WWE’s Raw Reunion will take place on Monday, July 22 and will feature the return of the company’s all-time legends. Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Hulk Hogan and more, are expected to appear on the red brand’s big night.
WWE is currently hyping the program on social media and presenting mockup matches of past Superstars versus current Superstars. The Rock versus Roman Reigns, Stone Cold Steve Austin versus Kevin Owens and Alundra Blayze versus Becky Lynch are just three of the dream matches listed by WWE. But while it’s fun to imagine the collision of yesterday and today, this bit of advertising does highlight a major issue.
This goes to the heart of WWE’s problems in 2019. Longtime fans remember how important The Attitude Era was and what it meant to the business. More importantly, they remember what it meant to WWE.
The Attitude Era revitalized the company and built an entirely new fanbase. Many fans who had left for WCW, came back in droves. Loyal WWE fans, who remained with Vince McMahon’s company throughout The Monday Night Wars, had their faith in WWE reaffirmed. But the most important segment, fans who perhaps had never watched pro wrestling full-time before, came onboard as well.
Relive Stone Cold’s greatest moments!
WWE had never been hotter and it hasn’t been as hot since then. Everyone knows this. It’s common knowledge at this point and for better or worse, the conversation concerning The Attitude Era will never die. The company knows this as well, hence why legends continue to be invited back.
It’s as if the company celebrates the most important era of all time and seems content to do so, while the current product continues to underwhelm. This is no secret either and reinforces the belief that WWE, for whatever reason, is unwilling to revisit what made the company succeed during The Attitude Era.
Some would say it’s the coarse language and lewd storylines that made that era the best. It was certainly not TV for kids, as mature themes dominated the WWE product during that time. The company has actually flirted with some of those themes recently, with Corey Graves cursing on Monday Night Raw and Kofi Kingston giving Samoa Joe the middle finger on SmackDown Live.
Both seem tame when compared to the stunts pulled during The Attitude Era. But when held up to the scrutiny of today’s PG Era? Not so much. But are such incidents the key to rebuilding an updated version of The Attitude Era? Or are they completely unnecessary? Is it enough to merely rehash what happened before, or is that perhaps too transparent to work now?
Watch KO rant on Shane McMahon!
Therein lays the real issue here. The Attitude Era obviously cannot be repeated. It was a different time during the late 1990’s, much different than 2019. Reviving what worked before does not guarantee it will work now and everyone involved is surely aware of that. But as the weeks pass by, it’s becoming clear that someone in WWE disagrees without that fact.
Kevin Owens is in the Stone Cold Steve Austin spot. KO is the anti-authority babyface of the moment and it’s the same archetype that’s been recycled from the moment that Austin retired from WWE. Owens is getting hot and the fans are loving what he brings. He’s even using the Stunner and he’s feuding with Shane McMahon. Is all of this a happy coincidence, or is it being done by design?
Kevin Owens is his own man, that much is certain. Just because he’s treading on Austin’s territory does not necessarily mean that he’s mimicking The Texas Rattlesnake. KO is merely doing what is asked of him. But the inference is obvious and there are too many comparisons to ignore. So why do this now?
The PG Era has been a problem for much of the WWE fanbase and it’s been a problem for quite some time. WWE knew the fans were upset at the silly storylines and even sillier characters. So why wait this long before finally doing something about it? Why even push forward with The PG Era to begin with, when a modified version probably would have worked from day one? Not surprisingly, the answer has to do with The Attitude Era.
Watch KO crash Shane’s tow hall on SmackDown!
SmackDown Live will debut on the FOX Network in October of 2019. FOX wants a more sports-based presentation with hard-hitting action and WWE wants to give it to them. But Vince’c company will put its own spin on it, which means FOX will apparently get a generous dose of adult angles as well. The fact is that WWE perhaps doesn’t have a choice but to do so is to admit that the company is going for the fans who came onboard during the late 90’s, but then left later.
What’s the best way to do that, other than by reviving the era that brought those fans to the table to begin with? Going back to the well of The Attitude Era seems like an outdated concept at this point, especially when considering the fact that over 20 years have passed since then. But from WWE’s viewpoint, there’s just no better way to move forward.
But how does WWE apply the attitude of The Attitude Era, to the modern generation of Superstars? Better yet, how does WWE do so and actually expect it to succeed? The answer is that WWE can’t do it and it will ultimately fail. It’s not due to the overall content itself; it’s due to the men and women who will be expected to deliver that content.
The Attitude Era was indeed a different time in WWE but today’s generation is also different from that generation. To believe that the WWE of 2019 should repeat the antics of 1998’s WWE, is to believe that only the stories made the difference. But in reality, it was a combination of the storytelling and the talent as well. If the Superstars are not intriguing, competing and most importantly believable, then no amount of brilliant storytelling will work.
Fans have to connect to the Superstars in order for it to succeed. If the crowd doesn’t feel it, then it’s a lost cause. WWE’s system of handing scripted lines to Superstars and overproducing those Superstars to the point of no return, is not what the company needs right now. WWE needs real people feeling real emotion and displaying that emotion for the whole world to see. The talent needs to be able to succeed, or fail, based upon their own merit. Until this happens, nothing will change.
The fact is that WWE Creative needs to get out of the way and allow Superstars the opportunity to flesh out their own characters. Fans fell in love with Stone Cold and The Rock because they got a taste of the real men behind the characters and that just doesn’t happen too often anymore. The past will never be forgotten. But for WWE to have a future that will be remembered 20 years later, something must change now. Whether or not that will happen, remains to be seen.
Tom Clark can regularly be seen on Wrestling Rumors. His podcast, Tom Clark’s Main Event, is available on iTunes,YouTube, iHeart Radio, boinkstudios.com and live every Friday at 12pm EST on Wrestling Rumors Facebook Live