out pay-per-view in February 2002. However, the storyline proved unpopular with fans and Hogan soon turned face at WrestleMania X8 after his classic match with The Rock. On the March 25, 2002 on Raw the World Wrestling Federation had the first time ever WWF draft lottery, which meant the WWF superstars are separated between two brands, Raw and SmackDown!. This became effective from April 1, 2002 on Raw, thus leading to a brand new era, and ending the Attitude Era.
World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE)
In 2002, the World Wrestling Federation lost a lawsuit initiated by the World Wildlife Fund over the WWF trademark. World Wrestling Federation was forced to rebrand itself, and in May 6, 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 video releases with its previous logo, which was replaced by a new "scratch" logo. The last-ever WWF-branded pay-per-view event was the UK-exclusive Insurrextion in May 4, 2002. During this time, the company launched WWE Studios, which was originally formed as WWE Films.
2002–2008: Ruthless Aggression Era
In April 1, 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 24, 2002 episode of Raw, Vince McMahon officially referred to the new era as "Ruthless Aggression". Later in 2002, 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. The practice of single-brand pay-per-view events was abandoned following WrestleMania 23. 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.
The two top stars of the Attitude Era, Stone Cold 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 fourteen world championships, as would The Undertaker whose WrestleMania win streak started gaining fame. Rey Mysterio, Kurt Angle, Edge, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Randy Orton, John "Bradshaw" Layfield and Rob Van Dam were also given main event opportunities and all ended up becoming multiple-time world champions. From mid 2002 to 2003, WWE brought several prominent WCW stars to the company, including Eric Bischoff, Scott Steiner, Goldberg, Kevin Nash and Ric Flair. The Great American Bash, originally a WCW pay-per-view event, made its debut in WWE.
In August 2002, Shawn Michaels would also return as a wrestler at SummerSlam after a hiatus of over four years. He would achieve great success, and won a World Championship in the first ever Elimination Chamber match at Survivor Series. In 2006, Michaels would reunite with Triple H to once again form the popular 1990s 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 in 2007.
Eddie Guerrero from the famous Mexican Guerrero wrestling family achieved huge stardom during this period. He gained a large fanbase in 2003 on SmackDown!, which lead to a rapid increase in his popularity, promoting him to main event status and he ultimately won his first world championship, the WWE Championship at No Way Out in 2004 defeating Brock Lesnar in a highly acclaimed match. He remained the top wrestler of the company after winning the WWE title, until his untimely death on November 13, 2005. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, the following year in 2006. Guerrero's death due to his drug addictions caused WWE to implement WWE Wellness Policy to prevent wrestlers from taking drugs. The circumstances of his death would provide a medium to his off-screen friend Rey Mysterio to emerge as a major main eventer and win the 2006 Royal Rumble match and the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 22.
However the biggest breakout stars of the Ruthless Aggression era would be both John Cena and Batista. Upon his debut, Cena quickly proved popular due to his "Doctor of Thuganomics" white rapper gimmick on the SmackDown brand, receiving a WWE Championship match against Brock Lesnar in the spring at Backlash in 2003, and had a major feud with The Undertaker during the summer. At WrestleMania 21, he won his first world championship when he defeated John "Bradshaw" Layfield the WWE Champion at that time. 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, granting over 500 wishes as of August 2017. Another popular wrestler during the period was Bobby Lashley from the ECW brand. Cena would defeat Lashley at The Great American Bash in 2007, shortly after which Lashley left the WWE.
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 from Triple H. Later in 2005 Batista would go on to defeat Triple H in a highly acclaimed Hell in a Cell match at Vengeance. Although Batista would have major success in the months following his championship win, he would suffer an injury in early 2006 and miss that year's WrestleMania. After returning and eventually winning another world championship, at WrestleMania 23 in 2007, Batista would defend the title to The Undertaker in a classic bout. Both Cena and Batista would not face each other for the first time until SummerSlam in 2008, with Batista winning.
Rising star CM Punk made his WWE debut in 2006, wrestling his first main roster match at Survivor Series that year, in a 5-on-5 Survivor Series elimination match as part of Team DX in a clean sweep victory over Team Rated-RKO. In 2008 he won the money in the bank brief case and on the June 30 episode of Raw he cashed it on the then World Heavyweight Champion Edge, winning the title. The same night he had to defend the title against John "Bradshaw" Layfield in the main event, but retained it.
