People have a tendency to look at the past through rose-tinted glasses, fully buying into nostalgia whenever reflecting on times gone by. The full details aren’t necessarily important in reminiscing, and it’s exceptionally easy to toss aside the negatives and focus exclusively on the positive. However, this causes incomplete histories to be written, and in the entertainment world, this means people will forget about the various flaws in the shows they watched ten years ago, and then assume this somehow means the significantly flawed present must be a step down from yesteryear.
The WWE Universe is the same as any other media enterprise in this venture, with fans of pro wrestling voicing complaints about how the good old days are better than the modern product pretty much since the industry began. These days, this most regularly means claiming that the Attitude Era was significantly better than anything happening in the present wrestling world. While it’s true that the late ‘90s were the most viewed period in WWE history, a good number of the changes made since then have definitely been for the better.
For everything older WWE fans miss about the past, there are probably one or two subtle improvements they may not even notice. For one thing, wrestlers today have a lot more job security and are safer if anything goes wrong. On the downside, there are fewer options outside of the McMahon sphere of influence, and this alone has caused plenty of problems. Keep reading to learn about 8 things from the Attitude Era that need to make a comeback and 7 changes that should remain intact.
15. NEEDS MORE ATTITUDE: Diversify The Roster
It’s been said the WWE Universe has more incredibly talented superstars on their roster today than ever before, and it would take a pretty strong argument to dispute that. With well over 100 active wrestlers between Raw, SmackDown, NXT, touring brands, and overseas ventures, the talent pool under Vince McMahon’s command is verifiably gigantic. Paradoxically, now more than ever, this wide range of superstars is being directed to basically act the exact same way as all of the others. There could be innovative tag teams, game-changing stables, a hardcore division, cruiserweights who actually acted like cruiserweights, or all sorts of diversification that would greatly increase the variety seen on WWE programming. All of these concepts were far more fleshed-out during the Attitude Era, and it meant the smaller shows like Heat or Velocity were different from Raw and SmackDown, which were, in turn, quite different from one another, to begin with. Could WWE fix this issue, the others might gradually fade away as fans actually spend their energy focusing on the many various positives the superstars have to offer.
14. FINE AS IS: Less Blood and Swearing
Depending on who a person considers the “professional wrestling audience,” this one might be a bit controversial. Adult fans who take sports entertainment personally and think it’s just for them will probably strongly disagree, and that’s their right. There are indeed certain wrestling companies out there like ECW in the past or CZW today who cater primarily to older audiences, and they’re typically a whole lot more violent and filled with harsher language than the more mainstream counterparts. Naturally, by this, we mean the WWE Universe, which has been explicit in their goal to entertain as many viewers as possible. By and large, this has meant children, and fans who have a problem with this quite frankly need to get over it. The fact is, a significant portion of every WWE audience is going to be under the age of 10, and for this reason, there should be a bit less blood and guts throughout the show. This could be of great benefit even to the fans who don’t care about the kids in the audience, considering it makes it that much more meaningful the rare times a wrestler actually bleeds or curses.
13. NEEDS MORE ATTITUDE: Bring Back Managers And Valets
In all fairness, the Attitude Era could arguably be viewed as the period when managers and valets started falling by the wayside. That said, the concept ended not with a bang but a whimper, and it was because the idea has almost entirely disappeared from WWE. For absolutely no good reason, wrestlers these days are expected to always talk for themselves, with the exception of Brock Lesnar, who happens to be one of the biggest stars in the industry. One might expect this example to force WWE’s hand and make them start hiring more mouthpieces for their talents. If not managers, they could at least hire some gorgeous women to make certain wrestlers look good and/or enviable. Just because women wrestlers have more respect in the ring these days doesn’t mean their other roles in the business should necessarily vanish. As for the men these women would lead to battle, the importance of having someone with the gift of gab cannot be overstated, whether they happen to be gorgeous women, evil mastermind men, or even vice versa.
12. FINE AS IS: Keeping The Performers Safe
As with the fans, individual wrestlers are allowed to hold disparate opinions on whether or not the Attitude Era or the modern WWE Universe made for better television. On the other hand, when it comes to how they view WWE as a place of employment, any wrestler concerned with his or her own physical safety should be able to recognize that some vast improvements have been made. In addition to making the product more family friendly, taking away blood and hardcore violence means wrestlers are, on the whole, in much less danger than when these concepts were en vogue. Take for example the career of Mick Foley, who put his body on the line in some of the Attitude Era’s greatest matches, only to already have trouble walking by his mid-30’s, thus leading to his early retirement. No one is going to be flying through the Hell In A Cell in today’s WWE, nor do they have much risk of getting set on fire or even suffering too many errant chair shots. Now that Daniel Bryan was also forced out of competition at a young age, things should only get safer still, and this is definitely a good thing.
