It was 1991 or 1992, a 5, 6-year-old me heard sounds coming from our drawing-room. It was 11pm and way past my bedtime. I got out from the bed and went into the drawing-room rubbing eyes as I was getting over from sleep. All lights were off but the room was dimly lit by the TV screen, my dad was sitting in front of it watching intently two men in a ring. I went to him, sat on his lap and started watching. He didn’t took his eyes of the TV nor objected that “Go back to your bed you have school tomorrow”. Thus my love affair with wrestling and WWF was born.
WWF (now WWE) like cricket has been a huge part of my life. It has given me so many memories and good moments. Since starting this blog I always wanted to share my perspective to people who don’t know much about it.
To this day nothing brings me and my dad together like watching wrestling. During all these years when there was wrestling on TV the channel used to change swiftly which annoyed the hell out of my mother and sister. Anytime one of us saw wrestling we used to shout… “Dad”,… “Akhi” … “wrestling ari hai (wrestling is on)”. It often created disputes as rest of the family members wanted to watch something else and we wanted wrestling. Even when I was working in another city and I saw wrestling on TV I would phone dad that turn it on, it’s coming.
So what exactly is WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) wrestling? Without going into the nitty-gritty ill say that professional wrestling gained popularity in the 80’s mainly due to a third generation promoter by the name of Vincent Kennedy McMahon. Wrestling was largely territorial (North America) till that point but Vince had dreams to make it a global phenomenon and he did. At the start of 90’s WWF – World Wrestling Federation and WCW – World Championship Wrestling (headed by Ted Turner) emerged as big names in televised professional wrestling around the world.
Both companies WWF and WCW had weekly shows Monday Night Raw and Monday NItro respectively with 12 pay per view shows per year (for ex. Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, Summer Slam, Unforgiven, No Mercy, Vengence). WWF also had the grand slam of wrestling Wrestle Mania (brain child of Vince) each year which started in 1985.
And yes its all scripted, winner and losers are decided before the match including the story-lines as well as the moves. Its choreographed entertainment. All wrestlers have their own characters and personality which they carry alongside their life known as “Kayfeb”.
On Internet the definition is…
“In professional wrestling, kayfabe (pronounced KEI-feib) refers to the portrayal of events within the industry as real that is the portrayal of professional wrestling as not staged or work. Referring to events as kayfabe means that they are worked events, and/or part of a wrestling storyline. In relative terms, a wrestler breaking kayfabe during a show would be likened to an actor breaking character on camera”
Back in the 90’s and before social media, cell phone revolution not many people knew about it and majority thought that it’s all real. In those days even me and my friends anytime we came to know from any medium that it was fake we just tended to forget about it as we didn’t wanted to spoil that excitement and entertainment it brought.
The wrestlers are divided into two groups one is the protagonist which in wrestling terms is called “Babyface” the good guy, the other is the antagonist or “Heel” who is the bad guy. The story lines are built around their rivalries leading to the main events which is usually the last match of the show.
There are many kind of matches, One on one, Tag team matches (which can have 2 to any number of partners per team), Cage matches, Hell in a Cell, Last man standing, Buried alive, Iron man match, Elimination Chamber, Casket match and many, many more from Texas Bull Rope to Inferno match.
Then their are the titles, There used to be World Heavyweight Champion, WWE champion, Intercontinental Champion, United States Champion, European Champion, Hardcore Champion, Tag Team Champion, Women Champion. The titles have also seen transition and change over the years like the Hardcore Champion belt and European Champion don’t exist anymore and the World and WWE title has been fused together for the second time (First was The Undisputed Champion) in to Universal Champion.
There are so many memorable moments and matches over the years that i want to share, but that will make this post very very long. So instead i will just try to explain the different eras that have shaped wrestling.
Golden Era (Old School) 1990 – 1994
Face – Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Mr. Wonderful, A Young Undertaker, Ric Flair, Bret Heart, Legion Of Doom
We in Pakistan used to have just one channel back in those days the state owned PTV. The good thing was that it showed wrestling, usually it was late night but when you have a dad like mine you had plenty of chances to see it.
Arguably the biggest name of that era was Hulk Hogan carrying his fame from the 80’s well into the first half of the 90’s. He was instrumental in remodeling the professional wrestling scene in the eyes of general public and portraying a superhero type image. Hulkmania was at its prime and Hulk Hogan was the biggest thing at that time.
It was the time The Undertaker was emerging at the scene and people really used to think that he was something not human. His manager Paul Bear was known as “Jadugar” (Magician) all over Pakistan.
