The Attitude Era was a period in World Wrestling Federation (WWF) (known now as World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE) and professional wrestling history that began as a direct result of the Monday Night Wars, a television ratings conflict between the WWF and long time rival promotion World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and culminated at the conclusion of the wars in 2001. Similar to the 1980s professional wrestling boom, the Attitude Era was a surge in the popularity of professional wrestling in the United States from the late 1990s to early 2000s, as television ratings and pay-per-view buy-rates hit record highs.
The Attitude Era was defined by a radical shift in programming content. In contrast to the more traditional family-friendly content that was common in WWF programming, the Attitude Era sought to attract the young adult demographic by transforming the product into an edgier form of entertainment. Heroic characters were replaced with disaffected antiheroes and family friendly storylines were replaced with stories based on shock value, similar to the "Trash TV" genre popularized in the 1990s. Real-life issues were often mined for storyline content, blurring the lines between fiction and reality.
WWE records the Attitude Era to have begun on March 29, 1998 with Stone Cold Steve Austin becoming WWE Championship after defeating Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV, becoming the face of the company. It concluded on April 1, 2001 at WrestleMania X-Seven with Austin embracing his long time archenemy Vince McMahon after defeating The Rock to become WWF Champion once again, days after World Championship Wrestling was bought out by the WWF.
However, the Attitude Era's origin is attributed to events that took place within the promotion during the second half of the 1990s. A notable date was during the 1996 King of the Ring tournament with Stone Cold Steve Austin's first usage of "Austin 3:16" which began the WWE's transition to an edgier product. During his second tenure with the WWE, Jake Roberts was promoted as a "Cinderella" story. Having defeated alcoholism and at the time been preaching the Bible around the country, Roberts became a face (fan favorite) and was considered the likely winner of the 1996 King of the Ring.
At the event, Roberts was defeated by Austin and with the upset victory over 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 your John 3:16 ... Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass!" Austin's defiance of authority and social morals proved to be popular amongst the fans, and "Austin 3:16" became the major marketing juggernaut for the WWE during the Monday Night Wars.
1997 was also a pivotal year that established the main framework for the Attitude Era. The year was notable for Steve Austin's rivalry with Bret Hart, which culminated with Austin's rise to prominence, as well the feud between Hart and Shawn Michaels. The feud between Hart and Michaels was particularly notable in that the two men had serious real-life issues with one another. The conflict behind the scenes spilled out into their on-screen storyline, with both men making pointed personal remarks in interviews that were often rooted in these legitimate issues.
The Attitude Era proved to be a huge marketing success for the WWE, drawing in a previously unaccounted for young adult demographic that allowed them to successfully cripple competitor WCW by defeating them in the ratings wars. Within two years, WCW had become so unsuccessful that it lost its primetime television deal. During this same period, the WWE had become so financially powerful, that McMahon was able to buy the company from AOL Time Warner at a dramatically reduced valuation. From that point, the sexualized and controversial stories that had defined the Attitude Era were de-emphasized in favor of a complex story that became known as "The Invasion" during which the events behind the acquisition of WCW played out on-screen.
During the Monday Night Wars, a ratings battle between the WWF's Monday Night Raw and WCW's Monday Nitro, the WWE would transform itself from a family-friendly product into a more adult orientated product. This era was spearheaded by 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. Vince McMahon would also use the real-life controversial events of the Montreal Screwjob incident to flesh out his character of the selfish, manipulative, and self-centered "Mr. McMahon", a corrupt evil-owner caricature fixated on destroying the lives of disobedient employees and ensuring the dominance of his hand-picked heel champions. The resulting feud between Austin and Mr. McMahon became the central storyline of the Attitude Era, propelled by Austin's profanity-laded tirades against McMahon and McMahon's increasingly violent and corrupt retaliations against Austin. Against this backdrop, other adult-oriented stories and characters were introduced, including D-Generation X, a crew prone to innuendo and mischief.
