There is no denying that the years of late 1997 to early 2001 are the most important in all of professional wrestling history. As WCW dominated in ratings, WWE transformed itself to embrace what has become known as “the Attitude Era.” We all know the big moments there; Stone Cold fighting Mr. McMahon, the rise of the Rock and Triple H into superstars, the Divas rocking sexy moments, the fantastic TLC matches and so much more. It’s the key moment for the business that swung the tide to allow WWE to take over and dominate, changing the entire landscape of wrestling in the process.
But in the rush to glamorize and champion this time, let’s not forget that the “Attitude Era” was also home to some of the absolute stupidest, horrible and downright insulting storylines and moments wrestling fans have ever seen. In what was a time when ideas were just thrown at the wall and creative would just see what would stick, we had to weed through many negatives to find the gold. It's somewhat understandable that some bad had to come of it, in order to find out what didn't work. Looking back on the era, things really got to their best towards the end of the era, as the WWE had more or less figured out what clicked with their audience and what didn't. For every great bit of Stone Cold stunning McMahon, we had to endure a terrible bout or horrible character idea that dragged things down. While we can adore that era, let’s not pretend it was anywhere near perfect. Here are 15 storylines that marred the otherwise terrific Attitude Era and still stand among the worst wrestling has seen.
15 The Stooges Battle
At first, Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco were fun as Vince’s henchmen, doing his dirty work and often taking their hard lumps from Stone Cold and others. But it got worse as they were pushed back into in-ring action despite clearly no longer in shape for it, battling it out against Chyna and others. In 2000, Brisco managed to win the Hardcore Championship and during the celebration, Patterson smashed a bottle over his head and pinned his friend for the belt. Brisco hit back by pinning Patterson while the latter was sleeping but Patterson regained the title. This soon set up the horror of the Evening Gown Match at the 2000 King of the Ring. It was a terrible bout in every way, with even Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler groaning over having to watch it and thankfully, Crash Holly managed to sneak in to pin Patterson and win the belt. They may be funny in segments but putting the Stooges on full blast and in bouts like this were a bad idea all around.
Coming in at the tail end of the Attitude Era, Perry Saturn had been doing okay but not really as big a star as the rest of the Radicalz in WWE. In early 2001, Saturn had a match with jobber Mike Bell with Bell botching some moves that nearly hurt Saturn so he gave the rookie a massive beat-down. As punishment, Saturn was given the storyline of suffering blows to the head and talking to inanimate objects. Soon, he found a mop that he began to call his girlfriend, Moppy and dragged it around everywhere. This led to idiocy like it being “kidnapped” by Raven and Saturn having a fight with him and breaking down when Moppy was broken in half. Stupid and eating up way too much screen time and even though it was meant as a punishment, it seemed cruel and unusual.
13 Trish and Vince
Vince McMahon loves to push himself as the on-screen bastard for WWE and goes a bit too far with it. A clear case was in 2001 as Vince had the idea of Linda having a stroke and just sitting in a wheelchair as Vince carried on an affair with Trish Stratus. Yes, before she was a fantastic wrestler, Trish had to handle Vince putting the moves on her, making out in front of Linda, Vince insulting his “comatose” wife and other disgusting antics.
The capper to it all came with Vince running Trish down while in the ring and forcing her to strip to her underwear, crawl around and bark like a dog. Sure, it got him heat but the wrong kind, completely degrading to Trish and just terrible to watch. It would pay off with Vince getting his ass kicked by both ladies at WrestleMania but still ranks among the lowest points for all involved.
12 Beaver Cleavage
This was one of the first cases of Vince Russo flexing the “fourth wall” aspect of wrestling and didn’t exactly work out very well. At first, we had Chaz Worthington being pushed as “Beaver Cleavage,” with vignettes obviously based on “Leave It To Beaver” with this guy in cap and suit lusting after his busty “Mom.” They were dumb but not much worse than what fans had seen in the cartoonish early 90s.
Just before his first match, Chaz began a promo in character but then cut it to say “this is stupid,” dumping the cap to walk off as everyone seemed baffled. He soon began coming out to his real name and attacks on jobbers and then accused of hitting his girlfriend so the locker room turned on him. It was dropped fast but still terrible using female abuse for cheap heat and not surprising Chaz went back to his old Headbangers gimmick soon afterward.
11 Val Venis and Kai En Tai
Val Venis was always a character pushing it with his porn star stuff but it didn’t hit ludicrous levels until his 1998 feud with Kai En Tai as their manager, Yamaguchi-San (the walking embodiment of a Japanese stereotype) showed up on the stage and used a samurai sword to slice up a cucumber, declaring he was going to do the same to Val for the man dating Yamaguchi’s wife. “I choppy-choppy your pee-pee!” During a tag match against Kai En Tai, Taka Michinoku suddenly turned on Val with the revelation that Yamaguchi’s wife happened to be Taka’s sister.