2005: Money in the Bank
The concept for the Money in the Bank match was introduced in March 2005 by Chris Jericho. Jericho pitched the idea on an episode of Raw to general manager Eric Bischoff, who liked it and promptly signed it for WrestleMania 21 assigning 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, The Miz, Daniel Bryan, Alberto Del Rio, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. The match format was originally exclusive to the annual WrestleMania until 2010, when the Money in the Bank pay-per-view debuted. In 2017 Shane McMahon announced the first-ever women's Money in the Bank match, which was won by Carmella.
2005–2006: The return 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. Despite initial concerns that professional wrestling would not be accepted by Sci Fi Channel's demographic, network President Bonnie Hammer stated that she believed ECW would fit the channel's theme of "stretching the imagination".
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. The brand would continue to operate until February 16, 2010, when the brand was rendered defunct.
2008–2013: PG Era
In the Summer of 2008, WWE began distancing itself from the edgier content of years past, going with a more conservative approach. While no true start date is given, the July 22, 2008 episode of SmackDown was the first show that would use a PG television rating as opposed to using a PG DVL rating. While fans would dub this the "PG Era" early on, references from wrestlers themselves would come later such as Triple H in his "Thy Kingdom Come" documentary and Natalya on an episode of "Table for 3". Another most notable example was that John Cena's famous finishing move, the F-U was renamed Attitude Adjustment. In 2009, WWE debuted a Raw guest host concept, initially with Donald Trump (in storyline a one-night only kayfabe owner of Raw), in which various celebrities, athletes or past wrestlers made weekly appearances and were incorporated to the shows and stories until 2010. Also in 2009 D-Generation X reunited and would win the unified WWE tag team titles from Chris Jericho and The Big show in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match. On January 4, 2010, Bret Hart returned to a WWE ring after a thirteen-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 also retired a year later. Also in 2010, Bret Hart served briefly as the Raw general manager before being replaced by the Anonymous Raw General Manager. In early 2011, The Rock returned to WWE when he was announced as the host for WrestleMania XXVII. Rock started a cross-generational feud with John Cena, which saw him defeating Cena in a match 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. Throughout the original WWE brand extension, the company held 9 draft lotteries total. Starting with Raw's 1,000th episode, airing on July 23, 2012, Raw has removed the "SuperShow" tagline and has extended from two-hours to become a three-hour broadcast, a format that was previously been reserved for special episodes. Superstars such as CM Punk, Alberto Del Rio, Daniel Bryan, Sheamus, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Wade Barrett, Ryback, Kofi Kingston and John Morrison were pushed to the spotlight around this period.
The year 2011 saw a highly acclaimed feud between the company's two most high-profile superstars, John Cena and CM Punk. Their match at Money in the Bank on July 17 was named one of the greatest matches in WWE history. Punk, who had become a top star during the summer of 2011 due to his infamous "Pipe bomb" promo, would hold the WWE Championship for 434 days before losing to The Rock in 2013 at the 2013 Royal Rumble, a reign recognized by WWE as the sixth-longest championship reign of all-time and the longest in 25 years. The Rock defended the championship until he was defeated by John Cena at WrestleMania 29 in a rematch from their bout the previous year. Cena would later drop the title to Daniel Bryan at SummerSlam, immediately after which it started The Authority storyline that saw underdog Bryan feuding with WWE COO Triple H, his prodigy Randy Orton and other members of The Authority. After losing the title CM Punk would feud with his advocate Paul Heyman, that saw him face Heyman's other client Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. WWE officially named the match between Punk and Lesnar as the best match that year on their official website wwe.com.
After Bryan was stripped off the WWE Championship on the Raw following Night of Champions and later removed from his main event push, on several occasions, fans would successfully hijacked segments in which Bryan was either not involved in, or involved only secondarily, with his "Yes!" chant. In the case of the "Championship Ascension Ceremony", the fan's continuing "Yes!" chants would force John Cena to go off-script and acknowledge Bryan (especially since the show was held in Seattle), since that segment was supposed to be about Cena and Randy Orton's impending championship unification match at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs. On December 15, 2013, the World Heavyweight Championship and WWE Championship were unified in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match between Cena and Orton, which would be won by Orton and the unified championship was briefly called the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but wound soon be renamed as just the WWE Championship.
2010: Launch of NXT
On February 23, 2010, WWE launched a new program on SyFy called NXT. The premise of the show was a reality-like show which saw eight 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, now calling themselves The Nexus, 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. 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. NXT lasted for a further three complete seasons, which were won respectively by Kaval, Kaitlyn, and Johnny Curtis. A fifth season, dubbed NXT Redemption, 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.
