The Attitude Era is a period in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, known now as WWE) and professional wrestling history that arose in the latter half of the 1990s. The era was marked by a shift to more adult-oriented programming content, which was accomplished in a number of different ways; including an increase in the level of depicted violence and the incorporation of horrific, or otherwise politically incorrect characters and storylines created for shock value. Similar to the 1980s professional wrestling boom, the Attitude Era was a surge in the popularity of professional wrestling in the United States as television ratings and pay-per-view buy-rates saw record highs.
The era saw several wrestlers rise to stardom, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind, Triple H, Kurt Angle, and Kane; established star The Undertaker continued his main event prominence, as did fellow veterans Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Vader, Sycho Sid and Ron Simmons in the early stages of the era. Wrestlers such as Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Big Show and Chris Benoit – who were unhappy with their employment in rival promotion World Championship Wrestling (WCW) – jumped ship to WWF to ultimately become headliners for the company (Big Show and Benoit having previously been world champions in WCW). Other prominent Attitude Era performers who later became world champions in WWE were Edge, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Bradshaw, Christian and Mark Henry.
Distinguished stables were established in this era, such as D-Generation X, The Nation of Domination, The Corporation, and The Corporate Ministry who all developed major rivalries among each other during the time period. The era saw a resurgence and boom period in tag team wrestling with prominent teams like The New Age Outlaws, The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz, Edge and Christian, Too Cool and The APA achieving superstardom and being featured in prominent storylines and matches during this time period. In particular, The Dudleys, The Hardys and Edge and Christian featured in several Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches which were also introduced during this era. Top female stars such as Sable and Chyna achieved mainstream notoriety and even competed against male performers. While other prominent female stars saw their beginning during the era such as Trish Stratus, Lita, Molly Holly, etc. The era also saw an increase in the McMahon family's on-screen presence, starting with Chairman Vince McMahon's 'Mr. McMahon' character, a heel persona of himself following the Montreal Screwjob, with his son and daughter too eventually being introduced into WWF storylines as fictionalized villainous versions of themselves.
The company ceased usage of the official "WWF Attitude" logo – first used on November 9, 1997 – on May 6, 2002. Since the end of the Attitude Era and mainly since 2008 (after the "Ruthless Agression Era"), WWE has done away with much of the adult-oriented content introduced and has since returned to more family friendly programming. Though since then and particularly since 2014, WWE has seen edgier content with wrestlers such as Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar as well as the return of Attitude Era stalwart Shane McMahon, who participated in a violent Hell in a Cell match against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 32. During which Shane threw himself off the top of the cell onto The Undertaker, reminiscent of the bumps performed by Mankind during the infamous 1998 Hell in a Cell match
While the WWE Network shows the December 15, 1997, episode of Raw is War as being the first from the Attitude Era, WWE themselves have stated that Survivor Series 1997, which took place over a month beforehand and featured the infamous Montreal Screwjob, marked the beginning of the era. They have also said that King of the Ring 1996, and WrestleMania XIV on March 29, 1998, were the starting point. The company ceased its "Attitude" promotion on May 6, 2002. On that date, usage of the initials "WWF", which were prominent within the logo, became prohibited as the result of a legal battle between the company and the World Wildlife Fund over the rights to legally use those initials. World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. officially became World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) and replaced its "Attitude" promotion with a "Get the F out" marketing campaign.
The Attitude Era proved to be a huge marketing success for WWE, drawing in a previously unaccounted for young adult demographic that allowed them to successfully cripple their competition, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), by defeating them in the ratings war. By 2001, 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 WCW's trademarks, logos, copyrights, video archived library, and several wrestler contracts from AOL Time Warner at a dramatically reduced valuation.
During the Monday Night Wars, a ratings battle between WWF's Monday Night Raw and WCW's Monday Nitro, WWF would transform itself from a family-friendly product into a more adult oriented product. This era was spearheaded by Chairman Vince McMahon and 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.
