History of WWE
|Founded||January 7, 1952|
|Owner(s)||Vince McMahon (1982-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 finally 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
- 2 World Wrestling Federation
- 3 World Wrestling Entertainment
- 4 Other
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
World Wide Wrestling Federation
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. 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.
In April of that year, Rogers was awarded the new WWWF World Championship following 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.
A month after Rogers lost the championship to Bruno Sammartino in a New York City match that lasted 48 seconds, 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. 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.
The WWWF was relatively conservative for territories 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 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. 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. 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. Later that year, The Mongols created controversy after they left the WWWF with the WWWF International Tag Team Championship. 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).
World Wrestling Federation
1982–1993: The Golden Age
In 1980, Vincent K. McMahon, the son of Vincent J. McMahon, founded Titan Sports, Inc. and applied for the initials WWF. In 1982, 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. 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 any promotion under the AWA or the NWA.
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 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 when he was announced as the number one contender for the Iron Sheik's WWF Championship. He defeated 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.
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. This angered other promoters and disrupted the well-established 'boundaries' of the different wrestling promotions. The syndication of WWF programming forced promotions to come into direct competition with WWF. The increased revenue allowed McMahon to sign more talent, such as Randy "Macho Man" 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. 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 'sports entertainment' concept, 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). 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. After Ted Turner purchased majority of JCP's assets, the promotion would eventually become World Championship Wrestling (WCW), providing WWF with a competitor until 2001, when WCW and its trademarks were legitimately purchased by WWF. WrestleMania would become an annual pay-per-view phenomenon, being broadcast in nearly 150 countries and in almost 20 different languages.
McMahon's focus on entertainment rather than sports, a policy that became the concept of sports entertainment, led to great financial success for WWF. 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. Hogan's time as face of WWF would last until he left in 1993. Hogan was not the sole reason for success of WWF, but rather the company's biggest draw. Other stars such as Piper, Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, Steamboat, Roberts, Orndorff, Volkoff and the Iron Sheik all helped make WWF a financial success. 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.
The 1980s 'Wrestling Boom' peaked with WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome, which set an attendance record of 93,173. McMahon used the success of WrestleMania to create more pay-per-views, and traditions such as SummerSlam, Survivor Series and Royal Rumble were created, each with its unique stipulation match.
1993–1997: The New Generation
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 promising to expose "the dark, corrupt underbelly", claimed McMahon distributed steroids "like candy", and that he 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".
After the trial, with business down following the loss of Hulk Hogan in 1993 to rival WCW, now owned by Ted Turner, WWF decided to push younger stars into the spotlight. Stars like Bret "Hitman" Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Razor Ramon, Diesel, Lex Luger, Yokozuna, Owen Hart all became the stars of what WWF branded the "New Generation". New WWF Champion Bret Hart became one of the popular stars of this period until early 1996 when he lost a 60-minute Iron Man match to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII for the WWF Championship. Hart would take some time off and return to action later that year. Meanwhile, WWF saw an unlikely draw in the form of Stone Cold Steve Austin, who previously wrestled in WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). Austin would begin his rise to popularity with the fans beginning with his King of the Ring win and famous 'Austin 3:16' speech, in reference to John 3:16 of the Bible. Despite wrestling as a heel, Austin's popularity exceeded those of the top faces in the promotion. His face turn went full circle at WrestleMania 13, when he lost to Bret Hart in a submission match via knockout, having vowed never to tap out to Hart's Sharpshooter. However, Austin's career push was marred by a neck injury sustained at SummerSlam 1997 when Owen Hart botched a piledriver during their match for the WWF Intercontinental Championship.
This period of time were known for the Monday Night Wars. In 1993, WWF created their prime time cable TV program WWF Monday Night Raw on the USA Network. Two years later, WCW countered with WCW Monday Nitro on TNT. In mid-1996, WCW began its two years of ratings domination, principally caused by the introduction of the New World Order (nWo), a stable led by former WWF performers Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash.