In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania XIV, McMahon announced that former boxing champion Mike Tyson would be the special guest enforcer in the WWF Championship main event at WrestleMania. Steve Austin, who won the 1998 Royal Rumble after eliminating The Rock, interrupted McMahon in his presentation of Mike Tyson on Raw the night after, reason being that he objected McMahon's reference to Tyson as "the baddest man on the planet." Austin flipped off Tyson, which led to Tyson shoving Austin and the two fighting until being separated and subdued by Tyson's and McMahon's security. This resulted in an irate McMahon to publicly disapprove of the prospect of Austin as his WWE Champion. For the following weeks, Tyson aligned himself with D-Generation X, a group led by Austin's opponent at WrestleMania, WWF Champion Shawn Michaels. Throughout the WWE Championship match, Tyson bickered with both Austin and Michaels, who was upset that Tyson wasn't doing everything possible to ensure that Austin would be unsuccessful. In the closing moments of the match Austin countered Michaels' finishing Sweet Chin Music and executed his finisher, the Stone Cold Stunner. Austin then covered Michaels, which was followed by Tyson himself counting the pin-fall. With this, Tyson turned on Michaels and D-Generation X as Austin became the new WWE Champion. Following the victory, a distraught Michaels confronted Tyson, who then knocked out Michaels with a right-handed punch as Austin celebrated and the Attitude Era was officially ushered in.
Austin vs. McMahonEdit
On the Raw after Austin won the WWE Championship, Mr. McMahon presented him with the newly designed WWE Championship belt and informed Austin he did not approve of his rebellious nature and that if he didn't conform to society and become his image of what a WWE 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. Austin punched McMahon in the "corporate grapefruits", and took another picture with McMahon grieving in pain.
The following week on April 13, 1998, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon were going to battle out their differences in an actual match, but the match was declared a no contest when Dude Love interrupted the entire thing. On that night Raw defeated Nitro in the ratings for the first time since June 10, 1996. Meanwhile, several popular characters emerged on Monday Night Raw that would establish consistently high viewing from fans: The Rock, after not winning over the fans as the face Rocky Maivia, was making a new name for himself as a member of the Nation of Domination, and later as a singles performer, and Triple H, who after Shawn Michaels left due to back injuries, took control of D-Generation X and recruited the New Age Outlaws and X-Pac, who had just returned to the WWF after his two year tenure with WCW as a member of the nWo, into his new "D-Generation X Army".
The DX Army and The RockEdit
With the newly formed "DX Army", D-Generation X participated in numerous segments causing chaos and leaving wreckage wherever they went. On April 27, 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 the 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. The fans outside the arena for the show began chanting "DX" as they joined the DX Army, helping them attempt to enter the arena and invade the Nitro broadcast. Soon after, the DX Army even appeared at CNN Towers to call out WCW owner Ted Turner. Like Austin, D-Generation X were embraced by fans, with their mischievous antics and defiant attitude, as their popularity continued to grow.
Perhaps the only individual to rival Steve Austin in popularity during this time was The Rock, a third-generation star who was originally introduced to fans as Rocky Maivia and pushed as a major face upon his debut. The fans began to turn against Maivia, as they didn't appreciate him being constantly overemphasized as a good guy and forced into the role. Aggravated by the fans' extreme dislike for him and feeling under appreciated and underestimated, Rocky himself turned against the fans and began to verbally insult them on a weekly basis with various trash-talking promos while referring to himself in the third person.
Through his in-ring abilities and tremendous skills on the microphone, The Rock gained a huge fan base as he continued to grow immensely popular despite every attempt The Rock made to be a heel, even interrupting fans as they chanted The Rock's catch phrases in unison with him, reiterating "This isn't sing-a-long with The Rock!" With his engrossing and funny promos, The Rock became one of the most popular WWE superstars of all time.
- March 17, 1997 - Bret Hart shoves Vince McMahon to the ground and proceeds to go on a profanity-laden tirade. He uses the profanities "Goddamn" and "bullshit" several times on live television. Austin, Sid Eudy, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels all take part in a brawl. McMahon kayfabe apologises to the TV audience for Bret's behaviour. McMahon has since stated he feels this was the birth of his Mr.McMahon character.
