Being a wrestling fan who's been around the block for a good while most likely means you lived during the entirety of a few eras. 70s and 80s babies lovingly recall the days of territorial wrestling that resulted in regional stars "making towns" and further building their notoriety. 90s babies look back fondly on the colorful characters of the decades' early years and the mainstream boom of the later years that pushed the biggest stars in sports entertainment to the forefront of water cooler conversations. And from the 200s on to the 2020s, fans of the drama and action that takes place in the squared circle remember groundbreaking promos, childhood dreams come true for the superstars of past eras, and newcomers looking to stake their claim as the greatest. In the case of WWE, everyone can look towards different time periods in the company and remember exactly who was major at the time and how it impacted the sport of wrestling in general. Join us as we look at the WWE eras ranked and discuss their many pros and cons.
Our Definitive List of All 7 WWE Eras, Ranked
7. The New Generation Era (Early to Mid ‘90s)
Biggest Superstars: Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Diesel, The Undertaker, Sycho Sid, and Owen Hart
The steroids scandal that saw Vince McMahon ordered to defend himself and his roster in court forced a much-needed change for the then World Wrestling Federation. The super bulky, outlandish superheroes of the 80s and early 90s were phased out in favor of smaller yet more technically sound in-ring greats. Thanks to the legendary performances of Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart, and the 1-2-3 Kid, a breath of fresh air was felt across the WWF landscape at the time. The New Generation Era also saw the likes of The Steiner Brothers, Razor Ramon, Sycho Sid, Vader, and Yokozuna rise to prominence as mainstays of this period.
Now the reason why the New Generation Era is dead last on this list of the WWE eras ranked is that the negatives were way more prevalent here than the positives. Diesel's WWF Championship run was sadly a bust, plus there were way too many atrocious gimmicks around this time based on real-world occupations (we got any Duke "The Dumpster" Droese fans reading this right now?). And the less said about King Mabel, the better. There were certainly some bright spots during the New Generation Era, mostly due in part to the efforts of Bret and Shawn. But the bad certainly outweighs the good here.
6. The PG Era (2008 to 2013)
Biggest Superstars: CM Punk, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, The Miz, Sheamus, and Daniel Bryan
On July 22, 2008, WWE made the official announcement of its intentions to change its overall rating from TV-14 to TV-PG. That very same year, SummerSlam ended up being the first PPV to don that same rating. Most hardcore wrestling fans point to this so-called PG Era as the point where they chose to tap out and abandon WWE. And to be quite honest, we understand why - the cringy humor and overreliance on babyfaces that were seemingly on par with Superman pushed a lot of people away. Some of the worst moments in WWE history, including The Anonymous RAW General Manager, the Michael Cole vs. Jerry Lawler feud, and The Bella Twins rivalry, took place during this time. "Super Cena" was definitely an issue during the PG Era too, as some of his wins during this period were seen as unnecessary and harmful (we'll never forgive him for defeating the Nexus stable at Summerslam 2010).
So what about the good? Jeff Hardy finally won the WWE Championship at Armageddon 2008. The Shield, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Zach Ryder, Evan Bourne, and Dolph Ziggler regularly put on quality bouts. Paige and AJ Lee presented a new brand of women's wrestlers that changed the landscape of WWE. And legends such as The Undertaker, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, Chris Jericho, and Brock Lesnar played a part in keeping old-school wrestling fans happy with what they were still watching. The PG Era had several bright spots, for sure. But you can't ignore some of the horrendous material put on display at this time.
5. The New Era (2016 to Present)
Biggest Superstars: Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt, Seth Rollins, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte Flair
For our fifth pick on our list of the WWE eras ranked, let's dive into the era that's still going on as speak. From 2016 until now, we've been treated to the New Era best (and unfortunately, it's worst). First, let's have a chat about the good stuff. The 2016 SmackDown roster resulted in a high point for WWE's Blue Brand that fans look back on fondly. NXT's "Black and Gold" era continued to appeal to old-school wrestling fans yearning for simple, concise storytelling and banger matches. Becky Lynch's rise as "The Man," the initial run of Ronda Rousey, the monster push of Braun Strowman, and Charlotte Flair's continued greatness also mark some of the bigger highlights of the New Era. Roman Reigns' babyface-to-heel turn as the "Tribal Chief" is definitely a notable moment that is still holding fans' attention.
