I remember what it was like to be a fan of the WWE Universe (or back when it was called WWF) and it was a great time to be a fan when wrestling was at its peak during the late 90s and early 2000s. Back then, every episode of RAW and Smackdown! was truly special. Back then, the matches you'd get on RAW and Smackdown! were as good, if not better than the matches you see now at every other Pay-Per-View (PPV) bar Wrestlemania. The WWE were truly blessed with The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Undertaker, HHH and Mick Foley as main event players while having great wrestlers like Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, the emerging Brock Lesnar and the returning Shawn Michaels light up shows on a weekly basis. The tag team division was at its peak with The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz and Edge & Christian. Even the womens division was entertaining then with two of the greatest female wrestlers in Lita and Trish Stratus while having real divas like Stacy Kiebler and Torrie Wilson.
Fast forward to 2010 and the WWE still have enough talent in their roster to deliver great shows but they have chosen to saturate its programming and screw us over with two subpar RAW and Smackdown! weekly episodes with the talent spread across the two shows. HHH and Shawn Michaels are on RAW while Chris Jericho, Edge and The Undertaker on Smackdown! Sure you have wrestlers like Randy Orton, Cena and Batista on RAW with Rey Mysterio on Smackdown! but they just have not have enough 'enigma' that I would go out as far and call them stars. I think it is simply down to the fact that they have not have had enough truly great battles that would put them on the same level of Rock, Austin, HHH or Taker.
I believe that all great wrestlers have one or two feuds and matches that would define their careers and guys like HHH was made a legend with his feud with Mick Foley (using his Cactus Jack persona) with the bloodbath at the 2000 Royal Rumble and probably the last great Hell in a Cell match at No Way Out 2000. I remember those matches as if it happened yesterday. It had thumb tacks, barb wires, crimson masks, broken tables and possibly shattered bodies but it was a spectacle. Hunter also had an intense feud with pal Shawn Michaels with the climax at 2002 Armageddon in a 2 out of 3 falls match while The Rock had memorable matches with Mick Foley (1999 Royal Rumble springs to mind) and had three Wrestlemania matches with Stone Cold Steve Austin, two of them being main events. Then newer up and coming wrestlers like Brock Lesnar was made a star after beating the Rock and having a bloody feud with The Undertaker while Kurt Angle became a star after feuds with Benoit, HHH and Shawn Michaels. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it was in this period from the late 90s and early 2000s that we had the most "Holy S**T" chants in wrestling.
The cycle went on with younger stars being passed the torch but now, even when a wrestler like Randy Orton beats HHH, the feud and the corresponding matches just isn't as memorable and the battles are not as great as the ones that I have mentioned. As a result, guys like Orton and Cena, while main event players in the WWE, they are just not made to look as big a star as people like The Rock and HHH were made to look when you truly thought that they 'earned' their titles going through bloodbaths and hellacious battles. When you look at Cena or Batista or Orton and think of their greatest matches, you would be at a lost for words since all of them seem incredibly average. Think of the last two Wrestlemanias and the most memorable matches involved HBK. While the torch can be passed on to the younger guys but these younger guys need to keep the flame burning because it seems like the flame is fading out.
Part of the reason why I think this has happened is due to a change in WWE's stance to make their programming PG so that it would be safe for children but the thing is, it is pointless. Parents who do not watch WWE programming are definitely not going to be inclined to allow their children to watch grown men beating the hell out of each other even if a midget is made a clown on the show while parents who already watch WWE programming are already likely to bring their children along to watch these shows. I can understand the rationale behind WWE's decision but I think the only thing that will attract younger viewers to watch while maintaining your older viewers is by having great matches and great stories. If WWE continues to 'kiddy' up its programming, it may bring in children to watch but it will definitely alienate viewers like me who go "Shit, this is lame!" and I suspect kids are also thinking the same.
Now, it doesn't surprise me that WWE's decision to tame wrestling is also in the wake of the high number of deaths associated to drug abuse in professional wrestling and I do agree that one death alone is one death too many but I do not think that the quality of wrestling has to suffer as a result of these deaths. I mean look at Cactus Jack, Terry Funk, Rob Van Dam or Tommy Dreamer. All of them took sick bumps throughout their careers and still alive and kicking.
In any case, upon hearing that Shawn Michaels may be retiring after Wrestlemania, I took the liberty of following the two PPVs preceding this year's Wrestlemania to follow the Road to Wrestlemania and also to check if WWE programming has reached the peaks of the Attitude Era. I started off with the 2010 Royal Rumble and sadly, it's an incredibly mediocre PPV capped off with an incredibly short and lackluster Rumble. There were a couple of interesting subplots that played out during the Rumble match involving Punk, HBK & HHH, Cena & Batista and the returning Edge but it still lacked classic Rumble performances of previous Rumbles.
Overall 2010 Royal Rumble rating: 6/10
Here's hoping for a much better Wrestlemania!
I find it odd that the WWE mentioned that this year's Rumble is the most star-studded Royal Rumble with 30 Superstars. Hasn't it always been 30 Superstars?