There’s been many great eras of pro wrestling produced by many organisations through the decades, all of which added to the rich history and tradition we now look back on. There is one era that many fans, although not myself, consider to be the greatest era of all-time and that’s the WWF Attitude Era. No matter if you agree it was the best or not most fans would at least agree it’s up near the very top.
If you compare the superstars, storytelling, matches, overall pay-per-views from back then to today’s WWE product it’s plain to see there’s a huge gap in quality in favour of the Attitude Era. There were mid-card talents from back then that would headline WrestleMania now. In this article myself, Mark Hainsworth and Paul Ottewell will share a discussion about some of the memories we keep from the incredible time that was the WWF Attitude Era, enjoy the trip down memory lane.
Orion – Here we go, when do we think the Attitude era started, Montreal?
Paul – Yeah either that or with Austin’s now infamous birth of 3:16 at KOTR…
Mark – Or even when WCW started beating WWE consistently in the ratings every week. They had to change their product.
Orion– Who really started it though, Austin or Vince? The Montreal Screwjob turned McMahon into an instant villain almost. Could it even be said that DX started the era before either Austin or McMahon?
Mark – The Montreal screwjob was a lot more important in my opinion. Certainly a lot more controversial and just shocking overall.
Paul – Chicken & egg for me. Austin breaking out impromptu at KOTR with Vince inadvertently making himself a villain character…if neither had happened then things might not have changed in the ways they did. I think Vince officially being ousted as the man behind the Montreal Screwjob was a very critical move though, & probably did kick off things going in a different direction…but without those edgier characters (championed by HBK & HHH if you go by HBK’s book) the Era wouldn’t have kicked on.
Orion – With the whole Screwjob happening plus the Undertaker/Kane/Bearer feud kicking off I would say that from late 1997 was the start of the Attitude era. I will never forget Austin giving Vince the Stunner for the first time.
Mark – The way Vince sold that first stunner was so awful and over the top.
Paul – Haha it really was! He got a lot better at selling them after that.
Orion – It was just a bit over top wasn’t it. That’s what really made this era though, the guy everyone wanted to be like giving the boss an ass kicking.
Mark – That’s what makes a good product. Giving the fans something fun yet realistic to relate to like beating up your boss. Which is also a valid reason why the current product isn’t as good in my opinion. That first Hell in a Cell was awesome. A fantastic match which is somewhat forgotten about now sadly.
Paul – With two workers like Taker & HBK though it was almost a nailed on five star match. Kane coming in & shocking everyone (not just with his size) was the icing on the cake. They went from over the top characters to more real characters that people could relate to, which definitely helped the product to gain more fans, especially teens up to adults. That’s a much larger market and one that WCW was tapping into nicely.
Orion – The Kane début is surely the best in WWE history. The match itself was awesome in every way. I think the best matches of both men’s careers came against each other. The Casket match between Undertaker/HBK at the 98 Rumble sort of laid the path for the next couple of years with Michaels getting injured and Taker finally taking on Kane.
Paul – I think Kane’s evolution has been important to WWF/E, & did help to fill that void left by HBK disappearing (along with Y2J, Rock, HHH, Austin, Foley etc. rising up the ranks). DX was an absolute God send for Vince, along with Taker in my honest opinion.
Mark – Kane has always been fantastic in my opinion. A real “company” guy and a consistently solid performer for over 15 years now.
Orion – WrestleMania XIV really put the whole era on the map didn’t it with all those stars you just mentioned Paul. There was also the inclusion of Mike Tyson as well.
Paul – Kane is one of those few versatile characters that can be a good heel or face & Mr Dependable in the ring too – as you said Mark, a proper company guy. Yeah the attitude & shock of Tyson (a notorious guy himself) being involved with DX & Austin was massive at the time (still is). I think a bona fide celebrity like him being in such a prominent angle on WWE TV was great. Reading HBK’s book, he said he couldn’t even move properly & was flat out on the floor in the locker room prior to the match – I still think it’s one of the most amazing feats from any wrestler. He went above & beyond…even selling the punch from Tyson after the match too.
Mark – I totally agree. Given the state HBK was in it amazes me how he managed to pull that off.
Paul – It just adds further weight to his legacy as one of the best ever in my opinion. HHH and the new version of DX did well in carrying on from what he built too, so he was missed, but not as much as he probably would’ve been.
