Ah, the Attitude Era. A glorious time where megastars like Steve Austin, The Rock and Mick Foley ruled the roost, matches were hard-hitting and violent and there was more titillating action than you could shake a stick at. A lot of people look back on this time period with the fondest of memories, claiming it to be the greatest era in wrestling history and berating anyone who disagrees. However, not everything was perfect in the past. As is often the case, fans of the olden days are looking back with rose-tinted glasses, remembering things to be far better than they actually were. Not only that, but they also massively devalue the modern era, dismissing it as bad without actually taking the time to think.
Now that I’ve upset everyone who ever watched wrestling in the '90s, let’s take a look at some of the best bits from each of those two eras, so you can decide for yourselves when the best time to be a wrestling fan truly was. Here are 8 things in WWE that were better in the Attitude Era and 7 things that are better today.
15 Attitude Era – Competition Between Raw And Nitro
They called it a war for a reason.
From September 4th 1995 to March 26th 2001, WWE (then known as the WWF) ran their weekly show, Monday Night Raw, up against WCW’s (World Championship Wrestling) Monday Nitro, a similar programme. The following battle for ratings dominance is now referred to as “The Monday Night Wars,” with both rival promotions going above and beyond to try and make wrestling fans watch their show. The WWF eventually won the war when WCW went out of business in 2001 and now Raw is the most watched and popular weekly wrestling show in the world. Even with Byron Saxton.
Whilst the wrestling companies themselves might have hated the competition, it was a real blessing for the fans. Not only was there more mainstream wrestling available for fans to watch, but the threat of one company being put out of business by the other pushed creative teams on both sides to come up with new and innovative ideas. Whilst some of these ideas crashed and burned (see: David Arquette wins the WCW Championship), a lot of the best and most memorable moments of the Attitude Era were born from the sheer desire to survive from both sides. With no real competition these days, WWE has become lazy, knowing that wrestling fans have nowhere else to go to get their wrestling fix. And don’t say GFW or ROH, because come on, they are nowhere near WWE’s level. They say war is hell, but when it came to weekly wrestling shows, it actually wasn’t such a bad thing.
14 Modern Era – Greater Variety of Wrestling Styles
They do say variety is the spice of life.
Back in the Attitude Era, the phrase “bigger is always better” was definitely taken as true. The WWE landscape was that of giants – men like The Undertaker, Kane, The Rock and Steve Austin all cut an imposing figure. Their fighting styles were often the same too; a chaotic brawling style that fed the audience’s need for pure violence. Obviously there were exceptions to this, – some technically proficient wrestlers did make it to the top (Jericho, Benoit, Angle etc.) and Mick Foley looked more like the average wrestling fan than a performer – but most of the time, there was definitely a WWE mould that the wrestlers fit into.
In the Modern Era, WWE is definitely more of a mixed grill than a steak dinner. On the main roster, you have athletic performers like AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, hulking behemoths like Braun Strowman and Brock Lesnar and inhuman hybrids of the two – I’m looking at you, Samoa Joe. There’s a lot more variety in the different types of performers and styles you get in WWE these days – brawlers, lucha libre, strong style are all present – and this is something that just wouldn’t have happened in the Attitude Era. Fans have much more choice when it comes to the wrestling they want to watch in WWE these days and the options wrestlers can explore when putting on matches. With so many different wrestling styles out there, it’s great that WWE are finally beginning to showcase a greater variety of them in their main event scene, which is something all wrestling fans can get behind.
13 Attitude Era – Raw Was Only Two Hours
Also known as “the glory days”.
When Raw first began airing in January 1993, it ran at a measly one hour. Only an hour! If you suggested that these days, Vince McMahon might have a heart attack. Raw made the jump to two hours in 1997 to attempt to combat the ratings lead WCW Nitro was pulling out over the WWF (Nitro ran at two hours long at the time). After the increase to two hours, Raw quickly became a force to be reckoned with, as the WWF began to air more edgy content and edge out a lead in the Monday Night Wars. Raw remained two hours long after the war was won, with only special episodes of the show going three hours. However, following the 1000th episode of the show in 2012, Raw was changed to a three-hour show for good and, oh boy, do the fans know it today.
