WWE is the superhuman juggernaut of the professional wrestling industry. Vince McMahon’s company is on top of the world and massively lucrative days lie ahead with SmackDown Live’s move to the FOX Network. The money will flow, the product will take center stage and fans all over the world will surely tune in to see how it all unfolds.
But many of the fans tuning in will likely be of the casual ilk, which is a segment that WWE has targeted over the years. Those casuals were along for the ride when D-Generation X was breaking the rules, Mick Foley was diving off of steel cages and The Rock was electrifying the world. Stone Cold Steve Austin was the biggest star in the business and business was white hot.
The Attitude Era was indeed an unforgettable time in WWE’s history and the legacy of its stars looms large over the company despite how much time passes. But does the shadow of that era hang too heavy over WWE today?
WWE is unlike any other combat sports promotion in the game today. Much of that has to do with the fact that WWE is predetermined pro wrestling of course, but it’s also because of the company’s willingness to celebrate its past. The Attitude Era came to an end in 2002, but it continues to be talked about among the WWE faithful. More importantly, WWE continues to talk about it as well.
It’s the focus of so many different video packages, conversations, Top 10 lists and more, on WWE’s social media. This is understandable of course, as The Attitude Era spawned some of the most legendary moments in the history of not only WWE, but the professional wrestling industry as a whole. Why wouldn’t the company want to remember those days and allow the fans to remember, as well?
But with the fond memories of The Attitude Era comes the inevitable commentary that always follows. That commentary centers on the belief many fans have that The Attitude Era was indeed the best era of WWE, so why not bring it back? For those fans, today’s product simply doesn’t compare and it never will. The only thing that would save it is if The Attitude Era returned.
Common sense says this is simply not possible. Today’s WWE must meet certain expectations and be held to higher standards than it was during the 1990’s. Vince McMahon is no longer fighting for his life in the ratings and battling the threat of bankruptcy. That Vince McMahon was willing to throw everything he had at the company to make it work and to get the Superstars over.
The trench warfare of The Attitude Era died when WCW closed its doors. AEW is making noise and no one really knows just how big Cody Rhodes’ company could get in the coming months and years. But until that company directly impacts WWE’s business on a weekly basis, The McMahon Family doesn’t seem all that concerned by it. But is that really the case?
Once again, stars of The Attitude Era are being called upon to take the stage. It’s happened countless times over the years, including the recent Raw Reunion. But it’s not over yet, as The Attitude Era will be back in the spotlight when SmackDown moves to FOX. It’s clear that WWE’s pursuit to reclaim its causal audience is still very much alive, but maybe there’s more to it than that.
How much of WWE’s ongoing ratings-grab has just as much to do with celebrating its past, as it does making a statement to present-day competition? While it may not necessarily be a case of WWE flexing its historical muscles, it could be the perfect example of the company reminding AEW and everyone else, of just how much ground they’ve covered in the business. The Attitude Era was one of the major reasons why WCW shut down and now AEW is coming to WCW’s former home, TNT. Is all of this just a coincidence?
The problem here is that every time The Attitude Era goes on a feel-good tour in WWE, the current crop of stars seem to fall by the wayside. The fault for this cannot fall at the feet of any star that comes back, of course. It’s also not to suggest that today’s Superstars necessarily take an issue with any of the legends appearing on TV.
But perception is the key and that perception is in the eyes of the fans. They see WWE bringing back former top guys and automatically, they begin wondering what’s next. Does this mean that dream matches will now happen? Is Edge going to wrestle one more match? Will Shawn Michaels face AJ Styles? Could The Rock ever step into the ring against Roman Reigns? Why can’t Stone Cold come back full-time in a non-wrestling role on Monday Night Raw?
The more these conversations happen, the more that WWE confuses the issue. Whether or not that’s the point is unknown. But WWE, in its haste to spotlight its most successful era of all time, seems to be ignoring the era that’s right in front of them. No matter how many longtime fans love The Attitude Era and wonder why WWE can’t bring it back, many more are asking another question. Why can’t WWE just fix today’s product?
The fact is that yesterday’s WWE was born out of necessity. The Attitude Era had to happen in order for WWE to continue. Stars were born because they seized the moment and were allowed to go for the throat. Today’s WWE exists because it does. The modern era happens because WWE just goes from one day to the next. Stars are confined to their roles and are rarely ever supported in their bid to move ahead.
Is all of this true, or is it simply another conversation Attitude Era proponents hold to support their opinion? Is there any way to really know the difference anymore? Either way, The Attitude Era is back at the forefront of the company and maybe it never really left.