WWE Ruthless Aggression Era: 2003

WWE Ruthless Aggression

Honestly, this year wasn’t very noteworthy, judging by the fact that I write hardly even wrote notes during this year (that being said I’ll probably blab like normal in this and it’ll end up being just as long as the past ones). It’s all just pretty run-of-the-mill stuff with nothing amazingly good, but not too much that’s horrible, just kinda bland maybe. Both shows are fully set in their ways of being separated, especially with the split pay-per-views now where one show gets a PPV and they alternate and only come together at the big events. I always said I’d try to make it to WM20 to match up with when I started watching back in the day and maybe stop there, but I got here a lot quicker than I thought, so who knows. Things are getting increasingly clear that the product isn’t what it used to be in the true Attitude years or even the ones following, and now it’s just in kind of a boring and un-flashy groove. People complain about the HHH reign of terror, but I like him generally and as such him always on top doesn’t bother me as much. Anyways, I’ve been thinking it’s time to go back and watch all the Attitude era WCW Nitros and stuff since I’ve never seen them. But, before all that, let’s get into this thing…

The first two pay-per-views were pretty void of anything special. Lesnar wins the Rumble, of course, not only because it cements him of having one of the greatest first years in WWE history with winning the King Of The Ring, beating The Rock at SummerSlam for the title, main-eventing with Undertaker and just generally being on top, to the Rumble win now. It has been telegraphed for awhile that he was going to get his big match against Angle, with their whole shared background of amateur wrestling, so it worked good in storyline as well.

Royal Rumble is also where Scott Steiner got finally had his top feud with HHH for the title, and as expected this whole thing was a mess and not really engaging at all. They had dumb little test of strength competitions because of course Hunter is self-conscious about that going against Steiner. Steiner had no chance of winning and after he had this little program, Steiner would wallow in the mid-card doing worthless stuff with Stacy Kiebler and Test, which somehow they stretched for, like, the whole year. Not like he was that great in the first place, but WWE seemed to be placing him for something good coming into the company, and nothing happened, as should really be expected for their track record.

No Way Out was centered around the return of The Rock and his rematch with Hulk Hogan from last year, which was really just a set-up for the Vince/Hogan match at WrestleMania. The Rock comes in with his new Hollywood Rock heel gimmick and it’s a lot of fun since Rocky hasn’t played a heel in a long time, and it actually works well with his real-life persona of being an actor now, the conceit that he’s this major actor only concerned with himself and thinks that he’s better than everyone else now that he’s making movies. He gets some heat, mainly when he directly insults the fans, but mostly he still gets cheers. The most hilarious thing was Hogan getting screwed out of the win by The Rock and Vince and WWE played it up like it was at the level of the Montreal Screwjob, since the PPV was in Montreal. Also, I had no clue Sylvain Grenier had his introduction (before the La Resistance thing) as the French ref that screws over Hogan. I always love seeing in WWE when guys you know from their major gimmick actually have debuted earlier in some two-bit role.

Alright, so the WrestleMania build:

HHH/Booker: This feud just makes no sense and has NO business being a Mania-pseudo main event or world title match. I mean, I love Booker and all, but I still didn’t think he was main event level at this time and for sure not enough to go against HHH at this time. I’m obviously looking at this from the far future, but it just seems so unmatched and random. Like, it would be more than fine for any other PPV, but for Mania it’s so underwhelming. Also, it’s SOOO goddamn racist, like overtly, not even subtle. When HHH saying people like YOU don’t get to be in my spot etc. It’s was so dumb because with all this overtly racist stuff you would assume that they did it all to have Booker get his comeuppance over HHH at the biggest event of the year, but nope, HHH goes over and it all just falls beside the wayside. I heard the original plan was indeed for Booker to go over, but HHH nixed it, and thus it doesn’t make much sense, besides HHH always wanting to win here.

Rock/Austin: Rock is super fun as the Hollywood Rock and his whole heel business. It at least brings some more interest to his character who is just so sporadic in his appearance anyways that it provides another angle and isn’t just boring face Rock popping up. Also, it’s a cool way to play off him being this whole big Hollywood star now and he is always good at gaining heat. Austin is doing really nothing at all, but I guess it’s to be expected as this would be his dipping of his toes back into WWE before he was out again. It’s basically him feuding with Bischoff. Also, the Rock/Hurricane stuff was fun, giving a guy shine like that in the main event. The match was pretty fun in the end, it was short and almost like a greatest hits of their previous Mania matches, not that it was close to any of those, but just both guys giving everybody all their hits for their last match together.

McMahon/Hogan: This was fine enough, at least it had some real world history so there’s weight to it that had been building for all these years, although it just started in storyline very recently. But, for the love of god, keep Hogan off the mic, he was always fumbling his words. The match was surprisingly good and it’s always hilarious to see Vince McMahon, the supposed non-wrestler and boss of the company, with his buff body looking way more muscular and in shape than the flabby supposed greatest wrestler of all time.

Lesnar/Angle: This was obviously the most hyped match and the one with an actual lengthy backstory and heft to it. They’ve been feuding since, like, November of last year, and although it seems like it’s going on forever, there is at least the goal of Mania which you know will be a grand culmination of it all. I can’t wait for it. They did have a match on SD, but Angle won it sneakily, so it wasn’t that much of a takeaway from the Mania match. Benjamin and Haas is a good addition, giving Kurt his collegiate stable or whatever you wanna call it. The match was fantastic as expected and really I think the best thing to main event the show, since they had several options and were supposedly wavering about what to put on last. The Brock shooting star press botch that has him land on his head will never be easy to watch, and I always yell at my TV for Brock to drag Angle closer to the corner so he wouldn’t have had all that pressure to make that huge distance while flipping, but he never listens.

Taker/Jones vs A-Train/Show: Before all this stuff I was wracking my brain to think of Taker’s match for this and thought it was Show, but then I remembered it was A-Train and then this tag match pops up that I never heard of happening before. I’m almost certain it doesn’t happen, though? Because I only recall Taker facing A-Train and never heard of a tag match around it. Off that, I only sparingly have heard of Nathan Jones and thus he must be around for such a short time, but surely I would’ve heard of him being in a  Mania match, or maybe this match is just that unforgettable. I think he gets gone fast somehow. Also, it was so so stupid how they were building him up in the vignettes as being this Australian prison badass ready to rip someone’s face off, and he comes in and turns face right away and becomes Taker’s little delicate padawan who needs wrestling lessons. It was so bizarre and sudden and took everything away from what he was seemingly built to be. I guess they just lost their luster on him. I really should do some actually research into him and why WWE soured on him so quickly, I mean, it’s so obvious that he sucked in and out of the ring. But, it was hilarious how quick they pushed him high up the card, only to yank him back down just as quick.

Jericho/HBK: I was really looking forward to this match, as they’re both fantastic wrestlers. The build was pretty lame with each basically just interrupting each other’s matches and randomly attacking each other.

Goldberg coming into WWE finally happened and one of the last debuts I was waiting for and I was super stoked to see, as I’ve seen none of his short WWE stuff, besides WrestleMania 20 (ugh). The Rock stuff was the perfect feud and one for The Rock to go out on, for now, and put Goldberg over, not that he needed it. I don’t know how much The Rock has left even beyond his part-time player thing, because I know his Mania 20 match is like his last match for a whole long while. Goldberg actually got a bunch of boos, but I think that was mainly because how much people liked The Rock.

The Evolution stable stuff was weird to start the year. They were establishing it right before WrestleMania, but all of a sudden Orton and Batista disappeared, like not wrestling or just hanging out ringside for HHH, only Flair. Is it because of the Nash thing? I knew they came back later in the year as that’s when it really kicked off. But, it’s weird they were establishing/introducing them as this group and then half of them vanished.

I couldn’t believe that John Cena actually won the tournament Smackdown was having to see who would face Brock for the title. I know we look back at Cena now and be like, duh of course he wins, but I didn’t think he’d win here this early before his MAJOR push. I guess watching all this, though, it’s clear that Cena was pushed from the very beginning as soon as he started. And now especially with his hip-hop gimmick. And it was an actual match too, I thought Brock might squash, but Cena actually dominated for most of it until Brock surprised and hit him with one F5 and got the pin. It’s hilarious to see this mini-feud between the two, looking back with 2016 eyes and how much they’d fight and feud over a decade later. It’s crazy to think that in theory, the seeds for their 2014 feud were planted all the way back in 2003.