Having Raw at two hours was the perfect length; it was just long enough to tell intricate stories and make sure enough different wrestlers got the spotlight, but not long enough for fans to lose interest. Now the show is three hours, it can often feel like a bloated mess, with filler segment after filler segment leaving fans more bored than guests at a Lance Storm paint-drying party. It feels like a slog to watch Raw every single week and that’s without the added time needed to watch SmackDown, NXT, 205 Live and every Pay-Per-View. Back in the day, there was two hours of Raw every week and three hours of Pay-Per-Views every month. It was simple, it was easy to digest and it was good. Whilst a two-hour Raw wasn’t just an Attitude Era thing, it was definitely something those days had over the modern era. Just don’t hold your breath for a return to two-hour Raw – the amount of money Vince makes from commercials in the third hour is what keeps him in baby oil and baggy suits.
12 Modern Era – The Wellness Policy
For all the flack it gets, the Wellness Policy has done some good.
WWE introduced the Talent Wellness Program in February of 2006, shortly after the sudden death of Eddie Guerrero, which was attributed to years of drugs abuse. The Policy, according to WWE.com, monitors WWE talent for “brain function, substance abuse and drug testing, annual physicals, and health care referrals,” with particular focus on drug testing. WWE now operates on a “three strikes, you’re out” policy, meaning that if a talent fails a drugs test three times, then they are automatically fired from the WWE. Unless you’re Randy Orton, because money.
Whilst there have been some controversies regarding the Policy (some talent claim that they were penalised on the Policy for substances that were prescribed to them for doctors), a lot of good has come it. The number of drug-related illnesses and deaths in the WWE has dropped dramatically since the Wellness Policy was introduced and there have been numerous other good things that have come out of it; an illegal ring of steroid dealing was discovered in 2007, leading to the suspension of 11 different wrestlers, and former WWE wrestler, Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP), was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a potentially fatal heart condition that might have gone undiagnosed without the Policy. Despite the controversy, there can be no denying how important the policy has been since its introduction, and this is something that definitely did not exist in the Attitude Era.
11 Attitude Era – There Was More Creative Freedom
Scripted promos – the biggest heel in pro wrestling history.
When it comes to promos (when a wrestler addresses the crowd or a fellow wrestler on the microphone) nowadays, it’s no secret that Vince McMahon has a huge hand in scripting exactly what the wrestlers say and how they say it. As a result of this menacing micro-management, all promos these days sound more-or-less the same, with the same corny lines and cringe-worthy insults being repeated over and over again. And if you need any proof that modern promos are bad, just go and find that clip of Roman Reigns saying “suffering succotash” on Raw. Just you try and argue with me after that.
Back in the Attitude Era, however, the scripting of promos was much less of an issue. Perhaps due to the TV-13 rating (which allowed wrestlers to use more adult language in their promos), performers sounded a lot more convincing on the mic and got over as a result. Wrestlers were allowed to inject their own personality into their promos, which meant fans could connect with them on a more personal level. Today, fans can see that most wrestlers have had very little input in what they’re saying, so they find it a lot harder to connect with them. Also, a whole tonne of Attitude Era catchphrases were completely improvised by the wrestlers themselves, – including “Do You Smell What The Rock Is Cooking?” and “Austin 3:16" – which allowed them to get over in a much more organic way. Today, WWE try and predict what will get over before it actually gets over, so most of the time, it doesn’t. WWE should seriously consider a return to less scripted promos, as it would seriously help make the product sound more natural, which, in turn, would go a long way to pleasing the fans.
10 Modern Era – Greater Knowledge of Concussions
No jokes to be made here, I’m afraid.
For an industry that has a reputation for being “fake,” wrestling is incredibly dangerous. Whilst a well-executed wrestling move is completely safe, when something goes wrong, it can go very, very wrong. One of the most dangerous areas in wrestling is moves relating to the head and neck area, as a poorly executed manoeuvre can leave a wrestler with permanent damage, including concussions. Head injuries were commonplace in the Attitude Era and earlier due to a poor understanding of the effects those injuries had on the human body. WWE were even sued by a group of former wrestlers over the head injuries they had sustained whilst working for the company in 2016. All in all, the Attitude Era was not a good place to be if you wanted a healthy brain.
