The WWE Universe seems to be quite harsh in regards to the current product and most of these criticisms come from the demographic of 25 and up that experienced both extremes of The Attitude Era and today’s current product labelled as the New Era. New fans also have the luxury of being able to catch up on some Attitude Era footage, which is glorified via the WWE Network.
Some differences are rather obvious, like the television rating which continues to be heavily debated today, although there is some good that has come from it internally which we will discuss in this article. Ratings and overall show quality are pivotal factors in this article as well, but so are the WWE’s current global reach and improvements in developing wrestlers, which seems to be at an all time high in the current climate.
We will look at both sides of the coin pertaining to what was better then and what is working better now. Without further ado, let’s dive in and look at some of the facts. Here is eight things that were better in the Attitude Era “then” and seven things better in the New Era “now.” Enjoy!
15 Then: Austin & The Rock
One of the most pivotal points during the “then” Attitude Era was the WWE’s ability to successfully build new stars. With an emphasis on over the edge attitude, the company selected Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock to carry the torch during the greatest era in pro wrestling history, which was watched by 10 million fans at one point in time, who were channel surfing between the nWo and The Rock/Austin.
Both rises took time and loads of character building. Austin’s claim to fame was winning the 1996 King of the Ring. He not only beat the old guard in Jake Roberts. but also paved the way for the new Attitude Era with his iconic 3:16 catchphrase. He would cement his legacy as a fan favorite in a memorable bout against Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 and a year later he would defeat Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV, capturing the WWE Championship.
The Rock took a different route, one of a heel persona. After joining The Corporation, he became a big time player and Vince’s “guy.” After a fantastic feud with Mick Foley, it was safe to say he was going to be a star. His popularity later transitioned him into a face when he joined Mick Foley and started The Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection. Later, the term People’s Champion was coined and Johnson never looked back.
The company is trying to use a similar formula today with John Cena and Roman Reigns, though we can safely say as of now, their potential doesn’t even hold a candle to these two iconic wrestling stars from the “then” era.
14 Now: Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is a rare breed of wrestler that would work in any era. Vince McMahon and Triple H have said it best, as Lesnar truly is a once in a lifetime type of athlete. With the lack of true mainstream stars aside from John Cena, Lesnar has thrived in this era by helping to expand the WWE on a global scale with his UFC involvement. He also bought a sense of realism to the ring with his overpowering presence, something the company has lacked greatly in the midst of this PG era.
One would argue that Lesnar should not be held in such a high regard because of his rare appearances, though that is exactly what makes him so special and that much more of a draw. His limited appearances make it possible to fully enjoy him when he is on television, as the rarity of it all makes fans want to tune in and see what he does before he leaves again. His booking has been spot on, as he remains the greatest product of the current era and something the WWE should be proud of.
13 Then: Commentating
What made The Attitude Era that much better was the over the top announcing by Jim Ross and the comedic heel commentary of Jerry Lawler, as they worked off one another perfectly. It made everything seem much better than it really was. Even now, when watching the WWE Network footage of past matches, your heart beats that much faster listening to JR call a match with his brilliant enthusiasm.
Today, this element seems to be a lost art. Since JR left the company, Michael Cole has taken the lead job and has not ran with the ball. His observations are average and he just seems to play it safe every telecast. His lines are clearly scripted and his calling of certain moves is absolutely disturbing to listen to as a long time fan. JBL has only made things worse by repeating the same sentences every night like “big match John” or “he’s a lunatic” (referring to Dean Ambrose).
With a brand split in place, fans are hoping the company will also revamp this situation by using Mauro Ranallo, who has thrived on SmackDown. His voice is refreshing and the intensity of his calls brings us back to an older time. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out.
12 Now: WWE Network
Technology has advanced quite a bit since The Attitude Era. With this mind, ratings have dropped a tremendous amount over the last couple of years because of this, as fans are now using other means to watch the WWE, like using the WWE Network or going on the internet and streaming the shows. For this reason, the WWE doesn’t seem to be concerned with its poor numbers and instead looks at the Network as a major sign of growth.
The Network is a really cool addition and something that is groundbreaking. Imagining such a possibility in the 90s would likely be met with laughter. Well, the dream has become a reality and fans now have access to unlimited amounts of wrestling. Some actually see it as a con because it reminds them of how much better the WWE was back in the day. Despite this factor, it certainly is a plus and a luxury we did not have two decades ago.
