Apologies upfront if this is a little scattershot. But 43 year old Tom Brady winning his seventh championship ring and fifth MVP award in Super Bowl LV last night (Feb. 7) caused a few thoughts from the Sunday before to resurface in the old duder’s brain, and I figured I’d type ‘em out before they slip away again.
A week ago, Edge won the Men’s Royal Rumble. He’s 47. That in and of itself probably wouldn’t have triggered the #Discourse on the wrestle web, but WWE’s Jan. 31 PPV also featured 54 year old Goldberg in a title match. The guys in the main event were, on average, almost 40. Seth Rollins was the only one in the final four under that.
Vince McMahon leaning on the stars of yesteryear isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Whether it’s because his model is to only have one big star at a time or because the WWE brand is the focus, Vince’s hesitancy to “make new stars” isn’t news either. They’re still interesting enough topics of conversation, though.
Simply complaining about how old the roster is isn’t terribly interesting, though. Or I guess I should say that lamenting it misses a lot of nuance about how people age in 2021, the tools & knowledge currently available to professional athletes, and the modern pro wrestling landscape.
Brady is an extreme example, and if you know anything about his “TB12 Method”, you know the discipline that’s gone into his sustained excellence is damn near superhuman. We’ve heard about guys like Edge and 39 year old Daniel Bryan keeping a similar regimen, though. When your livelihood depends on maintaining your body in peak condition, and your work can make you a millionaire, it’s a worthwhile investment.
WWE-contracted employees get access to the Performance Center, with state-of-the-art equipment and well-trained medical professionals. But a lot of resources don’t require access to a fancy gym and trainers. Brady’s secrets are available in his book, and for sale on his website. That’s just one of thousands of nutrition and fitness systems available. Even a prospective wrestler on a shoestring budget can manage a diet and exercise program that’s miles ahead of what someone could a quarter century ago.
Top-end tools have helped Brady, 36 year old LeBron James, and 39 year old Serena Williams. A WWE main eventer has access to the same things those folks do. Add in modern pro wrestlers making decisions like playing video games instead of closing bars, and they’re going to be able to do a lot more in the ring for a lot longer.
For most of my life as a fan, an athlete’s peak was generally believed to come sometime around age 30. But as with the average life expectancy (which has gone up in the United States by almost two years over the past two decades), that window is shifting. Factor in the ways matches can be structured to showcase an aging wrestler’s strengths, and it’s an even bigger window for the folks McMahon calls “sports entertainers”.
Wrestlers are also reaching the global stage later in life. This may change as the success of AEW fuels a talent arms race, but it’s not unusual for men & women to be 30 or older when they sign with WWE. Will there be WrestleMania 40 arguments that then-41 year old Damian Priest or a then-39 Keith Lee should step aside because they’re too old? They just got here!
Everything’s a case by case basis. I’m not saying McMahon should continue to trot out Undertaker every year. But if science is helping wrestlers maintain a high level of performance into their 40s or 50s, that should be celebrated, not criticized. I hope I can still watch a Bryan match in 2035, even if he can only do 70% of the stuff he can today.
This trend shouldn’t “take spots” from the next generations either, because their prime years will come later. We haven’t even talked about the years that could be added to wrestling careers by a post-COVID schedule with less house shows and therefore less travel and fewer bumps on the bump card.
As is the case in the NFL and other pro sports, conventional wisdom about when a wrestler is “old” needs to change. A lot of factors are working to make it possible for them to safely perform at a high level for much longer. Pointing out someone’s age alone doesn’t tell us much of anything.
Point is, a crappy wrestler is a crappy wrestler. A bad storyline is a bad storyline. A stale roster is a stale roster. A failing developmental system is a failing developmental system.
Age doesn’t have nothing to do with it. But it has a lot less to do with it than it used to. So there are probably better things we can do with our time than talk about it.