It’s still unclear what Monday’s addition of Attitude Era content to WWE Network exactly entails. Hopefully, it’s enough to satiate the subscribers that have been holding their breath for 1997 episodes of Nitro for close to a year. The uploading schedule has the regularity of asthma attacks, and it seems once the Network is on a kick (ECW week! 16 months of Nitro! A new classic Raw every Wednesday!), the idea is quickly left in a roadside ditch in favor of some other hastily-concocted idea.
Whatever Attitude programming makes its way to the Network on Monday, I thought it’d be nice to put the actual era in perspective and sift through the top moments with the benefit of hindsight. I do enjoy my listmaking; you may have noticed.
In picking the 50 most memorable moments of wrestling’s most unpredictable and fun era ever, I adhered to a few guidelines.
1. The time frame for the Attitude Era isn’t exactly etched in stone, so I went with the timeline used on WWE2K13 for their Attitude Era mode: the moment Shawn Michaels hit Undertaker with a steel chair at SummerSlam 1997 through Steve Austin and Vince McMahon’s handshake at WrestleMania X7. Some say the era didn’t begin until Austin beat Michaels for the title; others will say it was when Austin broke into Brian Pillman’s house in 1996. Mileage varies; I think my choice of dates is fairly acceptable.
2. Wrestler deaths (Pillman, Owen) and serious injuries (Droz) are omitted completely. Each entry on the list plays into the realm of fiction to some degree, and it’s not fair to say that one man’s death was more memorable than another, even if Owen’s was the public relations nightmare from hell, based on the circumstances. The Attitude Era had its share of dark moments from the bowels (perhaps literally) of creation, and this list only honors those birthed by the writer’s pen.
Off we go.
50. Michaels Smashes Undertaker with a Steel Chair (August 3, 1997)
Hey, we were just talking about this, weren’t we? Michaels shed his put-on company charm for good with the errant strike, weaving the overwhelming dislike against him with the ‘blame’ he received for the incident. Cutesy, praise-singing Michaels of 1996 had to go away, and as far as catalysts go, this was perfect.
49. Austin Throws the Intercontinental Title into a River (December 9, 1997)
And you thought the belt was disrespected today. Austin lost the belt via voluntary forfeit to The Rock, then beat him up anyway, absconded with the title, and chucked the strap into a freezing New Hampshire stream out of spite.
48. Double People’s Elbow (September 27, 1998)
The Rock had just freshly turned face, and was pitted with fellow fan favorites Ken Shamrock and Mankind in a blue-barred cage match in Hamilton, ON. The Canadian crowd solidified Rock as a true superstar when he ripped off both elbow pads, dropped his signature elbow in duplicate, and receiving his biggest cheer to date in doing so.
47. Halftime Heat (January 31, 1999)
A novel concept to be sure, Rock defended the WWF Title against Mankind in an empty arena match, and it aired at halftime of John Elway’s final game. The camera angles showing the finish were hokey, but Mankind winning trumps sitting through Gloria Estefan’s warbling.
Since Vince demanded a divorce in December, Linda McMahon fell into a near-vegetative state (which wasn’t an acting stretch), and Vince, via power-of-attorney, kept her doped up while he cavorted with Trish Stratus. At WrestleMania X7, Linda emerged from a now put-on comatose state and kicked Vince in the balls to a massive cheer.
45. Austin Gets Run Down (November 14, 1999)
It was the beginning of an intriguing whodunnit. Austin chases Triple H through a Detroit parking lot at Survivor Series and gets run over by an unknown assailant. Austin was written out for almost ten months (he needed spinal surgery), and speculation ran rampant as to the driver.
44. Triple H Revealed as Mastermind of Austin’s Accident (November 6, 2000)
The initial payoff of the rundown was Rikishi, who ‘dih dit for da Rock’, and that seemed less than satisfactory. A month after the reveal, Triple H struck Austin after a tag team match on Raw, and worked in tandem with Rikishi to bust Austin up. The payoff for the rewrite was Austin dropping Triple H out of a crane at Survivor Series. Ahh, simpler times.
