Craig Wilson, James Giles & Jamie Lithgow
The Monday Night Wars were a great time to be a wrestling fan. The ratings were through the roof, stars were gaining crossover appeal like never before and we were treated to two rival promotions going at it like never before to defeat the other. On top of that, for many including myself, we were in our teenage years watching superstars like Stone Cold, Goldberg, Sting and The Rock at the top of their game with high flying and hard hitting action front and centre.
If we take off those rose tinted specs for just one minute, it is easy to uncover some less great moments too. I mean, what was the Corporate Ministry about? Why was The Boss Man feuding with Big Show over his dead Father? Where were the clean finishes? And what was with all those nasty looking chair shots? In this Top Five will share their thoughts on the worst five parts of the Attitude Era.
5. All the focus on TV and less on PPV
With the WWF and WCW going head to head it seemed like everything centered on their Monday night battle. They could both host a PPV on the same night but all the chat would be on what would be taking place on Nitro or Raw the following night. In the end, this saw PPV quality matches on a weekly basis on free TV and although that seemed good at the time, the fact that Hogan’s title defence against Goldberg was broadcast on Nitro rather than a PPV seems like a mistake to this day. Sure, it was great seeing a great match free on a Friday night – I live in UK so it was a Friday that Raw & Nitro was broadcast – but even to this day I can’t help but feel many of these matches would have been better served on a PPV rather than on free TV. That said, we were at the height of the Monday Night Wars…
4. Title changes
It sometimes feels that the most memorable part of the Attitude Era was the amount of title changes that took place. The hardcore title was definitely the worst for the amount of changes – owing largely to the 24/7 rules associated with the belt. Perhaps I’m old school but I always felt that a title is undermined by frequent changes in who held the belt. That never stopped the WWF though…
3. The wrestling
Fans are often quite critical of the lack of wrestling you see on an episode of Raw these days. Those that think that, I urge you to rewatch an episode of WWE’s flagship show back in 1998/99 and you’ll change your tune. And what action we did get on TV back then either ended with a non-clean finish or descended into a huge brawl. Sure it was entertaining but there’s far more in-ring action these days than there was back then.
The Attitude Era wasn’t solely about Stone Cold feuding with The Rock and Vince McMahon. Oh no, then WWE writer Vince Russo loved a crazy storyline as much as he loved a swerve. Where to begin…what about McMahon being announced as the Higher Power, Mae Young giving birth to a hand, Hawk’s battle with alcohol and falling from the stage or Boss Man and Al Snow fighting in a steel cage surrounded by dogs. All of those are as stupid as they sound yet were prominent parts of WWE television. And we’ve not even mentioned Val Venis and Kai-En-Tai…
Looking back now it makes you cringe to watch some of the action from the time due to the risks that the superstars were taking. Maybe ECW did start it but it soon became the norm on WWE programming. Who can forget The Rock nailing Mankind with a steel chair to the head at the 1999 Royal Rumble or his fall from the cage at King of the Ring 1998? And that’s not even mentioning the spots in TLC and ladder matches or the many other chair shots to the head and excessive bleeding. What makes it most difficult to watch now is the fact that we are all too aware, especially after the Benoit double murder suicide, the real and damaging impact of these type of moves and spots.
5. The Bra & Panties
When WWE went to it’s TV:14 rating, they began engaging in all kinds of cheap titillation, doing their best to objectify women and generally give teenage boys an unhealthy perception of them. Possibly the very worst offender was the Bra & Panties match (two women ‘wrestle’; first to strip the other to her underwear wins. *sighs*); as well as the reasons above, they also ate up valuable space on PPV and TV that should have been dedicated to, ya know, wrestling. Not higher up the list solely for the fact they provided time for a toilet break when watching live shows.
4. WWE’s plugging of non-wrestling ventures
Whether it was the XFL, WWF New York or some other hair-brained venture, during the Attitude Era WWE incessantly bombarded us poor fans with promos and adverts for all kinds of crap we couldn’t care about. The product was such high quality (well, for the most part) that it was extremely frustrating when the show was broken up by this stuff. It didn’t start in this era and it’s arguably worse than ever these days, but this is when WWE kicked it into high-gear.
3. Mick Foleys ‘retirement’
In 2000, Foley decided he wanted to go out with a bang, and resurrected the Cactus Jack persona, starting a fantastic feud with HHH. They first clashed in an excellent Street Fight at Rumble 2000, and soon afterwards the stage was set for Foley’s grand exit; they would clash one more time in Hell In A Cell, and if Foley failed to win, his career would be over.
