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The Attitude Era was a period in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and professional wrestling history that began as a direct result of the Monday Night Wars and culminated with the conclusion of the Wars in 2001. Similar to the 1980s wrestling boom, the Attitude Era was a surge in the popularity of professional wrestling in the United States from the late 1990s to early 2000s, as television ratings and pay-per-view buy-rates hit record highs. The Attitude Era was defined by a radical shift in programming content. In contrast to the more traditional, family-friendly content that was common in WWF programming, the Attitude Era sought to attract the young adult demographic by transforming the product into an edgier and more controversial form of entertainment. Traditionally heroic characters were replaced with disaffected anti-heroes and family friendly storylines were replaced with controversial stories based on shock value, similar to the "Trash TV" genre popularized in the 1990s.
The Attitude Era began in the mid-to-late 1990s, and ended in the somewhat in the early 2000s. The WWF/E has variously given "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's victory in the King of the Ring 1996 tournament, the Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997, and Austin's WWF Championship victory over Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV on March 29, 1998, as the starting point of the era. In March 2001, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) was bought out by the WWF, concluding the Monday Night Wars. On April 1, 2001 at WrestleMania X-Seven, Austin, who had been synonymous with the Attitude Era, embraced his long time archenemy Vince McMahon after defeating The Rock to become WWF Champion once again, turning heel and concluding a rivalry which had lasted since 1997. Finally, in May 2002, usage of the WWF logo used to represent the company's "Attitude" promotion became prohibited as the result of a legal battle between the company and the World Wildlife Fund over the rights to legally use the initials "WWF". The exact time period that the Attitude Era spanned between the mid-to-late 1990s and the early 2000s is essentially undefined, leaving observers to draw their own conclusions as to the starting and ending points of the era within those loose boundaries. The 1996 King of the Ring tournament saw Stone Cold Steve Austin's first usage of "Austin 3:16" which began the WWF's transition to an edgier product. During his second tenure with the WWF, Jake Roberts was promoted as a "Cinderella" story. Having defeated alcoholism and at the time been preaching the Bible around the country, Roberts became a face (fan favorite) and was considered the likely winner of the 1996 King of the Ring. At the event, Roberts was defeated by Austin and with the upset victory over Roberts, Austin mocked Roberts' recital of the biblical passage John 3:16 by saying, "You sit there, and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn't get you anywhere... Talk about your Psalms, talk about your John 3:16 ... Austin 3:16 says I just whooped your ass!" Austin's defiance of authority and social morals proved to be very popular amongst the fans, and "Austin 3:16" became the major marketing juggernaut for the WWF during the Monday Night Wars.
1997 was also a pivotal year in the Attitude Era. The year was notable for Steve Austin's rivalry with Bret Hart, which culminated with Austin's rise to prominence, the USA vs Canada storyline by The Hart Foundation, as well the feud between Hart and Shawn Michaels. The feud between Hart and Michaels was particularly notable in that the two men had serious real-life issues with one another. The conflict behind the scenes spilled out into their on-screen storyline, with both men making pointed personal remarks in interviews that were often rooted in these legitimate issues.
The Attitude Era proved to be a huge marketing success for the WWF, drawing in a previously unaccounted for young adult demographic that allowed them to successfully cripple competitor WCW by defeating them in the ratings wars. Within two years, WCW had become so unsuccessful that it lost its primetime television deal. During this same period, the WWF had become so financially powerful, that McMahon was able to buy the company from AOL Time Warner at a dramatically reduced valuation.
