When I was growing up in my younger years, I only caught glimpses of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, as it was known up until April 2002) here and there. The earliest image I can remember, one of the first episodes I watched (only a portion of it) was one of the worst episodes to start on. The earliest episode I can recall, aside from some tag-team match where this woman accidentally causes her boyfriend the victory (that happens a lot, so it’s difficult to pinpoint), is the Bryan Pillman Tribute Show. Because he died, and so the whole episode was the wrestlers and announcers talking about him and honoring his memory and having a moment of silence for him. Eventually my mother got me to change the channel because she knew what this was, that it wasn’t a normal episode, and knew I wasn’t really going to enjoy it all that much. This was in 1997, when I should’ve been watching it regularly (but didn’t). So I pretty much stayed away from it for the most part, occasionally getting a glimpse here and there, until 2003.
I was more familiar with the “characters” than I was with the matches or the storylines at the time. They were a background thing that I never watched very much. I don’t remember why exactly I didn’t watch it more often than I did at the time. I think it was partly due to school, other shows I had an interest in, and partly due to my parents disliking the program and thus discouraged me from watching it. It wasn’t until just after Wrestlemania XIX that I actually started watching it regularly. In hindsight, thinking back on it, I’m so angry with myself for not watching it earlier that I wish I could time travel back to 1996 (I’d settle for ’97 if I had to) and slap my younger self in the face and shout, “You start watching this show right now or your going to regret it for the rest of your life!” Because, well let’s face it, if there’s any time period in WWF/WWE that anyone really remembers, it was the Attitude Era, which (officially) began in 1997 and ended (officially) in 2001. And knowing what was on the shows back then, and knowing how shitty it is today compared to back then, I know now that I missed out on a lot of great stuff.
Through the Eyes of a Growing Teenager
But anyway, with that in mind, the years following the attitude era weren’t half-bad. Shawn Michaels, the Heartbreak Kid (HBK) had returned and, though I didn’t know it or appreciate it at the time, would eventually go on to be my favorite wrestler of all time. Aside from him, my personal favorite when I first got started was Kane. His bulking size, his mask, the fire and flames theme, his intimidation and power. Probably because he looked like a Jason Voorhees action figure dipped in red or something, it made him appealing to me. So I always hoped he would hold the World Heavyweight Championship (something that I believe most fans wanted of their favorite wrestlers, assuming they were in that weight class, up until they decided to fuck with that when Rey Mysterio got the title at Wrestlemania XXII in 2006). But he never did, at least not while I was watching it. That got me to look into the past to see if he ever held the championship, which he did, for a few days, before losing it again to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Knowing that made me dislike Steve Austin pretty quickly, though his personality and “takes no shit from authority” attitude eventually won me over some time later. And in hindsight, Kane was just a so-so wrestler. He could do some decent wrestling, but like most “big guys,” his wrestling moves were fairly limited compared to those who were smaller. That being said, for one of the big guys, he was a bit above average when it came to wrestling moves. His main appeal was his character and presence/appearance.
But the man with the mask wasn’t the one I would become primarily familiar with. I started watching the show regularly after he removed his mask and fought without it. I still found him intimidating, but even though I was suckered into thinking he was more badass without the mask at the time, in hindsight (I’m going to be using those two words together, back-to-back, a lot throughout this review), I would’ve found him just as intimidating, if not more-so, with the mask on. Plus the mask was awesome. But in any case, I was all into his reign of destruction and power, even if he never held the title. Because it seemed like the only guy capable of beating him in a fair fight at the time was Bill Goldberg, whom the WWE built up as this powerhouse of a man. Someone who could beat Kane, but only barely. Aside from Goldberg, Kane’s feud with Rob Van Dam (RVD; someone I was convinced was Jeanne Claude Van Damme’s brother at the time) and Shane McMahon was fun. But then the Undertaker returns at Wrestlemania XX, the dead man, the phenom, the one guy who was built up to be definitively better and stronger than Kane. So eventually my favorite changed over to him. Plus, let’s face it, his getup is great, and the only thing better than that was his entrance. However, he was a Smackdown guy.
