WWE loves to boast the fact that they’ve been the leaders in sports entertainment since the early 1960s. It’s more or less a fact that the McMahon family business has indeed been running the wrestling world for decades. With such a long lifespan, producing tens of thousands of hours of content (and that’s a modest estimate), it’s almost impossible for a wrestling fan to actually watch every program WWE has ever produced. Fans can, however, pick a favorite era and watch everything that the company created over the span of a few years, and those that consume their wrestling that way would mostly agree one of the best eras to start with would be the Attitude Era. The Attitude Era is a loosely defined term, so for the purposes of this article, we’re talking about 1997 to 2002.
While some fans look upon the Attitude Era with rose tinted glasses and assume it was unquestionably the best period in WWE history, the total view of those 5 years would present the Era as spotty. Even though there were the occasional unforgettable moments that will forever be etched in wrestling history. In order to properly present both sides of the Attitude Era, we’ve compiled 8 of the best and 7 of the worst moments on WWE television and Pay-Per-View during what is still proclaimed as perhaps the finest example of WWE batting on all cylinders. The peaks may have you agreeing with the acclaim, while the lows will no doubt have you shaking your head and wondering what the hell the McMahon’s were thinking. Check out our list of some of the highest highs and lowest lows of the WWE Attitude Era.
15. High – Rock: This Is Your Life
Mankind presenting The Rock with his version of the 1950’s TV show, This Is Your Life, has grown to be somewhat of a controversial incident among WWE fans. Yet, one thing absolutely cannot be denied about the almost 30-minute comedy segment: the ratings. With an 8.4, it received the highest rating in the history of Monday Night Raw. This is especially impressive considering modern Raw episodes are receiving some of the show’s lowest ratings ever. Yet, even at the time, the average rating for the show was somewhere around 6. The Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection may not have pleased technical wrestling fans, but when it came to their comedic skills, they were immeasurably better than most of WWE’s attempts at comedy, and they got the rating to prove it.
On September 27, 1999, one night after Mankind and The Rock competed against each other in a 6-man match, Mankind wanted to make peace with The Rock and prove they were still friends. The Rock never thought he was Mankind’s friend in the first place, and that night he got to prove it. He shut down the various people from his past and insulted his home economics teacher, his gym coach, an ex-girlfriend who wouldn’t sleep with him, and most infamously, Yurple the Clown before Triple H finally interrupted and attacked him. Despite an extremely long time without any wrestling, we think it’s funny enough with a strong rating that it definitely deserves a mention as a high.
14. Low – Austin Shakes Hands With The Devil
From a creative standpoint, Stone Cold Steve Austin allying with his most heated rival, Vince McMahon, in order to defeat The Rock at WrestleMania X7 made perfect sense. The idea was that Austin was older, growing paranoid about his capabilities, and willing to do absolutely anything to succeed. Austin played the role brilliantly, as well, slowly hinting that a major change could be coming since his return, and then creating classic comedy segments after he turned heel. The problem, however, was that fans just didn’t want to see it. It didn’t matter how good or how funny Austin was after he shook hands with Vince McMahon at WrestleMania; the crowd was always waiting for the Stone Cold Stunner that would prove it was all a sham and Austin was just using Vince, or whatever else it would’ve taken for them to be allowed to cheer Austin again.
Stone Cold’s heel turn had its up and downs, but it ultimately needs to be considered a failure due to the effect it had on WWE ratings, and even more so because many fans consider it the moment that killed the Attitude Era. And indeed, it more or less was. After Austin’s heel turn, WWE entered a transitional period where they were losing fans due to the lack of a huge main event star for them to cheer on. Austin could easily have stayed that star if he wanted to remain a face, but he choose creativity over giving the people what they wanted to see, and all of WWE suffered as a result.
13. High – HBK’s Riotous Surprise
Talking about the TV ratings of a program that’s been on the air for nearly 25 years can be a little tricky, especially if you don’t want to get too technical about how ratings work. To keep it simple, we’ll just explain that while Rock: This Is Your Life was the highest rated segment in Raw history, it wasn’t part of the overall highest rated episode. That came a few months earlier, on May 10, 1999, which received an overall rating of 8.1. There were two things that contributed to this rating: Nitro wasn’t on the air that night, and then-commissioner Shawn Michaels was responsible for one of the most incredible surprises in Raw history.