- March 23, 1997 - At WrestleMania 13, Bret Hart beats Steve Austin in a critically acclaimed submission match. This established what was to be known in wrestling terminology as a tweener, with Hart being jeered by fans despite being top face, subsequently turning heel, and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin designed as the ultimate heel turning face.
- March 24, 1997 - Bret Hart gives a speech that officially turns him heel in the United States; claiming American fans disrespect him for no reason. The following week, Hart reforms the Hart Foundation with his contracted relatives (Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, Jim "the Anvil" Neidhart, and family friend Brian Pillman) and feuds with American favourites, Austin, Shawn Michaels, the Undertaker, and Legion of Doom.
- August 3, 1997 - Bret Hart defeats the Undertaker in a title-match at Summerslam which had Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee, to become the new WWE champion. He won the match after Shawn Michaels hit the Undertaker with a chair-shot to the head, which was actually meant for Bret.
- August 11, 1997 - Rocky Maivia returns after being sidelined with a torn ACL for three months, interfering in a match on Faarooq's behalf and joining the Nation of Domination. He now refers to himself as "The Rock."
- September 22, 1997 - Raw is War, Vince McMahon receives his first Stone Cold Stunner from Stone Cold Steve Austin.
- October 5, 1997 - The Hell in a Cell match is introduced at Badd Blood: In Your House, featuring The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.
- October 13, 1997 - The group of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Rick Rude, and Chyna birth their group name D-Generation X on Raw.
- November 9, 1997 - The infamous Montreal Screwjob occurs at the Survivor Series providing real-life controversy for Vince McMahon. The WWF Attitude logo is officially debuted with the promo "Try Lacing My Boots".
- January 19, 1998 - Following a celebrity appearance at the Royal Rumble, Mike Tyson debuts for the WWE. He enters a brawl with Steve Austin, seeing McMahon irate at Austin for the first time. The following week, Tyson joins D-Generation X.
- March 2, 1998 - The first official appearance of the WWE "Attitude" logo on Raw is War broadcasts. "Attitude" signs and logos are added to the set as well as the new "Scratch" logo underneath the Titantron, where the wrestlers enter. Several variations of the new logo are used within the year.
- March 29, 1998 – "Stone Cold" Steve Austin won the WWE Championship from Shawn Michaels with the aid of Tyson. This is seen by many fans as the official beginning of the Attitude Era.
- March 30, 1998 – Shawn Michaels retires from wrestling with a back injury, Triple H announces himself the leader of DX, and announces the return of X-Pac to the WWE from WCW. Waltman announces that had Eric Bischoff allowed them out of their contracts, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash would have joined him in their return to the WWE and DX. The New Age Outlaws join the group later that night. Bischoff responds a week later on Nitro snubbing Waltman.
- April 13, 1998 - For the first time since June 10, 1996, 84 weeks in total, WWE Raw wins over WCW's Monday Nitro in the ratings when on Raw, Stone Cold Steve Austin faces Vince McMahon for the first time, one on one.
- June 28, 1998 – At the King of the Ring, Mankind loses against The Undertaker in the second Hell in a Cell match. In the opening moments of the match, the Undertaker threw Mankind off the roof of the cage, and later, through a panel on top of the cage and onto the ring below. This is recognised as one of the most defining moments in Mick Foley's career as well as the Attitude Era.
- Later that night, Kane won his first major title from Stone Cold Steve Austin in the first-ever First Blood match.
- June 29, 1998 - Stone Cold Steve Austin wins the WWE Championship back from Kane on Raw is War.
- August 2, 1998 - WWE Sunday Night Heat debuts on the USA Network. The show would eventually air for 10 years.
- September 27, 1998 - Breakdown in Your House - The main event was a Triple Threat match between Steve Austin, The Undertaker and Kane for the WWE Championship, which ended when The Undertaker and Kane simultaneously pinned Austin. After the match Vince McMahon stole Austin's smoking skull belt.
