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The Attitude Era was a term used by World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE) to describe the company's programming during the height of the Monday Night Wars, a ratings battle which had begun in 1995 during WWF's previous New Generation Era. WWF's Raw went head-to-head with World Championship Wrestling's (WCW) Monday Nitro in a battle for Nielsen ratings each week until 2001, when Vince McMahon purchased WCW.
|Promotion||World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE)|
|Date||November 9, 1997 – May 6, 2002|
|Tagline(s)||WWF Attitude: Get It|
|WWF/WWE eras chronology|
The Attitude Era branding, used from 1997 to 2002, accompanied WWF's move into adult-oriented television content, which controversially included an increase in the levels of violence, profanity, vulgarity, and sexual content under the influence of head writer Vince Russo. This era was part of a wider surge in the popularity of professional wrestling, as television ratings, pay-per-view buy-rates, and merchandise sales reached record numbers. The WWF would receive major backlash for the change in content from lobbyists, advertisers and international broadcasters.
The Attitude Era marked the rise of many wrestlers, particularly "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley, and Kurt Angle. A feud between anti-hero Austin and villainous company owner Mr. McMahon, portrayed by real-life WWF owner Vince McMahon, spanned the duration of the Attitude Era, and is regarded as the catalyst for the popularity in the company at the time. The increase in violence and sexual content led to the reactivation of the WWF Women's Championship, and the addition of a championship for its hardcore division.
The Attitude Era also saw the resurgence of tag team wrestling, particularly The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz, and Edge and Christian, who were featured in several stunt-filled matches during this era. Distinguished stables established in this era, such as D-Generation X, Nation of Domination, The Corporation, and The Ministry of Darkness developed major rivalries with each other.
Monday Night Wars and shift to edgier contentEdit
During the Monday Night Wars, a ratings battle between WWF's Raw and WCW's Monday Nitro, the WWF began to transition from the "traditional way" wrestling was, into a product which "pushed the envelope" according to head writer Vince Russo. The creative side of the product during the early stages of the era was spearheaded by Russo, WWF owner Vince McMahon, and Jim Cornette, who drastically changed the way WWF television was written. Russo's booking style has been described as "Crash TV", where Russo contributed edgy, controversial storylines involving sexual content, and profanity, as well as swerves, unexpected heel turns, and worked shoots in the storylines. As well as short matches, backstage vignettes, shocking angles and levels of depicted violence.
Several moments have been credited with helping transition to the Attitude Era. In his book, Russo mentions the debut of the character Goldust in 1995 as a turning point. Brian Pillman's "loose cannon" persona and the "Pillman's got a gun" segment from 1996 when he pulled a gun on Austin, has also been credited. By 1996, WWF had also begun playing up female sexuality, led by Sunny and Sable. After losing a steel cage match against Sycho Sid in an attempt to win back the WWF World Heavyweight Championship in March 1997, Bret Hart angrily shoved McMahon to the mat and went into a profanity-laced tirade. Producer Bruce Prichard attributes the "Attitude" verbiage to Vince McMahon, following a discussion with Shawn Michaels over his usage of a crotch chop.
Birth of Austin 3:16Edit
The 1996 King of the Ring tournament saw Austin's first usage of "Austin 3:16", the major marketing tool for WWF during the era. After winning the tournament by defeating Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Austin mocked Roberts' recital of the biblical passage John 3:16 by saying, "You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it did not get you anywhere! Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16... Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!"
Austin's popularity gradually started to rise as an anti-hero despite being portrayed as a heel character, eventually leading to a long feud with Hart from late-1996 to mid-1997 climaxing in a Submission Match at WrestleMania 13. In 1997, a storyline involving Owen Hart and Austin (in which Owen botched a piledriver that caused neck injuries that ultimately ended Austin's career in 2003) culminated in Austin performing a Stone Cold Stunner on Vince McMahon to a positive crowd response and leading to Austin's arrest.
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels and the Montreal ScrewjobEdit
Another storyline from 1996 to 1997 was the feud between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, who had legitimate issues with one another outside of wrestling. The conflict behind the scenes spilled out into their on-screen storyline, where both men made pointed personal remarks in interviews and promo segments that were often rooted in these issues.
On November 1, 1997, then-WWF Champion Hart signed a contract to work for WCW beginning that December. McMahon sought to prevent Hart from leaving the WWF as its champion, and proposed having Hart lose to Michaels at their scheduled match at Survivor Series on November 9. Hart refused due to his personal issues with Michaels, and because the Survivor Series event was to take place in Montreal, in Hart's home country of Canada, where he enjoyed immense popularity. The sides came to an agreement where the match would have a disqualification finish – which would not result in a title change – and Hart would lose or forfeit the title at a later date. McMahon, Michaels, and other WWF employees covertly went on to change the outcome of the match without Hart's knowledge. During the match, after Michaels placed Hart in the Sharpshooter, Hart's signature finishing manoeuvre, McMahon – who was at ringside, a rarity at the time unless he was working as a commentator – quickly ordered referee Earl Hebner to call for the bell and award Michaels the WWF Championship by submission, despite Hart not submitting. Hart, realizing that he had been the victim of a so-called "screwjob", spit on McMahon, destroyed equipment, and traced the letters "WCW" in the air with his finger, while fans in the arena threw garbage into the ring area and expressed their support for Hart. The incident would go on to be dubbed the Montreal Screwjob.