In the mid-1990s, WWF continued to lose much of its leading talent to WCW, including Ted DiBiase, Curt Hennig, Rick Rude and reigning WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze. Bret Hart, having just signed a long-term contract with WWF, began to doubt his future with the promotion when WCW offered him a more lucrative deal. At the 1997 Survivor Series, a real-life controversy occurred when McMahon forced referee Earl Hebner to call for the bell to ring and end the match as Shawn Michaels held Hart in the Sharpshooter submission hold (which was Hart's signature finishing move), even though Hart was close to reversing the hold. Michaels was declared the winner of the match and the new WWF Champion. Hart left WWF and joined rivals WCW. This incident was later known as the Montreal Screwjob. After that incident, McMahon created the "Mr. McMahon" character; a villainous dictatorial persona used to improvise on the heat McMahon received from costing Hart the match.
On December 15, 1997, Vince McMahon aired a promo on Raw Is War addressing the audience on a new direction the company was taking. He stated WWF had embarked on a 'far more innovative and contemporary campaign', which would advise parent discretion for a younger audience. A month before, WWF débuted the 'scratch' logo which would be the company's signature throughout the Attitude Era. Soon after, to regain popularity, they replaced former WWF talent with former WCW talent such as Stone Cold Steve Austin whose rise in popularity hadn't been seen since that of Hogan in the 80's.
1997–2002: The Attitude Era
In January 1998, WWF brought in boxer Mike Tyson to their shows and placed him in a storyline feud involving him and D-Generation X (at that time consisting of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Chyna) against Austin, though Tyson would eventually turn on DX at WrestleMania XIV and help begin Austin's first reign as WWF Champion. 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 fortify its tag team division.
Stone Cold Steve Austin would become the company's most popular star at the time and Austin's feud with Mr McMahon helped WWF rebound in its ratings and popularity, with Raw finally beating Nitro for the first time in 84 weeks. 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.
The Attitude Era saw WWF expand its television coverage and its business structure. During this period, WWF's parent company Titan Sports was renamed World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. (WWF, Inc. or WWF) and on October 19, 1999 became a publicly traded company, offering 10 million shares priced at US$17 each, and began trading on the New York Stock Exchange in October 2000.
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.
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/Angle/Stephanie McMahon love triangle, and a TLC feud between the Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian, and the Dudley Boyz. The remainder of the year saw matches and angles such as The Hardy Boyz defeating Edge & Christian in a ladder match at No Mercy 1999 to earn $15,000 and Terri Runnels' managing services, and Stone Cold Steve Austin being run over by Rikishi with a limousine at Survivor Series 1999.
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 his wife and 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. In the weeks leading up to No Mercy 2000, Stone Cold 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.
2001–2002: The WCW/ECW "Alliance" Invasion and the nWo
In the InVasion storyline, Shane McMahon (kayfabe) acquired World Championship Wrestling (WCW) 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 (as it was called) turned out to be a disappointment. One reason was that many of WCW's big name stars were 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'. 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.
After WWF bought WCW in 2001, Vince McMahon brought back Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall to reunite the nWo, at the No Way Out pay-per-view on 17 February 2002, in response to having to (kayfabe) co-own WWF with Ric Flair, and wanting to 'inject' WWF with 'a lethal dose of poison'. Over time, more members joined the nWo such as X-Pac Big Show, Booker T, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair and Goldust as semi-members. The storyline failed when WWF fans refused to recognize Hogan as a heel.
World Wrestling Entertainment
In 2002, a lawsuit initiated by the World Wildlife Fund over the trademark of WWF was settled in favor of the Wildlife Fund over the misuse of a previously agreed upon usage for the trademark. World Wrestling Federation was forced to rename/rebrand itself, and in May 2002 the company changed its business name to World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., shortened to WWE. Shortly thereafter, they eliminated all elements that used the term Federation, and this affected licensed merchandise such as action figures, video games, and home videos with the WWF "scratch" logo. The company adopted a new "scratch" logo and to facilitate public awareness of the change, WWE adopted the slogan "Get the 'F' Out". The last-ever WWF-branded pay-per-view event was the UK-exclusive Insurrextion 2002. WWE Studios was formed in 2002 as WWE Films,
2002–2007: Ruthless Aggression Era
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, the shows were given separate on-screen General Managers and eventually, after Brock Lesnar announced himself exclusive property of the SmackDown brand and 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. Shortly thereafter Vince McMahon officially dubbed the new era as "Ruthless Aggression".
