A very salient and time appropriate point was recently made by L.E.W.D.’s resident truth telling aficionado Corbin Macklin:
You can make an argument that my generation grew up spoiled by seeing The Rock, Stone Cold, HHH, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, Undertaker, Kane, Big Show, Shawn Michaels, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho etc every week…
One would be hard-pressed to argue with the fact that thousands, if not millions, of today’s most vocal pro wrestling fans today were indeed spoiled by the capers and athleticism of the aforementioned stars from more than seventeen years ago. These men, along with a bevy of women as well, left an indelible mark on this business we call pro wrestling during the highly acclaimed “Attitude Era,” that legendary and almost mythical time period where it was cool and acceptable to watch and indulge in all things pro wrestling. This era was defined by brash attitudes and vulgar language, rampant soft core pornography, controversial storylines, and in-ring actual that seemingly always ended with someone profusely bleeding. The risqué, “too raunchy for prime time” rated-R product of the late nineties provided countless hours of entertainment for viewers; from the middle-finger flipping, boss beating, beer swilling shenanigans of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to the crotch chopping, anti-establishment antics of Degeneration X, the spirit and ethic of the Attitude Era spat in the face of polite society and took no prisoners as it steamrolled over all things pleasing, polished, and polite.
These things alone did not make the Attitude Era what it was; in hindsight along with Brother Corbin’s point, we can see that the Attitude Era was made possible and popular by a unique cast of characters, scores of wrestlers, writers, bookers, producers and owners from three different organizations (WWF/E, WCW and ECW) who were in the right place and right time as the stars aligned to create a legacy that has yet to be duplicated in any form or fashion. The Attitude Era was truly defined by the brilliance, work ethic, and passion of the men and women who gave their all plus some every time they stepped inside the ring or represented their respective promotion. The Attitude Era, with it’s politics and the unregulated obsession with blood, boobs, butts and four-letter words, was successful because there existed a communal desire among all vested parties to be the best in the pro wrestling world and within one’s own promotion. This is to say that any given wrestler during that period of time not only wanted to be the best in their promotion, but was intentionally committed to doing whatever was necessary to make sure their promotion was the best in the world.
The raunchiness, crassness and politically incorrectness was only a tool of the Attitude Era, which ultimately served as a tool used by the WWE during the Monday Night War period against WCW. Behind those tools, however, was the rich and deep talent pool filled with solid athletes and creative minds. Speaking specifically of the WWE, not only were the main event stars mentioned earlier (Stone Cold, The Rock, Mankind, Eddie Guerrero, Undertaker, etc.) battling one another for ring supremacy, but lower tiered talent such as Val Venis, Mark Henry and D’Lo Brown, Savio Vega, Luna Vachon, Goldust, Droz, The Big Bossman , Crush, Taka Michinoku, Chyna, Sable and Mark Mero, Ken Shamrock and The Godfather also held their own in the ring, providing just as much entertainment and excitement as those superstars heavily featured in the promotion. Everybody fired on all four cylinders and did so for their own good, each other, and to keep the competition from stomping them into oblivion.
The Attitude Era effectively died when that desire no longer existed, ushering in subsequent periods where all vested parties became increasingly interested in their own personal goals and desires. With a communal desire to succeed no longer permeating through the actions of wrestlers or the intentions of the bookers, writers, producers and owners, pro wrestling slowly morphed into the static, spiritless state it is today, where individuals from the bottom to the top appear more concerned with their own varying ambitions and aspirations than anything else. Today’s product is defined by incessant complaining of individual stars being held back, “buried,” mistreated or disrespected by the system, coupled with the constant criticism against the system’s alleged refusal to kowtow to the desires of “the fans.” Communal desire has been replaced with persistent protesting, and that along with a lack of true competition makes a divided roster and hierarchical structure even more uninspired, insipid and lackluster.