The show took place in the midst of a confusing McMahon family feud involving the Corporate Ministry and The Union, with the important part being the fact that Shawn was vaguely on Vince and The Union’s side. Vince and company were in the ring accompanied by men in riot gear, while Shane and his cohorts stood at the top of the ramp. HBK appeared via video, and one by one laid out every match that would appear on the show that night. HBK got into an argument with Shane McMahon, really selling the fact that he wasn’t in the building, which only made it more shocking as he started telling the riot guards to remove their masks. The first two were Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco to the surprise of no one, but when HBK revealed he himself was the third riot guard, fans lost their minds while they tried to figure out how the hell that just happened.
12. Low – Hawk Falls Off The Titantron
The Road Warriors are arguably the most dominant tag team in sports entertainment history, and were one of the most popular teams of their era as a result of said destruction. Hawk and Animal were meaner, bigger, and tougher than the usual tag teams of their day, and quickly connected with fans due to their power and attitude. Unfortunately, the peak of The Road Warriors’ powers came somewhere around the mid 1980s, and the team decided to stick it out for over two decades after that. They wrestled for NWA, WCW, and WWE with diminishing returns for several years, but still managed to get the crowd excited as long as they stuck to the basic formula. Then the Attitude Era came along and destroyed the formula.
Hawk and Animal didn’t need characters; they just needed to beat people up. The Attitude Era was a time when superstars started incorporating elements of their real life into their wrestling personas, sometimes by company mandate rather than their own choice, as was the case with Hawk. WWE decided Hawk’s problems with drugs and alcohol should start affecting the team, and would get worse as Droz was introduced as his dealer and enabler. The perfect storm of bad taste exploded on November 16, 1998, when a “drunk” Hawk climbed the Titantron, and was ultimately pushed off to his presumed death by Droz. The Road Warriors wouldn’t appear in WWE again for nearly 5 years, with no update ever given on Hawk’s condition.
11. High – Shane McMahon Buys WCW
The Attitude Era was about many things, but mostly it was about constantly exciting the crowd, and giving them what they wanted at all the right times (or at least that’s what it was about when things were going well). Plenty of factors went into WWE becoming such a powerhouse of wrestling creativity during this timeframe, but one that can’t be ignored is the influence of WCW causing the McMahon’s to retaliate and keep one-upping the competition. WWE wasn’t always winning the battle, but in a reverse of the old saying, they did win the war, and before long none of those battles mattered. In March 2001, all that was left was the victory speech, and WWE delivered a big one in classic McMahon fashion.
March 26, 2001 will forever be the date remembered as the end of the Monday Night Wars. Vince McMahon announced such on both Raw and Nitro as soon as the shows hit the air, and he claimed he would be making it official later in the night. When Vince entered his WWE ring to do so, his son Shane McMahon shocked him from Panama City Beach, Florida by stepping inside a WCW ring and claiming that Shane, not Vince, had purchased WCW. The moment shocked fans and still managed to change wrestling forever as predicted, and the historical significance alone could make it a high point of any era.
10. Low – The Hardcore Evening Gown Match
Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco are both wrestling legends, both due to their decades-long contributions to WWE as two of Vince McMahon’s most trusted confidants, and the incredible careers they each had long before Vince, Jr. had anything to do with them. Patterson is known as the first ever WWE Intercontinental Champion, and Brisco wasn’t without his fair share of regional titles both as a solo wrestler and tagging with his legendary brother Jack. Yet, their championship success didn’t stop once they left the ring and started stooging for Vince.
The WWE Hardcore Championship started off as a somewhat legitimate title representing the best of hardcore wrestling, but that changed forever in the beginning of 2000. After Crash Holly won the title for the first time, he decreed the belt would henceforth be defended 24/7, leading to literally hundreds of title reigns by dozens of wrestlers. The idea could deserve a highs and lows list of its own, but we’ll skip ahead to May of 2000 when Brisco first won the belt by pinning Crash Holly while he was sleeping. He traded the belt with Crash, and then was double-crossed by Patterson, leading to a Hardcore Evening Gown match at King of the Ring 2000. Evening Gown matches are obviously only meant to be for women, and the idea of two nearly senior citizen men engaging in a farcical version didn’t fit most fans’ definition of comedy. Mercifully, Crash Holly popped up again to ablate the affair by winning the title back from Patterson during the match.
9. High – Hell In A Cell 1998
Pro wrestling can be an extremely dangerous industry, regardless of where the matches take place, and regardless of how well thought out the stunts are. Dozens of superstars have made their entire careers on this knowledge by repeatedly throwing caution to the wind, proving how brave and fearless they are, showing the fans just how far they’ll go to stand out, win matches, and succeed in sports entertainment. No one person represents this mentality to a greater degree than WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley, and the one match that cemented his second to none abilities in taking punishment took place at the 1998 King of the Ring against The Undertaker, inside Hell in a Cell.
