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The Attitude Era is a period in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, known now as WWE) and professional wrestling history that arose in the latter half of the 1990s. The era was marked by a shift to more adult-oriented programming content, which was accomplished in a number of different ways; including an increase in the level of depicted violence and the incorporation of horrific, or otherwise politically incorrect characters and storylines created for shock value. Similar to the 1980s professional wrestling boom, the Attitude Era was a surge in the popularity of professional wrestling in the United States as television ratings and pay-per-view buy-rates saw record highs.
The era saw several wrestlers rise to stardom, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, Triple H, Kurt Angle, and Kane; established star The Undertaker continued his main event prominence, as did fellow veterans Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Vader and Sycho Sid in the early stages of the era. Wrestlers such as Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Big Show and Chris Benoit – who were unhappy with their employment in rival promotion World Championship Wrestling (WCW) – jumped ship to WWF to ultimately become headliners for the company (Big Show and Benoit having previously been world champions in WCW). Other prominent Attitude Era performers who later became world champions in WWE were Edge, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Bradshaw, Christian and Mark Henry.
Distinguished stables were established in this era, such as D-Generation X, The Nation of Domination, The Corporation, and The Corporate Ministry who all developed major rivalries among each other during the time period. The era saw a resurgence and boom period in tag team wrestling with prominent teams like The New Age Outlaws, The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz, Edge and Christian, Too Cool and The APA achieving superstardom and being featured in prominent storylines and matches during this time period. In particular, The Dudleys, The Hardys and Edge and Christian featured in several Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches which were also introduced during this era. Top female stars such as Sable and Chyna achieved mainstream notoriety and even competed against male performers. While other prominent female stars saw their beginning during the era such as Trish Stratus, Lita, Molly Holly, etc. The era also saw an increase in the McMahon family's on-screen presence, starting with Chairman Vince McMahon's 'Mr. McMahon' character, a heel persona of himself following the Montreal Screwjob, with his son and daughter too eventually being introduced into WWF storylines as fictionalized villainous versions of themselves.
The "WWF Attitude" promotion – first used on November 9, 1997 – was ceased on May 6, 2002, when the Federation changed its name to World Wrestling Entertainment, due to a lawsuit by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature regarding the "WWF" initialism. Despite the name change, WWE continued to have adult-oriented content until July 2008, when it has returned to more family friendly programming.
- 1 Initiation: The Beginning of the Attitude Era
- 2 Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rise to the Attitude
- 3 The Rock and the Birth of the People's Champion
- 4 The Undertaker and Kane: The Dawn of Destruction
- 5 D-Generation X, The Three Faces of Foley and the Rise of the Attitudal Popularity
- 6 The Tragic Death of Owen Hart
- 7 The Resurrection of the Women's Division
- 8 Ex-WCW talent Jump shipped to the WWF
- 9 The Dawn of "EXTREME RULES" matches: The "First Ever "TLC: Tables, Ladders, and Chairs" Match"
- 10 Conclusion: The End of the Attitude Era
- 11 The Legacy of an Era
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes
Initiation: The Beginning of the Attitude Era
During the Monday Night Wars, a ratings battle between WWF's Monday Night Raw and WCW's Monday Nitro, WWF would transform itself from a family-friendly product into a more adult oriented product. This era was spearheaded by Chairman Vince McMahon and head writer Vince Russo, who drastically changed the way professional wrestling television was written. Russo's booking style was often referred to as Crash TV — short matches, backstage vignettes, and shocking television.
Several miscellaneous events outside the major benchmarks have been credited with helping transition to the Attitude Era. A few years after the Hulkamania era, WWF needed more sales. In his book, Russo mentions the debut of the character Goldust in 1995 as a turning point in portraying a more adult character. Brian Pillman's "loose cannon" persona has also been credited, highlighted by a 1996 segment when he pulled a gun on Austin and a 1997 storyline that contained sexual overtones with Marlena. By 1996, WWF had also begun playing up female sexuality, led by Sunny and Sable. After losing a steel cage match against Sycho Sid from within an attempt to win back the WWF World Heavyweight Championship in March 1997, Bret "Hitman" Hart had angrily shoved McMahon to the wrestling mat as McMahon himself had tried to get a post-match interview from him and Hart had soon went into a profanity-laced tirade.
While the WWE Network shows the December 15, 1997, episode of Raw Is War as being the first from the Attitude Era, WWE themselves have stated that Survivor Series 1997, which took place over a month beforehand and featured the infamous Montreal Screwjob, marked the beginning of the era. They have also said that King of the Ring 1996, and WrestleMania XIV on March 29, 1998, were the starting point.
