The Common Denominator: “The Attitude Era 2.0” (WWE, HHH, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Vince McMahon, Randy Orton, The Shield, Stone Cold, Bret Hart, Tyson Kidd)

Greetings once again, my Common Denomination! Two straight weeks now for me being on time with a column, so “yay!” me. Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow Americans, Happy first day of Hanukkah to my Jewish readers, and Hey it’s Thursday! for everyone else.

A couple of quick notes on Survivor Series. I didn’t watch it, but I read the recaps and I can’t think of a more pointless show. I mean, there was not one match, angle, or development that came across as must see or that couldn’t have just taken place on Raw or Smackdown. Even the prelude to the announcement of the WWE and WHC unification match could have easily closed one of the regular shows. And on that match, all signs point to some goofy bullshit taking place in the match (My guess being that each will grab the other’s belt off the harness. Won’t that be cool?). What bothers me the most about that is the idea that Vince and Company think wacky bullshit is what we’re looking for from them these days.

So, anyway, the common complaint in the movies is that Hollywood is out of ideas, so we keep getting nothing these days but sequels and reboots.

It’s very clear, to me at least, that the WWE is trying to reboot the Attitude Era, only where most of the time it’s the original material getting the “gritty reboot” treatment, here they’re doing the opposite and taking the raunchy Attitude Era and sanitizing it for the PG Era.

Now, while not necessarily the direction fans (including myself) want to see the company go, 1997 was a long enough time ago that it’s not necessarily a terrible idea, as long as they realize a couple of things:

1) The original premise that served as the basis for the Attitude Era was two-part – the rise of Degeneration-X and the Austin vs. McMahon feud. That’s like catching lightning in a bottle. You can’t expect any kind of rehash to have that same magic unless you have something new to say. The cool heels that don’t follow the rules is something that can easily be given a new spin if done well, but Evil Boss vs. The Hero of the People has just been done and done and done at this point.

2) Fans bought into the Attitude Era because it was new, different, and titillating. There was more extreme, mature, and provocative programming for all the 80s kids that had grown up. The product grew up with them. Now that those Attitude Era fans are even older and have kids of their own, the wrestling demographics are a weird mix of older fans who want to continue seeing the mature content but want to be able to let their kids see the product. I’m not saying I have the answer to how to address this fact. It’s just something they have to be aware of.

Now, with that in mind, what they have done so far really hasn’t lit any fires under anyone’s asses. The real money match that might could have come out of the Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority storyline (Daniel Bryan vs. Shawn Michaels) will in all likelihood not happen. Although if they could get the stars to align and do Bryan/Michaels and Punk/Austin at Wrestlemania XXX, the rest of the card could be Brodus Clay vs. Santino Marella in a One Hour Ironman Match and it would still get a million buys.

So, what are we getting at WM30? Are they going to continue to march part-timers like Rock, Brock, HHH Undertaker, and maybe Jericho (and less maybe HBK) out there? As much as the nostalgia of bygone days is cool and all, it really changes the whole nature of Wrestlemania. Instead of being an event where a bunch of feuds get blown off and a new direction is set for the next several months. Nowadays, it’s a quick two-month build from the Royal Rumble to Wrestlemania with all the special attractions, often at the expense of the regular roster guys, and then after ‘Mania, it’s back to the regulars who have had their momentum stalled by making room for the part-timers. With this being the 30th Anniversary show, I’d expect it to be even more the case this year.

The first question I have is what to do with John Cena? Cena is in a weird spot in that he came along after the Attitude Era but before the transition to PG had really started. This is exemplified pretty well by the name of his finisher changing from the “FU” (in response to Brock Lesnar’s “F5″) to the “Attitude Adjustment” in the transition. And he’s really the only full-time guy that applies to. Then you’ve got the few Attitude Era guys that are actually still around, which I guess is Big Show and Kane. I guess Rey Mysterio technically counts, too, but I don’t think people really associate him with that era in terms of content and such, since he was in WCW for most of that time. And I have no idea how to classify Goldust.

But anyway, if we’re recasting the Attitude Era, let’s do that. Let’s find the “Common Denominators” here (you see what I did there?).

“The Attitude Era 2 – PG Boogaloo” … Starring:

Triple H as Vince McMahon – Let’s assume Vince will stay off television for all of this. He’s getting older and needs to just stay away. Hunter is the man in charge now, with Stephanie filling in as Linda, I guess, since it seems she’s determined to stay on TV. She’s definitely a better on-air personality than her mother ever was. Trip has to realize, though, that Vince was so perfect in his role as Evil Boss because he had no problem being the butt of the joke and coming out on the bad end of a situation when it made sense. So far, HHH has shown no sign of being weak, and this has come at the expense of making the full-time wrestlers opposing him look inept. Can you remember a time when Vince made Austin look like anything other than a badass threat? Even when Vince would temporarily get the upper hand on Stone Cold, you just knew Steve would find a way to strike back. What did Bryan get after having the nerve to oppose Trip and Steph? That’s right, he got replaced in the WWE title feud with Orton by Big Show and sent down the card for a tag feud. To steal the line they’ve been drilling into our heads, HHH really does need to do “what’s good for business” and put the full-time talent over.

CM Punk as Bret Hart – The real rise of the Attitude Era came at the expense of Bret Hart. The Montreal Screwjob is what gave Vince the opportunity to step out and be the bad guy authority figure (as a foil to first DX and then Austin). Punk, like Bret, can wrestle his ass off, can work as a face or heel at will, and is very solid on the stick. Punk is a go-to guy for putting someone else over without losing credibility as a title contender in the eyes of the fans. All he needs in a top rival.