Now let's discuss the bad. Before Reigns finally turned, fans were none too keen on his continued good-guy role and uncool status, which resulted in most folks being unhappy with his top championship reigns. Bray Wyatt's up-and-down push sent fans on an emotional rollercoaster that ultimately ended with the once-beloved cult leader becoming a shell of his former self. Plus you could also argue that WWE is bad at "striking while the iron is hot" in regards to Reigns defeating Drew McIntyre, Sami Zayn, and Cody Rhodes when he arguably should have lost.
4. The Reality Era (2014 to 2016)
Biggest Superstars: Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, and Bray Wyatt
For our next selection on this list of the WWE eras ranked, let's take a look at the Reality Era. CM Punk's 2011 "Pipebomb" promo and subsequent exit from WWE has to be recognized as the igniter for this time period. Those two major occurrences forced WWE's hand when it came to pushing the sort of superstar they may not have wanted to beforehand. But due to fan backlash, the rise of Daniel Bryan and the "YES! Movement" came to fruition and became a major focal point of this era. The Reality Era also included other highlights in the form of NXT's golden period, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose's singles pushes, AJ Styles' arrival as a main event WWE superstar, Kevin Owens' main roster series with John Cena, and the shocking debut of WCW legend Sting. The main roster women's division magic put on display by Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch also marked a bright spot during the Reality Era.
Now as far as the bad stuff goes, the most noticeable one is the unwanted push that a babyface Roman Reigns got from the powers that be (and by powers that be, we obviously mean Vince McMahon). Many fans were none too keen on him being shoved in their faces as a clear copycat of John Cena, which completely went against Reigns' quiet assassin archetype that made fans fall in love with him during his Shield days. We'd also be remiss if we didn't bring up the heartbreaking and unfortunate moment when Brock Lesnar broke The Undertaker's WrestleMania "Streak" at WrestleMania XXX. We didn't like it then and we damn sure didn't like it now. The monster push Lensar got after that match still couldn't have been a thing without having to sacrifice one of 'Taker's biggest accomplishments.
3. The Golden Age/Rock 'n' Wrestling Era (80s to Early ‘90s)
Biggest Superstars: Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, Roddy Piper, Ultimate Warrior, and Captain Lou Albano
It's pretty crazy how long the Golden Age/Rock 'n' Wrestling Era lasted when you really think about it. Allow us to remind you of this third-place entry's reasoning for being on this list of the WWE eras ranked. "Hulkamania" indeed ran wild and pushed the WWF into the public eye with the extra assistance of a hot heel in "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, The A-Team's Mr. T as a tag team partner, and the first-ever WrestleMania. With Cyndi Lauper's added TV presence, even more eyes from outside the world of sports entertainment eventually tuned in to see what all the hype was about. Several of the biggest stars in wrestling history competed during this time so-called Golden Age - "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Ted DiBiase, Andre the Giant, the Ultimate Warrior, Mr. Perfect, "Ravishing" Rick Rude, the Junkyard Dog, Wendi Ritcher, and countless others made headlines and grabbed plenty of attention.
Even the tag team scene at this time was plentiful - The Hart Foundation and The Rockers in particular gave fans a sneak preview of the future greatness Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels would embark on later on in their solo careers. Demolition, The Road Warriors, Strike Force, and more also point to this era's immaculate tag team scene. Now when it comes to the less likable parts of The Golden Age/Rock 'n' Wrestling Era, we have to mention a few in particular. The horrible gimmicks (The Gobbledy Gooker was not it!), the racially insensitive occurrences (Akeem the African Dream and Piper doing blackface were and still are cringeworthy gimmicks), and a lot of the boring slower-paced wrestling prevalent during this time deserve to be forgotten.
