Yesterday, I forced one of my good friends to watch this week’s episode of Lucha Underground. I would consider him a “casual” fan as he only watches WWE. Like me, he is constantly disappointed with the creative efforts put into Raw on a weekly basis. I felt I owed it to this man – someone who used to drive 45 minutes every Monday night to join our college Raw/Nitro viewing party – an opportunity to see an entertaining and well written wrestling show that is currently on TV. By the time Angelico sailed off Dario Cueto’s office with a ridiculous drop-kick, he was hooked.
With the excitement of the episode still in his system (and a bunch of alcohol), I knew that we were not done watching wrestling for the evening. I fired up the WWE Network, headed to the “Raw Attitude Era” section, and clicked “X” on my PS4 controller for the January 4, 1999 episode. This is one of the most memorable nights from the Monday Night Wars as Eric Bischoff had Tony Schiavone spoil the results of Raw’s main event before it aired. The famous “that’ll put butts in the seats” comment backfired, as allegedly a half-million fans that were watching Nitro switched over to watch Mick Foley (as Mankind) defeat The Rock to win the WWF Championship for the first time.
This was one of those episodes that my friends and I rewatched after it was over. By the time the following Monday had rolled around, we probably watched that episode (or at least the main event) four times. I couldn’t imagine watching an episode of today’s WWE product four times. Once is usually bad enough. This was a different era, however, where Monday Night Raw was one of the most compelling shows on all of television. It wasn’t because the rest of the programs on TV were bad, no, it was because Raw was THAT GOOD. Watching that episode last night brought back all the excitement and feelings from that era for me. It was my friend’s reaction, though, that summed up the difference in the products perfectly.
He didn’t remember a lot of the specific details from the episode. He remembered that Mankind won the belt, but he didn’t remember that he had help from Stone Cold Steve Austin. When the glass shattered, my buddy rose up from the couch and threw his hands up in excitement like we were twenty years old again. I still, to this day, will argue that it is the greatest pop I’ve ever seen from a crowd on a televised wrestling event. Please, take a look at that episode and watch the people as Austin is coming to the ring. You would think that this was a sports crowd whose team had just won the Super Bowl or the World Cup. Today’s creative efforts have absolutely zero chance of getting any type of reaction like this. Not from my friend. Not from a live crowd.
Over the past sixteen years, I think fans have gradually lowered their expectations from what WWE puts on weekly and have grown used to a subpar product. I see some people defend absolutely brutal episodes of Raw and I can’t wrap my head around what they find so enjoyable. Maybe some of them never saw Raw when it was the best show on the planet and have no idea just how great wrestling drama can be. Perhaps they just enjoy watching the amazing athletes in the ring each week and don’t care about the story involved. I’m not sure the reasons, but these people need to raise their expectations for the betterment of the entire industry. If fans keep watching and keep spending their money on a subpar product, the WWE will continue to coast week in and week out. We will see no improvement in storylines. With no competition, it seems like the desire to put out the best possible product each week has all but vanished.
If you have never seen an episode of Raw from 1997-1999 (and you have the WWE Network) I beg you to sit down and rewatch the most entertaining string of episodes in the history of wrestling television. By the time you watch D-Generation X hoist Mankind high on their shoulders after becoming WWF Champion, you will no doubt wonder why you ever considered today’s product acceptable.
Those of us that demand better WWE product are not “haters” by any means. We are disappointed fans who only want to enjoy the product as we once did. We want to be excited every Monday to sit down and watch wrestling. We’re tired of going through the motions. Aren’t you?
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @JeffLane22