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Friday, May 22, 2015

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Life In The Attitude Era Vol. 2: The Beginning.



So, here's where the story begins. Life in the Attitude Era.

Wrestling was a very different place back then. Companies took chances, fans were vocal and involved. TV Networks wanted wrestling as part of their schedules. Dare I say it, wrestling was "cool". All of a sudden, you weren't a weirdo or a nerd if you admitted you watched wrestling. Everybody we know, or knew, has at least watched some of the Attitude Era in their time. Even those people who give you shit now for watching it, they've watched it in the past when it was "OK" to do it. Virtually all of your friends from school/work knew who Stone Cold, DX, Sting, the nWo, Mr McMahon, the Rock, Mick Foley, DDP, Undertaker and countless others were, but what kicked it all off?

It's pretty hard to nail that down specifically, but 1995-96 would get my vote.

Scott Hall and Kevin Nash had walked out on Vince to take up their fat contracts at WCW, Haitch-Ah(Triple H) was in the doghouse for the whole Garden curtain call thing, and a certain Stone Cold Steve Austin would deliver his breakthrough performance and promo at King of the Ring 1996.



"You sit there and thump your Bible, and you say your prayers and it didn't get you anywhere...talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16...Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!!!"

That short, sharp burst there stood out from everything else because it didn't feel like a "wrestling promo". It felt authentic. It felt real. Very real. Austin was Austin, and didn't give a shit if you loved him or hated him. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and however the fuck he wanted to do it. It was completely different to the comic, over-the-top stuff that was around at the time.

Interest in the WWF was waning at that point. You have to remember that by this time, Vince McMahon had lost almost ALL of his established, big-name stars. Hogan, Savage, Hall, Nash, Flair and others had all either left, or returned, to WCW - seen as the promised land because of Turner's seemingly endless pile of cash and his TV network.

The landscape of the land of the giants - WWF - had changed dramatically. No offense to anyone who was around at the time, but when WCW had all these stars, what did Vince have? Doink the fucking Clown and other cartoonish, bullshit gimmicks that were out of touch, and out of date(Man Mountain Rock represent, yo).

Vince had a great opportunity to make a tremendous statement in 1995-96.



When the character of Goldust originally debuted, you'd be lying if you said that it didn't creep you the fuck out. Goldust was a uniquely weird, creepy, sexualized character that played into the "fears" of "normal" society. It was something that had never been done on as big a scale as the WWF, and Goldust got very real heat. People HATED him because he played into their misconceptions.

Dustin Rhodes has done, and did do, a terrific job in that role. Not only did he completely immerse himself in the character, he bought into it. The Goldust character needed to be very weird, out-there, but you couldn't have just anyone do it. You needed to have a tremendously gifted performer, and a highly-skilled wrestler, to be able to pull that off in the right way. And it was brilliant. Utterly and completely mesmerizing.

There was so much more heat on Goldust than on any other character at the time, heel or babyface. Usually, the most over character in the company works at the top of the card, and becomes champion. Although Goldust had a couple of runs with the IC title (during that initial run), he should have had a run with the WWF Championship. There's absolutely no doubt about that whatsoever.

Remember troops, this was a time when Vince didn't have shareholders to answer to. It was his company and while the networks may have had concerns about it, there's no doubt that people would have continued to watch, if only to want to see Goldust get his ass kicked. And that's the whole point of being a heel. The crowd in the arena - and the people watching at home - are supposed to want to see the hero overcome the bad guy. And while he maybe wasn't a traditional bad guy, Goldust was the best heel in the company at that time. Without question.



However, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, the genetic jackhammer himself, must've left his balls in his wife's purse, because he didn't go for it and WWF missed a HUGE opportunity to make themselves stand out.

If you believe what you read on the net, Vince had to be persuaded by Shawn Michaels and Haitch-Ah(HHH) to go in a VERY different direction or face the real possibility of extinction. And how did he do that? By using a very real situation to create arguably the greatest wrestling heel of all-time.

You could say that if Bret Hart hadn't have left the WWF, the company wouldn't exist today.

Think about it. If Vince hadn't "screwed" Bret Hart at Survivor Series in 1997, we wouldn't have had the Mr. McMahon character. If we didn't have the Mr. McMahon character, we wouldn't have seen the brilliance of Austin-McMahon (in some way) for virtually all of Austin's run on top.

Don't get me wrong though. I'm not - for one second - saying that the Austin character wouldn't have worked without McMahon. It would have. Austin was THAT good, and his connection with the fans - even to this day - is one of the most genuine, authentic, real bonds that you could ever expect a wrestler to have with his fans, and vice versa.

The McMahon character was so utterly absurd and over-the-top, but he was the perfect foil for Austin. They complemented each other tremendously well. You believed that Vince was a complete and utter dick. You wanted to see Austin kick the shit out of him. Slowly. And repeatedly. Austin was the working man, fighting the machine and doing whatever it took to get what he wanted, all the while sticking it to the man whenever he could.

Let's go back a second though. Why did we think Vince was "a complete and utter dick"? Because people think he "screwed" Bret Hart. Come on now. Did he really? Put yourself in Vince's shoes. Your champion has decided - albeit reluctantly - to move to a different company. Bret's reasons were genuine. He wasn't looking for a way out, but he had to leave.



Different suggestions were made to Bret about how and where he could drop the belt before he left, but the two sides couldn't agree on the best way to do it. Vince had decided he wanted Shawn to be the champion because Bret was on his way out, but Bret's own insecurity led to him refusing to do the job.

This is just my opinion, but Bret was clearly a mark for himself and for the wrong reasons, he refused all options given to him. What the fuck else was Vince meant to do? Just let him win on the way out, and let Bret swagger away with the belt? Fuck no. Vince did what he had to do to protect his company.

I might give him all the shit in the world for what he's become - I do, and some of it's deserved - but in that situation, under those circumstances with all of that on the line, I'd have done exactly the same as Vince. It takes a brave man to make a decision of that magnitude, without knowing what the reward/payoff would be. Simply put, Vince didn't have any other choice. He did what was - pardon the pun - best for business.

And you know what? It proved to be the right choice. He made a very brave, very real decision, knowing that he'd forever be blamed for what happened. But he did it anyway, and because of that one decision, the WWF survived the war and they're still here today.

That seems as good a place as any to leave off for this time. Check back shortly for the next installment of the series, when we'll talk in depth about DX, the nWo, the rise of young stars who went on to become icons, and the veterans who became legends.

As always, make sure you're supporting True and the team, and keep your eyes on the ring!

-George

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