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The Attitude Era is a term used by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, then known as World Wrestling Federation or WWF), professional wrestling fandom and media outlets to describe the company's programming, branded as "WWF Attitude", during the Monday Night Wars period when Monday Night Raw went head-to-head with World Championship Wrestling's (WCW) Monday Nitro in a battle for Nielsen ratings each week during 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, this era was part of a wider surge in the popularity of professional wrestling in the United States as television ratings and pay-per-view buy-rates for WWF and its rival promotions saw record highs.
Several wrestlers rose to stardom and achieved mainstream notoriety during this boom period, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, Triple H, Kurt Angle, Kane, and The Undertaker. Wrestlers from rival promotion WCW, such as The Big Show, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, and Chris Benoit would move on to the WWF and ultimately became headliners for the company. The era also saw an increase in the McMahon family's on-screen presence, starting with WWF owner Vince McMahon's 'Mr. McMahon' character, a heel persona of himself following the Montreal Screwjob. McMahon had long appeared on WWF programming as a play-by-play commentator and interviewer prior to the incident, but his status as the legitimate owner of the company was not acknowledged on-screen until the aftermath of the Screwjob. His son, daughter and wife were eventually introduced into WWF storylines as fictionalized versions of themselves, where they would ally or feud with Mr. McMahon.
Tag team wrestling experienced a resurgence in popularity, 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. Distinguished stables were established in this era, such as D-Generation X, The Nation of Domination, The Corporation, The Ministry of Darkness and The Corporate Ministry who all developed major rivalries among each other during the time period.
The WWF Women's Championship, which lay dormant following an incident where the company's then top female star defected to WCW in December 1995, was reactivated in September 1998. While most of the company's female talent during this time period were marketed as sex symbols and often booked in sexually provocative gimmick matches, prominent female stars such as Chyna, Lita, Jacqueline and Molly Holly were presented as legitimate wrestlers and even went up against their male peers in competitive intergender matches.
The "WWF Attitude" branding – in use since November 9, 1997 – was ceased on May 6, 2002, when the World Wrestling 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, the WWE continued to feature adult-oriented content until July 2008, when it returned to more family friendly programming.
- 1 Initiation
- 2 Stone Cold Steve Austin
- 3 Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
- 4 The Undertaker
- 5 The resurrection of the women's division
- 6 The death of Owen Hart
- 7 DX after Michaels, the McMahon-Helmseys, and the three faces of Foley
- 8 Notable defections of WCW talent to the WWF
- 9 Popularization of tables, ladders and chairs matches
- 10 End of the era
- 11 Legacy
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes
During the Monday Night Wars — a ratings battle between WWF's Monday Night Raw and WCW's Monday Nitro — the WWF would transform itself from a long history of family-friendly programming into a more adult oriented product. The creative side of the product during the early stages of the 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. 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, 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.
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 Goldust's manager 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.
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.
Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels
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, where both men made pointed personal remarks in interviews and promo segments that were often rooted in these issues.
On one episode of Monday Night Raw, Hart was accompanied by the Hart Foundation to the ring for a promo segment. Halfway through the segment, Michaels appeared on the Titan Tron; rather than a coherent rebuttal in response to Hart's promo, he appeared to be drunk or under the influence and slurred his speech. Michaels went on a tirade and appeared to break kayfabe when he said: "Because Bret, believe me, you couldn’t go 10 minutes in any situation, if you know what I mean". His next insult would trigger this feud to reach new levels: "Even though lately you’ve had some 'Sunny days' my friend, you still can’t get the job done".
Michaels' comments insinuated that Hart was having an affair with the then top female star of WWF, Sunny, even though she in fact had a legitimate affair with Michaels which lasted nine months. The comments began causing marital problems for Hart, which eventually led him to a heated backstage confrontation with Michaels.
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 Vince McMahon's character, Mr. McMahon, a corrupt evil-owner caricature fixated on destroying the lives of disobedient employees.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
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 $4 Million for his role.
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.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
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 negative reception from live audiences: loud boos, "Rocky sucks!" chants, and even crowd signs that read "Die Rocky Die".
Nation of Domination
Maivia joined the Nation of Domination in 1997 and renamed himself "The Rock", an egotistical jock who referred to himself in third person and often cut colourful promos insulting rival wrestlers as well as fans who did not support him. 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", once again turning 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 his stable, 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.
As one of only a handful of top performers who never left the WWF before and during the Monday Night Wars, The Undertaker was involved in various pivotal storylines and matches during this era. His gimmick, a horror-themed, macabre entity who employed scare tactics and held links to the supernatural, allowed the WWF to push the envelope from a creative perspective during this era.
The Brothers of Destruction
At SummerSlam in 1996, The Undertaker became embroiled in a feud with his former manager Paul Bearer. During the course of their conflict, 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 ceased as The Undertaker and Kane united to form a tag team that became known as The Brothers of Destruction.
The Ministry of Darkness
In late 1998, The Undertaker turned heel on Kane and realigned himself with Paul Bearer. Now proclaiming himself as the "Lord of Darkness", he began taking a more macabre 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, a satanic-themed stable 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.
