Folks, I just had my 25th anniversary of becoming Mr. Tito on October 26th. 25 years ago, I saw an opening for a “daily columnist” at Lords of Pain and I went for it. Without any experience writing previously, I was somehow hired by Calvin Martin (webmaster) and here I am 25 years later posting on NoDQ.com thanks to Aaron Rift and Virtue creating a culture worth joining during August 2020. Just recently, NoDQ posted an inquiry for NEW opinion writers which anyone seeking a large audience for their wrestling opinions should consider. All it takes is seeking that opportunity and you never know where it could take you. Here I am, 25 years later… It’s been a really fun ride and I appreciate everyone who has read me along the way…
I thought about having a big, long column (that’s what she said) to honor 25 years, but damn, it was taking forever to write… Top 25 stories of the past 25 years… Instead, I’ll just reflect on the wrestling business that I’ve viewed for the past 25 years since October 26th, 1998.
When I began writing Mr. Tito’s Phat Daily Columns during October 1998, WCW was beginning to decline with Bill Goldberg not being as impressive and Hulk Hogan was feuding with the Warrior. Seriously… Halloween Havoc 1998 was in my first column! WWE, meanwhile, was still on the way up and was about to get AMAZING with the Survivor Series 1998 tournament, Rock vs. Foley, and then Rock vs. Austin. To me, the November 1998 to April 1999 for WWE programming is the best ever stretch of months for pro wrestling. After Wrestlemania 15, WWE ran Austin vs. McMahon into the ground the rest of the year was also trying to sell us that Triple H was “the guy”.
The year 2000 was fun, but only because WCW gave away its best in-ring talent for free (Benoit, Guerrero, Malenko, Saturn) and WWE’s developmental system was restocking the WWE constantly with new talent (includes Kurt Angle). But 2001 is where the WWE’s wheels really began to fall off. The Austin heel turn was a major mistake and then the ECW/WCW invasion was botched. Oh yeah, both ECW and WCW were officially gone by March 2001. Both had money problems, but at the very least, it brought both Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman to the WWE as on-screen characters to enjoy. The WCW/ECW invasion was a disaster and Stephanie McMahon should have not only been FIRED for her Creative decisions, but also for that 9/11 speech.
2002 was an interesting year, though… The WCW wrestlers that you wanted during 2001 began to show up during 2002. Ric Flair arrived in late 2001 but was regaining confidence as a performer during 2002. Then you had the New World Order (Hogan, Hall, and Nash) return to the WWE all at once. Hall and Nash were made to be insignificant after WWE decided to push Hulk Hogan as a babyface again, meanwhile, Steve Austin had enough of the WWE and went home. To me, the best of Steve Austin was seen at Wrestlemania 15 and he was never the same, especially when he left at Survivor Series 1999. Also during 2002, you had the “Plane Ride from Hell”, which was absolutely bonkers when it happened.
But what made 2002 very interesting was the unleashing of Ohio Valley Wrestling’s BEST homegrown talent in the form of John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Batista, Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas, and Randy Orton. You got 4 Main Event stars and a very talented tag team (Haas & Benjamin). This group added to the many WCW/ECW stars that were signed and justified the 2002 brand split. I REALLY loved the 2002-2003 Smackdown which Paul Heyman co-wrote with Stephanie, but it fizzled fast by early 2004. Heyman made Cena, Lesnar, Edge, Angle, Benoit, the Guerreros, and Rey Mysterio into major stars and each of those guys (besides Benoit) put serious mileage as performers. While RAW was rough to watch at times, Evolution was a great stable with Triple H, Ric Flair, Batista, and Randy Orton. SummerSlam 2004 made Randy Orton a World Champion too early, but that mistake was rectified when Batista went after Triple H during 2005. Then, to see the Shield vs. Evolution feud during 2014 was an amazing cherry on the top for this group.
John Cena emerged during late 2002, finally, with the rapping gimmick and then 2003-2004 were amazing to see his growth into the superstar who headlined the WWE from 2005 until 2014, while still being a big name to this day. To me, John Cena is 3rd best WWE performer behind only Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin. The guy carried the WWE on his back and stopped the downslide that not only occurred from 2000-2004, but also the Benoit induced slide from 2006. Cena got the WWE through some rough times and really carried the promotion on his back as the talent pool began to thin during the early 2010s.
Wrestling had its dark moments to endure as a fan… For one, NO wrestlers should be hanging from the rafters and this stunt killed Owen Hart. We were robbed of many years of working against top talents and witnessing Owen possibly becoming World Champion. Then, the WWE’s LACK of Wellness Policies caused some bad conditions that allowed wrestlers to die early from prescription pill abuse. That, and a lack of concussion protocol and a tough road schedule made bad conditions for wrestlers during the 2000s. Many wrestlers failed to reach the age of 45, while the years of concussions, alcohol abuse, prescription drug abuse, and steroid use caused Chris Benoit to snap and tragically murder his family. The wrestling business almost caused someone like Kurt Angle to pass, but his major bolting to TNA during 2006 probably saved his life because the WWE wouldn’t protect him from himself or their road schedule.
People forget this storie these days, but the whole Lita love triangle with Matt Hardy and Edge was bonkers. For one, Edge did his friend Matt wrong BUT you had other angles to the debate such as Matt exposing the affair publicly. In the end, it enabled Edge to finally get a foot into the main event door but I also believe the shame of those events got his life in order. Dating Lita broke up Edge’s first marriage and it seems like he has been making it up with his current wife Beth Phoenix.