Hell in a Cell 1998 might not have been the greatest technical wrestling match of the Attitude Era, but it probably is the match that most fans are able to remember. Two moments, in particular, will forever be etched in wrestling history: first, The Undertaker casually tossing Mankind some 20 feet off the Cell through the Spanish announce table, and second, Taker choke slamming Mankind through the cage after he improbably climbed back to the top. The second fall genuinely knocked Foley unconscious, but he powered through and finished the wildest match in WWE history. Foley predictably lost not long after the second fall, but fans still give him most of the credit for the match, as without Mankind’s performance in this match, the Attitude Era would never have been hardcore in the way it did.
8. Low – Harvey Wippleman Wins The Women’s Championship
The WWE Women’s Championship went through a series of low points around the turn of the millennium, and it’s actually somewhat hard to pick out what the biggest offense to the belt was. All you need to do is look at the names of the competitors who held the belt from October of 1999 to January of 2000, and you’ll see a 76-year-old woman, an untrained manager most famous for flashing her breasts on Pay-Per-View, and a man. Since we’re discussing the worst of the worst here, let’s focus on the man.
Harvey Wippleman is the only man to hold the WWE Women’s Championship, but it only took one man winning the belt to make the entire division seem like a ridiculous joke. Not only should Wippleman not have competed for the belt due to his gender, but he isn’t even a wrestler, and thus the implication was that even a scrawny manager could easily trick his way into a Women’s Championship. It probably didn’t help that Wippleman was a consummately loyal employee to Vince McMahon, either. Luckily, his reign only lasted a day before Jacqueline squashed him for the title, but it still remains such a nadir of women’s wrestling that it makes complete sense WWE decided to start over from scratch on the whole division.
7. High – The Rock Wins the WWE Championship at Backlash
WrestleMania 2000 occurred directly in the middle of the Attitude Era, and as such, it had the potential to be the ultimate showcase for the best WWE had to offer at the time. That wasn’t really the case, and instead, fans were treated to a solid but disappointing show, where nothing really changed and the bad guys got all the glory. That was fixed with next month’s Backlash, a top to bottom great card capped off with a huge win for the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment History.
There are dozens of great moments to choose from when looking at Backlash 2000, so fans shouldn’t simply assume the highlight of the evening was The Rock winning the title. Sure, The Great One getting the big one with help from Steve Austin was good finally triumphing over evil, but the card also featured several incredible matches and The Big Show displaying his comedy side with one of the best punch lines pro wrestling ever pulled off. We chose The Rock’s victory as the moment to represent the show, but honestly, the entire Pay-Per-View could be considered a highlight of the era, since it featured something for every kind of wrestling fan.
6. Low – The Kennel From Hell
The Hell In A Cell match has had a few clunkers of its own, but never has the idea been ruined quite as succinctly as with the Kennel From Hell. The Kennel From Hell was a one-time match that featured the Hell In A Cell cage placed around a smaller blue cage surrounding the ring. In between the two cages was supposed to be a pack of vicious dogs, but instead, WWE settled for docile and excitable bulldogs, instead.
The competitors were Al Snow and The Big Bossman, and not only was the WWE Hardcore Championship on the line, but the two were engaged in a seriously heated feud over the death of Al Snow’s dog, Pepper. Not only did Bossman kidnap and murder Snow’s dog, but he cooked Pepper into meatballs and fed it to Al one evening on SmackDown, both disgusting and horrifying audiences, and making them die to see Al get his revenge. Unfortunately, the ridiculous circumstances of the match meant the revenge was less satisfactory than fans were hoping, and the bulldogs at ringside turned the thing into a huge joke before Al or the Bossman even got near them.
5. High – Y2J Introduces Monday Night Jericho
When WWE first introduced their Countdown to the Millennium clock, fans may not have even noticed the fact their calculations were significantly off, no matter how you slice it. It wasn’t long, however, before it became obvious the clock was actually counting down to August 9, 1999, a date which has since gone down in wrestling history. The clock wasn’t counting down to the new millennium, but as far as wrestling fans are concerned, it may have been foreshadowing something far, far bigger: the debut of Y2J, Chris Jericho on Monday Night Raw.