Also, they have Roddy Piper being Sean O’Haire’s manager type guy to try and get him over, but it’s not even close to working. O’Haire is just so boring and not engaging at all. They tried to reignite the feud with Rikishi where years ago when Piper hit Snuka with the coconut. Boring, and short match.

Judgment Day was pretty lame. I can hardly remember stuff from it. The Battle Royal was fun for the IC title. And I love Christian like this, he’s perfect as the smarmy heel which he’s been playing forever with no need of a face change.

The classic short singles match for the world title with HHH that ends in a DQ just to keep extending the feud and get to the big gimmick match. So pointless.

Lesnar/Big Show in a stretcher match was at least a fun change of pace as this was the first one in forever. They fought a ton outside the ring more than I thought and thus it wasn’t the most high paced match, not that these two would give that, but it was good enough.

Bad Blood was better. The HIAC match was pretty good, but there was no need for Foley to come back to guest referee. Just another dumb gimmick every year for Foley to pop back up.

Michaels/Flair was good. And Goldberg/Jericho was fine enough for a little stop gap feud for Goldberg. But, you can already tell that Goldberg is just always getting the short-shrift and he’ll never do anything of actual note in the company.

Vengeance was fine enough, I guess. I could care less about Zach Gowen and the whole Vince angle. Undertaker/Cena is a pretty great feud and decent match. Guerrero/Benoit single match, enough said. The triple threat title match was decent enough, but I was shocked Angle won, but it becomes clearer later when Vince turned on Angle and aligned himself with a heel-turned Lesnar.

So, without me looking it up, I never really understood the Zach Gowen thing. Vince must’ve just had a huge crush on the idea of a kid with one-leg who always wanted to be in the WWE, just so he could constantly squash him and beat him up. Dude had zero charisma and is just a bore, especially when they focus sooo much on him. But, then they just got sick of him and turned on him, as it always happens in this company, and eventually just used him as someone for Brock to destroy on his mean streak.

The Kane unmasking was so dumb, there was zero build to it, just one week Bischoff saying if Kane loses against HHH he’ll lose his match. They weren’t even feuding, it would seem better to have it at the end of an epic feud or something, but nope just off the Hell In A Cell against Nash. Obviously they probably wanted something of note to do since it’ll be awhile until their next PPV with them alternating with SmackDown now. It definitely adds a new dimension to stuff, but it’s really just oooh Kane is crazy and a monster, but I guess it does give his character some teeth since he’s been pretty neutered and de-monsterized over the years.

I do like that since each brand doesn’t have a PPV each month to build to that they have to spread things out and have semi-big events like this and later SmackDown has the Angle/Lesnar Ironman match to provide some spark in the downtimes between getting to that next pay-per-view. At least WWE back here was able to stretch together some decent stories from week-to-week and it wasn’t completely aimless like nowadays.

Kevin Nash like Goldberg just seems to have fizzled out so quickly after their one big feud that entered them into the company. It’s such a pattern with the company where their one big obvious feud that kicks them off onto the show will be fun, but once it ran its course they just languish behind-the-scenes. Just like Scott Steiner, too. They didn’t even give Goldberg/HHH its due and buildup and quickly turned it into the Chamber match, but I guess their singles feud would resume later in the year.

Elimination Chamber match was alright. I was semi-surprised that Goldberg went over for the title and thought he would destroy everybody until HHH, then HHH would cheat for the title, but I guess they decided this would be the best time to give Goldberg the title, for at least a couple months. Hey, at least he got one up on the likes of Nash and Steiner.

It’s crazy that leading into SummerSlam in August the WWE title has only been contested by Lesnar/Angle and Big Show since like Survivor Series in November. It’s legit just the same dudes contesting for it. I mean, it doesn’t feel that long, but dang it would be nice if they spruced it up and brought in some new guys.

I can hardly keep track but Angle is heel leading into Mania, Brock face. Brock reigns for a bit as face, then Angle comes back after a few months all face and buddy-buddy with Lesnar which lasts for a couple weeks. Then on a SmackDown Lesnar on the side of Vince turns on Angle and is now heel with face Angle and being the Champ heading into SS.

The match itself was pretty great, as expected from what Lesnar and Angle always deliver. I love to that Lesnar tapping was built into the storyline for the coming months, as this huge thing that not only did he lose but he tapped, and the crowd would chant it at him.

John Cena is now fully in his rapper gimmick to the point where he has a full handle on it and you can begin to see him getting over and the popularity of it with the fans that skyrockets him. I’m a sucker for his raps.

I barely remember anything that happened at Unforgiven.

Oh, yeah, and so Evolution gets established with their theme and all. Which I fucking love. It’s weird because at the beginning of the year it was Orton-less with Batista the guy in the mix, and then it was Batista nowhere to be found and Orton is around. They never mention it either, so I dunno what was up. But, Batista would come shortly after.

No Mercy was pretty unforgettable, too, as these Pay-per-views were back then at the end of the year, outside of when Survivor Series was actually relevant. There was probably no match in recent memory that I could’ve cared less about than the Vince vs. Stephanie “I Quit” match and it was just as terrible as expected. It was all just an excuse to get Stephanie out of the GM chair and put Heyman in.

Lesnar/Undertaker in a Biker Chain match was pretty decent. I always have hated the concept of a weapon on a pole match, as they make a big deal about the first person who retrieves the object off the pole, but it’s not like they automatically win once they get it, or the other person can’t use it. It’s just the weapon is now fair game for both, and isn’t really much of an advantage getting it first, because it’s not like they ever win right after getting the weapon down and using it.

I love watching Survivor Series pay-per-views back in this time, because they actually have Survivor Series matches with a built in storyline and a reason to have them, and not just thrown together today. The RAW one considered the ongoing Austin/Bischoff GM feud that would eventually get Austin kicked off and the SmackDown one was the continuation of the Angle/Lesnar feud. The Lesnar team was hilarious because they somehow got Nathan Jones back from the dead and had the slightly less of a bore of Matt Morgan.

Also, I know Chris Benoit wins the Rumble in a couple month here and I was thinking about it around this time how it seemed so random that they hadn’t even been building Benoit up and was in zero story to speak of. But, then they had Benoit make Lesnar tap out, which was a pretty big deal, and so begins his subtle climb into the serious main event picture and eventually to where he explodes and wins the Rumble and the title (except it was HHH’s).

On the same theme I’ve been paying attention to Eddie Guerrero and his treatment as he’s the one to take the belt off Lesnar in a few months, similar to Benoit, but his rise isn’t quite as apparent. Sure, he’s super over with the fans, but not much is happening storyline wise. I knew he was give up his United States title to Big Show, to clear his way for the WWE title, and for Show to give the title up to Cena at Mania to really get Cena cooking.

Also, it was hilarious how they bring Hardcore Holly back and immediately push him into feuding with Lesnar, like he comes back with these vignettes about being mad that Lesnar was the one to injure him, yet I’m pretty sure nobody remembered that or even cared or knew that Hardcore Holly was gone. I guess they just needed a a stop-gap feud for Lesnar for the Rumble.

The Vince/Undertaker Buried Alive match wasn’t anything special, and obviously just a set-up for Undertaker to return in his Deadman gimmick. This was a pretty underwhelming year for Undertaker, and really had no top feud or main-eventing match, beside the one at No Mercy. The Biker gimmick was getting a bit stale, even though I kinda enjoy it more than most, but it was time for the Deadman to come back.

And then Armageddon was all about putting all the belt on Evolution, because of course. I was so stoked, though, because it’s the beginning of the Randy Orton push and when they start establishing his Legend Killer moniker. I never got to see this stuff and I love this Randy, especially the early days when he was my favourite wrestler when I started watching in 04/05, so I can’t wait to see him keep getting pushed and the eventual Evolution fracturing, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Triple H got his title match, with WWE simultaneously satisfying both needs by getting the title off Goldberg and onto HHH, while also giving Kane his shot at the title, which you woulda thought they were going towards earlier with the unmasking, but they kinda just threw it away here. Then to add to the craziness, HHH and HBK would start feuding again after this, with Michaels actually winning the belt over HHH on the last RAW of the year, which I didn’t think they’d actually do, even though it was in his hometown of San Antonio. And so the build to the Rumble and WrestleMania 20 begins.

