World Wrestling Entertainment pressed the figurative reset button in early 2016. What began as a simple enough storyline involving a feud between a father and son unofficially kicked off what the WWE is referring to as its “New Era.” While it is true that the WWE has a history of attempting to get trademarks and brand names over with fans -- how do you all feel about the phrase “WWE Universe” these days? -- the New Era is not just new in name only. The New Era has, thus far, brought with it multiple massive changes that will affect everything from cable broadcasts to special events featured on the WWE Network to what has been the company’s developmental brand. It is a new day indeed for the WWE, and we aren’t referring to the beloved trio that did well to turn a terrible gimmick into a group adored by fans.
The WWE has seemingly been chasing its own tail and going in circles since the spring of 2001 when the promotion purchased World Championship Wrestling and ended the so-called “Monday Night Wars.” Pro wrestling in North America has never been as popular as it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and nothing the WWE has done over the 15 years has generated business as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley and Triple H did during that time. This New Era that the WWE embraced is, in some ways, an attempt to correct all the WWE got wrong following the death of WCW. Fans everywhere have to hope mistakes made in the past won’t be repeated this time around.
15 Brand Split
Without question, the biggest change of the New Era to hit the WWE has to be the brand split that will separate the rosters featured on episodes of Raw and SmackDown. WWE fans saw this movie play out last decade. It did not end well. Fans received SmackDown with open arms and accepted it as the “wrestling show” during the early days of the experiment, but it did not take long to see that Raw was the mothership and the television darling of the company.
14 Separate Pay-Per-Views
The brand split separating the Raw and SmackDown rosters in July 2016 is about more than just the cable shows. It has been learned that the WWE is planning on running separate pay-per-view events for the two rosters similar to what occurred during the company’s original brand split.
13 Authority is Gone, Kinda/Sorta
Ever since WWE Chairman Vince McMahon explained that “Bret screwed Bret” following the events of the infamous “Montreal Screwjob,” the WWE has repeatedly gone back to storylines that featured heel authority figures. That is technically no longer the case thanks to the New Era.
12 Cruiserweight Classic
Not every massive change affecting the WWE during the New Era involves the main roster. This one involves a tournament featured on the WWE Network. The Cruiserweight Classic is a competition that showcases competitors currently not signed long-term to the WWE and thus it theoretically has presented those wrestlers with opportunities to impress WWE scouts and others within the company.
11 Cruiserweight Division
It does not seem like it was all that long ago when “push the cruiserweights!” became the comedic rallying cry of WWE fans posting on Internet forums. Those of you who believed in that mantra with all of your hearts should love this part of the New Era.
10 Relationship with the UFC
Those of us who do not work for either the WWE or the UFC know little about this part of the New Era. It’s no secret that the two companies agreed to terms on a deal that allowed WWE performer Brock Lesnar to fight against Mark Hunt at UFC 200. It has since been speculated that Paige VanZant could play a role at a WWE show in the future.
9 SmackDown Live
The biggest single entity affected by all that has occurred during the New Era would have to be SmackDown and the team that works on that show. SmackDown has moved over to Tuesday nights. Like Raw, SmackDown will also air live for the majority of shows unless otherwise indicated by the WWE.
8 Dean Ambrose
Everything was lined up for a future program involving Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins feuding over the WWE Championship this coming summer. That changed, however, after Rollins won the title from Reigns, only for Rollins to then drop that championship to Dean Ambrose.
7 Seth Rollins
Either something changed with a few WWE storylines, or certain people within the company do not watch shows that air on the WWE Network. Seth Rollins was set to make his return to the WWE following WrestleMania of this year and following a serious knee injury that he suffered in November 2015.
6 A.J. Styles
It is understandable if you forgot that A.J. Styles appearing at the 2016 Royal Rumble and becoming one of the top acts on the WWE main roster presented a preview of what was to come during the New Era. It was, after all, only a couple of years ago when even the thought of the WWE pushing a Total Nonstop Action Wrestling performer such as Styles in main event roles would have been nothing short of ridiculous.
5 Mauro Ranallo
An announce team can make or break a wrestling show. The WWE changed gears and went in a different direction in early 2016 when the company named Mauro Ranallo as the lead announcer for its SmackDown show. Ranallo’s resume is impressive and includes the play-by-play man calling mixed martial arts events, boxing matches and professional wrestling shows.
4 Mick Foley
Perhaps we all should have known that Mick Foley would make a return to WWE programming during the New Era. Foley and his family members are scheduled to be stars of a reality television program that will air on the WWE Network. It would, thus, make sense that the WWE would want to push Foley on a show watched by millions of viewers and by people who have not yet subscribed to the WWE Network.
3 Daniel Bryan
One of the saddest events of the WWE year occurred in February when Daniel Bryan, the ultimate underdog who became a fan-favorite and World Champion, announced on an edition of Raw that he had to retire as a worker due to issues caused by the concussions he suffered during his wrestling career.
2 Dismantling of NXT
NXT became far more than just a developmental brand over the past few years. It evolved into the WWE’s version of an independent promotion. During that time, NXT featured popular wrestlers such as the trio who went on to form The Shield, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley, American Alpha and others.
1 Return of Shane McMahon
All would do well to remember that much of what we are seeing in the WWE today is a direct result of Shane McMahon making a return to WWE programming and McMahon being so well-received by fans. There was no indication during McMahon’s first few weeks back in the company that he was going be any sort of on-air authority figure. Any hope that McMahon would stick around for the long-term were seemingly dashed when he lost to The Undertaker at WrestleMania 32.
Vince McMahon nevertheless allowed Shane to run Raw in storyline following WrestleMania and the rest is history. Shane and Stephanie McMahon are now involved in a feud that features Shane running SmackDown and Stephanie running Raw. Who would have guessed back on January 1st of this year that Shane-O-Mac would return to the WWE and be an over babyface in the summer of 2016? Not many. It turns out that anything can, in fact, happen in the WWE.
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