One of my earliest memories is watching Shawn Michaels vs “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for the then-WWF World Heavyweight Championship. This was the one where Shawn Michaels had HHH (not yet “Triple H”) and Chyna of D-Generation X in his corner and had “Iron” Mike Tyson assigned as the special enforcer of the match. This was an extremely special match, not only because it was an incredibly fun match with a lot of drama and action, but it also was the unofficial start of the WWE’s Attitude Era.
The WWE shifted from being “family friendly” and started getting much more raunchy, necessitating their television programming to shift from PG to the more naughty rating of TV-14. This is the era of wrestling I grew up with. I was only 3 years old when this happened but I loved it! I loved how much action there was and how bloody the matches could get. I loved the rather ridiculousness of the storylines wherein grandmas could give birth to hands and men could be threatened by getting their peepees chopped off with a katana. I loved the outrageous stunts like muscular women winning a “man’s” championship or a redneck driving a truck up to ringside and hosing his boss down with beer. It was just plain fun. My 3-year old self didn’t understand that it should be demeaning for women to compete in a bra and panties match or that you shouldn’t be cheering for two guys to powerbomb an old lady through a table. But, hey! This was wrestling during the Attitude Era! It was loud, crass and didn’t care about taste and political correctness.
Looking at WWE programming now, things have definitely become more tame, to say the least. They had to because they decided to return to the safer confines of the PG Era. The product is now more child friendly so things never get too violent (unless under special circumstances) and stories leave out all the sex and violence that peppered the Attitude Era’s shows. It’s been like this for quite a while now and things are just becoming rather stale nowadays. It’s time for the WWE to level up and adapt some aspects of the Attitude Era. While you may be thinking that I would want them to go back to the gritty themes, I’m actually not saying that. Well, maybe to some degree, but the WWE doesn’t have to get all bloody and sexual to that degree. Rather, the WWE should look back and distill the essence of what made the Attitude Era great: the attitude.
Think back to the Attitude Era and peel away all of the bloody action and the T&A. Now, what do you actually remember about the period? You remember the wrestlers. You remember the beer-swilling, ass-kicking Stone Cold Steve Austin going against the very head of the WWE, the egotistical and ruthless Vince McMahon. You remember D-Generation X coming to the ring to grunge music or The New Age Outlaws introducing themselves in an incredibly loud manner. You remember Mrs. Foley’s baby boy, Mankind, overcoming tremendous odds beating the Corporate Champion, The Rock, to win his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship for the first time.
Sure, most people think that the Attitude Era was all about sex and violence. But what you really remember were the wrestlers. More importantly, you remember them as incredibly endearing characters you wanted to watch. You may have initially tuned in for the possibility of some women being stripped to their bra and panties or maybe to see someone get maimed in a brutal fashion. But after a while, you do start to care for the characters and you believe them to be “real” people. And that’s the thing; we thought of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mankind, Vince McMahon, The Rock and D-Generation X as “real.”
The characters of the Attitude Era felt like genuine personalities and characters and, while we do know that wrestling is all fake (gasp!) and these aren’t real people, we were invested in the characters and their stories. These stories fit the personalities of these characters and we wanted to know what was going to happen to them. And I’m sad to say that I don’t feel this is the case with the WWE most of the time.
While I do love the actual wrestling and in-ring action of the wild world of sports entertainment, I would like to see a whole lot more of entertaining personalities as well. There are some exceptions, of course. We were drawn to the likes of CM Punk, who dropped pipe bombs and would give sermons on how the higher ups didn’t believe him despite being the best in the world. We wanted to see Daniel Bryan make it to the main event of Wrestlemania and climb to the top of the WWE. It’s also fun to see Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn/Chris Jericho try to bully their way into the title belt scene. And, on a personal note, we wanted to see what AJ Lee was going to do next because she was so unpredictable but the stories were just so good I couldn’t help but love the character!
This is the thing the WWE is currently lacking in this PG Era of sports entertainment. Practically every major feud revolves around one WWE Superstar wanting to be champion. That’s it. The stories are never fueled by personal conflict or their ideology. They all want to be champion. They will try different antics to get into their opponents head like tipping over a truck to crush them or distracting them during a match or something like that. But this isn’t interesting because the stories are not focused on the characters. These feuds are focused on the championships and it’s nothing really personal. That’s doesn’t make a good feud nor will it give me a reason to get invested in it.
The WWE’s Attitude Era may be remembered by all of the crazy and wild antics, which is probably how it got its moniker. But with that decision, they also infused their wrestlers and Superstars with different attitudes that truly made that period of wrestling memorable. The WWE doesn’t need to get all violent or sexual to make things interesting. What they need is the attitude part back.
Do you think the WWE needs to make a few changes to the way they use their Superstars? Let me know in the comments section below!