In the late 1990s, more eyes were on professional wrestling than ever before. Part of it was the spirit of competition, with both WWE and WCW airing weekly primetime TV shows twice a week, all filled top to bottom with the hottest wrestling action around. Another element of the success is that wrestling organizations were willing to get more intense, violent, and let’s face it, adult, losing a small portion of the family-friendly audience in favor of a slightly older crowd who were obsessed with this new attitude.
Unfortunately, for as exciting, fast-paced, and revolutionary as this time period was, the Attitude Era was also infamous for producing some of the worst wrestling in history. That’s not just because the matches were rarely longer than two minutes long before some run-in or DQ took place; the bigger issue was what Vince McMahon wrote to take place in between the sports entertainment action. An overwhelming number of Attitude Era storylines were crass, insulting, and downright offensive, alienating and upsetting as many or more fans than it ever entertained.
With all due respect to McMahon and the many WWE superstars of this era, it’s not like they were actively trying to push people’s buttons, simply trying to put on the best show possible at the time. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and some of what constituted a “good wrestling show” barely 20 years ago is now the sort of thing that would make fans immediately change the channel today. Keep reading to learn about 15 offensive WWE moments that make us glad the Attitude Era is over.
15. Jerry Lawler’s Commentary In General
Okay, so this problem was so widespread, it’s almost impossible to key it down to a single segment. From the moment Jerry Lawler was hired by WWE to, well, the present day, the company has made gamble after good taste gamble every time they hand him a live microphone. During the Attitude Era especially, this was a huge mistake, as just about everything to fly out of Lawler’s mouth was outrageously offensive. This tendency got hardest to avoid whenever women were onscreen, forcing Lawler to revert to a spoiled teenager persona, begging for them to rip their clothes off and strip for him, as though this was all females are good for. Of course, that wasn’t Lawler’s only severe faux pas, as he was also prone to making horribly offensive racial comments whenever Asian wrestlers were on screen, with Taka Michinoku and Kai En Tai arguably getting it the worst. Basically, if Lawler was on the mic, someone was bound to get seriously hurt by something he said.
14. Bubba Dudley Can’t Stop Putting Women Through Tables
While not quite as prevalent as Jerry Lawler spouting racist and misogynistic nonsense on a weekly basis, this next item is another one that’s hard to pin down to a single moment. Starting shortly after the Dudley Boyz jumped from ECW to WWE, elder brother Bubba Ray started to show a sick and depraved interest in driving women through tables. According to the commentary of Jim Ross, it was heavily implied that Bubba’s obsession with beating the hell out of women qualified as a fetish-based impulse he couldn’t control. Disturbing as that is, it should go without saying that the idea was offensively horrible enough with or without any deep-seeded psychological explanations. The idea of men and women interacting inside the squared circle has always been controversial, and sometimes, it’s even justifiable when the wrestler’s characters fit the situation. Bubba Dudley getting a thrill out of beating up women doesn’t work that way, because he never got his comeuppance, meaning the whole thing simply glorified misogynistic violence. It also didn’t help that Bubba’s attacks almost always made the crowd go wild.
13. Triple H Steals His Wife
No matter how far WWE comes from the days of the Attitude Era, there’s one moment they’ll never be able to live down. At this point, the ending to the August 29, 1999 episode of Monday Night Raw may genuinely be the singular most important segment in the company’s history. Initially, fans were lead to believe this would be the day Stephanie McMahon married Test in the middle of her father’s wrestling ring. Instead, D-Generation X leader Triple H interrupted the ceremony to reveal he had drugged, kidnapped, and repeatedly assaulted Stephanie’s unconscious body, then brought her to Las Vegas for a drive-through wedding. Granted, about three months later Stephanie would turn on her father and reveal it she was in on the kidnapping from the start, and that she actually consented to it all, but that’s not the part anyone remembers. The part that went down in wrestling history was Triple H bragging about stealing his future wife’s dignity, forever marring everything their relationship would go on to accomplish.
12. The Undertaker Hangs The Bossman
Generally speaking, hardcore wrestling exploding in popularity was one of the lesser problems of the Attitude Era. From an employee health perspective, it was a huge mistake, as many superstars are just now realizing how badly they damaged their brains when taking all those chair shots. It wasn’t really that offensive, though, so it’s not worth complaining about. However, once in a while, hardcore wrestling went beyond mere blows to the head and reached a point of true terror. Like, for example, the time WWE icon The Undertaker hanged The Big Bossman from the Hell in a Cell structure at WrestleMania XV. As the Bossman’s lifeless looking body swung from the cage, it genuinely appeared like he was dead, having suffered a fate far too many former wrestlers experienced in the real world. Throw in the fact The Undertaker basically just did this to prove he could and the fact it took place at the biggest show of the year, and WWE really should have thought twice before showing a man appearing to die on camera.
