Hey Scott. Your recent post regarding the "Best Final Matches" of certain wrestlers got me thinking about the various epochs of professional wrestling in North America. But a comment in said thread really got the creative juices going.
Every major period in pro wrestling seems to have a clear beginning, a decisive point where the beginning of the end is seen, and a symbolic ending to it. In the NWA (or WCW), for instance, Ric Flair's run as the true face of the promotion began at Starrcade '83 when he toppled Harley Race for his second world title, and ended with the unceremonious firing by Jim Herd in the summer of 1991. I looked a bit deeper, though, and would be so bold as to say that while Herd's firing of Flair was the symbolic end to his reign as the top dog in WCW (since he was never the same force in the promotion again), you could see the beginning of the end as early as 1990, when the new generation (represented by Sting) finally overcame him in 1990. Sure, he would win the title back in 1991, but it was really the beginning of the end for Flair's reign as the undisputed King of the NWA.
In the WWF, you can see something similar to Hulk Hogan, who actually had not one, but three "definitive" endings to his first WWF run. With a universally agreed-upon starting point set in 1984 with his title victory over the Iron Sheik, you could run it out to WrestleMania VI, where he lost the title to the Ultimate Warrior and "passed the torch" in much the same way Flair had to Sting (since both Warrior and Sting ended up as disappointing champions their first time out). You could make a case for WrestleMania VIII, which was really the culmination of nine years on the road with the WWF as its top attraction. And you can certainly look at 1993's King of the Ring, where Yokozuna crushed him and led to his turfing from the promotion. But looking closer, you could almost see the beginning of the end at the Main Event in 1988, with his title loss to Andre. It was the first time Hogan had been beaten. The superhero had been felled, even if it came as treachery. After that, Hogan's stature was lessened a bit, because you had the Macho Man operating at the same level in the fan's eyes for a time, and then you had the Warrior rise up not long after. Like Flair, Hogan would have success after the beginning of the end. But it was really an iconic moment that really foreshadowed the changing times.
As I looked back, I could count a number of these areas where you had clear starting points and symbolic endings, like Steve Austin's start at King of the Ring 1996, his symbolic end at WrestleMania XIX, and the beginning of the end with his awkward heel turn at WrestleMania X-Seven. Or you could even use Bret Hart, whose Intercontinental Championship victory at Summerslam 1991 launched his solo career for good, the WrestleMania 13 double-turn the beginning of his downfall, and Montreal representing the symbolic end. Who else has such identifiable periods in their career that you can recall?
Those would actually be the major ones I could think of as well. I think it’s much more notable that someone like the Rock didn’t have a “beginning of the end” phase. It was all rising action, and then one day he went to Hollywood and never looked back. Ditto for someone like Brock Lesnar, who was on top of the business for his entire career. You could probably make a case for Goldberg having an era, who debuted strong, and then saw the beginning of the end with the stupid car punching injury, and finally the heel turn that killed him off for good.