Revisiting WWF 1999
I have sent the last few days explaining the near O.C.D. nature of my wrestling nerdery. As a long-haired, radio voicing, stand up comedy trying 31 year old, it comes as a shock to people who don't already know the extent of my fanaticism for all things inside the squared circle. That's also why it's a shock to the one person who has come to grips with how addicted I am to wrestling, and watch me be continually frustrated to watch WWE these days, during the Road to Wrestlemania, and be so thoroughly uninterested. Her family, on the other hand, have a perception of me that I never thought I could shake, and not a positive one.
Until I moved in with them. We decided to share a giant condo type apartment with one of my girlfriend's sisters and her boyfriend, who also happens to enjoy wrestling from time to time, but is honestly an Attitude Era drop-off. We've talked about WWE over the last week, and Wrestlemania, but it finally hit them like a ton of bricks when I unveiled my collection. I didn't unload the DVDs yet (still waiting to make sure this might not be a short term decision) but rather took out my spindles. Now, you know when you buy a package of blank DVD-Rs? I use those to keep my collection of downloaded items. I have them also backed up on an external hard drive, but after several of those crashing, I decided to use the DVD-Rs more than the 2 terrabytes of back up. I brought out my WWF/E PPV collection, starting with non-PPV events from 1984, and going until Elimination Chamber 2013, all of the Vince McMahon PPV productions are collected in just under 100 DVDs in avi file format. They took note of the chronological order of everything, the extreme detail to the organization of the other spindles (my personal “best ofs,” ECW, ROH, NWA/WCW, documentaries...etc.) and realized that I am more than just entertained by the sport of wrestling, but am in love with it (or obsessed).
With all this in mind, I also explained that for my personal “best-of” collection, I am watching all events to remind myself of which matches stand out. I am currently in the midst of the 1999 shows, and have been baffled by the popularity of the Attitude Era. So much of what I have seen is so entirely forgettable, and unforgivable. I don't know if everyone does it, but I always seem to compare modern WWE To the past eras, and this Is no different. Almost 15 tears has passed, but goddamn so much has changed. Let's take a look at a few things that stand out, be it positive or negative.
Big Show - Negative
If ever there was a perfect Vince McMahon wrestler, it would be Paul Wight. Vince loves his freaks of nature in size, and no one is more of a sore thumb than The Big Show. Yet, somehow, his career under McMahon has been some of the most poor booking in the history of wrestling. You'd think that starting off during a Vince vs Stone Cold match would be a sign of big things to come. But, we never got our Big Show vs Austin feud. He clawed out through from under the ring, and threw Stone Cold into the cage, breaking it open, and allowing the Rattlesnake to be victorious. Now, it's not exactly a bad way to debut on its own, but when you look at how the rest of his year panned out, it sort of seems like it was a harbinger. Wight made a giant impact with an impressive and important physical act, but he looked like a dumbass doing it. He screwed things up right away in kayfabe, and cost Vince the match.
Fast forward a month, and Big Show (still heel and aligned with McMahon) was in his PPV debut match against Mankind, where the winner was to earn a spot as special guest referee for the main event between Rock and Austin. Once again, he fucked things up for Vinny Mac, as he lost by DQ. He looked like a buffoon, screwing up his boss' orders. Sure, he punched Vince out moment later, but it didn't sky rocket him into a top face position. He was a tweener, as he continued to fight Mankind next month in a Boiler Room brawl still as a heel. And he lost.
A face turn later, he joined the Union in a very captivating angle. 3 months into it, and he's a second rate stable member. This is a 7' monster, who is being used as a midcarder only 3 months after throwing the face of the company through a cage in his debut. He was counted out of the Union vs Corporate Ministry match at Over the Edge, so in my book, was still looking for his first victory on PPV in WWF. He lost the next month too, against Kane, in a King of the Ring Quarter Final match.
He won his first PPV match at Fully Loaded, against the man he lost to the month prior. This seemed to start another heel turn (heel, face, then heel in under 6 months) and siding with the Undertaker. They went on to win the Tag Team Championships, but unlike modern super teams, they only lasted as champs for 8 days for the first reign and then 13 days for their second reign. Imagine that: 2 future Hall of Famers as a tag team, held the title twice for only a total of 3 weeks.
He then turned face again, and then feuded with the Big Bossman, with a WWF Title run mixed into things. He ended the year as WWF Champion, but by the first PPV of the new year, he was not only a former champ, but a heel again.
What a mess. And honestly, that's just a sign of the times. While it was probably worse for the Big Show, lots of wrestlers were turned heel/face 84 times during the Attitude Era.
Hardcore Championship - Positive
I will start by saying I am not advocating the return of the Hardcore Title. But, it did add something to the WWF that is sorely lacking from today's WWE. It was a division and championship that was universal across the entire roster, similar to how the WWE Tag Titles can be booked. But the nature of the Hardcore title, event before the 24/7 rule, was to have many title changes. I understand leaving the main titles to be booked with long term reigns, but the one thing that the Attitude Era has that we do not have to day is the aspect of unpredictability on a daily basis. The Hardcore Title created a completely new division where it can change hands very easily.
The Hardcore Title isn't something that would work nearly as well in the modern PG era of WWE, but the concepts that made the Hardcore Division work are always an option. By this I mean perhaps a TV Title (I have oft-mentioned turning the US title into this), or making the tag division work in the same capacity. The Tag Titles, much like the Hardcore Title, can be around the waists of people from the top of the card, or debuting stars. We've seen it happen. I scoffed at the Unholy Alliance only holding the Tag straps for 3 weeks, but they wouldn't need a 6 month reign either. Team Hell No did a terrific job as champs, but their momentum is not what it was 6 months ago. Having them drop the titles wouldn't hurt them in the slightest. Another decent tag angle today involves Tons of Funk and Team Rhodes Scholars. I say move the tag titles to one of these teams in a 3 way match.