The following night on Raw, McMahon gave an interview with Jim Ross in which McMahon explained his actions and famously claimed that "Bret Hart screwed Bret Hart." The WWF successfully went on to parlay fan resentment towards McMahon – whose position as owner of the WWF was rarely acknowledged onscreen prior to the Montreal Screwjob – into creating the "Mr. McMahon" character, a villainous, overbearing boss. McMahon's new heel character would become a major part of the WWF's transition to reality-based storylines, particularly his rivalry with Stone Cold Steve Austin.
USA Network ownership changeEdit
In October 1997, longtime USA Network owner Kay Koplovitz agreed to sell the network she founded to media mogul Barry Diller. Diller's purchase of the USA Network was finalized in February 1998. Following the purchase, the WWF began to dominate cable television ratings with Raw episodes which were not only breaking with traditional censorship, but that were also showing ringside fans screaming obscenities and wearing t-shirts with controversial phrases. The USA Network was even reported as showing less remorse than WWF owner Vince McMahon did over a controversial incident on the September 14, 1998 episode of Raw where the wrestler Jacqueline had one of her breasts exposed during an evening gown match, which network spokesman David Schwartz described as "not worse than anything you see on broadcast television at that time of night, such as NYPD Blue."
Stone Cold Steve AustinEdit
After Stone Cold Steve Austin won the 1998 Royal Rumble, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson made a guest appearance on Raw the following night. Tyson, who at the time was still suspended from boxing, was to be introduced as the "Special Guest Enforcer" referee for the championship match at WrestleMania XIV, but McMahon's presentation of Tyson was interrupted by Austin, who flipped off Tyson, leading to a brief scuffle. In an interview with Austin, head writer Vince Russo described this moment as the start of the Attitude Era. Over the following weeks, Tyson aligned himself with Michaels, Austin's opponent at WrestleMania, and D-Generation X. In the closing moments of the match, Tyson counted Austin's pinfall on Michaels. Tyson was paid $4 million for his role.
Following his crowning as champion, a long-term storyline pitting Austin and McMahon as rivals began, and it proved pivotal in increasing the WWF's revenues from merchandise sales, arena events and PPV sales, as well as television ratings. Speaking in 2004 after Austin's retirement, McMahon describd him as "the most popular performer we’ve ever had". Austin, the company's defiant top star, would regularly have to overcome the odds stacked against him by Mr. McMahon. Austin and McMahon were featured in numerous segments leading to a match between the duo on April 13, 1998, episode of Raw, Austin and McMahon were going to battle out their differences in an actual match, but the match was declared a no contest when Mick Foley (as Dude Love) interrupted the entire contest. On that night Raw defeated Nitro in the ratings for the first time since June 10, 1996. Austin again wrestled McMahon in 1999 at St. Valentine's Day Massacre in a steel cage, which he won when the debuting Big Show accidentally threw him through the cage wall, thus earning a world title shot at WrestleMania XV. Through the rivalry, McMahon founded two heel factions: The Corporation and The Corporate Ministry. The feud between the two also involved some of the most iconic moments of the Era, including Austin driving a Zamboni to the ring to attack McMahon, Austin visiting McMahon in a hospital, Austin filling McMahon's Chevrolet Corvette with cement, and driving to the ring in a beer truck and spraying McMahon with beer.
At Fully Loaded in 1999 Vince McMahon added a stipulation in a first blood match between Undertaker and Austin for the WWF Championship, that if Austin won McMahon would kayfabe step away from the WWF, while if Austin lost he would never receive a title shot for the WWF Championship again. Austin won the match, thus leading to Vince temporarily being banned from the WWF. At Survivor Series, Austin was run down by a car in the parking lot. Austin then underwent neck surgery by Dr. Lloyd Youngblood, due to Austin's injury from a piledriver at SummerSlam two years prior. He was away for a nine-month rehabilitation, with the car angle being used to write him off television.
Upon Austin's return in mid-2000 he confronted Rikishi who claimed responsibility for the attack on Austin as per the request of Austin's rival The Rock. Austin faced off against Rikishi at No Mercy, the match ending in no contest. Austin would win the 2001 Royal Rumble match and face The Rock for the WWF Championship at the main event of WrestleMania X-Seven. At WrestleMania Austin turned heel after allying with his former rival Vince McMahon and defeated The Rock to regain the WWF Championship. Following the Invasion storyline, Austin entered a rivalry with Kurt Angle, losing the WWF Championship to him at Unforgiven.