Several miscellaneous events outside the major benchmarks have been credited with helping transition to the Attitude Era. A few years after the Hulkamania era, WWF needed more sales. In his book, Russo mentions the debut of the character Goldust in 1995 as a turning point in portraying a more adult character. Brian Pillman's "loose cannon" persona has also been credited, highlighted by a 1996 segment when he pulled a gun on Austin and a 1997 storyline that contained sexual overtones with Marlena. By 1996, WWF had also begun playing up female sexuality, led by Sunny and Sable. After losing a steel cage match against Sycho Sid from within an attempt to win back the WWF World Heavyweight Championship in March 1997, Bret "Hitman" Hart had angrily shoved McMahon to the wrestling mat as McMahon himself had tried to get a post-match interview from him and Hart had soon went into a profanity-laced tirade.
The Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels feud
Another important feud from 1996 to 1997 was between Hart and Shawn Michaels, who had legitimate issues with one another outside of wrestling. The conflict behind the scenes spilled out into their on-screen story line, with both men making pointed personal remarks in interviews that were often rooted in these issues.
In 1997, Michaels stuffed gauze in the crotch area of skin-tight biker shorts for an interview while making sexual gestures. McMahon legitimately fined Michaels $10,000 for the incident, which led to Michaels pushing McMahon on adult humor as the direction WWF needed to go. Hart was upset with the company's direction preferring a more family-oriented product, this philosophical difference added to the real-life tension. Michaels would team with Triple H, Chyna and Rick Rude to form the edgy group D-Generation X (officially named on October 13, 1997), launching two major trademarks of the Attitude Era: crotch chops and the catchphrase, "We've got two words for you 'Suck It!'"
Their rivalry culminated in the Montreal Screwjob, another landmark date in the Attitude Era and one of the most critical points in the birth of McMahon's character, Mr. McMahon, a corrupt evil-owner caricature fixated on destroying the lives of disobedient employees.
The Shawn Michaels/Undertaker rivalry
While the feud between Michaels and The Undertaker was short, it was important in adding a new rivalry. One important match from the Attitude Era was the WWF World Heavyweight Championship match between Hart and the then-champion The Undertaker with Michaels as the special guest referee at SummerSlam 1997. A contract was put in place outlining what Hart had stated verbally: if Hart lost, he would never compete in the United States again. WWF officials would later shock the audience by making Michaels the referee and amending the contract to state that if Michaels didn't call the match fairly, he would never be allowed to wrestle in the United States either. During the match, Hart knocked out Michaels and took the advantage by hitting The Undertaker with a steel chair. While Hart attempted the pin, Michaels stopped counting when he saw the chair. Hart and Michaels then got into an argument in the ring; during which, Hart screamed to Michaels, "Fuck you!" and spat in the latter's face. This angered Michaels, and as he attempted to hit Hart with the chair, Hart dodged it, resulting in Michaels hitting The Undertaker instead. Michaels counted the pinfall, and Hart won the title.
Worried that The Undertaker would seek redemption, Michaels teamed up with Triple H and Chyna to form D-Generation X, with Ravishing Rick Rude as their "insurance policy." While Undertaker said that Michaels would "pay for his crimes", Michaels repeated his SummerSlam actions during a tag team match between DX and The Undertaker and Mankind, getting himself disqualified by hitting The Undertaker with a chair. This led to the first ever Hell in a Cell match at Badd Blood: In Your House. During the match, The Undertaker was close to victory when his younger half-brother Kane (that Paul Bearer had spoken of) ripped the door of the Cell and performed the Tombstone Piledriver on him, costing him the match. This led to The Brothers of Destruction Saga.
