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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
6 Sexual Chocolate
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.
4 Bossman Crashes Funeral
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.
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.
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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