He and the rest of the group dragged Val to the back as cameras followed, breaking in to see Val tied up, his shorts pulled down and Yamaguchi raising his sword up just as the screen cut to black. The obvious idea was Val losing his manhood and he teased it coming out subdued and an ice pack on his crotch before revealing he’d managed to escape. It was a truly nutty story that did little to serve anyone involved or those watching.
10 PMS and Meat
Who else but Vince Russo could be behind this? In late 1998, Jacqueline, Terri Runnels and Ryan Shamrock formed a team calling itself the Pretty Mean Sisters (see the acronym). They would interfere in matches to hit guys with low blows, boasting of “doing it ourselves” but clearly just playing up being hot ladies. Terri claimed to have become pregnant by Val Venis but he denied it, claiming he’d had vasectomy years before.
When Terri was knocked off the ring apron by D’Lo Brown, she said she suffered a miscarriage and a guilty Brown basically became a servant to PMS to do their dirty work, including forcing Brown to wrestle Mark Henry. When the two were checked out by a doctor, they learned Terri had never been pregnant. The trio soon acquired Shawn Stasiak, who they named “Meat” and treated as a sex slave and the idea of Terri wearing him out with sex and yelling at him lacking energy in matches. The group eventually broke up but it was overall not the brightest time for the Divas.
9 The Jericho Screwjob
Triple H no doubt continues to defend this on pushing himself more as the heel champion but looking back, it’s one of the biggest missteps of the entire Attitude Era. After weeks of back and forth sniping at one another, Chris Jericho finally got Triple H to agree to defend the WWE title on RAW. They went at it in a good battle with Triple H shoving referee Earl Hebner so when Jericho hit a Lionsault, Hebner made a fast count to give Jericho the title. It was a huge moment, the fans popping big-time for it and promised a nice shake-up to the scheduled title match with The Rock at Backlash.
Seeing that crowd reaction, you’d think WWE would realize the smart thing was to let Jericho hang onto the belt for at least a while longer. Instead, HHH forced Hebner to reverse the decision and give him the title back, then fired him. This led to Linda coming out to announce Stone Cold would be the special enforcer for Backlash but to many, Jericho should have been involved instead. It was a blow that would sink his main event chances for a while and despite the Backlash battle being fantastic, it’s arguable that Y2J as WWE champ was something fans wanted in this time and gypping him, and them, like that was a harsh pill to swallow.
8 The Brawl For All
Not so much a storyline in itself but it still has to rank among the worst bits the Attitude Era gave us. With MMA on the rise, WWE decided to capitalize on it by creating a tournament of boxing/fighting matches amid the shows. It was thought up by Jim Ross who planned for “Dr. Death” Steve Williams to win the tournament and thus be an instant challenger for WWE Champion Steve Austin. Putting aside the idea of Steve Williams as a main-eventer in 1998, the entire thing was marred by the fact that the bouts weren’t rigged. Thus, when Williams was knocked out in the first round by Bart Gunn, the whole plan was thrown out the window. The fights got worse, several injuries occurring and the fans booing loudly and chanting “we want wrestling” with each bout.
It all ended with Bart Gunn winning and his prize being knocked out in 30 seconds by Butterbean at WrestleMania. WWE themselves don’t hold back today citing this as one of the biggest failures the company has ever had and another huge distraction for this era.
7 Hawk Goes Flying
It wasn’t much of a secret in the wrestling world that Road Warrior Hawk had a hard party lifestyle, even by wrestling standards. Years of drinking and drug abuse had taken their toll as the Legion of Doom were faltering in 1998 after a recent reunion. The LOD had always been shown a very tight unit but for the first time ever, tension was teased between Hawk and Animal as they feuded with the Disciple of the Apocalypse who had the Warriors’ old manager Paul Ellering on their side. Hawk started showing up to matches out of it and acting hung over so Animal recruited Droz to take his place, complete with makeup as Hawk just seemed to get worse and worse.
The idea apparently was Droz pushing Hawk’s addictions on to replace him fully, not a bad story. But sadly, WWE had to give it that extra push as Hawk climbed the titantron acting drunk with Ellering joining Animal and Droz begging him not to jump. He did, falling to the floor and the fan reaction wasn’t quite what WWE hoped as they yelled about how horrible and insulting this was and Hawk himself was among the more vocal opponents. Realizing their mistake, WWE quickly dropped the whole thing, the LOD pushed aside except for a brief return with Ellering in 1999. They would leave, making one last run in 2003 before Hawk’s sudden death and sad that one of the greatest acts in wrestling history had to basically end in such a horrid fashion.
6 Sexual Chocolate
There’s a theory among fans that Mark Henry was given so many bad storylines to try and force him to quit so Vince wouldn’t have to keep paying his huge 10-year contract. When you see what sort of stuff he got, you can understand fans buying into it. In 1999, Henry was being pushed as “Sexual Chocolate,” a killer ladies’ man who put the moves on Chyna, the two shown on dates and Henry even boasting of them sleeping together. Chyna arranged for Henry to meet a friend of hers, Sammi and Henry was naturally eager for a threesome. They showed video of the trio going to a hotel room but the next week, Henry came to the ring to beg forgiveness, saying he’d never slept with Chyna at all and not to show the video. She did, which revealed that Sammi was actually a man getting Henry into bed before revealing himself and Henry running out screaming. Yep, way to win over the LGBT community, WWE. Oh and did I mention this was all after a video of Henry at a sex addict’s group claiming he lost his virginity at eight to his sister and they still slept together? A great guy who didn’t deserve this sort of crap to have to handle.