During the Monday Night Wars, a ratings battle between the WWF's Monday Night Raw and WCW's Monday Nitro, Nitro was defeating Raw in the ratings as WCW President Eric Bischoff famouly put it, "84 weeks in a row". In response, the WWF would transform itself from a family-friendly product into a more adult orientated product. This era was spearheaded by Vince McMahon and WWF head writer Vince Russo, who drastically changed the way professional wrestling television was written. Russo's booking style was often referred to as Crash TV — short matches, backstage vignettes, and shocking television. Vince McMahon would also use the real-life controversial events of the Montreal Screwjob incident to flesh out his character of the selfish, manipulative, and self-centered "Mr. McMahon", a corrupt evil-owner caricature fixated on destroying the lives of disobedient employees and ensuring the dominance of his hand-picked heel champions. The resulting feud between Austin and Mr. McMahon became the central storyline of the Attitude Era, propelled by Austin's profanity-laded tirades against McMahon and McMahon's increasingly violent and corrupt retaliations against Austin. Against this backdrop, other adult-oriented stories and characters were introduced, including D-Generation X, a crew prone to innuendo and mischief. Female sexuality was introduced in this era, with characters like the blonde bombshell Sable leading the pack of athletic, attractive female wrestlers and valets who had story lines of their own which usually involved bikini matches and contest that punctuated the success of the Attitude Era, so much so that Playboy Magazine took notice and signed Sable, the first female in the company to pose nude for the widely popular mens publication in the April 1999 issue, and it was the best selling issue the company had seen in ten years. It started a trend and many other women in the company have coveted the opportunity and posed for Playboy, generating quite a buzz not only in the world of professional wrestling but in the Hollywood entertainment sector as well.
In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania XIV, McMahon announced that former boxing champion Mike Tyson would be the Special guest enforcer in the WWF Championship main event at WrestleMania. Steve Austin, who won the 1998 Royal Rumble after eliminating The Rock, interrupted McMahon in his presentation of Mike Tyson on Raw the night after, reason being that he objected McMahon's reference to Tyson as "the baddest man on the planet." Austin flipped off Tyson, which led to Tyson shoving Austin and the two fighting until being separated and subdued by Tyson's and McMahon's security. This resulted in an irate McMahon to publicly disapprove of the prospect of Austin as his WWF Champion. For the following weeks, Tyson aligned himself with D-Generation X, a group led by Austin's opponent at WrestleMania, WWF Champion Shawn Michaels. Throughout the WWF Championship match, Tyson bickered with both Austin and Michaels, who was upset that Tyson wasn't doing everything possible to ensure that Austin would be unsuccessful. In the closing moments of the match Austin countered Michaels' finishing Sweet Chin Music and executed his finisher, the Stone Cold Stunner. Austin then covered Michaels, which was followed by Tyson himself counting the pin-fall. With this, Tyson turned on Michaels and D-Generation X as Austin became the new WWF Champion. Following the victory, a distraught Michaels confronted Tyson, who then knocked out Michaels with a right-handed punch as Austin celebrated.
Austin vs. McMahon
On the Raw after Austin won the WWF Championship, Mr. McMahon presented him with the newly designed WWF Championship belt and informed Austin he did not approve of his rebellious nature and that if he didn't conform to society and become his image of what a WWF Champion should be, Austin would face severe consequences. Austin gave his answer in the form of a Stone Cold Stunner to McMahon. This led to a segment a week later where Austin had pledged a few days prior in a meeting to agree to McMahon's terms, appearing in a suit and tie, with a beaming McMahon taking a picture of himself and Austin, his new corporate champion. The entire thing was a ruse by Austin who in the course of the segment proceeded to tear off the suit, telling McMahon it was the last time he'd ever be seen dressed like this. Austin punched McMahon in the "grapefruits", and took another picture with McMahon grieving in pain.
The following week on April 13, 1998, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon were going to battle out their differences in an actual match, but the match was declared a no contest when Dude Love interrupted the entire thing. On that night Raw defeated Nitro in the ratings for the first time since June 10, 1996. Meanwhile, several popular characters emerged on Monday Night Raw that would establish consistently high viewing from fans: The Rock, after not winning over the fans as the face Rocky Maivia, was making a new name for himself as a member of the Nation of Domination, and later as a singles performer, and Triple H, who after Shawn Michaels left due to back injuries, took control of D-Generation X and recruited the New Age Outlaws and X-Pac, who had just returned to the WWF after his two-year tenure with WCW as a member of the nWo, into his new "D-Generation X Army".