There are some fans whose persistent protesting contains the wish to return to the days of the Attitude Era, explicitly seeking to satiate a craving for a more “adult” themed product from days past. There exists the notion than the current product has been watered down too much by the politically correct, family-friendly PG politics of the day, rendering the WWE’s content a shell of the ratings juggernaut it once was. What’s not understood by those clinging to this notion is that the Attitude Era was an anomaly, an aberration of what once was the standard in the world of pro wrestling that coincided perfectly with the culture and circumstances of the time. A product today saturated with swearing, scantily clad women, and socially unacceptable storylines would not and could not float with today’s generation of pro wrestling consumers.
What fans want, however, is the same level of passion and dedication that was expressed by the populace and the promotion several years ago. The magic of the Attitude Era cannot be recreated; the type of change that’s needed cannot be found in the endless cycle of recreating what worked seventeen years ago using today’s generation of wrestlers and wrestling minds for a minority within fans that can’t reconcile with the past long enough to truly appreciate the superstars wrestling today.
There within lies the curse of the Attitude Era; the hype and the euphoria found in reminiscing on those violent, angst-filled nights casts quite the looming shadow over today’s pro wrestling landscape. We want so badly to hear dirty words and to see blood in every match masked as “real wrestling,” all while pretending as if the rosters, creative teams and executives today could carry those principles as a promotion or unit and not as loosely associated entities seeking singular fame and glory. The Attitude Era had writers with their ears tuned keenly on the pulse of society at the time; it had executives who were hell bent on staying in business and thoroughly crushing their competition in skirmishes that determined whether or not revenue and publicity would flow easily into their own promotion. The Attitude Era had endless lists of wrestlers who all wanted their own promotion to succeed and, at the time, did their best to lift up their fellow wrestlers as they attempted to climb the ladder of success. The Attitude Era had fans who were just as passionate about the business as the men and women working in it, and no matter what, would support a promotion and its wrestlers no matter what…especially through their financial support.
Today’s fair weather fans can’t even be bothered to support the WWE Network and feel less inclined to spend their money on anything related to the product no matter whether it’s good or bad. Only a handful of wrestlers stand out among fans as those who are worthy of a main event push, and those wrestlers change as often as a newborn infant needs a new diaper. Some of those stars phone in their in ring performances or tend to “play it safe” as a means to avoid rocking the boat or causing too much trouble for themselves. The writers work with dated material and executives are preoccupied with accounting irregularities and pet projects to truly be focused squarely on the state of the product. A ridiculously violent and vulgar product under or against these circumstances would barely make a dent in the problem that exists today.
It is without question that the Attitude Era changed the business dramatically and had a profound effect on how we view pro wrestling today. But to insist that a promotion returns to that era without considering what truly made it spectacular would be a categorical waste of time and energy. Promotions filled with individuals, from the bottom up, who are willing to work together for the good of the promotion and the passion to succeed as a promotion is what’s needed. A solid roster of talent giving one hundred percent or more at all times is what’s needed. Fans who’ll pay for the pay per views and merchandise and who won’t fall off the radar when an episode of RAW doesn’t feature Titus O’Neil in the main event is what’s needed.
Those things are way harder to come by, but there aren’t enough tables, razorblades, swear words and bare boobies in the world to recreate the magic of what happened almost two decades ago.
UPDATE: 6:45 PM Central Standard Time
Apparently your voices were heard; mere moments after typing this, it was announced via WWE.com that Emma has been reinstated in the promotion.
For the sake of humoring us here at L.E.W.D., read the following because it’s still all relevant somewhere.
Just in case you haven’t heard the word, we have it on good authority (pun intended) that the WWE has come to terms with the release of notable Diva Emma. Also known by her government approved name Tenille Dashwood, Emma was also recently arrested for allegedly stealing an iPod case from a Walmart in Connecticut.
