In 2008 WWE went PG rated, moving away from the edgy, often sexualised and violent product fans had come to know and love.
From July 2008, WWE programming was rebadged as TV-PG. Some pointed to the lucrative business deals this unlocked as the driver, others suggested it was a PR move following the infamous Chris Benoit double murder and suicide of the year prior.
Instantly we saw subtle changes like John Cena’s “FU” finisher being renamed the “Attitude Adjustment”, the PPV One Night Stand was changed to Extreme Rules and profanity was all but exiled from the scripts.
More large-scale changes included a WWE Kids magazine being released, kid-friendly programmes rolled out (such as Saturday Morning Slam) and the in-ring action was cleansed of any ‘extreme’ spots.
Regular fans were enraged – no longer would they see their favourite “Divas” in a ‘bra & panty’ match, never again would they witness multiple chair shots to the dome (see Rock v Mankind at the ’99 Royal Rumble) and of course we wouldn’t see actual eyeballs being ripped from sockets – Oh, wait…
Yes, WWE became “PG” for all intents and purposes, but there have been some occasional blips, some storyline decisions which certainly fall into the “questionable” category if you were to consider whether they’re PG.
Here are some of those moments that have occurred post-2008 . . .
Randy Orton Goes Too Far…
It was the storyline heading towards WrestleMania 25. Randy Orton, peeved that Triple H had kicked him out of Evolution back in 2004 (talk about holding a grudge) went on a mad streak of punt-kicking, RKO’ing and basically being a b***rd to the McMahon family.
Orton won the 2009 Royal Rumble, putting him on-course for the main event of WrestleMania. Claiming Intermediate Explosive Disorder (IED), Randy blamed that for his constant attacks on the WWE management family, but took it one RKO too far when he caught Stephanie after she’d come to help Shane McMahon.
This drew big Trips to the ring, defending the honour of his family and determined to shut down the Viper. HHH and Orton then feuded up until Mania 25 where the two met in the main event – with Triple H the victor on the night.
This feud was intense: less than a year following the TV-PG rating being introduced, we saw Orton punt kick Vince McMahon, RKO (& DDT) Stephanie, and handcuff Triple H to the top rope whilst he proceeded to kiss an unconscious Stephanie in front of him – all very non-PG if you ask me!
What the video below doesn’t show (probably for the best) is the reason why Stephanie is out cold. Just prior, Randy had given her a hanging DDT from the middle rope after she’d tried to come and save her husband from The Legacy (Orton, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase).
Drugs, Alcohol and Addiction
T’was two weeks before WrestleMania 28, Chris Jericho and CM Punk were in a feud which began back in the January. As the feud reached boiling point, Y2J decided to bring Punk’s family into the equation.
Your father is an alcoholic, your sister is a drug addict, and you’re going to end up just like them – it’s inevitable.
Back in January, it all started when the recently-returned Jericho claimed that the WWE roster were imitating him, CM Punk being the worst offender – and decided to attack the WWE Champion. The “best in the world” moniker apparently the main gripe for Jericho – he was on a mission to prove that to be him.
The rivalry continued past the Elimination Chamber, then just two weeks prior to ‘Mania, Jericho decided to hone in on Punks family, tainting the ‘straight edge’ philosophy in the process.
Punk won at WrestleMania despite John Laurinaitis adding weighted stipulations to the match, but the rivalry continued for a little while longer, including an angle where Jericho dousing Punk in alcohol on RAW prior to their final bout at Extreme Rules (which Punk also won).
The substance abuse story is borderline PG, as no kids would’ve truly understood the jabs taken by Jericho to unsettle Punk. Whether it crosses the line per se, is questionable, but it was a “dream match” at WrestleMania 28, tainted by the unnecessary substance abuse scripting thrown in.
A Severed Head?
In April 2019, after several months absent from WWE TV, ominous vignettes began to air depicting various puppets. Then, a month later, Bray Wyatt began to appear as the host of a surreal ‘children’s’ programme called the Firefly Funhouse.
Sporting a much leaner physique and shorter beard, Wyatt would seemingly have fun, almost entirely upbeat, until as the weeks progressed the Firefly Funhouse because much more sinister.
We then saw the ‘alter-ego‘ of Wyatt called The Fiend. A demonic mask-wearing character who only wanted to hurt people. In July on an episode of RAW, The Fiend debuted and attacked Finn Balor – setting up a match between the two at the upcoming SummerSlam.