- September 28, 1998 - Raw - Vince McMahon attempts to announce a new WWE Champion. He held a presentation ceremony, and introduced The Undertaker and Kane. After saying that both deserved to be the WWF Champion and prepared to give one the Attitude belt and one the Eagle belt, Austin drove a Zamboni into the arena, and attacked McMahon before police officers stopped him, and arrested him.
- October 5, 1998 – On this episode of Raw, Mankind visits an injured Vince McMahon. During this segment, Mankind introduces Mr. Socko, a hand-drawn sock puppet. Mr. Socko became so popular that it became part of the Mankind gimmick. A few moments later, in another segment, Stone Cold Steve Austin impersonates a doctor and starts attacking McMahon.
- October 26, 1998 - Was the last time that Nitro defeated Raw in the Monday Night ratings. From the next episode on, Raw took the lead in the ratings war for good until Nitro's final episode on March 26, 2001.
- November 15, 1998 - Survivor Series - Shane McMahon betrays Steve Austin by costing him the match in the semi finals against Mankind. The Rock wins the WWE Championship (making him the youngest WWF champion until 2002) in the finals after he applied a sharpshooter to Mankind and Vince McMahon ordered the bell to be rung even though Mankind did not submit. This was a reference to the Montreal Screwjob from the previous Survivor Series.
- November 23, 1998 - Raw - Shawn Michaels returns in a non-wrestling role and turns on D-Generation X and joins Vince McMahon's Corporation after hitting X-Pac with a steel chair in a WWE Championship match with The Rock.
- December 7, 1998 - The Undertaker has his druids chain Stone Cold Steve Austin to his "Undertaker Symbol" and raised high into the arena in the entranceway. As it physically symbolized Austin being crucified, this event caused outcry from many religious activists and to this day is one of the most controversial moments in Raw history.
- January 4, 1999 – Shawn Michaels turns against The Corporation and rejoins DX. After rejoining DX, the Corporation attacks Michaels, indicating he is definitely out. Later that night, Mankind won his first World Title from The Rock. On Monday Nitro WCW gave away Mankind's victory at the beginning of the show, resulting in hundreds of thousands of viewers switching over to Raw to see the title change. This was also the night of the Fingerpoke of Doom, an infamous match between Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash that many fans see as the beginning of the downfall of WCW.
- January 24, 1999 - Vince McMahon wins the Royal Rumble Match after drawing the number two position. He spent most of the match at ringside commentating and another large portion leading Stone Cold Steve Austin to a trap set up backstage.
- February 14, 1999 - St. Valentine's Day Massacre: In Your House: Paul Wight surprisingly debuts in the WWE as The Big Show and inadvertently costs Vince McMahon his steel cage match against Austin by throwing Austin through the cage wall, with the cage wall giving way and Austinw inning the match. This is notably the first event that the WWE repeated the actions of WCW bringing Lex Luger, Scott Hall, and others into the company without fans knowledge, doing so with younger talent without an established WWE background.
- March 3, 1999 - Raw - Steve Austin drives a beer truck into the arena and nearly drowns The Rock, Vince McMahon, and Shane McMahon with a hose.
- March 28, 1999 – Chyna briefly reunites with DX and Triple H, although they both turn against X-Pac and join The Corporation. Stone Cold Steve Austin defeats The Rock at WrestleMania for the WWF Championship for the first time .
- April 26, 1999 - The Undertaker tries to marry Stephanie McMahon in a black unholy wedding, in order to get the attention of Vince McMahon. Austin saves her and he and McMahon share rare gratitude.
- May 10, 1999 - Raw garners the highest rating that a Raw broadcast has ever had with and 8.1 rating.
- May 23, 1999 – At the Over the Edge event, Owen Hart, who was scheduled to face The Godfather for the Intercontinental Title, fell to his death when he was lowering himself from the rafters, but was released too early. WWE was heavily criticized for going on with the show, even after Raw announcer Jim Ross had revealed that Owen died. The Undertaker defeated Steve Austin to win the WWE championship with help from Shane McMahon.