Dwayne Johnson, a third-generation wrestler, made his debut at the 1996 Survivor Series as "Rocky Maivia", naming himself after his grandfather Peter Maivia and his father Rocky Johnson. Despite being a babyface with an impressive winning streak and an Intercontinental Championship reign, he was frequently met with negative reception from live audiences: loud boos, "Rocky sucks!" chants, and even crowd signs that read "Die Rocky Die". Maivia turned heel when he joined the Nation of Domination in 1997 and renamed himself "The Rock". As a member of the Nation of Domination, The Rock won the Intercontinental title for a second time. The Rock eventually overthrew Faarooq to become the leader of the Nation. After the Nation disbanded, The Rock referred to himself as the "People's Champion" and began to receive the support of the audience, which led Vince McMahon and the Corporation to target him. Survivor Series 1998 marked the first PPV headlined by The Rock. During the final match of a tournament against Mankind to crown a new WWF Champion, a double turn occurred with the help of McMahon, similar to the previous year's Survivor Series, revealing that Rock was working with The Corporation all along. The Rock officially joined McMahon as the crown jewel of The Corporation, abandoning his previous moniker as "The People's Champion" and declaring himself "The Corporate Champion".
The Rock had a lengthy feud with Mankind, who won the title on an episode of Raw in January 1999. The reign was short lived, as the Rock got his rematch at the 1999 Royal Rumble, in an I Quit Match. The Rock won the I Quit Match and became the WWF Champion yet again. A rematch, known as "Half-Time Heat", took place during halftime of the Super Bowl, and Mankind won the match and the title. The Rock got a rematch at St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in a last man standing match for the chance to headline WrestleMania XV as the WWF Champion. The bout ended in a draw after both men were unable to stand at the ten count. Despite Mankind being the WWF Champion, he gave the Rock one more shot at the title in a ladder match on Raw. This was their final match, as the Big Show interfered in the match and chokeslammed Mankind off the ladder, leaving the Rock all by himself to win the match and headline WrestleMania XV as WWF Champion. At WrestleMania XV The Rock, the WWF Champion faced off against the challenger, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Vince McMahon interfered in the match attacking Stone Cold to try and stop him but was unsuccessful.
After being fired from the Corporation, The Rock once again declared himself the People's Champion and went on a number of small feuds during the latter part of 1999. It was during this time The Rock's popularity began to flourish once again, and he joined his former rival Mankind to create the tag team, The Rock 'n' Sock Connection. The team won the WWF Tag Team titles. After the Rock 'n' Sock connection broke up, The Rock went back into the main event picture of the WWF, battling the likes of Triple H and his stable, the McMahon-Helmsley Faction. Late in the Attitude Era, The Rock faced Stone Cold Steve Austin again at WrestleMania X-Seven in the main event match for the WWF Championship. Austin once again defeated The Rock to regain the title and also joined forces with his nemesis Mr. McMahon. Later in 2001 The Rock would bounce back defeating Booker T at SummerSlam to win the WCW Championship, which was now part of the WWF following WWF's purchase of WCW earlier in the year.  Later that year at Survivor Series, The Rock led Team WWF to victory over Team Alliance as art of the Invasion storyline, by being the sole survivor after last eliminating his rival Austin and celebrated the win with Vince McMahon.
The Undertaker and KaneEdit
At SummerSlam in 1996, The Undertaker became embroiled in a feud with his former manager Paul Bearer. During the course of their conflict, Bearer threatened The Undertaker with the threat of revealing his 'secret', calling him a "murderer" and accusing him of killing his parents and brother. In the following weeks on Raw, Bearer revealed that Kane was actually still alive, and that Bearer had an affair with The Undertaker's mother, which produced Kane. Kane debuted at Badd Blood: In Your House, wearing a mask and interfering in the first Hell in a Cell match between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. Following a series of taunts from Bearer and Kane, who cost him the WWF World Heavyweight Title at the Royal Rumble, he agreed to face Kane at WrestleMania XIV. The Undertaker won the match at WrestleMania and the first ever Inferno Match at Unforgiven.
Kane then teamed with The Undertaker's rival Mankind, and they won the Tag Team Championship twice. Kane then won the WWF Championship from Stone Cold Steve Austin after winning a First Blood main event match at King of the Ring 1998, which was the match that came after a Hell in a Cell match between Mankind and The Undertaker, but Kane lost the title to Austin the following night on Raw. A few weeks later, thanks to the machinations of The Undertaker, Kane turned on Mankind. Following the conclusion of this storyline, The Undertaker and Kane united to form a tag team that became known as The Brothers of Destruction.
In late 1998, The Undertaker turned on Kane and realigned himself with Paul Bearer. Now proclaiming himself as the "Ministry of Darkness", he turned heel and began taking a more macabre and darker persona, claiming that a "plague of evil" would hit WWF. During the weeks that followed, he reignited his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, whom he blamed for costing him the WWF title. At Rock Bottom: In Your House, Austin defeated the Undertaker in a Buried Alive match with the help of Kane, writing him off of WWF television for a month. As a result, The Corporation had Kane committed to an insane asylum. In December, Kane joined The Corporation to stay out of the insane asylum. He was later betrayed by The Corporation and thrown out of the alliance.
