Wrestlers Staying In WWE For Too Long Hurts Their Legacies
Longevity is often celebrated in WWE. The Undertaker’s 30-year stay in the company, John Cena’s run, even the likes of Dolph Ziggler and The Miz staying the course and toeing the line. However, die a hero or live long enough to become the villain sort of applies here. We don’t want any of the above to die, nor have they necessarily becomes villains by the strict definition of the word, but sticking around in the same place for so long has arguably hurt them more than it has helped them.
The idea behind this is that if you stay in WWE for a long time and toe the company line, you will be rewarded. Even if 15 years have passed, which is the case for some, and that moment hasn’t come, you are led to believe that it is coming. Not just the wrestlers, but the fans. Despite history repeating itself multiple times, that hope is applied to new wrestlers all the time. Look no further than Cesaro’s title shot this Sunday, and multiple other examples covered throughout this feature.
Nothing Better Than A Journeyman Who Stays Put
We should start by saying holding down a spot on the WWE roster for any length of time should not be played down. As the company proves time and time again, it often likes to release people seemingly on a whim. Saying something you shouldn’t or arriving to a show late can be enough to get you in the wrong person’s bad books. Or Vince McMahon might just forget you exist and thus cut you from his company the next time he sees your name on a list of people he’s paying money and wonders who you are.
As for those who have stuck around for an extended period, that isn’t always a good thing. Especially when the rest of the world thinks you deserve better but management just doesn’t see it. Or McMahon doesn’t see it might be a more accurate way of putting it. Dolph Ziggler might well be the best, or worst, example of this. The Showoff is effectively used to break in new wrestlers. He helped both Shinsuke Nakamura and Robert Roode get acclimatized to the main roster, and will likely do the same for others.
At least Ziggler has been World Champion, albeit a short and rather forgettable reign. Ceasro doesn’t even have that and has arguably benefitted even less from his lengthy run than Ziggler. The Swiss Cyborg will actually get a shot at the Universal Title this Sunday at WrestleMania Backlash. The match will be his first-ever singles bout on a PPV for a World Title. For someone with Cesaro’s talents to have waited almost a decade for that opportunity just isn’t okay.
A counter-argument to all of this could be made in the form of The Miz. Another Superstar who has been around for about the same length of time as Cesaro and Ziggler, but has a lot more to show for it. Two runs as WWE Champion and even a WrestleMania main event to his name. However, even those were just token gestures. Despite winning, Miz was an afterthought after The Rock and John Cena in his WrestleMania main event. Plus we’re guessing most of you have already forgotten Miz was WWE Champion just a few short months ago.
Returning Retirees Are Not Exempt
It isn’t just current stars who are not long past their prime, or maybe even still in it, that have suffered from the WWE longevity bug. The list of Superstars who have retired, or probably should have done, that have returned for a payday or two have tarnished their legacies beyond repair. No matter how much Shawn Michaels wants to claim his match in Saudi Arabia doesn’t count, it happened, and fans who watched it will unfortunately never forget it.
Goldberg might well be the most frustrating example of all. After leaving WWE in 2004 on an incredibly sour note, the Hall of Famer returned and somehow managed to redeem himself. A quick squash match against Brock Lesnar was just what the doctor ordered at the time. But he came back again, and then again, and is now under contract for two more years. Goldberg bucked the trend by staying too long and fixing his legacy, only to tarnish it all over again.
The Undertaker’s journey as chronicled in WWE Network series The Last Ride might be the best example of how much of a balancing act it really is. The Undertaker would say a satisfying goodbye, only to come back and have a match that ruined that goodbye, which then meant he had to wrestle again whether he liked it or not to fix it. Here’s hoping he doesn’t wrestle again, as last year’s Boneyard match is about as good a farewell as The Deadman could possibly hope for.
The question is, what do these stars do to break the funk, especially the younger ones like Ziggler and Cesaro? Do they accept that other than the odd main event match and transitional title reign, if they’re lucky, they’ll never be the top guy? Or do they wave goodbye to WWE and try their luck elsewhere, which might well be even more of a crapshoot despite the emergence of AEW? The money is good in WWE and they wrestle regularly. Tarnished legacy or not, it’s hard to blame those who have accepted that lot in life. It isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world, even if it isn’t necessarily the best either.