Debuts, firsts and departures
- June 23, 1996 - Stone Cold Steve Austin defeats Jake "The Snake" Roberts to win the King of the Ring, and makes the famous Austin 3:16 promo. This is seen as the first moment that the WWF delivered 'attitude' as Austin would use inappropriate language in an un-scripted speech. This also started Steve Austin's rise to the top of the World Wrestling Federation.
- November 4, 1996 - In this episode of Monday Night Raw, the WWF aired an infamous "Pillman's got a gun" which featured Stone Cold Steve Austin stalking Brian Pillman's house in Walton, Kentucky. After Austin subdued Pillman's friends and breaking into Pillman's House, Pillman responded by revealing a 9 mm pistol he had displayed earlier and pointing it at a hesitant Austin. After camera's feed fade into black then later back on, Austin was dragged by Pillman's friends while Pillman aimed the gun at him and announced his intention to "kill that son of a bitch!" Pillman also slipped up by making the mistake of saying "fuck" on live television, which meant that it could not be edited out. The WWF (and Pillman personally) eventually apologized profusely for the entire angle, with Pillman claiming that the profanity "just slipped out" in order to avoid having USA network cancelled the show. Despite it's controversial angle, the WWF used the buzz generated by this incident to begin shooting more real-life angles that were a far cry from its once-traditional family-friendly programming to an edgier form of entertainment.
- March 10, 1997 - WWF introduces Raw Is War.
- March 23, 1997 - At WrestleMania 13, Bret Hart beats Stone Cold Steve Austin in a critically acclaimed submission match. With Hart being jeered by fans despite being top face, subsequently turning heel, and Stone Cold Steve Austin as the ultimate heel subsequently turning face for the first time, this established what was to be known in wrestling terminology as a double turn.
- August 3, 1997 - SummerSlam: Austin and Owen Hart faced each other with Hart's WWF Intercontinental Championship on the line and an added stipulation that Austin would have to kiss Hart's buttocks if he lost. During the match, Hart botched a piledriver by landing on his ass and dropped Austin on his head, resulting in a legitimate broken neck and temporary paralysis for Austin. As Hart stalled by baiting the audience, Austin managed to crawl over and pin Hart using a roll-up to win the Intercontinental Championship. Due to the severity of his neck injury, Austin was forced to relinquish both the Intercontinental Championship and the Tag Team Championships with Dude Love and was sidelined from wrestling for three months. Later that night, Bret Hart won the WWF world title from The Undertaker with guest referee Shawn Michaels accidentally hit The Undertaker's head with a chair, which was meant for Bret Hart who spits on Michaels in the face after a heated argument.
- August 18, 1997 - Rocky Maivia returns after being sidelined with a torn ACL for three months, interfering in a match on Faarooq's behalf and joining the Nation of Domination. He turned heel for the first time and began referring to himself as "The Rock."
- September 22, 1997 - Raw Is War, Vince McMahon receives his first Stone Cold Stunner from Stone Cold Steve Austin. This marks the beginning of the Austin-McMahon feud.
- October 5, 1997 - The Hell in a Cell match is introduced at Badd Blood: In Your House, featuring The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. Kane debuts and tombstones Undertaker, causing Michaels to win a number one contenders match to face the WWF champion at Survivor Series.
- Brian Pillman was also found dead in a hotel room in Bloomington, Minnesota, which he was originally supposed to face Dude Love in a match. The cause of Pillman's death was later caused by a previously undetected heart condition, arteriosclerotic heart disease.
- October 13, 1997 - The initial group of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Rick Rude, and Chyna birth their group name D-Generation X on RAW.
- November 9, 1997 - The infamous Montreal Screwjob occurs at the Survivor Series providing real-life controversy for Vince McMahon. When Shawn Michaels put WWF champion Bret Hart on the Sharpshooter, McMahon ordered referee Earl Hebner to ring the bell, despite of Hart not tapping out, causing Michaels to win the belt. The WWF scratch logo makes its official debut with the "Try Lacing My Boots" promo.