Many wrestling fans have taken to the internet to voice their displeasure with the promotion’s decision to dismiss Emma over something that they (the fans) believe to have been an accident or a simple mistake on Emma’s part. After all if one is working as an independent contractor for the world’s most prominent sports entertainment promotion, there would be no need to steal anything from anywhere when you could easily purchase it yourself or have the promotion purchase it for you. This also falls square in line with the notion that all individuals placed under arrest are innocent until proven guilty, and clearly Emma can’t be guilty of stealing something worth $21.14.
Reports have it that Emma was sentenced to some community service and upon completion of said service, all charges against her would be dropped. This form of “punishment,” apparently, isn’t enough for the WWE.
Immediately fans cite the blatant hypocrisy of the WWE’s policy towards the professionalism of its employees outside of the company by mentioning the repeated DUI arrests and Wellness Policy violations of several other superstars (Randy Orton, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Jack Swagger, Jimmy Uso). There was even a comment that brought up superstars with legal issues prior to their joining the WWE family (Booker T), which was intended to make the point that the ‘E keeps superstars who committed far worse crimes on the roster than this, deeming their decision to release Emma over allegedly stealing an iPod case completely asinine and ridiculous.
Emma’s release also comes at a time when fans have been convinced that the multitude of recent releases within the company have everything to do with the perceived financial crisis the promotion is currently facing. This leads fans to believe that Emma’s release was simply a cost-cutting measure and that her arrest was an excuse used to poorly justify her termination.
To say it plainly, fans are justifiably saddened at Emma’s release … even though five days ago they were complaining that she and her gimmick were failing to get over with fans … such is the befuddling and ever flexible opinion of pro wrestling fans. Hakuna matata.
The constant “thing” with each of the theories surrounding the logic behind Emma’s release is dualistic in that it is composed of an emotional response and a stone cold reality. Deep down we fans actually like Emma the character and Tenille, the woman who portrays the character, and we all honestly have no idea why WWE released her.
We fans can speculate all day and night, but as spectators hovering around the the situation with our faces firmly pressed against the glass separating us from the odds-and-ends of the business, we can only comment on what we think we know to the extent in which we understand it. It makes more sense for us to blame the ‘E for responding to Emma’s arrest in the manner they did, and it makes little sense to us to try to understand why they responded they way they did. We’ve reacted to our superficial knowledge of the situation at hand … nothing more, nothing less.
Very few people have mentioned that this situation may affect the visa that allows her, as an Australian citizen, to work here in the United States. What would happen if she were still under contract with the ‘E and forced to return home for an indefinite amount of time? But of course this isn’t sensational enough to consider or speculate on.
Even with discussing the financial issues plaguing the promotion at the time, very few people have talked about the budget cuts from the perspective rooted in the beginning of a new fiscal year (July 1st), where most businesses look to shave expenses from their budget lines. Instead of looking at the situation as if the ‘E were trying to save money after losing so much, one could view it as if the ‘E were trying to save money by not spending as much as they did the last fiscal year. There were reports that the WWE cut travel expenses for their superstars (paying for their tour buses), and if you’ve paid attention even the PPV sets aren’t as elaborate as they once were; these cost-cutting measures keep the promotion from spending more money and being as free with their revenue as they were before the massive loss of profits. Unfortunately the money spent on employee contracts isn’t immune from these types of cost cutting measures.
From that perspective the promotion then becomes a place where superstars have no room or margin for error, especially superstars on the low end of the ladder in WWE. Whatever Emma did or didn’t do, no matter how small an infraction we believe it to be, was a simple “f**k up” that might have cost her her WWE contract. Then again, this isn’t sensational enough to consider or speculate on either.
Then there is our comparison of the punishment for Emma’s infraction compared to that of other superstars. While fans have piled on the bandwagon advocating for Emma by citing the punishments received by other superstars for committing crimes deemed more “harsh” or “serious,” there haven’t been many fans that have spoken at length on the implied misogyny present within the company. No one has noted how current TNA Knockout Taryn Terrell was released immediately from her contract after being arrested for an altercation with her then husband and former WWE superstar Drew McIntyre, while male superstars arrested for suspected domestic abuse (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin) were allowed to go about their business within the promotion after repaying their debt to society. Perhaps the issue of discrimination against women would be more important to discuss whether or not a suspected thief should be given the same leniency as someone driving under the influence (which could be anybody over whatever the legal limit is in the state they’re driving in; one doesn’t necessarily have to be “drunk” and driving to be arrested for driving under the influence…).