It is bonkers to me to think that I’ve watched seven years of WWF/E from the beginning of 1997 to the end of 2003 in the real-time frame of a year. I never thought I’d actually watch it this fast, but it’s been a lot of fun (if a bit less so the last few years) to see all this stuff I’ve known bits and pieces of and especially how it all leads into when I started watching. I first started watching right after WrestleMania 20, and while it’ll kinda suck when I eventually get there since I know all the major storylines and where everything goes, I’m looking forward to seeing it with my 2016 eyes and seeing how I remember it.

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WWE Ruthless Aggression Era: 2002

WWE Ruthless Aggression

Another year down and what a trip it was. It was truly a random and weird year that had so many new and unique elements from the past year, good and bad, and definitely was a worthwhile direction after the disastrous year that 2001 was. From countless new superstar debuts that would could continue to define the company to this day, to the brand split, returns, high-concept matches and Triple H having sex with a corpse. It was quite the year to say the least. Let’s get into it…

The year starts off with the return of Triple H, someone who I thought was still months away from returning, and of course this is all leading to his MIRACULOUS recovery and OVERCOMING THE ODDS to take the belt off Jericho, oh yeah, he’s still somehow the champion. I always keep coming back to how things would’ve been different possibly in with the invasion if people like Triple H, Benoit and Guerrero were healthy and how if any things would be different. Anyways, Triple H is back, and as demonstrated by the constant video packages of him getting stronger and fighting to get back, he was going to be shot to the moon when he got back. As a face, nonetheless, which is often weird to see him play.

It’s nice that they actually made the Royal Rumble match a storyline. This is like the first time since I’ve started watching in 1997 that they’ve actually had super stars really talking about entering and winning it. In the past the lead up to it has been non-existent. It helps to easily give guys storylines. And it’s big important guys, too, like HHH, Taker, Angle, Show, Kane. Really provides some heft to it and makes the Rumble match that much more interesting.

Vince McMahon and Ric Flair have a little feud going on how they’re basically co-owners of the company now, with Flair getting Raw and McMahon Smackdown. It does help to elevate Smackdown as a more equal brand, especially since this is before the eventual brand split, and provides Vince something to do, which would be his last major on-air thing for the year.

Goldust and Val Venis are back, one of many of the random superstars that just disappear and you go “oh, yeah, they were gone.” Bringing back some Attitude Era nostalgia. Billy and Chuck are also a thing now, with Billy Gunn trying his best to stay relevant however he can, and this one works surprisingly well for a bit, and they actually get over for a small while.

Anyways, on to the Rumble that Triple H wins, of course, because he’s just gotta win the title at Mania. Jericho beats Rock to retain the title through about 3346 different ways of cheating. Jericho is just a transitional champ, basically. Feels so unimportant, especially with Rock, Austin, Angle, HHH, Taker, they all seems so much better and main event than Jericho who still kinda feels like he doesn’t belong and too early. It seemed like a big deal when Jericho won to became the first undisputed champ, and he got a rub, but especially being a heel it didn’t really give him the push to the next level of top-tier talents like I’m sure they wanted to. Especially when he was just destined to lose to one of them very soon, ie. Triple H.

Triple H is face, of course for now, he turns on Stephanie after she was lied about having a baby. Sets up a no. 1 contender’s match at No Way Out that Angle wins to get the chance at the tile, but, nah… of course Triple H just wins his opportunity back at the next Raw. Because it’s Triple H, and of course he’s going over.

The Rock and Undertaker have a pretty fine match, which is really just a stop gap for them until their WrestleMania feuds get kicked off. Also, oh yeah, Stone Cold Steve Austin is still a thing, remember that guy? The most popular and over star in the company’s history or something? I can’t remember. Anyways, Austin is pretty much lost at sea in any storyline, due basically to his unhappiness with the company at the time and not really wanting to work. It’s crazy how his in-ring tenure just begins to disappear like this and how he hardly becomes a thought, just a few short years after he was carrying the company on his back.

So, finally a few months into 2002, Vince gets some of the top WCW stars that he so desperately needed during the invasion angle to make them seem relevant in Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall as NWO. It’s unfortunate it turned out as it did, but there’s few things I’ve been looking forward to more than the Rock/Hogan Mania match. Even though this iteration of NWO looks so boring and not harmful when it’s just three old dudes trying to remain relevant and badass.

Undertaker and Flair spar on their way to their Mania feud in so many different ways. This was actually one of my favourite builds of the year as both men seemingly held nothing back and everything descended into very personal attacks, like with Taker targeting David, Ric’s son. Flair cut some amazing promos, too, which really played off how emotional he gets and they felt painfully real.

The WrestleMania X8 card itself seemed pretty lackluster with a ton of filler matches. Matches like RVD vs. Regal, DDP vs. Christian, Angle vs. Kane, Edge Vs. Booker T (well, besides this one, because Edge and Booker were fighting over a Japanese shampoo commercial, yep.) and so on had very little build and were obviously just there to fill out the card and give some people something to do.

Stone Cold vs. Scott Hall seemed like it might have some potential, but it actuality it was short, boring and didn’t really seem to accomplish much with neither man seeming that into things. Triple H vs. Jericho was fine, but so uneventful and really containing nothing memorable of it in and of itself, besides the unofficial begin of Triple H being THE top guy without the likes of better guys like Rock and Stone Cold blocking his way. The build up with comedy bits between Stephanie and Jericho did nothing to lend credence to the feud and neither did the HHH/Stephanie split.

Of course, the biggest match, which somehow didn’t main event, although in nowadays booking totally would, the Rock/Hogan match didn’t disappoint. The crowd was nuclear and you could just feel the electricity radiating out of that ring. It’s almost surreal to think about these two top stars of their own begone generations facing off in one of the biggest contests of all time and thankfully Hogan didn’t go over.

Post-Mania dealings are all about the brand split and subsequent draft, which might be one of my favourite WWE things of all time, as well as the brand split which desperately needed to make something of Smackdown and which eventually exceeds amazingly well.

The draft was hilarious because it varies so much, as WWE often does, in strictness of rules and regulations when it comes to superstars being drafted and later traded or whatever. Like, Flair was somehow allowed to draft NWO, a group of three, with one pic. In the coming months they’d make a big deal of orchestrating a trade between the two brands, but then superstars would just defect to the other brand, with no repercussions, so it’s like it didn’t really matter where you got drafted, there was no actual checks and balance system, just whatever they felt like at the time. Like, later Batista and Randy Orton would go to Raw and the commentators were like “oh, yeah, they’re on Raw now, for no particular reason.” I mean, I know this is fake, scripted wrestling and the WWE rarely has concise continuity, but it’s just hilarious how little any of it really matters.

Also, a little someone who would become the dominant force of the year and would have an impact that few probably thought it would be as big throughout the years, Brock Lesnar debuted, and in the most Brock Lesnar way. He would literally just show up during random matches and just own everybody with F5’s and then leave. When he actually settled down and became a part of the actual roster he feuded with the Hardyz to start off with, which I guess was kind of a nice way to introduce him with a team he could go over and destroy.

So, Backlash happens which is pretty uneventful minus a great no. 1 contender’s match between Undertaker and Stone Cold that Taker cheats to win and the whole main event picture. So, it’s Hulk Hogan vs. Triple H for his newly won title and I really just assumed that Triple H would continue to keep getting the major rubs as the guy on top, go over the old Hogan and continue his ways. But, nope, Hogan won the title off Triple H who didn’t even survive a pay-per-view with it. It makes sense, though, Vince probably wanted that big shock and have Hogan carry around the Undisputed belt for a bit with the whole nostalgia factor until he gave it up shortly after to an actual worthy competitor, as he eventually did.

This also feels like when Undertaker finally got a true hold of who and what his American Bad Ass character really is. Where he just became this ruthless, asshole heel who was someone you didn’t want to mess with, and really encapsulated the bad ass biker look.

