The Attitude Era
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The Attitude Era was a period in World Wrestling Federation (WWF) (known now as WWE) and professional wrestling history that began during the later half of the 1990s and ended in the early 2000s. The era was marked by a shift to more adult-oriented programming content, which was accomplished by a number of different ways, including an increase in the level of depicted violence and the incorporation of sexually suggestive, 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 hit record highs. The Attitude Era derives its name from the "Attitude" slogan that accompanied the WWF insignia from 1997–2002.
The era saw several wrestlers rise to stardom, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Kurt Angle and Mick Foley; established WWF stars The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels continued their main-event prominence. Wrestlers such as Chris Jericho, The Big Show, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero - who were unhappy with their employment in rival promotion World Championship Wrestling (WCW) - jumped ship to the WWF to make names for themselves. Other main-event wrestlers who first rose to prominence during the Attitude Era include Kane, Edge, Christian, and the Hardy Boyz. The era also saw an increase in the McMahon family's on-screen presence, starting with CEO Vince McMahon's creating a heel persona of himself following the Montreal Screwjob.
No specific events or dates define the start or end of the Attitude Era, but it is generally held to have started by 1997 during the Monday Night Wars between the WWF and WCW, and ended officially at Wrestlemania X-Seven. Since the end of the Attitude Era, and in particular since 2008, WWE has done away with much of the adult-oriented programming content introduced during the Attitude Era and returned to more family friendly programming.
The Attitude Era, according to official WWE media, spanned a time period somewhere between 1996 and 2002, although the exact starting and ending points are essentially undefined. The organization has, over the years, given various dates, which differ drastically from one medium to the next. The 1996 King of the Ring on June 23, 1996, Survivor Series 1997 on November 9, 1997 (the first official usage of the "Attitude" logo occurred during a vignette at this event) and WrestleMania XIV on March 29, 1998, have been cited as the starting point of the era. WWE's estimates, however, have proven erratic: the Attitude Era has been deemed active in September 1997, but May 1999 has been inferred as pre-Attitude Era.
Official WWE media has deemed the era to have concluded by April 2001, yet also to have been ongoing as of June 2001. The company officially 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 new "Get the F out" marketing campaign.
The Attitude Era proved to be a huge marketing success for the WWF, 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 WWF had become so financially powerful, that McMahon was able to buy the company from AOL Time Warner at a dramatically reduced valuation.
During the Monday Night Wars, a ratings battle between the WWF's Monday Night Raw and WCW's Monday Nitro, the WWF would transform itself from a family-friendly product into a more adult oriented product. This era was spearheaded by CEO 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 the transition the Attitude Era. 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, the WWF had also began playing up female sexuality, led by Sunny and Sable. After losing a match that cost him a chance at the WWF Championship in March 1997, Bret "Hitman" Hart shoved McMahon and went into profanity-laced tirade.
The Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels feud 
Another important feud from 1996-1997 was between Hart and Shawn Michaels, who had actual, 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 issues.
In 1997, Michaels stuffed gauze in the crotch area of skin-tight biker shorts for an interview while making sexual gestures. McMahon legitimately fined Michaels $10,000 for the incident, which led to Michaels pushing McMahon on adult humor as the direction WWF needed to go. Hart was 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 and Chyna to form the edgy group D-Generation X (officially named on October 13, 1997), launching two major trademarks of the Attitude Era- crotch chops and the catchphrase, "Suck It!"
Their rivalry culminated in the Montreal Screwjob, another landmark date in launching 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.
Birth of Austin 3:16 
Stone Cold Steve Austin, who previously wrestled in WCW and ECW, first appeared in the WWF in 1995 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 the 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 the 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 skyrocketed 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 an interview in 1997, Austin hit the Stone Cold Stunner on McMahon. This laid the foundation for the later feud between Austin and McMahon, the central storyline of the Attitude Era.
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 Championship match between Hart and the then-champion The Undertaker with Michaels as the special guest referee at SummerSlam 1997. It had been put into the contract what Hart stated verbally, if Hart had lost, he would never compete in the United States again. WWF officials would later shock the audience by making Michaels the referee and putting into the contract 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 retained 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 of the Cell and performed the Tombstone Piledriver on him, costing him the match. This led to the The Brothers of Destruction Saga.
