Monday, January 19, 2009

Ramblings: Stone Cold and the Attitude Era of WWE

It's funny. It was announced about a week or so ago, from what I understand, but I've only just now heard about it. I'm talking about Stone Cold Steve Austin's induction in the WWE Hall of Fame, really. I probably would have been up to speed on that if I hadn't missed wrestling the week it was announced.

Honestly, it really took me back to hear that. I'm thinking, has it really been that long? Has it really been ten years since Stone Cold Steve Austin was the top face of the WWE, then called the WWF? I couldn't help but remember those years, which were probably the most formative years to me.

To be honest, I wasn't even really brought in during the Attitude era. I used to watch a lot of old wrestling tapes I'd pick up used in a bin in the supermarket. Stuff from the days of Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Ted Dibiase, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and even Bret the Hitman Hart's glory days. It wasn't until around the Royal Rumble of 1996 that I came into things when it came to the weekly show. The days when Shawn Michaels was just returning, won the Royal Rumble and was going to Wrestlemania XII to face Bret Hart for the title in an Iron Man match. I was a big fan of his and he pulled it off. Pretty much from then on, you couldn't keep me away from the television Monday Nights; school or not.

I had pretty much every pay per view that year, always excited and watching as Shawns reign as champion trucked on. That was really what I look at as a major transitionary period when it comes to the WWE. A lot of people point to Stone Colds victory at Wrestlemania XIV as where the Attitude era began, but I honestly think that's a bit of a crock. To me, I started in '96 and grew onwards, with '97 being where it really began. You look at it, Stone Cold was really starting to rise during that time, thanks in part due to his King of the Ring win where the Stone Cold persona started and his fued with the Hitman, leading right up to Wrestlemania XIII where he was basically turned face in the same night the Hitman turned heel. The first incarnation of Degeneration X was formed, which was really where the Attitude era got roots. The Hitman, the whole "Canadians are better" storyline and all the junk that came with it.

Anyways, when I look back on it, I really wish Shawns reign as head face wasn't so damn short. It was something like six months before he lost the title to Sycho Sid at Survivor Series. I actually cried, I'll admit, when Shawn was hit with the camera and put away for the three count after the Powerbomb. Then when he got it back at the Royal Rumble a couple months later, he left wrestling some two weeks later on Raw. This is compared to the long runs in the past, where Diesel was the head guy for over a year, Bret Hart was one of the top dogs for years, Macho Man had a year long reign when he was champion post Wrestlemania IV. It really felt like that era didn't last long enough. To top it off, the next big face with the title, Undertaker, saw his reign end maybe three months after he won the title; losing it at Summerslam. Then Shawn went heel and so on. But this is all beside the point.

So, Stone Cold. I really do have fond memories of that era. It was lewd and a rapid change from where the WWF had been just two years previous, but it was without a doubt exciting. Stone Cold was the top dog while The Rock, one of my all time favorites, was just climbing up towards that level. Mankind was becoming a force in the heavyweight title race. Triple H became more of a force in things. As time progressed, the Undertaker came back reborn after the Ministry nonsense in early 2000 as a top competitor. Eddie Guererro and Chris Beniot entered the scene. Big Show made his first appearance in his long career with the WWE. I honestly, really do miss those days.

Of course, I didn't even bother with WCW. In fact, I completely skipped almost everything they did. When I did tune in, it always bored the living hell out of me. The NWO thing may have been a big hit with most everyone else, but I honestly thought it was little more than a snooze-fest. Not to mention it drug on forever. There was also the neverending feeling that I was watching a bunch of washed up wrestlers from the WWE's golden age. Half the roster was little more than old WWE rejects, after all. Macho Man, Lex Luger, Hulk Hogan, Dusty Rhodes, the Stieners and so many other culled past their prime from the WWE's ranks. Their most bankable stars were Sting, who I never even gave a damn about even after he adopted that whole "The Crow" ripoff gimmick, and Goldberg, whom not only tended to injure himself doing relatively routine moves but also tended to injure others. It was laughable really. If I tuned in at all it was usually for the Cruiserweight division and Rey Mysterio; try as they might, the WWE's Light Heavyweight division was never much more than a low card title that few ever cared about with an unimpressive roster.

It always seems like that era was cut short to me. It wasn't too long at all before the car angle at Survivor Series took Stone Cold out of the picture for a while. Things thankfully thrived afterwards. The Rock had a chance to shine and become the biggest player and biggest fan draw the WWE had arguably since Hulk Hogan. Triple H was a real, sneering heel that you loved to hate; a quality few heels these days can pull off. Kurt Angle was becoming a similar heel who played with the big boys. But then, Stone Cold came back and not too long after, it all slowly crumbled away. I stopped watching as regularly out of disgust when Stone Cold turned heel at Wrestlemania XVII. The Rock vanished, away making movies. Triple H was injured badly not long after. The Tag Team Division started it's journey down the road leading towards the farce it is today. By the time The Invasion storyline had started, I didn't watch wrestling at all.

I came back for about the period of a year maybe after Wrestlemania XIX. I remember this period best due to Brock Lesnar being around. Kevin Nash was back after who knows how many years and fueding with Triple H, who had obviously come back by then and regained the title. Goldberg was around, though I must admit I didn't care for him much. It actually felt like the WWE had bankable stars again. Then those slowly faded away too. Kevin Nash left at some point I can't pin down. Brock Lesnar ditched when he was arguably at his peak. Hell, I think Goldberg retired, both he and Brock Lesnar fighting their last match at Wrestlemania XX. Then there was The Rock, who literally did not enter the ring again after his last match at Wrestlemania XX. Kurt Angle wasn't around for a whole hell of a lot longer either having left to go to TNA. I was gone again. Quicker than a flash.

I kinda wish I hadn't. I missed Rey Mysterio as World Heavyweight Champion. I didn't even hear about that until who knows how long after his reign ended. But other than that, I don't think I missed much.

Nowadays, I'm pretty much back in the fold. I admittedly only really watch Raw; not a fan of Smackdowns roster of late. It feels like they're finally getting more star material again. CM Punk in particular is a favorite, Triple H is back as a face and the only reason I might tune into Smackdown. Randy Orton, who I think is terrible as a hell, is a great competitor. John Cena is a heavyweight contender now; and I actually think I see why he's kind of a big deal in the WWE. It actually feels watchable again.

It's not like it has much competition, really. TNA is basically this generations WCW. A bunch of washed up WWE wrestlers, some washed up WCW wrestlers, terrible storylines and few real, bankable stars. It's embarassing. I can hardly stand to watch it; honestly, do we really need to see only the old time wrestlers in the big leagues aside from Samoa Joe? It's laughable.

Still... I do miss the Attitude era. I miss both Stone Cold and The Rock. Badly. It's kind of sad to realize Stone Cold will never wrestle again. That The Rock hasn't been in the ring for over four years now. I don't know what it is, but it just feels like those days were so much more exciting. Hopefully the WWE can recapture that magic at some point.

Still... despite his relatively short time in the WWE as a big thing,compared to a lot of other bankable stars the WWE has had, I do think Stone Cold deserves the honor. It feels so long ago and yet like it was yesterday, as much of a paradox as that may be. Such a shame.

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