For nearly 60 years, the world of professional wrestling has brought excitement to generations of families in the US and around the globe, rivaled only by the likes of America’s pastime and the gridiron gangs who play on Sundays. But it was the 1970s which saw a new kind of draw to the ring made more popular by the WWF (now known as the WWE). Led by Vince McMahon, the sport has introduced bigger-than-life WWE champions such as Andre the Giant Bruno Sammartino, and, perhaps, the most revered and recognized figure in the history of professional wrestling, Hulk Hogan. The men brought the show to a new level inducing a fandom that stretched around the world, and catapulted its merchandising program to heights unrivaled in the industry. Apparel, action figures, even a morning cartoon was produced as a result of the widespread excitement of the WWE and its adoring WWE champions.
The Original WWE Champions
Hulk Hogan was the foundation in which the WWE was built, and to argue that would be a difficult task at best. Hogan was so iconic, so marketable in the 1980s, Vince McMahon, the founder of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) kept him off the weekend matches only to save him for the main events in an effort to build the anticipation and drama that was to be his next match. And it worked, especially upon the creation of WrestleMania, an annual event which brought together the WWE’s most popular and successful wrestlers together for a night of championship matches including one-on-ones, tag teams, and battle royals when 20 men faced off to fight until there was only one left standing. The event was so popular that in 1987, more than 93,000 people packed the Pontiac Silverdome, the largest recorded attendance of an indoor sporting event in North America at the time. The people came to see Hulk Hogan against Andre the Giant, with Hogan coming out on top.
The rivalry between the two titans shaped the WWE and gave it a launching pad for future generations to embrace.
Introducing WWE Raw
With interest soaring, McMahon introduced a new dynamic in showcasing his top talent in the ring each and every week on Monday nights, while simultaneously injecting their characters into unique and compelling story lines filled with petty drama, quarrels and cliff hangers keeping the viewer hanging on every body slam to the canvas. The event was WWE Raw, or Monday Night Raw. The show has hit over 170 cities and towns worldwide, and broadcasted on TNT, Spike TV, and now currently being aired on the USA Network. Thanks to the invention of the WWE Network, countries able to see the event live include the United Kingdom and Ireland, Italy, India, Latin America, Canada, the Middle East and South Africa.
Formed in January of 2014, the WWE Network is a video streaming service that allows viewers the chance the watch their favorite wrestlers on demand. Events shown include WWE Pay-Per-View Live, WWE Main Event, WWE NXT, and more. The exposure reaches around the world benefiting WWE Raw a great deal.
Since its inception, WWE Raw has advanced the WWE by introducing new stars and, more importantly, a new generation of WWE champions including with Brock Lesnar, a transplant from the Ultimate Fighter Championship arena. Fittingly, Lesner debuted as a villain in 2002, and in that same year became the WWE champion. He held the title for close to a year before subsequently losing a match against Triple H, another dynamic wrestler and former champion, and walking away. Lesnar later returned to the WWE, but failed to recapture the magic of previous years after a series of injuries sustained in the ring.
The “Raw Brand” saw Seth Rollins, a two-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, and three-time WWE Raw Tag Team Champion. Rollins captivated audiences on his own with his undying energy and gritty look, but spent a good part of his career as a prominent member of The Shield—a three-member wrecking crew that also included Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. After a successful couple of years, Rollins made the choice to leave The Shield and become a villain where, at one point, faced off with John Cena and Brock Lesnar in a triple threat match that saw Lesnar taking home the title. Like many of his opponents and allies, Rollins developed a feud with Triple H., but only after the controversial board member helped Rollins in a four-way elimination match to become WWE Universal Champion. Then, in a strange turn of events, Triple H turned on him by giving him a pedigree, thus allowing Kevin Owens to win the championship, turning Rollins into a fan favorite. Most recently on an episode of WWE Raw, Rollins reunited with The Shield and participated in a seven-man gauntlet match Roman Reigns, John Cena, Finn Bálor, Elias, The Miz and Braun Strowman. A gauntlet match, not to be confused with a gauntlet blitz, is when two wrestlers begin the match with each loser being replace with another wrestler. Rollins lasted a record 65 minutes before falling to Elias.