- November 17, 1997 - In response to the wrestling world's outrage at Bret Hart's departure, Vince McMahon is interviewed by Jim Ross in his first interview since the Montreal Screwjob on Raw Is War. Vince announces regret of the situation that led to Bret leaving but finishes the interview with the quote "Bret Screwed Bret, I have no sympathy whatsoever, for Bret." The interview is then dubbed as the "Bret Screwed Bret" Interview and receives controversial reviews from fans and critics through to present day.
- December 15, 1997 - Vince McMahon formally introduces a 'new era' of WWF programming in a taped message on Raw Is War. "Raw and War Zone are the Cure for the Common Show."
- March 2, 1998 - The first official appearance of the WWF "Attitude" logo on Raw is War broadcasts. "Attitude" signs and logos are added to the set as well as the new "Scratch" logo underneath the Titantron, where the wrestlers enter. Several variations of the new logo are used within the year.
- March 29, 1998 – WrestleMania XIV: - Stone Cold Steve Austin wins his first the WWF Championship from Shawn Michaels with the aid of Tyson. This is seen by many fans as the official beginning of the Attitude Era.
- March 30, 1998 – Raw Is War - Shawn Michaels starts a four-year hiatus from wrestling with a back injury, while new incarnations of the Nation of Domination and D-Generation X debut. The Rock becomes the leader of the Nation of Domination, Triple H announces himself the new leader of DX, and announces the return of X-Pac to the WWF from WCW. The New Age Outlaws join the group later that night.
- April 13, 1998 - For the first time since June 10, 1996, 84 weeks in total, WWF Raw wins over WCW's Monday Nitro in the ratings when on Raw Is War, Stone Cold Steve Austin faces Vince McMahon for the first time, one on one.
- April 27, 1998 - DX led by Triple H invaded WCW headquarters and stadiums in Hampton Roads area of Virginia.
- June 28, 1998 – At the King of the Ring, Mankind loses against The Undertaker in the third ever Hell in a Cell match. In the opening moments of the match, The Undertaker threw Mankind off the roof of the cage, and later, through a panel on top of the cage and onto the ring below. This is recognized as one of the most defining moments in Mick Foley's career as well as the Attitude Era.
Later that night, Kane won his first major title from Stone Cold Steve Austin in the first-ever First Blood match.
- June 29, 1998 - On this episode of Raw Is War, Stone Cold Steve Austin won back the WWF title back from Kane the following night after the King of the Ring.
- July 26, 1998 - Fully Loaded: In Your House - The undercard featured Jacqueline versus Sable in a Bikini contest. There was a lot of fanfare leading up to this contest, as was the case anytime Sable was involved. Both women pulled out all the stops when it came to their attire, but Sable, only wearing impressions of hands painted on her exposed breasts, won the contest. Jacqueline's nipple was exposed on camera to the pay-per-view audience and was still including in the VHS release.
- August 2, 1998 - WWF Sunday Night Heat debuts on the USA Network. The show would eventually air for 10 years.
- October 5, 1998 – On this episode of Raw Is War, Mankind visits an injured Vince McMahon. During this segment, Mankind introduces Mr. Socko, a hand-drawn sock puppet. Mr. Socko became so popular that it became part of the Mankind gimmick. A few moments later, in another segment, Stone Cold Steve Austin impersonates a doctor and starts attacking McMahon.
- October 26, 1998 - Nitro defeats RAW in the Monday Night ratings for the last time. From the next episode on, RAW took the lead in the ratings war for good until Nitro's final episode on March 26, 2001.
- November 15, 1998 - Survivor Series - Shane McMahon betrays Steve Austin by costing him the match in the semi-finals against Mankind. The Rock wins his first WWF Championship (making him the youngest WWF champion until 2002) in the finals after he applied a sharpshooter to Mankind and Vince McMahon ordered the bell to be rung even though Mankind did not submit. This was a reference to the Montreal Screwjob from the previous Survivor Series.