I still don’t recall watching Smackdown very much, even if Undertaker was the biggest draw for me at the time, giving me a reason to watch that show. And in hindsight (told you), Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit (yes, I’m going to be saying “he who’s name should not be spoken”‘s name frequently, fuck all you deniers) should’ve been the other reasons to get me to start watching Smackdown. Pretty sure I gave the show a few chances, but the Raw program was overall more entertaining at the time, or at least that was my mindset back then (2003-4). The other reason I remember primarily avoiding Smackdown was because of John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL). I fucking hated that guy, and couldn’t stand the fact that he was winning all the time until Wrestlemania 21 in 2005 (they didn’t use roman numerals for that Wrestlemania for some reason).
Granted, Hunter Heart Helmsley (HHH) also hogged the spotlight a lot and was almost always on the World Heavyweight Title scene, but he was a wrestler I loved to hate. And he put on better matches and better speeches/promos. The HBK and HHH feud was great, and I was digging the rise of the Evolution klique, even if just to be eager to see someone destroy them. The main one to challenge them ended up being Goldberg, plus HBK got involved too, and there was that whole feud between Steve Austin and Eric Bischoff (another guy everyone loved to hate). I kept watching the show eagerly waiting for somebody, anybody, to just destroy and obliterate HHH and his lackeys (Randy Orton [never really cared much for him, though he played a great heel], Ric Flair [always looked too old to be considered a legit threat in an actual match], and Batista [Jesus aged Christ, the muscles on that motherfucker]), along with Eric Bitchoff.
Speaking of which, I really loved how Raw opened for a while, showing an image of Bischoff (to which everyone boo’d at) and then an image of Steve Austin (to which everyone cheered at). The Austin and Eric feud was the only thing more epic than the feud with Evolution vs, well, everyone else. Also helped that Eric was allied with Evolution. However, the main showdowns were always on pay-per-views. And those had to be paid for. So I asked my parents if they would order a pay-per-view for me. And I can’t for the life of me remember if they ever did. I’m going to assume they didn’t, because they were too expensive, and the only way I ever really got involved with the pay-per-views (aside from seeing the highlights and aftermath on Raw, and Smackdown) was either purchasing them for a discount price at used thrift stores, video stores (like FYE) or GameStop back when they were trading DVDs along with games. I made sure to do some research online (mostly Amazon.com) to see if the matches were worth it prior to purchasing. Aside from that, I eventually started going online and watching the play-by-play results on various websites to read the results live.
Thinking back on it, the main reason I was watching this show was less because of the matches (though I remember them being decent enough, with the occasional great one here and there) and more because of the characters and the soap-opera-for-dudes storylines. That being said, there were a few matches I do still remember from the shows, even to this day. I remember Kane vs. RVD in a steel cage match. RVD vs. Randy Orton at the time when Orton was feuding (or at least attempting to feud) with Mick Foley. Lita vs. Trish in what was probably the best Women’s match I’d ever seen on Raw (December 4, 2004). Kane vs. Goldberg (something tells me if I watch that match again today I won’t remember it as fondly). The Rock vs. The Hurricane (oh yeah, that reminds me, I enjoyed the Hurricane and Rosey tag-team at the time). HBK vs. Cena in a 50+ minute match (that never fucking happens, ever, it’s a miracle this one did). HBK vs. Angle in a 30 minute Iron-Man match. HHH vs. Benoit in a 30 minute Iron-Man match. HBK vs. HHH (December 29, 2003). Chris Benoit vs. Kane in a rematch after their Bad Blood ppv match. And those are the main ones I remember. All those years, all those hours, and that’s all I remember off the top of my head.
Everything else I remember more clearly were the characters and storylines. That’s what kept me hooked, and kept me coming back for more. I still remember the Hurricane and Rosey tag team, Trish and Lita’s feud, HBK and HHH’s feud, Steve Austin’s feud with Bischoff, the whole rise and fall of Evolution, HHH’s feud with Batista, HBK’s feud with Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero’s feud with Rey Mysterio, JBL’s title reign (which angered me to no end). And, of course, the rise of John Cena.