43. Triple H vs. T-800 Model 101 (November 9, 1999)
Arnold Schwarzenegger, pre-Gubernatorial run, appeared on Smackdown to promote the insipid End of Days movie, and ended up waylaying Triple H at the commentary desk. This was pretty well-received from the optimistic Attitude-era fanbase, and it beats the hell out of the “Rise of the Torn Quadriceps” entrance at WrestleMania 31.
42. Nuclear in Dallas (February 7, 2000)
Triple H, X-Pac, and The Radicals took on The Rock, Mick Foley, Too Cool, and Rikishi in an excellent ten man tag with one of the wildest, hottest crowds you’ll ever hear. The heels won, but Kane made the big save afterward with a returning Paul Bearer, spurring an even louder crowd response. Rivals a post-WrestleMania Raw crowd in volume.
41. Ventura Has the Power (August 22, 1999)
After leaving WWF acrimoniously nine years earlier, now-Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura officiated the main event at SummerSlam in Minneapolis, and even graced Raw with some commentary 13 days prior. Ventura even got to beat up Shane McMahon on a lark.
40. Finally, Austin vs. McMahon, with a Debut (February 14, 1999)
McMahon took a spill off the side of a steel cage at the hands of Austin, and Stone Cold spent an extended time-frame busting him up to the crowd’s delight. That’s when Big Show made his debut, billowing through the canvas, and assaulted Austin before inadvertently giving him the win by throwing him into the cage. The structure came apart, allowing escape.
39. Big Red Machine vs. Big Red Monster (March 29, 1998)
Nobody realized at the time that a running gag was being born. Pete Rose appeared at WrestleMania XIV to insult the then-suffering Boston fans, prompting Kane to dismantle Rose upon arrival. This tradition continued for several ‘Manias following.
38. Love Her or Leave Her (August 22, 1999)
The storyline was Shakespeare with the aggro-rock twist; Shane McMahon forbade his sister Stephanie from dating blue-collar Test. To settle the issue, Shane and Test competed in a startling show-stealer at SummerSlam with Test winning, but not before Shane busted out his first ever Leap of Faith elbow through the Spanish announce table.
37. Garden Street Fight (January 23, 2000)
Cactus Jack reared his ugly head into WWF Champion Triple H’s life, and the two warred in a street fight for the title at the Royal Rumble. A barbed-wire 2X4 found employment for the first time in WWF history, and Helmsley bled more than he ever had before. Cactus taking a Pedigree face-first onto a pile of thumbtacks cinches the match’s place in insanity’s lore.
36. The Highway to Hell (August 30, 1998)
The Crash-TV elements of the era killed off slow-burns and meaningful build in a lot of instances. However, the three-month story of miscommunication and alpha-male posturing between Austin and Undertaker en route to their SummerSlam title bout, complete with AC/DC’s iconic tune in music video form, was a well-rounded, well-received saga.
35. Birmingham: The Original Montreal (September 20, 1997)
Bret Hart wasn’t the only non-American beaten for gold in their own country by Shawn Michaels in dubious fashion. Michaels won the European Title from Davey Boy Smith in England at the ‘One Night Only’ PPV, while Michaels heeled it up to the hilt. The controversial match was witnessed by Smith’s dying sister Tracy, seated ringside with Diana Hart-Smith.
34. DX Invasion (April 27, 1998)
Not the end-all/be-all moment that WWE likes to claim, a fatigue-clad D-Generation X drove an Army Jeep to the Norfolk Scope, where WCW was running Monday Nitro, and the group was filmed interviewing fans with comped tickets, and demanding the release of ‘hostages’ Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. Not that WCW needed help in looking uncool.