Michaels and The Undertaker would meet again three months later at the 1998 Royal Rumble in a Casket match. Two infamous moments occurred during that match that would change the complexion of not only The Brothers of Destruction Saga, but WWF. During the first several minutes of the match, The Undertaker launched Michaels over the top rope and onto the edge of the Casket, damaging Michaels' back and eventually putting him out of in-ring action for the next four years. Kane later on interfered in the match on what was thought to be on The Undertaker's behalf, but instead aided Michaels by chokeslamming The Undertaker in the Casket, closing it shut, and setting it on fire with the help of Paul Bearer.
Mike Tyson and WrestleMania XIV
After Austin won the 1998 Royal Rumble, former boxing champion Mike Tyson made a guest appearance on Raw the following night. Tyson, who at the time was still suspended from boxing, was to be introduced as the "Special Guest Enforcer" referee for the championship match at WrestleMania XIV. However, McMahon's presentation of Tyson was interrupted by Austin, who flipped off Tyson, leading to a brief scuffle. Over the following weeks, Tyson aligned himself with Michaels, Austin's opponent at WrestleMania, and D-Generation X. In the closing moments of the match, Tyson counted Austin's pinfall on Michaels. Following the victory, a distraught Michaels confronted Tyson, who then knocked out Michaels with a right-handed punch as Austin celebrated. Tyson was paid $4m for his role.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
Birth of Austin 3:16
Stone Cold Steve Austin, who previously wrestled in WCW and ECW, first appeared in WWF in 1996 as "The Ringmaster" and was managed by Ted DiBiase. For several months, Austin held the Million Dollar Championship while DiBiase served as his mouthpiece. It was during this time that Austin shaved his head bald and grew a goatee to develop his now-iconic appearance. When DiBiase left WWF following a stipulation on a "Caribbean Strap Match" between Austin and Savio Vega, Austin revealed that he purposely lost the match to rid himself of the distractions caused by DiBiase.
The 1996 King of the Ring tournament saw Austin's first usage of "Austin 3:16", the major marketing juggernaut for WWF during the era. After winning the tournament by defeating Jake "The Snake" 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 John 3:16... Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!"
Austin's popularity would gradually start to rise as an anti-hero despite his playing a heel character, eventually leading to a long feud with Hart from late-1996 to mid-1997 climaxing in a Submission Match at WrestleMania 13 with Austin turning face and Hart turning heel during this time. Austin's popularity would start to flourish significantly and by late 1997 Austin was getting extremely positive crowd reactions and would often get the best response of the night. In 1997 Owen Hart would file a restraining order on Austin to stop him from getting near him or having any interaction with him because Austin was seeking revenge on Owen for the botched pile driver Owen had performed on him at SummerSlam which caused a lot of legitimate damage to Austin's neck and spine. Austin still attacked Owen Hart in the ring forcing Vince to try to calm him down and to reason with him; Austin hit the Stone Cold Stunner on McMahon to a very positive crowd response leading to Austin's arrest. This laid the foundation for the later feud between Austin and McMahon, the central storyline of the Attitude Era.
The Austin vs. McMahon rivalry
The most important rivalry during the Attitude Era was the Austin vs. McMahon storyline, where Austin, the company's defiant top star, would have to overcome the odds stacked against him by Mr. McMahon. Mr. McMahon, who did not want Austin to be the WWF Champion, would stop at nothing to put an end to Stone Cold, and Austin would do anything to beat Vince. This rivalry would prove to be one of the biggest factors for the WWF to finally start turning the tides in the ratings war with their competition, World Championship Wrestling. On the Raw after Austin won the WWF Championship, Mr. McMahon presented him with the newly designed WWF Championship belt and informed him 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 (he was subsequently seen in a suit in his WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony). Austin punched McMahon in the 'corporate grapefruits', and took another picture with McMahon writhing in pain.
The following week on April 13, 1998, Austin and McMahon were going to battle out their differences in an actual match, but the match was declared a no contest when Foley (as Dude Love) interrupted the entire contest. On that night Raw defeated Nitro in the ratings for the first time since June 10, 1996.