Michaels and The Undertaker would meet again 3 months afterwards at the 1998 Royal Rumble in a Casket match. Two infamous moments occurred during that match that would change the complexity of not only the The Brothers of Destruction Saga, but the 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 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 the 1998 Royal Rumble was won by Austin, former boxing champion Mike Tyson made a guest appearance on Raw the following night. Tyson 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. The incident received mainstream media attention from several outlets and is credited with helping draw significant attention to the product just as the Attitude Era was being born.
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.
The Austin vs. McMahon rivalry 
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 grieving 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 including a match in 1999 at St. Valentine's Day Massacre. 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 "The Big Show" Paul Wight.
The Rock 
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 by the fans. Frustrated by the fans' negative reception, Johnson turned heel by joining the Nation of Domination and renaming himself The Rock, an egotistical jock who referred to himself in third person and called himself "The People's Champion". As a member of the Nation of Domination, The Rock won the Intercontinental title, and his popularity began to catch on with the fans. After the Nation of Domination disbanded, the Rock turned face while battling McMahon and The Corporation in a lengthy feud, but during the 1998 Survivor Series, he turned heel again by winning his first WWF Championship in a controversial screw job against Mankind with the help of McMahon, revealing that he was working with The Corporation all along. The Rock officially joined McMahon's Corporation as the crown jewel of the WWF, abandoning his previous moniker as The People's Champion and declaring himself "The Corporate Champion". As a member of The Corporation, The Rock's persona changed yet again, to an even more villainous and callous attitude, where he would insult the fans on a regular basis, commonly calling them "trailer park trash". The Rock, during this time, was also known for his lavish lifestyle, commonly wearing expensive sunglasses, shoes and shirts. The Rock would go on a lengthy feud with Mankind, which is considered to be one of the best feuds of the Attitude Era. One of these feuds was the infamous "I Quit" match at the 1999 Royal Rumble. Despite being a heel, fans began cheering him for his engaging promos, in-ring ability and his popular catchphrases. His popularity continued to grow, despite attempts to make him the company's top heel, and eventually, he turned face. During this time, he became the only individual to rival Austin in popularity during the Attitude Era, making for perhaps the best "1a, 1b" punch in WWF history. It was during this period that The Rock's popularity garnered him mainstream attention, paving the way for the successful film career he enjoys today.
The Brothers of Destruction Saga and The Ministry of Darkness 
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One of the long-running storylines which took place during the Attitude Era was the The Brothers of Destruction saga. The Undertaker was involved in a feud with his former manager Paul Bearer. During the course of their rivalry. Paul Bearer threatened The Undertaker with revealing his 'secret'. Bearer called him a murderer and accused him of killing his real parents and half brother. He then revealed that his half brother Kane was actually still alive, warning him that "your brother Kane is coming!". After weeks of hype, Kane finally debuted at Badd Blood: In Your House, wearing a mask to hide his storyline burned face, during the hell in a cell match between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. Kane famously ripped the door off its hinges before delivering a tombstone to The Undertaker. At first, The Undertaker refused to fight him. However he finally agreed to fight Kane at WrestleMania 14, after Kane cost him his WWF championship match against Shawn Michaels at the 1998 Royal Rumble, before locking him in a casket and setting it ablaze. The Undertaker won the match but their rivalry continued and also included the first ever inferno match in WWE, at Unforgiven 1998 in which The Undertaker was again victorious. The brothers would also go on to feud with both Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mankind during this period and it was ultimately revealed that they had begun working together, uniting to form the team that became known as The Brothers of Destruction. They would continue to go back and forth between teaming together and feuding against one another throughout the remainder of the Attitude Era.