11. Everything About The Godfather
Not to get down on the world’s oldest profession, but there are many people in this world who believe the idea of prostitution is in and of itself highly offensive. Selling one’s body for money suggests that human beings are disposable, and the fact there are way more female prostitutes than males gives the entire industry a somewhat misogynistic feeling to it. The way WWE presented future Hall of Fame wrestler The Godfather was definitely in line with the idea that women could easily be talked into putting themselves up for sale around a charismatic individual. While the “pimp daddy” was almost always in a fun-loving, jovial mood, the realities of his business are hardly that relaxed. Through his character, WWE was glorifying an archetype that doesn’t actually exist in the real world, conditioning many teenage fans to think there was nothing wrong with prostitution or pimping — aside from the fact it ain’t easy, of course.
10. Val Venis Shames Mr. Yamaguchi-San
Sharing a number of staunch similarities with The Godfather, another character that could only possibly exist during the Attitude Era was adult-film-star-turned-pro-wrestler, Val Venis. To his credit, Venis offered a lot more to the role than a one-time tag-team partner; he was actually able to deliver great matches inside the ring despite his silly and somewhat offensive character. On the downside, Venis was also involved in an angle way worse than anything The Godfather ever did, when he stole the wife of Kai En Tai manager Mr. Yamaguchi-san, having her co-star in his latest video. Yamaguchi-san was naturally enraged, spanking his wife with a paddle in the ring, then as if that wasn’t bad enough, he and Kai En Tai conspired to kidnap Val Venis and chop off his favorite body part, not unlike what Lorena Bobbitt did to her husband John about five years earlier. Luckily, Val later claimed to experience some shrinkage at just the right time to save his member, yet fans will never forget the image of a man attempting to remove it from his body with a samurai sword.
9. DX Impersonate The Nation
Thanks to one of the parties involved, this next moment will probably never be officially acknowledge for just how offensive it was, still being praised today as an iconic Attitude Era moment, defining several top WWE stars at the same time. No matter how Triple H and his friends might try to spin it, though, there’s really no way to look at D-Generation X’s infamous impersonation of the Nation of Domination as anything other than extremely racist. Sure, impersonations have been part of wrestling for a long time, and many of them are hilarious and unforgettable. However, DX weren’t actually doing impressions of the Nation, they were mocking African American stereotypes while wearing actual blackface. To discerning eyes, the segment had more in common with a minstrel show than anything related to sports entertainment. That said, it nonetheless did contribute to DX ad Triple H specifically becoming stars and put heat on The Rock and the Nation, so WWE will no doubt keep looking the other way on the subliminal messages they were sending when retrospectively praising one of their most offensive moments.
8. Jerry Lawler Hates Goldust
Okay, so just about everything Jerry Lawler said on commentary was disgusting in one way or another, but believe it or not, his absolute worst moment of the Attitude Era happened backstage. In addition to hating women and Asians, Lawler also had a serious problem with homosexuality or anyone that seemed to support it, specifically the bizarre and outrageous antics of Goldust. Said antics, by the way, have nothing to do with actual gay people, but that’s another issue entirely. Anyway, the point is, Lawler once did something that today would rightfully be considered unthinkable, using a certain word in a pre-match promo against Goldust that is extremely offensive even outside of the LGBTQ movement. Showing he truly doesn’t get the point, Lawler is still occasionally asked about his homophobic slur to this day, and he shows absolutely no remorse for using it. In fact, the King just laughs it off, pointing out how he could say a lot of stuff in the “good old days” that he can’t say today. Granted, those days were pretty awful for the people around him, but it’s not like he cares in the slightest.
7. Chaz Beats His Girlfriend
Typically speaking, when looking for offensive moments related to the career of Chaz Warrington, a.k.a. Headbanger Mosh, most wrestling fans would zero in on his time as Beaver Cleavage. A bizarre parody of ’50s television, Mosh started dressing like the characters from Leave it to Beaver and hanging out with his “mother” Mrs. Cleavage, who happened to be the same age as him, and with whom he shared a relationship that wasn’t very familial, to say the least. Weird and disturbing as that character was, what happened next was even worse, when they dropped the pretences and started appearing as themselves. At that point, it was implied that rather than participate in some weird role play, Chaz was regularly beating the crap out of his girlfriend, forcing her to appear on Raw sporting black eyes and various other bruises. Amazingly, WWE managed to make it even worse than it looked by having the woman later admit she was lying about the whole thing, trivializing the very serious issue of spousal abuse for absolutely no reason.
