Entertaining. Ridiculous. Exciting. Outrageous. Fun. Frivolous. Eye catching. Sexist. Unpredictable. Stupid. They all describe wrestling’s Attitude Era. For some it was the golden generation of the WWE. For others, one of the company’s lowest ebbs.
Most fans lapped it up with superstars like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock heading a star studded roster. D-Generation X was in full swing, The Undertaker was flanked by a Ministry Of Darkness and the divas were barely clothed.
If you’re in the 25 to 35 year age range, you probably fell in love with wrestling during the Attitude days. They pushed the boundaries with their storylines. Every match had an intriguing stipulation. And it seemed each superstar on the roster had a role to play. Attitude fans still reminisce about those halcyon days, and many refuse to accept the new generation of wrestlers, instead preferring to make impossible comparisons with superstars of yesteryear.
On the surface it all looked great. But dig a little deeper and the Attitude Era wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There were some serious problems here, both in and out of the ring. Some of the storylines were incredibly offensive. Others were so ridiculous they’d be out of place in a Quentin Tarantino film. Others still were just plain insulting to wrestling fans across the globe.
Many problems from those days still affect the industry in 2016. Here are 15 ways the Attitude Era ruined wrestling.
Occasionally the WWE crowd still chants WHAT when someone ends a sentence on the microphone. This all stemmed from Stone Cold back in the Attitude Era, when he started ending each sentence in his promos by saying WHAT? Apparently the origins of this slightly bizarre turn of phrase came from a phone message he left on Christian’s answering machine. He started doing it on the mic, and all of a sudden there was WHAT merchandise everywhere. Who could forget the time he came up behind Stephanie McMahon, who was talking trash about Stone Cold in an interview at the time. He rattled off a series of WHATs, causing Stephanie to throw a tantrum and run away from the interviewer. It was all pretty cool at the time, but that was like 15 years ago and it’s about time wrestling fans let this one rest.
14. It Destroyed WCW…
Remember World Championship Wrestling? That other bunch of wrestlers who performed on Monday Night Nitro? Remember Goldberg’s astronomical winning streak which needed a taser to be broken? And don’t forget the whole NWO thing, thwarted somewhat one memorable night by an endless army of Stings. It was all pretty good fun, and frankly it’s a shame it’s not happening anymore. WCW had massive financial problems, and Vince McMahon made his move during the Attitude Era, taking over the company and folding most of its roster into his own. There were some major casualties along the way and a horrendous invasion storyline where, among other strange happenings, Stone Cold turned heel and Kurt Angle became a hero. Unfortunately WCW is just a relic of the past now, a reminder of times gone by when McMahon didn’t have a monopoly on the business.
13. …And ECW
Many wrestling fans miss ECW even more than they miss WCW. This company was extreme in name and nature, and offered more of a hardcore element for those fans who thought the WWE and WCW were a little bit cushy. ECW had awesome wrestlers, who were often poached by the WWE and even WCW. They had no rules and things like Japanese death matches, and barbed wire instead of ring ropes. This stuff was brutal and challenged the very fabric of the industry as one of entertainment, resembling something much closer to a blood sport. And the fans absolutely loved it. McMahon eventually took over ECW too and has since rebranded it and tried bringing it back through the WWE. But it’s nothing like it once was.
12. It Left A Generation Of Attituders
That’s another name for wrestling fans who remain stuck in the Attitude Era. There’s plenty of them around and they’re quite easy to spot – usually 25 to 40 years of age and still get around wearing their Austin 3:16 t shirts or their D-Generation-X jackets. That’s quite bearable, but the problem with Attituders is they refuse to move on to the present era. They’ll tell you the roster today has no depth to it, that John Cena doesn’t have a scratch on Stone Cold, that there are no good stories or finishing moves any more and that the divas aren’t as hot as they used to be. It’s time for the Attituders to embrace the new era rather than observe with so much derision.
11. One Half Of The Potential WWE Audience Was Irreparably Offended
What’s the opposite of feminism? Well whatever Vince McMahon and his creative writing crew got away with during the Attitude Era must come pretty damn close. Scantly clothed, big breasted women were the norm, and most divas spent the Attitude years preaching the promiscuity of their female rivals. That’s when they weren’t tearing each others clothes off backstage, or contesting in evening gown or bra and panties matches in the ring. Or being made to act like a dog for McMahon in the ring, as Trish Stratus was forced to do one night. How the hell did they manage to get away with this? In any event, it severely thinned the female wrestling fan population.