Wrestling was plain in those days with simpler story-lines and not many high flying moves. The guys were big and size mattered. WWF was not a regular feature and I don’t remember it being shown weekly in Pakistan. It usually used to appear without any schedule programming and when it did it was a big thing not to be missed. Everyone liked Hogan as he was the biggest Babyface and the good guy at that time. But there was a huge Warrior and Bret Heart fanbase too.
Ultimate warrior was the other big name. Warrior was that indestructible force which stood up to Hogan and at times often defeated him. That run down the ring, that Indian hot Dance, he was like a Brock Lesner Goldberg mashup of that day and literally was impossible to defeat.
In 1993 WWF started their weekly episodic show Raw. The same year WCW started their weekly show Nitro. These two shows would redefine the professional wrestling arena and sports entertainment circuit starting a period known as the Monday Night Wars which WCW would seem to dominate till its demise at the start of the new millennium.
For us it was all WWF till 1994 on both channels that we had at that time, yes we got a second one NTM at the start of 90’s. But in 1995 NTM started showing Nirto alongside “WWF In your House” and expanded our spectrum for wrestling. For us back in Pakistan we didn’t knew that there was an actual war going on between WWF and WCW.
I will be mentioning the transition of Undertaker over the years. He is arguably the most respected wrestler in the world because of his accomplishments and a legendary career. And he is my among my most favorite list as well.
The Undertaker – Western Mortician
The undertaker, Height 6.10, Weight 320-309 pounds made is début in 1990 as a western mortician at the Survivor Series pay per view. He was accompanied by Paul bear who was his handler and manager who used to carry an urn (supposedly his power source). We was characterized as someone who is impervious to pain which he did by not selling the moves of his opponents.
New Gen Era (or In your House Era) 1994-1996
Face – Bret Hart, Shawn Micheal’s, Diesel, British Bulldog, The Undertaker, Owen Heart, Youkuzuna, Sid, Razor Ramon
By this time Hogan had left WWF and young faces were starting to make their name. The big two among them were Bret Hart Hitman and Shawn Michael’s. Moves were evolving and high flying action was getting more popularity among fans, a change from the grappling and mat wrestling of past decades.
Someone at the sports section of PTV and NTM must have been a big fan of Bret and Shawn because we got to see so many matches of them. The other source was Dish Antenna which only few people used to have (we didn’t), some of my friends had that in their home so I used to get occasional updates. We got to witness Shawn in his hey days with all that flair and charisma, his walk down the isle that dancing, those dresses, that swag, those hair, that rock-star feeling. He was projected as that charismatic heel (accompanied by his friend and bodyguard Diesel) who wins by hitting his signature move a kick to the chin called “The Sweet Chin Music”. In a country which itself was and is coping with corruption and injustice, him cheating and winning made him unpopular among the masses and raised Bret to a superhero level as the good guy. For me as much as i liked Bret I also enjoyed watching Shawn because of his rebellious nature and that rock-star persona.
He came to be known as the Heartbreak Kid, the Showstopper, Mr. Main Event, Mr. Wrestlemania, The Icon.
The matches were getting interesting story lines. The era saw its first ladder match between Shawn and Razor Ramon. The world was changing, Clinton was in the office, Friends started, X-Files was there and Baywatch was the hottest thing on TV. So the matches were getting cheesy story-lines and more acrobatic moves. There were boos for heels and cheers for baby faces on their wins and people around the world were really starting to follow and invest themselves in to these feuds.
The Undertaker – The Original Deadman
The undertaker returned after a short hiatus the this time with purple instead if grey in his attire with a more darker look. His most famous matches included a match with himself, the other undertaker played by his cousin. This era also saw the début of Mankind (Cactus Jack) aka. Mick Foley, the buried alive and the casket match. Undertaker feuds with Mankind will go on to become legendary.
Attitude Era 1996 – 2002
Face – Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, HHH, Undertaker, Kane, Shawn Michael’s, Mankind, Vince McMahon, McMahon Family, Kurt Angel, Edge/Christian, Dudley Boys and many more.
My favorite era, the period that defined wrestling for me. This was the height of Monday Night Wars. The time WWF and WCW fought it week after week for television ratings. The battle between the two companies saw some of the most interesting matches and story-lines ever created. Take it as a complete opposite of today’s PG era.
In 1995 Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) and Kevin Nash (Diesel) defected to WCW and formed a faction known as NWO (New World Order) .
Each week saw the regular wrestlers who were the baby-faces against the gang of NWO the heels. NWO was a big hit among crowds.