Their rivalry continued throughout the Attitude Era, bringing increased revenue and attention to the company. Steve Austin would become the company's most popular star at the time and would receive significant positive responses from the crowds. The rivalry would start to get more intense as time went on, with McMahon trying to sabotage Austin whenever he could to stop him from being the WWF Champion. Austin would often exact revenge on McMahon, creating many of the era's most famous moments, such as attacking McMahon with a bedpan while he was in the hospital, stealing a cement mixer and driving it into the arena, then filling up one of McMahon's Corvette cars with cement, driving a Zamboni to the ring before attacking McMahon leading to Austins arrest once again, kidnapping Vince in a wheelchair, wheeling him down to the ring at gunpoint which ended up actually being a toy gun with a scroll that reads "Bang 3:16!" which frightened McMahon so much he urinated himself, or driving a beer truck to the ring and spraying Vince, Shane McMahon and The Rock with beer. Austin would wrestle McMahon in 1999 at St. Valentine's Day Massacre in a steel cage, which he won when the debuting Big Show accidentally threw him through the cage wall, thus earning a world title shot at Wrestlemania XV.Through the rivalry, McMahon founded two heel factions: The Corporation and The Corporate Ministry, using several wrestlers to face Austin, including The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane and Big Show.
Nation of Domination
Dwayne Johnson, a third-generation wrestler, made his debut at the 1996 Survivor Series as "Rocky Maivia", naming himself after his grandfather Peter Maivia and his father Rocky Johnson. Despite being a babyface with an impressive winning streak and an Intercontinental Championship reign, he was frequently met with loud boos and "Rocky sucks!" chants and even crowd signs that read "Die Rocky die". Frustrated by the fans' negative reception, Maivia joined the Nation of Domination in 1997 and renamed himself The Rock, an egotistical jock who referred to himself in third person. As a member of the Nation of Domination, The Rock won the Intercontinental title for a second time. The Rock eventually overthrew Faarooq to become the leader of the Nation. It was during his time as leader of the Nation that he would develop his character and significantly improve his talking abilities on the microphone and later on became more popular with the fans for his engaging and entertaining promos. After the Nation disbanded, The Rock referred to himself as the "People's Champion" and was seen more of a face rather than a heel, which led to Vince McMahon and the Corporation to target him. Since they had a problem with the people, they had a problem with the "People's Champion". After battling McMahon's goons for the chance to go to the Survivor Series, the Rock entered the tournament and made it to the finals against McMahon's chosen representative, Mankind. During the match, a double turn occurred with the help of McMahon, similar to the previous year's Survivor Series, revealing that Rock was working with The Corporation all along. The Rock officially joined McMahon as the crown jewel of The Corporation, abandoning his previous moniker as "The People's Champion" and declaring himself "The Corporate Champion"and once again turned heel to the dismay of many fans.
As a member of The Corporation, The Rock's persona changed yet again, to an even more callous attitude, where he would insult the fans and other WWE superstars on a regular basis, calling them "trailer park trash" and various other insults. The Rock would go on a lengthy feud with Mankind, with a rematch at Rock Bottom, where Rock retained the title due to a technicality, even though he lost the match. Mankind would get his revenge, winning the title on Raw is War. The reign was short lived, however, as the Rock got his rematch at the 1999 Royal Rumble, in an I Quit Match. The Rock won the I Quit Match and became the WWF Champion yet again. Mankind, knowing he never quit during the match, was furious with the Rock and stole a large amount of the Rock's money to bribe him into a rematch during halftime of the Super Bowl. The match was titled "Half-Time Heat", and Mankind won the match and the title, after pinning the Rock underneath a forklift. The Rock got a rematch at St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in a last man standing match for the chance to headline WrestleMania XV as the WWF Champion. The bout ended in a draw after both men were unable to stand at the ten count. Despite Mankind being the WWF Champion, he gave the Rock one more shot at the title in a ladder match on Raw. This would be their final match, as the "Big Show" Paul Wight interfered in the match and chokeslammed Mankind off the ladder, leaving the Rock all by himself to win the match and headline WrestleMania XV as WWF Champion.
