WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley was a guest on Lilian Garcia's Chasing Glory Podcast this week, and during the discussion, Foley went in-depth about why he believed superstars in the Attitude Era found more success in the presentation of their characters compared to the stars of today. He thinks it's in-part due to the pressure put on current performers to consistently succeed at their promo work.
"I saw Jon Moxley recently at an event, and I didn't realize how constrained he felt by the format over there [in WWE]," Foley said. "This isn't an exercise in the whipping of WWE here, but I said to him, and I mentioned this before and it bears repeating: people look at the Attitude Era and they love it for a number of reasons. But very few people realize that we were allowed to try things and there wasn't any punishment for failing. Every great Austin 3:16 promo there's going to be 5 or 6 things that don't work. If you recall, The Rock never went to the 'Shut Up Juice', the 'Shut Up Juice' wasn't connecting, SmackDown Hotel was, and so guys were allowed to go out there and try things. I remember a couple of promos that failed miserably but I never got the feeling that just because they tanked that I wouldn't be able to get another shot at it.
"You know, this is something that I said during last year's 20 Years in Hell show: that if you're going to fail, fail spectacularly. Really, that match and a good part of my career were based on failures, and so I think that men and the women don't have that same freedom to fail. So guys are going out there playing not to lose instead of playing to win with their characters. I think you can specifically blame the 'This Is Your Life' segment, with me and The Rock, that went 14 minutes over for tighter structuring. I think that the ratings hurt in a sense."
Foley watched backstage as the shift to PG made the creative structure much more narrow behind the scenes of WWE. Things like blood, certain language, and the threat of someone's life being at stake were ruled unfit for WWE TV, so heels had to find new ways of showing an evil nature.
"Imagine trying to be a heel in today's environment where you can't be offensive," Foley pondered. "Obviously we had a little more freedom to use language. I think in a lot of ways the PG rating makes you more creative, which is a good thing. But when you are catering to families, you can actually see someone complaining if a heel was scary. So there's no blood, which is probably a good thing in most cases. But it is hard being a menacing figure when you are so constrained, so, the answer is that everyone has to have great moves. I probably couldn't have made it in today's WWE environment because I didn't have enough cool moves.
"Here's the one thing that I see missing: when they have these babyfaces, people have an emotional stake in these good guys, and then the monster heel would come in and you're like, 'Okay, they're not trying to win a match, they are fighting for their lives,'" Foley continued. "That is how money was drawn with these great feuds, where the goal wasn't about winning a match, so I don't know if I would have lasted in an environment where you have to cover guys after every move."
Instead of focusing on the brutal nature of the heel characters, the attention was directed to their incomparable abilities and attempts at being the best wrestler. Characters like Chris Jericho, CM Punk, and Daniel Bryan's recent heel persona are prime examples of this new wave of heels with exceptional in-ring prowess and a knack for vocalizing it.
"When your most dastardly character trait is that you are trying to be the best at something? It is hard to dislike someone who is yearning to be the best by putting a guy's shoulders down," Foley explained. "I think they are really constrained and I think it shows, and the moves are more spectacular but the fans have been conditioned that there is only one way to have a great match, and that is to have incredible moves and multiple false finishes. But when I was active, there wasn't a specific blueprint to have a great match where you would lose fans if you buried from it. I think it was more creative. We weren't as athletic and you saw fewer great matches on a weekly basis, but I also think you had far better moments that stuck out in people's minds."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Chasing Glory Podcast w/Lilian Garcia with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Peter Bahi contributed to this article.