10. Women Were Viewed As Eye Candy
One of the results of the Attitude Era’s approach to women was Jerry Lawler was given free rein on the microphone. Here’s a handful of the phrases he coined:
“Women. Can’t live with ’em, no resale value.”
“I can read her like a book, but I prefer the Braille edition.”
“I’m just going to be over here going blind.”
“She’s had more hands on her than a doorknob.”
While some was in good fun, it didn’t change the fact that divas were simply thrown out there as eye candy. Eventually the emergence of Trish and Lita helped change things, but all the division was at a certain point was women cat fighting and a sideshow for the ‘serious’ matches.
9. It Led To The Shocking Benoit Family Tragedy
There I said it. The Attitude Era wasn’t solely to blame for what Chris Benoit did to his family, but it certainly played a part. Anabolic steroids were found at the Benoit family crime scene and his actions were initially blamed on ‘roid rage. But many people, including his family, have a different explanation for why Benoit murdered his family before killing himself. Tests on Benoit’s brain revealed it resembled that of an 85-year-old dementia patient. Researchers concluded this was caused by a lifetime of trauma and concussions in the wrestling ring. This was at its peak during the Attitude Era where Benoit was one of the only wrestlers willing to take a full blooded chair shot to the back of the head, something that occurred every other week during the Attitude Era. The Benoit tragedy was a significant blow to the WWE, and one it still hasn’t quite recovered from.
8. Tables, Ladders And Chairs Are No Longer That Impressive
A good solid chair shot 20 years ago still caused wrestling fans to gasp in unison. Ladder matches were brilliant entertainment, and when the Dudley Boyz started slamming opponents through tables, well that was one of the coolest things we’d ever seen. I mean who even knew they kept tables under the ring? Now that stuff isn’t even very exciting anymore. Ladder matches have been done to death and it’s almost more intriguing to see the Dudley Boyz conjure up a win without resorting to the use of a table. Further diluting the shock value of tables, ladders or chairs was the combination of all three into a TLC match. This stuff just isn’t as cool as it used to be.
7. Vince McMahon’s Ego Became Impossibly Big
Before the Attitude Era, McMahon’s on screen contribution came mainly from behind the commentary table. But in 1997, the whole Mr McMahon gimmick was born and he started seeing much more air time in the ring. He started wrestling occasionally, he feuded memorably with Stone Cold, he was the Higher Power and he started his perverse Kiss My Ass club. He even let himself win the Royal Rumble and the WWE title in 1999.
The ego certainly hasn’t shrunk in the intervening years from the Attitude Era to now. He became ECW World Champion in 2007. His Kiss My Ass club continued until 2008, and he’s apparently been killed in a car explosion, and fathered an illegitimate son. These days he still loves the camera and telling everyone he’s in charge, and just recently he suspended Titus O’Neil for grabbing his arm after Daniel Bryan’s retirement speech. McMahon was reportedly prepared to fire O’Neil but was persuaded to just suspend him instead. Oh, and McMahon has stated he expects to live forever. That’s some ego.
6. The Current Roster Is Still Stuck In Its Shadow
Make no mistake, there are some good quality wrestlers on the WWE roster these days. Technically speaking there’s probably more talent now then there was in the Attitude Era, contrary to popular opinion. Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens and now AJ Styles, just to name a few, are splendidly gifted. Yet the nostalgic view is that no one currently wrestling in the company is close to what was on display during the Attitude Era. Just think about that for a second…the likes of Val Venis and The Godfather held the Intercontinental Championship back then. At the moment, Owens and Dean Ambrose seem to be trading the belt and they’re so much more talented in the ring, it’s not worth the comparison.
Thanks to the Attitude Era, the new age stars are not getting the credit their ability deserves. Perhaps the gimmicks aren’t as fun or the storylines not as engaging, but credit needs to be given where it’s due.
5. It Severely Damaged The Hardcore Division
The Attitude Era gave birth to the Hardcore Championship and in the beginning this belt was great fun, often providing some of the most memorable matches on the card. If anything it was always a good way to help flesh out the mid card of a pay per view. Understandably, Mankind was the inaugural Hardcore champion. Here was a wrestler who epitomized the meaning of hardcore, who put the fans above his well being and who set a very high standard for the division.