At Backlash: In Your House on April 25, Mr. McMahon had Shamrock face The Undertaker in the hopes that Shamrock would break Undertaker's ankle with his ankle lock toehold submission, but his plan backfired and Shamrock was attacked by Bradshaw after the match. Later, The Undertaker commandeered Stephanie's limo and drove off into the night with a screaming Stephanie in tow as Backlash went off the air. The Undertaker attempted to marry her the next night on Raw Is War by holding a "Black Wedding" for himself and Stephanie in a bid to take control of the company. The ceremony was successfully ruined by Steve Austin, after two attempts by Corporation members Big Show and Ken Shamrock failed.
The following weeks on Raw Is War, Shane McMahon turned on his father and allied himself with the Undertaker.
The Corporate Ministry
On the very first ever episode of SmackDown!, The Undertaker joined forces with Shane McMahon, in turn gaining control of The Corporation and merging his Ministry with it to form the even more powerful Corporate Ministry.
The Undertaker, with the help of Shane, defeated Austin at Over the Edge 1999 under controversial circumstances and won the WWF Championship. However, after Mr. McMahon was revealed as its "Greater Power", The Corporate Ministry would eventually dissolve. The Undertaker formed a new "Unholy Alliance" with Big Show, Mideon and Viscera, which led to two WWF Tag Team Championship reigns for Big Show and Undertaker. This group came to an end when The Undertaker suffered a legit injury in September and was written out by quitting, rather than taking a match ordered by Mr. McMahon.
The Undertaker would later be reinvented as a biker persona upon his return in May 2000, having abandoned the somber mortician-themed attires, the funeral dirge entrance theme, allusions to the supernatural, and the accompanying morbid theatrics.
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 both her husband and real-life rival Sunny 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 mere eye candy and placed a greater emphasis on female athletes who actually competed in matches and storylines. Sable 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.
Lita made her World Wrestling Federation debut as a valet for luchador Essa Rios on the February 13, 2000 episode of Sunday Night Heat, where Rios was booked to win the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship from Gillberg Lita mimicked his moves, notably the moonsault and hurricanrana, immediately after he had performed them on an opponent. Lita eventually left Rios' side and allied with the Matt and Jeff Hardy, and the trio formed a stable known as Team Xtreme. As a member of Team Xtreme, Lita developed a more "alternative" image, wearing baggy pants with a thong, which was hiked up high above her pants, clearly exposed. During her time with Team Xtreme, Lita became the only female to ever be physically involved in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match in WWF.
In June 2000, Team Xtreme began a storyline with T & A (Test and Albert), with Lita engaging in a rivalry with their manager, Trish Stratus. The rivalry developed into an on and off long-term feud between the two women that lasted until 2006 when both women retired as active performers from professional wrestling, and featured some of the best Women's Championship matches in the company's history.
Lita also began a concurrent feud with WWF Women's Champion Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, and they became the first two women to main event an episode of Monday Night Raw. In the August 21, 2000 episode of Raw, Lita defeated Stephanie with a moonsault to win the Women's Championship for the first time. The match also featured The Rock as the special guest referee and constant interference from Triple H and Kurt Angle.
The 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.
DX after Michaels, the McMahon-Helmseys, and the three faces of Foley
The expansion of D-Generation X
Triple H and Chyna took control of D-Generation X after Shawn Michaels suffered a back injury during his Casket Match with The Undertaker at the Royal Rumble, and started a four-year hiatus from wrestling to recuperate. The night after WrestleMania XIV, Triple H cut promo claiming that he has ejected the absent Michaels for "dropping the ball" over the Tyson incident 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. While the intent was for D-Generation to remain heels, the stable's mischievous antics and defiant attitude would be embraced by fans. The stable's popularity continued to growth and were eventually pushed as antihero fan favorites, much like their contemporaries Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.
Some of the group's most memorable promos were their parodies of their rivals. On July 6, 1998, DX carried out the first of these segments. In this instance, they mocked The Nation, with Triple H portraying The Rock (referred to as "The Crock"); Road Dogg playing D'Lo Brown (referred to as "B'Lo Brown"); "Bad Ass" Billy Gunn playing The Godfather (referred to as "The Gunnfather"); X-Pac as Mark Henry (referred to as "Mizark Henry"); and impressionist Jason Sensation as Owen Hart. On December 14, 1998, they would turn their attention to The Corporation with Triple H again appearing as "The Crock", Road Dogg playing Mr McMahon (with two midgets representing Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson kissing his behind throughout); Billy Gunn, playing Shane McMahon wearing an adult diaper; X-Pac playing Ken Shamrock; Chyna as The Big Boss Man; and Sensation returning to play Michaels. Subsequent incarnations of the stable would continue performing parodies and impersonations of rival wrestlers as a running gag.