Randy Orton debuts and it’s so funny to see him all shaggy haired and wet behind the ears as a rookie compared with how we know him now. He’d pop up in random tag matches and have a mini-feud with Hardcore Holly. Later in the year he was put on Raw where he was subsequently injured, but they kept him relevant with this curious bit where he would pop up as this breaking news video where he heeled it up as a smug, smartass thanking the people for wishing him well during his recovery (which no one was doing) and they obviously had big plans for him if they wanted his face on TV every week or so, even though he was injured.

Batista debuts, too, in more bizarre terms than Randy (later Evolution mates), becoming a disciple of newly gimmicked D-Von’s preacher role as basically his muscle and a new dude for him to tag with. It didn’t last long, Batista would eventually end up on Raw where he would be groomed by Ric Flair, sowing the seeds for Evolution.

They had some really good momentum going into Judgment Day with the Underaker/Hogan feud that would eventually take the belt off Hogan at the PPV, which included Hogan doing literally the worst sell job to the chokeslam ever. The continued Triple H/Jericho feud was becoming a bore to me, but putting the match in Hell in a Cell at least provided some spark, although the match itself was pretty unmemorable, hmmm, sensing a theme in their matches. Most importantly, though, we had the Edge vs. Kurt Angle hair vs. hair match, in the culmination of an awesome feud that was based around comedy that both men do so well. I had never actually known how Angle went from hair to bald, and for some reason never assumed storyline reasons.

It’s funny because I’ll often forget about the brand split and be like “wow, Angle wasn’t even on this episode of Raw… wait, oh right, there’s an entirely different show.” It’s so crazy to think of the depth of talent they have to fully stock two relatively equal shows, in their own ways, of course. They each would have their own strengths, with Raw having some of the more traditional big names, but Smackdown would become the show to watch WRESTLING with the likes of Benoit, Angle, Guerrero, Mysterio and so forth. It’s just kinda crazy to think they were literally running two shows, that would only become more separate and were both very WWE, but created and re-ienforced their own identity.

Continuing with the randomness of the year, Shawn Michaels returns after, like four and a half years to seemingly little fanfare and joins with the NWO with him just doing random poses and stuff. It was a very weird position to bring him back as, but likely things would later get better with him, and he’d actually be wrestling, again.

Chris Benoit returns after his long injury, and of course they bring him back in his hometown of Edmonton and of course Vince being Vince they turn him heel in his hometown, which is sorta fun. Eddie Guerrero returns, too, and everything for the eventual rise of Smackdown in the latter part of the year is starting to fall in place, even though they were still on Raw.

Booker T is so funny, like, he can get to Kurt Angle levels of comedy, he’s so good. His partnership and schtick with Goldust is so perfect and they’re the perfect combination of randomness to put together.

Brock Lesnar continues to own and absolutely demolished the King Of The Ring tournament to take the crown. They do a smart thing this time around, which makes a lot of sense, giving the King Of The Ring winner a championship match.

The Rock, apparently, gets down promoting The Scorpion King or whatever Hollywood thing he was doing and comes back, obviously in prep to face Lesnar at SummerSlam. The past two years really The Rock is basically just a part-time player, doing his Hollywood stuff and only popping up at a few of the big events to have a big match, then he literally disappears again without WWF mentioning a word, and then repeat.

The Raw right after Vengeance Vince literally calls this time period “Ruthless Aggression,” so I don’t think there’s much of a doubt this is very much the first year of that era and nowhere near the Atittude Era. And then just like clockwork, who appears? John Cena, of course. On the following Smackdown Cena debuts with his infamous match against Angle. I’ll never get tired of seeing early Cena with his nerdy looking hair and plain appearance. The company was obviously super high on him at the time, as he featured in a ton of matches on following Smackdowns, including main-eventing some of them, and even had a mini-feud against Chris Jericho that would lead into Vengeance that he’d win.

The Undertaker vs. Jeff Hardy ladder match was just as epic as it was hyped to be. And in the loss totally made a star out of Hardy as a single competitor and one who could believably compete on his own. What a coming out party. I love the storyline that preceded Hardy taking on Taker. Where he was basically just bored living this easy, comfortable life of flying city to city wrestling and repeating. So, he needs a spark in his life something that matters, so he challenges the big dog, and eventually gets beaten down, but gains the respect of Undertaker and Flair and sets the roots of his singles career.

The Hardyz along with Edge & Christian actually managed to split them up from their tag teams and work them pretty successfully as single stars. Jeff was great, and would only get better, as that high-flying, risk-taking star, Matt had the V1 gimmick, which I’m not sure what the general consensus was, but I loved it for some reason, especially how technologically dependent and wringed in dry humour it was. Edge only gets better as a singles star and is a focal point of the Smackdown rise, while Christian enjoys some fun as part of The Un-Americans with Lance Storm and eventually Test, who just get constant rise out of all the Americans. I can’t believe I never heard of this tag-team/stable before, because it was a perfect gimmick for all of them, with guaranteed heat that they were all so good at getting, even when it wasn’t this easy. On the other hand, the Dudleyz split was pretty unsuccessful, Bubba was, uh, just his crazy self still, but hanging around with a girl occasionally, and D’Von’s preacher gimmick fizzled out fast. It’s no surprise they put them back together at Survivor Series, as it’s obviously how they work best.

Eric Bischoff comes in as general manager of Raw and I couldn’t be happier to see him. When I first started watching wrestling, a few years after this, he was GM and I absolutely love his smarmy asshole-ness and he fits perfectly as the authority figure. I’m too young to have experienced WCW, so I literally knew of Bischoff as Raw general manager before I knew anything about him and WCW, so I’m in a weird place. I can’t imagine how weird it must’ve been for people back in 2002 to see Bischoff randomly appear like this on WWE programming and become a focal authority point for it.

Stephanie McMahon is a great choice for Smackdown GM as well, she provides a nice foil to Bischoff, someone who’s like a thorn who constantly gets stuck in his side when she steals superstars to her show. She shifts back-and-forth between face and heel mannerisms, but it’s refreshing to see her out of the constant Triple H storylines, for the time being.

So, yeah, The Rock takes the title at Vengeance because it makes sense putting the belt on him being a grade A talent, his popularity as a movie star, heading into the number 2 show of the year, and the prospect of putting him against a Brock Lesnar character who seems unbeatable.

The only thing that could be bigger than that, though, is the wrestling return of Shawn Michaels. I’ve been waiting for his SummerSlam match with Triple H ever since he left all those years ago (months in my real life time, but still). Man, it’s almost surreal having HBK back, I know I’ve watched all these years in just a few months, but it really does seem like forever. It’s crazy to think that he literally went out right before/as the Attitude Era was commencing and is now coming back after it ends. Like he missed a whole era of wrestling. I can’t even imagine how things would be different with throughout the whole thing.

Triple H as a face, or psuedo-face wasn’t meant to last, of course, so he eventually turns on HBK during Michaels’ recruitment of HHH into NWO, which makes so little sense, especially since they were former DX members, but anyways. I mean, honestly, it doesn’t take much to build this feud with them, with all the shared history, but they do a good job, especially with HHH getting to turn back into his sadistic side.

This SummerSlam PPV gets hyped up a lot as being one of the best the company has put on, it’s really good, but I don’t think it’s anything fully amazing or anything, though. Rey Mysterio joins the Smackdown fold, finally, and puts on a classic with Kurt Angle to kick off SummerSlam. It’s literally not in Angle’s DNA to put on bad matches. Ric Flair faced off against Chris Jericho, another of Flair’s random feuds of the year as a wrestler, and one of Jericho’s, too. Chris Jericho had kind of a down year here, especially coming off his monumental one of last year, and never really got to be in the main event picture, but was just stuck in small, random feuds and the tag-team scene. Undertaker also feuded with Test for some reason, just to give him something to do, I guess, which he easily won.

The Shawn Michaels/Triple H street fight was a lot of fun and lived up to the years of hype surrounding the return of HBK. They went long, and even though I was sure Michaels was going over, it still told a pretty good story and had many spots where it seemed like Triple H would believably go over.

The Brock coronation begins when he defeats The Rock in a relatively one-sided affair and one that was a lot more shorter and succinct than I expected and just like that Brock Lesnar is the Undisputed champion of the company and The Rock disappears without a word.