Orion – The match was just what the era stood for….Attitude!! One match that took the word attitude to a whole different meaning was the Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring 98 between Undertaker and Mankind, crazy match.
Mark – Very crazy match. Something we will never see the like of again in my opinion.
Paul – I’m not sure whether the rise of ECW & those who came from it had anything to do with the increasingly dangerous matches, but WWF/E certainly pushed the boat out. That Taker/Mankind match was insane. I didn’t realise until reading afterwards that Foley’s ‘stunts’ weren’t stunts at all (unplanned) & the one where he went through the cage to the ring wasn’t intended at all. In the Attitude Era you got some real crazy guys who just put everything on the line, insane risks & matches. Just look at the tag team TLC matches!
Orion – Its a match that really went too far in some ways. You know you’re watching something unbelievable when the commentator says “They’ve killed him”. The TLC matches were simply the best tag matches ever in my opinion.
Mark – I think the influence of ECW certainly helped. I agree with Orion, in all honesty I actually don’t think I want to see something like that again. Hence why I stay away from organisations such as CZW.
Paul – That’s another thing, the commentators were great at selling things too back then – something they’ve missed in recent years, although I’m a fan of JBL in commentary now. I agree Mark, I’d rather see a wrestler have a long & successful/entertaining career as opposed to doing something insane for shock value & be gone from our screens for ages as they’re injured (or worse!)
Orion – Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler played a big part in these wild years and during the Hell in a Cell with Taker/Foley they both handle everything spot on.
Mark – Agreed 100%.
Orion – If you look at how the Undertaker is suffering from years of dangerous matches you see just what these guys go through. Some of the spots in those TLC matches were just unbelievable, and in a way set a standard that is surely too high to pass for other teams.
Paul – Yeah that’s true. They got the company rolling but at a huge price…Taker evolving to having outside dives was incredible. Bring in the Hardys, Edge & Christian, The Dudleys…coming off ladders, putting people through tables (Dudleys putting Divas through them too!!), chair shots (unprotected at times), the Radicalz coming across from WCW & getting in on the act too…it raised the bar, & kept doing so.
Orion – Unbelievable moments Paul. One guy we’ve not yet really mentioned is the Rock. For me Austin vs McMahon is the best feud in WWE history but the feud between Austin and Rock must also be way up there as well.
Paul – He was good in the ring, but the Rocks promos were different class, and as he evolved they got better and better.
Orion – The heel stuff Rock did with Austin going into WrestleMania XV was awesome. When the whole Austin/Rock/McMahon feuds were happening it took WWE to a whole different place which may never be bettered.
Paul – The two of them had some fantastic moments & matches too. I remember the heel turn with all those chair shots at WrestleMania X-Seven. Don’t be forgetting Shane either – he had some cracking moments!!
Mark – That was fantastic Paul and so unexpected. WrestleMania X-Seven is actually my favourite wrestling event ever.
Orion – For some fans the whole Attitude era came to an end when Austin turned heel at WrestleMania X-Seven but I don’t think it did. I think it dropped a bit after that but for me it was maybe closer to WrestleMania X8 before it truly came to a close.
Mark – Agreed Orion. The whole of 2001 was fantastic in my opinion. Some may disagree but I loved the whole Invasion angle they did. (Note by Dean – FINALLY SOMEONE AGREES WITH ME!)
Paul – I’d agree with you there Orion. WRESTLEMANIA PPV’s with Rock & Austin matches were special. I liked that too Mark, just wish they’d played it out a bit longer & not done so much switching of the ‘team’ with Angle, Austin etc. RVD coming in added to the Attitude Era in my opinion.
Orion – The whole Invasion angle divides a lot of fans and in some ways both have good points for liking or disliking it. I loved certain parts of it and I rate it a bit better than most would but not as high as some would.
Paul – For me the tag team of the Brothers of Destruction came to the forefront during the storyline. But I think there’s one match that stands out for me, & that’s RVD vs Jeff Hardy for the Hardcore title. That was a bit of a throwback to previous Hardcore title matches…I remember the 24/7 rule being brought in by Crash Holly long before Invasion angle.
Mark – I actually thought the Invasion angle was real (I was only 9 at the time….okay?!)
Orion – There’s something that really bugged me back then though and that’s the fact Rock faced Hogan while Austin got Hall. I loved the Rock/Hogan match but I think Austin deserved better, especially seeing as it was almost the end of an era he took to unimaginable heights.