6. Terri Lies About A Miscarriage
So much was happening during the Attitude Era that anyone who blinked through its lowest moments might have missed them. In retrospect, the relationship between Terri Runnel and D’Lo Brown was one of these many disposable and forgettable angles, yet there was a key difference that made it unforgettable to the people paying attention. Always presented as a manipulator, when Terri felt things weren’t going great between her and D’Lo, she decided to lie about being pregnant. When that lie went far enough she should’ve started showing signs it was true, she compounded her fib by claiming to suffer a miscarriage, something that made D’Lo feel absolutely horrible. Well, until she admitted she was lying anyway, at which point they kinda dropped the whole thing. Miscarriages are one of the worst things a woman can experience, and to have someone lie about them is brazenly insensitive, not that this has ever stopped Vince McMahon before.
5. Mae Young Gives Birth To A Hand
Truth be told, we’re not entirely sure if this one qualifies as “offensive.” A more accurate word might be “insane,” or just plain old “gross.” No matter what one calls it, though, the 2000 episode of Raw where Mae Young gave birth to a weird, gooey, pink hand. Given her advanced age, no one actually expected Young and her then boyfriend Mark Henry to produce a happy, bouncing baby, but the results were nonetheless as shocking as they were utterly confusing. When asked whose hand it could possibly have been, Young simply shot back it was none of Henry’s business, suggesting they just get on with their lives. In fairness, after what they’d been through, that may well have been the best course of action. Unfortunately, the wrestling audience didn’t have quite the same experience, because they weren’t two star-crossed lovers experiencing a truly unique event. Instead, they were simply the poor souls forced to watch whatever nonsense flew through Vince McMahon’s head, no matter how horrifically disturbing it happened to be.
4. Hawk Falls Off The Titantron
Drug problems have been rampant in the sports entertainment business pretty much from the first time a wrestler realized painkillers might make their job a little easier. To their credit, WWE is finally doing something about this issue today, offering free rehab to any past employee willing to ask for help. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite policy yet during the Attitude Era, when they would instead mock performers on screen for daring have personal issues. No wrestler suffered this trend worse than Road Warrior Hawk, half of the iconic Legion of Doom tag team. Their time in the spotlight was slowing down in the late ’90s, yet LOD still managed one last hurrah with a high profile angle that saw Hawk slowly getting replaced with Puke, also known as Droz. The reason for this shift was related, naturally, to Hawk’s inability to cope with drugs and alcohol, appearing in matches bombed out of his mind. Being an opportunistic enabler, Puke/Droz kept feeding him drugs, then took it a step further by getting him to climb up the Titantron and pushing him off, presumably to his death. Not exactly employee outreach, is it?
3. Vince Makes Trish Bark Like A Dog
It’s one thing for Vince McMahon to send his wrestlers out to the ring and do something— shall we say questionable to entertain the audience. This next moment doesn’t involve one of Vince’s employees making a weird choice in the ring, though; it was Vince himself, loudly and proudly subjugating his most visible female superstar at the time. In February of 2001, Vince invited his former assistant Trish Stratus to the middle of his Raw ring so he could mock and insult her for recently failing him. When mere words didn’t make her cry, he had the future 7 time Women’s Champion strip to her underwear, get on all fours, and bark like a dog. Naturally, the crowd of college students treated it like the best thing they ever saw, wildly screaming for Trish to take it all off through her tears. WWE has long tried justifying this one by pointing out Trish eventually got her revenge, yet that didn’t take away the sting fans around the world felt as the WWE CEO committed one of the most misogynistic acts ever seen on television.
2. Mideon Gets Flaunts Too Much
After a wrestler spends most of their career in tag teams or stables, serving as a lackey to a larger superstar, it can be hard for them to stand out on his or her own. This was a problem experienced by Mideon after the Ministry of Darkness broke up while his former tag team partner Henry O. Godwinn was still on the injured list. Quite frankly, given Mideon’s talent level, it hard to think up a character that would have made him a star without the help. Even so, one might expect WWE to try something a little more creative than just having the dude run around naked all the time. Donned only in a fanny pack, that’s exactly what Mideon did as he feuded with William Regal and streaked throughout various WWE arenas. In all fairness, nudists are a real sect of people who probably shouldn’t be mocked for their lifestyle choices, but then again, most nudists don’t strut their stuff on national television.
1. Pillman’s Got A Weapon
Long ago, legendary commentator Jesse Ventura asked about the whole “no disqualification rule” thing, questioning why angry wrestlers don’t just pull out a gun and shoot their opponent if there are truly no rules. Well, it turns out the answer may have less to do with wrestlers showing compassion for their fellow man than one might expect, the real explanation simply related to the fact fans would be outraged if they did. Case in point, the late 1996 episode of Monday Night Raw when “Loose Cannon” Brian Pillman pulled a gun on Steve Austin was the moment that some say sparked the Attitude Era. Granted, this happened not inside the squared circle, but at Pillman’s private residence, which Austin just invaded, beating up several of his former tag-team partner’s friends in the process. Still, for one wrestler to point a firearm at another and threaten to shoot right before the cameras went off was way too far for the average wrestling fan. Then again, would they have been so upset if it happened in the ring? Sorry, Jess, but we’ll probably never know.
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