WWE Ruthless Aggression
WWE Ruthless Aggression
World Wrestling Entertainment
WWE Ruthless Aggression
An essay written by Tao Daniel,
based on the WWE’s archives found on the WWE network.
The World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), previously known as World Wrestling Federation (WWF), has been several times criticized and disliked by many. Yet, it is one of the most successful entertainment business in the whole world thanks to an annual revenue of nearly 1B$, 11 millions of fans watching the show every weeks and an owner, Vincent Kennedy McMahon, with a net worth of 2.1B$, member of the very restricted Forbes 400.
Professional Wrestling is a mix of athletics and theatrical performances were two or more athletes (called superstars in the WWE) will take part of a segment that include promos and matches. Those segments are written by professional TV writers and the outcome of each matches are known beforehand by the wrestlers and the referee.
Now this is a question that every person who does not follow the company from the inside wonder: How can a wrestling company be so successful? This is the question that will be answered at this end of this writing. In the first part, the “Monday Night War” will be detailed and analysed, the second part will be on the difficulties of the WWE after the Monday Night War and finally the last part will cover the birth of the Ruthless Aggression Era.
The Monday Night War
This story started in the early 2000s when two rival companies, the WWF and WCW, were fighting over audience every weeks of the year on Monday. The WWF knew that with a direct competitor airing at the same time every week, they needed to reinvent themselves by offering more original content, different from the usual pro wrestling that the public was used to. This was a though challenge, but ultimately succeed when on Monday Night Raw, Stone Cold Steve Austin started a fight with the famous Mike Tyson, causing a huge positive respond from the audience, giving the advantage to WWF against WCW. In March 2001, the war that started between two billionaires ended with only one still standing: Vincent Kennedy McMahon had won and successfully bought WCW. On screen and behind the scene, this was the greatest victory in sport entertainment industry.
“WCW was out of business […] (WWE) was the single wrestling company that dominated the whole world.” – Hulk Hogan, WWE hall of famer, 2020.
This event was compared to a country winning the war, everyone was jubilant. But this did not last long, it quickly turned to what comes next, what’s now? The Monday Night War created so much buzz that the company was struggling to create content that makes the same kind of buzz, it was a big concern at that time.
But Vince McMahon is a smart man, and on March 26th, 2001, his son Shane McMahon appeared to Raw to make an announcement.
“[…] The deal is finalized with WCW, and the name on the contract does say “McMahon”, However the contract read “Shane McMahon”! I now own WCW. And then WCW kicked your ass in the past, and it will again!” – Shane McMahon, 2001.
Doing so, the McMahon family could remain the dominant characters of the sport entertainment industry while, in a scriptwriting way, making a rivalry between Vince and his son Shane, respectively owner of the WWF and WCW.
Since the two shows had different audiences, this new war was the best way to fuse the two rosters. Shortly after his announcement, Shane McMahon started during Wrestlemania X7 the so-called “WCW invasion” where WCW wrestlers would come to WWF shows to attack the superstars. This brilliant segment helped to slowly accommodate the WWF audience to the WCW roster. Doing so, most of the wrestler where able to keep their jobs, WWF was able to change the WCW fans as WWF fans and the outcome was similar to a “in the best world” situation.
“I was a fan of both brands so having them collide at the same time and just coming together, what’s gonna happen? I was excited for that.” – Ricochet, 2020.
“Best World” until WWF resigned the biggest names of WCW because their previous contracts were unrealistic according to the company, resulting only keeping the small talents from WCW.
After the WCW invasion came to an end, problems quickly came back, now having both WWF and WCW rosters fused in one, and with only a few TV spots available every week on Monday Night Raw, the WWF struggled to managed its talents, leaving a hostile atmosphere take place in the locals from those who wasn’t treated as good as the ones who had TV time every weeks.
The first try was to make WCW air just after WWF’s RAW, but this resulted as a huge failure, the audience did not respond well to this signing the end of WCW for good in November 2001.
Later that year, Rick Flair “Nature Boy” came to RAW announcing that he was the one who bought the WWF shares that Stephanie and Shane McMahon, the children of Vince, sold. Having now Rick as a partner to Vince, WWF was able to get the old huge talents of WCW that wasn’t signed back due to a contract dispute into the WWF, the fans could now get the dream matches they always asked for. The WCW legends provided a short term shot of adrenaline, but it was handful of WWE superstars who actually carried the company torch. When an entertainment company goes into transition, they usually count on their bedrock talent to carry to business. At that time, superstars like Triple H and the Undertaker where called a lot to take that responsibility. However, the responsibility was so high that nobody really wanted to be that one person carrying the whole company during bad times. In early 2002, the company felt outdated and forced.
