If you grew up during the WWE’s Attitude Era, chances are, you’d barely recognize the product today. Gone are the days of envelope pushing, blood spilling mayhem in favor of a more wholesome, child-friendly presentation focused more on athletic competition than over-the-top storylines. These days, the wrestling is better than it ever has been, the women are respected for their athleticism and the only time you’ll see blood spill in the ring is if a wrestler is busted open for real. It’s a time in the WWE known as the PG Era and while the era has changed the company for the better in a number of ways, there are always going to be people who wish the sports entertainment giant had remained in it’s Attitude Era glory days.
It all started back in the mid-1990s when the company was facing its greatest competition to date from WCW, leading to one of the greatest ratings face-offs in television history, known as the Monday Night Wars. After weeks of being trounced in the ratings by WCW, the WWE decided to get creative and claw their way back on top by dramatically rebranding the company. The result was the Attitude Era. Taking inspiration from trash TV like Jerry Springer which was all the rage at the time, the WWE produced some of the most censor bending television people had ever seen.
Nothing was off-limits from the objectification of women to hyper-sexual and downright offensive storylines to wildly violent matches and while this cultural renaissance helped the WWE soar to new heights (not to mention producing some of its most memorable characters from Stone Cold Steve Austin to The Rock), it also resulted in some of their lowest lows, their desperation to shock people leading to some highly controversial moments. Here are a few that would never make it in today’s PG Era.
15 Vince McMahon Makes Trish Stratus Bark Like A Dog
When talking about controversial moments that have only gotten more shocking with age, it’s hard not to think about the time WWE CEO Vince McMahon made a Hall of Fame inducted, seven-time Women’s Champion, bark like a dog and degrade herself on national television. In a storyline that can only be remembered as a career low point for the fan favorite wrestler, Trish Stratus decided to become McMahon’s mistress as a way to elevate her career. The program required the Toronto-native to frequently and explicitly make-out with her boss until one night it all came crashing down. After being turned on by McMahon and family for trying to take his daughter Stephanie’s place, Stratus begged for his forgiveness in the middle of the ring. McMahon told her he’d consider it on one condition; she get on her hands and knees and bark like a dog.
Not satisfied with her barking, he proceeded to demand she take off all of her clothes while hurling a litany of obscenities at the Diva of the Decade recipient. Thankfully, he stopped short of actually making her remove her bra but it’s a moment that has lived on as an example of how far the WWE can cross the line. Interestingly enough, it’s a moment that may have cost Linda McMahon her run for Senate after she was criticized for the WWE’s misogynistic storylines, that segment in particular singled out as a prime example.
14 Chris Jericho Kidnaps And Tortures Chyna
One of the biggest elements lost from the golden age of wrestling is the WWE’s willingness to let their heels truly be heels. In today’s era of cool heels that fans are more likely to cheer for than jeer, the most one of their villainess wrestlers can do to get heat from fans is insult the city they’re in that week or call the crowd a, “bunch of losers,” instead of letting them do truly despicable things that will fuel fan hatred. While it’s an art form that is sorely missed, back in the day, the WWE did have a tendency to go too far with it, as showcased by this segment with Chris Jericho and Chyna. After Chyna defeated (and “humiliated”) Jericho for the Intercontinental Championship at the 1999 Survivor Series, Jericho decided to get some payback on the Ninth Wonder the next night on Raw.
Leading an unseen videographer into a darkened room, the ayatollah of rock and rolla revealed that he had abducted the new champ, leaving her bound and gagged to a chair. After chastising her for embarrassing him by forcing him to lose to a girl, Jericho would pull out a hammer and repeatedly strike her hand, shattering it in storyline, to cap off a wholly disturbing segment. This was perhaps a case of both parties turning in performances that were a tad too real. From Jericho selling the despicableness of his character, to Chyna’s agonizing screams in pain, the realism of the moment left a bitter taste in many viewers mouths.
13 The Chaz Domestic Abuse Angle
Talk about making a bad situation worse. In 1999, Mosh from the Headbangers debuted a controversial new gimmick called Beaver Cleavage that was essentially an incestuous take on Leave It To Beaver. Mosh would regularly be escorted to the ring by a beautiful blonde (supposedly his mother) named Mrs. Cleavage and would often ask her to let him drink, “Mother’s milk,” in segments. Unsurprisingly, this gimmick wasn’t exactly well received and the WWE would go into a different direction with the character soon after. However, this new direction would only serve to make things worse.
