Almost a decade to the day a spotty, but animated version of myself was sitting outside on a wall with similarly enthusiastic pro wrestling fans talking about what would be the ultimate WCW vs. WWF supercard.
Sting vs. The Rock, Goldberg vs. Stone Cold, Undertaker vs. Kevin Nash, Mankind vs. Macho Man...that's how we spent that summer of 1999, talking about wrestling, looking forward to wrestling and just plain worshipping wrestling. We had the sticker albums, the magazines and the toy figures to go with it.
We were the bomb.
Then dark clouds appeared on the WCW horizon. Being a 13-year-old kid, I didn't know who Vince Russo was...Things started not to make sense anymore to my fragile mind.
Who are 'the powers that be'? Why is David Arquette world champion? Why is a cab driver with a baseball holding the world title? Why is Jeff Jarett, a man beaten by a woman with gender issues, champion of WCW?
Why are Russo and Hogan arguing in the ring and totally breaking kayfabe? The list went on and I found myself turning to or just preferring the WWF more and more.
By the time Shane McMahon announced he was the owner of WCW I had completely lost interest in WCW. The Monday Night Wars were clearly over, but they ended a long time ago for me.
But wrestling was still exciting to watch every week. The Stephanie-HHH-Kurt Angle love triangle was brilliant. There was Cactus Jack's continuous attempts to get the world title or die trying. The Rock and Chris Jericho in slagging matches. Some memories!
It all culminated in Wrestlemania 17, the perfect card not just because the matches were by and large excellent, but because the storylines and characters were built so well leading up to the event. I cared about every single one of the results on the card (I was delighted to see my favourite wrestler at the time, Kane, win the Hardcore title)
Then the invasion. It couldn't get much better than this I thought. Finally, the supercard dream was going to come through. YESS! I thought my head was going to explode when ECW jumped into the mix. This was what a decade of wrestling history had been leading up to...but it totally sucked. They blew it, really really big time.
DDP was a stalker who wanted some of Taker's wife even though his own girl was a Playboy model. Booker T was a chump who kept staring into his own hand. Buff Bagwell...the less said the better.
Then Stone Cold became leader of the alliance cue great comedy moments with Angle, but an effective end to the alliance as an onscreen threat.
Wrestling never recovered.
I think I stopped watching wrestling regularly about the time Lesnar beat Angle at Wrestlemania. It was a great match and from what I've seen most of the Wrestlemania's since 17 have been excellent. The problem is that the weekly offerings are just complete utter horsesh*t nowadays to use some French.
Not even being nostalgic for the good old days of patient buildup but its like Vince Russo is everywhere nowadays. Everything is 'crash TV' as they call it. Total trailer park thrash/5-year-old kid fare that just insults a man's dignity and intelligence.
It might be true that Americans are getting stupider, but don't contribute to it for god's sakes!!
Fake crowd noise, greater prominence of life sized barbie dolls/time spent on female characters on TV. If I want porn I'll find porn, if I want sappy soap opera I'll watch Home & Away...Why do they now think everyone that watches wrestling is each others cousin?
Didn't they realize wrestling was getting over in the mainstream when they came calling for the Rock in Hollywood? It was because they treated themselves and the product seriously.
In my experience no kid wants to watch a show that tells them they're a kid. The beauty of wrestling as I remember it was that it treated me like an adult with adult stories which had realistic characters and motives. Not caricatures and mopeds.
Isn't trailer park thrash among the poorest target markets in America, why aim for that? It makes no sense even from this young business graduate's point of view. Surely Vince McMahon, the best promoter of his generation can see that.
The storylines are something. Stephanie McMahon's reign as head writer in the WWE has been shocking. Feuds are left to drift into obscurity and everything has (absolutely must) have shock value. Gay weddings, Vince McMahons midget son...Even some of the storylines in supposedly straight scenarios between world champion and challenger became weird. (Katie Vick anyone?)
Of course it didn't help that many great wrestlers were eventually forced to retire like Foley, Stone Cold and the Rock or sadly in all too often a case, even die (see here for a detailed exploration of this worrying issue).
Another problem this brings up and is symbolised by (just watching the latest Wrestlemania on Youtube) is Triple H triumphantly lifting the world title as Randy Orton's carcass lies in the ring to stonewall silence.
Where are the new Rocks, the new Stone Colds, the new Stings of this brave new world?
Then we have the draft. Following the end of the alliance angle at Survivor Series 2002, it was clear that they had too much talent for one show so some genius proposed they do the American football thing and split the TV show up rather than get rid of the deadweight.
I'm not good at math but doesn't that halve the talent power of the TV shows? Later they brought back a weird Frankenstein version of ECW, WWE Heat in all but name. That third-ises talent power or turd-ises it for all you smart guys out there.
The amount of championships and titles is hilarious. From what I gather there are World and World Heavyweight champions. Triple H has won the 'world title' 14 times but how can anybody be a world champion if they wrestle only on half the total roster.Couldn't they call them the Raw and Smackdown titles?
The US, IC, Cruiserweight, World and WWE tag titles, Women's have all come and gone.
Then there's that Oscar/Emmy entertainment award like ceremony they call the 'Slammies'. As a great man once said 'You have GOT to be f*cking kidding me'.
One might argue that the WWE became a victim of its own success. After defeating its main compeitiors, the only way for the WWE was down with nobody around to keep them on their toes.
Its true TNA has been nothing but an unmitigated disappointment for many looking for an alternative (as Bleacher writer Suleyman proposes) while the Brand Split has created stagnation, not competition.
The situation can only get worse for wrestling fans.
WWE is fast running out of marquee matches to throw at the subscriber for Wrestlemania's. The stars of 10 years ago are fast running out and even those that have come out of retirement like Foley and Michaels are either looking like spent forces or are considering re-retiring.
The DVD sales of wrestling greats of the past can only keep the profit and loss statement looking green in the short run before even diehard fans get tired of looking back all the time.
The situation is very serious as many wrestlers are also having their heads turned to the world of MMA or acting becuase the day job has become so intellectually unchallenging, physically tiresome even embarrassing.
Some like Chyna and X-Pac have taken to amateur pornography....
Do kids want to become wrestlers anymore even? I know when I was young I kind of did. Any parent watching the stuff the WWE/TNA come out with nowadays is more likely to prefer their kid take up a career in porn. Its just embarrassing stuff to admit you like wrestling nowadays.
Something is broken in wrestling and I expect wrestling will haveto bottom out during this recession before it can build up again properly. The decline of wrestling ain't over by a longshot and if they can roll out Stone Cold in a wheelchair for one more match to paper over the cracks they will.
They will do anything not to change. As the Panda people will tell you.