In 2007, Chris Benoit, a contracted WWE wrestler at the time, murdered his wife and young son, before killing himself. Benoit’s autopsy revealed that, after years of head and neck injuries as a result of wrestling, he had the brain of an 80-year-old Alzheimer’s sufferer. In much the same way as Eddie Guerrero’s death sparked changes to the way WWE viewed drug abuse, the Benoit case changed the way WWE saw head injuries, prompting massive changes to the company. Then you've also got Chris Nowinski (pictured), who became a concussion researcher and advocate after retiring from WWE at 26 due to concussions.
Whilst piledrivers, a move that specifically targets the head and neck, had been banned previously, WWE went even further, removing moves such as chair shots to the head to create a safer working environment. WWE also implemented regular concussion tests for all of its talent, to make sure that any head injuries can be picked up on and monitored before they get too serious. Whilst the old school fans might miss seeing a good old-fashioned chair shot to the head, let’s be realistic; a wrestler’s health and wellbeing is much more important and this is something the Modern Era does right.
9 Attitude Era – The Hardcore Championship
Oh, I so wish this was still around. On November 2nd 1998, Mick Foley was gifted the brand-new WWE Hardcore Championship, in recognition of his years of service to Hardcore wrestling and probably to make up for all those times WWE made him jump off really high stuff. The title was to only be defended in hardcore matches (no disqualification), but a rule was later introduced that meant that the title would be defended 24/7, anytime, anywhere, as long as a referee was present. This led to some of the funniest wrestling segments of all time, as the title was challenged for in some of the most random locations: hotel rooms, outdoors in the snow, children’s ball pits, you name it, the title was defended there and it was glorious.
Aside from The Fashion Files and some New Day segments, WWE is really lacking in comedy segments these days. With the Hardcore Championship, WWE had a great way of creating some hilarious moments, as well as giving wrestlers who had nothing to do a chance to get some attention. Hell, even non-wrestlers or retired wrestlers got in on the action; see Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco and their “Evening Gown match” for the title at King of the Ring 2000. Man, that was a weird match. The PG rating for modern WWE would make the Hardcore Championship almost impossible to book for obvious reasons, but, back in the heralded TV-13 days of old, this title was one of the best things around and is definitely something the Attitude Era has over its modern-day incarnation.
8 Modern Era – Blood Means Something
Hear me out.
Ever since WWE went PG in 2008, intentional blood in matches has been banned. Before this, if wrestlers thought a match needed to be spiced up, they would commit what is called a “blade job” – the action of a wrestler making a cut on their body with a concealed razor blade to draw blood. In the Attitude Era, most matches (especially the high-profile ones) would see a wrestler bleed and this did lead to some pretty iconic moments; most notably, Steve Austin passing out in a pool of his own blood at WrestleMania 13, a moment that would make him the star he is today. However, as anyone who liked Roman Reigns when he was in The Shield will know, overexposure can turn something you love into a real annoyance.
When wrestlers bled in every match, it took away the impact of seeing blood. Fans came to expect blood in their matches, which meant it no longer made matches special. Nowadays, when a wrestler bleeds, fans are genuinely shocked, because know that the wrestler is either legitimately cut or have gone above and beyond to make their match special, even with a hefty fine in place for those who blade in the Modern Era. Whilst blood in a wrestling match can be an improvement, it shouldn’t be used all the time (like it was in the Attitude Era) and the less frequent bleeding of the Modern Era has made blood the special feature it once was. Also, can you imagine being the ring attendant that had to clean the canvas after every Attitude Era match? You couldn’t have paid me enough to do that.
7 Attitude Era – The Commentary
God, I hate Byron Saxton.
The current state of WWE commentary is, and I’m not exaggerating here, the worst thing that has ever happened to entertainment ever. On Monday Night Raw, Corey Graves is great, but Michael Cole serves as nothing more than a mouthpiece for Vince McMahon and Booker T is certifiably insane. Over on SmackDown, Tom Phillips is as bland as they get, JBL is just a shouty Texan and Byron Saxton, well, if you need me to explain why Byron Saxton is bad, then you simply aren’t worth my time. The closest thing WWE has to a fully competent commentary team is NXT, where Mauro Ranallo and Nigel McGuinness are both excellent. But then there’s Percy Watson.... so close.