11. NEEDS MORE ATTITUDE: Championships With Meaning
Continuing off the idea that WWE needs to diversify their brands in practice and not simply by name, it should go without saying that these divisions need to have meaningful championships as well. The fact is, practically every major piece of gold a wrestler can compete for is virtually interchangeable, often even coming in various colors. The Universal Championship is the same as the WWE Championship, aside from the fact it isn’t defended as much. The Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships are exactly the same, and not much separates the Intercontinental or United States Championships either — not even from those top two belts. Maybe the Cruiserweight Championship is slightly special for having actual requirements for competition, and yet the matches contested for it are pretty much the same as any other contest on the card. Adding a United Kingdom Championship that was identical to all the rest is a step in the wrong direction, so odds are, this problem will only get worse.
10. FINE AS IS: Expanding The WWE Network
This one feels a little silly to even mention because technology simply wasn’t advanced enough during the Attitude Era for something like the WWE Network to be possible. That said, it would be absolutely impossible to understate how much things have improved for wrestling fans of all kinds since Vince McMahon created his own online streaming service. Even fans who hate the modern product and only wish to watch “Stone Cold” Steve Austin wrestle The Rock for all eternity can do exactly that by logging on to the web, and the only downside is a small monthly fee most subscribers don’t think twice about paying. Part of the reason the typically vocal WWE Universe doesn’t mind is that not even ten years ago, most fans were paying as much as six or seven times the amount they do today simply to watch a single monthly Pay-Per-View. In fact, a more subtle downside of the WWE Network might be that it didn’t come around much sooner, although, as we already pointed out, there’s really nothing that could be done about that.
9. NEEDS MORE ATTITUDE: Give The Commentary Booth Integrity
Being a scripted facsimile of a legitimate sporting event, it can be especially important that the men and women (but mostly men) hired to call the action somehow manage to sell what’s happening in the ring with some level of verisimilitude. This means being honest about what they’re seeing, acknowledging how the crowd feels, and most of all, getting emotionally invested in the wrestlers and their action. During the Attitude Era, WWE had absolutely no problem accomplishing this all thanks to one man: Jim Ross. That said, it’s not like Ross was the only human in history to provide good commentary; it’s just that he was the last announcer hired by WWE who refused to take Vince McMahon’s nonsense. Since Good Old J.R. made his initial exit, Michael Cole and a sea of his clones have taken over as the voices of the company, and rather than weed out McMahon’s strangest tendencies and speak honestly with the fans, they’ve dug into them almost exclusively. This means branding everything, reading off scripts, and outright lying about the crowd response, the latter of which especially makes it impossible to take them seriously, let alone like them.
8. FINE AS IS: No More Crash TV
Outside of Vince McMahon, arguably the most influential person on WWE television during the Attitude Era was his head writer, Vince Russo. At this point, Russo has become one of the most reviled men in pro wrestling due to the fact he in no uncertain terms powerfully contributed to the demise of WCW and nearly did the same for TNA not much later. In the interest of fairness, it should be pointed out that Russo did indeed have a few good ideas, specifically when he was still working for WWE. And he might have indeed impacted the Attitude Era storylines in a positive way, at least on rare occasions. The downside was that he destroyed match quality and any semblance of continuity by buying in fully to the concept of Crash TV –writing a show with the goal of shocking and surprising fans above all else. Sometimes, this worked. Other times, it caused matches to end in literal seconds so the next storyline could start immediately. This made things extremely crowded and left no room for storylines to breathe, a problem that has definitely been fixed by removing Russo and his worst tendencies from power.
7. NEEDS MORE ATTITUDE: Be Less Predictable
The flipside to all the negatives about Crash TV was that, at the very least, it was rarely predictable, unless the storyline was written in a way that it was supposed to be. We aren’t saying every Pay-Per-View had a memorable moment that made the crowd go wild — almost every single episode of Raw or SmackDown did, so long as the top stars were in the building. In the modern era, WWE fans are able to accurately predict the main event of WrestleMania up to a year before the show even happens, along with damn near every piece of buildup it takes to get there. Part of the problem is the advent and expansion of the Internet, which has a tendency to spoil absolutely every piece of entertainment that exists. However, it’s not like the Internet wasn’t around in the late ‘90s; it was just smaller. Fans who wanted spoilers could always look for them, but today, no one even has to look — all one needs to do is take an educated guess on the most obvious possible outcome, and it will almost definitely come to pass.
6. FINE AS IS: Women Are Treated Significantly Better
Earlier in this list, it was argued that current WWE employees most definitely have it better than the superstars working for the company ten years ago due to an increased focus on their safety. Far more important than that for the female half of the roster is that they’ve gone from being treated like conceited prissy divas to actual WWE superstars, quite a few of whom are even more popular than the men. While the Women’s Revolution still has a long way to go before the genders are entirely equal in wrestling, the strides since the Attitude Era have been massive. Twenty years ago, the only chance females had of appearing on Pay-Per-View was if they had a bikini contest. Much worse, the WWE Women’s Championship was regularly contested in bra and panties matches, where the goal was obviously more focused on titillating the male audience than exhibiting the ladies’ talents. There will always be men who watch female sports because of how beautiful some of the competitors happen to be, but these guys are hardly the majority, and it’s a much better WWE Universe for women now that this isn’t the only audience they have to cater toward.
