When considering the sports pantheon, wrestling is largely forgotten. It is a stepping stone on your television as you inevitably scroll to the primetime NFL game or a premier college basketball matchup. As a defender of wrestling, I must inform you that there was a time when this sport was at the forefront of sports entertainment; unfortunately, it has since regressed.
Before I go on, I should address the elephant in the room. Many are opposed to professional wrestling due to the misconception that it is wholly fabricated, an artificial medium made for the docile and those otherwise naïve to the fact that what they are watching is a ruse. This is a half-truth, at best. While the storylines surrounding wrestling and the matches are predetermined, the live action is real. These are athletes at the peak of their physical condition, who have the skills on the microphone to rope viewers in and get them invested in their stories, whether a face (hero) or a heel (villain). The time period that showcased insane athletes and their storytelling in professional wrestling was the Attitude Era.
The Attitude Era defined a period of professional wrestling from the late 90s to the early 2000s. The two preeminent wrestling companies at the time were the WWF (now known as WWE) and WCW (later absorbed by WWE). These two companies went head-to-head every Monday night on television, with the WWF airing Monday Night Raw and WCW airing Monday Nitro. The talent level for each label was unbelievable. On an average night, you would see the following talent on Monday Night Raw: Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, Triple H with D-Generation X, the Undertaker, Kane, Kurt Angle and many more. With WCW, you got Goldberg, Sting, Scott Steiner, the NWO and more. This list of stars barely scratches the surface of the talent ’90s and early ’00s kids like myself were able to witness.
If professional wrestling is to return to the glory days of the Attitude Era, many things need to happen, starting with unpredictability and maximizing top-tier talent. The lack of skill in WWE and AEW is not a problem; stars like MJF, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Orange Cassidy prove that wrestling is in good hands. What needs to happen is more unpredictability, especially with WWE’s flagship star, Roman Reigns. The current Universal Champion has a patented formula for retaining his championship in matches: he and his opponent keep it close, followed by inevitable interference from one of Reigns’s outside allies (Jimmy Uso, Solo Sikoa, etc.). Reigns hits the Spear, his finishing move, and the match ends in Reigns’ favor via count out. This formula has been used for over two years in his record title reign and is agonizingly dull.
What was spectacular about the Attitude Era was that titles seemed to change hands all the time. This made titles lose prestige but ultimately brought more viewers in and showcased all of the talent on the roster rather than a few select stars. In the Attitude Era, it felt as if every wrestler, from the Dudley Boyz to D-Lo Brown and Shawn Michaels to Rikishi, got their shine. In today’s world, wrestlers must fight for a short promo, and many fight on dark, which means their matches are not shown live on air.
I’m not saying that WWE and AEW must recreate the Monday Night Wars. Nor do I believe that today’s wrestling era is necessarily bad. However, wrestling deserves its time in the spotlight; that starts with recapturing the magic and nostalgia of the glorious Attitude Era of professional wrestling by maximizing all of the talent in WWE and AEW and constantly creating unpredictable moments.