2014–2016: The Reality Era
The night after the 2014 Royal Rumble, CM Punk quit WWE due to feeling mistreated by officials within the company while also dealing with a misdiagnosed staph infection. Meanwhile, when fan favorite Daniel Bryan's push had been halted by WWE and after the Royal Rumble, fan outrage over the misuse of Bryan's character resulted in an unplanned change for the WrestleMania XXX main event. On the March 24, 2014 episode of Raw, Bryan's rival at the time Triple H dubbed this point in WWE as "The Reality Era" where he acknowledged the Internet and fans being more knowledgeable than ever as well as having more influence on the company than ever before as seen in the Daniel Bryan scenario. Bryan would eventually be inserted into the main event of WrestleMania, capturing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the process. Also 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. Lesnar then went on to defeat John Cena at SummerSlam to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, winning his first WWE title in a decade. The introduction of the WWE Network and the WWE Performance Center were major breakthroughs during this period as well.
WCW legend Sting, who had previously been dubbed the "greatest wrestler to never wrestle in WWE", made his debut at the 2014 Survivor Series and had his first-ever match in WWE at WrestleMania 31 against Triple H, a match he would lose. At the same event, Undertaker returned to defeat Bray Wyatt. Former Shield member Seth Rollins would also find success during this era, going on to win and hold the WWE World Heavyweight Championship for most of 2015 before having to vacate the championship due to injury. This era also saw the retirement of Daniel Bryan, a wildly popular competitor who had previously won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX.
Longtime TNA Impact wrestler and international superstar AJ Styles finally made his debut in WWE at the 2016 Royal Rumble as well. Shane McMahon made his return to WWE television in February 2016, where he would be placed in a Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker at WrestleMania 32 where he lost. WrestleMania 32 in Arlington, Texas (billed as Dallas) garnered the largest crowd to ever attend a WrestleMania event, surpassing a disputed 100,000 attendees. In the main event, Roman Reigns defeated Triple H to capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The Authority officially disbanded on May 1, 2016.
2016–present: The "New" Era
Following WrestleMania 32, major changes occurred in the WWE, as a new beginning for the company was dubbed "The New Era." In its first pay-per-view on May 1, the Payback main event saw Roman Reigns retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against AJ Styles. Later in May 2016, WWE announced that a roster split would take place beginning in July, similar to the one in 2002. The three former members of The Shield: Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins have been heavily featured since the start of the New Era, with all three men exchanging the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Money in the Bank in June 2016.[unreliable source] While the now renamed WWE World Championship would be moved to the SmackDown brand, the new WWE Universal Championship was introduced for the Raw brand, with Finn Bálor becoming the inaugural champion. Besides The Shield, male wrestlers to be prominently featured in the New Era includes AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, Drew McIntyre, Cesaro, Jinder Mahal, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura; along with female wrestlers such as Alexa Bliss, Asuka, Bayley, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Carmella, Natalya, Naomi, Nia Jax and Sasha Banks; and tag teams like Cesaro and Sheamus, Gallows and Anderson, The Hardy Boyz, Heath Slater and Rhyno, The Revival, The Usos and The New Day, whose second reign as champions would be the longest for any tag team championship in WWE history at 483 days.
The Divas division was rebranded as the Women's division and the company introduced a new WWE Women's Championship and retired the Divas Championship. Female Superstars also began receiving more air time for their matches, and begun receiving as much spotlight as male superstars, thus the "New era" has been credited as being the start of the "women's revolution". Shane McMahon would continue to appear in WWE, where he currently serves as SmackDown (rebranded as SmackDown Live with live episodes) Commissioner, while his sister Stephanie served as Raw Commissioner. Shane McMahon is credited with giving this era of the company its name.
On the Raw-branded Hell in a Cell pay-per-view event, Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks made history by not only being in the first WWE pay-per-view event main evented by women, but squaring off in the first ever women's Hell in a Cell match for the renamed Raw Women's Championship (after the creation of the SmackDown Women's Championship), which Flair won.
Around this time, Goldberg briefly returned to WWE and would defeat Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series on November 20 and go on to win the WWE Universal Championship at Fastlane on March 6 against Kevin Owens, before losing it to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 33. Popular tag team The Hardy Boyz (Matt and Jeff Hardy), made their return to WWE in 2017. Top wrestler John Cena became a part timer around this time and lost to Roman Reigns in what is considered as a "passing the torch match" at No Mercy. This would also mark Roman Reigns' rise as the face of the WWE. After WrestleMania 33, Kurt Angle returned to WWE and became the new Raw General Manager. WWE would also go on to establish Braun Strowman as one of the biggest superstars of the company in 2017 after he attacked and injured Reigns during an interview on Raw. Strowman went on to beat down other wrestlers on the roster and have a decisive victory over Reigns at Payback on April 30.