In only a few years that standard plummeted to the depths of a very deep, dark basement. The honor roll for the Hardcore belt became a joke and includes the likes of Pete Gas, an aged Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson and Bobcat. The belt was retired in 2002 when Rob Van Dam unified it with the Intercontinental Championship. Understandably so, given what the hardcore division had become. Had the Attitude Era treated the Hardcore Title with a bit more respect, it might still be entertaining us today.
4. Triple H Happened
I guess for all the Triple H fans out there this isn’t a bad thing, and in fairness to the boss’s son in law, he seems to have his head switched on from a business perspective. At the beginning of the Attitude Era, Triple H was an up and coming wrestler but still very much down the pecking order. Fast forward about five or six years and he was one of the company’s leading wrestlers, a multiple world champion and married to Stephanie McMahon.
He’s a natural successor to Vince McMahon’s empire, but there’s a problem. Triple H boasts an almighty ego, and that ego has stunted the growth of many wrestlers over the past decade. As we speak he’s enjoying another reign as world champion. Is that really the best WWE could come up with? Granted the championship is in a transition phase with Seth Rollins injured but still, they could’ve easily slapped the belt on one of the up and comers instead. It’s not a good message to send to the rest of the roster. The move indicates that while Triple H is still active, he’s not afraid to wear the belt whenever he sees fit. That can’t be a good thing given his glory days should now be behind him.
3. It Damaged The Industry’s Reputation
About a decade before the Attitude Era, Vince McMahon correctly made the decision to publicly admit that professional wrestling was entertainment as opposed to real sport. Fans knew it was fake and enjoyed it for what it was. But a lot of casual observers terminally lost interest during the Attitude Era. And it was all down to some of the painful stories. Such as The Undertaker’s Ministry Of Darkness and its constant rumblings about sacrificing people, culminating in the Greater Power angle. There was The Big Boss Man feeding Al Snow the remains of his dog Pepper. Then there was the most ridiculous of all, Mae Young giving birth to a giant hand, the father of which was supposedly Mark Henry. WWE Creative is a bit more sensible these days, but the industry’s reputation remains damaged.
2. Bret Hart’s Career Didn’t Get The Finish It Deserved
Now let’s put this into perspective. Bret Hart was possibly the greatest technical wrestler of his generation. He played a major role in building the WWE through the 1980s and 1990s with his superb in ring ability. But he prematurely left the company after the Montreal Screwjob in 1997, where Vince McMahon duped him out of the WWE Title. Just a year earlier Hart had signed an unprecedented 20 year contract extension with the company. Many wrestling fans label this infamous event as the beginning of the Attitude Era. At the time of the Screwjob, Hart still had plenty to give in the ring and plenty more potential with the WWE. Instead he switched to WCW where he wrestled for a few years before retirement.
Many years later he mended fences with McMahon and returned to WWE, but that’s not the point. As magnificent as Hart’s wrestling career was, you just get the feeling it didn’t quite flesh out its entire potential. The 20 year contract he signed stated he’d wrestle for three more years then spend 17 years as one of McMahon’s key men backstage. Imagine how good it would have been if Hart was still involved when the likes of Stone Cold, The Rock and Triple H started to command main event attention.
1. Wrestler Deaths Became Almost Trivial
So many professional wrestlers have died far too young over the past few decades. During the Attitude Era and the years immediately following, this started happening with frightening frequency. Often the WWE would acknowledge this when it happened with mention of it to start an episode of Raw, or something along those lines. But Vince McMahon refuses to accept, or at least admit, that the environment of professional wrestling was a major factor in all of this. That environment has long included frequent use of alcohol, pain pills and an assortment of other narcotics.
The likes of Big Boss Man, Crash Holly, Test, Mr Perfect, Road Warrior Hawk and a range of others were all taken too soon. The death of a professional footballer or basketball player tends to generate national media attention sometimes for weeks after the event. Professional wrestling, certain exceptions aside, doesn’t seem to harvest the same interest. It happens a lot more often in wrestling, so keeping this kind of news to minimal coverage lessens the damage sustained by the industry.
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