Now, John Cena is worth mentioning because I initially liked the guy even if I found his matches monotonous (he takes a beat-down throughout the match until he miraculously recovers like Hulk Hogan and beat the opponent a few moves later; that tended to be the pattern). I liked him because he finally beat JBL (I would’ve fawned over anyone who finally took the title off that asshole). And then he came over to Raw in 2005. At first I was just “meh” about him. But then I started picking up his patterns, and how monotonous his matches were getting. His attitude and character started to get tiresome. And then next thing I new, he was thrust into the main event spotlight at Wrestlemania XXII against HHH. Now, pretty much everyone new he was going to win this match, but most people didn’t want him to. But win he did, even if his match quality was only good so long as he was paired with good wrestlers. So then, for the first time ever, I was starting to hate a “face,” even if it’s “heels” that are supposed to be the ones getting the hate from the fans. And this hatred towards Cena that I felt continued well into the next Wrestlemania, XXIII (2007), where he was once again in the main event and defeated HBK. At that point, I knew I hated this son of a bitch. He was hogging the spotlight as much as JBL and HHH were, except that unlike those heels who managed to maintain holding the title because they resorted to cheap tactics and had outside help from other heels in their klique, he was supposedly strong enough to do it on his own. He basically became fucking Superman (though Rocky would’ve been a better nickname). And I couldn’t stand that Vince McMahon was keeping this guy as the title holder when he just wasn’t all that great of a wrestler. However, it is worth mentioning that I have been told he’s done some decent amateur wrestling in the past, which I’m willing to believe. However, I wouldn’t give a shit if he was a gold medal winner for Olympic wrestling if he couldn’t put on an entertaining and at least somewhat believable match. There were many other wrestlers around at the time he were easily better than him, who knew at least as much amateur wrestling as Cena. In addition, I believe the overall quality of the shows (both Raw and Smackdown) were in decline. At first I thought it was just because my hatred for Cena was making me want to hate everything else, but eventually I realized, no, it was the quality of the shows that were declining.
This lead me to take a look into the only professional wrestling alternative I knew of at the time, TNA (not tis & ass, total nonstop action). And for a small while, it was a pretty damn solid alternative. However, match/show quality and company decisions eventually made me lose interest very quickly in that franchise. I mainly stuck with it during the Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe feud, and for a brief time afterwards.
The Event That Changed Things
And then, suddenly, an event happened that shocked the entire professional wrestling industry practically by its very foundations. The death of Chris Benoit on June 24, 2007, and his wife and child. When I first heard about his death, my first reaction was shock and sadness, and then recalling seeing his DVD at GameStop a week or 2 prior to this. Hard Knocks: The Chris Benoit Story. So I went online to see if it was available. Well, it was out of print, but the prices weren’t unreasonable last I checked. But then sure enough, on the day this incident happened, every-single-mother-fucking-copy available on Amazon.com had shot up to prices not much less than $100, if even that low. So, I got in my car, drove over to the GameStop store to see if the DVD was still there. Sure enough, it was, for around $10-15 or something like that. I snatched that up as fast as I could and went home with it. And that night, on Raw, they did a tribute show towards Benoit, much as they did for Eddie Guerrero in the previous year (he had also died due to heart failure, likely caused by drugs). It was as emotional as the Eddie Guerrero tribute. The major wrestlers talking about their experiences with Benoit, what a great guy he was, what a loss this is, their sadness, etc.
But then came the day after this news broke. All of a sudden, the story is that Chris Benoit killed both his wife and child, and then himself. At this point, I was in disbelief. I went online and saw rumors floating about that this could’ve been a mafia hit, that Benoit’s wife’s ex-husband/boyfriend may have been associated with the mob, and had them all killed and made it look like an accident. For a small while, I wanted to believe that to be the true story. But eventually, I began to accept the facts. That this wrestler whom I admired for a period of time had done an abominable act. Why? Well, it was all speculation as to why, and I don’t remember everything I was thinking or what websites/forums I went to discussing this. But I do remember that on the ECW show that night, it opened with Vince McMahon issuing an apology for the insensitive tribute show they had the previous night before the show went on.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Last night on Monday Night Raw, the WWE presented a special tribute show, recognizing the career of Chris Benoit. However, now some 26 hours later, the facts of this horrific tragedy are now apparent. Therefore, other than my comments, there will be no mention of Mr. Benoit’s name tonight. On the contrary, tonight’s show will be dedicated to everyone who has been affected by this terrible incident. This evening marks the first step of the healing process. Tonight, WWE performers will do what they do better than anyone else in the world: entertain you.