5 The Pepper Battles
This was offensive on multiple levels for several factions of fans. The Big Bossman and Al Snow were feuding in 1999 over the Hardcore title with a bout at SummerSlam taking place all over the arena and even the local bar. During the fight, Bossman would hit Snow with a box holding Snow’s Chihuahua, Pepper. Knowing how the animal rights people would be up in arms, Jim Ross immediately said the box was empty. Bossman would later abduct Pepper and call a meeting with Snow, serving him dinner as they talked things out and then revealed Snow had actually eaten the remains of Pepper.
There’s a lot of harsh stuff in wrestling but this was seriously pushing it for fans. This set up the now infamous Kennel From Hell match, a double-cage battle with dogs patrolling the ring, meant to be fierce but instead were caught on camera crapping on the floor and even humping one another. Which is a truly fitting end for a storyline that was crap from start to finish.
4 Bossman Crashes Funeral
So how to top the previous entry? Leave it to WWE to find a way as the Big Bossman and Big Show were feuding late in 1999 over the Big Show’s WWE title. The storyline came that Show’s dad had died and Bossman read a poem for Show’s dad (“with deepest regrets and tears that are soaked, I’m sorry to hear your dad finally croaked.”) That was soon followed by the now insane moment of Bossman crashing the funeral, chaining the coffin containing Big Show’s father and dragging it away in his truck as Show rode the top of the coffin around the cemetery. Bossman then broke into Show’s mom’s house to confront her and force her to admit Big Show was a bastard. It all ended in a terrible bout at Armageddon and was a clear sign of how WWE was going a bit off the track in late ’99 before resettling for 2000 but still stunning how they even dared do all this in the first place.
3 Mae Young’s Son
You can’t do a list of terrible WWE moments and not include this one. It’s a prerequisite. Mae Young was riding high in 2000 with the wild idea of her being pushed as a randy senior citizen, proving her toughness by taking a powerbomb off the stage from the Dudley Boyz and even getting over in matches. She and Mark Henry were put together in a storyline that had Mae announce she was pregnant.
After weeks of “fun” of them together and Henry dealing with being a dad, we finally had Mae give birth to…a hand. Vince McMahon was the one who came up with this and still defends it and it ranks high on the list of dumb ideas. Still, Mae was fun in it and it was great when WWE paid tribute to it in 2011 when Mae’s “grown son” (a guy in a giant hand costume) showed up so as stupid as this was, it’s not as terribly offensive as others on this list.
2 Who Ran Over Stone Cold?
It’s astonishing how many wrestling writers miss the obvious: never start a huge storyline without a payoff in mind. When Steve Austin needed time off for neck surgery in late 1999, WWE had a problem as Austin had been advertised as being part of the Survivor Series. So on the show, they had someone drive a car to run Austin down and take him out. It was forgotten until Austin returned the next year and kicked off the hunt for the driver. Suspicion centered around The Rock but instead it turned out to be Rikishi, who hadn’t even been on the show when Austin was hit.
It was a terrible move as Rikishi was over with crowds with his wild dancing and turning heel didn’t suit him. Worse was his explanation, that he “did it for The Rock,” taking out Austin so The Rock could get ahead and not be “held back by the white man” like Samoans were. It was a totally stupid idea and highlights how poorly done this entire storyline was, marring an otherwise great year for WWE and still one of the dumbest “solutions” to a long-range mystery ever.
1 The Greater Power
It actually could have turned out okay but instead was a huge mess. As 1999 went on, The Undertaker was taking on a much darker aspect, including boasting “real” supernatural powers and trying to “sacrifice” Stephanie which forced Vince McMahon to turn to Steve Austin for help. We had the bizarre sight of Austin basically crucified on a hanging symbol and then Shane McMahon joining The Undertaker to form the “Corporate Ministry” amid more bizarre goings-on. It seemed Undertaker answered to a “Greater Power” as a hooded figure was shown taunting Austin and pushing Vince to the extreme.
Finally, the Ministry came out as Vince showed up on video yelling for the mastermind to reveal himself. He pulled off the hood to reveal…Vince McMahon. Yep, throwing out weeks of Vince actually being a good guy, it was now said that was all a massive mind game by Vince to trick Austin more and assert his control. It went over so badly that even WWE knew it was going to be terrible and thus immediately put in the back-up plan of a pissed-off Linda and Stephanie arranging for Austin to become CEO and drive Vince crazier. A fair ending but still highlighted a story that started bad and got worse as it went for a terrible pay-off.
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