The Attitude Era has one of the strongest commentary booths of any wrestling federation ever; the iconic duo of Hall of Famers, Jerry “The King” Lawler and “Good Ol’ JR” Jim Ross. Ross was passionate, knowledgeable, totally loveable and had a real talent for describing what was going on in the most inventive ways possible. Lawler was excitable, shrill and an absolutely brilliant heel; years of performing in the ring as a bad guy transferred beautifully to the commentary table and he played off Ross’ babyface character absolutely beautifully. Even when it was Michael Cole filling in for JR, the commentary was good, because Cole wasn’t being told what to do every five seconds through an earpiece. WWE’s commentary these days is a bloated mess with too many mediocre commentators spoiling the broadcast, whereas, back in the Attitude Era, viewers were safe in the knowledge that the commentary would always be spectacular.
6 Modern Era – It’s Cheaper To Watch
Ah, the WWE Network, how did we survive without you?
In 2014, WWE launched one of its biggest products ever – the WWE Network. Attempting to capitalise on the success of other streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, the WWE Network gives subscribers access to all of WWE’s weekly programming, but also upcoming Pay-Per-Views, old Pay-Per-Views and a whole heap of original programming. Whilst there was some concern over subscriber numbers to begin with, the Network now sits pretty on over 1.5 million paid subscribers. I have no idea how much these subscribers pay, mind you. If only WWE continuously mentioned how much the Network was. If only.
The Network gives a huge advantage to modern wrestling fans, an advantage fans back in the day did not have. Whilst weekly WWE programming has always been available for free, Pay-Per-Views are a different story. If fans wanted to see the big matches, then they would have to fork out anywhere between $30 and $40 and that was just to watch the B-shows; WrestleMania, SummerSlam and other grand events would set fans back even further. However, in the modern era, all Pay-Per-Views, big or small, are included in the price of the Network, meaning viewers can enjoy the biggest WWE events of the year for just $9.99 a month. Throw in the fact that the first month of the Network is free and some subscribers got to see this year’s WrestleMania without paying a penny. This would have been unheard of 20 years ago, so wrestling fans nowadays can count their lucky stars that they can enjoy WWE for a hell of a lot less money than their Attitude Era counterparts could.
5 Attitude Era – People Actually Cared About Babyfaces
WWE today has a big problem; fans don’t care about heroes. Whilst some faces get cheered – people like AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sasha Banks etc. – a lot of the time the biggest pops are for the bad guys – Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Braun Strowman, Cesaro, Brock Lesnar, I could go on. WWE don’t help themselves by booking heels to do awesome things (see Braun Strowman tipping over an ambulance), whilst giving their faces little to no help with getting over. Fans are just more interested in a cool villain than a boring face and to be honest, who can blame them?
In the Attitude Era, things were different. Whilst fans still cheered heels when they did something cool, there were a lot more viable babyfaces during this time period. Men like Mick Foley and Stone Cold were absolutely beloved by fans and performers like The Rock were able to get over as faces, then turn heel, making the turn much more effective. Fans had genuine investment in the good guys and wanted them to do well, which is why WrestleMania XV, where Steve Austin, the company’s top babyface, won the world title, ended in a huge applause whereas WrestleMania 32, where Roman Reigns, the company’s “top babyface,” won the world title, ended with a chorus of boos. Just push the guys that get cheered, WWE, it’s not hard.
4 Modern Era – Better Overall Wrestling Quality
As much as I hate to say it, it’s true.
There’s no doubt that the Attitude Era produced some truly classic matches. The Undertaker vs Mankind at King of the Ring 1998, Vince McMahon vs Shane McMahon at WrestleMania X-Seven, every time Austin and The Rock stepped between the ropes, these are all great matches, but they were great for reasons beyond actual wrestling ability. The use of hardcore stipulations made it a lot easier to make a match seem grander than it actually was, which is why Vince McMahon rarely had a bad match. As for the Austin-Rock saga, there was some excellent wrestling in there, but a lot of it was down to fan investment in the characters. Whilst you could argue this is much more important that the wrestling itself, my point still stands.
In the Modern Era, the actual in-ring quality is the highest it has ever been in WWE. Men like AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Dean Ambrose and countless others are leading the way in world class wrestling and WWE fans have been treated to some of the most technically sound matches of all time over the past few years: Rollins vs Reigns at Money in the Bank 2016, Owens vs Zayn at Battleground 2016, every match John Cena and AJ Styles had during their feud, these matches were all excellent from an in-ring perspective and would not have happened back in the Attitude Era. Fans expect more from their performers nowadays and WWE is changing with the times, hence the influx of technically proficient indie stars into WWE in the last few years. It might not be your cup of tea, but from a neutral point of view, you have to admit that the Modern Era has the edge over its ancestor when it comes to in-ring stuff.