- December 7, 1998 - The Undertaker has his druids chain Stone Cold Steve Austin to his "Undertaker Symbol" and raised high into the arena in the entrance way, debuting his "sacrifice" ritual. As it physically symbolized Austin being crucified, this event caused outcry from many religious activists and to this day is one of the most controversial moments in RAW history.
- January 4, 1999 – On this taped edition of Raw Is War, Mankind wins his first World Title from The Rock. On the same night on the live edition of Monday Nitro, WCW gave away Mankind's victory at the beginning of the show, believing that it would discourage viewers from switching over to the WWF. This strategy backfired and it results in hundreds of thousands of Nitro viewers switching over to Raw Is War to see the title change. This was also the night of the Fingerpoke of Doom, an infamous match between Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash that many fans see as the beginning of the end of WCW.
- January 24, 1999 - Royal Rumble: The Rock faces Mankind for the WWF Championship in an "I Quit" match. During the match, the Rock handcuffed Mankind hands behind his back. The Rock then leveled Mankind in the head with an unprotected chair 11 times. Mankind lost consciousness and The Rock's allies played a recording of Mankind saying "I Quit" from an earlier interview at Heat, causing the Rock to win the title back. This match which is remembered both for its brutality and its place is featured in Barry Blaustein's documentary Beyond the Mat.
Later that night, Vince McMahon won the 1999 Royal Rumble match when the Rock taunting Steve Austin, allowing McMahon to throw him over the top rope.
- February 14, 1999 - St. Valentine's Day Massacre: In Your House: Paul Wight, later known as The Big Show, who had just been released by WCW surprisingly debuts in the WWF and inadvertently costs Vince McMahon his steel cage match against Austin, which gave Austin a right to face the WWF Champion at Wrestlemania 15.
- April 26, 1999 - On Raw Is War, The Rock was kicked out of The Corporation stable after he failed to win the title from Steve Austin the following night at Backlash: In Your House, causing the Rock to turn face one again.
- May 10, 1999 - Raw Is War garners the highest rating that a RAW broadcast has ever had with an 8.1 rating.
- May 23, 1999 – At the Over the Edge event, Owen Hart, who was scheduled to face The Godfather for the WWF Intercontinental Title, fell to his death when he was lowering himself from the rafters, but was released too early. WWF was heavily criticized for going on with the show, even after RAW announcer Jim Ross had revealed that Owen died. The Undertaker defeated Steve Austin to win the WWF championship with help from Shane McMahon. The event has never been released on Home Video by World Wrestling Entertainment.
- May 24, 1999 - Raw Is War: The WWF holds a special tribute show called "Raw Is Owen" for Owen Hart. Throughout the show, while the superstars still competed in matches, many wrestlers gave special out-of-character interviews talking about Owen, and the show concluded with Stone Cold Steve Austin giving a memorable toast to Owen Hart's picture on the Titantron. The entire show received a 7.2 rating.
- August 9, 1999 - Raw Is War: "Y2J" Chris Jericho makes his first WWF appearance. This is the second wrestler with no WWF background to appear from WCW in the same instance as The Big Show.
- August 23, 1999 - Triple H wins his first World Title as he captures the WWF Championship time by defeating Mankind one night after SummerSlam.
- August 26, 1999 - WWF SmackDown! makes its debut as a weekly television series. As a result of SmackDown debut, Raw became live every week with Smackdown being taped every Tuesday nights and aired for Thursday nights programming.
- September 16, 1999 - On this episode of Smackdown, WWF chairman Vince McMahon won his first WWF World title from Triple H with his son Shane McMahon serving as a guest referee and with the interference from Stone Cold Steve Austin.
- September 20, 1999 - On Raw Is War, Vince McMahon vacated his WWF world title and added Triple H taking part in a Six-Man Pack Challenge at Unforgiven which also featured The Rock, British Bulldog, Mankind, Kane, and the Big Show.
- Septebmer 26, 1999 - At Unforgiven, Triple H won his WWF World title back in a Six-Man Pack Challenge after pinning the Rock with Stone Cold Steve Austin serving as a guest referee.