33. Triple H’s Most Important Turn (March 28, 1999)
Other than Austin regaining the WWF Title, this was the most important part of an awful WrestleMania. Triple H Pedigreed X-Pac in his European title bout with Shane McMahon, going corporate in the process. From this turn spawned wrestling’s most unkillable character.
32. Rikishi Goes Superfly (July 23, 2000)
It surely hurt Don Muraco enough getting pancaked by Jimmy Snuka’s steel cage leap in 1983, but imagine poor Val Venis’ plight. Venis was absolutely squashed by Rikishi, all 400 pounds with an anchoring ass, horrifically recreating the plummet at Fully Loaded 2000
31. “I Need to Beat You” (March 22, 2001)
The build to Austin and Rock’s WrestleMania X7 title match was enhanced in video form with Limp Bizkit’s melancholy “My Way” as the soundtrack. Giving the face-vs-face clash that extra push was Austin’s statement during a sitdown interview with Jim Ross, telling Rock he needed to beat him, with chilling matter-of-factness. Nobody had a clue what lay ahead.
30. This is Your Life, Rock (September 27, 1999)
The 8.4 Nielsen rating, still a Raw record, warrants the inclusion on this list, even if the segment doesn’t exactly hold up comedically. So Mankind hosts a dorky love-in for Rock, complete with cameos from Rock’s past. Highlight is Rock’s high coach pricelessly entering to Lex Luger’s “I’ll Be Your Hero” 1993 hype theme, before getting dressed down.
29. Austin Evens the Odds (April 30, 2000)
You’ll never believe this, but the Corporation stacked the odds against a babyface challenger. The Rock was down and out against Triple H after tons of interference, when Stone Cold hit the ring with a chair, putting down the champ, along with Vince, Shane, Patterson, and Brisco. The crowd response to the signature glass-shatter is some electric energy.
28. Judgment Day is Now (May 21, 2000)
For 58 minutes, Rock and Triple H executed one of the most well-thought out and dramatic Iron Man matches in wrestling history. With the score tied, The Undertaker made his grand return, reverting to real-life motorcycle man roots, assaulting Triple H in the waning seconds to give Helmsley the gold on a fall-ending DQ. Cheap ending aside, everything else ruled.
27. Ladder to Success (August 30, 1998)
While the previous two entries occurred at the culmination of Rock and Triple H’s success, one match revealed their respective potential: a ladder match for the Intercontinental Title at SummerSlam. It was each man’s greatest match to date, and the MSG faithful approved of their valiant effort. There was little doubt in each of their bright futures.
26. Austin’s Four Weeks of Destruction (September 28-October 19, 1998)
Lumping four moments of Stone Cold-brand mayhem in one entry: the Zamboni ride to the ring, rectally assaulting Vince with an enema, filling Vince’s Corvette with wet cement, and finally holding him hostage with a flag-loaded prop gun after Austin had been fired. All silly and over-the-top, yes, but it’s hard to remember Austin without these incidents.
25. The Year of Angle (October 22, 2000)
Exuberant Angle was really the first star since The Rock to begin essentially as a WWF pet project and blossom into a no-doubt-about-it main event superstar. In less than one year, Angle was made European and Intercontinental Champions, as well as King of the Ring, before going over on Rock to become WWF Champion at No Mercy. It’s true.
24. Vegas Wedding (November 29, 1999)
Test and Stephanie McMahon were in the midst of what seemed like a touching wedding ceremony, when Triple H appeared, producing footage of himself marrying a drugged, unconscious Stephanie at a drive-thru chapel in Vegas that weekend. Stephanie was proven to be in on the ruse at Armageddon, but the Raw payoff made for good shock TV.
23. Bang Bang! (September 22, 1997)
A nice little surprise for the ‘home crowd’ at the Garden. Triple H thinks he’s getting Dude Love in a falls count anywhere match, but is instead treated to a video of Dude Love and Mankind both passing on the bout. In comes Cactus Jack, his WWF ‘debut’, to accept, and Foley lives out his dream of shining brutally in his favorite arena.