The Undertaker and Kane reformed The Brothers of Destruction in the summer of 2000; at this time, Undertaker had taken on the "American Badass" biker persona instead of the satanic character he had portrayed previously. They challenged Tag Team Champions Edge and Christian for the tag titles on an episode of Raw is War, but they were disqualified, so they didn't win the titles. On the August 14 episode of Raw is War, Undertaker faced Chris Benoit in a match, where Kane turned on Undertaker by chokeslamming him through the ring, and the two feuded with each other again. This culminated in a match at SummerSlam, which resulted in a no contest when Undertaker unmasked Kane, causing him to flee the ring.
Mick Foley played three different personas during this era: Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack. While Mankind was his main persona, and Cactus Jack was previously used in his days in WCW, Japan and independent circuits, Dude Love was inspired by a character Foley created when he and his high school friends did backyard wrestling in his home area of Long Island, New York. Foley debuted both Dude Love and Cactus Jack in the WWF in mid-1997, while Mankind was debuted at Foley's first ever WWF event on April 1, 1996, during the Raw after WrestleMania XII. Foley's creative versatility allowed him to create distinct characteristics for each character. The 1998 Hell in a Cell match between Mankind and The Undertaker remains one of the most iconic and memorable Hell in a Cell matches to ever take place, with its level of extreme violence and dangerous spots, which led to Mankind getting legitimately knocked unconscious and suffering multiple injuries.
On January 4, 1999, on Raw, Foley won his first WWF Championship, defeating The Rock with the help of Austin. This match is regarded as a major turning point in ratings of the Monday Night Wars, shifting it in WWF's favor. In 2000, Foley as Cactus Jack was involved in a major rivalry with Triple H, at No Way Out, Foley lost to Triple H in a Hell in a Cell match, as per stipulation Foley was forced to temporarily retire from active competition. Foley would then serve as storyline WWF Commissioner under his real name. He lost the position in December 2000 after being "fired" onscreen by McMahon during which he received a brutal beat down.
At the start of the Attitude Era, following Shawn Michaels' injury and subsequent retirement in 1998, Triple H assumed leadership of D-Generation X. At SummerSlam, Triple H defeated The Rock in a ladder match with the help of fellow team member Chyna to win the Intercontinental Champion. At WrestleMania XV, Triple H lost to Kane after Chyna interfered on his behalf and she was thought to have rejoined D-X. Later on in the night, he betrayed his long-time friend and fellow D-X member X-Pac by helping Shane McMahon retain the European Championship and joined The Corporation, turning heel in the process. In April, he started to move away from his D-X look, taping his fists for matches, sporting new and shorter wrestling trunks and adopting a shorter hairstyle. His gimmick changed as he fought to earn a WWF Championship opportunity. After failed attempts at winning the championship, Triple H and Mankind challenged then WWF Champion Stone Cold Steve Austin to a triple threat match at SummerSlam, which featured Jesse "The Body" Ventura as the special guest referee. Mankind won the match by pinning Austin. The following night on Raw Is War, Triple H defeated Mankind to win his first WWF Championship. He dropped the WWF Championship to Mr. McMahon on the September 16, 1999 episode of SmackDown! before regaining it at Unforgiven in a Six-Pack Challenge that included Davey Boy Smith, Big Show, Kane, The Rock and Mankind. He defeated Stone Cold Steve Austin at No Mercy before dropping the title to Big Show at Survivor Series. Triple H then continued his feud with Mr. McMahon by marrying his daughter Stephanie McMahon and defeating McMahon at Armageddon. As a result of the feud, an angle with Triple H and Stephanie began which carried the WWF throughout the next seventeen months; together they were known as The McMahon-Helmsley Faction.
Triple H participated in the Fatal Four-Way Elimination match main event of WrestleMania 2000 with Stephanie at his corner for the WWF Championship, becoming the first villainous character to win the main event of WWF's main show. He would continue to feud with The Rock in the coming months, which included a 60-minute Iron Man match between the duo at Judgment Day, a match Triple H won. Triple H would then be involved in a love triangle with Kurt Angle and Stephanie. At the 2001 Royal Rumble event, Triple H lost to Angle in a WWF Championship match.
Kurt Angle, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist debuted at the 1999 Survivor Series as a heel who opposed the society and culture of the attitude era. Citing his 3 I's; Intelligence, Integrity and Intensity, Angle would hypocritically chastise crowds each week to the crowd's disapproval. Angle would carry an undefeated streak until losing in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to The Rock on January 31, 2000 Raw is War. Angle would go on to win the European and Intercontinental championships, holding both simultaneously and dubbing himself the "Eurocontinential" champion. Angle lost both the Intercontinental and European championships in a two fall triple threat match to Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho respectively. Angle would go on to win the 2000 King of the Ring tournament to be crowned the 2000 King of the Ring.
