It's actually quite difficult to pick the top year for the WWE. It's an industry and company that's seen many ups and downs, variations, and evolutions. To compare any point in time to a few years before or after can reveal jarring differences, especially between the late 80s and early 2000s. Since McMahon bought out his main competition the product has seen much less innovation. This is an unfortunate reality of his success, as healthy competition has always pushed the sport to evolve.
That's why it's no coincidence that my choice for top year happened during the tail end of the Monday Night Wars. WCW in 1996 had caught lightning in a bottle and pushed Vince McMahon to the brink, thus prompting a dramatic shift in philosophy and the beginning of the most fondly remembered era for many wrestling fans. The WWE capitalized on the Attitude Era, Austin, The Rock, and D-X to turn the tide. By 2000, they had refined their product, had a full head of steam, and were flush with their deepest roster ever. The Rock had become a living legend, Jericho and Angle were on the rise, and WCW's best workers (Guerrero and Benoit) had switched teams. The cherry on top was that Russo had left and the new head writer Chris Kreski produced interesting storylines anchored in coherence. The production had taken a step forward, Ross and Lawler were firing on all cylinders, and nearly every PPV was worth watching. Everything clicked for WWE in 2000, while WCW was a flaming car wreck.
WCW went down kicking and screaming as they threw everything against the wall, scraped the resulting mess off the floor and served it to the fans cold. Mark Madden and Vince Russo infuriated fans with their worked shoot nonsense and David Arquette won their World Title.
WWE in 2000 took the best elements of the 97-99, polished it up real nice, turned it sideways and stuck it straight up WCW's candy-ass.
15 Quality PPVs
WrestleMania 2000 may have been less than memorable, but perhaps it's because there were so many other stellar PPV's all year that the bar was raised too high. Utilizing their deep roster and smart storylines, the company managed to provide epic blowoffs nearly every month.
The main event picture was always strong but with a mid-card bolstered by Jericho, Angle, Benoit, Guerrero - not to mention the insane tag division - the PPV deck was absolutely stacked.
Royal Rumble, Backlash, SummerSlam, Fully Loaded, are just some of the classics that deserve a rewatch today.
14 WCW so Bad it was Good
For WCW fans this was a very dark time....BUT if you enjoy the hilarity of 'wrestle-CRAP' then WCW 2000 was an absolute goldmine.
The one good idea they had was to reboot the whole damn thing and create a war between The New Blood and The Millionaires Club. This made perfect sense as the story of the aging veterans holding down emerging talent was all-too-true ever since Hogan arrived in 1994. But this is WCW so they booked Hogan and co. as the good guys! Unbelievable.
You had Russo and Mark Madden making a mockery of kayfabe, a KISS Demon, Judy Bagwell on a Pole, Jeff Jarrett as a main-eventer, Arquette AND Russo as World Champs, Tank Abbott legitimately pulling a knife on his opponent, Goldberg almost bleeding to death and then turning heel, and paying the living legend Bret Hart $3 million a year to do NOTHING.
But with the right group of your wrestling buddies and a few cold ones, the worst WCW PPV can be the most entertaining night of your life.
13 Mick Foley
Foley and Triple H kicked off 2000 with arguably the year's best match at the Royal Rumble; a five-star bloodbath that managed to steal the show from the Rumble match itself. He would retire from in-ring action after losing to Triple H at No Way Out, (then make a 'one-time' comeback at WrestleMania) which allowed him to transition into the role of Commissioner.
As the Commish', Foley was able to interact with the audience for 'cheap pops' while avoiding chair-shots to the head, thumb-tacks, and 17-foot falls. It was a great plot device (that got heavily over-used years later) and a role that suited Foley well.
It was the perfect way for a veteran to leave the full-time action while putting over a younger star.
The Rock led the charge for the most talented roster in WWE history and Austin would come to a pop from hell at Backlash. Backing up the big two were prim Triple H and Big Shows at the top heels and Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit having classic matches all year long. The Dudley Boyz, Edge/Christian, and The Hardys were also busy revolutionizing the tag division with their death-defying TLC matches.