After re-debuting as Chaz and revealing Mrs. Cleavage to be his girlfriend Marianna Komlos, Komlos would begin showing up to Raw with a black eye. During an interview on the show, the valet would imply that it was Chaz who was responsible for her bruises. However, before she could press charges on him, Chaz’s ex-tag team partner, Thrasher revealed hidden camera footage showing Chaz’s girlfriend applying makeup to her eye in an effort to make it look like she was being abused and frame him. If the domestic violence story wasn’t bad enough, making the woman the villain of the angle was certainly a step too far.
12 Torrie Wilson And Sable’s HLA
Back in the Attitude Era and certainly the ensuing Ruthless Aggression Era as well, the WWE found itself fixated on lesbian storylines. From the eroticism of bra and panties matches to Trish Stratus and Mickie James’ infamous Single White Female angle to Eric Bischoff’s iconic HLA segment, it was hard to watch an episode of Raw without being confronted by some sort of same sex storyline. However, the gold standard of unnecessary lesbian angles has got to be Sable’s obsession with Torrie Wilson. In an effort to promote the duo’s appearance in Playboy Magazine, the powers-that-be decided to throw the two in a “will they or won’t they” relationship that titillated viewers while making not much, if any sense.
For weeks Sable would play mind games with the bubbly blonde, trying to push her boundaries by walking in on her in the shower and even stripping in front of her. Sable would pretend to be her friend before turning on her without much notice. The feud (?) would culminate in a bikini contest at Judgement Day, which Wilson would win, choosing to celebrate by placing a kiss on her rival. While the storyline remains a popular one with male viewers, it’s hard to see such an angle playing out today.
11 Mark Henry Almost Sleeps With A Man In Drag
This is an example of a moment that wouldn’t make it on network television these days, nevermind professional wrestling. In 1999, Mark Henry was involved in a romantic storyline in which he attempted to woo Chyna. However, when the man they call Sexual Chocolate began insinuating they had slept together after just one date, the Ninth Wonder decided to get some payback on him. In a segment taped in front of Henry’s mother, Chyna would play video of the World’s Strongest Man getting hot and heavy with her friend Sammi, whom Chyna had set him up with.
However, after exploring Sammi’s body a little too much, Henry would utter a phrase that would go down in Raw history, exclaiming, “Sweet Jesus it’s a penis!” and confirming what had clearly been a man in drag. To cap off the humiliating revelation, Chyna would deliver Henry a low blow, leaving many fans in shock. While awareness of trans issues wasn’t something being widely discussed in those days, it’s hard to overlook the seemingly trans-phobic message of the story, making it unlikely the WWE would ever dip back in that well again.
10 John Cena And JBL’s I Quit Match
One of the most glaring casualties of the PG Era is the noticeable lack of blood and extreme violence once used by the wrestling giant. These days, wrestlers aren’t hit over the head with chairs but hit in the back and the only chance you have to see a bit of color during a bout is if they’re busted open accidentally (as opposed to when wrestlers would cut their heads with a blade to produce blood). While this is a move largely meant to protect the safety of their performers, it’s an absence that matches like John Cena and John Bradshaw Layfield’s gruesome I Quit Match from 2005’s Judgement Day have in spades.
In what might be the bloodiest match in WWE history, JBL and Cena absolutely punished each other for 30 minutes, throwing just about everything at their opponent they possibly could from your standard chairs and tables to cables, a limo and even a television set. While the match would end with Cena forcing JBL to quit after threatening to bash his brains in with an oversized car part, the image of the WWE Champ absolutely covered in blood for the majority of the match will haunt the memory of wrestling fans forever.
9 The Kat Bares All
Talk about girls gone wild. The late nineties were not a great time to be a woman in wrestling. With the WWE so intent on shocking and titillating their predominantly male audience, female performers became little more than bodies to be objectified, creative often testing how far they could push the censors with evening gown matches, lingerie matches and bikini mud fights that usually devolved into two women slapping each other while wearing next to nothing. Obviously the natural endgame of this would be getting one of their Divas to bare all and at the Armageddon pay-per-view in 1999, they did just that.