Kurt Angle would be involved in a love triangle with Triple H and Stephanie Mcmahon during the summer of 2000, stemming from interactions between Angle and Mcmahon beginning in December of 1999. this would lead to Angle's first ppv main event against The Rock and Triple H for the WWF Championship at SummerSlam Following the love triangle, Kurt Angle defeated The Rock to win his first WWF Championship at No Mercy. Kurt Angle successfully defended the WWF Championship in the first and only 6-man Hell in a Cell match at Armagedddon that included The Rock, Stone Cold, Triple H, The Undertaker and Rikishi. Angle would subsequently lose the WWF Championship back to The Rock at No Way Out.
Kurt Angle is cited as having the greatest rookie year of the attitude era and quickly becoming a main star.
D-Generation X formed on August 11, 1997 edition of Raw after Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Triple H), Chyna and Rick Rude helped Shawn Michaels win his main event match against Mankind. The night after WrestleMania XIV, Shawn Michaels began a four-year hiatus from in-ring wrestling to recuperate from a back injury. On-screen, Triple H claimed that he was taking over D-Generation X (DX) and had ejected the absent Michaels for "dropping the ball" over the Tyson incident and had recruited the New Age Outlaws ("Road Dogg" Jesse James and "Bad Ass" Billy Gunn) and X-Pac. On April 28, 1998, WCW's Nitro event was held at the Norfolk Scope in Norfolk, Virginia, while Raw was held nearby at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. With the ongoing war between WWF and WCW, DX were sent to initiate an immediate "invasion" of Nitro, driving in an army Jeep and challenging WCW head Eric Bischoff. Soon after, DX appeared at CNN Center (as well as WCW's stand-alone Atlanta offices) to call out WCW owner Ted Turner. The stable's popularity continued to grow, and they were eventually pushed as antihero fan favorites, much like Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.
On the November 6, 2000 episode of Raw Is War, Chyna, Dogg, Gunn, and Triple H as part of D-Generation X took on The Radicalz (Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn) in an eight-person tag team match, which D-X won. This was one of their final matches while united, after which Triple H and Chyna begun receiving their own singles push while the other fell into the mid and lower cards.
Ministry of DarknessEdit
Upon his return, The Undertaker introduced his Ministry of Darkness, a satanic-themed stable which eventually consisted of The Acolytes (Faarooq and Bradshaw), Mideon, Viscera and The Brood (Edge, Christian, and Gangrel). The storyline continued over the weeks that followed, as the Undertaker announced his intentions of taking over WWF and claimed he was working for a "higher power". He began a feud with Vince McMahon and his daughter Stephanie, with the Ministry burning Undertaker's symbol in the McMahon family yard. At Backlash: In Your House, The Undertaker kidnapped Vince's daughter Stephanie, and attempted to marry her the next night on Raw by holding a "Black Wedding". The ceremony was successfully ruined by Steve Austin, after two attempts by former Corporation members Big Show and Ken Shamrock failed.
The Brood consisting of Gangrel as the leader and Edge and Christian as the other members was formed on October 25, 1998. They would initially feud with the Ministry of Darkness before merging with the group, however they later defected and later feuded with the newly formed Corporate Ministry. After Edge and Christian turned on Gangrel in 1999, Gangrel formed The New Brood with The Hardy Boyz and feuded with edge and Christian. After winning a series of matches against the team of Edge and Christian, dubbed the "Terri Invitational Tournament", they won the services of Terri Runnels as their manager by winning the first ever tag team ladder match at No Mercy by defeating Edge and Christian.
The women's divisionEdit
The original DivasEdit
In August 1995, WWF debuted Tammy Lynn Sytch as "Sunny". According to the Toronto Sun, she was able to use "sex appeal, looks and serious wrestling moves" to become famous beyond wrestling, and was named by AOL as the "most downloaded woman of the year". Rena Mero made her WWF debut at WrestleMania XII in March 1996; using the name "Sable", she escorted Hunter Hearst Helmsley to the ring when he faced The Ultimate Warrior, and her first major angle involved her then real-life husband "Wildman" Marc Mero. Sable quickly eclipsed both her husband and real-life rival Sunny in popularity, first leading to her becoming an in-ring performer, and later to the reinstatement of the WWF Women's Championship. Sable became the first WWF female to refer to herself as a "Diva"; the term would be coined and shortly thereafter became the official title for WWF's female performers. The use of Sable as an on-screen character was increasingly sexual, including competing in the first "bikini contest" against Jacqueline. Her on-screen popularity resulted in her breaking through into mainstream pop culture, becoming the first wrestler to appear on the cover of Playboy. Sable was considered the "blonde bombshell", the usage of Sable's appealing appearance to draw more male viewers reignited the interest in the women's division  and wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer has described her as a "huge ratings draw". Sable later said that it was written in her contract that she was not allowed to take bumps.
The Sable character would eventually be changed into a heel, and soon after the relationship between the WWF and Mero would break down, with Mero filing a $110m lawsuit, saying that the WWF had become increasingly "obscene, titillating, vulgar and unsafe", and alleged that she was asked to perform in lesbian storylines, as well as being requested to strip on live television. Sable's rise in popularity was repeated by Chyna, who would be featured in a more prominent role; in addition to regularly wrestling against male wrestlers and becoming a two-time Intercontinental champion, she would also be featured twice on the cover of Playboy, and her autobiography reached number one on The New York Times Best Seller list, the fourth by a wrestler to achieve the feat.
