As most wrestling fans are well aware, the Attitude Era was the most popular and financially successful period in WWE history. Lasting from roughly 1996, the year a certain Stone Cold superstar redefined the meaning of 3:16, to late 2001, when that same individual made a deal with his archrival, more fans than ever had their eyes on sports entertainment. Another piece of the puzzle was that over in WCW, there was a new World order of pro wrestlers promising to take over and recreate wrestling in their image.
The nWo’s promise to control WCW didn’t entirely pan out, but the group did indeed forever alter the way sports entertainment would be watched, made, and enjoyed. A key element to the success of both WCW’s nWo and WWE’s “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was that they were wholly unpredictable, capable of wreaking havoc against all comers at the drop of a hat, with no questions asked. Because wrestling is scripted, it can be hard for Vince McMahon and his fellow promoters to genuinely surprise the audience, yet this sort of thing happened almost every day when he was at his peak.
Of course, for as shocking as the Attitude Era was, it could’ve been even crazier if the writers had tried hard enough to wow the fans. In fact, it would appear they were doing just that, as a few rumors have since leaked about alternative plans that would’ve made the WWE Universe and WCW both extremely different places. Sometimes, this is a good thing, making fans wonder what if, while in other cases, the world dodged a few gigantic bullets. To learn the best and worst of what could’ve been, keep reading to learn about 15 Attitude Era rumors that would’ve changed everything.
15. Eric Bischoff Buying WCW
When WCW was teetering on the brink of existence, it felt like there was a new rumor almost every single day, claiming one person or another was going to swoop in and save the company. Ultimately, as everyone knows, Vince McMahon was the only person to actually make an offer, and rather than save Ted Turner’s ‘rasslin company, he destroyed it and continued mocking it for decades to come. While some of the rumors were probably just that, at least one other individual really was making concerted efforts toward buying World Championship Wrestling: the man who used to serve as the company’s Vice President, Eric Bischoff. If anyone had a chance at keeping the brand alive, it was the mastermind behind its most popular era. That said, we have to admit this one may not have actually changed much in the long run, as without the backing of Ted Turner’s TV networks, Bischoff would’ve had no means of promoting his product, meaning the whole ordeal would simply prolong WCW’s slow death.
14. WCW Meets The Grim Reaper A Little Early
By 2001, it was pretty much inevitable that WCW was going out of business in the near future, and losing their TV deal completely cemented the fact. However, had things been going a little differently and had Nitro still achieved some decent ratings, maybe the Turner executives could’ve been forced to keep the show on the air whether they liked it or not. This was highly unlikely, of course, unless WCW pulled off a major steal of a top WWE superstar. Names like The Rock, Steve Austin, and Triple H were pretty much impossible, but another huge star very nearly did jump ship: The Undertaker. Believe it or not, due to some contract disputes in early 2000, it was rumored that the Dead Man would be leaving WWE to head for WCW, where he would perform in some version of his American Badass character. In fact, part of the reason it was discussed related to Undertaker no longer wanting to play a mystic character and wishing to be more like himself, a quality the tough biker persona allowed. Ultimately, WWE acquiesced to his demands and found a way to make it work in their Universe rather than let WCW reap the rewarding shock value.
13. Triple H Ascends To The Throne A Little Early
It might be a little hyperbolic to claim this list is kicking off with something that could’ve genuinely changed every single thing about the WWE Universe as we know it, but in this case, it feels wholly appropriate. This is because the original plans for the 1996 King of the Ring could’ve dramatically altered the career trajectories of not one, but two key superstars who would dominate the next several decades of WWE programming. The original plan was for Triple H to win the crown, only for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to ascend to the throne instead as punishment for HHH’s involvement in the Curtain Call incident. From there, Austin became the biggest star in WWE history, and Triple H’s bitterness over how things went down lit a fire in him that eventually led to him becoming the heir apparent to the company. Had things gone down as planned, Austin may never have become a superstar the same way he did, and there’s no way of knowing how HHH would’ve performed without feeling a desperate need to prove himself.