11 Then: Promos & Matches
In-match storytelling was a factor that thrived during The Attitude Era, as it just seemed like every bout told a distinct in-ring story. Matches were fresh and always provided fans with something new back in the day. The same can’t be said for today’s climate, though the NXT brand has given us that nostalgic feeling many times. However, matches on the main roster seem repetitive and robotic. Every contest nowadays goes the same way, as the face generates momentum, the heel takes over, the face counters and they go to a finish. In-ring storytelling has been minimized to become a robotic match sequence.
Promo quality has also decreased and some blame the PG-Era that is filled with limitations, while others believe that the talent is trained the wrong way with scripts being given to them. Wrestlers of The Attitude Era were typically spot on with their deliveries. Steve Austin, in particular, wouldn’t always be looking at the hard camera and the fact that he would move around and get different camera shots was a little detail that made it seem that much more real. Today, the wrestlers generally look at one camera while reciting lines that were obviously rehearsed. At this point, the art of a great promo seems to be lost.
10 Now: Character Development
Behind the scenes the company has grown leaps and bounds since the popular 90s era. One of the biggest changes to the company was the unveiling of a new groundbreaking Performance Center, which has paved the way for several new aspiring WWE stars, whether it’s an athlete or wrestler. Back in the day, the company had a very outdated developmental territory, equipment was low budget and the environment was regarded as dangerous.
With the need for a new wave of performers, the company made it a priority to improve the situation. The Performance Center has just about everything, from a room to practice promos to a high flyer ring which is made out of a soft fabric to practice high risk maneuvers. Wrestler development is at an all time high and the company hopes that this will pay off in the future with plenty of new talent coming out of their new developmental ways.
9 Then: Championship Identities
Today, championships feel like they have no sense of identity and are just put on a wrestler for the sake of momentum. This was not always the case, when a championship not only had meaning, but its own texture and quality which was defined by a certain class of opponents. Future stars battled it out for the Intercontinental Championship, the European Title was given to a workhorse and even the Hardcore Title managed to acheive an entertaining identity based off of lower card wrestlers.
You can’t even compare this to the new era which features The Miz as the current IC Champ. Think of the greats the won the championship during The Attitude Era like The Rock and Triple H and what it did for their careers. Then look at Miz? What good or championship identity can possibly come out of the situation and title reign?
8 Now: WrestleMania
One of the most breathtaking growths within the company has taken place with the WWE’s yearly marquee event, WrestleMania. During The Attitude Era, the event would cater to arenas that held crowds under 20,000, like WrestleMania XIV in 1998 which held a little more than 19,000 fans. Over the years, the company put a plan in place to make the event a global phenomenon. The company is shattering records year after year with some insane attendance records along with incredible buy rates throughout the week in the city that is hosting the event.
The event is bigger than ever and is truly a spectacle to watch today, more so than any other era. When it comes to WrestleMania, the company continues to grow and outdo itself every year with the production value being at the very highest. This has resulted in the WWE furthering their brand exposure on a global platform, something they thrive on today more so than any other era.
7 Then: Quality Roster Depth
Roster depth seems to be the biggest issue with the WWE at the moment and the company is looking to a brand split, in order to provide deeper rosters while giving certain individuals more of a platform to shine. Nowadays, the product seems to have depth, but with a lack of direction or purpose.
During the “then” era, this was most certainly not the case. Everyone had their role and thrived in it, no matter how big or small the task at hand was. Examples are numerous, but the tag team division is one area worth discussing. With the upper card and mid card scene dominating the WWE, The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz and Edge & Christian took it upon themselves to provide the company with an even greater amount of depth. The teams took a lower card role and ran with it, by bringing a revolutionary style of competition to the show. As of right now, the current WWE has yet to bring anything remotely similar to the table, asides from NXT which is its own unique brand.
6 Now: Indie Talent Pool
During The Attitude Era, most of the major stars were built from ground up by the company. Today, the company has kept this model, but with a major twist. In the new era of the WWE, they are now looking elsewhere to bring in the best talent from across the world. Bringing in Kota Ibushi for the CWC Tournament is another example of how the company has changed their philosophy. During The Attitude Era, this type of tactic was absolutely unheard of and frowned upon.