Hogan, Nash and Hall terrorized the roster and soon the group was joined my many other members. They were outlaws, rebels, doing what they pleased, beating who they wanted, so whenever there was a victory against them it as a huge thing. This era also saw Sting redefining himself as The Crow and becoming one of the biggest nemesis of NWO. His appearances always made us jump up in our seats.
Goldberg made his début in 1997 and would go down as the greatest champion in WCW history during an undefeated reign in 1997-1998. God those were the days.
In 1996 a wrestler by the name of Ringmaster shaved his blond hair, put on black trunks, black boots, a black vest with a skull on its back and changed his name to “Stone Cold Steve Austin”. Austin would go on to win the King of the Ring tournament that year. Austin cut which is now considered a legendary promo during his coronation, telling his opponent Jake the Snake Roberts what he thinks of him and ending Austin 3:16 which will go on to become one of the most iconic phrases of the Attitude Era. This is also seen as the beginning of Attitude Era. Everything about Stone Cold from his attitude, his appearance to his entrance music, it all demonstrated how exciting and cool that period was. He is one of my favorites of all time and believe it or not since the past 12 years his entrance music is my ringtone. His feuds with McMahon family will go on to become the stuff of legends.
Back at the WWF new names were making their début like Undertaker’s brother Kane.
The reckless mayhem creating faction of (HHH + Shawn Michael’s + Chyna +Billy Gunn + Road Dogg + X-Pac) D Generation X – DX.
Bret Hart had a fallout with WWF which saw his title being taken from him at Summerslam which will be known as the Montreal Screwjob. He would leave for WCW.
Another wrestler who would go on to become one of the most charismatic figures of Attitude Era is “The Rock”. A third generation superstar he made his début as a heel called Rocky Maivia (combination of his father and grandfather’s name) but soon found his mojo, changed to the name to “The Rock” and started referring himself in third person.
He was known as the Peoples Champ, The most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment.
The Rock was the name that came out from many kids and teens at that time when being asked who your favorite wrestler was. He was the complete package of agility, physique, mic skills and charisma. Every appearance by him was a treat to watch. He is probably the best of all time when it comes to mic skills.
Vince was not only a good businessman, he was also a good showman and entertainer. He really devoted himself into the business by becoming part of story-lines and wrestling some great matches. His wife Lynda, daughter Stephanie and son Shane also immersed themselves into the business and played a big part (even wrestling each other at times) in making this era so great.
The major thing that happened at the start of new millennium, WCW blew it and Vice pounced on the chance and bought the company.
There was the promising Alliance angle with WCW and ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling by Paul Heyman, yup Vince also bought that) against WWF. Just listen to Jim Ross here.
To have a glimpse of how entertaining this era was just take a look at this Promo of Wrestle Mania 17 which is my favorite Wrestle Mania of all time. Its considered to be the best promo ever in wrestling history.
Undertaker – Ministry of Darkness, American Badass
Undertaker was at the height of his career in this period. He changed his persona as the head of Ministry of Darkness faction. Its regarded as his most productive and successful period.
He specialized in Casket matches, buried alive matches, and especially Hell in a Cell matches. Some of the best Hell in a Cell matches involved him and Mankind (Mick Foley) which are regarded as classics to this day.
The attitude of WWf was changing because WCW was kicking WWF’s ass in ratings (and it continued to do so for 98 straight weeks). WWF’s programming was becoming more violent, more edgier and more darker.
Then suddenly undertaker did something that I truly love to this day. It is my most favorite transformation of him. He dumped his Deadman persona and became this badass biker. His entrances included him riding on a Harley with theme music my Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit.
To me this is the best wrestling gimmick ever produced. This was more close to his original personality and gave him more freedom in story lines.
and yes a 13-year-old me was a fan of Limp Bizkit back then. (trust me, its way better than what we have today for our teenagers to listen)
In 2003 while retaining the essence of American badass he converted into the gimmick of Big Evil with theme music (you’r gonna pay) composed by legendary WWF composer Jim Johnston.
The most striking things were his entrenches. His Deadman entrance are considered as the best entrances of all time. But in my opinion his entrances in these gimmicks were way more awesome.
Ruthless Aggression Era – 2002-2008
Face – HHH, Randy Orton, Batista, Ric Flair, Kurt Angel, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Edge, Booker T, Shawn Michael’s, Brock Lesner, John Cena, Kane, Undertaker.
