Ask any long time wrestling fan their favorite WWE era and many will likely respond with the Attitude Era. And why not? The Attitude Era was groundbreaking. Professional wrestling became sports entertainment, allowing WWE to not only regain its crown from rival WCW but put them out of business, while tacky New Generation Superstars stepped aside for more adult entertainers like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and D-Generation X.
There’s a great debate over the exact time period of the era. Some say it began at WrestleMania XIV or with Vince McMahon’s state of the union address on a December ’97 Raw. Some say it ended with the Invasion storyline or the start of the Ruthless Aggression Era. In my opinion, Attitude was the embodiment of the Austin/McMahon feud itself and began on the September 22, 1997 edition of RAW when Vince first took the Stone Cold Stunner, concluding on April 1, 2001 at WrestleMania X-Seven when Austin turned heel. This unfortunately means black marks in WWE history such as Edge and Lita’s live sex celebration, the Katie Vick fiasco, Hot Lesbian Action, Mr. McMahon’s Kiss My Ass Club, Dawn Marie killing Torrie Wilson’s father with honeymoon sex and Austin 3:16 meets Pillman 9 mm are exempt from inclusion.
Was the Attitude Era really all that amazing? This list may remind you otherwise. When going too far becomes the new norm, going way too far suddenly becomes a fine line. It was one that the era crossed more often than you may remember. While I myself loved the era, this list proves it was far from perfect.
15 24/7: The Hardcore Championship
Championships are a gimmick, plot devices which add excitement to feuds and further storylines. That’s not to say they aren’t prestigious, but things tend to get gimmicked up quick when you add a gimmick to a gimmick that’s already been gimmicked.
Mr. McMahon gave the Hardcore strap to Mankind in order to keep him happy in the Corporation, but it soon became an actual championship. It was cool at first with each title defense being a no DQ, no count out affair, until Crash Holly decreed the title could be defended 24/7, anywhere a referee was present, and all prestige went out the window.
At WrestleMania 2000 the belt changed hands 10 times. It was won multiple times at house shows, making guys like Raven the Hardcore Champion a staggering 27 times. Less notable champs include each member of The Mean Street Posse, Gerald Brisco, Pat Patterson, Terri Runnels and even one of The Godfather’s ho’s, whose ring name was literally Ho!
14 Brawl for All
The business was officially outed as a scripted soap opera, not a sport. While smart marks everywhere flooded the internet with their opinions, wrestling fans were bombarded with the dissection of the fake intricacies of their favorite pastime. Poor pro wrestling just wasn’t real enough, so WWE created the Brawl for All, a shoot boxing/MMA tournament featuring WWE Superstars.
Over half the participants became injured in combat and Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn even withdrew over the concept’s pure, innate stupidity. It was all allegedly meant to make Steve Williams a main event star, that is until Bart Gunn went and knocked old ‘Dr. Death’ on his ass. Bart would go on to WrestleMania XV, only to be humiliated by Butterbean, and thankfully the concept died there (along with Bart’s career). It’s no wonder Jim Cornette would later claim that the Brawl for All was the dumbest thing the WWE ever did.
13 Gimmicks with Attitude
Not every gimmick is going to be gold and Attitude hosted its fare share of duds. For every Godfather, there was Just Joe and Beaver Cleavage. For every New Age Outlaws you had The New Midnight Express. For every D-X there was a Mean Street Posse and The Oddities. While the era introduced several gimmicks that soared, there were tons that crashed and burned.
Not even matches were safe. While the era birthed iconic concepts like Hell in a Cell and TLC, it also gave us train wrecks like Kennel from Hell, Good Housekeeping, Dog Poo and Inferno matches. It also holds the distinction of the most dreaded match of them all: Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco in an Evening Gown Match, with the 24/7 Hardcore Title on the line, no less. The Attitude Era may have introduced some of the best of the best, but it went hand in hand with the absolute worst of the worst.
12 Hit and Run
At the 1999 Survivor Series, Stone Cold Steve Austin was booked for a triple threat match against The Rock and Triple H, but was hit by a car earlier in the night. This was a way to write him off TV so he could have surgery. When Austin returned, the hunt was on to find those responsible and all logic ended here! Commissioner Mick Foley looked close to outing The Rock as the driver until he revealed that it was… Rikishi!
His reason? Years of racism from “the great white hope” held back his people for so long that taking out Austin would allow The Rock to succeed, which made zero sense as Rock was a three time WWE Champion already. What’s crazier is Rikishi wasn’t even in WWE when the crime occurred! They turned one of its biggest babyfaces heel and poor Rikishi lost all of his heat, good and bad, because of this drastic, unwanted change to his character.