At WrestleMania XV The Rock, the WWF Champion faced off against the challenger, Stone Cold Steve Austin Vince McMahon would interfere in the match to try and stop Austin but was unsuccessful. Stone Cold Steve Austin won the match, and seemingly defeated The Corporation and Vince McMahon. Austin, after winning the title, described the belt as not being good enough, using his personalized Smoking Skull Belt. McMahon, who was in possession of the belt, ordered Shane McMahon to give it to Austin, seemingly ending their feud. But Shane had other plans, as he went against his father's wishes and gave the belt to The Rock. This was the basis for The Rock's rematch at Backlash for the WWF Championship. In order for Stone Cold to reclaim his Smoking Skull belt, he had to defeat the Rock at Backlash. With the WWF Championship on the line, The Rock lost the rematch and the Smoking Skull belt. The night after Backlash, after failing to beat Stone Cold Steve Austin for a second time, Shane McMahon turned on The Rock and fired him from the Corporation.
The People's Champion
After being fired from the Corporation, The Rock once again turned face and declared himself the People's Champion and went on a number of small feuds during the latter part of 1999. It was during this time The Rock's popularity began to flourish once again, and he joined his former rival Mankind to create the tag team, Rock 'n' Sock Connection. The team went on to win the WWF Tag Team titles, becoming one of the most popular tag teams of the Attitude Era. After the Rock 'n' Sock connection broke up, The Rock went back into the main event picture of the WWF becoming one of the most popular stars of the Attitude Era, battling the likes of HHH and the McMahon-Helmsley Faction. Late in the Attitude Era, The Rock faced Stone Cold Steve Austin again in what many consider to be the climax of the Attitude Era at WrestleMania X-Seven where the two biggest stars of the era faced each other for the WWF Championship Stone Cold would once again defeat The Rock to regain the title and also turned heel in the process joining his nemesis Mr McMahon.
The Brothers of Destruction
One of the long-running story lines which took place during the Attitude Era was the Brothers of Destruction. The story line began at SummerSlam in 1996, when The Undertaker was embroiled in a feud with his former manager Paul Bearer. During the course of their rivalry, Bearer threatened The Undertaker with the threat of revealing his 'secret', calling him a "murderer" and accusing him of killing his parents and brother. In the following weeks on Raw, Bearer revealed that his brother Kane was actually still alive. Kane debuted at Badd Blood: In Your House, wearing a mask and interfering in the Hell in a Cell match between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. At first, the Undertaker refused to fight Kane. Following a series of taunts from Bearer and Kane, who cost him the WWF World Heavyweight Title at the Royal Rumble, he agreed to face Kane at WrestleMania XIV. The Undertaker won the match at WrestleMania and the first ever Inferno Match at Unforgiven. Following the conclusion of this story line, the rivalry seemed to cease, as Undertaker and Kane united, forming the team that became known as The Brothers of Destruction.
The Ministry of Darkness
In late 1998, The Undertaker became villainous again, realigning with Paul Bearer and betraying Kane. The Undertaker began taking a more satanic and darker persona, claiming that a "plague of evil" would hit WWF. During the weeks that followed, he reignited his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, whom he blamed for costing him the WWF title. At Rock Bottom: In Your House, Austin defeated the Undertaker in a Buried Alive match with the help of Kane, writing him off of WWF television for a month.
Upon his return, a much scarier, darker, druid-like Undertaker introduced his Ministry of Darkness, which consisted of The Acolytes (Faarooq and Bradshaw), Mideon, Viscera and The Brood (Edge, Christian, and Gangrel). The story line continued over the weeks that followed, as the Undertaker announced his intentions of taking over WWF and claimed he was working for a "higher power". He began a feud with Vince McMahon and his daughter Stephanie, with the Ministry burning Undertaker's symbol in the McMahon family yard. After Undertaker kidnapped Stephanie McMahon at Backlash: In Your House, he attempted to marry her on Raw, until she was saved by Steve Austin.