However, on the October 6, 2017 edition (Episode 68) of the Something To Wrestle podcast, host Bruce Prichard, a prominent WWF producer during the Attitude Era, points to a Shawn Michaels promo on the September 7, 1997 edition of Raw Is War as the ultimate turning point. Before emerging from the backstage area to build heat for his feud with The Undertaker, Michaels stuffed his shorts with a towel to make his crotch appear enlarged. During the interview held by Jim Ross, Michaels veered off-script and used foul language, which was frowned upon at the time, and administered a series of crotch chops directed at Ross' face. In addition, fully aware that The Undertaker was actually absent (but presented on video as being backstage), Michaels buried his foe, calling him "chickenshit" for failing to accept a challenge to come out to the ring. Because this edition of Raw Is War was being taped, much of the interview was edited before broadcast. Vince McMahon was also absent from the taping, but Prichard recalls him being furious to the point of legitimately fining Michaels $10,000 for his adult-themed antics. At a creative meeting a few days later, however, McMahon (according to Prichard) changed course and told his staff that "What he’s doing, it’s showing attitude. We need more attitude! That’s attitude, pal! And everybody on the roster needs to find some attitude!” As a result, WWF began to promote more mature storylines.
The Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels feud
Another important feud from 1996 to 1997 was between Hart and Shawn Michaels, who had legitimate issues with one another outside of wrestling. The conflict behind the scenes spilled out into their on-screen story line, with both men making pointed personal remarks in interviews that were often rooted in these issues.
Following the aforementioned Michaels promo, and McMahon's assertion that the company needed more "attitude", Hart became upset with the company's direction, preferring a more family-oriented product. This philosophical difference added to the real-life tension. Michaels would team with Triple H, Chyna and Rick Rude to form the group D-Generation X (officially named on October 13, 1997), launching two major trademarks of the Attitude Era: crotch chops and the catchphrase, "We've got two words for you: 'Suck It!'"
Their rivalry culminated in the Montreal Screwjob, another landmark date in the Attitude Era and one of the most critical points in the birth of McMahon's character, Mr. McMahon, a corrupt evil-owner caricature fixated on destroying the lives of disobedient employees.
The Shawn Michaels/Undertaker rivalry
While the feud between Michaels and The Undertaker was short, it was important in adding a new rivalry. One important match from the Attitude Era was the WWF World Heavyweight Championship match between Hart and the then-champion The Undertaker with Michaels as the special guest referee at SummerSlam 1997. A contract was put in place outlining what Hart had stated verbally: if Hart lost, he would never compete in the United States again. WWF officials would later shock the audience by making Michaels the referee and amending the contract to state that if Michaels didn't call the match fairly, he would never be allowed to wrestle in the United States either. During the match, Hart knocked out Michaels and took the advantage by hitting The Undertaker with a steel chair. While Hart attempted the pin, Michaels stopped counting when he saw the chair. Hart and Michaels then got into an argument in the ring, during which Hart screamed to Michaels, "Fuck you!" and spat in the latter's face. This angered Michaels, and as he attempted to hit Hart with the chair, Hart dodged it, resulting in Michaels hitting The Undertaker instead. Michaels counted the pinfall, and Hart won the title.
Worried that The Undertaker would seek redemption, Michaels teamed up with Triple H and Chyna to form D-Generation X, with Ravishing Rick Rude as their "insurance policy." While Undertaker said that Michaels would "pay for his crimes", Michaels repeated his SummerSlam actions during a tag team match between DX and The Undertaker and Mankind, getting himself disqualified by hitting The Undertaker with a chair. This led to the first ever Hell in a Cell match at Badd Blood: In Your House. During the match, The Undertaker was close to victory when his younger half-brother Kane (that Paul Bearer had spoken of) ripped the door off the Cell and performed the Tombstone Piledriver on him, costing him the match. This led to The Brothers of Destruction Saga.
Michaels and The Undertaker would meet again three months later at the 1998 Royal Rumble in a Casket match. Two infamous moments occurred during that match that would change the complexion of not only The Brothers of Destruction Saga, but WWF. During the first several minutes of the match, The Undertaker launched Michaels over the top rope and onto the edge of the Casket, damaging Michaels' back and eventually putting him out of in-ring action for the next four years. Kane later on interfered in the match on what was thought to be on The Undertaker's behalf, but instead aided Michaels by chokeslamming The Undertaker in the Casket, closing it shut, and setting it on fire with the help of Paul Bearer.
