The new era of WWE is here and we have reason for optimism. Following the success of WrestleMania 32, WWE felt it was the right time to regroup and start fresh with a new outlook. The direction of the show is meant to feature new stars, new matches, and an overall new feel to the program. One of the biggest issues with WWE over the past few years was the stale product featuring the same matches constantly. A couple of unfortunate situations put WWE in a bad spot that showed how badly they needed new stars.
CM Punk walking out, Daniel Bryan retiring and the staggering injury issues to other main event stars like John Cena, Randy Orton and Seth Rollins decimated the roster. Things looked bleak for WrestleMania 32 and WWE was forced to bring Shane McMahon out of exile to add some name value. Shane-O-Mac was so beloved by the fans that Vince McMahon made the call to keep his son around in a storyline with Stephanie McMahon. While we don’t need the McMahon family drama dominating the angles once again like fifteen years ago, the change has been great by providing a more entertaining program with exciting additions to the show.
WWE’s branding of The New Era makes it certain that they are going to present a genuine change in the approach to the product. The emphasis on new talent means we’re going to see some big pushes for young talent. It will not totally be “out with the old and in with the new” as some veterans provide great value such as John Cena and the part-timers. The one thing that is definitely interesting will be seeing which Superstars succeed and which will flounder with the even playing field creating new opportunity. We’ll look at eight specific wrestlers that will thrive and eight that will fail during the changes of the new era coming to the WWE.
16 Fail: Sheamus
Sheamus's WWE career has absolutely peaked and there’s no way he will be able to get back to the WWE World Championship position. It was risky enough giving him a title run in 2015 before quickly dropping it back to Roman Reigns as a pure transitional champion. Sheamus just lacks a certain special “it factor” that allows him to connect with the fan base and it works against him being a major player. WWE loves him but The New Era is going to make Sheamus fall even further back in the pecking order with the landscape changing. Sheamus is going downhill and he’s going to be relegated to the lower midcard. His clean loss to Sami Zayn on RAW was a clear indication of what is to come.
15 Thrive: Sami Zayn
NXT’s rise in creating new stars is giving Superstars an established identity by the time they debut on the main roster. A large percentage of the fans were familiar with Sami Zayn when he arrived on RAW to feud with Kevin Owens and challenge for the Intercontinental Championship. Zayn’s naturally likable personality and his knack for having superb matches endear him to the viewers. It is hard to say if he will ever be able to become a main eventer or future WWE World Champion but he is on a good path at the moment. Zayn is going to be one of the most beloved faces on the roster and one of the top stars of the new era.
14 Fail: Dana Brooke
Dana Brooke is the definition of average when it comes to what fans expect from women’s wrestling today. Anyone better than Brooke should be considered good and anyone worse should be considered bad. She does have the potential to get better, but the quick call-up from NXT isn’t going to help. Dana isn’t on the level of most of the other top women’s division stars and it is going to be a tough task for her to get over. Her role as Charlotte’s bodyguard is fine but it will be nearly impossible for her to become a credible talent on her own when they eventually split.
13 Thrive: Baron Corbin
Baron Corbin's booking has already shown flaws as he gets acclimated to the main roster. Corbin has gradually improved during his time in NXT and shows an aptitude for understanding how to play a successful heel character. Hopefully a new opponent after Dolph Ziggler will allow him to showcase how good he can be because WWE definitely believes in him. As one of the very few ex-NFL players to succeed in the Performance Center, Corbin is going to get every chance to make it on the main roster and he’s good enough to do it. Don’t be surprised if Corbin is an upper-midcarder or lower tier main eventer by 2017.
12 Fail: The Vaudevillains
Most of the NXT stars coming up to the main roster have an act that connects with fans but things are a little different for The Vaudevillains. The throwback Vaudeville-era tag team of Aiden English and Simon Gotch has talent but their bizarre gimmick is a little tough to take seriously. They weren’t among the most popular performers making their debut on the main roster and were a choice that confused fans. The trajectory of The Vaudevillains will likely see them lose a couple of tag title shots against New Day before falling off the radar. Gotch and English are bound to end up floundering like The Ascension rather than thriving in the new era.
11 Thrive: Bray Wyatt
The early stages of The New Era in April gave us an insight into what performers WWE believes will blossom into stars. Bray Wyatt turned face and helped Roman Reigns defeat The League of Nations. The character remained the same but Wyatt was clearly being transitioned into a fan favorite. An injury put Wyatt on the shelf, so we never got to really find out what his direction was but it makes sense that he will be portrayed as a wrestler of the people. Reigns and Wyatt have been rumored to be having a big match in the near future. The new fan dynamic with shades of grey would see Wyatt serve as the unlikely anti-hero that fans rally behind and he is on pace to become a WWE World Champion in the new era.