In late 1998, The Undertaker turned heel and bigger after Paul Bearer betrayed Kane and realigned with him. The Undertaker began taking a more satanic and darker persona claiming that a "plague of evil" would hit the WWF. During the weeks that followed he feuded with Steve Austin whom he blamed for costing him the WWF Title and began talking about his Ministry of Darkness. The feud saw some of The Undertaker's most defining acts of the Attitude era like kidnapping Stone Cold and attempting to embalm him alive, and most famously crucifying Steve Austin on The Undertaker's symbol. At Rock Bottom 1998, Stone Cold Steve Austin buried The Undertaker alive causing him to disappear for a month. A month later, A much scarier, darker, druid like Undertaker returned to television and introduced his ministry of darkness and along with The Acolytes (Farooq and Bradshaw) began recruiting wrestlers like Mideon, Viscera and The Brood (Edge, Christian, Gangrel) in the Ministry. Over the weeks that followed The Undertaker announced his intentions of taking over the WWF and claimed he was working for a higher power. He began playing mind games with then recently turned face Vince McMahon and his daughter Stephanie McMahon With the Ministry burning Undertaker's symbol in the McMahon family yard and Hanging the Big Bossman at WrestleMania 15. After finally kidnapping Stephanie McMahon at Backlash: In Your House, He attempted to marry her on Raw in a Dark wedding until she was saved by Steve Austin who helped his enemy Vince McMahon to fight the Ministry. In a turn of events Shane McMahon turned on his father Vince and took control of the Corporation to take control of the WWF along with the Undertaker forming the Corporate Ministry. The following two months was a battle between the Corporate Ministry and Vince McMahon, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Higher Power on was later revealed to be Vince McMahon who was the mastermind behind the Ministry of Darkness revealing that he and Shane had used their family to fool everybody and gain revenge on Steve Austin. The Corporate Ministry lasted until Fully Loaded (1999). After this, The Undertaker began a tag team with the Big Show and was still associated with the left over members of the Ministry, until Undertaker received a groin injury, disbanding the group.
D-Generation X and The Faces of Foley 
Triple H 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 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. 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 the 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 WWE'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.
Mick Foley 
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 the 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. 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. This match is also known as the turning point in ratings of the Monday Night Wars as it favored the 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 300,000 households changed the channel to watch the victory and shifted the ratings for the night in WWF's favor.
Ex-WCW talent 
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 the WWF a day later and debuted at St. Valentine's Day Massacre 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.
Chris Jericho 
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) and beginning feuds with The Rock, Chyna, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit while capturing the Intercontinental and European championships on several occasions in the era. On the April 17 episode of Raw, Jericho defeated Triple H for the WWF Championship, but the decision was reversed by referee Dave Hebner under pressure from Triple H. Jericho continued to feud with Triple H and Benoit throughout 2000 and 2001 before becoming the Undisputed WWF Champion at Vengeance 2001.
The Radicalz 
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 before splitting up in 2001 when Benoit and Guerrero found more success in singles competition and Malenko retired from wrestling.
Home video 
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 the WWF Superstars and celebrities of that era, designed as a parody of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.
Video games 
In both 1998 and 1999, the WWF released two Video games entitled WWF Attitude and WWF War Zone which were named after the era. 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.
See also 
- "WWE Hall of Fame Inductees "Stone Cold" Steve Austin Biography". WWE. Retrieved 2011-04-07.
- "A special look at the Attitude Era". WWE. Retrieved 2012-03-03.
- "WWE Championship - Stone Cold". WWE. Retrieved 2011-12-29.
- Official WWE video game WWE '13 features an "Attitude Era" mode based on that time period: Brian Pillman, who last appeared on WWF television on September 23, 1997, and Diamond Dallas Page, who did not debut until June 18, 2001, are both deemed to have been Attitude Era performers.
- On November 12, 2002, WWE released the WWE Anthology compilation music album, in which the three discs are labelled "The Federation Years", "The Attitude Era" and "Now!", with themes included on the disc representing the era in which they were introduced. The Corporate Ministry's eponymous theme, introduced in May 1999, was included on "The Federation Years" and therefore deemed to have pre-dated the Attitude Era. Shane McMahon's "Here Comes the Money", first used in April 2001, is included on the "Now!" disc, thus declaring that from the company's standpoint the Attitude Era had ended by that time.
- Ted DiBiase: The Million Dollar Man, p.193, Ted DiBiase with Tom Caiazzo, Pocket Books, New York, NY, 2008, ISBN 978-1-4165-5890-3
- "2007 Wrestling Almanac & Book of Facts". Wrestling's Historical Cards. p. 100.
- Foley, Mick (2001-07-01). Foley is Good: And the Real World is Faker Than Wrestling. HarperCollins. p. 9. ISBN 0-00-714508-X.
- Reynolds, R.D.; Baer, Randy (2004-10-01). WrestleCrap: True Stories of the World's Maddest Wrestlers. Blake Publishing. p. 201. ISBN 1-84454-071-5.
- The Monday Night War DVD
- "WWE: The Attitude Era". WWE. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
- "Amazon.com "Attitude Era" DVD Release Synopsis". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2012-09-26.