At SummerSlam, we finally saw The Fiend’s entrance. An incredibly dark version of what we knew as Bray Wyatt’s theme (re-imagined by Code Orange), plenty of smoke in the darkness of the arena – and The Fiend, in all his glory shifting slowly towards the ring holding what appeared to be the severed head of the ‘old’ Bray Wyatt character. This served as the lantern which Bray used previous.
Sure, it’s a prop, we are all well aware, but, on a PG-rated show not only did The Fiend character terrify children, it was topped with him then coming out holding what impressionable viewers might have considered a real head.
Personally, I loved it. The Fiend was refreshing, new, and a ballsy attempt to do something outside of the norm’ for WWE. Bray Wyatt clearly invested a lot of effort into the character and it had so much potential. The aura has since been watered down thanks to bizarre Hell in a Cell matches, irritating red lights and a damaging loss to Goldberg.
Still, it was fun whilst it was cool, right?
Piss To The Face
Plain and simply put, as much as the WWE encourage children (and adults) to never try at home what they’re being presented with – you can’t tell me you’ve never tried a Swanton Bomb on your parents couch, a Choke Slam to the cat or even RKO’d a friend outta nowhere.
So knowing this, WWE of course tries to walk the line of ‘right’. Moves deemed too dangerous (such as the punt kick, piledriver, or curb stomp – for a bit) were ousted. The catchphrases from the Attitude Era we all know and love are a bit tongue-in-cheek nowadays, so in their place we have catchphrases like “Never Give Up”.
But you know what is a little weird and “yukky” for us adults – albeit something kids would roll on the floor in bits at? Throwing piss at someone.
C’mon WWE, the whole “Jeff Hardy is an alcoholic, haha” story had been done to death. We didn’t need it. But to have babyface Jeff launch a quite substantially sized ‘flower vase?’ full of urine over Sheamus on an episode of SmackDown was a ‘wee’ (sorry) bit much.
“You know another classic saying comes to mind”, says Jeff, confidently grabbing his impressively-full jar or urine. “Sometimes it’s better to be pissed off, than pissed on”. Sorry Jeff, I don’t recall having heard that ‘classic‘ saying.
Is it within PG guidelines? Yeah, probably, I guess. But it’s still launching pee at someone. It’s not cool guys, not cool at all.
An Eye For An Eye
Seth Rollins, the Monday Night Messiah, fresh from a loss to Drew McIntyre at the 2020 Money In The Bank PPV, was losing his marbles a bit and decided to attack Rey Mysterio on the RAW following. In the process Seth focussed (again, excuse the pun) on Rey’s eyes, poking them with the ring steps, leaving the master of the 619 rolling around in agony.
This resulted in speculation that Mysterio would “retire”, following weeks of being mocked by Rollins. This never came to be, and Rey challenged Rollins (quite stupidly if you ask me) to an “Eye for an Eye” match at the Horror Show at Extreme Rules PPV.
The match could only be won by “removing” an opponent’s eyeball. Literally. It was sheer madness.
At Extreme Rules, Rey lost the match when Rollins “literally” extracted his eyeball and we caught a glimpse of Rey holding it whilst Rollins tried to stop himself from throwing up.
The doctors apparently believed Rey’s eye could be “saved” and after a few weeks of wearing a jazzy eye patch over his mask, Rey Mysterio appeared fit and healthy again. I swear, I recover slower from a papercut that Rey’s eyeball was “fixed”.
This is probably so outrageous that it’s ok. Think about it, Marvel films have had literally MILLIONS of people die and it’s cool for kids to see. This was likely a goofy idea that WWE rolled with, but have since moved on without looking back!
But will we ever see a “Horror Show” version of Extreme Rules again? I’ll bet my R-Truth Little Jimmy t-shirt that we don’t.
Eyeballs, piss, severed heads, addiction and abuse to women – just some of the reasons why WWE’s move to TV-PG rated hasn’t been as smooth sailing as we might think.
What WWE moments of the last 12 years would you consider to be non-PG?
In Part Two we’ll explore a Triple H match from WrestleMania 27, Enzo Amore having a meeting with Lana and CM Punk dousing himself in the ashes of a dead person – amongst other things!