Lita and TrishEdit
Lita made her WWF debut as a valet for Essa Rios on the February 13, 2000, episode of Sunday Night Heat, where Rios was booked to win the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship from Gillberg. During the match, Lita captured the attention of viewers by mimicked Rios' moves, notably the moonsault and hurricanrana. Lita eventually left Rios' side and allied with the Matt and Jeff Hardy, and the trio formed a stable known as Team Xtreme. As a member of Team Xtreme, Lita developed a more "alternative" image, and her popularity greatly increased.
In June 2000, the trio began a storyline with "T & A" (Test and Albert), with Lita engaging in a rivalry with their manager, Trish Stratus. Lita also began a concurrent feud with WWF Women's Champion Stephanie McMahon, who was promoted at the time as being one of the biggest stars in the company. On an episode of Raw on the August 21, 2000, Lita defeated McMahon in the main event for the Women's Championship, the first time two females had featured in the main event of WWF's flagship show. McMahon would later describe it was an "incredible privilege". In 2001, Stratus and McMahon took part in their own storyline also involving Stephanie's father Vince; Stratus later noted that the female performers had moved from being on the side of storylines to being a "viable part of the program".
Defections from WCWEdit
Many WCW wrestlers, who were unhappy with the disorganization, backstage environment and workplace politics of the promotion, jumped ship to the WWF. The first high-profile acquisition was that of Paul Wight, who wrestled as "The Giant" starting in 1995, allowed his WCW contract to expire on February 8, 1999, when Eric Bischoff denied his request for a pay increase. He signed with WWF a day later and debuted at St. Valentine's Day Massacre: In Your House as "The Big Show" Paul Wight, Mr. McMahon's enforcer in The Corporation. After a falling out with The Corporation, Big Show had feuds with The Undertaker and the Big Boss Man before winning the WWF Championship at the 1999 Survivor Series. Big Show was part of the Fatal Four-Way Elimination match which was the main event of WrestleMania 2000.
Frustrated over WCW's refusal to give him a chance to wrestle Goldberg, Chris Jericho signed with the WWF on June 30, 1999. On the August 9 episode of Raw, he made his debut, referring to himself as "Y2J" (a play on the Y2K bug) and began feuds with The Rock, Chyna, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit while capturing the Intercontinental and European championships on several occasions in the era. On the April 17, 2000, episode of Raw, Jericho defeated Triple H for the WWF Championship, but the decision was reversed by referee Earl Hebner under pressure from Triple H. Jericho continued to feud with Triple H throughout 2000 leading to a Last Man Standing match at Fully Loaded which Triple H won. Jericho later defeated Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock on the same night at Vengeance 2001, becoming the Undisputed WWF Champion in the process. In January 2000, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn left WCW for the WWF. Benoit had just defeated Sid Vicious for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Souled Out 2000 on January 17, but the decision was reversed after it was revealed that Sid's foot was under the ropes while he tapped out to the Crippler Crossface. The quartet made their television debut on the January 31 episode of Raw as audience members and backstage guests of Mick Foley before attacking the New Age Outlaws. They were offered a chance to "win" contracts by defeating members of D-Generation X in a series of three matches. Despite losing all three matches, they were "given" WWF contracts by Triple H in exchange for betraying Foley. The quartet became known as The Radicalz.
Increase in violent contentEdit
Brawling in places outside the ring was a feature of the Attitude Era, and on November 2, 1998, the Hardcore Championship was introduced when Mr. McMahon gifted Mankind the championship belt. Hardcore matches were no-disqualification, no-countout, falls count anywhere matches, involving a variety of weapons. Wrestlers would often take their matches outside the ring into other parts of the arena, and occasionally outside the arena. Frequent participants in the Hardcore division included Al Snow, Crash Holly, Steve Blackman, and Raven. Raven was the most successful wrestler in this division, winning the championship 27 different times. Another stipulation was introduced when Crash won the belt, known as the "24/7 rule", meaning the belt was to be defended at any time of the day, as long as a referee was present. This rule has allowed the shortest title reigns and quickest title changes in WWE history, and four women held the Hardcore Championship: Molly Holly (as Mighty Molly), Trish Stratus, Terri Runnels, and one of The Godfather's hos. For the first time the Hardcore Championship was contested in a ladder match in 2001 at SummerSlam where Rob Van Dam defeated Jeff Hardy. When the Attitude Era ended, the championship was retired and unified with the Intercontinental Championship on August 26, 2002, after Intercontinental Champion Rob Van Dam beat Hardcore Champion Tommy Dreamer.
