20 years ago, the WWF celebrated Valentine’s Day as only they could…

Take your minds back to February 1999.

Life was simpler. Boarding an airplane was as inconsequential as taking a taxi. A new Star Wars movie was a few months away and the franchise was still universally beloved and without any controversy. Friends was the biggest show on television. Computers looked like this

and pro wrestling was the it-thing in pop culture.

It was a wild time to be a fan of fake graps, with WCW still humming along in second place, the effects of Mick Foley’s New Years WWF Championship win not yet having calcified in viewers’ minds, and the WWF was riding a wave of momentum with no apparent end in sight (three years is an eternity away).

By Valentine’s Day 1999, the WWF was deep into its annual road to WrestleMania, almost a month away from WrestleMania 15, presumed to be headlined by Steve Austin in a fight for the WWE Championship. Nothing was official yet, however, because the February PPV featured two matches that would solidify the main-event of the company’s biggest show of the year.

Twenty years ago, the WWF hosted the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre PPV, an important PPV on the calendar that year, but also a show that in retrospect was probably the most quintessential “Attitude Era” PPV ever made.

Was it the best PPV of the year? Not hardly. In fact, it was in the bottom half, with shows like SummerSlam, No Mercy, and Armageddon being memorable for great cards, great matches, or great spots. What it offered, however, was a perfect top-to-bottom encapsulation of exactly what the Attitude Era was. If you weren’t alive back then, weren’t watching back then, or have just forgotten why it is that fans of the era look back on it with rose-colored glasses, this is the show I would recommend to highlight all that made the Attitude Era what it was.

For example…

THE STARS

Today, WWE has almost two-hundred wrestlers contracted to perform for them, spread across a vast array of “brands.” You can find separate rosters of WWE talent competing on Raw, SmackDown, 205 Live, NXT, NXT UK, and Superstars. The roster is overflowing with talent capable of putting on four and five-star matches on the regular.

And the crowds are dwindling. The audience is slumbering. The TV remotes are turning away.

The roster is filled with incredible in-ring talent, but based on the reactions they generate, you’d think they were unknowns off the street and not vets of five-ten years experience on Raw or SmackDown.

Twenty years ago the WWF roster was fifty-men deep (sharing the spotlight on Raw, SmackDown, and Sunday Night Heat), and all the talent capable of putting on a five-star match could have been placed comfortably inside a Volkswagen. Nevertheless, to hear the reactions they generated, you’d think they were an all-star team…because they were: The roster that competed on St. Valentine’s Day Massacre included Steve Austin, The Rock, The Hardyz (in a dark match), Goldust, Kane, Triple H, Mankind and more. Those are just the guys who were or who would soon be either top stars or key upper-midcard guys.

Even the true midcarders and “jobbers to the stars” are famous: Test, Billy Gunn, X-Pac, Mark Henry, Big Boss Man, Jeff Jarrett, Owen Hart, Val Venis, Chyna, Ken Shamrock, Too Cool (then known as Too Much) are all well-remembered today. In all, a total twenty-eight wrestlers performed on the show, and twenty-five of them generated a pop bigger than all but the handful of top stars in WWE, and probably all of them managed to hold the audience’s attention better than all but the top two or three performers in WWE.

And not only that, but the company’s midcarders were regularly outdrawing and out-popping WCW’s top stars and storylines. That’s how over the roster was. That’s how over the whole product was in 1999.

The Attitude Era was an embarrassment of starpower riches.

THE MATCHES

lol

The three longest matches on the eleven match card featured an IC Title match (Val Venis vs Ken Shamrock), the DX vs Corporation match (Triple H and X-Pac vs Kane and Chyna), and The Rock vs Mankind for the WWE Title. Those three matches featured the top two titles and a major ongoing storyline, and totaled almost an hour of wrestling.

The last two-thirds of the show featured matches ranging from ten minutes to forty seconds with little technical wrestling on display.

And yet the crowd ate it all up.

There was a great variety on display as well. The show’s three tag matches ranged from cruiserweight fights to mid-card brawls to top-star “main-event-style” fights. There was a silly hardcore match, a hoss fight, a last man standing “serious” hardcore match, and a cage match. The combination of hot talent, match variety, and sheer unpredictability kept the audience engaged, enthused, and entertained from beginning to end.

The Attitude Era hosted the hottest contests.

THE STORIES

Three major stories dominated the WWF at this time: The Corporation vs DX feud, the Rock vs Foley feud, and the Stone Cold vs Vince McMahon feud. All three featured hot superstars, with twists and turns in the stories to keep viewers tuned-in to Raw from beginning to end.

What set the Attitude Era apart, however, was the depth of storytelling across the board. Every match on the card had some kind of background to it. There was some grudge being handled, some score being settled, some revenge-plot being enacted. These weren’t just attractive people flipping and flopping for ten minutes in great displays of athleticism; these were brawlers, sometimes ugly people fighting for things, fighting to win payback if not a title, fighting for pettiness if not revenge.

TV time was at a premium and the feud with WCW, while winding down, was still hot enough that you couldn’t waste a quarter hour segment or a ten minute slot on a PPV with two guys no one cared about or who had no reason for being out there. This was not the era of filler. Everyone had a gimmick, everyone had a reason for being on TV, and everyone had a purpose to their fight.

The Attitude Era showcased must-follow storylines.

THE MOMENTS

  • Bob Holly beat Al Snow on the banks of the Mississippi River.
  • The Undertaker made an unscheduled appearance simply to aid in his lackey’s victory.
  • Chyna pinned rising superstar Triple H for one of her first big victories as a woman over a man.
  • Rock sang Heartbreak Hotel mid-beatdown of Mick Foley.
  • And, of course, everything about Steve Austin vs Vince McMahon was a memorable moment.

The Austin vs McMahon feud was the lifeblood of the Attitude Era. Without it, nothing else that was over would have been as over, and nothing else that succeeded would have succeeded enough to lift the WWF over their WCW rivals. Austin vs McMahon defined, not only the Attitude Era, but also the WWF more than any other feud in the company’s history.

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Austin looked to be a shoe-in to win the Rumble this year but Vince McMahon swept-in to win the match himself. It’s the kind of shocking win that, on paper, seems ridiculous, but within the context of the story it was brilliant. It set the stage for the match everyone had been itching for since 1997: Austin vs McMahon.

It’s the kind of match that, in the modern era, would have been sampled on Raw a dozen times before finally making its way to PPV. Here, however, was the proper debut and though it wasn’t a technical masterpiece it didn’t need to be. It only needed to give the fans what they wanted.

And it did.

The Attitude Era gave the fans what they wanted.

*****

If there’s a takeaway from this PPV, with respect to the Attitude Era, it’s in how perfectly it defines that era. The stars were abundant, but each was given a place on the card and a purpose on the show. The matches were mediocre, but fast and furious, full of surprises and beloved by the fans for it. The stories were fun, constantly evolving, and spread out across the whole show. And the little moments that you never forget were peppered here and there, adding little bits of magic to an already-fun evening, making you feel like you were watching something too good to last forever.

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was a pretty pedestrian show in 1999 but in 2019 it’s a relic of a bygone era, one which is sometimes unfairly criticized out of context, for its match quality or nonsensical storylines. Kept in context, however, it’s obvious how special shows like this were; loud and fast, silly and fun. There are some good things happening in WWE today, but there are a lot of lessons the company could learn from their past.

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre proves it.

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