WWF Attitude Era: 1999

WWF Attitude Era: 1997

WWF Attitude Era: 1999

We’re fully entrenched in the Attitude Era now, and what a lot of people think of as the most hot year during the time and possibly of all time. Everybody seems to be firing on all cylinders and at points of the year Austin, Triple H, The Rock, Undertaker, The McMahon’s and Mankind are all involved in the main event picture. Basically THE people you think of when the era is discussed. This is also the year when stuff gets particularly batshit with evil entities sacrificing women, sex addictions, drug-induced weddings and so-on. Let’s get into it.

The first half of the year was yet again dominated by all the Austin/McMahon shenanigans that we love from this time and would eventually wrap stuff up on a one-on-one level, at least for the time being. You had the dumb choice of Mr. McMahon winning the Rumble, but of course he wasn’t actually going to main event Mania for the title, so their big outting came in a pretty fun cage match at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. A match that Vince take an actual pretty big bump off the cage onto a table and one that saw Big Show literally get birthed into the WWF, coming through the bottom of the ring to provide insurance that was never delivered upon. This being WWF, where there basically always has to be an evil authority group the McMahon lead Corporation with The Rock as the champ out-front led into WrestleMania where Austin was possibly as hot as ever and no way was he not leaving Philly without the belt, which he did.

Alongside the The Corporation you had The Undertaker heeling it up as the leader of the Ministry of Darkness who at one time tried to, in the full outlandishness of the era, sacrifice Stephanie McMahon, with McMahon sinking down for help with Austin against him. Of course this is wrestling, so McMahon would turn on Austin yet again and the formation of the Corporate Ministry showcased the massive stable that resulted. It was a big, dumb failure and didn’t really go anywhere, but we got the amazing IT’S ME, AUSTIN meme and Austin getting to be fake head of the company, and it was fun living in that alternate world for a couple weeks.

Probably (?) the most famous Attitude Era moment happened at the end of the year, and one that literally has shaped the company and basically been the face of it behind-the-scenes and in front from then all the way until right now in 2015 when I’m writing this, the “marriage” between Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. Now first off we get the whole Stephanie/Test courtship and marriage that includes the absolute goldmine of Test trying to act, he might give some of the most unconvincing acting by any wrestler in the company, it’s quite impressive in how bad it is.

Now outside of the whole original “drugging someone and forcing them into marriage” thing, they way they filmed everything was actually quite engaging. Triple H comes out to pester Vince yet again and points to the titantron, and cue the most amateur video, that seemingly keeps going on and on and becomes even more creepy as you feel like a weird voyeur into this even more disturbing situation, and then the handheld camera pans over to Stephanie passed out and Triple H in his glee-filled frat-boy self somehow getting a marriage out of all this. In that moment it is quite striking and effective. Now this is all stupid and makes no sense, but it’s an interesting moment and one that is still remembered to this day. Of course, they backtrack on the whole “drugging a woman and forcing her into the command of a man” thing by having her TOTALLY have been along with it the whole time as Stephanie turns on her dad at the Armageddon pay-per-view.

Continuing with the full-out wackiness of this year of the Attitude Era, we have Mark Henry turning into “Sexual Chocolate” where he’s all of a sudden a sex addict and engages in some weird fetishes and vignettes where he goes after all sorts of women. I mean, it just wouldn’t be the Attitude Era if women weren’t being degraded in some sort of way. The “women’s” division filled with evening gown matches and bikini contests just wasn’t enough. I will say that I enjoyed the little vignettes of Mark Henry’s escapades if nothing for how they let superstars be characters outside of the arena and ring and actually showed some work filming these little bits out and about at places and really provided a sense of character and that these people were actually living in our fully-functional world and not just within the confines of the backstage arena area or the physical ring. There’s not that much of that anymore, but I guess with the advent of social media and content through other means fills the shading and backstory that they couldn’t always do back then so easily.