Continuing as if nothing had happened.
As the days/weeks/months went on, more news began to hit. That Vince McMahon and the WWE were no longer acknowledging the existence of Benoit, and were attempting to erase just about every trace of his existence from their history. All mentions of him were removed from the WWE website. Versions of Wrestlemania XX where Benoit was one of the main event wrestlers for the world heavyweight championship (which he had won) had removed that match. Just about every release of ppv events and other stuff, either digitally or physical copies, would not feature Benoit in any way shape or form, even going to far as to remove any mention of his name by announcers. If I recall correctly, there was also some place where wrestlers had their names carved in stone, and the owners of that place had decided to etch out Benoit’s name.
While I was appalled by Benoit’s actions, this censorship didn’t sit well with me (and you know how I am today in regards to censorship in general). This was not the way. This also ended up aiding in my decision in regards to watching WWE regularly later on.
What is worth noting is that, a year or so after this incident, it was determined (albeit unofficially) that the primary reason for Benoit committing this act was due to the condition of his brain. His brain was severely messed up to the point of appearing like that of a brain belonging to an old-aged individual with dementia. It was determined that all the blows Benoit received to his head throughout his wrestling career (one of his main maneuvers was a flying head-butt off the top rope). This case of brain trauma would also be found in some ex-NFL players, and is the main topic of discussion in the Will Smith film Concussion. This apparently lead to a branch of the U.S. government to examine WWE wrestlers, checking for drug use, mismanagement, anything wrong that could lead to something like this happening. Many wrestlers were found to use steroids (of course), and steroid use became a hot-topic for a while. One theory that popped up amidst all this was “roid-rage” being the cause for Benoit killing his family (that ended up not being the case, at least primarily, as mentioned above). But in any case, this lead Vince McMahon to want a more friendly and careful image attributed to the WWE. More on that later.
What Lead Me To Stop Watching
At this time, I was also on the WWE website participating in a live chat with other fans. And, of course, there were some Cena fans and Cena haters in the chat. We went back and forth, and I watched other people go back and forth, talking about Cena, Vince, the show, the other wrestlers, etc. And then at one point, someone replied to something I (or someone else) said, basically saying something along the lines of, “You know, with all your bitching and moaning, you’re just going to go back to watching this show that you call a piece of shit.” At that point, I thought to myself, “Wanna bet!?” And that was it. At some point in 2008, I decided to stop watching Raw and Smackdown (and the WWE’s excuse for ECW). I believe I did this at an earlier point in time just to see if the overall quality of the show would improve or something by reading reports on the shows and/or the ppvs. Going on temporary strikes just to see if other were following suit so that the ratings of the show would suffer and therebye get Vince to listen to us and give us what we want and get Cena out of the title spotlight; but he pretty much never did (at least not on a permanent basis, not while Cena wasn’t injured or involved in a movie anyway). But, once I made that mental remark to myself in the chat room after some contemplating, I stopped watching the damn show(s).
That being said, I did keep tabs on the wrestlers and stories and match qualities for a while, mainly via IGN.com’s Matt Fowler which is still going to this day (and I must confess, his blogging style heavily influenced my blogging style on this website), if only to see if there were some decent ppvs worth tracking down and purchasing. And I managed to keep following for a couple years. But once I learned of the “PG Era” transition in 2009, that sealed it’s fate for me; I wasn’t ever going back to watching it while that policy was maintained. Soon after HBK retired (if I recall correctly), my interest began to wane. And after Undertaker lost his sacred streak to Brock Lesnar, I lost interest entirely, and stopped following any updates altogether.
