Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H were the legendary triad of the stars of The Attitude Era. But these future Hall of Famers weren’t the only ones in WWE pushing the envelope in and out of the ring. Similar to today’s NXT roster, the Superstars and Divas that were in the WWE during the now–mythical Attitude Era all pushed each other to be at the top of their game, every single night.
Like any sports team, their best years come when every single member of the roster is clicking and reaching the peak at the same time, which is what The Attitude Era was – from the top of the card all the way to the curtain jerkers, announcers, and even referees. Quite simply, the entire WWE was hitting its stride during 1997–2001. When does the Attitude Era officially start? While the company still had their “New Generation” going throughout early 1996 and towards of the end of that year into 1997, the company started getting edgier.
With the industry getting more realistic and straying away from the cartoonish antics of the late eighties, the WWE had no choice but to change or they’d sink. Of course guys like the aforementioned Austin, Rock, Triple H, and The Undertaker were pulling the cart, but they had a ton of people help push it as well. It doesn’t matter what their role or how long their tenure was, here are some of the unsung (no sung enough) champions of The Attitude Era.
15 Shane McMahon
On February 22nd, 2016, Shane McMahon returned to the WWE. The ovation was one of the most thunderous ovations we’ve heard in a long time. If you’re wondering why all the fans have love for the Boy Wonder, all you need to do is look back at some Attitude Era Raws and Pay-Per-Views and you’ll see a kid who put his body on the line. Just like everyone else during this time, Shane-O-Mac put in a tremendous amount of work to be the best performer he could be.
14 The Hardy Boyz
Speaking of hardcore, if Shane McMahon raised the bar, then The Hardy Boyz, along with Edge, Christian, and The Dudley Boyz destroyed the bar and built a new one that was raised on the merits of their TLC matches. Matt and Jeff Hardy might be getting flack for being weirdos now in TNA, but, during The Attitude Era, these two were just as popular with the fans as anyone else. The pair, along with Edge and Christian, were the alternative, grunge kids who appealed to the fans during the time.
13 The Godfather
Charles Wright joined the Hall of Fame this past year as his most famous character, but it took a while to get there. From Papa Shango to Kama the Supreme Fighting Machine, Wright would eventually join The Nation of Domination, where he'd become The Godfather.
During the Attitude Era, the WWE sought after the demographic of 18-24 year old males. There was no better character to snatch that demographic up than The Godfather. What male doesn't want to be surrounded by beautiful women? The Godfather would saunter to the ring with a bevy of local beauties, some of which were future Divas like Lita and Victoria and then he'd offer them up to his opponent in lieu of a match. It sounds unacceptable now, it was really over in the 90s.
In our only tie on this list, we pay homage to two of the best wrestlers ever from the Attitude Era, male or female, in Jacqueline and Ivory. These two ladies would do whatever the company asked them to, whether it was wear a bikini or join a group that abhorred such filth. They were the two most seasoned wrestlers of the lot of Divas hopping around during the time and worked with each of them to make them better in the ring.
Dustin Rhodes was onto something when he'd proclaim we'd never forget the name of Goldust, as it's 21 years later, we're still talking about the guy and watching him on WWE programming. Debuting in late ’95, he was dubbed The Bizarre One by announcers for his strange antics. Goldust, to date, is indeed one of the strangest competitors ever, doing all he could to freak out his opponents and play mind games with them.
10 Bret "The Hitman" Hart
Despite his own reservations about the changing times, even Bret Hart had his hand in making the Attitude Era special. In its earliest days, Bret Hart was still with the WWE and he was not only the biggest heel in the company, but, outside of America, he was also its biggest face. As the company began to shed its more comic book style characters and embrace realism, Bret was realer than real and leading the charge for the rest of the locker room. From complaining about constantly being screwed by the vile Steve Austin to mending fences with his family and creating a bigger, badder Hart Foundation, Bret Hart was simply untouchable in 1997.
