There is something to be said about a character that grows into a larger-than-life figure, one whose immense personality and popularity defines a decade. In the business, a wrestler that embodies such characteristics is seen as “the guy.” ‘The guy’ phenomenon is one that is rampart in the wrestling world. From Hulk Hogan, to Steve Austin, to the Rock and John Cena, figures such as these defined the generation in which they wrestled, personal opinions aside. It takes a lot of good scripting, a strong and understandable persona, as well as a bit of luck in order to attain the household-name defining status of ‘the guy.’
The more that wrestling progresses, however, the more it seems that this phenomenon is not as easy to point out. Gone are the days of vibrant and clear-cut lines in the sand, where personalities don’t seem to be as integral to defining the era any more. In past times, ‘The Guy’ was one that embodied the mood of the era. Hulk Hogan exemplified the black-and-white good-evil contrast of the Classical Era of wrestling, one with straight-forward characters and gimmicks, a time where American patriotism was at its most apparent, where saying prayers and eating apple pie were wholesome country values were clung to in a time of uncertain global tension. Hulk Hogan was the flag-waver, the feel-good American persona that overcame the blatantly evil villains that spit in the face of democracy. He was a force of nature, one that demonstrated that perseverance and conviction would overcome all. Austin was a total zeitgeist of the Attitude Era, a time where racy and coarse themes where the hallmark of the WWE, and at the helm, was the saltiest beer-drinking anti-establishment ‘Guy’ of them all.
Nowadays, it is hard to put a finger on the pulse of the modern wrestling spirit. What is it that defines this generation of wrestling? What attitude and mood does the wrestling fan come to expect in this modern time of Cenas and Wyatts. It seems now, more than ever, modern day mainstream promotions are unsure of how to define themselves. There seems to be little notice of central themes that drive the business, opting instead for various segues that wander off into different directions, hoping that one will resonate within the audience. Take for example, the sudden mounting feud between John Cena and Bray Wyatt, which fizzled out after a last-man-standing match, where Wyatt was unceremoniously AA’ed and buried under a set of tables. It was after this that the feud had appeared to have been buried, with little more than a nod here and there on its previous existence. Wyatt would go on to feud with various other wrestlers, but the overarching tension and drive of the story seemed to have been kicked long-side, with no interest to truly resolve the conflict.
One sees many of these similar conflicts, between the recent sibling feuds of the Bellas, which culminated into a Jerry Springer episode, but then was immediately forgotten and the tag team reunited, with little more than a forced servitude plot line. Storylines seem to develop, but are never fully fleshed out. It is almost as if the very thing that defines this current era is one of great uncertainty and short-minded goals. What of the ‘Guy’ concept, where one stable or man sets the tone for the rest of the era? Even non-wrestling fans know that John Cena is still at the apex of his popularity, where, despite many others vying for the spot of the ‘Guy’, the WWE banner still flies Cena’s colors. What does Cena state about the era, however? It does not appear that Cena or any one wrestler sets the tone for the WWE any more. The promotion seems to be a melting-pot of conflicting ideas, where no one concept or gimmick appears to rise to the top.
Many wrestlers could make the stance to lead this era of wrestling into the next generation. Daniel Bryan is a no-brainer answer to this. His current popularity rivals even the Rock’s in his hey-day, and his in-ring abilities are a strong testament to the validity of wrestling as a performance art. Though a bit untested on the mic, Bryan is a charismatic force that, if given the chance, could be a solid ‘Guy’ in his own right. On the opposite spectrum lies Roman Reigns. With the face and musculature, Reigns has the right look to be the poster boy for the next generation. His confidence and tough-guy personality in the ring is one that can work, given the right amount of cultivation. Despite all this, there is an incredible wave of animosity that follows him, in spite of his supporters. What is it that keeps him from being the ‘Guy?’
In spite of wrestling having much pageantry and scripting, there is no substitute for a natural charismatic persona. From age to age, the one defining hallmark of the ‘Guy’ is one of natural charisma. The ‘Guy’ is larger-than-life, a cut above, a regal immortal feature that stands alone, both a full embodiment of the era in which he was conceived, and above it all. Such a talent like this is rare and needs to be authentic. In order to be the ‘Guy’, one has to possess the ability to be the ‘Guy’. This concept is known in the business as the ‘It Factor’. Rock had the ‘It Factor,’ the internal ability to perform and spark the adulation of the audience around the world. The Rock’s ‘It Factor’ spawned a cult of personality, where the millions of his fans chanted, stomped their feet, and ate out of the palm of the People’s hand.
Despite WWE’s attempts, one cannot artificially create the ‘It Factor’ necessary to make a ‘Guy’. It is a natural process that needs to be cultivated, rather than engineered. The more one attempts to force a wrestler down the audience’s throat, the more the public will rebel. This happened with Batista. The audience was fully aware of what the office was attempting to do, and grew enraged from the obvious deceit and manipulation, booing Batista out of every venue, until the WWE was forced to make him heel. The Royal Rumble was a classic example of history repeating itself with Reigns. The office isn’t fooling anyone in this attempt, and may have done more harm than good, in their attempt to put Reigns over. Time will tell if Reigns will be forced to walk the same path of Bluetista, but the overwhelming response from the audience is clear: ‘Guys’ are born, not made.
It is no secret that people look upon the history of sports-entertainment by remembering who was at the top during that time. Iconic figures are ones that cause progress in the squared circle, driving the wheels of change that defines each milestone. People look to ‘Guys’ as a way to mark times in history, to reflect, and to see what has happened, and what is to come. When there are no personas of this magnitude is when progress grows stagnant. It is not for a lack of potential that the WWE suffers. There are many contenders for this throne in the upcoming era. It is a matter of whom they choose and for what reasons that will usher in the attitude of the new generation. No matter who is chosen for this crown, their heads will be heavy, indeed.