Wednesday, September 2, 1998
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
Squeaky-clean doesn't cut it anymore
My, my, my, how times have changed. The WWF has been giving us some pretty racy angles and characters to digest lately and I have been wondering how the fans would have reacted to all this if it were, say 1988 instead of 1998.
Back in the 1980's, WWF wrestling was similar to a cartoon. The "good guys" were blond muscular All-American types who told us to drink our milk and eat our vitamins while the "bad guys" were sinister foreigners or tough loners who just didn't give a damn about anyone else. And in the end, the good guys always won. The fans always cheered for the "good guys", the squeaky-clean characters like Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Rick Steamboat and the British Bulldogs.
Characters such as "Ravishing" Rick Rude, Greg Valentine, The Big Boss Man and the Powers of Pain were booed.
These days, it appears as if the roles have been reversed. People don't seem to like squeaky-clean characters anymore. They want their wrestlers to have a bit of an edge to them. Fans go nuts when a wrestler mocks someone else or screams a few profanities. In 1988 if Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage (who was actually the champion at the time) would have said "ass" in one of their interviews, Vince McMahon probably would have fainted and the arena would have been so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. Nowadays, that has all changed. The stereotypical good guys are almost booed out of the building and the characters that would have been booed ten years ago are so over, it's not even funny. Let's look at a few examples...
The best example would have to be Steve Austin, who was meant to be a heel when he entered the WWF. Ten years ago, a tough talking loner like him who defies the boss at every chance he gets would have been the perfect "bad guy". Not anymore. He is probably one of the most popular, recognizable personalities in wrestling. It is being said that he is moving more merchandise than Hulk Hogan ever did in the 1980's. I remember his feud with Bret Hart last year, where Bret Hart was supposed to be the "good guy". And why not? Bret was a squeaky clean, family oriented type of character, (with the exception of his "I got screwed" speeches) similar to what Hulk Hogan used to be. It looks as if people just got tired of these one dimensional characters. They like their wrestlers to be bad.
Do you think that Val Venis would have been cheered 10 years ago? Probably not. Rick Rude had a similar gimmick and portrayed an excellent heel for years. I do believe that Venis was originally intended to be a heel, but apparently the fans decided otherwise.
What about Rocky Maivia? If he used his original persona in 1988, he would have been another Hulk Hogan, and why not? He is a great athlete, muscular and he has great charisma. But in modern times, no one seems to care. Rocky likely gets more cheers as a bad guy than he ever did as a face!
Another prime example would have to be the New Age Outlaws. When the Jesse James and Billy Gunn had singles careers, the fan reaction to them was lukewarm at best. How did they become the most over tag team in history? Simple, they threw some popular hardcore legends in a dumpster, broke up the Road Warriors, put on some D-X shirts and said "ass" a bunch of times. I think Billy Gunn attacking the Honkytonk Man helped his popularity a bit also. A tag team as vicious and cocky as these two back in the 1980's would never have seen 20, 000 fans screaming their ring introduction right along with them. Instead they would have likely spent their time jobbing to the Mega-Powers and Triple H would have come out and probably tried to get Elizabeth to flash everyone and then got beat up by the Macho Man....sorry I'm rambling.
The point is that if Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior, Strike Force and Brutus Beefcake were to all come back to the WWF in their original characters, no one would care. The fans are looking for a new kind of wrestler and a new kind of wrestling. Perhaps this involves a bit of profanity and perhaps its a little more "hardcore" than it used to be, but Mr. McMahon is giving the fans what they want. Yes, times have certainly changed.
Mary Catherine Adams is from Camlachie, Ontario. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org