“things were almost on autopilot, and it wasn’t that same hunger, it wasn’t that same drive to be the best.” – Bruce Prichard, WWE executive director, 2020.
After that the problem of the competition was solved, the problem of the motivation came by, the company needed to find something that will call its talents to give 100% of themselves and always thrives to be the best in the business.
WWF came with the idea to split the roaster in two, creating two distinct brands Raw and Smackdown, where superstars would be called to give their best to surpass the other brand. Another drive from this division was the creation of more TV time, giving the opportunity to small talents to rive and shine on TV and be among the best of their brand.
“As a fan, I was excited. This is something new, something different that the WWE has never done before. And so if WWE is gonna have no competition, we’ll compete within ourselves.” – Mike “The Miz”, 2020.
This new direction represented an investment within WWE’s future, but came with unavoidable short-terms risks. The ratings were going to go down, it was known by everyone in the company. As a viewer, you would wonder “Where is Jericho? Where is Kurt Angle?”. But this was necessary for survival because if they didn’t, the audience would get burned out. The draft created anxiety into the whole WWE universe, only Mr McMahon and Rick Flair knew and decided which superstar would be in which brand. Following this, The Rock decide to transition from wrestling to Hollywood, leaving a huge hole in the WWE after his departure has a full-time jobber. But like if it wasn’t enough, WWE also lost one of their biggest talent on the same period, Stone Cold Steven Austin, after a dispute on the never-happened match with Brock Lesnar. Loosing two of its biggest superstars and taking a risk by creating two show, splitting the roster in two, the WWE needed to find solution to overcome the nuke that just fell on them.
The company decided to rebrand what was WWF into WWE with the slogan “get the F out of here” and it signed the beginning of a new era, the “ruthless aggression” era. Changing the world “federation” into “entertainment” marked the real vision of Vince McMahon toward the company: “this is not a wrestling company, it’s entertainment.”.
With a new name, new attitude and new logo, the business was suddenly peaking back up. Now there was competition, the real competition that executives tried to instore back during the WWF-WCW War. “[…] When there is competition, it brings a better product.” – Natalya Neidhart, 2020.
One year after the Monday Night Raw conclusion, WWE forged a whole new identity, and for the most part, it was working, but there was still something missing.
On June 24th, 2002, Vince McMahon called the whole roster to come out around the ring as he will challenge them. The company was missing “The number one guy”, They didn’t have that one person that represent the whole company, the face of the WWE. So on that day, Vince McMahon called “Ruthless Aggression” as the one quality to shine upon everyone. There was a clear message that there was too much passengers and not enough drivers amongst the superstars in WWE. “If you have this one quality in you, all you have to do is reach out, reach out and take it damn it!” – Those were the word of Vince McMahon on this 24th of June 2002, and all the events that happened between March 2001 to June 2002 will lead, 3 days after Vince’s challenge, to the birth of the biggest and most overrated superstar of sport entertainment history.
And his name is John Cena.
The Monday Night War and Birth of the Ruthless Aggression Era is a proof of the greatness of the WWE. They showed the world that they could use these difficult times in the business to turn them into entertainment, resulting to the actual solutions to their problems and competition. The WWE was and still stays the number one in sport entertainment since it’s creation in 1952 and the reason for it is its ability to adapt, improvise and overcome changes. When John Cena became World Champion he understood that the audience was in majority kids, and he convinced the company to turn into a kid-friendly show, doing small changes like turning the world championship gold into a spinning toy, selling tons and tons of merch at that time, all the kids wanting to be like their role model John Cena. Lately the company has been able to manage incredibly well the Covid-19 crisis, despite the huge criticism that the company was getting, by introducing cinematic matches during Wrestlemania 36 and innovation like the Corporation Ladder Match happening in the WWE headquarters during Money in The Bank pay-per-view 2020. The company has an incredible talent to entertain all types of public and to hook its audience to a never-ending weekly program, making it a multi-billion dollars company and the sole leader of the sport entertainment industry.
WWE Ruthless Aggression – WWE Network, 2020.