Mike Tyson and WrestleMania XIV
After Austin won the 1998 Royal Rumble, former boxing champion Mike Tyson made a guest appearance on Raw Is War the following night. Tyson, who at the time was still suspended from boxing, was to be introduced as the "Special Guest Enforcer" referee for the championship match at WrestleMania XIV. However, McMahon's presentation of Tyson was interrupted by Austin, who flipped off Tyson, leading to a brief scuffle. Over the following weeks, Tyson aligned himself with Michaels, Austin's opponent at WrestleMania, and D-Generation X. In the closing moments of the match, Tyson counted Austin's pinfall on Michaels. Following the victory, a distraught Michaels confronted Tyson, who then knocked out Michaels with a right-handed punch as Austin celebrated. Tyson was paid $4m for his role.
Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rise to the Attitude
Birth of Austin 3:16
Stone Cold Steve Austin, who previously wrestled in WCW and ECW, first appeared in WWF in the 1996 as "The Ringmaster" and was managed by Ted DiBiase. For several months, Austin held the Million Dollar Championship while DiBiase served as his mouthpiece. It was during this time that Austin shaved his head bald and grew a goatee to develop his now-iconic appearance. When DiBiase left WWF following a stipulation on a "Caribbean Strap Match" between Austin and Savio Vega, Austin revealed that he purposely lost the match to rid himself of the distractions caused by DiBiase.
The 1996 King of the Ring tournament saw Austin's first usage of "Austin 3:16", the major marketing juggernaut for WWF during the era. After winning the tournament by defeating Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Austin mocked Roberts' recital of the biblical passage John 3:16 by saying, "You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn't get you anywhere! Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16... Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!"
Austin's popularity would gradually start to rise as an anti-hero despite his playing a heel character, eventually leading to a long feud with Hart from late-1996 to mid-1997 climaxing in a Submission Match at WrestleMania 13 with Austin turning face and Hart turning heel during this time. Austin's popularity would start to flourish significantly and by late 1997 Austin was getting extremely positive crowd reactions and would often get the best response of the night. In 1997, Owen Hart would file a restraining order on Austin (kayfabe) to stop him from getting near him or having any interaction with him because Austin was seeking revenge on Owen for the botched pile driver Owen had performed on him at SummerSlam which caused a lot of legitimate damage to Austin's neck and spine. Austin still attacked Owen Hart in the ring forcing Vince to try to calm him down and to reason with him; Austin hit the Stone Cold Stunner on McMahon to a very positive crowd response leading to Austin's arrest. This laid the foundation for the later feud between Austin and McMahon, the central storyline of the Attitude Era.
The Austin vs. McMahon rivalry
The most important rivalry during the Attitude Era was the Austin vs. McMahon storyline, where Austin, the company's defiant top star, would have to overcome the odds stacked against him by Mr. McMahon. Mr. McMahon, who did not want Austin to be the WWF Champion, would stop at nothing to put an end to Stone Cold, and Austin would do anything to beat Vince. This rivalry would prove to be one of the biggest factors for the WWF to finally start turning the tides in the ratings war with their competition, World Championship Wrestling. On the Raw after Austin won the WWF Championship, Mr. McMahon presented him with the newly designed WWF Championship belt and informed him he did not approve of his rebellious nature and that if he didn't conform to society and become his image of what a WWF Champion should be, Austin would face severe consequences. Austin gave his answer in the form of a Stone Cold Stunner to McMahon. This led to a segment a week later where Austin had pledged a few days prior in a meeting to agree to McMahon's terms, appearing in a suit and tie, with a beaming McMahon taking a picture of himself and Austin, his new corporate champion. The entire thing was a ruse by Austin, who in the course of the segment proceeded to tear off the suit, telling McMahon it was the last time he'd ever be seen dressed like this (he was subsequently seen in a suit in his WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony). Austin punched McMahon in the 'corporate grapefruits', and took another picture with McMahon writhing in pain.
The following week on April 13, 1998, Austin and McMahon were going to battle out their differences in an actual match, but the match was declared a no contest when Foley (as Dude Love) interrupted the entire contest. On that night Raw defeated Nitro in the ratings for the first time since June 10, 1996.
