The PG Era of the WWE has been widely criticized over the years. Many consider the era to have run from 2008 through 2013. It was a relatively short time in the grand scheme of the company but one that deserves some credit. The six or so years brought amazing commercial growth for McMahon and his empire. It also set the groundwork for what the company has since become. Today we take a look at the ten superstars who shined brightest during the PG Era. The list is in no particular order and will shock some. Let’s jump right in.
Cena began his career ringing in the Ruthless Aggression phase of the company with his challenge of Kurt Angle. At the time, the young Cena was fresh off a call up from Ohio Valley Wrestling and part of a group including Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, and Batista. Cena quickly rose through the ranks with his hustle and flow persona. WWE titles soon followed the popular superstar who eventually become the face of the company. Cena became a superhero for kids all over the world during the PG era and there is likely no other performer more synonymous with the time. Super Cena, as he became known, epitomized the “never give up” attitude commonly found during the Hulkamania days and introduced the WWE to a completely new batch of fans. Of Cena’s 16 World Title reigns, 11 came during the PG Era.
The straight-edged superstar shocked the wrestling world when he walked away from the WWE in March 2014. During his ten years with the WWE, Punk went from an independent darling to arguably the biggest star in the world’s biggest promotion. Punk held either the WWE or World Heavyweight titles five times while also becoming the ECW and tag team champ once each. During the PG Era Punk feuded with the business’ biggest stars from all eras including Cena, The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, and The Rock. Perhaps the biggest indication of how much Punk meant to pro wrestling is the lasting legacy he leaves behind, more than four years after stepping away. His matches are still talked about and his name will be chanted for years to come.
The former Brood member go his start alongside Gangrel and childhood best friend Christian. The three were part of the vampire inspired trio who drank “blood” and dropped buckets of the liquid on their opponents. Eventually Edge and Christian became one of the hottest tag teams in pro wrestling history and enjoyed epic battles during the Attitude Era. However, eventually the Rated-R superstar became a solo act and quickly moved up the ladder to contend for the company’s top prize. Edge was a staple at the top of the card and played the perfect heel during much of the PG Era. His devious and underhanded tactics only enhanced his character as the Ultimate Opportunist who could strike at any moment. A serious neck injury robbed the sport of his presence but he is easily one of the biggest stars in the history of the WWE.
Y2J burst on to the wrestling scene during his time with World Championship Wrestling. The crazy hair and hilarious promos allowed the Canadian wrestler to find a voice in the crowded company. The character eventually turned into the WWE’s first undisputed Heavyweight Champion, beating both Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in the same night. Jericho then transitioned into the Savior of the WWE after a brief hiatus from the company at the start of the PG Era. The world-class wrestler featured an expanded move set and continued his wizardry on the mic. He won multiple titles and became one of the top heels in the company’s history during the era.
Bryan received one of the most improbably pushes of the company’s long history. Initially viewed as just a talented worker who would be relegated to the mid-card, Bryan fought to become the most over superstar since Steve Austin. Bryan’s Yes movement captivated audiences and made fans believe they had found someone to represent them in the company. Bryan was one of the few superstars who scored a clean victory over John Cena during the era. At the end of the PG Era Bryan battled injuries before being forced into an early retirement. Eventually the former Shawn Michaels protegé would return, but his star may never shine brighter than it did during the PG Era.
The Miz was a reality television celebrity who was also a wrestling fan. His familiarity in front of the camera earned the former Real World cast mate a spot with the WWE. The Miz spent most of the era as the much-maligned heel who many felt was undeserving of his spot near the top of the company. However, it is impossible to deny his place in the company, as the annoying bad guy who has it all. These days The Miz is one of the more popular superstars in all of wrestling. Many now recognize his in-ring and character ability, something once viewed as lacking during the early years. Memorable runs in the tag team divisions with John Morrison and The Big Show brought championship gold. On a November 2010 episode of Raw, Miz cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and defeated Randy Orton to win the WWE Championship, currently the only time he has held that title.
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Ziggler was an accomplished collegiate wrestler at Kent State University. He is the last wrestler from Kent State to have won three consecutive amateur championships. Following his graduation from college, the WWE offered him a developmental contract. He made is debut as an enforcer for Chavo Guerrero Jr. in 2005 before returning as part of the Spirit Squad later that year. The Ziggler character debuted in November 2008 and has been a staple on WWE programming ever since. Relegated to the mid to lower card for a couple of years, Ziggler took off in 2010. He won the Intercontinental Championship from Kofi Kingston and held the title for five months. A two-month program with Edge led to a World Heavyweight Championship title win before losing the belt back to the Rated-R Superstar. During the PG Era Ziggler was a consistent superstar who put on solid matches and held his own against the company’s biggest stars. He is one of the most underrated wrestlers in the history of the WWE and will be missed when he finally walks away.
The son of Cowboy Bob Orton has made his own legacy in the WWE. Randy Orton entered the company and instantly received a major push from management. By the time the PG Era came around, Orton had established himself as a major player within the company and had multiple singles and tag team championship reigns. In 2008 Orton formed Legacy, a three-man stable with second generation wrestlers Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase Jr. He feuded with Triple H for the better part of two years and played a ruthless villain. During this time he earned the nickname “The Viper” and is best known for his multiple punts to the head of various opponents and their family members. Orton cemented his own legacy with multiple WWE and Heavyweight title reigns and is easily a future WWE Hall of Famer.
The Irish-born Sheamus made his WWE debut in June 2009, on an episode of ECW. Sheamus feuded with Goldust upon his arrival. After winning a battle royal on Raw, Sheamus received his first title match at the 2009 TLC pay-per-view against John Cena. Sheamus shocked many by defeating Cena in a tables match and capturing the WWE Championship in just six months on the main roster. He became the first Irish-born WWE champion. Sheamus then won the 2010 King of the Ring tournament and became known as King Sheamus. He then won the United States Championship against Daniel Bryan. Sheamus won the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 28 against Daniel Bryan, winning in a record 18 seconds. He would hold the belt for 210 days, one of the longest reigns in the title’s history. Sheamus has been a top performer in the WWE for nearly a decade. He is easily won of the best parts of the PG Era.
Her career spanned the entire PG Era plus a couple of years prior. Beth Phoenix was physically imposing and technically sound in the ring. She was the monster of the Diva’s division. Phoenix won the WWE Women’s Championship in October 2007 before losing the title to Mickie James in April 2008. She competed and won the first women’s “I Quit” match against Melina. Phoenix would go on to win the women’s championship again in late 2008 before entering the 2009 Royal Rumble. She was the second woman ever to enter the match and scored an elimination by sending The Great Khali over the top rope. Phoenix would win her third Women’s Championship in 2010 then her one and only Diva’s Championship in 2011. She left the company in 2012 to focus on her family. Phoenix was the benchmark for the division during her time in the WWE. She was inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame in 2017, becoming the quickest female to be added to the exclusive club.
The PG Era is often looked at negatively when compared to different times in the WWE. However, the change was a tactical move for the company and led to tremendous growth. The era was a commercial success and allowed the creation of the WWE Network and fueled opportunities internationally. While the some of the storylines and characters felt soft at times, it is a disservice to dismiss the period as a whole. The PG Era was an important step for the company and the industry. Perhaps it is time to start looking back at the time with a lighter shade.