"Surely, the era of "The superhero who urged you to say your prayers and take your vitamins" is definitely passé. Therefore, we've embarked on a far more innovative and contemporary creative campaign, that is far more invigorating and extemporaneous than ever before."
In the mid-'90s
, the World Wrestling Federation
faced tough times. Its "New Generation" Era (the early-mid '90s) product couldn't compete with the products turned out by rival wrestling promotion World Championship Wrestling
and upstart independent promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling
. WCW's ultra-hot New World Order
angle took the wrestling industry by storm and ECW's focus on brutal violence and edgy storylines captured an adult audience turned away by the WWF's product.
What did the WWF do to save itself from the verge of destruction? Why, it did what all great companies do: it copied everyone else's ideas
— and did them better.
The WWF took a few pages out of the ECW playbook and injected extreme violence, overt sexuality, and general vulgarity
into its programming. The move offended and shocked the parents' groups
who had grown used to the company's family-friendly programming during the days of Hulk Hogan
and André the Giant
— but the edgier content also drew in viewers in numbers the WWF had never seen before (and hasn't equalled since). Pay-per-view buyrates shot through the roof and TV ratings rose well above the ratings for WCW; the WWF had reclaimed its throne.
The WWF also licensed a video game by Acclaim
called WWF Attitude
, released in 1999 to much fanfare after the popular WWF War Zone
. Rather than sprites, the visuals were photo-realistic (for the time), there was tons of speech and voice samples, many wrestlers and outfits to unlock, and a great, in-depth "create-a-wrestler" mode. When it was released, it was considered the best wrestling game on the market, with THQ
being the only ones close enough to touch it with their WCW entry. WWF Attitude
managed to capture much of the spirit of a Raw
episode or PPV broadcast during the Attitude Era, hence the name, and at the time it was praised by many. However, the gameplay was considered stiff in its time, as well as the date of release. Though it included many of the face
wrestlers accurately, there was no The Big Show
and not many match types (for one, there was no "Hell in a Cell"). Arena customization was exclusively locked from the years 1997 to 1998. When Acclaim's license ran out, THQ picked it up and made the popular Wrestlemania 2000
and No Mercy
games, also based on the Attitude Era, to which the latter was considered one of the greatest wrestling games in the medium. They would also produce SmackDown!
, which would later become Smackdown VS Raw
. As of 2013, the latest game in the series, WWE '13
, features the Attitude Era heavily.
The official start of the Attitude Era, as marked by WWE's official timeline, is the 29th of March 1998, the date of WrestleMania 14
, where "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
defeated Shawn Michaels
for the WWF Championship (in what would be Shawn's last match for four years, due to an injured back). Austin and Michaels actually kicked off the Era before WrestleMania
: Austin's famous "Austin 3:16
" speech at King of the Ring 1996
(as well as his submission match with Bret Hart
at WrestleMania 13
) shot Austin into superstardom, whereas Michaels' involvement in the "Montreal Screwjob
" at Survivor Series 1997
and his role in the formation of D-Generation X
helped build the atmosphere that fostered the Attitude Era (a notable assist also goes to Mankind
, whose feud with The Undertaker
brought more extreme matches into the WWF).
Famous events/matches associated with the Attitude Era include:
- The aformentioned WrestleMania 13 match between Bret Hart and Steve Austin, which managed to perfectly execute a rare "double turn" — Austin (the heel) and Hart (the face) both turned after the match was over, with Austin becoming a badass face and Bret becoming an America-hating Canadian heel (he remained a face in Canada and other foreign territories, though).
- The first "Hell in a Cell" match, which featured Shawn Michaels going up against The Undertaker (as well as the debut of Kane).
- The Montreal Screwjob
- The aformentioned WrestleMania 14 WWF Championship match between Austin and Michaels.
- The entirety of the Austin/Vince McMahon feud, widely regarded as one of the best feuds of all time in professional wrestling.
- D-Generation X invades a WCW live event with a tank. They also managed to raise WCW's ire by showing up to their headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
- The second "Hell in a Cell" match, where The Undertaker tossed Mankind off the top of the sixteen-foot-high cell onto the Spanish Announcers Table (and produced one of the most-used video clips in the company's history). The sight of Foley crashing through the table became this era's equivalent of Hulk Hogan slamming Andre The Giant to the mat, although Foley's later fall through the roof of the cage into the ring below was far more damaging (and far less rehearsed).