Their rivalry continued throughout the Attitude Era, bringing increased revenue and attention to the company. Steve Austin would become the company's most popular star at the time and would receive significant positive responses from the crowds. The rivalry would start to get more intense as time went on, with McMahon trying to sabotage Austin whenever he could to stop him from being the WWF Champion. Austin would often exact revenge on McMahon, creating many of the era's most famous moments, such as attacking McMahon with a bedpan while he was in the hospital, stealing a cement mixer and driving it into the arena, then filling up one of McMahon's Corvette cars with cement, driving a Zamboni to the ring before attacking McMahon leading to Austins arrest once again, kidnapping Vince in a wheelchair, wheeling him down to the ring at gunpoint which ended up actually being a toy gun with a scroll that reads "Bang 3:16!" which frightened McMahon so much he urinated himself, or driving a beer truck to the ring and spraying Vince, Shane McMahon and The Rock with beer. Austin would wrestle McMahon in 1999 at St. Valentine's Day Massacre in a steel cage, which he won when the debuting Big Show accidentally threw him through the cage wall, thus earning a world title shot at Wrestlemania XV.Through the rivalry, McMahon founded two heel factions: The Corporation and The Corporate Ministry, using several wrestlers to face Austin, including The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane and Big Show.
The Rock and the Birth of the People's Champion
Nation of Domination
Dwayne Johnson, a third-generation wrestler, made his debut at the 1996 Survivor Series as "Rocky Maivia", naming himself after his grandfather Peter Maivia and his father Rocky Johnson. Despite being a babyface with an impressive winning streak and an Intercontinental Championship reign, he was frequently met with loud boos and "Rocky sucks!" chants and even crowd signs that read "Die Rocky die". Frustrated by the fans' negative reception, Maivia joined the Nation of Domination in 1997 and renamed himself The Rock, an egotistical jock who referred to himself in third person. As a member of the Nation of Domination, The Rock won the Intercontinental title for a second time. The Rock eventually overthrew Faarooq to become the leader of the Nation. It was during his time as leader of the Nation that he would develop his character and significantly improve his talking abilities on the microphone and later on became more popular with the fans for his engaging and entertaining promos. After the Nation disbanded, The Rock referred to himself as the "People's Champion" and was seen more of a face rather than a heel, which led to Vince McMahon and the Corporation to target him. Since they had a problem with the people, they had a problem with the "People's Champion". After battling McMahon's goons for the chance to go to the Survivor Series, the Rock entered the tournament and made it to the finals against McMahon's chosen representative, Mankind. During the match, a double turn occurred with the help of McMahon, similar to the previous year's Survivor Series, revealing that Rock was working with The Corporation all along. The Rock officially joined McMahon as the crown jewel of The Corporation, abandoning his previous moniker as "The People's Champion" and declaring himself "The Corporate Champion"and once again turned heel to the dismay of many fans.
As a member of The Corporation, The Rock's persona changed yet again, to an even more callous attitude and would further develop his character, where he would insult the fans and other WWE superstars on a regular basis, calling them "trailer park trash" and various other insults he would also start to use more of his trademark catchphrases around this time. The Rock would go on a lengthy feud with Mankind, with a rematch at Rock Bottom, where Rock retained the title due to a technicality, even though he lost the match. Mankind would get his revenge, winning the title on Raw Is War. The reign was short lived, however, as the Rock got his rematch at the 1999 Royal Rumble, in an I Quit Match. The Rock won the I Quit Match and became the WWF Champion yet again. Mankind, knowing he never quit during the match, was furious with the Rock and stole a large amount of the Rock's money to bribe him into a rematch during halftime of the Super Bowl. The match was titled "Half-Time Heat", and Mankind won the match and the title, after pinning the Rock underneath a forklift. The Rock got a rematch at St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in a last man standing match for the chance to headline WrestleMania XV as the WWF Champion. The bout ended in a draw after both men were unable to stand at the ten count. Despite Mankind being the WWF Champion, he gave the Rock one more shot at the title in a ladder match on Raw. This would be their final match, as the "Big Show" Paul Wight interfered in the match and chokeslammed Mankind off the ladder, leaving the Rock all by himself to win the match and headline WrestleMania XV as WWF Champion.
At WrestleMania XV The Rock, the WWF Champion faced off against the challenger, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Vince McMahon would interfere in the match attacking Stone Cold to try and stop him but was unsuccessful. Stone Cold Steve Austin won the match, and seemingly defeated The Corporation and Vince McMahon. Austin, after winning the title, described the belt as not being good enough, using his personalized Smoking Skull Belt. McMahon, who was in possession of the belt, ordered Shane McMahon to give it to Austin, seemingly ending their feud. But Shane had other plans, as he went against his father's wishes and gave the belt to The Rock. This was the basis for The Rock's rematch at Backlash for the WWF Championship. In order for Stone Cold to reclaim his Smoking Skull belt, he had to defeat the Rock at Backlash. With the WWF Championship on the line, The Rock lost the rematch and the Smoking Skull belt. The night after Backlash, after failing to beat Stone Cold Steve Austin for a second time, Shane McMahon turned on The Rock and fired him from the Corporation.
