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.