Whatever the case may be and whatever we choose to believe, it truly stinks that Emma had only scratched the surface of her potential on the main roster before her release. Only she, her attorney and the prosecutor, and the WWE truly know what happened; as much as we desire to crucify the ‘E for choosing to release her from the promotion, we’re doing so as an immediate, ill-informed response and reaction to the news. We shouldn’t expect that Emma won’t ever work for the company again, nor should we expect that we won’t see her wrestle again in some form or capacity. At this point, all we can do as fans is make a loud enough noise supporting her if her arrest was the result of a careless action she unintentionally made when checking out at Walmart. Until all the facts come out, if they ever come out, we’ll have to find some way to grapple with not seeing her meander through a gimmick that we said wasn’t working for us.
I was going to do a review of the PPV last night, but I think I’ll hold off on it. Short form: I enjoyed it. I thought the Wyatt Family would win the tag titles, but I was also of the mindset that if they won then Bray would win later as well, and I knew Bray wasn’t going to reign victorious. It was a terrific match all the same: the Usos and the Wyatt Family have some good chemistry.
The briefcase ladder match was excellent, arguably the highlight of the evening, and it did the impossible in letting us think for ONE moment that Kofi Kingston was actually going to succeed, and the crowd was behind him too, which was even more incredible. Did I get mad at the interference by Kane to help Seth Rollins win? No. Because “Plan B” is a terrific scapegoat, and while I didn’t care who won this match I was big on how it all played out.
Big E took on Rusev, and lost. Again. Proving that America is weak compared to the almighty force that is a Bulgarian with an American manager praising Russia (Reverend Father Pastor Uncle Sam Big E Langston the Third must not be preaching right). I anticipate he’ll want a rematch soon. And he’ll lose again. Because… he does that.
Layla fought Summer Rae. Layla beat Summer Rae. But the focus wasn’t on those two but Fandango, who is likely grinning like Ludacris in a Ciara video anytime someone brings up this storyline. Even so, he did deliver the line of the night when he said, “Fandango loves triangles.” Me too, Dango. Me too. A lot of us do.
The brothers Rhodes took on Ryback and Axel, and for the life of me I wonder if Dusty was around them when they were children. The gimmick is one thing. The way Goldust was feeling up his brother upon their victory made me raise an eyebrow. I mean, I can only look at Dusty here: the two are half-brothers, SOMETHING has to be in Dusty’s genes.
And of course, our main event pitted eight superstars against each other for the coveted dual belts of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship title, and while it wasn’t as exciting as the briefcase battle, it was more intense. We were dealing with more grounded superstars, not flyers who leap from ladders and to ropes and then to the floor (another highlight, and a rather impressive one due to its flow). Cena won, and that was no surprise. Like I said, he and Orton were the safe choices, and perhaps that exactly what we need right now. I assumed Orton would win, but I just wanted the tension that would come from Orton and Rollins being potential enemies so suddenly after they came together. That can fester for a bit though. More interesting to have a potential little feud between Rollins and Cena, but since it’s going to be Cena vs. the Authority… at least until they bring Lesnar back to the fray. It’s all a web, but it’s easy to navigate.
Oh, and Adam Rose fought Damian “Paul Revere” Sandow. Sandow is forever underrated and this match proved it yet again. Here’s hoping they do him right in the future.
I think that’s it. Uh… oh, wait, I forgot one match. It was the second one, and it was for the Divas Championship. Paige, the champ, took on Naomi, and it was the best match on the card. Now what does that mean? It means that as far as a wrestling match goes, no gimmicks, no fanfare, no bullshit, it was far and away the finest match in Boston that evening.