The People's Champion
After being fired from the Corporation, The Rock once again turned face and declared himself the People's Champion and went on a number of small feuds during the latter part of 1999. It was during this time The Rock's popularity began to flourish once again, and he joined his former rival Mankind to create the tag team, The Rock 'n' Sock Connection. The team went on to win the WWF Tag Team titles, becoming one of the most popular tag teams of the Attitude Era. After the Rock 'n' Sock connection broke up, The Rock went back into the main event picture of the WWF becoming one of the most popular stars of the Attitude Era, battling the likes of HHH and the McMahon-Helmsley Faction. Late in the Attitude Era, The Rock faced Stone Cold Steve Austin again in what many consider to be the climax of the Attitude Era at WrestleMania X-Seven where the two biggest stars of the era faced each other for the WWF Championship. Stone Cold would once again defeat The Rock to regain the title and also turned heel in the process joining his nemesis Mr McMahon to a very mixed reaction from WWE fans.
The Undertaker and Kane: The Dawn of Destruction
The Brothers of Destruction
One of the long-running story lines which took place during the Attitude Era was the Brothers of Destruction. The story line began at SummerSlam in 1996, when The Undertaker was embroiled in a feud with his former manager Paul Bearer. During the course of their rivalry, Bearer threatened The Undertaker with the threat of revealing his 'secret', calling him a "murderer" and accusing him of killing his parents and brother. In the following weeks on Raw, Bearer revealed that his brother Kane was actually still alive. Kane debuted at Badd Blood: In Your House, wearing a mask and interfering in the Hell in a Cell match between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. At first, the Undertaker refused to fight Kane. Following a series of taunts from Bearer and Kane, who cost him the WWF World Heavyweight Title at the Royal Rumble, he agreed to face Kane at WrestleMania XIV. The Undertaker won the match at WrestleMania and the first ever Inferno Match at Unforgiven. Following the conclusion of this story line, the rivalry seemed to cease, as Undertaker and Kane united, forming the team that became known as The Brothers of Destruction. They eventually feuded later in the 2000s and 2010s.
The Ministry of Darkness
In late 1998, The Undertaker became villainous again, realigning with Paul Bearer and betraying Kane. The Undertaker began taking a more satanic and darker persona, claiming that a "plague of evil" would hit WWF. During the weeks that followed, he reignited his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, whom he blamed for costing him the WWF title. At Rock Bottom: In Your House, Austin defeated the Undertaker in a Buried Alive match with the help of Kane, writing him off of WWF television for a month.
Upon his return, a much scarier, darker, druid-like Undertaker introduced his Ministry of Darkness, which consisted of The Acolytes (Faarooq and Bradshaw), Mideon, Viscera and The Brood (Edge, Christian, and Gangrel). The story line continued over the weeks that followed, as the Undertaker announced his intentions of taking over WWF and claimed he was working for a "higher power". He began a feud with Vince McMahon and his daughter Stephanie, with the Ministry burning Undertaker's symbol in the McMahon family yard. After Undertaker kidnapped Stephanie McMahon at Backlash: In Your House, he attempted to marry her on Raw Is War, until she was saved by Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The following weeks on Raw Is War, Shane McMahon turned on his father and took control of the Corporation along with the Undertaker, forming The Corporate Ministry. The Undertaker with the help of Shane McMahon, defeated Austin at Over the Edge 1999 under controversial circumstances, thus winning the WWF championship. As The Undertaker and Shane McMahon claimed to be working for a "higher power", who was later revealed to be Vince McMahon. He and Shane had used their family to fool everybody and gain revenge on Steve Austin.
D-Generation X, The Three Faces of Foley and the Rise of the Attitudal Popularity
Triple H, along with Chyna, took control of D-Generation X after Michaels left due to back injuries, and recruited the New Age Outlaws ("Road Dogg" Jesse James and "Bad Ass" Billy Gunn) and X-Pac into his new "DX Army". The newly formed DX Army participated in numerous segments causing chaos and leaving wreckage wherever they went. On April 28, 1998, Nitro was held at the Norfolk Scope in Norfolk, Virginia, while Raw was held nearby at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. With the ongoing war between WWF and WCW, the DX Army decided to initiate an immediate "invasion" of Nitro. The DX Army drove to the Norfolk Scope in an army Jeep, challenging WCW head Eric Bischoff to come out and face them or to let them in. Soon after, the DX Army appeared at CNN Center (as well as WCW's stand-alone Atlanta offices) to call out WCW owner Ted Turner. Like Austin and The Rock, D-Generation X were embraced by fans, with their mischievous antics and defiant attitude, as their popularity continued to grow.