12. Stephanie McMahon Gets Olympic Fever
Speaking of how WWE storylines have affected the actual hierarchy of the company by way of Triple H’s real love life bleeding into his character, well after both he and Steve Austin won their respective King of the Ring crowns, there was another moment that could’ve forever altered The Game. Triple H steadily rose up the WWE roster from his crowning as king to winning his first WWE Championship in late 1999, but he didn’t truly become the top heel until getting involved with Stephanie McMahon.
Until then, fans occasionally laughed at his antics and thus couldn’t fully get behind booing him, but by aligning with the authority and trying to climb the corporate ladder himself, it was clear Triple H was a villain for life. Unless, of course, he lost that connection to the McMahons, in which case he may have become a good guy again — or, more importantly, lost his chance at owning the company one day. While we can’t say for sure, it would’ve changed things off screen. There’s a chance that had the original plan of Stephanie McMahon leaving HHH for Kurt Angle during their love triangle could’ve done exactly that. In the very least, Angle and Stephanie’s Authority would’ve been a whole lot different than the reign of the Cerebral Assassin.
11. SmackDown: Strong Enough For A Man, But Made For A Woman
A company that will forever love to pat itself on the back, WWE has been unable to stop talking about the women’s revolution as of late. Stephanie McMahon, in particular, seems to think she invented the concept, despite the fact it had obviously been around for decades before she was even born. Digressing to the point, all WWE is really doing by shining a spotlight on how much things have changed for women is make it clear just how awful it used to be for them, a situation Stephanie’s father was almost 100% responsible for.
At any other point in history, Vince could’ve started to actually promote his female wrestlers, and once upon a time, some of his writers thought it might even be a good idea to do so. When the idea of WWE adding a second primetime TV show to their roster was first shopped to networks in 1999, rumors indicated the show that became SmackDown would focus entirely on the divas. It’s hard to tell how fans would’ve reacted to this situation, but the fact remains WWE has yet to produce an all women’s wrestling series to this day, so the idea would nonetheless have been game-changing in one way or another.
10. The Big Green Machine
During the Attitude Era, one thing almost every wrestler had in common was that they had a whole lot of enemies at once. Compounding this trend is that the wrestlers largely dealt with it by forming unions and factions with one another, wherein the enemies of their enemies were their friends — unless they became rivals themselves. Even so, no faction was ever big enough for some fans, who wanted all their favorite wrestlers to team up no matter how large some of these groups were getting. In WWE, this meant fans wanting their heroes to join D-Generation X, and in WCW, it was all about the nWo. Quite frankly, more superstars were rumored to join the nWo at one point or another than we have time to name, but there was one DX hopeful, in particular, who deserves mention: Kane. Because the Big Red Machine twice won the WWE Tag Team Championships with X-Pac, it was assumed this meant he’d join the rest of his “little buddies” in DX before long. The rumor also usually included Kane’s first major outfit change, ditching the red for green. It never happened, of course, but if it did, the history of both Kane and DX would look much different from then on.
9. HBK Goes nWo
Alright, so this list just claimed it would take too long to list all the wrestlers rumored to join the nWo at one point or another, and for the most part, we stand by that. However, there was, in fact, one potential jump to the black and white that would’ve been so momentous it deserves mention anyway. There’s also the fact all parties involved have confirmed it very nearly happened, only for Vince McMahon to step in and change the would-be jumper’s mind.
Backing up a bit, it’s basically common knowledge that Shawn Michaels was a huge diva during his run on top of WWE in the mid to late ‘90s, constantly having temper tantrums and attempting to pull McMahon’s strings from behind the scenes. One of his most commonly repeated threats when he and McMahon couldn’t see eye to eye was that he’d leave WWE, sign with WCW, and join the nWo, claiming his friends Kevin Nash and Scott Hall had basically invited him to do so. In the end, it’s probably a good thing he never did it, as McMahon was right in claiming WCW would’ve treated HBK like just another body in Hulk Hogan’s crew, not the superstar he truly was.
