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.