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Cheap Pops and Power Couples in WWE – by Mike Sanchez

There was a bit of an odd mix of WWE this week. Raw welcomed back a plethora of former stars for their Raw Reunion show, while Smackdown Live carried on as normal without any blasts from the past making an appearance, although that depends on if you count Randy Orton as a veteran making a return? Smackdown offered us the usual fare; Roman Reigns closing out the show, Kofi Kingston giving a passionate speech about how hard he’s worked to get to the top of the mountain, and the inevitable airtime given to Shane McMahon – again. Seriously, I hope this feud with Kevin Owens comes to an end at Summerslam, but there’s a part of me that thinks WWE could drag it all the way to Wrestlemania.

I speed through Raw and Smackdown as I record them overnight. Unfortunately, due to thunderstorms that visited the UK in the early hours of Wednesday morning, most of Smackdown didn’t record because of signal loss. I browsed social media to see what I’d missed, and I couldn’t help but notice that there was a lot of chatter about the pops the legends received on Monday in comparison to today’s stars. That conversation led to more in-depth discussions about comparing the Attitude Era to today’s product and if the move towards a more ‘edgier’ WWE – as promised by Vince McMahon in recent press releases – would work. It was from those discussions that I got an idea to write about the fair or unfair comparisons with the shows and stars from yesteryear.

For those of you who watched Raw this week, there was a variety of crowd reactions to the returning stars. It’s fair to say that many of the veterans will remain popular for nostalgic purposes, their pops aren’t all the same. For instance, the segment of the show that saw Sami Zayn try to walk out of his match with Rey Mysterio and be stopped by four familiar faces gives a good example. There was a nice cheer for RVD, a lower reaction for Sgt Slaughter and the Hurricane and then the volume ramped up for Kurt Angle. I think that brief period captured the point many made. Fans will always have their favorites and will always give a cheer when they make an appearance, but I suppose there is a definite hierarchy of stars when it comes to loud reactions. Right at the end of the show, Stone Cold Steve Austin appeared to the loudest crowd reaction Raw has seen in some time.

I think it’s unfair to compare the Attitude Era to today’s product and label the current crop of superstars as ‘not as popular’ as their retired colleagues. For one, the Attitude Era was the highpoint of professional wrestling in recent memory. The envelope was pushed almost on a daily basis and it was trailblazing, never-before-seen approach to pro wrestling. It would be like comparing a maverick or innovator of your favorite sport in years gone by to what is on offer today. In soccer, Diego Maradona or the great Pele were the greatest of their era. They did things others simply hadn’t done before and were rightly labelled as legends of the game. Similarly the same could be said about Johan Cruyff, Christiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. They’re the best of the best in their time. That doesn’t mean that the thousands of other players out there automatically suck because they’re not as good or as popular as past legends in the game, and shouldn’t be berated because of that.

It would be like saying Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns suck purely because they don’t get a reaction like Austin or Rock did in their heyday. Hell, Rock and Austin don’t get pops now like they did in their heyday. Are they still popular? Of course, but do arenas shake when they make an appearance now? No. That’s not an insult to either man or the fans, but times and attitudes change. The fan base in WWE isn’t as rabid, electric or vocal as they once were. The Monday Night Wars are over and fans no longer feel they have to pick a side as to their favorite promotion. They just enjoy the shows. WWE has evolved and business dictates that certain elements of the past – things that made WWE more controversial and therefore more talked about – have been consigned to history. Things like as bra and panty matches, Ho’s, sexual innuendos, literal ass kissing, chair shots to the head and an exuberance of blood in matches. A lot of these won’t return, and for good reason, but it’s a prime example that attitudes and tastes have changed in WWE and that has led to a more family-oriented product. It makes a good business model and brings in money, but is a clear departure from an era that was much more loud, brash and vocal than most of today’s product.

I also fall into the trap of thinking the pops are muted or not on the same scale as they once were. I, along with other fans, expected Becky Lynch to be the Steve Austin of the Women’s Division. I expected her to be the highlight of WWE and fan reaction would support that. However, I think it’s unrealistic to expect whole arenas to get on their feet when she makes an entrance. I think Becky is freakin’ awesome, but it’s unrealistic to expect her to be the next Rock or Austin. Part of me does like how WWE have put her and Seth Rollins together on-screen, as it gives their stories that hint of reality, and I don’t think we’d seen a power couple holding a title each since Triple H and Stephanie McMahon back in the early 2000’s (even though Stephanie was a joke champion).

The cynic in me is saying that WWE is trying too hard by putting Becky and Seth together. I know it’s a different dynamic and something we haven’t seen in a while, but I think each of them does their best work when alone. Rollins is a much better face when he’s up against the odds. His work rate is phenomenal and he has a great connection with the fans during his matches. The same can be said about Becky too. She’s the perennial underdog, always having to scrap and fight for what she believes is hers. Her road to Wrestlemania last year proves that. Perhaps they’re stars that need to be chasing titles rather than defending them. I also feel each of them needs a Ying to their Yang to be the best they can be. Stables worked well for Seth, but he broke out on his own when pushed to #1 contender status. The same for Becky. Her work with Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair was great, and proved she can go with the best in the company. Now though, their partnership seems to have diluted the fight and roughness each showed earlier this year.

I’m not saying Seth and Becky should split up on screen, but maybe WWE should focus on what worked for them earlier in the year and stick with that rather than combine two of their biggest stars into one package. It’s cute, but it ain’t no Macho Man & Miss Elizabeth.

Did you watch Raw this week? What did you make of the legends and their crowd reactions? How do you feel about comparing the Attitude Era to today’s product? Do you think Becky & Seth are better on-screen together or should they have separate storylines? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.