Two of the top stars of the Attitude Era, Steve Austin and The Rock, left the company and were eventually replaced by newcomers such as Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton, who became the youngest WWE Champion and the youngest World Heavyweight Champion respectively, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, and Batista, while the likes of Kurt Angle, Edge, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, JBL and Rob Van Dam were also given main event opportunities. Shawn Michaels returns as wrestler after four years of injury. Throughout 2002 and 2003, WWE attempted to bring to prominence several WCW stars, such as the nWo, Eric Bischoff, Booker T, Scott Steiner, Goldberg and Ric Flair. The Great American Bash, originally a WCW pay-per-view event, made a return in WWE.
The biggest breakout star of this time period was John Cena. Using a gimmick of a rapper, 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, and featuring on the poster of the 2004 Royal Rumble. At WrestleMania 21, Cena won the first of his 15 world championships 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 400 wishes as of February 2014.
Following the short-term return of Hogan in 2005, the popular 90's group D-Generation X reunited with founding members Triple H and Shawn Michaels in 2006 and had 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.
Money in the Bank
The concept for the Money in the Bank match was introduced in March 2005 by Chris Jericho. He 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 the inaugural match, and since, the match has been seen as a way to help elevate new stars to the main event, with winners such as Edge, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Alberto Del Rio helping to fill the void left by the departures of former stars. The match format was originally exclusive to the annual WrestleMania until 2010, when the Money in the Bank PPV débuted. To date, only two superstars have failed to cash-in successfully - John Cena and Damien Sandow. Edge and CM Punk are the only superstars to have 'cashed in' twice, while CM Punk is the only two-time winner of the Money In The Bank Ladder match.
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'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: The Universe Era
Beginning in 2008, WWE quietly phased away with blood, language and sexual content, reverting from TV-14 to TV-PG, becoming a more family-oriented program. 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. In 2010, Bret Hart returned to WWE after a 13-year absence, where he reconciled with Shawn Michaels on screen. At WrestleMania XXVI, Michaels retired following a loss to The Undertaker. Fellow 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. He started a cross-generational feud with John Cena, defeating him in a match one year later at WrestleMania XXVIII.
The 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 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. 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 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.
In 2011, CM Punk, who had become a top star during the summer, due to his now infamous 'Pipebomb,' defeated Alberto Del Rio at Survivor Series, and would hold the 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. The Rock carried the title until he was defeated by John Cena at WrestleMania 29 in a rematch from their bout the previous year.
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. 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. Around this time new superstars were pushed to the spotlight such as CM Punk, Alberto Del Rio, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, and Sheamus.
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 given the new name WWE World Heavyweight Championship. In early 2014, Triple H officially dubbed it the "Reality Era", in regards to referencing non-kayfabe situations played on-screen, such as real-life relationships and/or marriages between superstars or real-life disputes, such as the departure of CM Punk. Further supporting the claim to the "Reality Era" claim, came in a 2015 interview on Stone Cold Steve Austin's podcast with Triple H, in which Triple H acknowledged "kayfabe is dead", with so much people knowing future outcomes and "being smarter than ever" with dirtsheets and the WWE Network interviews. 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 Orton and Dave Batista to win the WWE World Championship. 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 given high caliber feuds and matches.
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. 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. Also at WrestleMania 31, The Undertaker defeated Bray Wyatt, earning him his 22nd win at WrestleMania.
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, 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 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.
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 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.
The 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
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.
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.
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 $5m 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. The network reached 1 million subscribers in January 2015.
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 reaching a milestone of over 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 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 29 October 2012 episode of Raw. The widespread pinkwashing continued into 2013, this time with a wider variety of Superstar merchandising.
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