The Mother Brain Files: Degeneration Gap

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Degeneration Gap
By Mother Brain

The 2009 WWE Hall of Fame was significant for one particular reason. It was the night that Stone Cold Steve Austin, arguably the greatest WWE superstar of all time, was inducted into the prestigious club that included Bret Hart, Eddie Guerrero, Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair, etc. While the honor was absolutely well deserved, Austin’s induction also marked the end of an important era in professional wrestling.

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Fast forward to late 2010. The WWE is in a state of image awareness towards the general public. Their PG rating along with Linda McMahon’s campaign for senator have affected the overall product in ways that may be good for children (and sponsors) but not for real wrestling fans. Blood, choking, chair shots to the head, and risque gimmicks are outlawed. The Divas are told to dress more conservatively. The storylines are dumbed down to SNL-style sketches. The company has even started their “Stand Up for WWE” campaign to show all the good that it has done for sick children, illiterate children, the troops, and most of all the “WWE Universe”. Honestly with the company’s current direction right now, I’d prefer to “stand back”.

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This has to arguably be the most depressing time to be a wrestling fan. In less than a year, future Hall of Famers such as Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho have retired from the ring. Batista decided to hang up his boots to go MMA. Mickie James was fired, creating a relatively stale women’s division. Matt Hardy had personal issues, venting out on YouTube and ultimately getting his release. Undertaker and Edge are near the end of their careers. Even the game himself, Triple H, has taken up an office job at WWE HQ and is in no hurry to come back. Does this all seem a bit coincidental or is there a pattern taking place?

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Word has gotten around the net that “several WWE stars have privately indicated in recent weeks that they are contemplating leaving the organization—and the wrestling business altogether—once their current contracts expire.” Some of these unnamed superstars have either loss their passion for the business or yearn to work in another company. To me, it ultimately comes down to the talent being frustrated with the PG rating, feeling that it diminishes their in-ring work and their characters.

Dave Batista stated in an interview that the PG rating killed the sort of edge that made him want to get into the business and he refused to be another bubblegum personality like John Cena. MVP is currently in a bind because the company refuses to push him due to his criminal past, fearing that Linda McMahon’s opponents will criticize the WWE for making a star out of a convicted felon despite his uplifting story. Even more absurd was Daniel Bryan’s firing this past summer because of some pre-planned spots during the Nexus beatdown on Cena that were later deemed “not PG behavior”. Remember the frustration of Christian and Shelton Benjamin during their ladder match when it was stopped due to one of the men juicing blood, taking the momentum and edge away from the match? Speaking of losing edge, how did Goldust go from the controversial character he once was in 1996 to being comedy relief? Why are the Nexus beatdowns less brutal than they were when they started?

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The sad truth for any long time wrestling fan is that Vince McMahon gave up on us a long time ago. He pressed the reset button so that today’s generation of stars can be looked up to by children. While it’s great to have new talent pushed, why do I feel like most of these guys are not being truly tested? The simple answer is that Cena, Orton, Sheamus, and other children of the developmental territory who are now the top dogs did not work their way through the territory system as did many past stars. So the in-ring work has diminishes in favor of kid-friendly personalities. This is not new (i.e. Hulk Hogan) but it has gotten progressively worse over time.

When one looks at the period prior to the Attitude era, the overall product was PG when guys like Hogan, Warrior, and Bret were the top stars. Most gimmicks from George The Animal Steele to Doink the Clown were cartoonish in nature and had great appeal to children. But you also have to remember that they were able to get away with some borderline controversy at times too: Roddy Piper’s semi-racist promos on Mr. T; infidelity angles with Jake Roberts/Rick Rude to Randy Savage/Ric Flair; the Nailz character; Jake Roberts using a real life cobra to bite on Randy Savage’s arm; etc. On top of all of that, the quality of the matches were 10x better because most of the talent was established from organizations like NWA, AWA, WCCW, Stampede, New Japan, and dozens of others. All they needed was the WWE machine to make them stars, not learn how to wrestle WWE style like today’s crop of talent.

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Does this mean TNA is better? To some extent, yes; however, if WWE is one extreme with the PG rating, TNA is the total opposite. Of course all the blood, cursing, and high intensity of the matches make it reminiscent of the WWE’s Attitude era. Unfortunately, their terrible booking ability, emphasis on obtaining and pushing ex-WWE stars, and lack of promotion undermines everything that made the company once promising. It’s hard for me to watch a 30 man faction with guys like Hogan, Flair, and Jeff Hardy as the dominant heels and there’s no TNA original destined to defeat them (that’s a big wake up call for you, Samoa Joe).

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If there are any bright spots left in WWE for me as a fan, the only 3 superstars who stand out are Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, and the Miz. Bryan and Punk make their matches  and feuds almost reminiscent of the Hitman/HBK era of the mid 90s. The Miz has evolved from a MTV reject who got no respect to a charismatic heel with everything that Cena and Orton are lacking in personality. There’s also other favorites of mine such as Kofi Kingston, Dashing Cody Rhodes, Hart Dynasty, John Morrison, Dolph Ziggler, Wade Barrett, and Justin Gabriel. But they have a major uphill battle to succeed in the PG era. My hope is that someday, WWE will be less “stupid” and more genius as it was when I was a kid yearning to see Bret Hart and Steve Austin wrestle at the Garden. Sadly, however, I have my doubts that we’ll ever see those days come back once more.

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