Tables, ladders, and chairs matchesEdit
While members of "The New Brood", The Hardy Boyz faced off against Edge and Christian (the original Brood) in the first-ever tag team ladder match, the final match of the "Terri Invitational Tournament" at No Mercy in October 1999. The Hardys won the match and the services of Terri Runnels as their manager. The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and D-Von) debuted in the summer of 1999 following their departure from ECW. They were initially villains and were responsible for popularising the use of wooden tables as weapons in professional wrestling. Bubba Ray in particular became notorious for putting women through tables, including the 77-year old Mae Young. In January 2000, the Dudleys faced off against The Hardy Boyz in the first-ever tag team Table match at the Royal Rumble, which the Hardys won.
Eventually, the three teams were brought together in a physically demanding and chaotic triangle ladder match at WrestleMania 2000 for the WWF Tag Team Championship. Edge and Christian won the match and the titles, and this would be the first of several matches involving the three tag teams. Edge and Christian soon developed the "con-chair-to" (a play on the word "concerto") finishing move, which involved the two hitting an opponent's head simultaneously, on opposite sides, with chairs (which simulated the clashing of cymbals). This led to then-WWF Commissioner Mick Foley to make the first-ever Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match (TLC) at SummerSlam in August 2000, also won by Edge and Christian. The following year, a second TLC match, dubbed "TLC II", occurred at WrestleMania X-Seven, and is regarded as one of the greatest wrestling matches of all time. This match, which Edge and Christian again won, also featured interference from Rhyno, the lackey of Edge and Christian, Spike Dudley, half-brother of Bubba Ray and D-Von, and Lita (working with Matt and Jeff Hardy).
Backlash against contentEdit
In late 1999, Parents Television Council (PTC) founder L. Brent Bozell III began a campaign to pressure companies to pull advertising from WWF programming, due to the content becoming characterized by "cheap sex, vulgarity and violence of the most sadistic sort". Many Fortune 500 companies had been keen to associate themselves with WWF due to the transformation into "theater-in-the-round redone as ‘roid rage, jam-packed with charismatic, monumental players, prime-time-worthy production values, and labyrinthine plot machinations". Having lost several advertisers, the campaign forced the WWF to change the content portrayed on their programming, in particular SmackDown, with McMahon saying that there would be "less aggression, less-colorful language, less sexuality", and controversial characters would be appearing less frequently.
The following year, WWF filed a lawsuit against the PTC, claiming they had used threats and lies to drive advertisers away. The PTC accused the WWF of being responsible for several young children's deaths, including that of six year old Tiffany Eunick by Lionel Tate, for which Dwayne Johnson received a subpoena to testify in 1998. Shortly before filing the lawsuit, WWF and McMahon had begun a storyline where wrestler Stevie Richards (portrayed by Michael Manna), changed his name to Steven Richards and began attempting to "clean up" the company, forming the "Right to Censor" stable, eventually adding characters previously portraying a pimp (The Godfather) and a porn actor (Val Venis).
In 2001, federal judge Denny Chin threw out a motion put forth by the PTC in an attempt to have the charges dismissed, and the following year the WWF were awarded damages of $3.5m, and Bozell apologised for the accusations made. In 2001, international broadcaster Channel 4, who aired WWF programming in the United Kingdom, declined to renew their contract, citing concern of the "increasingly extreme nature" of the programmes. This followed Channel 4 being told by the Independent Television Commission earlier in the year that they were wrong to air a violent scene involving a sledgehammer. In Ireland, the Irish Film Classification Office banned 13 home video releases from a possible 70 over a three-year period, with age restrictions on 55 of the 70.
End of the eraEdit
Closure of WCW and ECWEdit
In January 2001, AOL Time Warner announced they were to sell WCW to a group of investors called Fusient Media Ventures, with the provision that they would continue television broadcasts on TNT. In March, AOL Time Warner announced that they would be stopping the broadcasting of professional wrestling on their Turner networks, causing the end of the sale. Later that week it was announced that the WWF had purchased WCW from AOL Time Warner for a number reported to be around $7 million, putting an end to the Monday Night Wars. Linda McMahon stated that the purchase had great cross-brand potential, and described it as the "perfect creative and business catalyst for our company". Paul Levesque attributed WCW's downfall to a lack of respect, and that WWF would continue to be successful despite the end of the rivalry. The WWF's biggest show of 2001, WrestleMania X-Seven, took place on April 1, and is seen by some as the unofficial end of the Attitude Era, although WWF's "Attitude" branding still continued until May 2002. The end of WCW was followed in April by ECW filing for bankruptcy; two years later in 2003, ECW was bought by the WWE.
The Invasion and aftermathEdit
In the Invasion storyline, Shane McMahon (kayfabe) acquired World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in April 2001 and WCW personnel invaded WWF. For the first time since the Monday Night Wars, WWF's purchase of WCW had made a major American inter-promotional feud possible, but the Invasion turned out to be a disappointment to many fans. One main reason would be that many of WCW's big-name stars were still under contract to WCW's old parent company, AOL Time Warner, rather than WCW itself, and their contracts were not included in the purchase of the company. These wrestlers chose to sit out the duration of their contracts and be financially supported by AOL Time Warner rather than work for WWF for a cheaper salary.
