I used to play team sports as a little kid. I had a great coach who was with me for basketball, football and baseball. He actually taught me a lot about life. His motto was that if you don't have heart, you won't succeed. Now, using that, we went out there and, year after year, won the championships and all that. We weren't the most technically sound team, but we tried as hard as we could to do the best that we could. We didn't go undefeated, but those defeats only left us stronger.
"Attitude", for the World Wrestling Federation, is a dying concept. To compare 1998, 1999 or even 2000's WWF to the events of this year is ludicrous. Attitude was supposed to be about irreverency and fun. As it matured, it became about blood, sweat and intensity. In 2001, however, Attitude has found itself in a desparate situation.
The WWF, hounded for years by the PTC, essentially gave into their demands, and fell behind the times. Sure, I think we can all admit that mud-wrestling matches weren't quite technical wrestling showcases, but they did get the ratings. Sure, we could ask what good are ratings when the product in general sucks, but what about today? The product in general is worse off than then, and the ratings are reflecting it. Whereas the Attitude of old was trend-setting and cool, this new version of Attitude is painfully not "with it".
I believe the WWF is attempting to make amends with the by introducing the new "Desire" era, with the WWF Desire bumpers they've been showing. But I challenge that the WWF needs "Desire". What the WWF needs is Heart.
When the WCW was still in business, and kicking the WWF's ass, WWF performers like Triple H, the Rock, Austin, and Foley were given the ball and asked to run with it. And being some of the best men in the business, they went out there and did it. Reading things like Mick Foley's book, where he talks about the great times he's had with people like Rock, Owen and Austin are truly touching. I want to see the guys go out there and have fun every night. That's what they're in the business for.
But lately, all of the heart has been missing from the WWF. I think that's why, to me, the Rock/Austin bit from Raw last week didn't work for me. It just didn't have that *it*. It was flat and not spontaneous. Instead, the two went through the (admittedly odd) motions. That's where everyone has been these days, just going through the motions.
I cannot say the Alliance was the catalyst for all of this. Rather, I think it was the fall of WCW that caused it. Even before the last nail was put in WCW's coffin, the WWF just seemed to be going through the motions. Lack of explanation of things like Triple H's miracle Jesus return, or the sudden lack of culpability for Rikishi's actions back just one year ago are signs of it. While the WWF was compelled to provide good content, around that period, they simply began to do just enough. It's a shame too, because they were so close to breaking out into the mainstream, and getting the stigma removed from professional wrestling (you'll notice it's back now if you watch some people completely diss wrestling). But the WWF doing just enough really wasn't enough. Their most excellent feuds were feuds in which guys who I believe really care about the business were involved and at their best. The worst ones have involved people who are just sticking around.
Yeah, I'm talking about the Undertaker. The Undertaker is the epitome of the current state of the WWF. A shell of its former self. Dressed up as something different. Not techinically bad, but by its own actions rendering itself almost unwatchable. Sucking the life out of WCW stars. Lacking the depth or personality necessary to be anything other than what it is pretending to be...
The difference is that the WWF can be great. The Undertaker's best years are well behind him, but the WWF can have a bright future if they'd regain the one thing they've lost, the heart. How can anyone expect these men and women to do what they do night in and night out, for little to no incentive. I'm not talking about Austin, Angle, Rock, Booker, Taker, Kane or the rest, who are quite comfortable at the top of the card. I mean guys like Lance Storm, Mike Awesome, Raven, the Hollys, and others. They take the bumps and the falls just as much as the top guys do. But there's so little elevation lately, that it's rendered irrelevant. There is no more midcard, it's all either lower card or top card. If you're anywhere near the top card, you get some time to get your angles over, and if you're not, you get shoved into 20 man battle royals, where you can be the best faceless jobber you can be.
And look at the injuries! The WWF half pretends that their injuries, and the fact that the guys work through so many of them, are sources of pride. Of course, they can't portray it quite as such, because no one wants to be known as the sport where everyone collapses and dies as soon as they leave the mats. But wrestlers, in probably an extension of some sense of machismo, want to be illustrated as guys who are tougher than other professional athletes, in an attempt to legitimize the sport.
But lately, it seems like everyone's been getting injured. First, it was Triple H, with his quadraceps tear. It was probably not wrestling related, per se, but I know that people's leg muscles don't normally simply snap. Austin broke bones in his back, Angle and Austin bruised their tailbones, Benoit injured his neck, Rhyno injured his, Kanyon and Mike Awesome are both down with knee injuries. The lower card is littered with tons of injuries, and these are guys who aren't going to be afforded the same accomodations are would be Angle or Austin would recieve. There have been many an article written about someone who was talented in the eyes of many, who simply found his or herself buried in the undercard and in dark matches, only to be injured and fired.
The WWF has long since abandoned the concept of giving titles meaning. What is the significance of the Intercontinental Title, versus the European title? Does anyone really believe Edge is the second highest guy in the company? Why isn't the intercontinental champion allowed to have 10 minute main-event matches on TV, even if it's the secondary main event? Those questions are important. Does the WWF care anymore about getting the lower card over?
On Raw, for the first time in a long time, the WWF seemed to have something of a coherent direction since right after Wrestlemania. Now, for better or worse, it was still a great show, because for the first time, the people out there looked like they were having fun. The segment with Regal and McMahon may have been disgusting to watch on TV, but it was exactly the type of irreverency that defined the WWF for a long time, the time when they were successful. Even the opening segment, where they actually pretended that people have lives outside of the arena, with Foley and McMahon was good because it was a different locale, and a different mood.
The WWF doesn't need to be irreverent right now, though. They need to be intense. They need to act like they're unique, because they are. No one else offers a national wrestling program in the US, and the WWF should act like the trendsetter. They can use the concept of "sports-entertainment" to define something that can be completely different, funny, charming, touching, and gripping. But they also need to realize that the WWF will always be synonymous with wrestling, not sports-entertainment. People don't think of the wrestlers as being "sports-entertainers", they think of them as wreslers. And when McMahon doesn't respect wrestlers and wrestling enough to make them the centerpiece of the promotion, how can he expect the public to accept it?
The XFL is a prime example of this. Rather than make the football players and the football game the centerpiece of his promotion, McMahon instead chose to focus on the cheerleaders and the playcalling and the announcers and the players' uniforms. This same attitude has been taken to the WWF. We don't care about how good of a wrestlers so and so is, but we do, for some reason, care about whether he likes pie, or another woman's poor cooking. We don't know what or why wrestlers (especially the lowercard) does what they do, we just know that they do it. How many times have you heard the call "And there's a high-impact move there by Edge... Paul, what do you think is on Stone Cold's mind right now? What could he be thinking?" The answer is too many times. Until the WWF portrays the wrestlers, and all the wrestlers, as guys driven to succeed in the business, rather than assorted losers who believe that they are superheroes or make love to mops, the WWF is never going to "get over" with the public. It really shouldn't be as complicated as they try and make it. Some guys are willing to cheat to be the best, some aren't. How much more plot development is necessary?
The "Attitude" era showed that the WWF could be as cool as it wanted to be. But the spots from the attitude era, the extent to which that style can go have just about been reached. If the WWF wants to try and compare itself to real, legitimate sports, then it needs to focus on what the driving force behind other sports is. People play team sports, or any sport, because it's enjoyable and compete in them because they want to be the best. In order to be the best, you have to have heart. If the WWF wants to regain their lost footing, they need to put out shows that show that they aren't just going through the motions, but that they are entertaining the fans as well as themselves.
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