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…