On July 9, 2001, the stars of WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (acquired by Stephanie McMahon in a related storyline) joined forces, forming "The Alliance" with WCW owner Shane McMahon and the new owner of ECW Stephanie McMahon leading the charge, with the support and influence of original ECW owner Paul Heyman. At Invasion, Stone Cold Steve Austin turned on WWF and helped the Alliance win the Inaugural Brawl. At Survivor Series, WWF finally defeated WCW and ECW in a "Winner Takes All Match" and the angle was concluded. In the aftermath of the Invasion angle, WWF made several major changes to their product. Ric Flair returned to the WWF as "co-owner" of the company, feuding with Vince McMahon. Jerry Lawler returned to the company after a nine-month hiatus, after his replacement on commentary, Paul Heyman, was fired on-screen by Vince McMahon. Several former Alliance stars were absorbed into the regular WWF roster, such as Booker T, The Hurricane, Lance Storm, and Rob Van Dam. At Vengeance 2001, Chris Jericho went on to unify the WCW Championship and WWF Championship, beating both The Rock and Steve Austin on the same night.
Eventually, Vince McMahon brought back Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall to reunite the nWo at the No Way Out pay-per-view in February 2002. However, Hogan proved to be too popular with nostalgic fans of the Golden Era's "Hulkamania" and soon turned face at WrestleMania X8 after his classic match with The Rock, which The Rock won.
Brand extension and draft lotteryEdit
With an excess of talent employed as a result of having purchased WCW (and later ECW), WWF needed a way to provide exposure for all of its talent. This problem was solved by introducing a "brand extension", with the roster split in half and the talent assigned to either Raw or SmackDown! in a mock draft lottery held on the March 25, 2002 edition of Raw. Wrestlers, commentators, and referees became show-exclusive, and the shows were given separate on-screen General Managers. The brand extension came into effect on April 1, 2002. Later in 2002, after WWE Champion Brock Lesnar announced himself exclusive property of the SmackDown! brand and with the creation of the World Heavyweight Championship, all the championships became show-exclusive too. Additionally, both Raw and SmackDown! began to stage individual pay-per-view events featuring only performers from that brand – only the major four pay-per-views Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series remained dual-branded. The practice of single-brand pay-per-view events was abandoned following WrestleMania 23. In effect, Raw and SmackDown! were operated as two distinct promotions, with a draft lottery taking place each year to determine which talent was assigned to each brand. The first draft was held to determine the inaugural split rosters, while subsequent drafts were designed to refresh the rosters of each show. This lasted until August 2011, when the rosters were merged and the Brand Extension was quietly phased out.
Rebranding to WWE and the Ruthless Aggression EraEdit
The company ceased its "Attitude" promotion on May 6, 2002, when usage of the initials "WWF" became prohibited as the result of a legal battle between the company and the World Wildlife Fund over the rights to legally use those initials. World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. officially became World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) and replaced its "Attitude" promotion with a "Get the 'F' Out" marketing campaign. The last-ever WWF-branded pay-per-view event was the UK-exclusive Insurrextion on May 4, 2002. Shortly thereafter the company transitioned into its Ruthless Aggression Era which featured many elements of the Attitude Era, including similar levels of violence, sex, and profanity. However, there was less politically-incorrect content, and a greater emphasis on wrestling was showcased.
On November 20, 2012, a three-disc documentary set simply entitled The Attitude Era was released on DVD and Blu-ray. The video cover is a collage of WWF Superstars and celebrities of that era, designed as a parody of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. Volume 2 was released in November 2014. Volume 3 was released on August 9, 2016. Volume 4, Dawn of the Attitude, was released on October 3, 2017.
Many video games were released by WWF based on the Attitude Era, with some of the most notable titles being WWF War Zone, WWF Attitude, WWF WrestleMania 2000, WWF No Mercy, WWF Royal Rumble, WWF SmackDown!, WWF SmackDown! 2: Know Your Role, WWF SmackDown! Just Bring It, WWF Raw and WWE WrestleMania X8.
A video game entitled WWE '13, which was released in October 2012, paid tribute to the era with its "Attitude Era" mode, which allows the player to re-enact WWF matches and storytelling from SummerSlam in August 1997 to WrestleMania XV in March 1999. The video game first entitled WWE 2K14 featured some of the four WrestleMania matches based on the Attitude Era as well, with WrestleMania XIV and XV having previously appeared in WWE Legends of WrestleMania prior to their appearances in WWE '13 and WWE 2K14. The video game entitled WWE 2K16 featured some events of the Attitude Era specifically related to Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was also on the game's cover.
In 1998, the WWF released WWF The Music, Volume 3, which achieved platinum status in the United States, signifying one million sales, while WWF The Music, Volume 4 reached number five in the Canadian Albums Chart. Following this, WWF and their composer Jim Johnston would collaborate with mainstream hip hop and rock musicians for albums, and Johnston would often hand-pick artists to work with on new theme songs. In 2001, WWF The Music, Vol. 5 reached number two on the Billboard 200 and number five in the Canadian and UK Albums Chart.
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