I often wonder what life as a wrestling fan would’ve been like if social media had been prominent when the Attitude Era was at its peak.
The fact that ‘Attitude Era’ is still even a phrase shows how adored it was – even if a lot of what it contained has aged horrifically in the intervening years.
I’m showing my age even bringing up the Attitude Era given it effectively ended over two decades ago, but it has stood the test of time in so much as there are comparisons to it on an almost daily basis.
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So much of what made the Attitude Era good was the rivalry between WWE and WCW. It was bitter, edgy and, at times, deeply personal as the two battled to succeed and, whether they like to admit it (and some do), put the other out of business.
Quite what X (or Twitter, as it still is to many) would’ve looked like when Scott Hall and Kevin Nash landed on WCW television or when D-Generation X invaded Nitro is anyone’s guess, but it’s almost as if much of today’s social media cohort are yearning for similar confrontation.
Over the four years since AEW was born, WWE and AEW have made only the occasional direct reference to one another’s existence.
Tuesday night's 'WWE NXT v AEW Dynamite' battle, such as it was, proved at best only a fleeting glimpse back into yesteryear as each company stacked its card and promoted it heavily to try and ensure a good television rating.
In all honesty, though, to say it’s an infinitely less cut-throat rivalry today than it was in the late 1990s would be a mammoth understatement.
Why does social media seem to think differently, then?
‘Opposing’ fans have goaded and baited one another for years, as if to try and channel the adrenaline-fueled ride that was the Attitude Era. It’s ironic, given many of those engaged in it aren’t old enough to have lived it first-hand.
These days wrestlers leaving or signing for one company or the other, live event attendances, television ratings seem to be the only sticks these online warriors have to beat one another with.
Take Adam Copeland’s arrival in All Elite Wrestling at WrestleDream at the start of this month.
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Known as Edge in WWE since 1998, the Canadian was perceived by some as a WWE lifer, as if there were ever such a thing.
So to see him arrive in AEW after so long as an established part of one company was notable, for sure.
But then, of course, it started. X raged in a storm of emotions. Joy, excitement, anger, disbelief, and a misguided sense of wounded pride.
It appears that people sat in either the camp of: “Edge shouldn’t have gone there – he’ll be a nobody, they won’t know what to do with him, their crowd figures are much lower” or
“This is the game changer! HAHA, How can WWE have dropped the ball like this and let him leave? Welcome, Adam, this is a real wrestling company!”
I'm paraphrasing, but really not to any huge degree.
There’s a tinge of animosity running through it all that just doesn’t add up – doesn’t make sense. The wrestlers of WWE and AEW don’t share it – that much seems almost certain.
At the start of the year, before Copeland’s switch – and Twitter’s to X for that matter – I spoke to Chris Jericho. He was a star of WCW, a legend in WWE and a founding father of AEW, so uniquely qualified to address the tribalism that seems to exist purely within itself on social media.
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"What really is that, though?” he rightly threw back at me. "That's Twitter fighting. It's not like there's gangs of AEW fans attacking gangs of WWE fans on the streets of New York City.
"It's a small part of the fan base and I think you're always going to get that – especially because people nowadays want to complain, argue and yell about everything.
"I just think that's the kind of world we live in now. I don't think there is tribalism.
"If the Winnipeg Jets play the Dallas Stars, I'm obviously going to cheer for the Winnipeg Jets because I love them.
"But if the Dallas Stars play a great game, then I'd cheer for them too, I just think the tribalism is amongst people who just like to argue.
"In the bigger picture, it really doesn't matter."
So perhaps what we have here is really nothing to do with the Attitude Era at all. If Jericho's observation is accurate, it is actual more societal rather than confined purely to the oft-wacky world of being a professional wrestling fan.
Nonetheless, will ‘Edge’ likely wrestle his AEW matches in front of a generally lower television audience than in WWE? Probably.
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Will Copeland perform to smaller live crowds for All Elite Wrestling? That’s possible, but let’s not forget AEW's own ability to sell out stadiums for pay per view events – they even packed Wembley Stadium in London with 80,000 or so earlier this year.
Is WWE’s brand more established globally? That one seems the only certainty – but that misses the point. If Copeland was, after 25 years associated with WWE, still overly concerned with associating with an established brand, ratings or ticket sales, he’d have signed the contract extension he admitted they offered him last month.
The fact he didn’t makes it crystal clear that it he’s gone to AEW for something else altogether. You don’t even have to over-hypothesise on X to work out what that is, either, because he’s told us all already.
The 49-year-old explained that, when weighing it up, he posed his daughters the question “What does dad do?” One, Lyric, is said to have replied: “Go and have fun with Uncle Jay” – referencing Copeland’s long-time pal Jay Reso, who wrestles in AEW as Christian Cage and partnered Edge in WWE for many years.
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That really is the heart of it. Whether I watch WWE for its overall soap opera, or AEW for its primary focus on wrestling, I watch in the first place for fun. To appreciate athleticism, a live atmosphere, to go to shows with family and friends and enjoy myself. It’s all just fun.
Copeland, since coming out of retirement in 2020 after nine years away, wrestled in fewer than 30 matches prior to his in-ring AEW debut, all told.
Clearly time is no longer on his side, and he’s taken a much more considered approach to the work he throws himself into.
If you’re obsessing over attendances, arenas being blocked off, which company has the poorest creative or which show did the biggest television rating, you’re really watching wrestling all wrong.
Jericho is right. It really doesn’t matter who sells more tickets or gets more viewers, and certainly not which company 'won' on Tuesday night.
Adam Copeland is having his fun, and that is all that matters. Isn’t that what we should all be doing?
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