22. Double Screwjob (November 15, 1998)
The Survivor Series ‘Deadly Game’ tournament for the WWF Championship played out with a pair of well-booked swerves. In one, Shane McMahon, estranged from his father, screwed over Austin in a semi-final match with Mankind. Mankind was then screwed over, via Sharpshooter, to The Rock, who captured his first World Title as a corporate centerpiece.
21. Chair After Chair (January 24, 1999)
The I Quit Match at the 1999 Royal Rumble became infamous, thanks in large part due to Barry Blaustein’s “Beyond the Mat” documentary. The Rock pelted a handcuffed Mankind with an endless barrage of unprotected chair shots while Colette Foley and children Dewey and Noelle, both extremely young, cried in horror from the crowd.
20. Star-Crossed Lovers (September 24, 2000)
One of the biggest draws for female fans in the year 2000 was the love triangle that played out between Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and a seemingly platonic Kurt Angle. The story ended hastily at Unforgiven with a Triple H win, but the layers of deceit and miscommunication (namely Triple H’s misgivings with Trish Stratus) were wholly new to WWF television.
19. DX Version 2.0 (March 30, 1998)
Shawn Michaels’ back injury led to Triple H stepping out of the shadow and commandeering the group following WrestleMania XIV. Joining Triple H and Chyna were X-Pac (returning that night following being let go by WCW, which was addressed by Sean Waltman in a vitriolic promo) and The New Age Outlaws, all in the span of one evening.
18. Four New Stars in One (October 17, 1999)
The Terri Invitational Tournament with a sack of money at stake was hardly relevant. Edge, Christian, and The Hardy Boyz stole the night with a ladder match for the ages, elevating each other from midcard driftwood to crowd favorites through intricate stunts, and a violent disregard that didn’t require a gruesome blade job.
17. Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (April 2, 2000, August 27, 2000, April 1, 2001)
On the foundation of that No Mercy ladder match came three epic battles with the aforementioned teams, plus The Dudley Boyz, each upping the ante of showmanship and high-risk suspense. Edge and Christian won all three matches, but the teams would all ride the momentum of the matches to extensive success in their careers.
16. “By My Hand Only” (May 31, 1998)
If you have the Network, just watch Over the Edge 1998 from Vince’s backstage promo, through Pat Patterson’s hysterical ring intros, through the entire Steve Austin-Dude Love WWF Championship brawl, all the way to the satisfying finish. It is the greatest overbooked match in wrestling history, and you’re nuts if you don’t give it five stars.
15. Evacuees of a Falling Empire (January 31, 2000)
After Vince Russo’s WCW reassignment, many concerned parties in the midcard decided they wanted out if Kevin Sullivan got the book. Four of those individuals, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, and Perry Saturn, immediately jumped to WWF and became known as The Radicals. Benoit even handed back his newly won WCW Championship just to leave.
14. End of an Era (April 1, 2001)
Is there any better physical representation of Attitude’s disintegration than Steve Austin having Vince McMahon help him beat The Rock to become WWF Champion, and then shaking hands with him afterward? It was a helluva match to close WrestleMania X7, and the unthinkable alliance was as palpable a page-turner as any.
13. Heartbreaking Farewell (February 27, 2000)
Yes, Mick Foley’s wrestled matches since his loss to Triple H at No Way Out inside Hell in a Cell, but the moment itself was gutting for the many fans that willed him to the top of the wrestling world. In an era where title changes and alignment-turns were so frequent as to mean nothing, seeing Foley exit meant entirely everything.
12. A Hellish Debut (October 5, 1997)
Hell in a Cell lived up to its hype, with The Undertaker bloodying Shawn Michaels in an oddly cathartic fashion. The payoff to the two-month feud looked to be nigh when the lights suddenly dimmed. Kane had arrived, led by Paul Bearer, to avenge childhood scores with Undertaker. A Tombstone later, and Michaels went over in the epic melee.
