|Aries: About as old as Macho Man at his WWF debut age|
He was also 32 years old with nine years experience as a pro wrestler.
If the WWF had the same standards then that the WWE today has now, then we may never have had the pleasure of watching Savage. It's rumored that WWE doesn't take on new signees over the age of 30. Whether that was a ploy by Gabe Sapolsky, who broke that news on his site, to garner more sympathy for the indie stars like Chris Hero and Austin Aries who for whatever reason aren't on WWE's radar or if it's true that it's policy is irrelevant, given that the company has trended towards recruiting guys at very young ages, sending them to FCW for however long they feel necessary and then debuting them on the big stage. From an institutional standpoint, that's a great plan. You want someone indoctrinated into the style your company purveys, then by all means, you should do it from the time they really start to learn how to become a "superstar" in their parlance.
But there does seem to be something missing from a lot of the NXT alums (Daniel Bryan excluded, obviously) and FCW call-ups that even the "new blood" of five years ago had in spades. Is the downturn in the wrestling business to blame? Or is it that maybe FCW isn't exactly the best environment in which to gain experience on how to break into WWE as a ready-to-go entity?
Really, a guy like Savage, or even folks like Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan (who coincidentally got part of his seasoning as part of the regional-era WWWF), Ricky Steamboat, King Kong Bundy, Ted DiBiase and other mainstays of the early national-expansion-era WWF got their experience from the territory system. It's a system that was struck a critical blow by the rise of WCW as an answer to the WWF, and it's something that we will probably never see again in terms of how important it was back in those days. How do you replicate that, a system where guys learn how to work, promo and do all the things that pro wrestlers do in order to manipulate crowds?
Maybe the answer does lie in the indies. Notice that the people who are really making splashes in WWE in terms of character, work or both, are all on the older side and have that experience. Dolph Ziggler was a throwback from the old developmental territories, where guys like Jim Cornette and Paul Heyman were calling the shots (making it feel like more of an indie fed rather than a precursor to WWE?). Daniel Bryan, Kharma and CM Punk all made their bones in the indies, especially in ROH. Wade Barrett, Sheamus and to a very limited extent in terms of character polish, Drew McIntyre, all came from Europe, where things work a bit differently. The only one that I can see that has risen up and really been given faith from the front office (even intermittently) that came from FCW was Jack Swagger, and even then, he feels way more polarizing to the smart fans I converse with than others.
It might seem that the point I'm making is that FCW BAD INDIES GOOD, but that's not really the case. I don't think that FCW in and of itself is bad, but I do think that maybe there's too much of an emphasis on rushing guys up from the fed and putting them into the spotlight at too early an age. I think that having Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton work out the way they did at young ages maybe turned the WWE front offices away from the fact that those guys were the exceptions, not the rules.
Maybe there should be more of an incubation time in FCW for these guys, unless an obvious exception to the rule comes along and deserves to get shunted up to the main roster. Maybe the indies should be scoured more and guys like Aries, Hero, Claudio Castagnoli and even Jimmy Jacobs (a guy of whom I'm not a fan but has appeal) should be considered. Maybe more experience is needed for guys coming in so that they have a handle on how to do things rather than needing to learn them on the fly on camera, which to me is too late.
Does it take shelf-life away from wrestlers when they start later? Maybe, but at the same time, look at how long guys from "back then" stayed around and were effective at playing crowds and drawing money. Either way, experience isn't a bad thing, and really, the WWE should be looking at getting as many good years as they can from guys, not as many years, no matter what the quality.
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein - Please visit his site to view the plentiful amounts of pictures he's taken for DGUSA, ROH and other indie feds: Get Lost Photography
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