Daniel Bryan as Shawn Michaels – Here is that rival. Like HBK, Bryan has tons of personality. Yes, it’s a completely different kind of personality, but he can certainly pull off the idea that he’s the best and will prove it to anyone who dares to question that. He can wrestle anyone and make them look like a million bucks, which was always one of Shawn’s best assets. As a plus, his attitude seems to be light-years better than Michaels’.

Dolph Ziggler as Triple H – Maybe this doesn’t make any sense to anyone else but me, but hear me out. If you remember when the Dolph Ziggler character debuted, it was as sort of an arrogant snob type, very similar to the original “blue blood” Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Ziggler’s “show off” character isn’t too far from Hunter’s later (but still pre-“the Game”) gimmick. I hope they haven’t given up on Dolph. I say pair him with Bryan as a Mutual Admiration Society like DX, throw AJ in there as the Chyna analog, and you’re in business.

Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, AJ Lee, R-Truth and Xavier Woods as Degeneration-X – Anyone who saw his work as Ron “The Truth” Killings or even his “Crazy, talking to Little Jimmy” work as R-Truth knows that Truth can work the mic about as well as Road Dogg, and with Woods in the mix now, he’s got his tag partner (a la Billy Gunn). As wacky as this collection of folks might seem, I think they could gel into a pretty cool group that would have a lot of fun with the crowd. Replace all the sex and debauchery with zany shenanigans and general douchebaggery and you’re in business.

Tyson Kidd as Owen Hart – Punk can save Kidd from a Wyatt Family beatdown or something and start a friendship between the two. The WWE seemed to be pretty high on Kidd before he got hurt, so hopefully they still are. Besides, they love cute team names, and “The Punk Kidds” writes itself. Eventually, assuming they want to elevate Tyson, run the Hogan/Savage/Elizabeth angle from the build to Wrestlemania V (With Natalya), and boom, you get a new take on the Bret-Owen jealousy rivalry and go from there.

Randy Orton as The Rock – Orton has been around a long time, but because he started at so early an age he’s still relatively young. Randy doesn’t have the charisma of The Rock, but who does? He does have the arrogance level though, and can work as a heel or a face. Like Rocky, Orton is already a “corporate champion,” so there’s that. He’s one of those guys that the crowd loves to interact with, but he needs to figure out a way to connect better with them (either as a face or a heel). I almost went with Miz in this spot because he does know how to involve the crowd, but I just don’t think he could pull it off.

Bray Wyatt as The Undertaker – No one has really mentioned it anywhere I’ve seen, but I think Wyatt is supposed to be giving off this Charles Manson/cult leader vibe, even though his “army” only consists of two guys at this point. But he definitely could go all “Ministry of Darkness” without much trouble. No, he’s nowhere near the presence that ‘Taker was, but if they can keep him strong and (and this is important) make him a true agent of chaos not interested in titles or wins, I think they’ve really got something here.

Cody Rhodes as Kurt Angle – Cody could so nail Angle’s “aw shucks” character and like Angle can also wrestle serious when needed. Keep Goldust around to be his “Edge & Christian” partner in crime. Cody has the tools to be a main eventer. He’s not the technician that Angle was/is, but he can wrestle and he’s still pretty untapped as far as potential.

Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins as Kevin Nash and Scott Hall – This works on a number of levels. They can team up or wrestle one-on-one. They came into the promotion in very “Outsiders” fashion, so that idea is already there. They are affiliated with no one but themselves and to some extent, the Authority (like the NWO was ultimately revealed to be in cahoots with Bischoff). Well, they are also affiliated with Dean Ambrose, but more on him in a minute.

John Cena as Hollywood Hogan – This is my favorite idea. The parallels are right there. Like Hogan, Cena was originally a heel who became a face and then “the” face of the company and eventually an unbeatable super hero that the crowd slowly turned on due to overexposure. Hogan reignited his career (and arguably the industry) with a massively unexpected heel turn. Stick with me here as I explain why this also includes…

Dean Ambrose as Steve Austin – Ambrose just oozes potential breakout superstardom. Like no one else on the current WWE roster, I think Dean could be the next big thing. Have him break away from The Shield as a face, turn on the authority, and boom, he’s got a rocket up his ass on the way to the Main Event.
Here’s the situation: The Shield turfs Ambrose and beat him down, but Punk and Tyson make the save. That sets up a six-man with Punk, Tyson and Dean vs. Rollins, Reigns and a mystery partner. Only he no-shows. Then Rollins and Reigns murder-death-kill the faces through nefarious means, and out to make the save is Cena … only he turns on the faces, on the fans, and on the WWE Universe by giving the AA to, say, Punk. Cena is the new head of The Shield, and he and Rollins and Reigns can tear through the rest of the roster for a while, with the backing of HHH (so he’s sort of Vince and Bischoff), with Dean emerging as the savior of the WWE.

Is it perfect? No, but I think it would work. Just for a sense of completeness, I’d also cast:

Big E Langston as Mark Henry
Antonio Cesaro as Ken Shamrock
Alberto Del Rio as Marc Mero w/ the re-branded Funkadactyls as Sable
Zeb Coulter as Sgt. Slaughter w/Terry Taylor and Ricky Steamboat as Brisco and Patterson
Brodus Clay and The Usos as Rikishi and Too Cool
The Miz as Chris Jericho
Fandango as Val Venis
Sheamus as Kane, because, you know, “Big Red Machine.”

Anyway, they could go back, take a look at what worked for them in 1996-1999, throw out the stupid stuff that Russo somehow got through the Vince filter, and tweak it to fit today’s master plan, and let it rip.

Last time out, I mention the old Global Wrestling Federation and in the comments, someone referenced an awesome Lightning Kid vs. Chaz Taylor match from that promotion. If you’ve never seen it, here it is. Keep in mind this was 1992 or so.

As always, thanks for reading!

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