- The Survivor Series 1998 main event: rising face The Rock aligned with Vince McMahon to screw Mankind out of becoming the WWF Champion (the first of WWE's many allusions to the Montreal Screwjob in the years that followed it), which gave rise to The Corporation storyline.
- Mankind's first WWF Championship victory: this event, which coincided with the infamous Fingerpoke Of Doom segment from WCW, turned the tide of the "Monday Night Wars" in the WWF's favor.
- The debut of Paul Wight, formerly "The Giant" in WCW, who broke through the ring during an Austin/McMahon cage match at the February 1999 pay-per-view St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and threw Austin through the cage (costing Vince the match in the process). He later became "The Big Show".
- The formation of the Ministry Of Darkness, led by The Undertaker.
- The death of Owen Hart, the first major death of a wrestler while employed to the WWF; it led to his widow filing a lawsuit over the company.
- The debut of Chris Jericho on Raw Is War in mid-1999, making him one of the first major defections from WCW to the WWF.
- The debut of SmackDown! on the UPN network.
- The Raw Is War segment known as "The Rock: This Is Your Life!", where Mankind paid tribute to The Rock, his then-tag team partner. This segment remains the highest-rated professional wrestling segment in television history (with an 8.4 rating).
- No Mercy 1999, which included the first tag-team "Ladder Match" between "New Brood" members "The Hardy Boyz" (Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy) and Edge & Christian and Chyna winning the Intercontinental Championship from Jeff Jarrett in his last WWF match (making her the first woman to ever hold the championship).
- The debut of Kurt Angle, a Real Life gold medal Olympian from the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.
- Steve Austin being run down in a parking lot by an unknown assailant (later revealed to be Rikishi, working on orders from Triple H) and is out of action for ten months at Survivor Series 1999 (the vehicular assault was the Kayfabe explanation for Austin taking time off for neck surgery).
- The Kayfabe marriage between Triple H and Vince's Real Life daughter Stephanie McMahon, which resulted in the "McMahon-Helmsley Faction/Regime" and Triple H becoming one of the WWF's biggest heel (the couple would later marry in Real Life).
- Stacy "The Kat" Carter briefly flashed the crowd at Armageddon 1999 following an "Evening Gown in a Pool" match, marking the first instance of intentional nudity on WWF programming.
- "The Radicalz" — Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, and Eddie Guerrero — all appear on Raw Is War just a few weeks after being released from their WCW contracts in early 2000.
- The retirement of Mick Foley at the hands of Triple H at No Way Out 2000 (and their instant-classic "Street Fight" at Royal Rumble 2000 a month prior to Foley's retirement match).
- The Rock ending Triple H's reign as WWF Champion at Backlash 2000, marking the first time The Rock becomes WWF Champion as a face.
- The Undertaker returns in his new "American Badass" persona, after having been away from WWF programming for several months.
- The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz, and Edge & Christian compete in the first "Tables, Ladders & Chairs" match at SummerSlam 2000. Notably, the genesis of this match evolved from the earlier "Triangle Ladder" match at WrestleMania 2000.
- Steve Austin wins his third Royal Rumble in 2001, setting up...
...the end of the Attitude Era, which took place on April 1, 2001, the date of WrestleMania X-7
). The WWF had purchased WCW and many of its wrestlers' contracts, weeks prior to the event, and it had also hired on former ECW mastermind Paul Heyman
as a color commentator (following the departure of Jerry "The King" Lawler
) following ECW's bankruptcy. The Monday Night Wars had ended, thus the need for the Attitude Era. At WrestleMania X-7
, Steve Austin defeated The Rock in the main event to win his fifth WWF Championship... with the help of his long-time arch-nemesis Mr. McMahon
, a move that ended their feud and the Attitude Era in one swift blow
Mileage varies on the quality of the WWF/WWE product after the end of the Attitude Era (since the company has lacked the competition that created the necessity for the Attitude Era), and when (or even if) it began to go downhill, but few can deny that the wrestling world hasn't been the same since.