Somehow, he was the company’s top heel and the top babyface, something no one has ever been able to truly pull off since. Had he not have gotten screwed for real, there's no telling how The Attitude Era would have looked with Bret in it. The more he believed in his character, the more the fans did. While Austin led the charge during most of the Attitude Era, it was Bret who saw him coming and asked to work with him when he returned at the ’96 Survivor Series.
9 Mike Tyson
If one single appearance defines any era, it would be Mike Tyson’s appearance on Raw on January 19th, 1998. The big reveal that Tyson would be at WrestleMania XIV was “ruined” by Stone Cold Steve Austin when the Toughest SOB challenged and flipped off The Baddest Man on the Planet. The moment itself is one of the most replayed segments in WWE history. It also was necessary to generate enough interest in that year’s WrestleMania, which would be the first time Austin won gold, with Tyson as guest enforcer.
8 Chris Jericho
7 Edge and Christian
After disbanding from one of the strangest and most memorable trios of The Attitude Era, The Brood, Edge and Christian sought to prove themselves. After having an incredible series of matches with The Hardys, the duo showed they had more to offer than just their ring skills. One fateful night on commentary, they did just that and the commentary they provided showed the brass that the duo shouldn't be broken up just yet and instead given more mic time.
6 Kurt Angle
In 1996, Kurt Angle won the gold medal for the U.S. Olympic Wrestling team. Several years later, as the company was pushing through and gaining steam on WCW, they needed some extra star power and they got it in the form of The Wrestling Machine. Luckily, a dangerous ECW angle repulsed him and Angle decided not to do business with Paul Heyman. But once he was signed by the WWE, Angle transitioned from amateur to pro like a baby bird learning how fly. Several legends and experts have always remarked that Angle somehow just got it, and got it faster than most.
5 Mick Foley
The Beach Blast match with Sting, the brutal bloody wars with Terry Funk and Sabu, the amazing anti–hardcore and Cane Dewey promos in ECW, and Mick Foley hadn't even cracked the surface of how good he could be. Enter Mankind, the garbled up, twisted psyche of Mick Foley who yearned to not only do harm to his opponents, but himself. But the man behind the madness would grow in unimaginable ways. He'd become heartthrob Dude Love, he'd have one of the greatest promos ever when all three faces of Foley came together to introduce Cactus Jack, and cemented himself in infamy when he was tossed off of, and through, Hell in a Cell.
4 Brian Pillman
Brian Pillman already had a great career, revolutionizing Light Heavyweights in America and having a memorable run with Steve Austin as The Hollywood Blonds. But his biggest contribution was as The Loose Cannon, a character far ahead of its time. His shoot-style promos added an edge to his character that is seldom seen. He was the talk of all three promotions in America and was primed to be a big time main event player throughout the Attitude Era.
3 Jim Ross
Every sport has their quintessential play-by-play man. Howard Cosell was synonymous for his time with Muhammed Ali, John Madden's voice is remembered by many for his commentary on Monday Night Football. In wrestling, Jim Ross was the voice that an entire generation fondly looks back on when thinking another the Attitude Era.
2 Paul Heyman
1 Eric Bischoff
In the early nineties, the WWE was still living off of the good faith that the late eighties produced and they gave fans a multitude of poor characters like Duke the Dumpster Droese, and Kona Crush. Despite always having a fantastic, deep roster filled with guys who could go, the competition at WCW had never truly risen to its full potential. Then came Eric Bischoff. Using the power of Ted Turner's checkbook, he signed WWE stalwarts. Then created the New World Order. He signed the best up and coming talent in the world and dubbed them Cruiserweights. Fans from all over flocked and changed the channel from Raw to Nitro on Monday nights. WWE for the first time in their history were possibly looking at company-wide ruin. So Vince McMahon thought outside of the box and along with the entire roster grew a pair, got some attitude, and eventually defeated WCW in the Monday Night War, which never would have happened if not for Eric Bischoff.
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