The business has changed and now the major players in the company were all at one point huge indie stars. Take a look at the roster and see for yourself. The likes of Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Finn Balor, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura are all stars that play a pivotal role in WWE’s current success. With all that in mind, we can expect the indie talent pool to only grow in the next couple of years and rightfully so.
5 Then: In-show Storytelling
Steve Austin hit the nail on the head during his podcast recently, as he brought up that the company are currently lacking with their in-show storytelling. So basically, a story within a story. Every Raw seems to be repetitive and basic, putting a general focus on matches pertaining to feuds being built for a certain PPV that is coming up. What happened to The Attitude Era days, where in-show stories were just as crucial, like Jericho and Triple H feuding randomly on an episode of Raw, which led to Y2J winning the title after Hebner fast counted The Game or Mick Foley capturing the championship against The Rock. There had even been some great tournaments which carried over several weeks during Monday Nights. All of this seems to be a lost art with most of the focus pertaining to an upcoming PPV.
With the brand split in place, we really hope that the in-show angles improve, giving the audience a far greater show by giving them storylines to get invested in.
4 Now: Professionalism Behind The Scenes
Internally, the company is being held to the highest of standards these days, in all facets of the business. As great as The Attitude Era was, the company was a disaster backstage, with drug abuse and the party life at an all time high. The company never really had any type of policy in place which led to the talents running wild.
Edge and Christian are regarded as the pioneers of professionalism and other wrestlers, including Road Dogg, were shocked to find out that the duo would quietly go about their business and go from show to show without partying following an event. Today, this is the norm.
The WWE also has policies in place about how Superstars should act outside of the company and a Wellness Policy that holds their talent to the highest standard. Internally, the WWE has grown leaps and bounds, so they certainly deserve some serious praise for this paradigm shift, which seemed unimaginable back in the 90s.
3 Then: TV-14
When the WWE announced they were going PG, fans really didn’t make much of it. Years later, the public is infuriated with this decision, mainly because of the on-screen product. The TV-14 rating during The Attitude Era provided fans with some great entertainment and some of the best promos of all time. Whether it was Austin dropping an F bomb or The Rock destroying an opponent with his words, restrictions were simply not there. Matches were also more intense, especially with the use of blood, and it made everything seem that much more real and dramatic.
Today, these factors seem to be lost. Comedic promos come off as cheesy, while serious dialogues are looked at as being far too scripted. Matches have also been toned down, as blood rarely appears, unless it’s a major PPV like WrestleMania and even then it is not a guarantee. Many believe that this is the reason why the WWE are going after so many worldwide talents, in order to improve the in-ring work which puts less of a focus on violence. Either way you look it, the TV rating has done much more harm than good.
2 Now: Global Reach
For the hardcore wrestling fan, the PG Era has destroyed what they fell in love with during the 90s. However, from a business standpoint, the WWE has been able to forge some intriguing sponsorship deals which has helped the company grow leaps and bounds on a global scale.
Back in the 90s, most high end companies did not want to come anywhere near anything that was pro wrestling related. The product was aggressive, controversial and just difficult for any company to associate themselves with. After years and years of switches internally and externally, the company has changed, with professionalism and marketability at an all time high. The company does struggle in the ratings department, but makes up for it online and via various social media outlets with its massive reach. Globally, the company is better than ever, reaching heights they never thought could be possible two decades ago.
1 Then: Rivalries
A good feud is the fuel to our fire as wrestling fans. Back in the day, whether it was Austin and Taker, Bret and Shawn or Mick and The Rock, feuds and rivalries drove the show to new heights. These rivalries eventually caused wrestling fans to permanently change the channel from WCW to WWE. These dramatic feuds paved the way for some of the most epic in-ring encounters of all time and they felt like much more than just a match.
Today, this is another one of those factors that seems to be lost with the new breed. Matches are still very good and on a technical level, they are probably better. The biggest issue is that they simply do not evoke as much passion in the ring. With a lack of rivalries or feud building, matches suffer. With no intensity or proper story building comes a lack of interest from fans. This factor alone has plagued the company for the last couple of years. It’ll be interesting to see if the brand split can re-launch this lost art.
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