When The Undertaker is considered one of the weaker performers, you know the roster is deep.
11 Royal Rumble
Even with a less than stellar Rumble match, this PPV is widely considered one of the all-time best events in wrestling history.
The card started out with a bang as Tazz made an incredible debut and looked stronger than he ever would again in the WWE. His 'illegal' choke to finish off Angle was a powerful finish, put over beautifully by Ross and Lawler with their somber commentary. Of course then they threw it to Michael Cole in the back who completely misread the situation and made a stupid joke about Angle not being the only one to end up on a stretcher that night.
The Hardy and Dudley Boyz then blew the roof off with one of their very best extreme tag matches that had a very ECW feel. It was clear that the tag division was reaching new heights and the mediocre New Age Outlaws would lose the titles at the very next PPV.
Triple H and Cactus Jack had a five-star match, and The People's Champ won the Rumble.
This Rumble ruled so much even Mae Young winning Miss Rumble 2000 couldn't ruin it.
10 The Attitude Era Polished Up
The early years of the Attitude Era (97-98) are fondly remembered for the shock value and pure energy of its initial run. But in reality, the majority of the matches were short brawls with a lackluster mid-card featuring guys like The Oddities, Marc Mero, and The Headbangers. Sure there were great main events, but there was also far too much Jerry Springer crap and 'choppy choppy your pee pee'.
By 2000, the WWE had refined the best elements of Attitude Era story-telling and finally combined it with top-notch ring action. The energy still felt fresh and the deep roster delivered stellar matches on TV and PPV.
Speaking of great storytelling, that was largely owed to a very important personnel shift.
9 Vince Russo out, Chris Kreski in
An IWC favorite topic of discussion. In late 1999 Chris Kreski took over for Vince Russo as head writer and the change was significant. Russo emphasized short matches and raunchy 'crash tv' elements. He liked to book things fast and that style has a bad habit of quickly burning angles and fans out.
Kreski on the other hand was much more deliberate. He was infamous for his extensive use of storyboards and meticulous planning of storylines. He created and managed complex storylines that retained coherency and continuity, all while emphasizing actual WRESTLING. Kreski's methods and talent were a crucial ingredient to the elite entertainment of 2000.
Stephanie McMahon would replace Kreski in late 2000 and the storylines quickly degraded, bottoming-out with the flaming failure of the Invasion storyline.
Chris Kreski passed away in 2005, but his wonderful contributions to the WWE live on to honor his legacy.
8 WWF No Mercy (N64)
The greatest era in wrestling also saw three of the best wrestling games of all time: WCW/NWO Revenge, WWF WrestleMania 2000, and WWF No Mercy, all developed by the legendary AKI.
The timing was perfect as the Attitude Era was exploding into the mainstream and the N64 brought four-player gaming into the living room with Goldeneye, Mario Kart, and Super Smash Bros. AKI's titles were in the right place at the right time, but they stood out because they were so damn good!
The gameplay mechanics have held up so well that modding communities still use the No Mercy engine today, updating the roster each year to include modern stars as well as classics from the Golden Era.
To be a wrestling fan and gamer in 2000 was just, too, sweet.
7 Stephanie Steps Up
Vince and Shane had been all over the storylines for the previous two years but with Vince out with a kayfabe injury to start 2000 (sympathy pains for Austin?), it was Stephanie's time to shine.
The McMahon-Helmsley Era (interesting order of names) brought about a giant evolution of Stephanie's character. She had previously played the innocent victim to The Undertaker and the sweet love interest of Test, but with Triple H she went full-on heel. Her new character actually out-eviled Hunter and was often the more entertaining promo compared to his slow........moonnootonnee....monnnoolooogguesssss.
Besides rocking the mic, she also main-evented Raw as the Women's Champion and threw sick DDTs.
Usually described as what WrestleMania should have been.
For some reason, even with everything going the company's way that year, WrestleMania lacked its usual luster. Perhaps the company decided to exercise patience for once and followed the storyline to its natural conclusion, which just so happened fall a month after WrestleMania.