Oh, my god, l I never really fully understood the “Triple H didn’t want to work Tuesdays things” and so they legit just brought back the Heavyweight title and just gave it to HHH because he didn’t want to work Smackdown and fight for the supposed one Undisputed title. I mean, I guess it makes sense to have two separate titles with the brand split, but it’s listed as the UNDISPUTED title and it hardly had any time to breath, and they just gave it to HHH. Amazing. Like, Bischoff just gave Triple H a world championship, no tournament or anything, and now all of a sudden each brand has a world title, which I like, but it’s hilarious how randomly and low-key they do it.

Unforgiven was a pretty boring placeholder PPV with Triple H easily defending his title against RVD, of all people. At the very least, it was used as a way for Ric Flair to turn and align with Triple H, which at the time is kinda fun, giving Triple H someone to bounce things off, and also gives Flair some direction, which he desperately needed these past few months ever since being ousted as GM. The Lesnar/Undertaker feud is a lot of good work, though, especially when Brock and Heyman use Sara against Taker, makes them even more slimy.

Finally, the HHH/Kane/Katie Vick storyline. This was actually a ton of fun and random and so not what they’ve done recently and was a such an Attitude outlier of a storyline. It was actually so nice to have someone feud with Kane and he actually got to be a part of the meaty story and had a backstory and not just some silent, grunt who beats people up for no reason, except for being a DEMON FROM HELL. HHH prodding him was the best and so slimy and dickish of him. At least it wasn’t your same old title match, where it’s the ol “I’m better than you, no I’m better than YOU.” Their title match at No Mercy was pretty boring and didn’t match the build-up, and obviously HHH won. I don’t fully understand why they used it to get rid of the Intercontinental title, making it title for title was cool, but just completely getting rid of the mid-card title seemed weird.

Smackdown needed their own tag belts, so they had a tournament that concluded at No Mercy with Benoit and Angle winning the title. It was pretty clear they were winning ever since the storyline started with them being begrudgen partners, but they’re fantastic wrestling and in a storyline together, so it works all the way around. Especially, with the calibre of tag teams like Los Guerreros and Edge and Rey Mysterio, my god. The Smackdown 6, what a time to be alive.

If that wasn’t enough, No Mercy was capped with a brutal, epic Hell In A Cell match between Brock Lesnar and Undertaker that completely lives up to its hype. This was another of several matches this year that I couldn’t wait to get to, and it delivered and more. Such an even bigger rub for Lesnar to take out Undertaker in the match that made him famous.

Hey, you remember the Big Show who literally has done nothing of note and has been in no storyline at all in, like, two years? Yeah, well, he literally complains about this basically to Bischoff, Bischoff does nothing, so Show defects to Smackdown and gets a title match with Lesnar at Survivor Series. Huh? It’s hilarious how they do this because Big Show has literally not been a factor in anything in sooo long and they just plug him into this feud with Lesnar from 0-100. I guess they probably wanted someone who looked imposing towards the insane mass of Lesnar and Show definitely fits the bill. So, of course, after all of building Lesnar up from destroying everyone in his path, winning King Of The Ring, taking the title off The Rock at SummerSlam, defeating Undertaker in Hell in a Cell, after all of that, at Survivor Series Lesnar owns Big Show, but Paul Heyman turns on Lesnar and Big Show gets the win and the title thanks to a little steel chair action. It’s kinda dumb, I would’ve liked to have seen Lesnar keep being built up as a monster, but springing him on his own and having him be a sort of babyface to take revenge on Heyman and Big Show works decently enough.

The Raw part of Survivor Series was, oh, just the introduction of a little match called the Elimination Chamber. I completely forgot it debuted this year and was so excited when I found out. It’s crazy to see Bischoff hype it now with us looking back, but it must have seemed crazy and out of this world at the time. The match itself more than lived up to the hype and must have been a relief since it very much have devolved into a cluster with the newness of it and all the people. Rob Van Dam was the star of the show, creating amazing moves and just generally being a rag doll, even though he was the first one out. I couldn’t remember if HBK or HHH won or not, but Michaels going over works, gives him his moment with the title and allows the feud to be stretched on, as it would to the next PPV.

Leading into Vengeance, Angle won the no. 1 contendership for the title against Big Show, as Brock couldn’t get his rematch and was eventually later suspended. This led to a weird thing where instead of just a Lesnar retaliation of Big Show, Angle was injected into this feud, with Lesnar helping Angle win the title of Big Show at the PPV. But, Angle would eventually become an adversary of Lesnar’s when he teamed with Heyman, so now Heyman had Big Show and Heyman. It’s a little convoluted, but I guess they just want to stack the deck as much as possible against Lesnar, so his overcoming of those two and regaining of the title will be that much greater.

The Triple H/HBK feud concludes, I believe, for now in another great match and just another top-tier effort following their other big matches at SummerSlam and Survivor Series. I knew they faced off in this epic Three Stages of Hell match, but I had no clue it was so soon, and didn’t think they’d put it on maybe their weakest PPV generally, the one in December. Anyways, it was an enjoyable match, even if the first street fight stage went on wayyy too long and subsequently the last stage with the ladder match was vastly under-used and was a letdown. It’s actually kind of crazy, too, the amount of bumps HBK took in this match, the SummerSlam match, and the Elimination Chamber match, especially due to the hardcore nature of all of them, given his situation with his back. Like, he went all out and didn’t seem concerned at all about an injury that put him out for over four years, it almost makes me cringe seeing him put all that pressure on his back, but I guess things worked out relatively well in the end.

So, that’s basically it, at least with storylines that are largely contained to this year. All in all I had a ton of fun with this year and it was so needed and the perfect antidote to the staleness and sub-par 2001. There was just sooo much jam packed into this year from returns, debuts, epic stipulation matches, the breadth of the draft and brand split, fun storylines (I didn’t even talk about the whole Dawn Marie, Torrie Wilson, Al Wilson storyline, although, I wouldn’t really classify it as fun), and really just the start of a whole new fresh direction that was divorced from the Attitude Era and bred out of the ashes of the invasion angle of the last year.

Through all this I’m really looking forward to 2003, especially because it’s one of my biggest blind spots of WWE. I’m aware of broad things that happen from the Rumble to WrestleMania 19. But, don’t really know or recall much that happens from then into 2004, so I’m really looking forward to it and hoping it remains fresh to me. I first really got into wrestling right after WrestleMania 20 and subsequently know everything about the next couple years after that, so I’m going to relish in this next year being somewhat in the dark and hope that the fun of 2002 only continues.

WWF Attitude Era: 2001

WWF Attitude Era: 2001

WWF Attitude Era: 2001

*deep breaths* Okay, I got a lot to say about this year, oh, god, I took a lot of notes for this. *more deep breaths* Let’s do this…

I wrote about it last year with 2000, where it was the first year I lost my momentum a bit watching episode-to-episode and wasn’t really engaged or enamored with anything, and boy, that continued well into 2001. The end of 2000 was pretty aimless and thus continued right into 2001 and all the way up until Wrestlemania when things started to get a semblance of a direction. With the return of Stone Cold Steve Austin, it was all about his push going into Wrestlemania and doing so as basically playing a psuedo-heel character, obviously foreshadowing his turn at Mania.Kurt Angle still had the WWF championship, which I’m really surprised they kept on him for as long as they did, but once Austin won the Rumble it was all but certain, even with hindsight, that they were just setting up The Rock to take the belt off of Angle for The Rock/Austin rematch. I couldn’t believe at the time that the Austin/Triple H Three Stages of Hell match didn’t main event No Way Out, I thought for sure it would, but I guess they felt the Rocky/Angle ending was more suitable with how it turned out.

The build up to Mania was pretty lacking, in my opinion. The only feud with longstanding history is Austin/Rock, but they haven’t done much with it, or anything special. Since both are technically faces even though they’ve never really liked each other. Austin has been pretty heely since the start of the year, but it doesn’t really work and he’s over as always. The Rock/Austin hype video was so painfully 2001 with the Limp Bizkit My Way song playing over it, a trend that would only continue throughout the year with the company using songs from Drowning Pool, Marilyn Manson, Creed, Puddle Of Mudd and others. Oh, god, the nostalgia is so strong and I miss this music so much in a way that I’m not entirely sure if fully ironic or not.

