I should be really excited right now.
We are only four days away from WrestleMania, the biggest wrestling pay-per-view of the year. It’s the WWE’s Super Bowl and it’s a show I have watched every year since Hulk Hogan bodyslammed Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III, back in 1987 when I was just six years old. In years past, starting in January with the Royal Rumble, I would get really excited about the “Road to WrestleMania.” It was always great to watch the build up and to see what tricks the WWE had up their sleeve.
In 1996, the WWE took the WrestleMania hype to a whole new level and had a 30-hour “Wrestlefest” leading up to WrestleMania XII. For 30 straight hours on pay-per-view, the company aired the pay-per-view events from the previous year back to back, leading up to WrestleMania XII on Sunday night. I was in high school at the time and three of my friends and I were insane enough to forgo sleep to watch 30 straight hours of wrestling. We were all a bit punchy by the end of the marathon and fists almost flew once or twice over minor, but intense, sleep-deprived arguments, but it was one of the best times I’ve ever had watching wrestling.
At the end of it all, we all sat there and watched one of the greatest matches in WWE history – an hour-long Iron Man match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels for the WWE World Title. My buddy Scott was close to tears (of joy) when Shawn won and my buddy Justin is still convinced to this day that Shawn Michaels should have had to start the overtime period of the match in the Sharpshooter (which Justin is completely wrong about, by the way), but we all walked away from the experience with big smiles on our faces.
Sadly, those days are long gone. The wrestling boom in the 90s, fueled by the creativity of ECW and the competition from WCW, has come and gone. WWE bested their competition – they bought WCW at a discounted rate and acquired ECW when Paul Heyman was forced to file for bankruptcy. Then, they botched an “invasion” angle with WCW and ruined ECW by removing everything unique about the brand and instead turning it into a glorified version of their old Sunday Night Heat show.
As for their own programming, there hasn’t been much to latch onto. Many of their most interesting performers have either retired (Stone Cold, The Rock, Ric Flair, Bret Hart) or have gone to work for their only remaining competition, TNA Wrestling (Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, The Dudley Boys). Triple H, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker are arguably their biggest stars, but they can only do so much. Vince McMahon and company continue to think that they can make Randy Orton and John Cena huge stars, despite the fact that half the fans still boo Cena and Orton has no talent. Guys like Kane and Shelton Benjamin have potential, but are misused. And most of the guys on the roster and talentless big men that were only hired to satisfy Vince McMahon’s disturbing muscle fetish.
Instead of looking at the real problems with the talent and their boring storylines, McMahon focuses his attention on making shitty movies like 12 Rounds, which tanked at the box office last weekend, and fixing meaningless problems that no one cares about. His recent big change was to have his weekly television shows go from being rated TV-14 to PG, in an effort to appeal to younger fans. However, all the move has done is alienated existing fans, who don’t appreciate the dumbed-down storylines and the fact that John Cena’s finishing move is no longer called the F-U (I think it is now called the “Happy Bunny, Sunshine, Lollipop Hug Slam”). Worst of all, after making this insignificant change to his programming, McMahon tried to get high and mighty and called out TNA for still having a TV-14 rating, saying that some of the things that the rival company did on their show were “reprehensible.”
All that did was allow TNA President Dixie Carter to fire back at Vince with a great response. When asked about his comments, Carter said, “I think it’s wonderful that Vince watches TNA iMPACT.
“And I agree with him that things such as the brutal beating of a sixty-year-old man, a vicious home invasion and gratuitous man-on-woman violence can be seen as reprehensible – and that’s just the last three Monday nights [on WWE Monday Night Raw].”
Carter actually let McMahon off easy by only referencing recent WWE storylines. She could have very easily mentioned some of the “classic” WWE moments like when Vince McMahon pulled things out of a guy’s ass to mock his top announcer’s colon problems, or the time Vince pissed his pants in the ring when Stone Cold pointed a gun at his head, or Vince McMahon’s “Kiss My Ass Club,” which involved Vince dropping his trousers in the middle of the ring and forcing his employees to kiss it in front of the live audience. Oh, and there was also the time when The Undertaker crucified Stone Cold.
I have no problem with the WWE toning down their image. All of the storylines I mentioned above were painful to watch and they are the kinds of things that cause people to give me strange looks when I tell them I am a wrestling fan. The 80s were a fun time in wrestling (even if there were a bit too xenophobic) and they showed that the company can succeed without relying on crude language and shocking storylines. But whether the company is PG or TV-14 is irrelevant to me. I just want them to put on an entertaining product that features compelling storylines and exciting wrestling matches.
Instead, they are giving us Triple H vs. Randy Orton (once again) and John Cena vs. Edge vs. Big Show as their main events. The undercard has a few matches worth watching – Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker, Chris Jericho vs. WWE Legends and the Money and the Bank Match – but overall I’m just not feeling the hype this year. I still want to watch WrestleMania on Sunday, but only because it’s something I have always done. It’s nostalgia, not the current product, that keeps me coming back year after year.
I hope something changes soon. I wish TNA would give the WWE some real competition, since it was WCW crushing them in the ratings in the 90s that got the WWE to come up with the “Attitude Era,” which was the last time they were truly great. Unfortunately, while WWE keeps sending talented performers their way, TNA has no idea what to do with them (which is why one of their top stars, Christian, just left TNA and went back to WWE to be a nobody on their terrible ECW show).
Sadly, the only two things that have me excited about wrestling lately are the fantastic movie, The Wrestler (which showed the dark side of the business, but still managed to remind me what I love about the genre), and the announcement of a new women’s federation called Wrestlicous, which seems to be a throw-back to the highly enjoyable and campy G.L.O.W. (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling). Long gone are the days of begging my parents to let me watch WrestleMania III or sitting around with friends to watch 30 straight hours of WWE programming. These days, they’ll be lucky to keep my attention for the entire four hours that WrestleMania is on the air.
But I’ll keep watching because it’s what I’ve always done. And maybe, just maybe, someday soon they will once again give me something to be excited about.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.