8. D-Generation X Goes Hollywood
It’s crazy enough to imagine the leader and founder of D-Generation X jumping ship to WCW and joining the nWo before he even created that other group. Even crazier would be the exact opposite happening — well, as close to the opposite as possible anyway, seeing as though the nWo was always going to exist first. However, it was indeed once rumored that Hollywood Hogan would be leaving WCW in the late ‘90s, throwing away his place on top of the nWo to instead slowly take over D-Generation X. This would also include Hogan becoming the top heel in WWE, perhaps as a foil to future stars like Steve Austin and The Rock.
While that sounds like it has some promise on paper, let’s not act like Hogan’s political tendencies wouldn’t have followed him. Just as easily as this could’ve led to greatness, it also could’ve caused a seriously tense backstage environment. The absence of Hogan in WCW would’ve been great, but Goldberg was just around the corner, while his toxic influence could’ve slowly caused WWE to unravel just before they hit their peak. Or maybe it would’ve been great, who knows? Either way, it would’ve been way, way different than what we got.
7. Owen Hart, King of The Game
Back to the subject of Triple H for a second, as his rise from a mere wrestler to becoming next in line to control WWE obviously didn’t happen overnight. We’ve already covered how his King of the Ring victory getting taken away and given back put him on the path he traveled, and it goes without saying that the fact he didn’t lose his wife to Kurt Angle also worked out in his favor. A third element of HHH’s career that almost didn’t happen relates not to his love life but rather his name.
Starting in late 1999, Triple H shed his image as a degenerate in the same way he had his reputation as a blueblood and demanded people start referring to him as “The Game” — a student of professional wrestling who had mastered every facet of the business from his birth. Under that moniker, Triple H was finally taken as a threat, and without the gimmick, he may never have truly become a star. In that sense, it’s a good thing it didn’t go to Owen Hart as originally planned. Granted, Triple H surely would’ve avoided the tragedy that took Owen’s life if he could, but the fact he inherited his nickname nonetheless ended pretty positively for him.
6. Snakes In High Places
Although WWE was firing on all cylinders during the Attitude Era, earning record audiences for Raw and Pay-Per-Views, the company wasn’t exactly perfect. Mistakes were still made and letdowns were to be had, like when Vince McMahon was revealed as the Higher Power behind the Corporate Ministry, a move that, in retrospect, made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Because of this, almost any name rumored to take the role would’ve been better than Vince, and many fans seem to be in agreement on who the real best choice was all along: Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Few other wrestlers had such clear connections to both Steve Austin and The Undertaker, and his past gimmick as an allegedly reformed Christian somehow perfectly primed him to later become an Anti-Christ. On the other hand, Jake was seriously in over his head with alcoholism and substance abuse problems at this time, so this is one rumor we don’t necessarily blame WWE for changing their minds about.
5. The nWo Legitimately Takes Over
It’s already been covered that just about every wrestler in WCW was, at one point, rumored to join the nWo at one point or another, and we don’t mean to appear stuck on the subject. That said, there’s one more rumor about wrestling’s New World Order that needs be discussed because it easily could’ve killed WCW outright a full three years earlier than they actually went out of business. Strangely, the near catastrophe came when the company was at their absolute peak — in early 1998 — just before the debut of WCW Thunder.
For the first time ever, a wrestling company was popular enough to earn two primetime TV shows, and Vince McMahon had nothing to do with it. Impressive as that sounds, Eric Bischoff actually hated the creation of Thunder because it meant twice as much work for him and his writers. One idea they had to diversify the workload was to make Thunder an entirely nWo-exclusive show, similar to the Pay-Per-View Souled Out. To say this would’ve backfired is an understatement, as WCW fans only cared about the nWo if there were WCW wrestlers around to beat them up. Separate the brands, and both die a miserable death.