Jericho had spent the last three or four years desperately attempting to make himself a star in WCW, and especially in his final year with that company. Jericho was one of the best and funniest heels in the business, but WCW continued to ignore him or treat him like a low card joke as fans started to get more and more interested in watching him get beat up. When news broke that he was making the jump to WWE, fans grew excited Vince McMahon might have more respect for Jericho’s talents than anyone working for Ted Turner, and they were proven right when the clock struck zero and Jericho stood toe-to-toe with none other than The Rock. The crowd was electric from the second Jericho’s name appeared across the screen, and 17 years later, fans are still screaming every time he welcomes them to Monday Night Jericho.
4. Low – Mae Young Gives Birth to a Hand
WWE has done plenty of questionable things to women over the years, and possibly even more questionable things to the definition of the word “comedy.” One fateful evening in the year 2000, they decided to combine their offensive powers to create something that not only made a disgusting joke of the female reproductive system, but also managed to do so in a way that was completely unconnected to wrestling whatsoever. The important characters in the angle were Mark Henry and Mae Young, respectively 28 and 77 years old at the time, and allegedly in a sexual relationship that resulted in Young’s pregnancy.
As if the mental image of the two of them in bed wasn’t enough (and WWE made sure to show video of exactly that, to ensure we’d get said thought in our minds), when it came time for Mae to do the impossible and become the oldest woman to ever give birth on February 28, 2000, her body instead produced a gooey rubber hand. Even the extras in the room during the segment found this hideously disgusting and vomited as a result.
3. High – Stone Cold and the Beer Truck
Stone Cold Steve Austin was already the hottest act in wrestling history with two WWE World Championship reigns to his name by the time WrestleMania XV came around, but that didn’t change how rabid fans were to see Austin win the big one once again when he challenged The Rock for the title on that fateful night. The Rock was Vince McMahon’s Corporate Champion at the time, and the real feud going into WrestleMania XV was Austin vs. McMahon, which easily could have been plastered all throughout the highs of our list, but we chose to simply let the feud’s greatest moment speak for itself.
One week before WrestleMania, on March 22, 1999, The Rock, the McMahon’s, and various other allies of theirs were giving a long promo in the ring that was finally interrupted when Stone Cold drove a Coors Light beer truck down the ramp and parked it at ringside. Austin threatened to preview how badly he was going to embarrass the Corporation at WrestleMania, and did so by dousing them in beer sprayed from a hose connected to the truck. No moment more succinctly captured everything about Austin’s triumph over the establishment McMahon represented, so its no wonder fans consider it one of the greatest of the era.
2. Low – Trish Stratus Barks Like A Dog
Professional wrestling history has no shortage of beautiful women, and plenty of them have used their sex appeal to varying degrees in order to stand out and become famous within the industry. There’s nothing wrong with that to a degree, but when women are treated as literal sex objects by the owner of a billion dollar company in front of a rabidly screaming male audience, it should go without saying that it has gone way too far. On March 5, 2001, Vince McMahon led Trish Stratus out to the ring and demanded she crawl around on all fours while barking like a dog, and then told her to take her clothes off if she wanted to keep her job.
Most people would read this as McMahon being a monster, but the Washington, DC crowd reacted like he was a hero, and joyously screamed at the idea of Stratus getting naked. Since Raw is a cable show, McMahon ultimately decided Trish could keep her bra on and covered her up while talking about how powerful he was, but the message was clear and disgusting to everyone watching. Not only was the segment the worst and most offensive of the Attitude Era, it directly affected Linda McMahon’s political career, proving just how offended the general public was by the entire affair.
1. High – Mankind Wins His First WWE Championship
January 4, 1999 is one of the most significant dates in professional wrestling history. WCW was on a decline, but had plenty of chances to fight back and hold their own against WWE over the past year, but this infamous day proved WWE was the future and WCW was history all at once. Both companies were complicit in the moment, but all we’ll mention about the WCW side is that Tony Schiavone sarcastically claimed what WWE did would put butts in the seats. The only ridiculous think about Schiavone’s comment was his sarcasm.
On Raw, Mankind lost a match to Triple H that meant he wouldn’t be allowed in the Royal Rumble. Mankind was mad about this choice, so he attacked Shane McMahon and threatened to break Shane’s arm unless Vince McMahon gave him a title shot later on that night. Vince complied, and Mankind went on to win his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship against The Rock with the help of D-Generation X and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The match was an encapsulation of everything great about the Attitude Era, and it proved WWE was the company giving the fans exciting and amazing shows they actually wanted to see, while WCW could only sheepishly mock them for doing something new.