Another popular option is to get The Shield after the titles, but it's not something I can see working. Potentially, sure. But I don't see WWE in 2013 giving The Shield the right run as champions. First, who would they work with, other than Tons of Funk? When Team Hell No first won the titles, the division was being revamped with the Prime Time Players, Epico and Primo, Mysterio/Cara, Team Rhodes Scholars, and some involvement from Team CoBro. Today, PTP are no longer in any title involvement, Epico and Primo will never return to that level, Mysterio and Cara are both injured, and Team CoBro disappeared quickly after emerging. That leaves Team Rhodes Scholars and Tons of Funk. I know we don't have any additional teams no matter who is champ, but with the The Shield as champions, they'd need to be in a prime position on a regular basis on the card. Normally, a hot team of 2 single stars would work. But who is left at this point, after The Shield have gone through Cena, Orton, Sheamus, Big Show and Ryback? I think The Shield as champions, working against teamed up single stars could work, as it allows WWE time to develop actual teams. But let's be real; it's not happening. Most likely, The Shield will get the titles, and do very little with them for a few months, and then drop them to another team who'll do the same.
My suggestion is still get the straps on the waists of Team Rhodes Scholars or Tons of Funk. These teams having matches against the remaining teams like Epico/Primo and PTP would still work because the titles wouldn't be in as high a position as they are around the waists of Team Hell No. Sacrifice their importance short term instead of sacrificing The Shield. Plus, with Tons of Funk as champions, you'd be able to have a “TV title” scenario where they are defended weekly, against the teams mentioned, 3MB, or new teams testing the waters.
Lots of Title Changes - Negative
Now don't confuse my above section with wanting more nonsense title changes. It is fine if delegated to a single title. In 1999, it wasn't just the Hardcore Championship changing hands at a record pace, but every single title WWF had to offer. The Tag championships changed hands 15 times, the Intercontinental and WWF title were both at 11 changes, the Hardcore championship at 10, the European belt was around 8 waists, while the Women's title only changed hands 5 times in the 1999 calendar year. That's a total of 60 title changes.
While there's no way you could label the 1999 stale, as many do today for 2013 WWE, you can call it stupefyingly confusing. Following who was champion was impossible. While I'll proudly proclaim that the titles don't lose credibility with swift title changes until the day I die, the titles lost prestige in 1999, just not because of the amount of changes. The titles can be important and change hands often if the stories that allow it to happen make sense. The recent Intercontinental and United States championship changes aren't memorable because there was no care about either belt. Wade Barrett, who I feel is a true future superstar, did nothing with white strap. Antonio Cesaro had a lengthy reign, but did very little as champion as well. It didn't matter how long they held the titles, it matters what you do when you are champion.
In 1999, titles changed hands merely so the writers could move storylines from one person to another. I'm certain we'll see the same thing with Kofi Kingston as US champion, as he's going to be the perfect foil for the new Jack Swagger character. WWE didn't know what to do with Antonio Cesaro as US Champion any longer, so without any build up, they switched gears. Forgettable title changes are not what memorable title runs are made of.
Multi-Man Matches - Positive
I will start this section off by saying that there is a time and a place for Triple Threats and Fatal Four Ways. Throwing them out there for no reason is the same as nonsensical title changes. But one thing these matches almost always tend to do is show that many individuals are on or near the same level. Wrestlemania XV is a prime example, where there were 3 challengers to Road Dogg's Intercontinental Championship. The build up was weak, but having Ken Shamrock, Goldust, and Val Venis all competing with Road Dogg was a subtle way of indicating that these 4 men are all on the same playing field. It's the same reason later on that year at SummerSlam that HHH was included in the WWF title match, along with Mankind and Steve Austin. HHH was on the brink of reaching a main event position, and being in the ring with 2 legends and former WWF champions helped raise his credibility.
Today, the same should be referenced. Ignore what happened on Raw after Wrestlemania for just a second, and imagine that after Cena won the title, Team Bricky decided to have a fatal four way to determine the new #1 contender. Mark Henry, HHH, Undertaker and Fandango all won matches the night before, and were then booked in a Fatal Four Way to determine who would face Cena at Extreme Rules. Fandango being in there would be shocking and out of place, but a decent showing would elevate him. In fact, this was the exact same concept we saw at the Elimination Chamber, and Jack Swagger became the new #1 contender to the World Title. A no name guy who returned after a losing streak was suddenly thrust into the limelight. Or, imagine how a Royal Rumble victory has launched a star into the main event stratosphere on countless occasions? While they all work to different degrees, history shows that it's rather fail safe way to showcase who is deserving of which spot.
This is equally important in the midcard as it is in the main event. Too often have the contenders to these titles been simple filler feuds until the creative team finds something else for the champion to do. Booking Kofi Kingston, Cody Rhodes, R-Truth, and Antonio Cesaro would have been a great way to give a spotlight to those who are in the US title hunt. Instead of having Cesaro lose clean in a non-title match one week, and then clean for the title the next, they could have had a 4-way battle where Ceasro sneaks out a victory by stealing a pinfall from Kofi after he nails the Trouble in Paradise on Rhodes, igniting an interest for those 2 to battle it off. Meanwhile, R-Truth and Cody Rhodes can move on to a small TV program. It accomplished the exact same thing, and made a mark on more wrestlers.
There's no shortage of talent who are deserving and fitting for championship opportunities, and by combining them like this, it tells the audience that anyone of these men can be challenging whichever champion is looking for new competition.
And on that note, Peace out
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