So, yeah, John Cena and declining show quality were the primary reasons I stopped watching professional wrestling. And with TNA being no better, I lost interest in professional wrestling altogether.
In regards as to why the WWE would go into this “PG era,” I can think of a few reasons. Firstly, John Cena. He wasn’t all that popular with those who were adults and/or lifelong fans of the show, but he was a big hit primarily with dumb cunt kids who convinced their dumb cunt parents to by his dumb cunt merchandise by enough boatloads that Vince determined the business didn’t need those viewers who were from the Attitude Era (and earlier). This show needed to appeal to kids. Thus, he kept John Cena in the spotlight as much as he could. Plus Vince also has a hard-on for big massive muscular dudes.
The other reason is because his wife Linda was planning to get involved in politics, so a more politically correct image was needed to improve her chances of a political career. In addition, I believe the Benoit incident gave another reason to make the show more family-friendly, and give less of an appearance of a show that was raising potential murderers.
In any case, the PG era was not for me. John Cena was not for me. This wasn’t the show that I grew up with and enjoyed anymore. It didn’t improve, it got worse. It got too sanitary. It lost its edge. It lost its attitude.
Through My Eyes Now
However, in recent months, the urge to revisit the WWF/WWE hit me, like that urge to watch a movie you haven’t seen for nearly a decade that you remember enjoying. But there was no way I was going to watch the current shows (especially since, from what I understand, it’s still PG). So I went back to one of the pay-per-views from 2001 that I had acquired and had stored in the past, Wrestlemania X-Seven (arguably the greatest Wrestlemania of all time). Many consider 2001 to be the greatest year in WWF/E history (highly debatable), so I figured that would be a good place to start. However, a few matches in, and then I began to think to myself, “If the attitude era is supposed to be the greatest era of WWF/E history, why not try to go back further?” So I did a bit of research as to when professional wrestling was considered great, to have great matches, great storylines and characters, and great segments on their shows. From what I gathered, prior to Bret Hart coming onto the scene and becoming a big name, Hulk Hogan pretty much dominated the scene and was the big top guy. Big buff dudes were getting title shots, and their matches got monotonous real fast. The only guys around to make things entertaining were either the tag matches (not a big fan of those, though there are exceptions), or the people going for the Intercontinental title. When Ric Flair and Mr. Perfect got into the title spotlight, being able to headline events, and especially when Bret Hart gained the spotlight with the title, things began to get decent. This was in the very early 90s. Up until then, the main stand-out wrestlers in terms of having actual “wrestling” talent with a variety of moves and pacing were “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. The only real downside to this early 90s era was that it was too cartoonish, too safe (especially with Roddy Piper largely absent).
Plus I don’t have that much time on my hands to go back that far. So I’ve decided to take a look back into 1995, and see how the WWF slowly evolved towards the Attitude Era, and how it was during that period compared to the later years up to 2005. So, yeah, I aim to revisit 10 years in wrestling (1995-2005), maybe to 2008 if I wanted to. I’ve started taking a look into matches and events from back then, to see the wrestling quality. Sure enough, Bret Hart was the main guy in the spotlight bringing out the best matches. But of course, he wasn’t alone. Shawn Michaels was also there stealing the spotlight from Bret off and on with the quality of his matches, especially in 1994 at Wrestlemania X with his famous ladder match against Razor Ramone. Those 2 were in the spotlight because they brought out the best matches out of others. That being said, they weren’t the only ones doing decent matches, but they were the best. There was also Jeff Jerret, Scott Hall (aka Razor Ramone), Diesel, the 1-2-3 Kid (soon to be X-Pac), British Bulldog, Bam Bam Bigelow, Owen Hart, and Goldust. There may have been others I missed.
The heart and soul of the Attitude Era was Stone Cold Steve Austin in my opinion, so I say it didn’t really begin until Steve Austin took on his “Stone Cold” persona and began his legendary “break the glass” entrance and his pissed off badass redneck persona. If I recall correctly, this happened at King of the Ring 1996 (June 23).
