I’m a British fan of WWE, and therefore I have just started to enjoy the glories that exist in the Aladdin’s cave of the WWE Network. As the Royal Rumble fast approached, I watched old Royal Rumbles and enjoying the attitude era ones in particular. This led me to a realisation, and an understanding of why many, like myself, pine for an era of equivalent awesomeness as we saw during the days of The Attitude Era.
The Attitude Era had headliners such as HHH, The Rock, Stone Cold, The Undertaker, Kane, Mankind, The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz, Edge and Christian, and many more, all of whom could, at any time, rev up the show and tear up the playing field for their own reasons, and across several divisions. They were raw and manic and dangerous, and made wrestling look like the hardest thing in the world. It was ugly, and for that, it was beautiful.
As far as I can see, the thing that made the Attitude Era so immortal was that there wasn’t one single unstoppable force and equality existed in every division due to the nature of the superstars at hand. Most stars could be a champion at any time. Today, we are entertained, sure. I love watching The Usos and Dolph Ziggler. I even like the totalitarian threat of the Authority. But it is a clean, glossy, neon-signs-pointing-to-the-merchandise affair week in, week out. It feels controlled. What’s more, it feels like a low blow now the glorious past is being rubbed in my face for just £9.99 a month.
Let’s look at today’s stage – nowadays, threats are few and far between and I don’t feel like I am treated to more that four what-the-hell-is-going-on? moments in a year’s worth of programming. Though it has only been a reality for a short while (in the grand scheme of things, Brock Lesnar and Brock Lesnar alone makes up the top-tier of superstars, and he is above all others by a long shot. His relationship with Paul Heyman (an Attitude Era catalyst) and his presence in the ring endow him with a god-status that ‘Taker, HHH, The Rock and Stone Cold, and others enjoyed at the same time.
In my mind Brock Lesnar is followed, at a great distance, by the next tier, which consists of Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. These are wrestlers that embody many traits of the greatest wrestlers, but they are far too inexperienced and far too incomplete to be headlining The Show of Shows any time in the next two years. However, WWE has selected these former stable-mates as the guys you should like, so they are pushed, for better or for worse, week in, week out. This has led to a situation in which WWE are overlooking superstars with a more legitimate claim to the top-tier prize being held hostage by Brock Lesnar.
That tier down includes, though not exclusively, one of the truest talents that the WWE has to offer – Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler is probably this generations potential Shawn Michaels; he has charisma by the jar, and an over-the-top amount of self-belief. He is also a superb athlete and is impressive to watch despite a relatively repetitive move-set. I personally stop whatever I am doing when Smackdown or Raw are playing and watch him until he utters his final words or the bell rings. The only other superstar that does this to me is Brock Lesnar, but for entirely different reasons.
Of course, you’re then left with what can be summed up as ‘the rest of the roster’, mainly because they are poorly used as meaningless performers and jobbers. This isn’t the fault of true talents such as Damien Sandow and Big E Langston – they are fine wrestlers in their own right – but they are written badly, used badly, and booked badly. They have no claim to anything special because the fans don’t want them to have anything special. And anybody who knows a thing or two about anything knows that the fans want what we’re told to want. Just imagine Dolph Ziggler following the path Daniel Bryan did, and imagine him leading the Yes! movement. It doesn’t seem that ridiculous does it?
Back to today and the missing components; you may have noticed that I have left a few names out of this post thus far. Well that is because they are ghosts, and they haunt the WWE in unique ways that Brock Lesnar cannot, and in turn they can never be as impressive as him physically. John Cena cannot be removed because he makes too much money; Big Show is a one-of-a-kind athlete, and belongs in the ring; the same can be said for Kane (both the athlete and the character). Then there is Randy Orton – so engrained into the business and well endowed with historical significance that he always figures into plans one way or another. Lastly there is Daniel Bryan, who shouldn’t be on this list of ghosts, haunting the WWE, but he is, because the fans took a piece of a flammable story and threw it into the Sun. All great wrestlers that need a place, even when they cannot be placed.
And that’s the trouble. The Attitude Era was full to the brim of superstars that didn’t need to have a place found for them by good writing or through good salesmanship. They were just there – dangerously unpredictable and glorious for it. We don’t have that today. We have predictable and glossy promos that lead to drama without suspense, comedy without laughs, and triumph without journeys. It’s sometimes hard to call who will win a match, of course, but how many times have you found yourself not caring?
Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I just can’t keep up.