Tell your friends who fell off after the Attitude Era. Call your brother who said he just grew out of it. Tell anyone who’ll listen about the renaissance going on in the WWE right now, because at the risk of jumping the gun, wrestling is—dare I say it—cool again.

The dark ages of 2006-2011 are behind us, yes, but the past two years have felt like treading water. Like they just weren’t quite ready to pull the trigger and truly usher in a new ‘era.’ Like they just had the engine in neutral while cashing in on the nostalgia of a lost era. But if the past two nights haven’t been proof enough that WWE is more than ready for the next crop of storylines and wrestlers, I don’t know what more to tell you. Let’s quickly recap the usual complaints of the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community, for those of you just joining us):

But Triple H refuses to put over new talent! Hunter looked as close to the petty, angry and intimidating as hell yet bumbling boss Vince played all those years ago as any of us could hope for. He made Daniel Bryan look like a million bucks on wrestling’s grandest stage not once but twice: Not only did they have one hell of a match to kick off ‘Mania where Bryan pinned Triple H—clean!—but later on in the evening, not even an Authority run-in, a crooked ref and the sledgehammer could stop Bryan. And after last night’s Raw, The Shield is looking more united than ever and a legitimate threat to the McMahon-Helmsley crown.

Yes, Supercena overcame all the odds yet again and beat Bray Wyatt, but Wyatt’s character couldn’t give a damn about W’s and L’s. His story with Cena isn’t over yet, and he’s only gaining popularity every week. The crowd singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands” and swaying in unison? Amazing.

That’s not even to mention Cesaro quickly becoming a top face in the company after winning the first-ever Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal by paying homage to Hogan slamming Andre in his slam of Big Show. Oh, and becoming a freaking Paul Heyman Guy. The Lord was good this Smarksmas.

While the aforementioned guys make up the refreshing present all of a sudden, we’re already looking to the future with vignettes pumping Bo Dallas and Adam Rose.

But WWE relies too much on sure bets and won’t try anything new! Hey guys, remember when the Undertaker had a 22 match winning streak at WrestleMania? Those were the days, huh?

But the Divas division sucks! Not only, if memory serves, did we not see any Total Divas last night on Raw, but the Divas segment saw the debut of one of the most anticipated female wrestlers to get the main roster call-up in years, Paige.

And while it was weirdly booked (“I just wanted to congratulate you, nothing more, and I’m not ready to wrestle despite being in full wrestling gear, oh hell let’s have a title match”), Paige put the kibosh on AJ Lee’s 295 day record-setting Divas Championship run, and now it looks like we’ll get a women’s feud that people actually care about. Throw in Emma, and some of the Total Divas who really can work, and you’ve got yourself the best Divas division since two Hall of Famers were running it about a decade ago.

And for those of you who don’t watch NXT (for shame), Paige really, really is better than she came off last night, both on the mic and in the ring. She was obviously taken aback by the strong reaction she got last night, and while I love me some AJ, there’s no doubt that botched Paige Turner was on her.

But they don’t care about the Tag Team division at all! …Well, that’s true. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.

Torch: Passed

The past two nights have felt like the final end of the reliance on the Attitude Era. The Ruthless Aggression guys—Cena, Orton, Batista—are now the old guard. The beginning of WrestleMania XXX was symbolic and if you listen to what they were saying, it should be pretty transparent: Austin, Rock and Hogan had some amazing runs. They built the house that is WrestleMania. Nothing but respect for them, but it’s not their time anymore.

The future is in more than capable hands with the new crop of talent, led by a certain Yes! man. We don’t need to rely on stars of past eras to sell tickets anymore. We can have storylines that are grounded in reality and make sense. If this truly is the birth of the ‘Reality Era,’ sign me the hell up.

Will professional wrestling ever again reach the heights it did in the vaunted Attitude Era, or even in the late 80s when Hulkamania was running wild? That remains to be seen, but you’d be daft not to feel some kind of change in the air. Daniel Bryan is being covered by mainstream publication after mainstream publication, even hitting the front page of newspapers after ‘Mania. The WWE Network has been an almost universal success, and is only going to become more so when it expands into non-US countries. Mainstream sports stars are flaunting WWE Championships. ESPN is covering ‘Mania and SummerSlam.

We’ve survived the dark times, fellow smarks. We lived through Triple H’s multiple reigns of terror. We survived The Miz main eventing (and winning!) WrestleMania XXVII. We somehow powered through the Guest Host Era. Through the Anonymous RAW GM. Through all the darkness came the light at the end of the tunnel, which we seem to have finally reached. We no longer have to feel at least a tinge of shame for liking our favorite show.

Biggest Void in the World

However, there is still that one thing that feels like it’s missing; one major player who fits so well into the confines of the Reality Era that he’s the man who actually coined the phrase himself years ago. I’m talking, of course, about CM Punk.

We’ve speculated ad nauseum. We’ve gone through the five stages of grief. “It’s a work!” we all told ourselves in complete denial. “Fuck Punk! What an ingrate!” we lamented. “Well, maybe he’s just resting up before ‘Mania…” we bargained. And now I think most of us are in the “…he’s really gone. I can’t believe it.” phase. But let me ask you one thing: after watching the past two nights of WWE, did you even think about Punk once? Outside of times where it could be conceivably stretched to form a tenuous situation where it could have made storyline sense for Punk to come out, did his absence lessen the quality of either WrestleMania XXX or last night’s Raw one iota?

Of course not. While it would be great to have him here, just like Punk said in his famous pipebomb that in many ways started this whole boom, “I’m just a spoke on the wheel. The wheel’s gonna keep turning. I realize that.” And thanks in many ways to Punk, the wheel kept turning in the direction he nudged it years ago.

Just like we think of people like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels as architects of the Attitude Era, despite not actually being around to bask in its peak, CM Punk is an architect of the Reality Era. And while I’m sure most all of us would welcome him back with open arms, the wheel’s gonna keep turning. And it’s turning into one hell of a ride.

  • Russ Dobler

    Yeah, the addition of Punk right now would be kind of disastrous. Bryan’s getting the organic reaction Punk always thought he deserved yet somehow couldn’t achieve. At this point in his career, he seems unable to function without being a focal point, and everyone else has been built too well to sacrifice.

    Dude actually facilitated the most and best changes by walking away. I’ll thank him for that.

    • Patrick Ross

      Punk is one of my favorite wrestlers of all time, and even I must admit, him stepping out of the picture freed up room for some amazing things to happen. Mania couldn’t have gone any better IMO.

      • Russ Whiting

        Never thought I’d see the day you even thought of lambasting your beloved Punk. Ironically be the spark that gets me back into the pro wrestling game.

  • Smark Summers

    I like to think CM Punk was sitting at home in Chicago watching Wrestlemania, expecting it to be an abject failure without him, seeing all the excitement for Bryan and just thinking “NOOOO! THAT SHOULD BE ME, DAMMIT!”

    • Russ Dobler

      I hope he’s not that self-centered. But then again ….

      • ScottAnthonyLevy

        “What about me? What about CM Punk?!”