Recently, I was inspired to start watching Raw during the Monday Night War, when they were losing to WCW, but had stopped being such a mess and started letting the superstars really become believable and realistic characters. This was a time of greatness in the industry, and this is the first in my 1997 series!
I started watching every Raw and PPV of 1997, starting at WM13. The ratings were down in the WWF, McMahon had lost Lex Lugar, Macho Man, Hall, Nash, X-Pac, and was looking down the barrel at losing Bret Hart – all to WCW. It was a really bad time for the WWF, yet in 1997 they put out some of the best storylines, some of the best feuds, some of the best action of the era. It was before things got really raunchy with T&A everywhere, but the passion and creativity were showing through the superstars who cared so much about the WWF and their place in the company. The fans might have been tuning in to watch WCW, but they should have been on WWF Raw.
I’ve been enthralled by all I’ve seen so far, and I’ve come up with a number of article ideas because I’ve watched 1997 so closely. From comparing superstars to ring styles, from how the pacing of Raw worked so well for two hours, to how badly paced three hours have become. I have so much to say, and I have the time to say it because I’m not spending the majority of my week focused on the most recent Raw of each week, and getting all of my emotions out through the RIB.
It’s time to look to history to bring back the fans. Yes, times change, but in some ways, they also stay the same. Women have always loved the bad boys. Men have always cheered on the superstars who were willing to go above and beyond to entertain the fans. Look at how over HBK was when he was bouncing all over the place, wearing long earrings, humping the mat, chopping his crotch and saying things we always wanted to say. What about Taker? That man was and is over like Rover because he embraced the darkness and didn’t let it destroy him. Taker constantly evolved his character, his look, his work, and the fans loved all he did. Triple H was coming out of his shell, breaking out of the hole he’d been in since the Curtain Call, won King of the Ring and joined HBK to start forming DX with HBK, Rick Rude, and Chyna. Rocky returned from injury and took out Ahmed Johnson to join Nation of Domination and take the reigns of his career. He was greeted with chants of, “Rocky sucks!” each time he was seen, but he pushed through hard and came out the other side on top of it all by not letting anyone hold him back.
I cannot talk about superstars who took control of their own careers and ran with it without mentioning the rattlesnake in the room. He was one of the biggest names of the Attitude Era, helped create the AE on his back, and really is one of the biggest names in the wrestling industry ever. At that point Stone Cold Steve Austin was coming off winning the King of the Ring in 1996, dropping one of the biggest catchphrases ever, and then being dropped on his head by Owen – but nothing could stop him. Austin would show up when least expected, do what he wanted, say what he wanted, and both got away with it and made it work. Many say that there’s no one on the roster who can do anything like that, and with the PG Era, it wouldn’t work at all. I wholeheartedly disagree! There are at least three people off the top of my head who could look at Stone Cold Steve Austin as a model but make a character of their own and bring a new life to the WWE.
Do you remember Antonio Cesaro? People within the WWE, specifically McMahon, think that Cesaro cannot get over with the fans, but every time he has the fans in the palm of his hands, they pull it away from him and change up his character. Some might think he’s too quiet, too stoic to run with an era-changing character, but I remember him in ROH, and I know he’s a lot more than what the WWE has presented. Cesaro might not be as young as some of the others on the roster, but he has the experience to make it work. It would be such a shocker to see Cesaro try to take over, run wild, and really change up his character in a way that would leave us screaming for more, but I know he has it in him and has the ability to keep it PG while he did it.
Then there’s Kevin Owens. I think he could do almost anything in the WWE and it would work. He’s never claimed to follow the rules, and he’s known for being dirty and an ass, so why not push that? Let him step it up a notch, like anyone who watched him in ROH knows he can, and then let the chips fall where they may. KO could get involved where he’s not needed, where people didn’t ask him, and where they don’t want him. He can push The Authority while staying heel and create something beautiful and unexpected for the fans. He has it in him; the question is if he could convince the people backstage in the WWE to let him go for it.
Ambrose has already cranked the knob to eleven, but I want to see it at 23. They say the best characters are the person behind the character turned up to eleven. I don’t know what Ambrose is like in real life, but he’s more than proved that he’s a mixture of the best of Mick Foley, Brian Pillman, Owen Hart, and Steve Austin. Ambrose is so close to being THE MAN in the WWE, yet when he starts getting to that point, he’s pulled back. More than anyone on the roster right now, he embodies what I think the best superstars need to be remembered for generations. McMahon talked about grasping the brass ring; Ambrose does that whenever he’s on the screen, becoming ever more beloved by the fans, then the WWE pulls him back. It’s time they let him loose, and as much as I dislike replaying top storylines, Ambrose and Triple H are perfect to step into the employee/rattlesnake storyline that started in 1997 with the worst stunned ever taken. Ambrose is the one I see most ready to grasp the brass ring and run with it, but I don’t know how he’s supposed to do it if he doesn’t get TV time.
It is all about seizing a character and running with it. All three of these guys have what it takes and have shown that repeatedly. If the WWE would remember their greatness of WWF in 1997, I think these three would be great guys to take the WWE to the next level. It’s not about replaying history but learning from it. The superstars of 1997 were over for a reason, and a big part of that was stepping out of the expected mold and going way above board to get things done, do things that the average person wouldn’t do at work and making the fans dream at night that they could do the same. The WWE isn’t giving us that dream, these younger superstars are floundering, and the ratings suck.
It’s been great to be able to write where my heart sends me of late, and I hope my passion is showing through my writing again because I’m sure feeling it flow through my veins again. I feel a passion for wrestling again, which had been waning for a year or so. I feel so excited to be able to write from my heart. Please, let me know what you think about my thoughts about the WWE, the direction things are going, and what you think about the WWE looking back to 1997 for inspiration.