Now everything from January to Mania was pretty boring until the WCW buy by Vince the week leading into Mania which made things really interesting and totally kicked their rivalry into gear. I like McMahon’s presence again as the company owner with all seeing power, especially IRL now that he literally bought his competition. I’ve said before that I’ve been looking forward to the Invasion more than anything starting this Attitude Era watch through even though I heard it was bad (oh, we’ll get to that…) and this just ratcheted up my interest about how fun things were (hopefully) going to get.

Taker/HHH came out of nowhere and I guess at this point it makes sense that they’d fight, but knowing what I know in 2015 it’s kinda boring. I kinda didn’t realize that, duh of course Biker Taker would have some wins during the streak, I kinda just assumed it was all epic deadman stuff. I wasn’t really prepared for the weirdness of Biker Taker at Mania. They don’t really have much for HHH in the main event since Austin/Rock and the McMahon stuff doesn’t really concern him.

It’s a shame Angle basically fell off the face of the earth after dropping the belt to The Rock so he could face SCSA. Angle has no story and they literally through him in a storyline through against Benoit since they both don’t have a match. Now, that match was incredible with two of the best WRESTLERS going at it, but there’s no story or draw beyond that.

Wrestlemania X-Seven was the first four-hour mania, something that would change how they would do things regarding the event that goes all the way to the present. Now, everywhere I went I kept seeing how this was not only one of, if not the best Wrestlemania, but one of the best WWF pay-per-views of all time, so my hype and anticipation were very high. They really tried to cram this Mania with as much stuff as possible, especially with their whole “the next Wrestlemania is the best Wrestlemania” mantra they’ve had going for the last few years now.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really get the hype for the PPV. Don’t get me wrong, it was good and not bad in any stretch of the imagination, I just don’t see what a lot of people saw that makes them think it’s so otherworldly special. TLC II was a lot of fun and exactly what I expected, the Shane/Vince match was fine enough, even with bringing in Mick Foley to randomly guest ref just to try and wring more buys, except for that classic Shane spot where he kicks the garbage can into Vince’s face from off the ropes across the ring, it just gets better every time. The Rock/Austin match was good, nothing amazing, I wasn’t really a fan of the heel turn, but eh, at the time it was something different to see (that would actually just get worse and worse, ie. Austin as a heel).

Now I’m going to take a brief intermission to discuss what years exactly constitute the “Attitude” era. Looking it up online you’ll see similar timelines, but all vary from when it starts and ends, and me coming in from the outset I had no clue when to start. I saw King Of The Ring 1996, I saw Survivor Series 1997, I saw Wrestlemania 1998 and on the flip-side I saw just as many ideas as to when it ended, something I was less concerned with at the time. So I settled on January 1997, because I have OCD and couldn’t stand starting in a random month in the year, I had to start at the beginning of the calendar year, even though wrestling is year round and doesn’t adhere to start and stop schedule. Anyways, as I wrote previously, much of 1997 I don’t think was the Attittude Era, and I think I’d agree that it technically started at Survivor Series, specifically that RAW after the screwjob, but it doesn’t really become the “Attitude” era as we know it until 1998. And now having watched to the end of 2001, I would retroactively agree that the end of Wrestlemania X-Seven with the Austin heel turn and allegiance with his sworn enemy for the past three years that catapulted the era into the phenomen it would become and what truly defined it was indeed the end. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, and I know this is going to sound weird, but everything after that just FELT different and not of the “Attitude” era. Most notably I would not consider the Invasion part of the Attitude era, and thus it took up the majority of the latter part of 2001. As well as the remodeling of the SmackDown set with the fist, didn’t scream “Attitude Era” to me, it screamed of a new phase they were leading into. You probably don’t care about this, and this post is long as hell and I haven’t even begun, but this was a major source of contention for me, and I’m actually surprised at how much of a definitive answer I came up with myself. I expected it to be a lot more ambiguous.

So, post Mania The Rock got beat down by McMahon/Austin and now HHH so he could go do The Mummy Returns promo stuff and kick off his whole “superstardom eventually taking over Hollywood” thing. Things got really boring and directionless right after Mania again with HHH/Austin teaming up and Taker/Kane partnering up with both teams feuding. I kind of thought with the WCW buy right before Mania that the Invasion storyline would start right after, but nope it was another boring couple of months. I was really bored by the Taker/Kane thing, as I like them separately, but at this point they are both far less demonic and scary now and thus lose their bite. Benoit vs. Angle never gets old, though.

And then que HHH’s infamous quad injury that puts him out for over a year, which put the dire main event situation into even more barren straits. Thus they kicked up Benoit and Jericho into the upper card/main event which was a lot of fun and a breath of fresh air/they basically have nobody else to feud Austin with since HHH and The Rock are gone and Austin just came out of a feud with Undertaker and Kane.

Benoit and Jericho win the tag belts off Austin/HHH because of course they weren’t going to hold them for THAT long. Then Benoit/Jericho had a TLC match with the Hardyz, Edge & Christian and the Dudley Boyz on SmackDown of all things and it was amazing and surreal that they put something that great on their B-show. Those were the days. So, things leading into King Of The Ring seemed promising, with the triple threat main event of Austin/Benoit/Jericho and with the King Of The Ring stuff always being fun, plus someone just so happens to be stalking Undertaker and his wife Sara… Here we go.

I was racking my brain trying to think of who it could be who was stalking Undertaker and his wife, taking weird voyeuerisitc videos of them at their house, which was actually pretty creepy, all credit due. I was pretty sure it was someone from WCW, but I had no clue and never even recalled this feud from before, and I guess now I know, with good measure. And, then, this masked dude copies the Undertaker, rolls down to the ring on a bike like Taker, gets in the ring and IT’S ME, IT’S D-D-P. And, damn, I had no clue it was going to be him, and I’m a huge DDP fan and didn’t even know about this feud (but, really, with the information I know now, it was hardly that. I was so excited for them to face off at King Of The Ring in singles competition, but nope, they just had a staredown and Taker pummeled him. More on this continuing disappointment later.

Another of the big landmarks of this year that I had been looking forward to was the infamous Shane McMahon/Kurt Angle street fight, and boy, this thing lived up to the hype and more. Shane is just so game to go all out and nobody is above him as a challenge to have a great match out of, and Angle could pull a great match out of anyone, but with Shane he didn’t have to at all, he was more than up to the test. Just a brutal, taxing affair that you could see both men work wondrously how tired they became throughout the match and how it slowed down and really told a fantastic story.

So, after Mania things were boring again and admittedly my watching slowed down, but leading into King Of The Ring I knew the Invasion was just about to kick off, I mean, duh, the PPV after KOTR was entitled Invasion. Pretty good hint. Anyways, let’s get into it… what I’ve been waiting to see and talk about the WCW/ECW invasion of WWF, what could go wrong…

There was like zero WCW talk, or Shane in the two months after Mania, but right after Judgment Day it starts to get peppered in with Shane showing up and random WCW people interrupting a match or two, like Lance Storm in Calgary. Nothing really full takeover, though, until after KOTR when it really kicked off. I really didn’t know if it was going to be a storyline that affected the entire card, it was, which was nice that it at least tried to give everybody something to do, or at least developed a through line that they could use for stories. I was gonna give the storyline as much of the benefit of the doubt as possible, I was in on Shane vs. Vince and WCW vs. WWF, and even with the eventual addition of ECW it seemed like just the asset WCW needed to be on par with the WWF.

See, that’s the thing that made the Invasion in dire straits from the first place. The big stars like Sting, Hogan, Flair, Steiner and such didn’t invade, it was people like Chuck Palumbo, Sean O’Haire, Mike Awesome, Chris Kanyon and Shawn Stasiak among others. The rest of the invasion roster was filled with people already on the WWF roster who had previously worked for those companies to try and give them some power and credence like The Dudley Boyz, Rhyno and Tazz. Now I love Booker T and DDP, the biggest stars of the WCW side of the invasion, but in no universe at that time did they hold a candle to Stone Cold, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Undertaker or Kane. They were seriously mismatched and it was just so unbelievably that this other side even had a fighting chance.