11. Taking Over Thursdays (August 26, 1999)
Although the original Smackdown broadcast was a standalone pilot four months earlier, WWF was greenlighted a Thursday showcase to double the output of a red-hot product. WCW was was already in its tailspin, but Smackdown’s high profile on second-tier UPN led to the moving of the abysmal Thunder to Wednesday nights.
10. Raw is Jericho (August 9, 1999)
This entry is somewhat maligned for Jericho looking like a colossal dork by the end, thanks to his decision on how to sell Rock’s putdowns. However, the build with the countdown clock, and the anxious, exultant Chicago crowd, made the initial debut an unforgettable scene, with Jericho striking his now standard T-pose on the Raw is War stage.
9. Birth of a D-Generation (August 18, 1997)
It was wacky, mismatched partner night as The Undertaker and Mankind would be teaming up to battle Shawn Michaels and Triple H. The deal with the latter duo became a regular gig, with the Kliq buddies forming D-Generation X, the breath of fresh air needed to counter a stale, overcrowded nWo, and give WWF some necessary controversy in its programming.
8. Putting Butts in Seats (December 29, 1998)
Airing six days after the listed date, Mankind winning the WWF Championship from The Rock was an underdog triumph which any fan could, and did, relate to. Over on the other channel, Foley’s taped title win was mocked by Tony Schiavone (under duress), shortly before Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash’s infamous ‘fingerpoke’ swerve. Guess what fans liked better?
Oh sure, Austin’s beaten up McMahon a million times, but there had to be a first time. McMahon tried to reason with an ornery Austin when Stone Cold was confronted by a group of arresting officers, but the stubborn Austin shook off the well-wishes and gave McMahon, still merely an announcer, a Stone Cold Stunner that would become the first of many.
6. Tyson-Austin, Tyson-Austin! (January 19, 1998)
An important keystone to WWF’s pulling past a near-idling WCW was mainstream acceptance. Getting Mike Tyson to play a part at WrestleMania XIV was a deft move. The masterstroke was instituting a confrontation between Tyson and Austin the night after the Royal Rumble. The spirited skirmish made headline news on ESPN and other major media outlets.
5. The Simulcast (March 26, 2001)
Three days earlier, it was announced that WWF was acquiring WCW for under three million dollars. The final episode of Nitro opened with a surreal image: Vince informing us that the fate of the company was now in his hands. That was before the real-life major story became cartoon-world storyline, as son Shane buys WCW from under his father’s nose.
4. “Will Somebody Stop the Damn Match?!” (June 28, 1998)
Words don’t accurately paint the picture of watching Mick Foley take two unexpected falls off of Hell in a Cell: one planned, the other a heart-stopping accident when the cage roof caved in. Mankind vs. Undertaker became one of those bouts where the loser was remembered much more, and it endures as the defining moment of a wrestler’s relentless spirit.
3. Austin Conquers the World (March 29, 1998)
It was as inevitable as the sunrise that Steve Austin would be WWF Champion at WrestleMania XIV, once the match with Shawn Michaels was set. Michaels’ gutsy performance on a ravaged back remains secondary to the rise of the Attitude Era’s biggest star, kicking off the Austin Era on the fast count of an excited Mike Tyson.
2. Montreal (November 9, 1997)
It’s been rehashed more times than anyone could count – it’s professional wrestling’s Kennedy Assassination. Bret Hart falls victim to Vince McMahon’s deception on the way out of WWF, and the aftermath, unseen by public eye, becomes just as much part of the fabled moment. Most important: it gave WWF the villain it so direly needed: Vince himself.
1. 4.6 to 4.3 (April 13, 1998)
For the first time in nearly two years, WWF Raw beat WCW Nitro in the ratings, surging ahead on Austin’s challenge to a bewildered McMahon for a title match that night. This was so unheard of in 1998, and slack-jawed fans almost refused to change the channel for fear of missing this unprecedented event. From it came the era’s most defining feud.