Imagine that? In fact, it was a good night for Divas wrestling both qualitatively and quantitatively. From the perspective of quantity, there were two. One focused on Fandango’s love for triangles (it still cracks me up) and thus NOT the actual Divas, and the other focused on two athletes who can actually wrestle. Quality wise, both matches were pretty good.
Well, the title match was terrific, the other was okay. Layla kicking Summer Rae will always be worth watching. In any case, the awesome match put on by Paige and Naomi was met by the crowd with a lack of enthusiasm. Shameful. I can assume that this is partially because it was a Divas match, and that doesn’t sit right with me. At what point do we turn our nose up at something the second we hear what it is? Who does that? Maybe it’s just me, but we should never judge a book by its cover (the cover this time is a Divas match). To know a book’s worth, you have to read it through and through, page by page, resisting the urge to add an “I” to those words when they come up.
But let’s talk about the match and some of the build up. It started with Paige fighting other Divas, because that’s what you do in the WWE: you fight people. Eventually it came to Naomi, because Alicia Fox isn’t so much a thing anymore. While the athletics of Naomi and Paige were never in question, it did come down to the possible feud. The showings between the two have always seemed tense, even a bit aggressive, but respectful. Enter Cameron, who is there because… I don’t know: let’s say because she’s light-skinned. She comes through as “My time is now!” and whatnot, and even when Naomi was taking on Fox the other day, the focus of the commentary was on Paige and Cameron, who were arguing over something or the other, it doesn’t matter.
This is a glaring issue with this is how it seems like the Divas aren’t a priority in the company, and this dialogue and commentary doesn’t help. I spent a minute tweeting about the match and the nonsense surrounding it, nearly exacerbated because I was actually pretty excited to see Paige vs. Naomi. Sadly, as I’ve been saying:
Paige has been misused so far, and I don’t often say that anything has been misused. Dolph Ziggler? Possibly. Zack Ryder? Most definitely. Kofi Kingston? Perhaps. And I’m sure they all have a story to tell, but Paige herself was doomed from the start by the virtue of her being brought in as a replacement for AJ. You can try and convince me otherwise all you want, but from how she just won the title off of her to how at one point they had her dressing like her, Paige was brought in not because she’s arguably the best female wrestler alive (citation needed) but because AJ was going on sabbatical. And it shows. And it fucks with me because she deserves much better.
More than that: they just aren’t developing her character. Like I fear Prince Devitt and KENTA might be in their WWE matriculations, she might be best served as a trainer or one who puts others over. We know all three of the aforementioned can wrestle: KENTA could come into the company as a mid-card powerhouse with the sole intent to get revenge on the Second City Saint and the American Dragon for stealing his maneuvers (GTS and Busaiku Knee Kick respectively), but he could also be in the training facilities acclimatizing indie cats to the WWE style, or playing with the WWE style of wrestling himself.
But when it comes to developing character, especially with the Divas Champion, we’ve gotten little to nothing. We know she was the NXT Women’s Champion, the FIRST NXT Women’s Champion, and we know that she’s one of the youngest champions in the WWE’s history. We know she won it off of AJ in an impromptu match, but that’s all we’ve gotten from the whole of character arc. Otherwise she’s your stereotypical babyface: she goes in, gets beat up, hulks up, straps on an impressive submission and wins. That’s all fine and good, but it’s not great, and we know Paige is great.
Say what you will about Alicia Fox and the mess she was doing (might still be doing): they gave her character. They let her develop that character. I remember Space Jam and how much I never really liked Lola Bunny. She was okay I suppose, but she wasn’t a character so much as a caricature, a female counterpart to Bugs with breasts. Fast forward a few years and you get The Loony Tunes Show. Lola is in this too, but she’s a ditzy, well-meaning bunny obsessed with Bugs and from a rich family. You know what that is? Character. And over the seasons, that character actually developed. It’s the same with Alicia Fox. At one point the only thing that defined her was how she kind of looked like Rihanna when she dyed her hair (and before that an “affair” with Edge (yeah, that’s right, I remember that!)). Now she’s a spoiled brat who throws a tantrum anytime she wins OR loses. She steals hats and paraphernalia, and yells at the crowd. It’s not a perfect character but it is character.