Now leading up to the PPV Austin had been a bore, literally. He was suppsoed to be a heel, but people would keep cheering him in the wake of Mania, because they loved Austin no matter what. He would continue to get more heat, but it just never equated to what the WWF in theory thought he should get and what in a normal situation someone like him would get. But, then he became this docile semi-idiot who would hug Vince and seemed like a neutered boring version of his past self.

The Invasion PPV was a mess, as should have been expected, with forgettable match with forgettable superstars after forgettable match with forgettable superstars. The main event was an all-stars type match with the best from each side going after each other, nope, you wouldn’t get just Taker vs. DDP. So, of course, with the minimalist set-up about whether Austin was a team player he, of course went the other way and turned on his team, stunning Angle and letting Booker T get the win.

And then if that wasn’t enough, the “Invasion” angle was around for FOUR more ppvs to the end of November, and it just fizzled more and more out as it when on through the September and October months. I was semi-shocked to see The Rock was actually returning, mainly to hype up SummerSlam, and it was great to have him back, but his feud with Booker T and Shane was a dud, and Booker was 0 for 2 with WWF feuds so far. I really thought they might spare The Rock from this and keep him out after, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they brought him back earlier to spark some life into the whole thing.

The Taker/DDP feud had so much potential to me, but they didn’t even go one-on-one, which was baffling to me. There was so much they actually could’ve done with it, but all they did was book them in tag matches and then just have Taker/Kane run over the other WCW teams. And thus DDP was even more aimless, so then towards the end of a year they gave him some motivational speaker gimmick which suits his weird deranged sensibilities and manner of speaking so well, but it doesn’t look like he’s even long to stay. What a waste.

The one positive about all this was the emergence of Kurt Angle as a babyface and his feud with Austin for the WWF championship, which was just fantastic and engaging work from both sides. It can’t be said enough how hilarious Angle is in his clueless American hero jock gimmick who tries to buddy buddy up with Austin. The dude deserved an Emmy for the little hat and milk truck episodes alone.

At Unforgiven Austin finally got toppled for his title and at first I was kinda surprised they had Angle do it at a seemingly nothing PPV, but then it was in Angle’s hometown and the first PPV after 9/11 so of course they’re gonna give it to the all-American hero. I was really hyped about this and Angle was on top of the company now more than ever with the title, but then they gave Austin back the title on RAW after William Regal turned, like, uhhhh, okay. That was all fun and good for nothing then. Back to the status quo.

One of the other few positives that spurned out of the Invasion was the presence of RVD who slowly became more and more popular, even though he was an Alliance member until he was basically like a face in the heel Alliance faction. Plus, he basically always puts on great, fun matches that at the very least are fun to watch since his moveset is a nice break from everybody else. His matches with Jericho, who also utilizes several different styles were top notch.

I was looking forward to No Mercy in October with the RVD/Angle/Austin match, but it was kind of a letdown. I loved the Jericho main event push as he just kept getting hotter and I was pretty shocked that he took the WCW title off of The Rock, but I guess Vince was buying high on him (especially evidenced by later). And then of course Jericho decides to slowly turn heel. It seems like it’s the year of not remaining face or heel for that long and once you get over on one side, for some reason they decide to turn all the momentum against them and I can’t say they won any favours doing this. I just don’t get it. Speaking of…

And then Angle turns on the WWF to align with the Alliance leading into the Survivor Series match that will decide whether the WWF or WCW takes control of the company, hmmm, I wonder who’ll win. It seems they basically turned Angle just to try and get the teams to look more even or something? I dunno, it doesn’t matter he turned again when he cost Austin the victory and was portrayed as a double agent type deal, but also was implied that that wasn’t his motive the entire time, who cares, it really doesn’t matter.

Now with hindsight while the Invasion was in its infancy stages I originally thought it was so dumb having Austin be heel all this time and lead the Alliance against the WWF, but now that I think about it it kinda makes sense. The Alliance needed a huge top credible star to literally be their leader and give them some credibility. Because they got all the B-star WCW players they had nobody, so having Austin at least gives them the strongest wrestler at the time and somebody who could and did carry them. Booker T and DDP are the closest, but they can’t do that. Booker T was trying but they got off that train pretty quick. And DDP just fizzled out.

And to wrap this whole thing up Vengeance provides one of the biggest swerves of the year, even thought I already knew its result, the unifying of the WWF and WCW is won by none other than Chris Jericho. While it seems like a weird choice in hindsight, I’m curious to how much of a surprise or expected it was at the time for people watching. And all it does now is capping his heelness as the top guy with both belts who topped THE two stars of the Attitude Era. It’s a curious choice, but I’m interested to see where they take things and if Jericho can actually carry the main event since he’s THE guy now. We’ll see. And that’s it for the year.

I promise I’m done now. Almost 4,000 words of this and I’m so sorry. But, it’s a lot fun and easier to write about things when they’re bad or just plain baffling than things that are just straightforward great or enjoyable. I knew at the very least the Invasion angle would be entertaining to watch, and it definitely was, just not in the way that was probably expected. 2002, do your worst.

Random notes I couldn’t fit elsewhere/let’s just make this thing even longer:

  • Chris Benoit got injured right before the Invasion stuff, and damn, they just suffered so many injuries this year to top stars that were involved with the main event picture. Who knows if and what the Invasion would of looked like with Benoit in it since he was ex-ECW and WCW.
  • William Regal and Tajiri are all sorts of adorable together, I forgot how much I loved Tajiri in the ring and his antics off screen.
  • One thing that majorly sucked this year was the disintegration of the tag team division especially from Judgment Day and beyond. The only real teams left were The Dudley Boyz and The Hardyz (who had their own little rift). Edge & Christian broke up, which was actually pretty fun stuff, with Edge getting to do some more serious singles stuff and Christian getting to play this ridiculous, self-obsessed goofball that was just a shade different to what he usually did. But, doing so there was nothing to the division, especially when Undertaker and Kane would dominate. All the WCW teams were terrible and had no staying power. It was a shame, especially since the division had so many great, established teams the past few years, but hopefully it’ll shape up after the effects of the Invasion have been shaken off.
  • Man, I really thought Big Show was a big player around this time, but I guess not. He was literally hardly nowhere to be seen the whole year and far away from any main event or even worthy storyline. They attempted to team him up with Billy Gunn, and that lasted for, like, two weeks and then he disappeared again. I’m not the biggest fan of him, but you’d think they would have something for him, not even Invasion stuff being ex-WCW, a storyline they tried with him, but never revisited. Even though it was kinda boring him pledging his allegiance to WWF even though he used to be WCW.
  • It literally took me until November to realize that not only was there no women’s title anymore and women weren’t competing for it, but also the laster holder of it was Chyna who I also just realized I hadn’t since, oh, like, right after Wrestlemania. I guess that just goes to show how well they booked the women that I completely forgot they weren’t even competing for a title and Chyna just vanished with the belt up for grabs at the end of the year.
  • Going off that, I don’t know if it’s just my lack of attention, but I can’t count how many times it’ll just dawn on me that so-and-so superstar hasn’t been on TV for months and I’ll look it up and they got injured or just take off. I’m so bad at realizing these things, but I guess it also goes to show that these people weren’t really that memorable or doing anything that engaging in the first place.

WWF Attitude Era: 2000

WWF Attitude Era: 2000

WWF Attitude Era: 2000

Hey, another year down, and this time I actually took brief notes while I watched, so hopefully it’ll better trigger my memory. Let’s go through this thing in sequential order/whenever I felt motivation enough to jot down a note.

The Triple H/Mick Foley stuff to start the year was some pretty great stuff, with Triple H fully entrenched now as the top heel with the belt and a hold on the company through his relationship with Stephanie McMahon. They’re both a juxtaposition of styles with Triple H being the more technical wrestler with Foley being of the more whatever-it-takes brawler type, but both meshed in the middle with their skill at hardcore matches. Thus we got an excellent street fight match at the Royal Rumble (including a really fun tables match between The Dudley Boyz and Hardyz that really kick started these TLC gimmick matches in the tag division) draped in blood featuring thumbtacks, barbed-wire bats, handcuffs, trash cans and all that and both men put on an excellent show. Their Hell In a Cell match at No Way Out to blow off their one-on-one feud was also very good and continued the lineage of Foley taking ridiculous Cell spots.