Before i start with this era I would especially like to mention the voices behind the matches. Jim Ross, Jerry the king Lawler, Vince Mcmohan, Paul Heyman and Michael Cole (who has become so annoying now). Raw had Jim Ross and Jerry the king Lawler while Smackdown had Micaheal cole and Tazz all through the Attitude Era and through most of the Ruthless Aggression Era. No epic match was complete without Jim Ross flawlessly describing the scenes, building the tension and yelling as our hearts raced with the pace of his words. The guy is legendary. Whenever he called a match it just got raised to a new level of excitement. His one liners still echo in our ears.
Gawd Almighty, God Almighty, that killed him.
Austin, Austin, its Austin.
My Gawd… My Gawd.
Stone Cold, Stone Cold, Stone Cold.
By now the WWF was WWE (world Wrestling Entertainment) because the Panda wasn’t happy about it.
The roster got a whole lot bigger and it was difficult to fit all the talent in one show. So in 2003 a second weekly show Smack Down was started.
Raw also had a awesome theme back then. No other theme has come close in being so thrilling then this one.
Now WWE had two shows and a lot of wrestling talents at there hands. There was no threat from WCW and the internet was taking its baby steps in becoming the giant it is today.
New faces were coming in and some of the veterans like Stone Cold and The Rock were leaving. Both show got some great general managers, RAW had Eric Bishoff and Austin. SmackDown had Paul Heyman. They used their talent well and we got some great story-lines.
HHH the ultimate heel of all time teamed up with Rick Flair, Randy Orton and Batista to form evolution. They went on to become one of the most badass and recognizable group after NWO and DX.
Exactly what me and my friends felt like when we walked into our classrooms in College 😉
I would especially like to mention the rise of HHH (Hunter Hearst Helmsley) in this era. He was a shining star in Attitude era and now as Austin and Rock had left he had the opportunity to shine more which he utilized brilliantly. His aggressive attitude and notorious bad guy attitude helped him become one of the greatest heels of all time. He married the company’s chairman daughter Stephanie Mcmahon in a storyline known as the Mcmahon-Helmsley era 2000-2001. He is also married to her in real life.
A thing to note in this clip below is the pop (which in wrestling term means the noise and reaction of the crowd) which wrestlers and matches used to get back then. Todays PG era wishes it can get just 10% of that.
Guys who were in the midcard now suddenly found themselves in the lime light. Those who really shined are Kurt Angle, Eddie Gurerro, Edge, Rey Misterio, Randy Orton, John Cena. Kane got unmasked (which in my opinion really just killed him as the mean red machine).
Two wrestlers really stood out and went on to become main eventers. Edge and Kurt Angle. Edge was smart enough to realize that to be successful you have to be a good heel. So he became one and really played his character well . Plus he had this awesome theme music from Alter Bridge.
Kurt Angle well transitioned from freestyle wrestling to professional Wrestling and quickly learned the tricks of the trad. The only Olympic gold medalist in wrestling (won that in 1996). His matches were always a treat to watch. Kurt left WWE after Eddie’s and Chris Benoit deaths.
Shawn Michael’s whose career seemed to end in 1997 returned in 2002. He had a great fued with HHH and went on to wrestle for 8 more years.
Even though i never liked him and i think he has been given things way more easily (especilaly by undertaker who really he;epd him to ris eon the top) Brock made his debuet in this era and became a force to reckon with. His matches with Kurt Angel brought out the best out of both men.
Two major events happened in this era that would impact the wrestling world to its core. Eddie Guerrero a third generation wrestler who hailed from a respected wrestling family passed away after a heart related complication. I still remember this episode of Raw when we tuned in and watched in shock as Vince announced that Eddie is no more. My whole family was there and we just couldn’t believe it. His death was an emotional loss for every wrestling fan out there.
Then Chris Benoit passed away and was accused of committing suicide after killing his son and wife. This raised concerns about the injuries, drugs, daunting scheduling and traveling the wrestlers have to go through. The entire world including the WWE was shocked. Chair shots to the head were stopped and the company started taking wellness and drug testing policy seriously. The content started to become less violent and by 2008 it went on to embrace a complete conservative approach. The story lines became more predictable, the heels became less vicious, and blood was abolished from all matches. The element of surprise that was the hallmark of past eras slowly diminished, matches and story-lines started to become bland for wrestling fans of my age.
