What was Good About the "Attitude Era" and What Wasn't

The WWF's "Attitude Era" is held in great regard. WWE 13 was basically sold on "Hey, remember when you liked wrestling? We have that in a game!" If you have the WWE Network, you'd be forgiven if you thought that the "Attitude Era" was the only era in company history. Between the Monday Night Wars show (which is quite good, if not repetitive) to the "classic clips" that they choose to show to whatever it is that Jerry Springer hosts, the Attitude Era is all over the place. Sometimes it's the only thing people focus on.

This is heightened by the fact that you can't watch or read anything about wrestling on the internet without hearing "this would have been so much better in the Attitude Era."

As a teenager in that era, I was the target market. I had a DX shirt that said "Suck It" on the back that my mom wouldn't let me wear to school. I loved watching Sable as much as any other straight teenage boy. I thought it was super cool when Mankind flew off of the Hell in a Cell.

That said, the Attitude Era wasn't perfect.

However, before I get to that, I want to go over a few things that were great about the era. I don't want to get all "grumpy old man" right off the bat, so here are some positives:

Everyone Had Storylines

Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock were the big stars of the Attitude Era. But so was Mankind, Triple H, Kane, The Undertaker, the New Age Outlaws, Edge and Christian, the Hardy Boyz, The Dudleyz, Chris Jericho, and various others. Any one of those people could have main evented a pay-per-view and done well. That's a lot of guys to be stars all at once. Was the WWF simply blessed with a strong roster at the time? Yes and no.

Austin and Rock were definitely generational stars and franchise players. The Undertaker was already a legend. Mick Foley was a great personality and so were many of the others. But the reason they were all so big? They all had storylines.

The Attitude Era wasn't just Austin versus McMahon. It was also Austin versus Rock. And Rock versus Foley. And The Nation versus DX. And The Hardyz vs the Dudleyz vs Edge and Christian. And Trish versus Lita. And The Undertaker vs Kane. And many, many other feuds.

And those were just the main ones. People like Val Venis, Al Snow, The Godfather, Goldust, Big Boss Man, Big Show, The Brood, D-Lo Brown, and nearly everyone else also had storylines. Some of them were downright awful (we'll get to that later) but they all had them.

Promos Before Matches

This might just be my personal preference, but I loved how so many wrestlers got to do brief promos before matches. Whether it be the Godfather's "Hooooooooo Train!" bit or Val Venis' "Hellloooo Ladies!" stuff, they all got them. Not only did this give the wrestlers a chance to differentiate themselves and show some personality, but it also created several catchphrases and crowd participation moments.

It also got people over.

Where would the New Age Outlaws have been without "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages...."? Triple H without "Let's get ready to suck it!!!!!"? Edge and Christian without the five-second pose? The Rock without his millions and millions of catchphrases?

Shades of Grey

This is an overdone point because there were still heels and faces in the Attitude Era, but the fact that someone turning face didn't immediately make them best friends with the other faces was great. The Rock and Austin and Mankind were all faces at the same time at some point and, while this meant that they weren't always at each other's throats, they also weren't instantly buddies either. It was more realistic.

And now.... what was bad.

Sex and Violence

Let's get this out of the way right away. Obviously I am not 100% against sex and violence. As a teenager, I was certainly not against sex and violence. However, there is a problem with how often the WWF used these two "cheap pops" during the era.

The main problem? You always have to do more.

Sable taking off her top and wearing a handprint bikini was certainly shocking when it first happened. So was The Rock nearly killing Mick Foley with chairshots. But where can you go from there? The next step is full nudity (I'm looking at you, The Kat) and Foley flying off of the cell. And then what?

Ummm... maybe Mae Young gets naked and Jeff Hardy throws himself off of something high? And then Shane McMahon throws himself off of something higher? And Kane sets himself on fire? And then what?

WWF used sex and violence so much during the Attitude Era that we were all completely numb to it. If a match didn't have Foley falling on thumbtacks while someone ripped off Trish's clothes, we didn't care. That's what made it bad. (That and the obvious sexism of the "Divas" being in bra and panties matches, and gravy bowl matches, and mud matches, and swimming pool matches, and spanking matches, and pillow fights, and....)

To modern audiences, the Attitude Era looks incredibly tasteless. And, to an extent, it was tasteless even back then. There was sexism, stereotyping, and cruel jokes all over the place. Calling someone "gay" was a top insult. It looks really, really bad now, but I'll let SOME of it slide due to the fact that it was nearly 20 years ago. But that doesn't mean it was good. It was still way too much.

They Still had "Other Jobs"

Modern WWE loves to make fun of the days when a lot of wrestlers had "other jobs" like a garbage man or a hockey player or a tax man. But they didn't exactly drop that idea completely when they got to the Attitude Era. They just made it more "xtreme," which was the style at the time.