The lead up to WrestleMania was pretty disappointing and lacking to me. The Rock beat Big Show to win the Royal Rumble, but under some controversial means where his feet basically touched before Show’s and probably really shouldn’t have been the winner, I have no clue if this was intended or not, but thus they feuded over the spot for a bit. The different permutations of the main event leading into Mania was maddening, it literally changed every week and basically undermined the Royal Rumble and every new number one contender as they legit just had new number one contender matches each week. I didn’t think they’d actually let Big Show main event Mania, but I guess they got away with it when they finally settled on a four-way between Triple H, The Rock, Big Show and Mick Foley, which I was not looking forward to at all. There was a pretty clever twist when each McMahon was backing a man with Stephanie with Triple H, Vince with The Rock, Shane with Big Show and Linda with Foley. The match wasn’t very good and overlong and I thought for sure The Rock would take the belt from Triple H, but nope he retained to cap off a very lackluster Mania. I was really feeling the absence of Austin and Undertaker as they were the stars of the last couple years and didn’t really feel like the other guys did a good job of carrying the show without them.

The funniest thing was that leading up to Mania Big Show was booked as this big, strong, imposing mean bastard who was main event tier and then right after his big show(ing) at Mania 2000 he was booked as a big, dumb comedy act who dressed up in costumes and danced with Rikishi. It was amazing the 180 they pulled.

We also finally got the debut of Christ Benoit, which I was looking forward to, along with Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturan as the defected from WCW. I enjoyed their little storline to begin where they were The New Radicalz and just beat people up as the new guys, but it was eventually clear that Benoit was the main one they would push as they pretty quickly got separated. And of course Eddie wouldn’t get the big push right away, but would do some nice work with Chyna that really sold his comedic chops and acting ability, not to mention how good of a wrestler he was of course.

I finally saw the whole Mae Young giving birth to a hand thing and it was just as messed up and dumb as I imagined. Basically just a reminder that, yep, I am still indeed watching the Attitude Era.

Chris Jericho really started to heat up even more with the fans and they loved everything he touched and said, especially due to them putting him over for the belt on Raw, for however briefly. Even still it’s obvious that with Austin gone on injury that The Rock is still the THE star of the business who gets incredible pops. It’s hard to tell who got a bigger pop at the height of their stardom, but it’s probably Austin by a hair.

I have a special place in my heart for Too Cool, going back to the days when Scotty 2 Hotty was my favourite wrestler when I first started watching all this garbage, for reasons that really boil down to how cool it was that his hair came out the top of his hat. But, anyways, I was surprised how over Too Cool was when they started out and they were actually working some main event matches on TV and ones with Triple H and The Rock, although it didn’t last too long and they wen back to being low card gimmicks. It was also pretty obvious that they wanted to push Rikishi up the card and he was the only one they really cared about because #Samoan.

Speaking of Too Cool, the tag team division was stacked at this time, with Too Cool, The Dudley Boyz, The Hardyz, Edge & Christian, Crash and Hardcore Holly, The Acolytes, Test & Albert, D-Generation X and later Right To Censor. They definitely had options although not all the teams were always at their peak, because they all couldn’t be, but each slided in and out nicely for some solid mid-card matches.

Edge & Christian are the best and their dumb frat boy humour always works on me because it’s so dumb and they both play perma-fried bros so well. They would later get a nice push with Kurt Angle, further doubling down on the dumb, oblivious guy theme. The best running joke with E&C was when they’d always try to fake injuries to get out of matches and would do whatever it takes to not defend their belts. Just the best.

I have another special place in my heart for Right To Censor, and I even vividly remember making their logo as some kind of pop-up art project in school as a kid, and no I have no idea why of all the colourful superstars of the time I picked a Right To Censor logo to ape. I really love their gimmick as an extension and pesudo-commentary on the Attitude Era’s awful treatment of women as just piece of meat to parade around in the smallest amount of clothes possible and book solely in matches where they strip each others clothes off. They would always get immediate heat with their entrance theme which was a bunch of annoying alarms that wouldn’t stop. And even better to fulfill the whole irony quotient The Godfather and Val Venis, the pimp and porn star gimmicks of years past would join and renounce their ways.

So, then at Backlash The Rock finally won the title over Triple H and they feuded into Judgment Day into a one hour Iron Man match which was a super cool concept to actually pull off (that they would never do nowadays) even if the match wasn’t all that great. Shawn Michaels was the special guest referee and The Undertaker made his glorious return in his infamous biker gimmick (lol!) screwy finish, screwy finish and Triple H had the belt back.

King Of The Ring happened with Kurt Angle (more on him soon) amazingly winning the titular title of the PPV and The Rock won the title back because the world championship in the Attitude Era is basically a hot potato that goes from person to person, even in weird tag matches where you can win the singles title, like The Rock did.

And then Chris Benoit’s push coincided with The Rock’s title reign and oh, damn, they let Benoit man event a pay-per-view this yearly and I was surprised, but it was a lot of (brief) fun. He’s not really the best on the mic, but his in ring work was in matched and he literally put on a fantastic match with everyone, so it was always worth paying attention. This also included the Triple H/Chris Jericho feud in a Last Man Standing match which included great work as always by both of them. And then with his sublte into not-so-subtle macking on Stephanie McMahon Kurt Angle’s push into the main event slowly began to crescendo. Thus Kurt and Triple H feuded for a couple pay-per-views, basically over Stephanie, it went on a little bit too long for my taste, but Kurt made it all work. Angle is the best because he’s so good at doing dumb comedy bits and selling them amazingly with his naivety and commitment, but at the same time he’s totally believable as a main eventer who can kick ass and get it done with his technical prowess. He really was the perfect guy in WWE to measure their incessant want for dumb comedy, be entertaining and actually wrestle a good match.

And then everything culminated with Kurt taking the title from The Rock, which I really wasn’t expecting, I thought it was way too soon to put the belt on Kurt, but I always forget how much they love flip-flopping the title. And of course he was great with the belt as a little twerp who tried to get out of everything.

Kurt then took the backseat to the returning Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was awesome to finally have back, but oh my god, like a repeat of the build-up to Mania, the storyline of WHO RAN OVER AUSTIN, took forever and had a bunch of fake-outs and then it was finally revealed to be Rikishi (lol!) who thus turned heel into bad man Rikishi (lol!) with some dumb reasoning about the #Samoan connection between him and The Rock as to why it was done.

To finish off the year we had the big Armageddon Hell In A Cell match between *takes a breath* Kurt Angle, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, The Undertaker and Rikishi. Which one of those names doesn’t belong? Either way, I was really looking forward to the match, and it was indeed good, but nothing great, which was fine by me, because I kind of half-expected everything to cancel out and it’d be terrible.

And so I guess the final thing to end the year was Mick Foley getting ousted as commissioner, oh yeah, Mick Foley was commissioner for the majority of the year after he came back from retirement. I really didn’t talk about it because it didn’t really do much for me, mainly Foley’s comedy schtick where he would always be in random places backstage taking up office and all his pandering to the crowd. He was a pretty hollow replacement for a figure in power, although I do obviously know he was like that to differentiate from the Vince’s and Shane’s in the past.

I honestly didn’t really dig this year as a whole, it was very inconsistent and could never maintain steam, or when it did it would grasp onto something for wayyy too long and drive it into the dirt. The lack of Austin and Undertaker hurt things, as they were huge reasons why I loved the last couple years and of course Taker’s new gimmick takes some getting used to. It also felt less of an “Attitude” type year as the previous ones, I think mainly because they were fully entrenched in this new identity and were set on a pretty straightforward cruise control. The Rock was great, as always, even if he did get semi-overshadowed later in the year, but that was mainly due to Angle with the belt which was a pretty good change of pace. I was gonna take a break after this year (it’s been four years!) since I’m semi losing steam on a lot of things, but the promise of WrestleMania 17 (which I’ve been told is the best) and my intrigue of the whole invasion angle has me piqued to see how much further I can last.

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…

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.