Undertaker – The Deadman, The Phenom
Undertaker took a hiatus in 2004 and returned as the Deadman. This hat and coat was back along with his dark entrances and mystical persona. His appearances began to become occasional, shorter and his Wrestle Mania record which was undefeated at that time started to became the centerpiece of his feuds. Because of his iconic career wrestlers considered it to be an honer to face him. His match often took more center stage then the main event of the night. From Mark Henry, to Edge, all came but failed. When the PG era started legends like HHH and Shawn both took him 2 time each and failed. It was not until 2016 when Vice had this terrible idea to end his Wrestle Mania streak of 21-0 by the hands of Brock Lesner.
Undertaker – The Ending of the Streak
I will mention this event which has happened way after the eras that I have mentioned. The ending of the streak broke many hearts. I was not that upset abut the streak ending but was more upset in the way it did. I have seen Brock from the beginning and been given the chance to make a name for himself, i saw the rock helping him to shoot to fame in 2002. Undertaker helping the new kind at the block with some memorable matches. And then Brock leaving for Football and MMA. Brock is a part timer and Undertaker has laid down for him many times before. I get that he wanted to pass the torch but this was most selfish on Brock’s side. He should have shown respect and said no to the idea for the man who did so much for him when he was a new kid on the block. Had the streak been ended by a veteran like HHH or even Chris Jericho there would have been a scene of closure for fans like me.
2008 – Present Day
By this time WWE has grown to be the biggest name in wrestling entertainment. With very little competition from other wrestling promotions it enjoys a monopoly over all other brands. Its fan base has multiplied tenfold and internet has helped it to reach to a larger audience. Money started pouring in and the companies revenue skyrocketed. As opposed to mature audiences that were the target in the 90’s and early 2000’s WWE began to target a broader audience which now included children. The result was a surge in the fan base. This impacted the story-lines which started becoming more predictable and forced. The natural element of surprise and aww slowly started to disappear and for fans like me who have been all through the Attitude Era the practice seemed to become too tiring and uninteresting. Yes the times evolve and the companies who don’t adapt fail to stay in the market. The product which WWE now offers to its viewers is directed to all age groups and is meant for the younger audience to get more involved in wrestling as a sport. But this comes at a compromise as a cut to the brash and into the face attitude that the shows depicted back in the day with more mature story-lines. It was ok for the kids of the 90’s and 00’s to see such kind of PG-13 programming. We were kind of lucky to have lived in that era but if you imagine that today it would be impossible in this social media crazed world where anyone can get offended quite easily.
Kids these days don’t have a clue how big a deal it was for us back in the days. In my teens right trough high school WWF wrestling was an obsession (along with cricket). All me and my friends talked about was wrestling. We used to sometimes bunk classes just to get a DVD of a pay per view that we happened to know is now available. And yes we tried all those moves on each other in the playground. From the Figure Four leglock to the Angle lock (kids don’t try these at home, they really hurt, believe me, been there).
The PG era started and I stopped watching wrestling like an avid fan i was after 2008. The mojo was just not there for me. WWE might have gained a huge fanbase with all the conservative changes but it lost all the old school fans like me. WWE itself seems to know about it but dosen’t seem to care as it has grown out to be so huge that the sentiments of a portion of fans don’t amount much in comparison to the huge revenue its generating (now WWE has its own channel WWE Network). Now the programing and ratings have just become so monotonous and disappointing that the company has to rely on guest appearances from veteran Attitude Era wrestlers for a gig or two to build up hype and to stay relevant in ratings.
In words of an old school wrestling fan which i find so true…
“It’s the PG era. Everything is too kid friendly. Yes, kids get action figures, but it’s adults and people with jobs that buy PPVs and tickets. You see feuds these days and no one talks like a man, or like they’re really talking to someone they hate. Matches are toned down, no blood or high stakes moves. It’s just not fun to watch anymore. Everyone knows it’s fake so it better be entertaining. Now it’s just corny at best. Plus he’s (Kevin Nash) too right about no competition. When it was Monday Night Wars, WWE and WCW had to go bigger, they had to improve. Now they are like the Yugo. Nothing to compete with so just straight mediocrity.”
Will the attitude era ever return. No it wont because WWE will not lose its big advertisers who will pull out the second it starts to show things and story-lines which are too mature for the younger audiences to whom their product is directed too. Now there is too much of money involved. I still watch wrestling, but its on YouTube, old clips of Attitude or Ruthless Aggression Era’s. Th only time i go on TV now is when an old timer is making a cameo appearance or when there is Wrestle Mania in April every year (usually for the main events).
Three are so many matches that have been close to my heart and memories that i wanted to share but thy will make this post way to long. My journey as a wrestling fan is long and i have tried to include and share elements that were primary through the years.
The journey that started that night for a little boy in 1993 still continues and wrestling will always have a place in my heart.