5. NEEDS MORE ATTITUDE: Create Genuine Main Event Stars
Let’s face it, folks — there will never be another “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, let alone a second crossover star on The Rock’s level. Of course, this isn’t necessarily to the WWE Universe’s detriment, as they don’t need repeats of their past success; they need new superstars with Austin’s and The Rock’s particular skill sets at connecting with a crowd. In turn, these vanguard entertainers need to be given a little bit of leeway on what they do to make the fans like them. They also need to consistently win matches, earn shots at championships, then win them, and most of all, act like a real person would and not like some bizarre, poorly scripted character. It seems whenever WWE gets close to this kind of star being made in the modern era, they do whatever it takes to sabotage them, having the wrestler lose, act whiny, or even change their gimmick to a clear dud. Without any main event stars, fans have nothing to tune in to. Much worse, if they believe every wrestler they start cheering will get punished for it, chances are, they’ll just give up and stop watching — which is exactly what’s been happening.
4. FINE AS IS: Testing New Signees At The Training Ground
For all the many ways NXT is truly changing the WWE Universe, a fact that occasionally gets ignored is that the concept behind a training ground for future superstars is hardly anything new. NXT, itself birthed out of Florida Championship Wrestling, and prior to that, companies like Ohio Valley Wrestling, Memphis Championship Wrestling, or the Heartland Wrestling Association — all these venues were serving the same purpose. The difference is how much exposure NXT gets in comparison to these other ventures, which typically had little more than local television coverage to establish their stars, if that. NXT provides a weekly TV show for WWE fans to get interested in future superstars, an improvement on the developmental territory process that neither Vince McMahon nor anyone at WCW were able to think up during the Attitude Era. Granted, they may not have needed them. Back then, the companies had one another and ECW to take established stars from, but without these luxuries around, all WWE could do was look inwardly and revolutionize wrestling yet again.
3. NEEDS MORE ATTITUDE: Let Wrestlers Be Themselves
WWE has a major problem with regard to their failure at building true main event stars, as this list already covered. However, the far more pressing underlying issue is why that’s happening — the promos are being scripted to hell and back, leaving no room for wrestlers to show their true personalities. Superstars like Mankind, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and The Rock all wrote their own promos, and that last one is amongst the lucky few who still gets to do so today. And surprise: he’s extremely popular each time he returns for this reason. In pro wrestling or any other sort of performance, the easiest characters to play are those based on the performer’s true life, focusing on the elements that make him or her unique, multiplying those feelings by ten, and forgetting about all the cliché nonsense seen in the rest of entertainment. For WWE to outright destroy this practice is absolutely baffling, and they probably won’t create a genuine new star until this concept makes a comeback.
2. FINE AS IS: Focusing On Match Quality
Arguably the biggest complaint about the Attitude Era is that despite all the positives, the match quality had a tendency to, well… suck miserably. Sure, now and again there would be a classic main event or a shockingly great midcard match on Pay-Per-View. The far more likely scenario, however, was for matches on Raw or SmackDown to last all of three or four minutes before someone would run in and break it up. In these matches, punches, kicks, and chair shots would be entirely normal, even in non-hardcore matches. On the other hand, fans are regularly seeing 15-minute minor classics on a weekly basis, sometimes even two or three per week. Granted, not every wrestling fan out there cares too much about how many headlocks, throws, or reversals a superstar is capable of performing, so sheer technical skill alone won’t save the WWE Universe. That said, it at least makes it a little easier to watch the world burn when it does so in such an impressive manner.
1. NEEDS MORE ATTITUDE: Listen To The Crowd
The whole concept for this list is based on how the ratings were much higher during the Attitude Era than they are today, and this is no mere coincidence. As much as we’d like to take credit for coming up with all of these fixes and complaints, the truth is that WWE fans have been extremely vocal about their displeasure with the McMahon family product for quite some time now. Fans are leaving en masse, and the ones who are sticking around are getting very blatantly ignored. Sometimes, they’re even told they’re wrong for daring to have opinions when McMahon avatars like Michael Cole or JBL try and pretend the crowd is acting out of character, when in fact, they’re completely in line with the public opinion. For all its faults, during the Attitude Era, if a wrestler earned a particularly loud crowd response, he or she would get pushed up the card. And guess what? Such wrestlers would get louder crowd responses as they ascended through the WWE Universe because the fans felt like they were part of the process. Taking the WWE Universe out of WWE leaves the McMahons with nothing but a bunch of wrestlers flipping around for dwindling audiences, and worst for Vince, a rapidly depleting bank account.