In June 2017, Carmella won the first-ever women's Money in the Bank ladder match at Money in the Bank. However, due to a controversial ending, involving James Ellsworth helping Carmela win the match at the event, a Women's Money in the Bank ladder match rematch was held on the June 27 episode of SmackDown Live, in which Carmella won once again, making her the only woman in history to have won two Women's Money in the Bank ladder matches, both in one year. In January 2018, Asuka won the first ever 30 Women's Royal Rumble match at the Royal Rumble. In February 2018, Alexa Bliss won the first ever women's Elimination Chamber Match at the Elimination Chamber, where she would retained the Raw women’s championship.
At WrestleMania 34, former UFC fighter Ronda Rousey made her WWE in ring debut, teaming with Kurt Angle to defeat Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in a mixed tag team match. Daniel Bryan returned to in ring competition at WrestleMania 34, teaming with Shane McMahon to defeat Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a tag team match. Bobby Lashley made his return to the WWE on the following episode of Raw. At the Greatest Royal Rumble, Braun Strowman won the 50-men Royal Rumble match, the largest royal rumble match in history, where he received the inaugural Greatest Royal Rumble Championship belt as well as a trophy. At the 2018 SummerSlam event, Roman Reigns defeated Brock Lesnar to win the WWE Universal Championship. In October 2018, WWE held their first all women's pay per view WWE Evolution, the main event of which saw Ronda Rousey retain her Raw Women's Championship against Nikki Bella.
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.
Death of Owen Hart
On May 23, 1999, Owen Hart fell to his death in Kansas City, Missouri during the Over the Edge pay-per-view event. 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 his Blue 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.
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.
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. The cause of death was later revealed to be internal bleeding from blunt force trauma.
Legends program and the 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, the WWE Network, WWE's over-the-top streaming service and the success of career retrospective home video releases such as The Ultimate Ric Flair Collection, Roddy Piper: Born to Controversy, and Brian Pillman: Loose Cannon have ingrained WWE's modern 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. WWE will also offer a select group of former or retired WWE wrestlers, billing them publicly as "WWE Legends", contracts to make periodic appearances—either on WWE TV or for promotional events—and to serve as "Ambassadors" (public representatives/spokespeople) for the company.
Death of 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.
Chris Benoit's double-murder and suicide
On 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.
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:
|“||Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Last night on Monday Night Raw, the WWE presented a special tribute show, recognizing the career of Chris Benoit. However, now some 26 hours later, the facts of this horrific tragedy are now apparent. Therefore, other than my comments, there will be no mention of Mr. Benoit's name tonight. On the contrary, tonight's show will be dedicated to everyone who has been affected by this terrible incident. This evening marks the first step of the healing process. Tonight, WWE performers will do what they do better than anyone else in the world: entertain you.||”|
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. After Benoit's death, the WWE began to tone down the violence, swearing and sexual content of their product.
Social media and WWE HD
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. Despite a heightened popularity the site was shut down on January 1, 2011 and has since replaced with WWE InterAction. 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".
In July 2012, WWE invested $5 million into Tout, and a month later released an official app. In 2013, WWE's main Twitter account was cited as one of the top 25 most engaged brands on the website. 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.
In September 2011, WWE officially announced plans to launch the WWE Network in time for WrestleMania XXVIII. WWE's official website featured a countdown clock that would have expired on April 1, 2012 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". 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.
Despite #CancelWWENetwork 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 its continued growth, reaching 1 million subscribers the very same week.
Pink Ribbon campaigning
Starting in October 2012, WWE formed a partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure to promote breast cancer awareness. As part of the campaign, WWE adorned their sets with pink ribbons, put up a pink middle rope on the ring, filmed numerous PSAs, and sold special John Cena "Rise Above Cancer" merchandise. 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 October 29, 2012 episode of Raw. The widespread pinkwashing continued into 2013 and every year since, this time with a wider variety of Superstar merchandising.
In April 2017, WWE became embroiled in a scandal concerning the company allowing certain employees to harass others, most notably John Bradshaw Layfield. According to multiple sources including Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer, hazing is something which is encouraged by the higher ups in the company and has been going on since the company's inception.
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