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WWE Champions For The Decades
Perhaps the name most synonymous with WWE champions, at least in the last decade would be John Cena. The Miz. Cena made his debut in 2002, and though he came up short in his first match, he instantly became a fan favorite as he stood out from the pack with his size, strength and tenacity. In an effort to embroil him into the WWE culture without delay, he began feuding with other wrestlers including Chris Jericho, who he eventually defeated one-on-one. He then teamed with Edge, a Canadian born athlete, in a losing effort against Los Guerreros, thus ending the feud in its tracks. Though he tasted defeat early on in his career, the sky was the limit for Cena. Between his first appearance for the WWE and the present day, the prolific body slammer has taken home the title a record nine times. He stands today as a free agent and has recently qualified for a WWE Universal Championship title match at WrestleMania 34, at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view event.
Right there with John Cena is Dwayne Johnson, also known as the Rock, a mega star with a football and acting background. The Rock is a dynamic superstar in the ring with a massive following, and an essential part of the WWE equation and has been since he first entered the ring in 1996. Several victories and WWE championships later, the Rock is entering the latter stages of his career but continues to maintain a strong presence with the WWE and its fans.
To date, WWE Raw remains a strong presence with a massive following of new fans becoming attracted to the sport of professional wrestling and the WWE relentlessly. The show also does an exceptional job by casting on-air personalities who do a remarkable job engaging the viewers in the storyline, who, at times, become part of the storylines themselves along with rind announcers and members of the WWE staff. And that includes men and women, because without the women, professional wrestling would not be what it is today.
WWE Divas Changing The Game
WWE Divas have been present since early days by managing or escorting the men to the edge of the ropes before each match, now play a much more pivotal role in the success of the WWE. Known as the WWE Divas, they bring a special brand of beauty, grit and athleticism rarely seen in mainstream sports. And make no mistake, they’re every bit as tough and fearless as the men.
Miss Elizabeth was a professional manager of WWE champions, who also wrestled on occasion during the 1980s. She was more known for her representation of Randy “Macho Man” Savage, but stunned the crowds with her beauty and glamour, and was a perfect complement to Savage’s brute look and flamboyance he brought to every match. Miss Elizabeth was a key figure and character as she’d often become locked in a story involving jealousy and agitation of other wrestlers causing feuds and mayhem across the WWE. She was just what the doctor ordered, and thus became a trailblazer as more and more WWE Divas began to appear with more expanded roles inside and outside the ring.
It was in 1993 though when the WWE reinstated the Women’s Championship leaving open the chance for Alundra Blayze, also known as Madusa, to capture the title—and she did, by pinning Heidi Lee Morgan and becoming one of the most prolific WWE champions. As appearances went, Madusa embraced a more rugged look with less glamour and more intimidation to play the role as badass, and it worked. She among the most successful WWE Divas in history, and, as a result, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2015.
From there, there was an explosion of WWE Divas eager to join the ranks of the world’s best, including one Chyna.
Generations Of WWE Divas
Chyna had burst onto the scene in 1996 as part of the WWE “Attitude Era,” bringing a tough and rebellious character to the ever changing plot, and though her career was short lived with her last match recorded in 2001, she held several titles as champion and became the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble. As such, Chyna, along with the legacy left behind by Miss Elizabeth, became the turn keys that opened the door to a whole new generation of WWE Divas, newly named the Total Divas. Chyna, in fact, was so formidable she wrestled males as well.
This crop of female wrestlers have become intertwined in the storyline with other male wrestlers and garner as much excitement and attention as their male counterpart WWE champions. That goes without saying when the name Sable comes up. She encompassed everything the fans look for in WWE Divas: she was a model, actress, who had no fear of jumping from the top rope. With the Women’s Championship now up for grabs, Sable seized the opportunity with a title shot at WrestleMania XV and defeating newcomer Tori to become WWE Champion.
WWE Divas now grace the cover of magazines, showing off their beauty and becoming sex symbols as well as WWE champions. The evolution of WWE Divas has now come full circle from the days of ‘beauty queen’ Miss Elizabeth, to Madusa, to wresters like Barbara Jean “Barbie” Blank who was previously a Hawaiian Tropic and Venus Swimwear bikini model. Models are the new standard, not without the ability to wrestle, it’s that combination that makes these special athletes what they are.
Today, Alexa Bliss holds the WWE Raw Women’s Championship. Bliss’ likability and beauty landed her a role in the movie Total Divas starring a host of other WWE Divas including JoJo, Alicia Fox, Nia Jax, and so many more.
The WWE is a fixture in millions of households, and has been for decades. And the allure of the stars who slam each other between the ropes seems to expand with all new WWE champions introduced to the ring. Professional wrestling will live on in the arenas, the television and in the hearts and minds of their fans.
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