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.
Despite being the boss' son, Shane McMahon worked very hard at his craft and put his body on the line every time he was in the ring. Watching Kurt Angle launch Shane through glass is still one of the sickest spots in the history of the business and shows how much Shane gave to the Attitude Era.
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.
So it seemed like a natural fit when they hooked up in the Terri Invitational Tournament to earn her managerial services. While some fans might have booed the heck of out of them for being pretty boys, their in–ring skill and willingness to put their bodies on the line earned them the adulation of just about every fan in attendance and once Lita joined Team Xtreme, some of their pops were even louder than Austin and The Rock’s.
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 the ring, when he did have to wrestler, he wasn't half bad either and even won the Intercontinental Championship. But realistically, he is remembered for his greeting to the crowd, saying "it's time for everyone to come aboard the Hooooo train."
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.
Ivory cut her teeth in GLOW, trained by Mondo Guerrero, while Jackie worked all over before settling into the WWE. Once they both arrived, they did all they could (and succeeded) in helping to get ladies like Trish Startus, Lita, and Chyna over in the ring. Both ladies do not get enough credit for their work, but remember this - ladies like Trish and Lita would have not gotten better had it not been for working with Jackie and Ivory.
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.
At the height of the Attitude Era, he would play with his character some more and become all kinds of ‘Dust – ChynaDust, TripleHDusty, Marilyn MansonDust, and even DustyDust on his way to becoming The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust. Goldust and Marlena were part of many interesting angles during the Attitude Era and, most memorably, in a series of interviews, Goldie opened up as Dustin Rhodes in a career defining moment for the man. Considering that Goldie is still around, he might be the most endearing character of the Attitude Era.
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.
Also, Bret getting screwed led to Mr. McMahon becoming a character and he was vital in the Attitude Era, so we'll also give Bret credit for that.
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.
Besides the first epic altercation, the future WWE Celebrity Hall of Famer wound up becoming a big part of the story, joining DX and seemingly sealing a Shawn Michaels victory. Rumor has it that Vince spent buckets of money getting Tyson, which some advisors didn't understand. But Tyson being there allowed more eyes than usual to see the WWE, as they were now firmly entrenched in the greatest boom period of the company’s history.
8 Chris Jericho
Chris Jericho grabbed the attention of the wrestling world in WCW, as one of its top Cruiserweights with vignettes and bits such as The Man of 1004 Holds, while crying conspiracy to anyone who would listen. As evidenced by getting himself over and trying to worm his way into a program with Goldberg, which ended unsuccessfully, Jericho proved that while he could get to the top, the powers that be in WCW weren't going to give him what he deserved. In WCW, if you weren’t already an establish star. then you weren’t getting much farther than Jericho had gotten and off he went to the WWE with the Millennium Countdown clock, which is still the best way they've ever introduced a new star. The clock struck zero and Jericho was standing on the stage across from The Rock, in one of the most memorable debuts ever. While Big Show came aboard several months earlier, it was Jericho who was the first big name from WCW that came over and who would realize his true potential in the WWE, while shoving it down Eric Bischoff's throat.
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.
They would go on to win the Tag Team Championship and decide they no longer were able to come through the crowd, so instead they gave us the comical Five-Second Pose. Edge and Christian might have been the first Superstars to show that just because you're funny, that shouldn't regulate you to a comedy act and went on to show that sodas, kazoos, and they themselves do in fact rule. While being very funny outside the ring and pre-matches, Edge and Christian were devastating in the ring, which is what propelled them to superstardom.
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.
Just as serious and aggressive as he could be in the ring, Kurt, very much like Edge and Christian (Team ECK) showcased a gift for comedy, most notably helping them out with their jug band pose. For a guy who was turned off to the industry thanks to an ECW angle that went too far, Angle found a home in the WWE and. in just a short few years. would be heralded as one of the greatest of all time.
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.
Even though Shane McMahon took a leap off the Cell at WrestleMania this year, nothing can ever top Foley's foray into Satan's Playpen. Getting heaved off was one thing, but the more impressive and breathtaking fall is the one that wasn't planned, the one through the cage with nothing but a chair and the mat to brake his fall. But perhaps his finest moment took place on January 4th, 1999, the day the wrestling fans collectively switched channels from Nitro to Raw to see Mick Foley win the WWE Championship.
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.
He had the ECW faithful ready to maul him and "Pillman's Got a Gun" remains a constant reminder of how far not to go. He was willing to go anywhere and do anything to get a rise out of people. Sadly, an injury that left his ankle fused permanently derailed his high flying moves and a desire to perform left him nowhere near 100% fully rehabilitated. Pillman would pass away in late 1997 from the same heart affliction his dad passed away from, never truly realizing his potential, which is tragic, considering how influential he already was. While he didn't get to wrestler much in the Attitude Era, his contributions to its style are immeasurable.
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.
Just about every important moment of the time has Ross' beloved voice attached to it, from "Stone Cold, Stone Cold, Stone Cold" to "fists of fire," to of course, " as God as my witness he is broken in half!" Ross was there to lend poignant commentary as well, not just sound bites. His was beloved then and highly sought after now. Ross is currently the host of his own Podcast on PodcastOne and the voice of New Japan here in America on AXS. But those Attitude Era years saw Ross at the top of his game. Like a lot of the boys who peaked during this time, Ross and Lawler peaked together as well. When people complain about Michael Cole, it's not because he's terrible, it's because they miss Good Ol' JR.
2 Paul Heyman
Somehow, even as a manager in WCW, Paul Heyman knew how to tap into maximizing a wrestler's best attributes. But neither he, nor the industry could have predicted the impact ECW would have on the wrestling world. The alternative style and the underdog Us vs. Them mentality would be co-opted by Vince McMahon and WWE and turned into Attitude. Not to mention the relationship Heyman had with Vince during the time, a talent exchange that would see, most notably, Leif Cassidy reinvented as Al Snow. The self-professed Messiah of Madcap Mayhem created an everlasting presence that is still seen to this day in companies like NXT and ROH, not to mention Tommy Dreamer's House of Hardcore. Heyman's reach can not be quantified, but his mark on the Attitude Era cannot be stated enough. Many of the underdogs Heyman helped to cultivate would head to the WWE and help the company reach unprecedented heights. Men like The Dudley Boyz, RVD, Mick Foley, and this guy then-named the Superstar Steve Austin.
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.