Changing the Game: How D-Generation X Has Influenced WWE's Past, Present and Future

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured Columnist IVOctober 25, 2022

The DX effect has run deep in WWE for decades and will only amplify from here on out.
Credit: WWE.com

WWE was built off the backs of the McMahon family, but its future falls entirely in the hands of two trailblazers who once famously rebelled against that same regime on-screen.

Exactly 25 years ago this month, Paul "Triple H" Levesque and Shawn Michaels joined forces to create D-Generation X. Ironically, the group was established as anti-authority, roles they would eventually assume in reality.

In Michaels' case, he was already a made-man and a main event player by that point in time. Triple H stood to benefit the most from their on-air alliance in 1997 and risked it all by attempting to push limits in ways fans had never seen before.

That same mentality can be applied to the current positions Levesque and Michaels hold in WWE: chief content officer and senior vice president of talent development creative, respectively.

Those titles aren't quite as catchy as the nicknames they coined for themselves during their in-ring careers (The Game, The Heartbreak Kid, The King of Kings, and The Showstopper for starters). But they do make them the single most influential people in all of WWE, creatively speaking.

While Triple H regularly pulls double duty by overseeing the direction of Raw and SmackDown on a weekly basis, Michaels has his hands full with the next crop of competitors in NXT and making shows such as last Saturday's Halloween Havoc special a success.

However, their past is every bit as significant as their present.

To fully comprehend DX's importance to the product as well as pop culture, a trip down memory lane to their formative years is necessary.

Tracing D-Generation X's Early Influence Through the Attitude Era

Triple H and Michaels weren't alone in their crusade against the powers that be; Chyna, X-Pac, Rick Rude and The New Age Outlaws all aided their efforts along the way.

The stable has seen several incarnations in the last quarter of a century, specifically after HBK originally retired from the ring in 1998. Triple H took DX to new heights and served as leader during their most prosperous period.

Through their many ups and downs, the "suck it" and patented crotch chop were always synonymous with DX.

Much like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock were able to break the barrier into pop culture, DX and their entertaining-but-sometimes-crude antics were right up there with them. They perfectly fit the times and encouraged insubordinate behavior, especially among adolescents.

Telling a teacher to "suck it" was incredibly common at the peak of the Attitude Era. Sports stars, most notably professional bowler Pete Weber, weren't immune from using the crotch chop as a celebratory gesture following victories.

The DX influence was, indeed, everywhere.

That said, they were responsible as anyone on the Attitude Era roster for the PG-14 rating the product carried at the time. They were far from role models for the younger demographic but left their indelible mark on wrestling history all the same.

Many of the talent who now occupy the SmackDown and Raw rosters grew up on DX, including their countless reunions in the years that followed. It's almost impossible to watch a full episode of Raw, SmackDown, NXT or even AEW Dynamite and not see the crotch chop taunt performed.

Although their juvenile shenanigans played a pivotal role in getting DX over, rehashing it in today's wrestling landscape isn't remotely as effective.

To push the envelope in WWE has a very different definition in 2022 than it did in 1997. Even if the product did return to a PG-14 rating as was rumored over the summer, swearing and flipping the bird wouldn't have as much of an impact as it once did because crowds are so conditioned to seeing it.

That's essentially why DX's most recent reunion on Raw was only worked for its nostalgic factor; their shtick doesn't have the same charm it did in its infancy.

What made the group of renegades revolutionary during WWE's biggest boom period in the late 1990s now serves as an example of why innovation is paramount for the next generation.

Fittingly, Triple H and Michaels find themselves responsible for ensuring that happens.

What the Talent of Tomorrow Can Learn From DX

For many, Triple H acquiring the reins of WWE Creative and molding the product into what he wanted it to be was inevitable, including to Michaels.

The 57-year-old has had a front-row seat for The Game's rise in responsibilities, resulting in him succeeding his friend as the head of NXT.

"Certainly there's a difference of what you do from a storyline standpoint from back in the day with DX taking over and fighting authority and all that and you fast forward all these years later," Michaels told Bleacher Report. "It's no secret everyone knew Hunter was eventually going to be someone in control or very close to it. He's been readying himself for that for the last decade."

Michaels can attest to everyone behind the scenes being optimistic about the direction they're taking WWE, noting that the "creative synergy" NXT now has with the main roster is extremely encouraging.

Leading up to the heavily touted DX reunion on the "season premiere" of Raw earlier in October, both he and HHH were busy throughout the day doing everything DX would have despised: scheduling meetings, talking with talent, setting up storylines, rehearsing segments and so on.

They've taken a lot of pride in what they do as officials and have done their best to have fun in the process.

"When all of DX get together in the same room, it's like the buddies you have in high school: you just sort of pick up where you left off," Michaels said. "Some things with DX will always be the same, and I think that comes across both on-screen and behind the camera. It's not a DX culture by any stretch. It's just about the joy and the fun of what this job is and what it truly can be and now it's actually happening."

DX's sole goal wasn't to see how much they could get away with (though it came with the territory). The obscenities and inappropriate nature of the group weren't their only appeal.

Rather, the group, at their core, were all about humoring themselves and knowing fans would find it funny, too. More than anything else, that was what made their act unique and stand the test of time.

On a much smaller scale, NXT Halloween Havoc had that entertainment value in spades. While not everything on the card was an instant classic, it captured the essence of how much of a blast the brand can be when it doesn't try to take itself too seriously.

It was the DX flavor at its finest, courtesy of one Shawn Michaels.

That's very much noticeable while watching Raw and SmackDown as well. Triple H put that edict into effect immediately upon replacing Vince McMahon in July and hasn't looked back.

The newfound freedom certain stars have in WWE is also apparent and appreciated. Triple H and Michaels are adamant about giving them every opportunity to thrive on their own merits.

"DX has always been given a lot of free rein because it was a different entity in itself, and it's built on not doing stuff the right way," Michaels said. "I don't think anyone would try to scalp DX, so to speak, because that's just anti-productive to the characters and team as a whole."

"I try to tell the talent that the hardest work they're ever going to do is creatively," he added. "I think what made DX and the Attitude Era what they were was trying to think ahead of the times we were in. We just felt a change and a wave coming very different than what wrestling was. We wanted to take it from a traditional and purist standpoint into something more as sports entertainment."

Sometimes, all it takes is one person to shatter the glass ceiling and enter a whole other stratosphere of superstardom. It has to happen organically, and if DX's historic run is any indication, it's possible provided the correct puzzle pieces are put in place by the mischievous-yet-brilliant DX duo themselves.

Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.