After winning the WWE Women’s Championship in an evening gown pool match in which the goal was to strip all three opponents of their gowns, The Kat decided to celebrate her victory by removing her own gown and flashing the WWE audience. The shocking moment was the WWE’s first instance of intentional nudity, however, perhaps even more glaring is that it occurred in front of women’s wrestling pioneers Mae Young and The Fabulous Moolah who were serving as special guest referees for the bout.
8 Road Warrior Hawk Attempts Suicide On Raw
While the WWE once considered blurring the lines of good taste, their bread and butter, there are some things that should simply not be made light of, especially when you’re talking about a performer battling similar demons at home. While struggling with very real substance abuse problems off-camera, the WWE decided to write them into Road Warrior Hawk’s character as well, making him a depressed, alcoholic who appeared to be on the verge of suicide.
After a segment in which he could be heard slurring his speech while on commentary on Monday Night Raw, the organization decided to take the episode to a terrifying climax by having Hawk stand atop the Titantron, seemingly threatening to jump to his death. The scene would end with Droz climbing after him and pushing him off the structure, saving him from suicide but raising the stakes to attempted murder? Either way the seriousness of the subject matter combined with the dangers of the stunt means that you likely won’t see any of today’s performers going down a similar road.
7 The Katie Vick Angle
When talking about controversial moments in the history of wrestling, this one is hard to ignore. In 2002, after dominating the WWE Heavyweight Championship scene for the majority of the year, Triple H was thrown into a feud with Kane in which he claimed to have a secret over the Big Red Machine that would destroy him. The secret? That he murdered his high school sweetheart Katie Vick. Kane would later tell his side of the story, that they had lost control of their vehicle while driving home after a party but that didn’t stop Triple H from debuting footage from Vick’s funeral.
In what would become a hard scene to stomach, the Cerebral Assassin would air footage of himself, dressed in a Kane mask, crawling into Vick’s casket and simulating sex with her. The segment caused mass outrage amongst fans, so much so that The Game was forced to address the offense the necrophilia angle had caused, the next week on Raw and the feud was quickly dropped. However, it’s still remembered as an example of territory the company should never explore again.
6 Terri Runnels Becomes Brian Pillman’s Sex Slave
Unlike the majority of the entries on this list, the following polarizing storyline never actually got a proper conclusion. For years, Terri Runnels (then known as Marlena), served as her real-life husband Goldust’s faithful valet, seemingly always at his side with a cigar in hand. That is however, until a controversial storyline with Brian Pillman saw to wreck havoc on the WWE power couple’s union. At Ground Zero: In Your House, Pillman challenged Goldust to a match with an unusual stipulation. If he wins, Runnels becomes his sex slave for 30 days.
Between the forced prostitution, implied rape and the whole taking away a woman’s agency over her own body thing, it’s a wonder the program wasn’t more embraced by fans. Pillman would of course win, forcing Runnels to parade around in an edgy dominatrix outfit and spend weeks airing videos of her in bed with the Loose Cannon. The storyline would of course be ended by Pillman’s real-life death in 1997, however, it’s been reported that had it continued, Runnels would have eventually turned on Goldust in favor of teaming up with Pillman for real.
5 The Undertaker 'Hangs' Big Boss Man
From suicide attempts to full-on homicide attempts, the WWE never shied away from bringing their wrestlers face-to-face with death. However, at WrestleMania 15, The Undertaker pulled off a stunt that left viewers (as well as his intended target) breathless. After defeating Big Boss Man in a Hell in a Cell match, the Deadman decided to fully lean into his demonic cult leader persona and offer the Big Boss Man up as a human sacrifice.
With the help of his associates, The Brood, Undertaker would tie a noose around Boss Man’s neck and signify for the cage to rise, lifting Boss Man off his feet and hanging him in the middle of the arena. It was a stunt that looked so eerily real, many still wonder how they pulled it off to this day. However, it’s also something they’d never be able to pull off today due to the disturbing nature of the segment and the predominantly family-oriented audience the company now covets.