The following weeks on Raw, Shane McMahon turned on his father and took control of the Corporation along with the Undertaker, forming The Corporate Ministry. The Undertaker with the help of Shane McMahon, defeated Austin at Over the Edge 1999 under controversial circumstances, thus winning the WWF championship. As The Undertaker and Shane McMahon claimed to be working for a "higher power", who was later revealed to be Vince McMahon. He and Shane had used their family to fool everybody and gain revenge on Steve Austin.
D-Generation X and The Three Faces of Foley
Triple H, along with Chyna, took control of D-Generation X after Michaels left due to back injuries, and recruited the New Age Outlaws ("Road Dogg" Jesse James and "Bad Ass" Billy Gunn) and X-Pac into his new "DX Army". The newly formed DX Army participated in numerous segments causing chaos and leaving wreckage wherever they went. On April 28, 1998 Nitro was held at the Norfolk Scope in Norfolk, Virginia, while Raw was held nearby at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. With the ongoing war between WWF and WCW, the DX Army decided to initiate an immediate "invasion" of Nitro. The DX Army drove to the Norfolk Scope in an army Jeep, challenging WCW head Eric Bischoff to come out and face them or to let them in. Soon after, the DX Army appeared at CNN Center (as well as WCW's stand-alone Atlanta offices) to call out WCW owner Ted Turner. Like Austin and The Rock, D-Generation X were embraced by fans, with their mischievous antics and defiant attitude, as their popularity continued to grow.
Triple H eventually branched out as a main-event level singles performer, marrying McMahon's daughter Stephanie McMahon and taking control of WWF in 2000. (Although all initially done by kayfabe, in a case of life imitating art, Triple H would later marry Stephanie McMahon in real life in 2003 and is currently the Executive Vice President of Talent and Live Events in WWF's front office as well as Vince McMahon's eventual successor running the company.) It could be argued Triple H was the company's top heel for the majority of the Attitude Era along with Mr McMahon.
Foley became a top star during the era, playing three different personas: Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack. While Mankind was his main persona in WWF and Cactus Jack was previously used in his days in WCW, Japan and independent circuits, Dude Love was inspired by a character Foley created when he and his high school friends did backyard wrestling in his hometown of Long Island. The image of Foley being thrown from the top of the Hell in a Cell by The Undertaker at the 1998 King of the Ring is synonymous with the era, along with Jim Ross iconic commentary of "as God is my witness, he is broken in half". His greatest contributions were a late-1998/early-1999 feud with The Rock and a 2000 feud with Triple H; these feuds were instrumental in establishing The Rock and Triple H as top stars.
Perhaps Foley's greatest accomplishment during the Attitude era was on January 4, 1999 on Raw Is War, where he won his first WWF Championship from The Rock with the help of Stone Cold Steve Austin. This match is also known as the turning point in ratings of the Monday Night Wars as it favoured WWF until the end of the wars and led to the downfall of WCW. That night, WCW attempted to sabotage Raw's rating by announcing the result of the match on Nitro, but their plan backfired when Nielsen ratings indicated that over 600,000 households changed the channel to watch the victory and shifted the ratings for the night in WWF's favour.
Resurrection of the Women's Division
Sable made her World Wrestling Federation debut as Sable at WrestleMania XII in March 1996, escorting Hunter Hearst Helmsley to the ring as he took on the returning Ultimate Warrior. Sable's first major angle involved her then real-life husband, who debuted at WrestleMania XII as "Wildman" Marc Mero. Sable, however, quickly eclipsed her husband in popularity, leading to the reinstatement of the WWF Women's Championship as well as the promotion's hiring of more female wrestlers. According to Stephanie McMahon, Sable's popularity led to a shift in the role of women in the WWF, as the promotion began to rely less on its female performers as simply eye candy and placed a greater emphasis on female athletes who actually competed in matches and storylines. She was one of the first females to compete in such specialty matches as evening gown matches, inter-gender tag team matches, and strap matches, competed in the first-ever WWF bikini contest against Jacqueline, and was also the first female talent to be a Playboy cover girl. Unlike Jacqueline, Ivory, Tori, and Luna, the more physical Divas and experienced wrestlers at the time, Sable later admitted that it was written in her contract that she was not allowed to take bumps. Kevin Nash would later admit that rival promotion, WCW, were more concerned with Sable's appearance than the superstars.