Whatever way it happened, Backlash was a roaring success. The Rock had been building towards this match with Triple H for quite some time, fighting through lackeys like Bossman and taking several beatings. The WWE was building him as a heroic face who would stand alone and rise above any situation.
With The Rock getting gang beat and seconds away from a loss, Austin's glass shattered and the crowd POPPED.
Austin's rehab had taken longer than expected and he was actually supposed to miss this event (could be why this didn't happen at 'Mania). Looking back it's obvious that he was in no condition to do more than hit everyone with a chair and leave, and that's exactly what he did.
He wouldn't make his return to full-time action until later but this was still the biggest moment of the year.
5 Kurt Angle's Rookie Rampage
By the time Angle came around, wrestling fans had already seen outsiders Steve Blackman and Ken Shamrock try their hand at professional wrestling with varying amounts of success. But Angle was different right from the start.
His natural charisma, hilarious heel banter, and incredible physical abilities propelled him from his late 1999 debut to a mind-blowing 2000 run.
He stormed the singles ranks capturing the King of the Ring, European, Intercontinental, and even the World Championship in less than a calendar year since his official debut at Survivor Series 1999.
His love triangle with Stephanie and Triple H was also one of the most interesting storylines of the year, with Angle displaying significant acting ability.
A lesser talent would have drowned in 2000's deep roster, but Angle held his own and rose above like he'd been in the business for years.
Did Angle have the best Rookie year ever?
Oh it's true, it's damn true!
4 4. Commentary
The greatest damn wrestling announcer and the voice of the Attitude Era was none other than Jim Ross. And although health issues and mismanagement from Vince may have had him shuffle in and out of the lineup over the years, 2000 was a full year of prime Ross and Lawler.
Better than anyone, Ross simultaneously elevated the action, put over everything that was happening, and still provided accurate play-by-play with his encyclopedic knowledge. Lawler was a great foil and still had the fire that has blatantly died out in the last few years.
How did the level of commentary drop so far through the years? Is it really that difficult to find a quality broadcaster who passionately loves the sport? I've heard GOLF TOURNAMENTS called with more gusto than what Cole/JBL/Lawler currently serve up.
Whoever makes the decisions there needs to listen to some good old J.R. for inspiration and fix what's obviously broken.
3 Tag Teams
The New Age Outlaws had helped fans care about the tag division again, but it would be three other teams that would take it to an entirely different level.
Edge/Christian and The Hardy Boyz Ladder Match at No Mercy 1999 would set the tone for arguably the greatest year in WWE tag-team history. Along with The Dudleys, these six would often steal the show and leave the crowd astonished.
The Royal Rumble Tag Team Tables Match, Unforgiven Cage Match, WrestleMania Triangular Ladder Match, and SummerSlam TLC Match were all five-star classics that blew away anything the WWE had produced before, and set an unbelievably high bar moving forward.
This style would often be imitated, but nothing can match the thrill of seeing it for the first time.
2 Triple H
Paul Levesque has a wonderful mind for the business. He saw the insane popularity of The Rock and Austin and knew someone needed to be the top heel. Combine this with his relationship with the boss's daughter and the McMahon-Helmsley era began. He would be involved in nearly every single PPV main event that year (if he wasn't he would still be on the promo poster), feuding with Mick Foley, The Rock, Kurt Angle, and Austin.
His Royal Rumble match with Foley cemented his status as a superstar and he was able to simultaneously play 'tweener against Angle and pure heel with The Rock.
Even the most bitter HHH hater could find something to enjoy here.
1 The Rock on top
The WWE had an undeniable two-headed monster in 1999 with The Rock and Steve Austin. But with Austin taking time off for surgery, The Rock would become the face of the company and grow into the legend he is now.
His catchphrases and humor had already set the standard for mic work but in 2000 he reached godly levels. He captivated millions (and millions) with the raise of an eyebrow while also providing consistently great matches. His star grew so big that he began to transcend the sport and it wouldn't be long before he set the Guinness World Record for highest starting salary with his role in The Scorpion King.
The year gave him the space he needed to grow bigger than ever thought possible.