Thoughts from a first time Attitude Era viewer

The Attitude Era is considered by many fans to be the greatest era of all, it certainly was in terms of mainstream popularity and ratings for WWE in their battle with WCW. This era is generally placed on the timeline of 1998-2001. For me, I began watching wrestling week in week out in 2002 since Wrestlemania 18. I grew up with the Ruthless Aggression era which, in my mind, was also a great period for wrestling. Despite this, I was already familiar with The Rock, HHH, Undertaker and Stone Cold long beforehand showing just how wide a reach wrestling had at the time.

With the recent product WWE has put out, many fans who experienced the Attitude Era yearn for a similar era to occur. While it was clearly a successful time, I couldn’t help but wonder how much nostalgia and views through rose-tinted glasses was driving people’s praise of the era. Therefore, I decided to spend some of my free time watching Raws and PPV from 1998 up to to 2002.

In this period, WWE had a huge advantage that they could do almost anything with ratings of TV-14/Mature and they didn’t have to worry about receiving a political correctness backlash from sources such as social media although that’s not to say some actions or phrases weren’t worthy of criticism. Nothing was off-limits to do or say which gave the top stars a chance to cut promos by freely speaking their mind rather than having to watch their language.

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In regards to the ladies, WWE definitely wouldn’t be able to get away with it nowadays. It wasn’t really until late 1999 onwards that the Women’s Championship was featured much but the emergence of Lita, Ivory and Trish Stratus put some emphasis on women’s wrestling. As for the rest of it, it was clear that the women were there for their looks and to wear as little as possible and why not when you’re clearly targeting a young male adult audience. Sable was the Women’s Champion for a long time and that was mainly because she rarely defended it. I found it ironic at the same time that there was an equality when it came to physical violence between the men and women. Chyna pretty much competed in the men’s division and the rest of the women were usually attacked by the men whether it was a heel getting ‘what she deserved‘ or a face getting viciously attacked by a despicable male competitor.

On the subject of championships being of little importance brings me to the European and Light Heavyweight Championships. On an episode of Raw early in this period, Taka Michinoku was the Light Heavyweight champion and he seemed to hold that for a long time and he did. That was because he hardly ever defended it. During that time, the championship seemed to have been forgotten about especially when Gillberg won the title. It only seemed to gain some prominence during the WCW invasion but that was about it. The European Championship started off strongly with the likes of Owen Hart, Shawn Michaels and Triple H but it seemed to lose its prestige soon after.

Luckily, the rest of the championships served their purpose. The Hardcore Championship was a very entertaining concept, not only the defending of the title in Hardcore matches but also the 24-7 rule which meant it could change hands any place any time. This led to some great moments occurring backstage where the title was almost a source of light relief rather than a prestigious title. With New Age Outlaws, Edge & Christian, the Hardy Boyz and the Dudleys as the main four teams with APA, The Ministry and the Hollys backing up the tag team division, this was a strong period for the World Tag Team Championships. The Outlaws dominated the early part of this era, but overall, the main three to emerge were the Hardys, Edge & Christian and the Dudleys as they competed in triple threat ladders and TLC matches, putting their bodies on the line in pursuit of the titles.

On reflection, the star power of the main attractions of the Attitude Era perfectly reflect the importance of the Intercontinental Championship during that time. When you think that the likes of The Rock, Stone Cold, Triple H, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Jericho all held and feuded over the Intercontinental Championship, it shows how prestigious the title was. All of these men went on to become World Champions (although Benoit’s win was long after the Attitude Era) and some even won the Intercontinental title again in-between World championship reigns. Add Kane and The Undertaker to the mix and you’ve got a huge plethora of stars who could step up to be the champion at any point and the fans could buy into any one of them entirely. Even people like Ken Shamrock, Goldust and Owen Hart, who never won the WWE title, could still be placed into the odd WWE title match and not seem out of place.

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One criticism I would have watching it now is the amount of title changes that occurred. I know that this helped with the unpredictable nature of the time which kept fans interested but sometimes it seemed like there were changes just for the sake of it. If you take the recent battles between Kalisto and Del Rio, there was plenty of outrage over WWE’s decision to hand Kalisto the US title and then have him lose it straight back to Del Rio. This occurred right in the middle of my watching of the Attitude Era and I instantly thought of it when this happened, even more so when Kalisto won it back.

Like at any point in wrestling, there are plenty of things that don’t work out or even make sense. However, the Attitude Era was so successful, it’s easily forgotten about or dismissed. There are forgotten teams like The Oddities and DOA and then there are forgotten wrestlers like Meat and Beaver Cleavage. While the odd fail with a gimmick can be forgiven, there were some odd decisions in more high profile cases. For how intimidating the Ministry of Darkness should have been under The Undertaker, they sure did lose a lot, particularly Mideon. Likewise, while The Brood gave Edge & Christian their start, Gangrel seemed to lose a lot as well. Also, you have to imagine Big Show as the symbol for WWE at this point with the constant face and heel turns. This was at its most tiresome with The Corporation. Whilst the joining of The Corporation by The Rock and The Undertaker were great reveals, most times, it was hard to keep track of who was in or out or why it even happened.

Watching the Attitude Era through, I don’t see too many differences with that of the Ruthless Aggression era other than slightly raunchier content when it comes to the Divas and less colourful language in general. Both eras featured No Disqualifications matches which were bloody and brutal so in that sense. While it was the end of The Rock and Stone Cold, Kurt Angle and Jericho still thrived, Edge, Benoit and Guerrero stepped up and Cena, Batista, Orton and Mysterio were new stars created in this period. I feel that I may have enjoyed some of the most iconic moments of the Attitude Era more if I hadn’t already been aware of most of the events beforehand. Mankind being thrown off the cell and through the cell, Austin arrested, Austin hijacking the beer truck, Mankind’s title win, This Is Your Life to name but a few. I feel the Ruthless Aggression era had a better balance of wrestling quality and entertainment together but in terms of stand out moments on regular TV, the Attitude Era wins hands-downs.

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