11 Sexual Chocolate
No wrestler in WWE history has wavered between top tier status and the jobber parade quite like Mark Henry. The World’s Strongest Man gimmick may have taken him to the top, but it was his stint as Sexual Chocolate where he hit rock bottom. Henry was teaming with D’Lo Brown post-Nation when he became a sensual, seducer of the fairer sex. After turning on D’Lo, the root of his betrayal came to light during a sex therapy session where he revealed he lost his virginity at 8 years old to his sister!
Sexual Chocolate would have many more over the top therapy sessions, was belittled by an actress playing his mother, slept with Mae Young and received oral sex from a transvestite while he was trying to bed Chyna. It was all in all an embarrassing, unnecessary storyline that makes you wonder how Henry ever bounced back to continue a WWE career that is still going today.
10 Choppy Choppy
Val Venis was a surprising Attitude star who feuded with Kaientai and their manager Yamaguchi-san shortly after his debut. You’d think a porn star gimmick and the more than a little bit racist Kaientai could appear here based merely on their own existences alone, but it’s together for a specific incident that they do so.
Val released a sex tape with Yamaguchi-San’s wife, who intended to punish her by spanking her with a paddle before she was saved by Venis. Kaientai then threatened Val with a sword and a salami, as Yamaguchi-san shouted “I choppy choppy your pee-pee!”
Val teamed up with Taka Michinoku against Kaientai but Taka turned heel, revealing Yamaguchi-San’s wife as his sister. They took Val hostage, dropped his shorties and Yamaguchi-San swung the sword just as the lights extinguished and Raw ended! So what happened? Val would return just fine, claiming he was saved by shrinkage and the lights being turned off by his good friend, John Wayne Bobbitt! Yep, this all actually happened!
9 Pretty Mean Sisters
Jacqueline and Terri Runnels ditched their dudes to form Pretty Mean Sisters, that’s P.M.S. for short, in case you didn’t catch that hilarious Vince Russo humor. They soon added the awful Ryan Shamrock to their ranks and ruined Shawn Stasiak’s career as their sex slave Meat. Get it? Like man meat! Hilarious, right? No!
P.M.S. reached Attitude gone too far levels when Terri became pregnant by (guess who) Val Venis, a babyface who was cheered when he abandoned his baby mama. During the feud, D’Lo Brown then would knock Terri off the ring apron and she would allegedly have a miscarriage. I say allegedly not because this was all just a lame storyline, but because it was followed by a lot of “was Terri ever really pregnant” brouhaha. D’Lo became P.M.S.’ servant due to his guilt and it was all a big waste of everybody’s time, ironically much like Ryan Shamrock’s career!
8 The EVILution of The Undertaker
The Undertaker was always a supernatural character, etched in the macabre since his WWE debut, but it was during the Attitude Era the phenom cranked things up. He turned heel at Judgement Day 1998, re-teaming with Paul Bearer, and soon introduced his army of druids and The Ministry of Darkness.
Undertaker became an evil priest who spoke in tongues, he rounded up his stable with the likes of Dennis Knight, who transformed into Mideon after Taker slit his wrist and made Knight drink his blood! Undertaker acted out other terrifying deeds like trying to have Stone Cold embalmed and leaving a burning U.T. cross in McMahon family yard.
The cross was also used to crucify victims like Austin and almost Stephanie McMahon as a sacrifice to his “higher power”. He even tried marrying Steph in a dark wedding! It all left viewers feeling uneasy and enraged Christian groups. Spiritual or not, one has to admit the symbolism of seeing somebody be crucified isn’t quite what you can call in good taste.
7 L.O.D. 2000
The Road Warriors (Legion of Doom) forged a two decade legacy as arguably the greatest tag team of all time, a fact that becomes all the more heartbreaking considering how Hawk and Animal were handled in the Attitude Era. Hawk had battled alcohol and drug abuse outside of the ring for who knows how long and WWE made the despicable decision to use his real life issues as an angle.
Hawk was portrayed as a drunken wildcard in a storyline where Darren Drozdov joined the rebranded L.O.D. 2000 to replace him. It led to an infamous Raw where a broken down Hawk plummeted off the titantron! Regardless how the story was intended to play out, whether Droz was the shadowy villain who pushed Hawk not only off the set but into the drugs and alcohol, L.O.D. hated it and left the WWE. It was a sad finish for the illustrious duo who only briefly attempted another failed return mere months before Hawk passed away in 2003.
6 The Montreal Screwjob
Without question the most controversial night in the history of wrestling! Survivor Series ’97 was to be Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart’s swan song as WWE could no longer keep him. Bret was to retain against Shawn Michaels with a non-finish before vacating the title and being given a big sendoff on Raw. Well, the night marked (then) Bret’s last WWE match alright, but it didn’t go down the way he thought.
As Michaels put Bret in his own Sharpshooter, Vince McMahon arrived ringside and told referee Earl Hebner to call for the bell. Michaels left with the title, Hebner hightailed it (probably out of the city) and Bret had been screwed! He hocked a loogey at Vince and sucker punched the boss on his way out the door.