10 Fail: Tyler Breeze
Things are not going very well for Tyler Breeze. The longtime NXT star made his debut in 2015 and was instantly relegated to the lower card. You likely will only find Breeze jobbing on SmackDown or wrestling in competitive matches on Superstars and Main Event these days. Many wrestlers are hoping to revamp their character and get a new opportunity with the branding of The New Era but Breeze is unlikely to be one of the few that will thrive. Vince McMahon clearly doesn’t think Breeze is a special talent and nothing will change that given how deep the talent roster is right now. Maybe a brand split will revitalize the former NXT star.
9 Thrive: Rusev
Rusev is already benefiting from The New Era by losing the weight that was the League of Nations. Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus and Wade Barrett were at the point of no return in how they would be presented and that faction had no relevancy. Rusev took a big loss by having to be a part of the failing faction but the recent split has given him momentum once again. The LoN days and losing Lana as his manager/significant other on television for a few months badly damaged Rusev, but he is officially back. With Lana at his side and the ability to show more personality, Rusev won the United States Championship again and is ready to thrive with a new opportunity to move into the top heel tier. A brand extension will further benefit the Bulgarian brute.
8 Fail: Paige
Fans are more demanding of the women’s division now thanks to the likes of Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch spoiling us. Paige is someone that has suffered from the rise of new talents after her debut as the top new female star. Paige's skill-set is more of a mix between the prior and current women’s wrestling movements. She doesn’t have the same skillset as the stars that people want to see and it’s leaving her off television. Paige will get another chance due to her young age but she just doesn’t appear to be able to keep up with Banks or Lynch in having a stellar match that is capable of stealing any show.
7 Thrive: Finn Balor
His loss of the NXT Championship and the current storyline between A.J. Styles and The Club signifies Finn Balor is on his way up to the main roster very soon. Balor has been arguably the hottest star in NXT for over a year and his call up to the main roster is a long time in the making. His long path to the big leagues and an established storyline will work in Balor’s favor. It is a safe bet he will become the new leader of The Club along with Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. A feud between Balor and Styles is the best way to debut and Balor is bound to thrive in The New Era.
6 Fail: Randy Orton
Randy Orton has been stagnant for years and a return after time away won’t help too much. We all know what Orton is and what he can do in the ring. His work is impressive but not as dynamic as other main event stars and he’s not as exciting to watch as the new talent coming up. Orton is stuck in a middle ground that will see him fade away in the last few years of his career as an active performer. Orton should most likely be used to put over new stars and serve as a midcarder with less emphasis on his stature as a former top star. Randy will need to reinvent himself in order to survive.
5 Thrive: Enzo and Big Cass
The tag team division may finally be back up on the map thanks to The New Day and the addition of NXT’s greatest duo. Enzo Amore and Big Cass are the essential tag team where both men have the strengths that the other lacks. Big Cass is a monster of a man that realistically kicks more ass than anyone else on the roster. Enzo has the gift of the gab and can out-talk anyone on a microphone. They were hits the first night they debuted on the main roster on the RAW following WrestleMania. Fans buy into them as being the next great tag team in WWE and they are going to be major players in The New Era of the WWE.
4 Fail: Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio’s return towards the end of 2015 was the biggest missed opportunity in quite some time and he is already painfully boring. No one gets excited to see Del Rio come to the ring and that’s not something that can be easily fixed. Nothing WWE can do will solve this and he is going to fail miserably in The New Era with exciting talent coming up. ADR’s strength is having good matches but all of the new stars do that in a much more exciting fashion. Like Orton, Del Rio will be forced to reivent himself in order to keep up with the new era talent.
3 Thrive: Sasha Banks
The women’s division needs Sasha Banks at the top to take strides forward. Banks is the fans choice and for good reason, due to her incredible body of work. Her classic matches against Bayley and Becky Lynch in NXT made Sasha stand out as the top women’s wrestler in the WWE and perhaps the world. There’s no doubt the company is waiting for the right moment to have Sasha take the new Women’s Champion from Charlotte in a singles match. Banks has yet to be pinned or made to submit on the main roster. The future of the women’s division will have Sasha Banks as the face of the movement. For now, however, Charlotte is doing one heck of a job establishing herself as a mega heel for the company.
2 Fail: Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler was once viewed as the most talented star in the WWE that everyone wanted to see ascend into the World Title picture. Today, that's no longer the case. Ziggler has been downgraded into a lower card name meant to put over new stars such as Baron Corbin. The ZigMan making changes to his hair, gear and attitude has harmed him with negative results. No one can cheer for a guy making bad jokes while rocking horrible hairstyles on a nightly basis. Sadly, Ziggler has fallen behind in The New Era.
1 Thrive: Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens is the first man since The Undertaker to have an appearance on every PPV in his first year in WWE and the only person to wrestle a match on each show. WWE has started to invest more into Owens as seen with his recent main event match against A.J. Styles on RAW. Owens should be considered the Money in the Bank match favorite with his momentum continuing every week. Many would argue KO is the most complete performer on the show today with highly entertaining promos and great matches each show. The sky is the limit for Kevin Owens and he is bound to become a future World Champion as a top star of the new era. He will thrive.