1999 is almost noteworthy solely on a couple debuts of a couple superstars alone, namely Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle. Jericho’s is one of the most iconic introductions of all time, when the epic countdown of theme starts during one of The Rock’s promo’s and then the crowd goes crazy when it hits zero, Jericho comes out and right off the bat proves he’s one of the few to be able to go toe-to-toe with The Rock on the mic. Jericho is really Jericho right out the gate, the self-obsessed shyster who does whatever he wants.

Kurt Angle’s debut is a little different, he got the promos leading up to his debut, laying on thick his prestige as an Olympic athlete along with his goofy demeanor. It’s funny that they would consistently refer to him as a “real” athlete in that he actually wrestled, ie. not fake, and went on about this whereas in todays world they wouldn’t be caught dead calling any other kind of athlete “real” or somewhat on a higher level that “professional wrestling.” Really it’s only the start of their characters and leading into 2000, they become much more of main event players.

Oh my god, so let’s talk about the “Kennel from Hell” match. I had heard things about this match and how bad it was, always popping up in those “worst gimmick” matches lists, but I never knew too much about it, but boy am I glad I came in cold to this. What a brick of a match from every angle. So, basically it’s a Hell in a Cell match with a cage inside with “rabid” dogs patrolling around the inside. As sinister as it might sound, it doesn’t even come close to that. The dogs of course are a non-factor and do nothing, but like anyone actually expected them to attack someone or bite, they just walked around and barked and just proved an auditory nuisance. Now maybe if you get a couple charismatic guys or have some wrestlers with chemistry and skill go at it and you could make things interesting, but nope it’s the dull void of Big Boss Man against the tepid insanity of Al Snow. A lot of the match was just each wrestler caught up in some machination of the match and completely separated from their opponent. The match barely went 10 minutes and was just an utter mess all around. The only thing that could have made it messier was if the dog’s had a little more to eat before they came out there.

I guess, I should continue my whole, this was the year of _______ thing. Which, obviously it was, The Rock. I mean, Austin owned the first half of the year and probably would have the rest if he didn’t get injured. But, all that nuclear energy of Austin’s just transferred right over to Rocky just as his mannerisms and mic work were getting perfected, not to mention his cocky look and bam, just like that the people had their new idol. The Rock bounced around the main event near the end of the year, but really just as importantly enjoyed some character-strengthening feuding and not-so mutual partnership with Mankind that delivered some great hilarity from their juxtaposition of characters.

Now, I didn’t really intend for this to be last, but here we are and I guess we should talk about the biggest thing to ever happen in the World Wrestling Federation, the death of Owen Hart. Of course people not even remotely interested in wrestling know of the event, how somebody literally died during a wrestling event, the biggest company for it in the world and everything just trudged on. I knew how everything happened, but was always curious to see how it played out in realtime during the pay-per-view and finally watching it it was just so damn chilling. We see Owen Hart, as the Blue Blazer, cutting a promo doing his fun, little superhero schtick and then it cuts to what always is the ring for the entrance, but this time it doesn’t. This time we cut directly to Jim Ross who sternly outlines that there has been an accident with Owen Hart’s zip-line descent into the ring. The camera hauntingly shoots everything but the ring, the ring that Owen Hart’s lifeless body lays in after supposedly hitting the ring post and ropes and ricocheting back. The camera is focused on the nervous energy of the crowd, probably unsure what exactly they are seeing of this business who makes it’s living on things being not exactly what you think they may be. Eventually, Owen is carted off, we don’t see this, and then time goes on and the next match comes forth like nothing happened. But, it’s awful and weird and I can’t imagine how the wrestler came out and continued on with all of this after their friend and co-worker died in the same ring they must compete in. I don’t know how Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler kept talking, even through understandably emotional means. And then the dagger. I couldn’t believe they actually said this and had it released on the show as succinctly and almost coldly as they did. Another cut back to Jim Ross speaking to the camera and he flat out explains that Owen Hart has died, in the middle of a pay-per-view something they’ve done hundreds of times before, and man the energy going forward is just the weirdest thing ever. I can’t imagine being in that building and feeling that. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but it’s kinda insane to me that they didn’t stop the show, from reading things it seems like different wrestler have varying opinions on that. The event as sad and devastating as it was, provided ammunition to others, but beyond all that someone lost their life and even now it’s hard to quantify. The Owen Hart tribute show the next night was incredible, dropping all storylines and just having tribute matches to Owen with cut-in memories from the superstars out of character. The Triple H one was especially touching. But, as the WWF is, and as they always will, next week they were right back at the grind, nothing had happened, one of their superstars hadn’t died a few weeks back, it was like it had ever been, except one of the greatest wrestler who ever grappled inside those four posts was no longer there.

