Around the 2008 mark or so, a gifted phalanx of midcarders began to make their presence felt on WWE television. In the tag ranks, we saw John Morrison and The Miz grow from thrown together joke into the most entertaining team on the roster, with a soft split ultimately catapulting The Miz into a summer programme with John Cena, of all people, which began his inexorable rise to Money In The Bank, that ‘Hate Me Now’ video package, and a Wrestlemania main event. We saw CM Punk win the Money In The Bank match twice, cash in successfully both times, and eventually break through the backstage politics to arguably be the 1a in the company, while Sheamus was pushed very hard from the word go amidst chat about his relationship with Triple H. Nevertheless, the guy grew into his work and had a tremendous run of matches as the holder of the Big Gold Belt in 2012. Around the same time, Dolph Ziggler was making waves through the sheer consistent quality of TV and PPV ring work and his Mr Perfect style persona, whilst Cody Rhodes stepped out of the limits of his family identity to find himself in a psychotic gimmick that allowed him the opportunity to flex his character muscles. Soon after, in 2011, Cesaro made the jump to the main roster, and went from gimmick to gimmick, all the while entertaining with his work rate. All of that without even going into those even more lost- MVP, Carlito, Morrison, Sandow. For a long time, the Lost Generation was a historical footnote, a lesson for WWE as they plotted the ascent of the next set of young superstars- The Shield boys, the Wyatts, KO and Sami, Finn Balor, and others. The stink around the perceived failure of the 2008 crew to really break through has followed them around for a long time. Truthfully, as is almost always the case, they ran into a buzzsaw of circumstance. From the human glass ceiling of Cena, Edge, Jericho, Taker, Triple H and Michaels blocking them from the main event to a lack of consistency of booking, every one of those guys has ample reason to look back on their stint with the company with some regret. But recently, things have turned around. Not only has public opinion of these guys shifted positively, their entire place within the company seems suddenly much safer, and more valued. And what is all the more impressive is that these guys have worked their behinds off to get to that position, and fans, as fans are supposed to, have responded positively.
Let’s start with the man who has had the biggest rebirth, Dolph Ziggler. The Show Off, when he re-upped with the company rather than taking the Cody Rhodes approach, looked to be settling in for a nice comfortable dotage of jobbing to the stars. Indeed, until the Post Mania Raw, he was barely featured once his bizarre feud with Bobby Roode was over. When suddenly teamed with another 2008-er, Drew McIntyre, things suddenly started to click again for Ziggler. As a streaky performer by nature, a couple of impressive outings was enough to get him a run against Seth Rollins that he grabbed with both hands. A series of spectacular matches recently culminated in a thrilling Ironman Match in which he retained controversially, as heels should. I am so impressed with Ziggler’s resolve in sticking with WWE and backing himself to force a rise up the card. He backed himself when it mattered and is getting the rewards, and not only that, but the wrestling public seem to be reacting in more glowing terms to the man’s legacy and career than previously. We’ve all been on the Ziggler rollercoaster before, but the fact we’re even having a conversation about him is positive.
Moving onto Sheamus and Cesaro, their renaissance came at the back end of 2016 and through 2017 as The Bar carved through the tag division like a hot knife through butter. As two impressively physical midcard workers, all they had needed was a platform to show those skills without being required to talk too much. Tag wrestling gave them that and they haven’t looked back since. It is early days on SDL for them, but I hope to see them fighting over those blue belts as soon as possible. For me though, it’s on YouTube that these guys have outdone themselves, with the advent of Celtic Warrior work outs. To those of you who have not yet seen them, you absolutely have to check them out. Not only is it hilarious to see Sheamus put through his paces by his fellow wrestlers, but you get to see the Sheamus and Cesaro double act in full swing, and to my surprise, Cesaro is actually an incredibly funny and charismatic guy, who plays the gym rat sidekick to perfection. It makes you wonder how on earth WWE get character so wrong so consistently, when guys who appear to have no charisma in kayfabe show bags of it outside the ring. Whatever the truth of it, my point is that both guys come off looking funny and easy going, and I’m sure that will benefit The Bar in the near future.
Finally, Miz has turned his career around to the point where he is now a bona fide superstar, with his own reality TV show, having come off two of the best years of wrestling of his whole career, a process that began as a random pre-Mania opponent to AJ Styles, a TV programme that drew much taking back of previous hot takes by wrestling fans. Following that, he got the signature IC Title feud with Ziggler that elevated them both back to notice, and through a series of incendiary Talking Smack video interviews, got everyone talking about whether Bryan could come back to face the man who was insulting him. Now, some time ago it might have been, but everyone remembers the feud’s potential. Fingers crossed it happens, because screw the part timers, that would be a Wrestlemania main event to proud of.
For so long, the class of 2008 was a lost generation of talents denied their chance to headline before being replaced by the likes of Ambrose, Reigns and Rollins. However, I’d just like to pay tribute today to the way four of the members of that generation refused to be beaten and kept on searching for a way to contribute. I’ve been loving all of their work, too. Now, if the company could every organise a proper Wrestlamania with full timers on the card, we could have a real celebration of the midcard from four of its best proponents.
This is Maverick, requesting flyby.