What I loved about the 2000s, though, was Shawn Michaels. His comeback was inspirational and significantly added to his career and legacy. Nice to see a clean, happy, and healthy Shawn just crushing it with feuds with Triple H, Undertaker, John Cena, Kurt Angle, and Chris Jericho. That feud during the late 2000s with Jericho, man… That is one of the best and most believable feuds ever, the best work of both of their careers in my opinion.
Several competitors tried to arrive during the 2000s, but I really didn’t enjoy TNA and Ring of Honor. Both just felt smaller to me, as both performed in smaller arenas and their big events just didn’t feel like must-buys to me. I know that many liked TNA, but not me… Impact Wrestling renaming themselves to “TNA” does nothing to me, especially when I have no clue on how or where to watch their content.
From 2006 to early 2010, I stepped away from being Mr. Tito to do grown up things… Got married, started having kids, and began working in a corporate setting. I returned to watching wrestling and being Mr. Tito during early 2010 and WWE had changed. While Cena was there, many new wrestlers were there… But WWE was pushing the wrong guys as top wrestlers. However, one guy rose to the top and that was CM Punk by early 2011. CM Punk did the “pipe bomb” promo and it ignited his character before the Money in the Bank 2011 show. While WWE did the right thing by crowning Punk at that amazing event, they did the wrong thing after that with the SummerSlam 2011 debacle with Kevin Nash helping Alberto Del Rio win the WWE Title and then Triple H burying CM Punk at the Night of Champions 2011 Pay Per View.
I took so much heat during September 2011 with my “Triple H just BURIED CM Punk” column following that Night of Champions 2011 column and that column drew over 25,000 views, my highest since the peak years of the Attitude Era. That’s crazy and it even caused CM Punk to respond to my column by saying “buried in money”. Funny how he’d soon realize how correct I was and how he was trapped in that 3 year contract that he just signed. Triple H was the main reason why CM Punk left during January 2014, but may be the main person who helps him rejoin the WWE during 2023.
For the rest of the 2010s, it was basically defending John Cena from all of the hateful marks, loving the return of Brock Lesnar, and hating on the babyface push of Roman Reigns. Honestly, not much to it than that… When the WWE buried John Cena at SummerSlam 2014, it officially kicked off Lesnar and Reigns dominating the WWE for the rest of the that decade. While I disagree with Roman’s overpush back then, it has helped set him up for being a great heel from 2020-2023. That resume of beating top names like Undertaker, CM Punk, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Randy Orton, and Triple H helped him gain experience and prestige that clicked in once he switched to the heel team. Roman has been KILLING it ever since.
2019 brought on All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and it has been a mixed bag for me. I initially enjoyed it and was happy for Jon Moxley, but I quickly soured on it… COVID years sucked for AEW and placing too much hope on CM Punk to overcome jealous EVPs and their clique of indy wrestlers didn’t end well. That said, anytime CM Punk stories hit the fan, it provided fodder for many, many great columns. AEW losing Cody Rhodes hurt too, though AEW really didn’t use him well at all. Good to see Cody doing well and having incredible matches in the WWE. 2023 will prove to be a great resume year for Cody, whom I expect to be a World Champion for 2024. Tony Khan needs significant help, as he appears to be someone losing sleep over trying to beat the WWE with a weaker roster of talent.
WWE during the early 2020s has been interesting… First, they struggled through COVID-19, but to their credit, they kept the promotion alive. All things considered, they deserve a THANK YOU for refusing to shut down operations and keep us entertained. Wrestlemania 36 will be one of my favorite shows only because of the significance of pressing forward just to entertain us. As the year wore on, Roman Reigns returned from his COVID hiatus to become a heel by joining Paul Heyman and forming the Bloodline. For 3 straight years, we’ve been heavily entertained by them as a storyline along with Roman being a dominant champion. WWE has grown with viewers, attendance, and merchandise ever since and made them appealing to be purchased.
If you asked Mr. Tito from October 1998 if Vince McMahon would still be doing this 25 years later, I’d call you crazy… But if you told him that Vince would pay out nearly $20 million in sexual harassment/abuse NDA payouts, retire from the business, force his way back as Board Chairman, and then prompt the sale of the company to Endeavor, I’d think you were crazy. Hell, I’ve been writing so long that I pre-date the sale of UFC to Endeavor by almost 2 decades. Just pure insanity… And now, it’s hilarious to see Endeavor actually controlling Vince McMahon and disabling him from micro-managing WWE’s creative process. We’ll see how long that lasts…
But I am writing here, 25 years later, to suggest that wrestling is in a good place right now. WWE is on fire from a talent and creative perspective, while AEW exists as some form of competition. 25 years ago, I wrote on a WWE that was still growing and WCW was beginning to decline. Meanwhile, most wrestling fans are still talking about the wrestling from 25 years ago because it was, indeed, the best wrestling ever seen. Attitude Era was the best era, period.
I’ve had fun as Mr. Tito for the past 25 years. Under this alias, I’ve been about to pump out over 4,000 columns for all of you to enjoy and I did so on a 100% voluntary basis. While I’ve been the best bargain ever to websites, I wrote for free because this is my hobby and I woudn’t enjoy it if paid. Thus, you know that I’m 100% speaking as a fan without a filter rather than whoring myself for a dollar or speaking for special interests.
Thank you for reading me, as I’m very grateful to have your time.
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