This was another great year, and although I think I enjoyed 1998 a bit more for the full brunt of Austin, 1999 was just a really fun mix of all these different things being thrown into the melting point of the Attitude Era. The crazy factions, the passing of the torch from Austin to The Rock, the rising of Triple H, the emerging tag team division, weird sex stuff, sacrifices, British Bulldog coming back for some reason, Mr. McMahon main-eventing three pay-per-views, I mean, I could just go on and on, this year crammed so much in. Now onto the new millennium…

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WWF Attitude Era: 1998

WWF Attitude Era: 1997

WWF Attitude Era: 1998

So, Stone Cold is just a little bit over, isn’t he? Man, just when I said 1997 was the year of Bret Hart, 1998 just blows that out of the water with Stone Cold, he went nuclear times 10. Just if you could bottle the energy the crowd expends when the glass shatters on Stone Cold’s entrance, you could power a small city for a week. This is the Attitude Era I was waiting for ass-kicker Stone Cold Steve Austin taking over, throwing up middle fingers, chugging down a couple Steveweisers and stunning everyone in sight, and feuding with Vince McMahon. Stone Cold/Vince is everything I wanted it to be and literally the defining the storyline of the defining era for the company.

The whole year was basically the Austin/McMahon feud, with Austin basically owning the entire company and everything being fed through his veins. Leading into Mania XIV it was obvious he was going over HBK, how couldn’t he? The crowd went nuclear everytime they saw even a glimpse of him. He would feud with Mankind/Dude Love for a bit, but things really hit their stride when he got involved with the whole Undertaker/Kane thing flip-flopping the belt. That’s one thing the Attitude Era was never afraid of, randomly dropping the top title on RAW or giving out short reigns, like Kane got at King Of The Ring. Austin was just on a tear all year, and what a time to watch him captivate the entire product at the time.

Oh, man, so let’s talk about it King Of The Ring ’98, Undertaker vs. Mankind Hell In A Cell with probably? the most famous moment in wrestling history. I mean, you could debate that, but like top three at least. Anyway, who cares, Undertaker throws Mick Foley (let’s personalize him here for effect) off the top of the goddamn cell threw an announce table. Of course I’d seen this several times before in, like, every WWF highlight package, but jeez, the shock value just doesn’t go away. Mick Foley, Mrs. Foley’s little boy, falls off a ginormous steel structure through a table, and for all intents and purposes he dies. He doesn’t, but it sure she seems like he did. That was before the match even “started,” and Foley gets stretched away and we go on to the next match, still with our mouths agape. Except that’s not what happens, and seeing that moment I never even thought of, I just assumed that was at the end of things, nope, Foely comes back and wrestles a full match and eventually gets put through the top of the cell. Like, man, Foley gets insane credit for this, but wrestling a full match after that is insanity. And then he comes out for the Austin/Kane main event, too! Incredible. This was actually really a great pay-per-view all the way through, and shouldn’t be remembered just for that “gimmick” moment.

If this was Austin’s year, The Rock was just behind, he was just getting his character’s mannerisms down and would start the great beginnings of his feud/partnership thing with Mankind. Like 1997, it was fun watching him become this character that would define the generation and eventually become larger than WWF and wrestling would ever imagine. The Rock was just beginning to pop off, but obviously Austin was running around, but I think it gave him time to bubble under, really get to know his character and be immediately ready to transition into the main event picture in little time, and the fans just starting to go crazy for him more and more where in the coming year he’d get Austin level responses. His Mankind feud was really fun, with these two polarizing characters and was a great storyline between the two, playing well off of each other leading into the coming years.