Triple H eventually branched out as a main-event level singles performer, marrying McMahon's daughter Stephanie McMahon and taking control of WWF in 2000. (Although all initially done by kayfabe, in a case of life imitating art, Triple H would later marry Stephanie McMahon in real life in 2003 and is currently the Executive Vice President of Talent and Live Events in WWF's front office as well as Vince McMahon's eventual successor running the company.) It could be argued Triple H was the company's top heel for the majority of the Attitude Era along with Mr McMahon.
Foley became a top star during the era, playing three different personas: Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack. While Mankind was his main persona in WWF and Cactus Jack was previously used in his days in WCW, Japan and independent circuits, Dude Love was inspired by a character Foley created when he and his high school friends did backyard wrestling in his hometown of Long Island. The image of Foley being thrown from the top of the Hell in a Cell by The Undertaker at the 1998 King of the Ring is synonymous with the era, along with Jim Ross' iconic commentary of "as God is my witness, he is broken in half". His greatest contributions were a late-1998/early-1999 feud with The Rock and a 2000 feud with Triple H; these feuds were instrumental in establishing The Rock and Triple H as top stars.
Perhaps Foley's greatest accomplishment during the Attitude era was on January 4, 1999 on Raw Is War, where he won his first WWF Championship from The Rock with the help of Stone Cold Steve Austin. This match is also known as the turning point in ratings of the Monday Night Wars as it favoured WWF until the end of the wars and led to the downfall of WCW. That night, WCW attempted to sabotage Raw's rating by announcing the result of the match on Nitro, but their plan backfired when Nielsen ratings indicated that over 600,000 households changed the channel to watch the victory and shifted the ratings for the night in WWF's favour. The ovation, or pop, received by Stone Cold Steve Austin's entrance is often regarded as one of the loudest in WWE history, being ranked as such by the company themselves.
The Tragic Death of Owen Hart
Near the beginning of the Attitude Era in late 1997, Bret Hart left WWF due to a contract dispute and joined WCW. He was soon followed by family members Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith in his departure, leaving younger brother Owen Hart as the sole remaining member of The Hart Foundation employed by WWF. He remained off-camera during the tumult following the Montreal Screwjob, and later reappeared using the nicknames "Black Hart" and "Lone Hart".
Owen would align with the Nation of Domination for much of 1998, winning the European Title along the way. After the dissolution of the stable, Hart began teaming with Jeff Jarrett, declining to participate in a storyline that was to feature him having an extramarital affair with Jarrett's valet, Debra. Instead, a story was crafted that would result in Hart quitting (kayfabe) WWF after accidentally injuring Dan Severn – a storyline continuation of Owen's real-life accidental injury to Stone Cold Steve Austin as the result of a botched piledriver. Hart, however, quickly re-emerged as the joke character "The Blue Blazer", reprising a gimmick that Hart had employed early in his career. Comical storylines made it obvious to the audience that Hart & The Blue Blazer were one and the same, even as all parties denied it.
Hart died on May 23, 1999 at the Over the Edge pay-per-view event. In an elaborate entrance routine that he had performed before, Hart (as The Blue Blazer) was to be lowered to the ring slowly from the rafters, with intent to perform a pratfall from a few feet above the ring. When the harness failed, Hart instead fell 78 feet into the ring, striking the top rope with his chest, leading to his death minutes later from internal bleeding as a result of blunt force trauma. The company made the controversial decision to continue the event to its completion after the incident. On the next evening's Raw Is War, all storylines were suspended and the entire show was presented as a tribute to Hart, with other superstars sharing their memories of him between exhibition matches.
The Resurrection of the Women's Division
Sable made her World Wrestling Federation debut at WrestleMania XII in March 1996, escorting Hunter Hearst Helmsley to the ring as he took on the returning Ultimate Warrior. Sable's first major angle involved her then real-life husband, who debuted at WrestleMania XII as "Wildman" Marc Mero. Sable, however, quickly eclipsed her husband in popularity, leading to the reinstatement of the WWF Women's Championship as well as the promotion's hiring of more female wrestlers. According to Stephanie McMahon, Sable's popularity led to a shift in the role of women in the WWF, as the promotion began to rely less on its female performers as simply eye candy and placed a greater emphasis on female athletes who actually competed in matches and storylines. She was one of the first females to compete in such specialty matches as evening gown matches, inter-gender tag team matches, and strap matches, competed in the first-ever WWF bikini contest against Jacqueline, and was also the first female talent to be a Playboy cover girl. Unlike Jacqueline, Ivory, Tori, and Luna, the more physical Divas and experienced wrestlers at the time, Sable later admitted that it was written in her contract that she was not allowed to take bumps. Kevin Nash would later admit that rival promotion, WCW, were more concerned with Sable's appearance than the superstars.