2. The Ruthless Aggression Era (2002 to 2008)
Biggest Superstars: Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Batista, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, and Trish Stratus
Wrestling fans can pinpoint the exact moment when the Ruthless Aggression Era became an actual thing. On June 27, 2002, a debuting John Cena answered an open challenge from Kurt Angle, belted out "RUTHLESS AGGRESSION!" on the live mic, and slapped the Olympic Gold Medalist hard as hell across the face. It may have taken a while for Cena to rise above his generic short tights and Batista to move away from being Reverend D-Von's deacon, but both men became the faces of WWE once they captured world championships during this storied era. Besides those two greats were a mix of hot up-and-comers and respected veterans. Shelton Benjamin, Rey Mysterio, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Edge, Christian, Carlito, Trish Stratus, Lita, The Undertaker, Rob Van Dam, Booker T., and Eddie Guerrero had fans tuning in to watch some of the best in-ring action WWE had ever produced at this point in time.
Shout out to "SmackDown Six" in particular for really showing out at this time! And props to Molly Holly, Jazz, and Victoria for doing some underrated work for the women's division. Now when it comes to Raw, Triple H's "Reign of Terror" really put a damper on WWE's longest-running episodic show - watching him beat wrestlers that fans would have rather seen as World Heavyweight Champion keeps the Ruthless Aggression Era from topping this list of the WWE eras ranked. Also being forced to sit through the bland and snooze-worthy performances of muscleheads like Luther Reigns, Heidenreich, Snitsky, Nathan Jones, and Matt Morgan also knocks this era down a peg. Any of you guys remember Rene Dupree and Kenzo Suzuki? Big yikes there, too...
1. The Attitude Era (Mid ‘90s to Early 2000s)
Biggest Superstars: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, The Undertaker, Kane, and Mankind
You just knew coming into this WWE eras ranked list which one we'd choose as our number one pick. The narrative of the Ruthless Aggression Era being better than this one has sprung up as of late. But it can't be denied just how monumental the Attitude Era was and the massive audience gain that was produced by this change in WWF booking ideology. Now did the second selection on this list have better matches? Sure! But the star power and awesome storylines that existed around this time easily supersedes the Ruthless Aggression Era. Monday nights became a destination for wrestling fans everywhere - WWF fans watched Raw while WCW fans watched Nitro (fans of both companies switched channels to catch as much wrestling in one night as they could).
Loyal WWF fans truly had a "murderer's row" of talent to watch on a weekly basis. We're talking "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Mr. McMahon, The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane, Mankind, the Big Show, X-Pac, Chyna, Chris Jericho, the New Age Outlaws, Kurt Angle, Edge & Christian, The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz...the list goes on and on. And during all the action and wild moments that occurred during the Attitude Era, the iconic commentating duo of Jim Ross and Jerry "The King" Lawler lent their voices to such a groundbreaking era. Even the midcard, which featured a mix of underrated talents poached from WCW and ECW, kept things exciting until the main event superstars came out to end the shows on a high note. Crash Holly, Too Cool, The Godfather, Gangrel, Lita, and more provided WWF fans with even more reasons to tune into Raw and SmackDown at the time.
Now not everything was great during the Attitude Era - way too short matches ending in disqualifications and count outs on the weekly TV shows were an annoyance, plus some of the storylines and gimmicks presented here were truly awful. Beaver Cleavage? "Real Man’s Man" Steven Regal? Mae Young giving birth to a hand? I CHOPPY CHOPPY YOUR PEE PEE? That was some putrid material right there! But when we think back on the Attitude Era, our warmest memories outweigh the bad ones - packed arenas full of passionate fans amid a sea of signs, recognizable theme songs that elicited major pops from the audience, and big-time matches that we still talk about to this very day immediately come to mind. And that old WWF scratch logo? Man, we miss that one...
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