- May 24, 1999 - Raw - The WWE holds a special tribute show called "Raw is Owen" for Owen Hart. Throughout the show, while the superstars still competed in matches, many wrestlers gave out of character special interviews talking about Owen, and the show concluded with Stone Cold Steve Austin giving a memorable toast to Owen Hart's picture on the Titantron. The entire show received a 7.2 rating.
- June 7, 1999 - Vince McMahon is revealed to have sided with the Undertaker and acknowledges that he was behind the abduction of Stephanie McMahon. Linda McMahon resigned as CEO of WWE and named Stone Cold Steve Austin as the new CEO. In retaliation for Vince using them as pawns in his "Higher Power" scheme, Linda and Stephanie McMahon gave their shares of the WWE to Stone Cold giving him half of the WWE ownership as the four McMahons each had 25%. As Shane and Vince each had 25%, this made Austin majority owner of the WWE.
- June 27, 1999 - Vince and Shane McMahon win Austin's WWE shares in a ladder match at King of the Ring, giving them 100% ownership and total control of the WWE.
- June 28, 1999 - Austin wins the WWE championship from the Undertaker on Raw.
- July 25, 1999 – X-Pac and Road Dogg defeat Chyna and Billy Gunn for the rights of D-Generation X. Stone Cold defeats the Undertaker to retain the WWE Championship in a First Blood match. A contract signed by Austin and Mr McMahon before the match stated that if Austin lost the match he would never get another shot at the WWF championship, but if Austin won Vince McMahon would no longer appear on television. This was the end of Steve Austin vs Mr. McMahon saga.
- August 9, 1999 - "Y2J" Chris Jericho makes his first WWE appearance. This is the second wrestler with no WWE background to appear from WCW in the same instance as Paul Wight (The Big Show).
- August 22, 1999 - SummerSlam: Mankind wins his third WWE Championship in a Triple Threat match against Steve Austin and Triple H, with Jesse "The Body" Ventura as the Special Guest Referee.
- August 23, 1999 - Triple H wins his first World Title as he captures the WWF Championship time by defeating Mankind one night after SummerSlam.
- August 26, 1999 - WWE SmackDown make its debut as a weekly television series.
- September 16, 1999 - Vince McMahon returns to WWF TV and wins the WWE Title from Triple H on SmackDown with help from Stone Cold Steve Austin.
- September 23, 1999 – Road Dogg and Billy Gunn reform the New Age Outlaws to win the WWE World Tag Team titles from the Rock 'n' Sock Connection.
- September 27, 1999 – On this episode of Raw, Mankind hosted the famous This Is Your Life segment, for The Rock. This segment alone garnered the highest rating for any professional wrestling segment on television (8.4) to date, and is also the longest segment at 11 minutes.
- October 17, 1999 - No Mercy: Chyna defeats Jeff Jarrett in a Good Housekeeping match to become the first-ever (and only) woman to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
- November 1999 – August 2000: Stephanie McMahon joins DX when she "married" Triple H, Billy Gunn was soon kicked out, and Road Dogg and X-Pac soon split up after a brief time as a tag team. Triple H and Stephanie's marriage began the McMahon-Hemsley Era, a storyline which would carry over in various degrees of prominence until February 2002. (The couple started a real-life relationship in 2000 and would be legitimately married in 2003.)
- November 14, 1999 - Survivor Series: Stone Cold Steve Austin is run down in the parking lot and taken out of the WWE for 10 months. The story was done to give Austin time off for legitimate surgery that was needed to repair long term damage to his neck, some of which related back to an injury inflicted by Owen Hart in 1997 after a botched piledriver. Olympic Freestyle Wrestling gold medal winner Kurt Angle also makes his debut in a match against Shawn Stasiak, which he won.