Sable became the first WWF female to refer to herself as a "Diva" during the April 19 edition of Raw Is War in 1999; the term would be coined and shortly thereafter becoming the official title for WWF's female performers, be they managers or wrestlers. Despite not being allowed to take bumps, Sable is 3-0 at WrestleMania. Sable ranked number 8 on WWE Network's WWE Countdown: Most Dangerous Divas list, placing higher than any other WWE Diva from her era.
Sunny, who debuted in WWE (then known as WWF) in 1995 as the manager of The Bodydonnas (Skip and Zip) and several other tag teams and singles wrestlers, has claimed to have been the "Original Diva", although this is widely disputed. Sunny's character was at first a continuation of the female manager that had been popular throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Over time, the character was significantly sexualized, whereas prior female managers, such as Miss Elizabeth, were depicted as being involved in either platonic or romantic storylines. Despite Sunny's reinvention of the female role within the company, the term "Diva" was not used to denote females working for the WWF until long after she was released in 1998. Sunny would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011 and coined 'the First Diva' by the WWE. Sunny ranked number 10 on WWE Network's WWE Countdown: Most Dangerous Divas list.
Ex-WCW talent Jump shipped to the WWF
The Big Show
During the Attitude Era, many WCW wrestlers who were unhappy with the political environment jumped ship to the WWF. Paul Wight, who wrestled as "The Giant" starting in 1995, allowed his WCW contract to expire on February 8, 1999 when Eric Bischoff denied his request for a pay increase in his contract. He signed with WWF a day later and debuted at St. Valentine's Day Massacre: In Your House as "The Big Show" Paul Wight, Mr. McMahon's enforcer in The Corporation. After a falling out with The Corporation, The Big Show turned face and had several feuds with The Undertaker and the Big Boss Man before winning the WWF Championship at the 1999 Survivor Series.
Frustrated over WCW's refusal to give him a chance to wrestle Goldberg, Chris Jericho signed with the WWF on June 30, 1999. On the August 9 episode of Raw Is War, he made his debut, referring to himself as "Y2J" (a play on the Y2K bug) Jericho would turn heel but would gradually start to get popular with the fans because of his charisma and entertaining promos and began feuds with The Rock, Chyna, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit while capturing the Intercontinental and European championships on several occasions in the era. It was during this time that he would experience a large increase in popularity and turn face and would then call his fans Jerichoholics, a phrase he first coined while in WCW. On the April 17, 2000 episode of Raw Is War, Jericho defeated Triple H for the WWF Championship and received a very positive crowd response, but the decision was reversed by referee Earl Hebner under pressure from Triple H. Jericho continued to feud with Triple H throughout 2000 leading to a popular and brutal Last Man Standing match at Fully Loaded which Triple H won. Jericho the engaged in a feud with the despised heel X-Pack that ended with Jericho beating him in a steel cage match at No Mercy. Jericho remained a popular face before turning heel once more in 2001 and defeated Austin and The Rock on the same night at Vengeance 2001, becoming the Undisputed WWF Champion in the process.
In January 2000, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn left WCW for the WWF. Benoit had just defeated Sid Vicious for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Souled Out 2000 on January 17, but the decision was reversed after it was revealed that Sid's foot was under the ropes while he tapped out to the Crippler Crossface. The quartet made their TV debut on the January 31st episode of Raw as audience members and backstage guests of Mick Foley before attacking the New Age Outlaws. They were offered a chance to "win" contracts by defeating members of D-Generation X in a series of three matches. Despite losing all three matches, they were "given" WWF contracts by Triple H in exchange for betraying Foley. The quartet became known as The Radicalz before splitting up in 2000 when Benoit and Guerrero found more success in singles competition and Malenko retired from wrestling.
The Dawn of "EXTREME RULES" matches: The "First Ever "TLC: Tables, Ladders, and Chairs" Match"
Matt and Jeff Hardy, still dubbed as "The New Brood", faced off against Edge and Christian in the first ever tag team ladder match, dubbed the "Terri Invitational Tournament", at No Mercy in October 1999. The Hardys won the match and the services of Terri Runnels as their manager. The match was well received by critics and both teams received standing ovations the night of the match, as well as the following night on Raw Is War; according to Matt, the match elevated them from "WWF wrestlers to WWF Superstars". The Hardys then declared that they were no longer the New Brood – they were "The Hardy Boyz".