When she and Paige were going to blows, it was one of my greatest complaints: she had character and Paige was merely the champion. And after the little feud faded, Paige is still merely champion and Fox is somewhere or the other. People were booing Fox and cheering Paige, somewhat, but I’m pretty sure they were booing Fox because she had personality, and kind of cheering Paige because she wasn’t Fox. Personality and character go a long way: it’s hard to root for a character when you don’t know why you should cheer for them.
I sit back and ponder on how big Paige could be if she wasn’t there to make the other Divas look better. Corbin once alluded to how Paige might be greater than AJ because she can bring championship level material out of her opponents, and sure enough that’s a prerequisite for being a great worker in the business, but what else? AJ had character, arcs, storylines and something (don’t ask me what that something is, it’s just a something) that other Divas, hell, other superstars period didn’t have, and she used it. It was one thing that she could beat you in the ring: it was another that she could navigate between insanity and calm collectedness, face tactic and heel tactic; it was almost as if she was absorbing the mic work of Punk and improved ring work of Bryan (or maybe all Punk, I don’t know). But she was given time and arcs to deal with, from jilted girlfriend, to abusive relationship girlfriend, to GM, to Best Diva in the World. And Paige, so far, has none of that. Just tremendous talent and hopefully time.
I hate to beat a dead horse, but AJ’s absence is Paige’s open door, and she hasn’t been given much to work with. Maybe she can do something more with it, maybe she’s literally working with everything she has, it’s hard to say, but until they actually invest something in her more than just slapping the belt on her, she’s not going to be the breath of fresh air the Divas division needs. It says something when the fans are more into (for better or worse) the grudge match between two women who want a guy who can’t say triangles without making someone laugh. Much like the game Catherine or anything involving a twisted romantic triangle, it’s one of those scenarios that could have easily be solved had Fandango just stopped one of them and said, “I have a girlfriend”. But that’s not compelling TV, is it? Neither is Summer Rae implying she’s a natural blonde (oh my god, who the hell cares?!), and Layla pointing out her wonderful chest is something of an acquired taste. One I acquired a long time ago but that’s neither here nor there; I just keep abreast of those kinds of things. I mean, I’ve noticed them, I always have, I’d have to be knockers to not! I mean bonkers. It’s bust who I am. Just.
It comes down to how unfortunate it is that someone who is blatantly talented can’t so much as get a response when she and another great talent put on the best match of a terrific evening of wrestling. It’s terrible that the match two women have over a man who doesn’t care about either one of them garners more of a reaction than the quality that came on an hour before, even if the funbags were in full gear in the Layla/Rae match. As I always say, praise and hatred are good: that shows that people are responding, even if they don’t appreciate you. But apathy is death. Apathy is worse. Praise will bring someone to your funeral to mourn you. Hatred will bring someone to your funeral to make sure you’re dead. Apathy will keep someone at home watching Scooby-Doo and eating stale Pop Tarts, because somehow they let Pop Tarts get stale.
Now, everything above this paragraph was written before RAW, and now watching it we have the return of AJ. She came back and promptly won the Divas Championship from Paige. On one hand, it just goes on to confirm what I’ve been saying, and that’s disgusting. On the other, it opens up the possibility that AJ and Paige can go on to feud and make even last night’s exquisite match seem tame in comparison. Only time will tell, but for the love of God: can we PLEASE not just toss Paige aside? She’s an awesome talent: she does not need to just fall to the wayside and simply be another page in the history of the Divas. She can take the place that AJ occupied/occupies.
If that’s a tale they think deserves to be written.