At No Way Out 2000 HHH and Cactus contested possible the finest Cell match ever, heightened by genuine audience emotion. After Foley lost, he left the arena in tears as the crowd gave him a standing ovation. It was a beautiful send off for the legend. That is until 3 weeks later when he unretired to be in the main event of Wrestlemania 2000; most fans were flabbergasted that Foley and WWE would dump all over such a special moment. The lasting effect meant WWE would never be able sell a match as a retirement bout and have fans believe it in the least.
2. The Hardcore division
WWE’s blatant attempt to emulate the style of upstart indie promotion ECW, the Hardcore division instead ended up as WWE’s dumping ground for mediocre or struggling to get over wrestlers, and mostly consisted of disjointed, psychology-bereft weapon brawls. Never given any serious attention by the writing team, the matches were mostly used as filler on PPV, and there isn’t a single wrestler whose stature was enhanced by wearing the Championship.
WWE did briefly inject some life into it with Crash Holly’s 24/7 rule (he would defend the title any time, anywhere, so long as there was ref present to count the fall), but the joke quickly wore thin. After much indifference to it during 2001/2002, WWE finally canned the worthless strap when RVD unified it with the Intercontinental Championship.
1. Everything involving Big Boss Man
Ray Traylor, God rest his soul, was one of the finest big-man workers of the late 80’s/early 90’s WWF; 6ft 6” and 330lbs, yet a fast, athletic mover, Traylor was a great menacing heel and effective face, and always over in either role. He left WWF and joined WCW for a spectacularly uneventful run before returning to the WWF in 1998. And it all went down hill from there.
Hampered by age, weight and injuries, all the qualities he possessed during his previous tenure had seemingly abandoned him and what was left was not pretty. Not only did he stink it up in the ring, he was involved in some of the worst feuds and angles of the era. Of particular note are his deeply offensive run against the Big Show (during which Boss Man hijacked Show’s Dads funeral, among other tasteless things) and his awful rivalry with Al Snow, in which he cooked Snow’s dog and fed it to him, before participating in a contender for the worst match ever, the *shudder* Kennel from Hell match.
5. Title Changes
Back in the day, i.e. when I was a kid in the early 90’s, a title change was a big deal. I don’t just mean the WWE Title, any title changing hands was major news. These days it’s slightly less of a big deal to hear about a tag or IC title change, but still relatively newsworthy at least. However, the Attitude Era was a different story. The amount of title changes just for the sake of it was unreal. Take Edge & Christian as an example, they famously won seven tag team championships. What you won’t hear said on TV is that they captured them all within just one calendar year, with reigns lasting as short as eight, one and zero days. Couple this with the eleven WWE Title changes in 1999 and the ridiculous Hardcore division and you get my point.
I get that stipulations are handy in order to prolong a feud, but the Attitude Era was over kill. I don’t mean stipulations in terms of match types, I mean the “if Austin loses he’s fired” type of stipulations. It felt like damn near every PPV main event had one of these stipulations, it was very rarely just about being the better man or being champion; the Attitude Era was more about power than anything else.
As good as this era was in terms of sheer entertainment, there were just as many misses as hits; Mae Young gave birth to a hand, Kaientai supposedly chopped off Val Venis’ “pee pee”, everything involving ‘Sexual Chocolate’ Mark Henry was abysmal. However, James has hit the nail on the head with his list; the storylines involving The Bossman were the pits. One thing James didn’t mention was that he was hanged by The Undertaker and The Brood at Wrestlemania 15. Yep, Bossman was a busy boy in the Attitude Era.
2. The Role of Women
This one is a no-brainer, it’s actually rather uncomfortable to watch some of the footage involving women around this time. The likes of Sable and Trish may have been smokin’ hot, but that did not give fans, commentators and wrestlers the right to demand to see “puppies” and boo whenever there was no flesh on show. I mean what exactly did a bikini contest have to do with wrestling, or entertainment in general for that matter?
1. Match Quality
There’s no question, the Attitude Era was bloody entertaining, but boy did the matches suck! I refer mainly to the 99/98 period, the year 2000 produced some stellar outings due to the acquisitions of Angle, Benoit, Guerrero, Jericho and The Dudley Boys, along with the emergence of Edge & Christian, The Hardys and Triple H as a headliner. The main events in the 98/99 period were usually good fun to watch, purely due to the level of heat for whoever was facing Austin. However, I can’t think of three good matches from an under card in 98/99. Triple H and The Rock contested a good ladder match at Summerslam ‘98 while Edge & Christian and The Hardys stole the show in a tag team ladder match at No Mercy ’99. However, after that I’m completely stuck.
You can read all our previous Top Five features here.