4 Triple H And Candice Michelle Are “Serviced”
If there was one faction that embodied the WWE’s edgy, censor-destroying attitude, it was D-Generation X. Known for their wild antics and crude chant telling people to “Suck It!” they were perhaps a walking mission statement for the company’s most controversial era. However, by the mid-2000s, their stunts had cooled off as they began to age, taking a group that was once made up of legitimate wildcards and turning them into inoffensive pranksters. So imagine fan’s surprise when on a 2006 episode of Monday Night Raw, Candice Michelle walked in Triple H making literal use of their catchphrase.
It all started with Michelle approaching the Cerebral Assassin backstage after seeing Shawn Michaels disappear into a TV truck. Standing flush in front of a table, The Game can be seen tensing up immediately as he explains what Michaels was doing in there. From his O face and constant moaning, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the segment is implying and by the end of it, all is confirmed when a woman emerges from under the table, wiping her mouth. That’s right, the WWE aired a segment in which both Michelle and Triple H were orally serviced on Raw. Good luck explaining that one to the kids.
3 Bubba Ray Dudley Loves Hurting Women
The early 2000s was a very different time in the WWE for a great many reasons but especially in regards to their attitude about violence against women. Back in the day, it was not uncommon to see male wrestlers throwing women around the ring in order to establish themselves as deplorable heels. Who could forget the time Chris Jericho assaulted Stacy Keibler in front of a handcuffed Test? Or when Linda McMahon took a chokeslam from Kane? It’s an attitude that was perhaps most showcased by Bubba Ray Dudley who turned hurting women into one of his primary gimmicks.
After debuting in 1999, the Dudley Boy immediately decided to showcase his viciousness by routinely driving women through tables. No woman was safe around the native of Dudleyville during this time and by the end of his initial six-year run with the company, Trish Stratus, Lita, Terri Runnels, Stacy Keibler, Torrie Wilson, Molly Holly, B.B., Tori, Jazz and even Mae Young had all felt the impact of the nine-time Tag Team Champions’ signature weapon. It’s a gimmick that was not brought back when Dudley returned to the WWE-fold in 2015 as violence against women isn’t exactly considered PG.
2 Heidenreich Assaults Michael Cole
Oftentimes when the WWE crosses a line, it’s due to some misguided sense of humor or desire to shock people. However, this moment was just straight up dark. Back in 2004, the WWE debuted the character of Heidenreich, an unbalanced lunatic prone to running in and attacking wrestlers during random matches and reciting hate-fuelled poetry known as “disasterpieces.” In one of his most infamous moments, the monster decided to make an example out of announcer Michael Cole, dragging him into a back room and performing one of the most despicable acts to ever occur on WWE television.
Forcing him against the wall, Heidenreich would pin Cole against a wall, while whispering sentiments in his ear that made it perfectly clear what was going on. “I bet you’re wondering why I got you back here Michael. Well I’ve been watching you and I’ve been studying you and I know me and you, we want the same things. We have the same desires and now that I’ve got you back here alone with me, I’m going to give you what you want.” Shockingly enough, the moment didn’t cause as much controversy at the time as others on this list, a fact that certainly would change were it to air today.
1 Vince McMahon Interviews Brian Pillman’s Widow 24 Hours After His Death
While this is a moment that definitely wouldn’t make it in the PG Era, it’s also a moment that shouldn’t have made it back then either. On October 5th, 1997, at their Bad Blood: In Your House pay-per-view, Vince McMahon had to tragically announce that Brain Pillman (who had been scheduled to wrestle that night) had passed away after suffering a heart attack. The news stunned the wrestling world, Pillman seen by many as one of their brightest stars. So naturally, McMahon decided to capitalize on the attention by interviewing Pillman’s widow, Melanie Pillman on Monday Night Raw, less than 24 hours later.
The interview was about as awkward as you’d expect, Pillman inconsolable, barely able to look at the camera as McMahon proceeded to ask invasive question after invasive question, prying into whether the superstar’s death could be attributed to prescription drugs, asking how her young children were coping with the news of their father’s passing and casually dropping this gut-punch of a question, “Have you had any opportunity to think of what you, now as a single parent, will do to support your five children?” The interview has since largely been condemned as exploitative and unethical and quite possibly the lowest moment of the Attitude Era. Hopefully this ensures that it’s never repeated again.
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