This was also the true coming out party of D-Generation X, who really started the whole random stupid throwaway comedy that WWF would constantly come back to. They were basically a frat that just went around and caused mayhem, making dumb jokes and occasionally beating people down. Really planting the seeds for Triple H to break away from the group. He had an awesome little feud with The Rock, which culminated in a fantastic ladder match at SummerSlam, but unfortunately saw Triple H go down with an injury that put him out for the rest of the year, really squandering that push and momentum he had.

The official “main player” aspect of Kane really kicked off here, with him slowly edging out of only being associated with the Undertaker and feuding solely with him. As cool as the Undertaker/Kane feud was to begin with, where it started in 1997, but actually picked up in this year, it eventually wore out it’s welcome for the time being, so it was nice to see Kane involved with others. Even if it just was adding Stone Cold for a bit, since he obviously elevated anybody who he was with.

I don’t know if I fully articulated it here, but I had a ton of fun with this year, where no matter how you slice it, the Attitude Era that we know is fully underway. Stone Cold was the through-line through the whole year, especially going against Mr. McMahon, and was certainly what catapulted this whole time period into the stratosphere. Future main-eventers like Triple H and The Rock were just getting their characters in full order like we remember them, and were just getting ready to explode in the coming year.

WWF Attitude Era: 1997

WWF Attitude Era: 1997

WWF Attitude Era: 1997

So, basically those 1,500 words that you probably didn’t read from the previous post I didn’t intend to write. I just originally intended to write some background on me and wrestling since I legit haven’t mentioned it anywhere on this blog before, I think? Anyways, whatever, we’re gonna talk about the Attitude era now, which is much more fun than me trying to break down wrestling into a connection to my childhood and growing up and all that.

The Attitude era is the idea of wrestling that people think of when they have no clue about wrestling or don’t follow it. It was the advent of “adult” themes including increased violence, sexuality (exploiting women to the absolute nth degree), swearing etc. You know, basically all that good stuff that pre-teen boys strive for in everything. It’s also the era of stars that everybody knows and that were arguably the most famous and actually transcended into modern everyday culture. You got your The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Undertaker as the big ones that put it into the stratosphere. You ask some rando on the street who doesn’t know about wrestling to name a wrestler and 9/10’s it’ll be one of these guys. We’re pretending Hulk Hogan doesn’t exist.

Now I grew up in the Ruthless Aggression, spanning somewhere around 2002-2006, and I love it because of my previous nostalgia attached to it in my childhood, but of course the Attitude era reigns over all. I missed it and never got to see any of it live, although I’ve experienced a lot of it through various clips, reading, video games and all that. But now with this new fangled Internet thing, I can go back and watch it all, and I have nothing better to do, so that’s what I’ve been doing. People always drone on about how great the era was, and c’mon, mainly just because it was so exploitive and did crazy shit, how about the wrestling, was it actually any good?

Nobody can really agree on when the Attitude era began. Some say it was when Stone Cold won the King Of The Ring in 1996, some say the start of 1997, some say the Montreal Screwjob in November of ’97, some say after WrestleMania XIV in March of 1998. I could not settle on a definitive answer, and everybody had their own definition, so because I’m OCD and couldn’t just start randomly mid-year I started from the first Monday Night RAW episode of January and started my trek.

This is not gonna be a sequential post going through the 1997 Attitude era year in order, because honestly I finished it like a month + ago and am just writing about it now. Anyways, to skip ahead, I found my answer, the vast majority of 1997 I would not consider the Attitude Era. It was definitely a major transitional time into the era, but never would fully become it until 1998 when it just snowballed so fast into it. But, yes, for sure, November of 1997 is when they changed the logo and that definitely was the vast catalyst that sped the process up.

Take for instance Triple H, or I guess Hunter Hearst Helmsley at this time and The Rock, or I guess Rocky Maivia at this time, they were stuck in their old gimmicks and at the start of the year weren’t even close to being the stars we know of them from the era now. That’s why 1997 was so cool, because I could see the small, subtle changes in front of my eyes that would grow into massive changes for these characters, storylines and even arena set-ups. It wasn’t the Attitude era per’se, but it was fascinating watching everything slowly loosen up and fall into the new era. Triple H was always a dick, but he started off as an elitist country club like kid, then in November with the forming of D-Generation-X became an anti-authority dick. Rocky Maivia was this wrestler who didn’t talk and who was only spoke of because of his father, nothing really about what HE actually did. The seeds were planted for these characters, and they would all sprout before anyone really knew it.