- September 27, 1999 – On this episode of Raw Is War, Mankind debuted the famous This Is Your Life segment, for The Rock. This segment alone garnered the highest rating for any professional wrestling segment on television (8.4) to date, and is also the longest segment at 11 minutes.
- October 17, 1999 - No Mercy: Chyna defeats Jeff Jarrett in a Good Housekeeping match to become the first-ever (and only) woman to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship.
- November 1999 to August 2000 - Stephanie McMahon joins D-Generation X when she (kayfabe) "married" Triple H, Billy Gunn was soon kicked out, and Road Dogg and X-Pac soon split up after a brief time as a tag team. Triple H and Stephanie's marriage began the McMahon-Hemsley Era. (The couple started a real-life relationship in 2000 and would be legitimately married in 2003.)
- November 14, 1999 - Survivor Series: Olympic Freestyle Wrestling gold medal winner Kurt Angle makes his WWF TV debut in a match against Shawn Stasiak, which he won.
Later on, Stone Cold Steve Austin is run down in the parking lot and taken out of the WWF for 10 months. The story was done to give Austin time off for legitimate surgery that was needed to repair long term damage to his neck, some of which related back to an injury inflicted by Owen Hart in 1997 after a botched piledriver. Also that night, Big Show won his first WWF World title during the Triple Threat Match between The Rock and Triple H.
- December 12, 1999 - Armageddon: The Kat wins the WWF Women's Championship drops her top to expose her breasts on live TV, marking the first incident of intentional nudity in WWF TV.
- January 31, 2000 - Raw Is War - The Radicalz, a group of ex-WCW wrestlers, make their debut in the WWF. The group consisted of Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, future World Champion Chris Benoit, and future WWE Champion and Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero. This would be the last act of WCW wrestlers coming into the WWF having appeared for WCW a week earlier or the same night.
- April 2, 2000 - At WrestleMania, Triple H (with Stephanie McMahon) successfully defended his WWF Championship against The Rock (with Vince McMahon), Mick Foley (with Linda McMahon) and The Big Show (with Shane McMahon) in a Fatal Four Way Match. Vince McMahon intentionally cost the Rock the match, turning heel once again. On this last match, Mick Foley officially retired from being an active competitor and would not wrestle for four years.
- April 31, 2000 - BackLash: The Rock won the WWF World Title from Triple H thanks with the help of a sporadic return of Stone Cold Steve Austin despite having Vince, Shane, and Stephanie McMahon, and guest referees Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco.
- May 21, 2000 - Judgment Day: The Undertaker returns during the match between The Rock and Triple H debuting his "American Badass" gimmick that he would use until the 2003 Survivor Series, and inadvertently costs The Rock the match and the title.
- June 26, 2000 - On this episode of Raw Is War, Steven Richards began a storyline with the Right to Censor stable by covering up Terri Runnels while dropping her top in attempt to expose her breasts. This stable was created to parody the Parents Television Council who had been protesting about the sexual content and violence in WWF programming.
- August 27, 2000 - SummerSlam: The very first Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match takes place between the Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian, and the Dudley Boyz for the WWF Tag Team titles.
- September 24, 2000 - At Unforgiven, Austin made his official return to the WWF programming.
- September 25, 2000 - Raw Is War moves from the USA Network to TNN after a new television contract with Viacom.
- October 22, 2000 - No Mercy: Kurt Angle defeats The Rock to win his first WWF Championship and first world championship overall.
- February 1, 2001 - SmackDown! airs its first live episode entitled "SmackDown! Extreme".
- March 26, 2001 - The final episode of WCW Monday Nitro was aired. At this night, Nitro only gained a 3.0 while Raw Is War gained a 4.7 in a final ratings war between WCW and the WWF. The Invasion storyline begins.
- April 1, 2001 - WrestleMania X-Seven: Stone Cold Steve Austin defeats The Rock with the help of his longtime rival Vince McMahon to win the WWF Championship.