Mainstream pro wrestling in North America, WWE mostly and especially has not had many acts that the majority of fans think is cool in the past 15 years. “Cool” being loosely defined as a naturally charismatic individual who draws people to them. All genders, ages, incomes. The Rock is really the last guy in wrestling to fit that standard the most completely, and he was a full time wrestler last in 2003.
There are guys who are cool to their specific fan base. Most notably, C.M. Punk. The fans in his corner are very vocal and very loyal. Even now, three years after his last pro wrestling match, they still wear his merchandise and chant his name. There are fans, though—a decent number of them—who think Punk is a greasy scumbag. The tattoos, the average fit body, the brash IDGAF attitude turned people off to him, which is very much the reason he was never counted on by WWE to be the no. 1 guy.
I think Daniel Bryan is cool, too. He’s so cool because he genuinely cares zero about being or looking cool. He has the whole naturally charismatic thing down pat and he’s weird enough in so many different ways and looked so different that it has the same effect on the fan base as traditional ideas of coolness would have. It drew many different types of people in. It was only management and later injury that kept Bryan from reaching a higher level of appeal.
The Young Bucks have reached a certain level of coolness in the last five years on the indy scene and internationally. They appeal to a niche of a niche. Like Punk, though, they are super-over with the folks that like them and, even if you can’t stand the Young Bucks act, you must admit they are a legit pro wrestling brand in and of themselves. And that is pretty damn cool.
The current WWE main rosters are finally populated with a different variety of genuine, young, cool acts. For years on PWTorch audio, I yelled about WWE not having any acts that resembled anything people—young people, especially—were used to in pop culture. Where were the contemporary acts? There seems to have been a concerted effort to change that perception in the last three-to-five years. I think it’s working. Here are four acts that I think fit the definition of cool in different ways and for different reasons.
•Dean Ambrose has been my personal favorite wrestler for the past two or three years. I dig his style. He doesn’t give a damn about any of you people, but he won’t go out of his way to make you feel bad about yourself! For what we are going to get with an Ambrose character, this current incarnation is great: The affable lunatic who will help you find your teeth after he punches you in the mouth. Everything Dean does from his walk and talk to his in-ring style and body language is consistent. On a landscape that encourages babyfaces to act like heels and heels to seek babyface reactions, being consistent with your character in all facets alone makes you cool. Dean’s character never causes doubt, on TV or off.
•Alexa Bliss is the talk of the town right now, and rightfully so. She has all the juice and she is going to let you know it. Even as a very convincing weasel and brat, she is as cool as it gets. Mainly it’s her confidence. And Alexa has real deal, “I should be a star by now!” confidence. She has the personality of a Steve Austin in 1995. When he just knew he was it. When he knew it was just a matter of time before he got a shot and would blow the roof off the joint. She is like that except she is only 25 and has only been wrestling barely five years and ain’t been nowhere! Alexa Bliss is literally great at every aspect of pro wrestling except the wrestling. She’s decent enough and getting better every match. The entire Raw Women’s Division is going to have to step up their promo game. Her presence on camera is magnetic so all eyes are going to be on her. Her pitch-perfect body language and ad libs along with her ability to manipulate the audience into hating everything she does is going to be a godsend to any babyface woman who feuds with her. Alexa is a template for a successful heel—male or female—and that is damn cool.
•Some people don’t get it. Some people just don’t get it and that is okay. Finn Balor is a bad ass son of a gun and he’s cool as hell. I think Finn is one of the coolest acts in the game right now. He’s been back on TV from injury for a couple months now and we haven’t even seen “The Demon” yet. That’s fine, too, because Balor doesn’t need that makeup to be interesting or ice cold assassin cool. Just a leather jacket with the collar flipped up and an icy blue-eyed stare and he’s ready to kick your ass and leave with your woman, the handsome bastard.
•The first time I saw Shinsuke Nakamura wrestle was in 2006 against Brock Lesnar. I didn’t know who he was back then. I was watching for Brock. The next time I’d see him wrestle was at Wrestle Kingdom 10, almost exactly ten years later. This time I very much knew who he was. The buzz around Nakamura and his matches was intense. My best friend and former East Coast Audio Cast co-host, Bardre Purnell, was practically begging me to watch New Japan for him and him alone. Finally, at the airport headed to Austin on our annual jaunt, I got to watch Shinsuke enter the arena like I’ve never seen anyone enter before. It was riveting, it was awe inspiring, it was majestic even. Within five seconds of seeing him on screen, I got it. I got what everyone had been saying for months. This guy personifies cool. He gets away with things, mannerism that anyone else would get ridiculed for doing. Nakamura is it right now. I think Shinsuke Nakamura is the coolest MF in pro wrestling.
Just my take.
(Check out Travis at www.eastcoastcast.com. A new episode airs every Wednesday night. He’s also a regular cohost of the PWTorch Livecast Mid-Week Flagship with Wade Keller and a Audio Roundtable participant after WWE PPV events. His columns typically appear exclusively several times per month in the VIP PWTorch Weekly Newsletter. This is a free sample of this week’s column.)