- December 12, 1999 - Armageddon: The Kat wins the WWF Women's Championship in an Evening Gown in a Pool match; after the match she drops her top to expose her breasts on live TV, marking the first incident of intentional nudity in WWE TV.
- January 31, 2000 - The Radicalz, a group of ex-WCW wrestlers, make their debut in the WWE. The group consisted of Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, future World Champion Chris Benoit, and future WWE Champion and Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero. This would be the last act of WCW wrestlers coming into the WWF having appeared for WCW a week earlier or the same night.
- April 30, 2000 - The Rock defeats Triple H at Backlash after Stone Cold Steve Austin made a brief return to the WWE giving chair shots to Vince McMahon, Triple H, Pat Patterson, Gerald Brisco, and Shane McMahon. Earl Hebner returns as a WWE referee as well.
- May 21, 2000 - Judgment Day: The Rock and Triple H compete in an hour long Iron Man match for the WWE Title. Shawn Michaels serves as guest referee. The Undertaker returns during the match debuting his "American Badass" gimmick that he would use until the 2003 Survivor Series, and inadvertently costs The Rock the match and the title.
- June 26, 2000 - Steven Richards runs out to cover up Terri as she begins to strip following a match, thus beginning an angle with the Right to Censor stable, a group of conservative wrestlers looking to rid the WWE of "smut". The angle was created to parody the Parents Television Council who had been protesting about the sexual content and violence in WWE programming. Shawn Michaels resigns as WWE commissioner and Linda McMahon appoints Mick Foley as his successor.
- August 27, 2000 - SummerSlam: the very first Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match takes place between the Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian, and the Dudley Boyz for the Tag Team titles.
- September 24, 2000 - Unforgiven: Stone Cold Steve Austin returns full time to WWE television to look for the man that ran him down at the previous year's Survivor Series.
- January 21, 2001- Stone Cold Steve Austin (the 27th entry) wins his record third Royal Rumble. Actor/comedian Drew Carey appeared as the fifth entry in the Rumble match. He eliminated himself after a run-in with Kane.
- March 26, 2001 - The final episode of WCW Monday Nitro. The final match of Nitro's history was Sting defeating Ric Flair with the Scorpion Death Lock, and the two embracing. The final Nitro segment was a live Raw/Nitro simulcast where Shane McMahon appeared on Nitro and (kayfabe) announced that it was he who had in fact purchased WCW and also voiced his intentions to go into competition against a stunned Vince McMahon over on Raw who had announced earlier he was purchasing WCW.
- April 1, 2001 - WrestleMania X-Seven: Edge and Christian win a repeat TLC match from WrestleMania 2000, Shane McMahon defeats Vince McMahon in a street fight. Stone Cold Steve Austin defeats The Rock with the help of his long time rival Vince McMahon to win the WWE Championship.
Within two weeks leading up to WrestleMania X-Seven, WCW had been purchased by the WWE while Paul Heyman became a broadcaster after the fall of ECW just weeks before (due to the controversial departure of long time announcer Jerry Lawler) and both defunct entities were part of WrestleMania for the first time ever. WrestleMania X-Seven is considered the last day of the Attitude Era and one of the best WrestleMania events of all time.
By the end of 2001 the WWE Attitude Era was left with few remnants. WCW had dissolved and ECW became integrated into the company. In May 2002 the WWE was renamed WWE due to a court-battle over the initials with the World Wide Fund for Nature. In March 2002 With a doubled roster size after the WCW acquisition and no competition from a rival promotion, The WWE divided its roster through its Raw, formerly Raw is War, and SmackDown television programs, establishing them as separate franchises or brands which act as complementing promotions under WWE.
- ↑ http://www.wwe.com/inside/titlehistory/wwechampionship/30445413
- ↑ http://www.wwe.com/shows/wrestlemania/history/wm14/mainevent/
- ↑ http://www.retrojunk.com/details_articles/5997/
- ↑ "2007 Wrestling Almanac & Book of Facts". Wrestling's Historical Cards: pp. 100.
- ↑ Raw is War - June 7, 1999