From there, the WWF would continue to build more and more attitude, as well as more and more controversy (the Pullman gun incident, the Montreal Screwjob, the Turner/CNN incident), having characters that would become as iconic as Hulk Hogan without the 1-dimensional character, without hogging the spotlight to the point where it harmed the careers of others, and pushing the envelope not just for entertainment, but for necessity and survival against WCW which entered onto the scene big time in 1995.
So many great moments from 1996-2001, and great inventive matches as well. Say what you will about the classic mat wrestling of yore. While there are classics among matches from that time period (Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage at Wrestlemania III, Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels at 1992 Survivor Series, Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramone in the ladder match at Wrestlemania X, Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog at 1992 Summerslam, Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart at Wrestlemania X), much of those would become overshadowed from matches from 1996 and onwards. In 1996, the 60-minute Iron Man Match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels happened and is considered legendary (and rightly so, it highlighted the best of mat wrestling along with some instances of high-risk maneuvers). In 1997, the Hell in the Cell Match introduced in 1997, Mick Foley’s insane stunts, Stone Cold Steve Austin’s attitude and dominance and skits and rivalry with Vince McMahon, the rise of The Rock as well as his rivalry with Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Brock Lesnar, Chris Jericho Y2J, Kane, Undertaker finally able to do good matches, HHH, the Hardy Boyz, the Dudley Boyz, Edge, Christian, Rob Van Dam, Chyna, D-Generation X, the Rock-n-Sock connection, the street fight at King of the Ring 2001 between Angle and Shane McMahon, Angle and Benoit’s rivalry, the Tables Ladders & Chairs matches, among other things that are impossible to cover in a single paragraph with justice. And women’s matches started to get good from 2002 and onwards (at least the ones involving Trish and Lita).
Revisiting portions of this time period (mainly via PPVs) has been fun. But it’s also worth noting that it wasn’t a perfect golden age. Not every PPV was a hit. Not every wrestler was great. There were shows and PPVs that were just so-so at best, some of them just downright bad. But there was also enough entertainment to be found surrounding those lulls to keep one invested.
This continued into 2005, even if a few storylines and “incidents” were being copied from those found during the 1997-2001 attitude era (that’s the official timeline, but I’d go farther and say 1996-2001). Hell, in 2002, a miracle happened, with Shawn Michaels making a return after leaving for 4 years due to a back injury that should’ve ended his wrestling career permanently, let alone his drug problem, and managed to wrestle better than ever before. Chris Benoit went from being a practical nobody to a big champion for a while in 2005, breaking the HHH dominated years and allowing new(ish) talent to thrive. But from 2006 and onwards, John Cena became a problem (and thus, Vince McMahon became a problem, especially when there was a lack of serious competition in the industry). It started out small, everyone thinking he would have his proper amount of time in the spotlight before other talent got their chance, except that no other talent really had much of a chance once he was in the spotlight. It’s like the whole thing went on a bell curve, the curve starting at a low point in the early years, rising to its peak during the attitude era, and then slowly going back down to where it started once Cena became the new Hulk Hogan (with the same goddamn 1-dimensional good-guy trait once you ignore his early years), stealing everyone’s spotlight, putting all the other talent down including new up-and-comers, and the company eventually regressed into the same PG-era environment that pervaded the industry earlier on prior to the attitude era. On top of that, it got too gimmick-heavy, much like it was during the cartoon period of the early-mid 90s (except marginally better).
The one saving grace that I hear exists currently is the NXT show, but it’s something that can only be watched via the WWE Network, so you have to pay a subscription fee. While it may be worth it for better match quality and better talent, I’m not going to be paying a monthly fee while Vince McMahon continues to make this PG-era a thing. Hell, as far as I’m concerned, there’s enough entertainment from 2005 and all the years earlier to keep me entertained while ignoring the other more previous years.
There may come a time where I decide to get back into professional wrestling. Likely if I end up getting a wife, a more decent job, and kids to raise (and I’ll be sure they’re raised on Attitude Era stuff before they even think about watching the stuff that’s on today). The kids would most likely be the factor that would get me to get back into it all, in the present-tense. Until then, nostalgia and “the good old days” is all I need.