The era of the McMahon-Helmsley Faction
On the November 29, 1999 episode of Raw Is War, Stephanie McMahon was set to marry Test, but Triple H interrupted the ceremony. He played a video on the titantron showing himself marrying a drugged Stephanie at a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas. This led to a match at Armageddon between Triple H and Mr. McMahon with the stipulations being that if Triple H won, he would receive a WWF Championship title shot on Raw Is War, whereas, if Vince was victorious, Triple H would sign an annulment. Triple H won the match, and afterwards, Stephanie turned on her father and hugged her new husband.
The next night on Raw Is War, Triple H announced the inception of the McMahon-Helmsley Era with Stephanie by his side. His capture of the WWF Championship soon thereafter, coupled with his allies' dominance of the tag team division helped cement the Faction's power. With Mr. McMahon injured and the absence of Shane and Linda McMahon, Stephanie was the sole remaining shareholder so she and Triple H assumed control of the WWF. They were immediately opposed by Mick Foley as his Mankind persona, who told him and Stephanie that he thought that "the McMahon-Helmsley Era kinda sucks". The Rock would come to his defense, but Triple H forced them to face each other in a match where the loser would be fired. The Rock won the match, which inadvertently caused Foley to be fired.
The Faction's primary purpose is to ensure that its leader Triple H did not lose the WWF Championship. The Faction would therefore interfere in title matches where Triple H might lose, either intentionally causing a disqualification or attacking opponents behind the referee's back. The Faction evolved during the period of its existence and dominance into an alliance between the stable, D-Generation X and a resurrected Corporation. Mid-card and lower card Superstars, such as the Hardy Boyz, became targets of the faction as part of their efforts to protect Road Dogg and Billy Gunn's WWF Tag Team Championship. The group also helped Stephanie win the Women's Championship from Jacqueline, and assisted X-Pac in his ongoing feud against Kane.
Steve Austin's return in September 2000 serve as a catalyst for the dismantling of the Faction, and by late 2000 the Faction had effectively lost relevance. However, the following year saw Austin turn heel and join Triple H, Stephanie and Mr. McMahon to form The Power Trip. On May 21, 2001, Triple H was sidelined by a tear in his left quadriceps muscle, which kept him out of action for a year and kept him out of The Invasion storyline.
Triple H's time as leader of the Faction established him as a main-event level singles performer, and he was arguably the company's top heel wrestler throughout a significant portion of the Attitude Era. His on-screen relationship with Stephanie ended shortly after his return from injury in January 2002; although all initially done for storyline purposes, in a case of life imitating art, Paul "Triple H" Levesque would legitimately married Stephanie McMahon in 2003. Levesque is currently the real-life Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative for WWE, as well as the founder and senior producer of the NXT brand and television series.
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.
On the January 10, 2000 episode of Raw is War, The Rock rallied most of the WWF locker room to surround the ring and threatened to "walk out on Triple H's candy ass" if Mankind was not reinstated following his termination as punishment for losing a match to The Rock. In response, the co-leaders of the McMahon-Helmsley Faction had other choice but to comply, leading to Mankind being reinstated and challenging Triple H to a match for the WWF Championship at the Royal Rumble. After a brutal beatdown at the hands of Triple H on the January 10 episode of Raw Is War, Mankind metamorphosised into Cactus Jack three days later on SmackDown!, therefore making the match at the Royal Rumble Triple H versus Cactus Jack in a Street Fight, which was won by Triple H. At No Way Out, Jack lost a Hell in a Cell match to Triple H in which his career was on the line against Triple H's WWF Championship, and therefore Jack was forced to retire.
Foley was brought out of retirement by Linda McMahon to participate in the main event of WrestleMania 2000, a fatal four-way elimination match where each competitor would have a McMahon in his corner. Linda sided with Foley while he faced off against The Rock (with Mr. McMahon), Big Show (with Shane), and Triple H (with Stephanie). Triple H emerged as the eventual victor of the match, while Foley was appointed WWF Commissioner in mid-2000 and continued his long-running feud against the Faction, albeit in a non-wrestling role.
Notable defections of WCW talent to the WWF
Many WCW wrestlers, who were unhappy with the backstage environment and workplace politics of the promotion, jumped ship to the WWF once the latter began gaining ground in the ratings war.
The Big Show
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 heel X-Pac 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 31 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.
The Radicalz eventually disbanded in 2001. Malenko retired from wrestling in June 2001, while Benoit and Guerrero found further success in singles competition.
Popularization of tables, ladders and chairs matches
Matt and Jeff Hardy, dubbed as members of "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. Bubba Ray would became notorious for his penchant for driving women (including Terri, Trish Stratus, Tori, B.B., Lita, Torrie Wilson, Jazz, Stacy Keibler, Molly Holly, and even Mae Young who was then 77 years of age) through tables during this era. In January 2000 the Dudleys faced off against The Hardy Boyz in the first ever tag team Table match at the Royal Rumble, 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.
End of the 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 company's "WWF Attitude" branding proved to be a huge marketing success, drawing in a previously unaccounted for young adult demographic that allowed them to successfully defeat their competition, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) 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.
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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