Hulk Hogan. The Rock. Steve Austin. The Undertaker. All names that have surpassed the label of ‘superstar’ and become something even greater. WWE have made a habit of producing household names throughout the years, spanning all the way back to the 1980s when professional wrestling started to become mainstream. Pretty much everyone in the main event scene was considered a megastar, even those who rarely found themselves competing for the WWE Championship. The famous Attitude Era brought plenty of new megastars to the surface, taking advantage of the cultural changes of the late 90s and creating characters that appealed to a whole new generation of wrestling fans.
As the WWE entered the 2000s and approached the era we’re currently living in, few superstars have managed to fit into the same category as those that would be considered ‘larger than life’. WWE, and professional wrestling as a whole, thrives off of these outlandish and otherworldly beings that stand out as a special kind of athlete, one that goes on to define the industry they’re in. Outside of John Cena, Brock Lesnar and perhaps Roman Reigns, WWE have failed to create any range of megastars that will later be looked back on as members of the Mount Rushmore of professional wrestling.
It’s the one reason behind WWE’s need to rely on the faces of yesteryear as draws for their big pay-per-views. Wrestlers like Triple H, The Undertaker and Goldberg are all brought out for an airing at least once a year. Without fail, fans will criticise WWE for their continued use of athletes that are way past their prime. Even if their namesake can still bring in the crowds and are healthy enough to go through the motions of an in-ring performance, it’s still difficult for us to take them seriously. It’s high time that WWE start to focus more on the talent they have and move on from the megastars of wrestling lore.
It’s easy to spot names that have been chosen by WWE to become their brand leaders, marketable stars that will often be pushed as the companies flag bearers on every piece of promotional material imaginable. Superstars like Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Finn Balor and Charlotte Flair are often found sprawled across every event poster, kids lunchboxes and advent calendar, but even as faces of the biggest wrestling company on the market, none of them would be considered a megastar.
As previously mentioned, the only three names that have broken into that realm of status are John Cena, Roman Reigns and the current Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar. Cena has reached the end of his prime in WWE and has honourably taken a step back from the squared circle. He left behind some pretty massive shoes to fill, after making his departure to Hollywood. As WWE’s last warranted megastar, Roman Reigns was the chosen one to step up. Granted, Reigns has achieved everything WWE wanted him to, including the astounding feat of battling and defeating leukemia. He is the ideal poster boy in every way, and is starting to follow the same career path as the likes of Cena and his cousin The Rock by dipping his toes into the cinematic world. But quite frankly, I wouldn’t ever consider him to be in the same league as the former megastars of WWE.
Despite his countless championship wins and legendary victories, Reigns still comes across as someone that has been pushed a little too hard down our throats. Fans have been very vocal about their thoughts towards ‘The Big Dog’ and have made every attempt to sabotage his status as the golden boy. I fear that this has taken more of a toll on Reigns’ career than originally thought and left him scrambling amongst the absolute traffic jam of talent on the main roster. Reigns has been taking a backseat as of late to the likes of Seth Rollins, Kofi Kingston and Becky Lynch since his return in early 2019, which has made him somewhat of an afterthought. Not really a good look for WWE’s potential megastar.
Brock Lesnar, on the other hand, has become a global box office attraction. Since Lesnar’s return to his home turf in 2012, ‘The Beast Incarnate’ has been presented as WWE’s biggest main event talent, rarely making an appearance outside of the big annual pay-per-view events. Naturally, this has given Lesnar quite the aura, giving each scheduled appearance the feeling of it being important, even when he awkwardly lingers about in the background whilst Paul Heyman shouts into a microphone. Despite fans’ growing discontent with Lesnar’s part-time contract, Brock remains one of WWE’s biggest megastars in the modern era.
It seems a little manufactured that Brock Lesnar has become one of WWE’s few megastars. Perhaps if Brock was made available for more appearances, his blockbuster presence would diminish. Nevertheless, with WWE reeling without many big names to rely on, Lesnar fits the bill quite nicely.
Some wrestling journalists might argue that the concept of a megastar is outdated, with there being so many popular wrestlers existing inside and outside of WWE, perhaps the definition of what constitutes a megastar should be changed. Obviously WWE remains the top of the food chain in the wrestling industry, and therefore whoever is their top champion should at least be in the conversation for this generation’s megastars. But with promotions like NJPW, AEW and even the re-emerging Impact Wrestling now becoming ideal alternatives for fans who are looking for a new fix, surely we need to start considering their rosters too.
Many independent and rival promotions find themselves employing former WWE talent as a way of boosting their gates. Occasionally, superstars that have been turned away or burnt out by the ‘system’ find a new lease on life in another environment. Where most fail to shake their WWE histories, some go on to redefine themselves and forge an entirely new character. The first that comes to mind is Jon Moxley (f.k.a Dean Ambrose).
Moxley has become a megastar in his own right, taking his talent across the world and competing in almost every promotion imaginable. Recently becoming IWGP United States Champion, and setting up a heated rivalry with AEW’s Kenny Omega, Mox is one of the most talked about names in independent wrestling. He’s on everyone’s minds, and everyone knows exactly who he is — surely that should put him in that bracket of megastars?
Overseas in Japan, New Japan Pro Wrestling have created one of the most enthralling rosters ever, with almost everyone signed to that promotion being given the opportunity to become one of the most talked about wrestlers in the world. Everyday athletes have quickly become larger than life talents with the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada, at the forefront of that movement.
‘The Rainmaker’ quickly developed legendary status through his outstanding series of matches with Kenny Omega and has since maintained that through his consistent passion and pure skill. Okada holds a similar aura to that of Lesnar, Cena or even The Undertaker, the pageantry and flair that surrounds him whenever he’s competing is something to marvel at. NJPW have thrived from Okada’s run, and he has personally ushered in a new era for Japanese wrestling, bringing it to its highest ever peak. Definitely a megastar in his own right.
One last name that comes to mind when thinking of potential megastars outside of the WWE umbrella is the aforementioned Kenny Omega. Now a fully fledged member of the AEW roster, Omega has become one of the hottest acts in all of the western professional wrestling. Just watching his entrances alone gives you goosebumps, watching him work his magic in the ring is even more mesmerising. Kenny Omega has undoubtedly become a megastar of modern wrestling, his reluctance to work with WWE has only added to his legend and has brought so many eyes to wherever he ends up competing.
WWE really need to take a page out of their competitors’ books, because as of writing, the likes of New Japan and AEW seem to be a lot more successful at producing megastars in the modern era. I’m sure as the next few years play out, and the independent scene continues to grow, we’ll see more names from outside of the mainstream start to be considered in the same league as the Austins, Rocks and Undertakers. Hopefully WWE will start to adapt to these changing tides and start working wonders with the incredible roster they have. WWE have so much untapped potential at their fingertips, so many names that could indeed evolve into megastars if they were allowed to flourish. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Bray Wyatt, Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura, all names that could one day make it to those hallowed halls of megastars.