While it’s easy to criticize McMahon for going so far with such a cheap shot at a wrestler’s wrestler who worked hard for him over the years, the incident did begin the Mr. McMahon character, a result that ultimately proved very good for business.
5 The Risk of Entertainment
Attitude was full of crazy moments we fans take for granted now in promo packages and trips down memory lane like Jeff Hardy’s Swanton off the ladder, Mankind falling off and through the Hell in a Cell or Shane McMahon plummeting from multiple PPV sets. The era hosted some of the scariest risks ever performed, forcing one to ask just how much is too much and if the risk is worth it.
These risks aren’t always flashy high spots neither. Foley’s Cell bumps pale in comparison to being hit in the head with a chair 11 times while handcuffed at the Royal Rumble, Droz was taking a standard move the night he horrifically became a quadriplegic and Owen Hart was just doing a flashy entrance the night he tragically fell to his death. Risk is always there. It’s clearly not always worth it. While WWE has mitigated many of these risks in their current era, the loss of stars lives, livelihoods and careers is duly noted.
4 The Objectification of Women
Sex sells. It was a driving force behind the Attitude Era’s success as WWE displayed Divas as playthings and Jerry Lawler would scream for "puppies", his description of breasts. The portrayal of women during the era was disgraceful as every week they were objectified for the sake of entertainment.
Bra and Panties Matches were an Attitude staple. Stephanie McMahon was drugged and duped into marrying Triple H, despite her later being in on it, while her mother was also drugged and confined to a wheelchair as Mr. McMahon had an affair with Trish Stratus. Vince forced Trish to strip in the ring and bark like a dog. Even Chyna was cornered and almost sexually assaulted by the Nation. These were all just a handful of occurrences such as this.
Fortunately, these instances seem rare today and I applaud WWE for ousting the Diva name and branding their Women’s Division with respectful, equality-minded efforts. It’s a step in the right direction after the hole they created, predominantly dug during the Attitude Era.
3 The Adventures of The Big Bossman
When you think of The Big Bossman, it’s either as a 90s beat cop caricature or a twisted psychopath from the Attitude Era who was privy to three of its worst moments. One was with Al Snow where Bossman killed Al’s dog and fed it to him! This led to the maligned Kennel from Hell Match, which I won’t explain here, but do look it up if you feel like asking yourself “what the hell was that?!?”
Another was with The Big Show after Show’s father had died and, once again, WWE used a real tragedy as an angle. They recreated a funeral where Bossman pulled the casket from a hearse through the graveyard while Show bodysurfed the casket! Bossman later recited a poem which said “if I had a son as stupid as you, I’d wish for cancer so I could die too!”
Finally Bossman became Undertaker’s victim at WrestleMania XV in a Hell in a Cell during Taker’s dark priest days. After the match, Bossman was strung up by his neck to the cell, which lifted off the ground, and was hanged before the WrestleMania crowd! This event occurred four years before Bossman’s unfortunate, real life death.
2 Mae Young
Mae Young was a legend and true pioneer in women’s wrestling who, at 75 years old, debuted during the Attitude Era as a part time comedy act with The Fabulous Moolah. She wrestled Divas from time to time and took bumps from the likes of Jeff Jarrett and 3 Minute Warning, the craziest of which was a power bomb off the Raw ramp by Bubba Ray Dudley!
Mae’s comedy act saw her tragically used in both bikini contests where she’d “flash her puppies” and in sexual encounters with wrestlers. Mark Henry, already covered as Sexual Chocolate, got Mae pregnant! If that’s not too much for you, she then gave birth to a rubber hand! Still with me? Because this all actually happened!
Sadly from start to finish, the use of Mae seemed like a bunch of frat boys picking on the ugly, misfit girl. It was all for the sake of telling one of the longest jokes in wrestling, but was a joke that seems hard to fathom that poor Mae was ever fully in on.
1 The Chairman of the Board
Everything on this list, while maybe not written directly by Vince himself, was at least overseen by him. He also sits at the top of our list because while the real Vince was green lighting racist penis chopping, spinning real life tragedies and making senior citizens give birth to hands, the Mr. McMahon character was towing the line on TV simultaneously during the Attitude Era.
Vince competed in several matches, some of which he even won, but he went as far as to book himself the winner of the 1999 Royal Rumble. While he didn’t go on to compete at WrestleMania as the winner is intended, his name is listed now with the other hallowed combatants who hold this honor. He was also holder of the most prestigious title in wrestling by becoming the WWE Champion! He would shortly vacate the title, but did he really need to win it in the first place? Naming all the countless things McMahon did during Attitude that went too far, like making Trish strip and bark or revealing himself as Undertaker’s “higher power” can’t all be compiled here. Because that task is a list in itself!