But, as you do in wrestling you always like to say “It was the year of ______” if you think of this time who do you think of? And 1997 was definitely Bret Hart and to a slightly lesser degree Shawn Michaels. Hart was by far the focal point of the year, beginning as the the face that everybody loved into the heel that everybody hated. And of course this all culminated in possibly THE defining moment in WWE history, the Montreal Screwjob. This was my first time watching it, and with everything that was built up to it over the years and everything I heard about it, the match itself was pretty underwhelming, although granted the actual match isn’t why the event is remembered, with the finish and all the backstage politics making it what it was. Just watching it in and of itself, with zero outside context and obviously not watching it during the time period and the behind-the-scenes stuff it’s hard to take all the context of it, but it’s still an incredible turning point for the company and the one which catapulted Vince McMahon, the wrestling promoter owner, to Vince McMahon the larger than life antagonistic boss character that would rule over the company in storylines for the next several years.

This review/recap thing, because I wrote it is obviously not in sequential order, so I’m just going to throw out some random thoughts that didn’t really deserve their own paragraph or whatever. I’m so used to wrestling nowadays where they build up a feud or have a reason for people fighting (if amazingly flimsy), but this year is completely different. In April/May they were all like “Uhhhh, Undertaker you’re randomly going to feud with Farooq for some reason, we don’t know why, but, uh, just go for it for a PPV.”

I always knew Ken Shamrock was in the WWF at some point, but I always just assumed it was come bit/celebrity-esque cameo for a pay-per-view or two. I didn’t know he was just legit a full-fledged wrestler on the program, jeez, as if I couldn’t hate him more.

As a Canadian/Albertan the focus of a pay-per-view at and around Calgary and the Stampede was super cool, and it also manages to be underratedly one of the best of the year. Obviously goes to the credit of how over the Hart’s were at this time and how they were the focal point of the year for the company. Ralph Klein was in attendance rocking a cowboy hate. What a year.

How does the first Hell In A Cell match with Shawn Michaels versus Undertaker at Badd Blood not get more shine, that match was incredible. It’s crazy how they nailed the essence and epicness of the Cell match on their first go at it. Just goes to show the quality that HBK/Taker always delivers, and hey, I heard they had a couple decent WrestleMania matches a few years later.

Match of the year was definitely Owen Hart versus British Bulldog for the European Championship. My god, the technician on display in this match, I haven’t seen much like it.

Oh, damn. How could I forget, actually scratch that match of the year statement I just made. Oh my god, Bret Hart/Steve Austin Submission match at Mania. This was a match of course I’ve heard of, and more accurately seen THAT image of, Austin’s faced bloodied screaming in agony after being in the sharpshooter from Bret. You just don’t forget images like that. And this match lived up to everything I’d heard of it and more. It’s just fantastic any way you shape it. Amazing technical wrestling from Hart, and even Austin, throw in some brawling to Austin’s favour, a little ring bell action, a great finish and the beginning of Hart’s heel turn. Damn, I think I might need to watch this again right now.

I guess that’s all I have to say. Granted I’m writing this quite a while removed from finishing this year, and have a couple more under my belt now (those write-ups are coming soon, I hope) and it was definitely an interesting watch. Coming in I wanted the sex and violence of the Attitude Era I’ve heard about all these years, but I came in a bit too early, but you know, I’m really glad I got this context and transition period. I grew up in modern day wrestling conditions and style, so the older stuff from the early 90s and earlier just fails to register with me often and frankly I get bored with it. I was afraid I would with this year when I saw how far removed it really was, I did at parts, but it was fascinating to watch how quickly the landscape of wrestling and weekly television changed for the WWF, how they groomed characters and subtly and not-so-subtly began shifting into the era that would define their product and produce their highest popularity of all time.