3 Attitude Era – More Defined Characters
Are there any actual characters in WWE anymore?
Modern Era WWE has a problem with its characters. Sure, there are some out-and-out gimmicks in the WWE – Breezango have their “Fashion Police” thing going on, Jinder Mahal is an anti-American bad guy and Bray Wyatt is a creepy cult leader... sometimes. Other than that, a lot of WWE wrestlers have very similar characters, which makes it a lot harder for fans to get behind them. If a wrestler doesn’t stand out, then people won’t pay them attention and WWE is suffering from this at the moment. In the Attitude Era, however, you knew exactly who everybody was and I mean everybody.
In the Attitude Era, there were characters left, right and centre and proper characters for that matter. There were pimps (The Godfather), adult film stars (Val Venis), vampires (Gangrel), trash-talking jocks (The Rock), deranged psychopaths (Mankind), satanic priests (The Undertaker), peed-off rednecks (Steve Austin) and who could forget the greatest character is wrestling history – the evil son of b*tch boss that was Vince McMahon. Whilst some of those gimmicks are definitely stupider than a James Ellsworth WWE title reign, at least fans knew exactly who each wrestler was and exactly what they were about. The “gimmick” aspect of pro wrestling is definitely something that fans aren’t that fussed about anymore, but a bit more character definition from WWE in the Modern Era would not go amiss, that’s for sure. Just don’t expect pimps and porn stars to turn up in the PG Era.
2 Modern Era – The Women’s Division
Oh, lord, the Women’s Division from the Attitude Era...
WWE’s women division in the Modern Era is, dare I say it, the best it has ever been. What began with women like Paige and Emma in NXT was kept rolling with The Four Horsewomen (Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley) and that soon transitioned onto the main roster. The Four Horsewomen, alongside women such as Naomi, Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax, made magic on the main roster, including a triple threat between Charlotte, Lynch and Banks at WrestleMania 32 that was easily the best match of the night. All of this, combined with the upcoming Mae Young Classic tournament, means that there really has been no better time to be a female wrestler. Women in the Attitude Era, however, well...
Some women didn’t do too badly during this time period, – Trish Stratus, Lita and Chyna spring to mind – but, for the most part, it was not a good time to be a lady. Aside from a select few, women were mainly used for bikini contests, valets or love interests for the male wrestlers. Women were mainly pushed because of their looks (Sable for example) and actual wrestling talent was very much an afterthought, which made for some absolutely horrendous matches. Everything about the Attitude Era was drenched in sexism, from the lingerie segments to Jerry “Puppies!” Lawler on commentary. Whilst I might sound like I’m being overdramatic here, I can assure you I’m not and I for one am so glad we live in an era today where women are presented as legitimate athletes, rather than pieces of meat.
1 Attitude Era – Wrestling Was Popular
The days where you could wear a wrestling t-shirt and not be ridiculed.
Any wrestling fan reading this will know exactly how hard it is to be a fan in the Modern Era. Every time you want to talk about wrestling with your friends, you are met with ridicule and laughter about liking a “fake sport” and have to seek solace in that one wrestling friend you have or on the internet. Your wardrobe is full of wrestling merchandise that you have to explain to people every time you wear it out of the house. You go crazy when you see a wrestler crop up in a movie or a TV show, whilst everyone you’re sitting with watches you and considers phoning the nearest mental asylum. In short, wrestling is a niche subject these days and being a fan can sometimes feel like a burden. Back in the Attitude Era, well, things were entirely different.
Wrestling in the late-'90s/early-2000s was nothing short of a phenomenon. “Austin 3:16” shirts were everywhere, people were asking “What The Rock Was Cooking” and everyone across the country wished that they could give their boss the Stunner. In the Attitude Era, wrestling was mainstream and that made it so much easier to be a fan. Kids at school would discuss their favourite wrestlers, teenagers would spend summer afternoons playing No Mercy or WCW World Tour on the N64 and adults... okay, most of them have always hated wrestling, but that’s not the point. Fans today will never know the joy of the freedom an Attitude Era fan had and that is something they will laud over us until the end of time or until wrestling becomes popular again. Whichever one of those happens first.