4. Goldust Gets New Golden Globes
Okay, so what exactly constitutes as “changing wrestling forever” is a little bit up for debate, and this next rumor was more utterly bizarre than something that would’ve actually had long-term consequences. Naturally, such a move could only come from The Bizarre One himself, Goldust, who was acting particularly strange throughout 1998, shedding his name for the newer, longer persona, “The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust.” During this time, he was painting himself green, wearing outrageous S&M style clothing, and generally acting like a freak, behavior that almost led to the real Dustin Rhodes getting breast implants. Yes, you read that right, and it was even Dustin’s own suggestion to have golden globes inserted in his chest. Thankfully, WWE didn’t go through with this one, as practically every organization in history would have probably found a reason or two to complain about it. On top of that, it’s hard to imagine Goldust would’ve had much of a career after having the surgery.
3. A Flair For WWE
To many fans, the name “Ric Flair” will forever be representative of a class of greatness rarely achieved in the sporting world. Putting it bluntly, many people believe the Nature Boy is and was the greatest wrestler ever to live, having crafted a legacy that simply can’t be beaten. Others, however, paid close attention to his time in WCW, realizing Flair was involved in a whole lot of horrible nonsense in addition to all the legendarily classic matches. By and large, Flair wasn’t at fault for the disasters he was forced through, as it was all a ploy by Eric Bischoff to get him to quit the company due to some strange vendetta. It very nearly worked, too, as Flair was desperate to get out of WCW and jump to WWE, ideally to serve as Vince McMahon’s Corporate Champion in the ongoing feud against Steve Austin. This would’ve done wonders for Flair’s career at the time, and Austin and WWE could’ve benefitted in a few ways as well. Unfortunately, lawyers for Flair, WCW, and WWE simply could never come to agreement, leaving the Nature Boy stuck down south until that company went under.
2. A Rude Awakening For Steve Austin
During the Attitude Era, the most popular superstar in either WCW or WWE was, without a doubt, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Each time the glass shattered, fans en masse leapt to their feet to cheer on the Texas Rattlesnake, and, in turn, to boo the hell out of whoever dared stand against him. Because of this, everyone in the wrestling world wanted a piece of Austin, including some whom fans had previously believed were long retired — like, for instance, Rick Rude, who hadn’t stepped inside a wrestling ring since 1994 due to a serious neck injury. However, according to various sources close to the Ravishing One, near the end of his life, the still young and relatively virile Rude was preparing a major comeback. Knowing he had to go big or go home, Rude’s ultimate plan was to jump back to WWE, join the Corporation, and feud against Steve Austin. Unfortunately, Rude was so intense in his comeback training, not to mention loaded with steroids, that his heart couldn’t take it, leading to his death before any of this could happen.
1. WWE Champion Chyna
Forget about making SmackDown an all-female show a solid fifteen years before the alleged women’s revolution took place. In the weeks leading up to SummerSlam 1999, WWE very nearly did something that would’ve been even more game-changing for women in the sports entertainment business: crowning what would’ve been their first female WWE Champion. To this day, no woman has been able to achieve the honor, and if we’re being honest, only one woman has ever even come close to doing so: Chyna.
In fact, Chyna came so close to being WWE Champion, she could probably taste it, as early plans for the biggest summer spectacle in wrestling saw her winning the number one contendership to Steve Austin’s gold and then somehow going on to take it away from him. This was before Chyna had even won the Intercontinental Championship, which would’ve made it all the more shocking for a relatively untrained female to suddenly hold the top prize in wrestling. For that same reason, though, it’s probably a good thing it didn’t happen. While Chyna being WWE Champion could’ve been huge for women everywhere, the unfortunate truth is that she wasn’t a good enough wrestler to deserve the honor. Her promos as champion would’ve fallen flat, and title defenses would’ve been some of the worst matches on the show, which could’ve derailed WWE when they were at their peak. Now, if someone like Asuka came close to winning the gold today, that might be a different story…
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