Big Boss Man was still a cop. Val Venis was a porn star. The Godfather was a pimp. They also had bikers and Latino gang members and a wrestling vampire. Some of the gimmicks may have been more realistic in the era, but some people were still basically cartoon characters. Just edgy ones.

The Wrestling was Actually Pretty Bad

There aren't very many "classic" Attitude Era matches. Now, that could be okay because the focus was on the storytelling much of the time, but it's worth noting. WWF didn't start putting on classic matches on a regular basis until guys like Kurt Angle showed up and Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guererro came over from WCW.

The Attitude Era was known for two-minute garbage matches and people getting hit with stuff. It also created such all-time classics as the Inferno Match, the Kennel from Hell, and much more. If you liked seeing guys hit each other with garbage cans and cookie sheets (which were always under the ring, for some reason) then the Attitude Era was for you!

But, truthfully, even those who liked that style got sick of it after they saw it 300 times.

Kick. Wham. Stunner.

People these days get upset when someone like John Cena or Roman Reigns wins all the time. But what about Steve Austin? Whenever there was an Austin segment or match you could have bet money on it ending with "kick, wham, Stunner" and Austin drinking beer. It happened way too often. And that's not me being a bitter old man and looking back and getting upset. It bothered me at the time too. You knew that, even if Vince McMahon managed to hurt Austin somewhat, it was eventually going to end with a Stunner and a beer bath.

Now, I'm not saying that it's bad to have your top face come out as the victor in the end, but it would have been nice to see him do it in a slightly different way from time-to-time.

Terrible Storylines

When you combine "everyone has a storyline" with "everything is sex and violence" you get things like Chyna setting Mark Henry up with a 'friend' who ended up being a crossdresser only to have him find out and yell "A PENIS!" while they were making out.

That actually happened.

And that wasn't all. The Attitude Era also gave us Big Boss Man cooking Al Snow's dog and serving it to him, Mae Young giving birth to a hand, Kai En Tai's "choppy choppy your pee pee," Billy Gunn being "Mr. Ass" and having THIS theme song, the Undertaker trying to embalm Steve Austin alive, Beaver Cleavage, Droz being Hawk's drug dealer and then pushing him off of the stage during his suicide attempt, Trish barking like a dog, and much more.

The constant need to "be shocking" created some of the worst storylines known to man. This need also led to my next point.

Heel and Face Turns All Over the Place

Some heel turns were classics. The Rock pretending to turn face while he was actually working with McMahon worked out great when the whole plan was revealed at Survivor Series 1998. So was Triple H rejoining Chyna only to turn on X-Pac and join the Corporation at WrestleMania 15. But the need to shock created "swerves" all over the place and it got really confusing. How many times did Kane and the Undertaker split up and then reunite? Or what about Vince and Shane? And that brings us to.....

The McMahon Problem Began

This peaked at WrestleMania 16's "McMahon in Every Corner" match. Rather than just have The Rock versus Triple H for the WWF title like everyone wanted, the WWF went all in on the McMahon family drama. And they did this A LOT.

Shane and Vince broke up and got back together so many times you'd think they were a high school relationship. And it got old really, really fast. Remember the "Higher Power?" Shane McMahon had FINALLY got one up on his dad when he took over the Corporation and then merged it with the Ministry of Darkness and then.... Vince was the leader all along. I've honestly forgotten how many times the McMahon's feuded and got back together and it's probably because my memory blocked it out.

The worst part? The McMahon family drama continued FOR YEARS! What did the Invasion end up as? Vince versus Shane and Stephanie. The Brand Split? Shane versus Stephanie. It happened over and over and over and over and over so many times that it's lost all meaning.

The Bottom Line

The Attitude Era had a lot of great moments. It was entertaining. You were rarely bored watching. But that doesn't mean there weren't issues. It also doesn't mean that adding some "omg blood and boobies" to today's product would instantly make it better.

I'd like to see the modern WWE adapt some of the good Attitude Era concepts to their shows today. However, in the age of the brand split, three-hour Raws and "special events" every two weeks, that might not be possible.


  1. Great article Rick, I think that the attitude era gets picked apart a lot these days by people who are still into wrestling. The points you made against it though are good reasons to be against it. Another great part of the attitude era that can not be replicated is who was going to be on raw or nitro. With everyone on the internet now, you would be spoiled on things like Rick rude being on both shows on the same night. There is no surprises anymore. (We all knew that Goldberg was coming back 2 weeks ago well before it happened). Anyways keep up the good work! -Travis

  2. Because youth wrestling programs will often use the same routines as the football team, there might often be some factors missing in the youth program. wrestling supplies


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