The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and D-Von) debuted in WWF in the summer of 1999 following their departure from ECW. They were initially villains and were responsible for bringing the use of tables into wrestling mainstream. During this time, Bubba Ray became famous for his penchant for driving women (including Terri, Trish Stratus, Tori, B.B., Lita, Torrie Wilson, Jazz, Stacy Keibler, Molly Holly and Mae Young) through tables. The Dudleys faced off against The Hardy Boyz in the first ever tag team Table match at the Royal Rumble in January 2000, which the Hardys won.
Eventually, the three teams were brought together in a triangle ladder match at WrestleMania 2000 for the WWF Tag Team Championship, in what would be the forerunner of the TLC in terms of the spots involved, most notably Jeff Hardy's infamous Swanton Bomb on Bubba Ray through a table. Edge and Christian would win the match and the titles. Afterwards, the Dudley Boyz became fan favorites, while Edge and Christian turned into villains. Edge and Christian would then develop the "con-chair-to" (a play on the word "concerto") finishing move, which involved the two hitting an opponent's head simultaneously, on opposite sides, with chairs (which simulated the clashing of cymbals). This led to then-WWF Commissioner Mick Foley to bring the three teams together for the first ever Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match, or TLC match, at SummerSlam in August 2000. Edge and Christian went on to win the match. The following year, a second TLC match, dubbed "TLC II", occurred at WrestleMania X-Seven, which also sprung the famous spear off a 20-ft ladder by Edge on Jeff Hardy, who was hanging onto the titles above the ring. Edge and Christian also won that match, thanks in part to interference by Rhyno, and withstanding interference from Lita and Spike Dudley, who interfered for the Hardys and Dudleys, respectively.
Conclusion: The End of the Attitude Era
The company ceased its "Attitude" promotion on May 6, 2002. On that date, usage of the initials "WWF", which were prominent within the logo, became prohibited as the result of a legal battle between the company and the World Wildlife Fund over the rights to legally use those initials. World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. officially became World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) and replaced its "Attitude" promotion with a "Get the F out" marketing campaign.
The Legacy of an Era
The Attitude Era proved to be a huge marketing success for WWE, drawing in a previously unaccounted for young adult demographic that allowed them to successfully cripple their competition, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), by defeating them in the ratings war. By 2001, WCW had become so unsuccessful that it lost its primetime television deal. During this same period, the WWF had become so financially powerful, that McMahon was able to buy WCW's trademarks, logos, copyrights, video archived library, and several wrestler contracts from AOL Time Warner at a dramatically reduced valuation.
Some wrestlers from the Attitude Era still wrestle in WWE today such as The Undertaker, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Kane, Big Show, Chris Jericho, Matt Hardy, Jeff Hardy and Shane McMahon.
On November 20, 2012, a three-disc documentary set simply entitled The Attitude Era was released on DVD and Blu-ray disc. The video cover is a collage of WWF Superstars and celebrities of that era, designed as a parody of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. Volume 2 was released in November 2014. Volume 3 was released on August 9, 2016. Volume 4, Dawn of the Attitude, was released on October 3, 2017.
Many video games were released by WWF based on the Attitude Era, with some of the most notable titles being WWF War Zone, WWF Attitude, WWF WrestleMania 2000, WWF No Mercy, WWF Royal Rumble, and WWF SmackDown!. Many years later, WWE programming would nostalgically reflect on this time period; a video game entitled WWE '13, which was released in October 2012, paid tribute to the era with its "Attitude Era" mode, which allows the player to re-enact WWF matches and storytelling from SummerSlam in August 1997 to WrestleMania XV in March 1999 (and, in the "Off-script" section, from August 26, 1999 the debut episode of SmackDown! where Y2J fought the Road Dogg which lead to disqualification by Chris Jericho powerbomb Road Dogg through the table to the November 19, 2001 episode of Raw, where Trish Stratus won her first WWF Women's Championship from Lita). The video game first entitled WWE 2K14 featured some of the four WrestleMania Matches based on the Attitude Era as well. From the first match at WrestleMania XIV between The Undertaker and Kane, through Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock's first encounter for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XV, the WWE Championship Fatal 4-Way Elimination Match between Triple H, The Big Show, Mick Foley, and The Rock, with each McMahon in the every corner (Stephanie with Triple H, Shane with the Big Show, Linda with Mick Foley, and Vince with The Rock) to the latest match between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in a "No Disqualification" Match for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania X-Seven. The video game entitled WWE 2K16 featured some events of the Attitude Era specifically related to Stone Cold Steve Austin, who would also be the game's cover star.
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