Paul – I think it was thought that Hall & Nash were mainstays of WCW (the NWO angle) from back in the day, so Hall was probably still thought of in high regard, even though I do agree with you Orion that Austin deserved a more higher profile match, as Hall wasn’t the force he once was.
Mark– I loved the 24/7 rule. Infact my favourite DVD I have is the WWF hardcore DVD which shows a documentary and around 30 hardcore matches from the WWF attitude era. It was just so much fun.
Paul – Steve Blackman became a legend in that.
Orion – The Hardcore title was great and because of all the gimmick weapons at hand there was no need to throw people from 16 feet high cages. Although it was still extreme at times. Favourite and worst moments of the Attitude era boys?? My favourite moments were the start of the Undertaker/Kane feud, TLC matches, Rock/Austin promos, and everything with Austin/McMahon.
Mark – Yeah Crash Holly vs The Headbangers in the “Funtime USA” kids Arcade was really extreme going down slides and stuff (Dean – Lawler’s commentary in that match was hilarious) . In all seriousness though some of the bumps were still very extreme, but it allowed a certain degree of creativity with it. Favourite was as you said Orion the stuff with Rock, Austin, Taker etc. A favourite thing for me additionally was the overall quality and excitement of the shows too.
Paul – My favourite moments: Y2J debuting, Kane debuting, TLC matches, DX (in general), Austin giving the beer bath, Austin/McMahon/Rock feuds. Worst moments: Angle giving the milk bath (what the heck!?), Dude Love gimmick ruining the work Foley had put in, Vince buying WCW as it ended the competition, Montreal Screwjob as I don’t think it should’ve got that far & we’ve been hearing about it ever since from Bret. I agree Mark, the quality of PPVs were high for such a long time!
Mark – Awww Paul I loved the milk bath!
Paul – Oh & the emergence of a certain Rated R Superstar was a favourite moment too.
Mark – Milk-o-mania is running wild!
Orion – Your lowering the quality now haha.
Paul – Shocking mate haha. I also liked that Lesnar became such a beast too.
Orion – So called second rate pay-per-views from back then would be like WRESTLEMANIA quality now. In saying that, what one wrestler from today would fit in back then? Must be Punk surely?
Mark – I can only think of Punk really and I’m not sure how great he would’ve been either.
Paul – Punk would be an easy fit in the Attitude Era with his pipe bombs. But I’d put the evolved Rated R Superstar back then, as Edge became such an important guy, with such an edge (pun intended) to him. Other than him, I like the Shield as they have that raw attitude that characterised the Attitude Era. I don’t think anyone from now would do too well against the power houses of HHH, Rock, Austin, HBK, Undertaker, Kane, Foley, Angle, Eddie Guerrero (& other Radicalz), Vince, Shane, RVD, Edge & Christian, Hardy Boys, Dudley Boys…the list goes on & on, just so much star power back then!
Mark -….and now we have Cena.
Paul – Would Orton or Batista (thinking of Evolution) even get a look in?
Don’t even go there Mark! At least we also have Punk, Bryan, Ziggler, Barrett, & some of the older Attitude Era guys like Y2J, Lesnar, HHH still around.
Mark – Maybe as the stable of Evolution but surely not on their own. Orton was okay with his legend killer gimmick but now I just find him to be overwhelmingly stale.
Paul – Can’t argue with that Mark…he really needs to be a heel again – to bring back that ‘attitude’ he had before, like in Legacy.
Orion – I think we can all agree that the gulf in difference between the Attitude era and today’s era is massive. Anything else you boys wanna add before we round this up??
Paul – For me, as big as Austin, Rock, HBK etc were it’d be nothing without Vince – his on screen character I mean. He brought about things that no one had seen before, and was willing to put himself in harms way. I think without him it wouldn’t have had the success it did have.
Mark – I’d better not as I’m sure we could talk about it for days. Just to mention what a special time it was and its the reason I’m still a fan today.
Orion – Vince McMahon gets a lot of bad press and sometimes he deserves it, but, in all honesty the man is a pro wrestling genius and he gambled big-time back in the mid to late 1990’s, thank God it paid off.
Paul – Absolutely, you’ve got to give the man his props. To be willing to go from family orientated Saturday morning style viewing to late night edgy material…what a risk, but what a success.
Mark – I honestly think even Vince is a bit embarrassed with the current product.
Orion – On that note we will have to finish my friends. We really could talk about this all night and it’s been great, big thanks to you both.