Sable became the first WWF female to refer to herself as a "Diva" during the April 19 edition of Raw in 1999; the term would be coined and shortly thereafter becoming the official title for WWF's female performers, be they managers or wrestlers. Despite not being allowed to take bumps, Sable is 3-0 at WrestleMania. Sable ranked number 8 on WWE Network's WWE Countdown: Most Dangerous Divas list, placing higher than any other WWE Diva from her era.
Sunny, who debuted in WWE (then known as WWF) in 1995 as the manager of The Bodydonnas and several other tag teams and singles wrestlers, has claimed to have been the "Original Diva", although this is widely disputed. Sunny's character was at first a continuation of the female manager that had been popular throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Over time, the character was significantly sexualized, whereas prior female managers, such as Miss Elizabeth, were depicted as being involved in either platonic or romantic storylines. Despite Sunny's reinvention of the female role within the company, the term "Diva" was not used to denote females working for the WWF until long after she was released in 1998. Sunny would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011 and coined 'the First Diva' by the WWE. Sunny ranked number 10 on WWE Network's WWE Countdown: Most Dangerous Divas list.
The Big Show
During the Attitude Era, many WCW wrestlers who were unhappy with the political environment jumped ship to WWF. Paul Wight, who wrestled as "The Giant" starting in 1995, allowed his WCW contract to expire on February 8, 1999 when Eric Bischoff denied his request for a pay increase in his contract. He signed with WWF a day later and debuted at St. Valentine's Day Massacre: In Your House as "The Big Show" Paul Wight, Mr. McMahon's enforcer in The Corporation. After a falling out with The Corporation, The Big Show turned face and had several feuds with The Undertaker and the Big Boss Man before winning the WWF Championship at the 1999 Survivor Series.
Frustrated over WCW's refusal to give him a chance to wrestle Goldberg, Chris Jericho signed with WWF on June 30, 1999. On the August 9 episode of Raw Is War, he made his debut, referring to himself as "Y2J" (a play on the Y2K bug) Jericho would turn heel but would gradually start to get popular with the fans because of his charisma and entertaining promos and began feuds with The Rock, Chyna, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit while capturing the Intercontinental and European championships on several occasions in the era it was during this time that he would experience a large increase in popularity and turn face and would then call his fans Jerichoholics. On the April 17, 2000 episode of Raw, Jericho defeated Triple H for the WWF Championship and received a very positive crowd response, but the decision was reversed by referee Earl Hebner under pressure from Triple H. Jericho continued to feud with Triple H and Benoit throughout 2000 and 2001 before turning heel once more and defeated Austin and The Rock on the same night at Vengeance 2001, becoming the Undisputed WWF Champion in the process.
In January 2000, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn left WCW for the WWF. Benoit had just defeated Sid Vicious for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Souled Out 2000 on January 17, but the decision was reversed after it was revealed that Sid's foot was under the ropes while he tapped out to the Crippler Crossface. The quartet made their TV debut on the January 31st episode of Raw as audience members and backstage guests of Mick Foley before attacking the New Age Outlaws. They were offered a chance to "win" contracts by defeating members of D-Generation X in a series of three matches. Despite losing all three matches, they were "given" WWF contracts by Triple H in exchange for betraying Foley. The quartet became known as The Radicalz before splitting up in 2000 when Benoit and Guerrero found more success in singles competition and Malenko retired from wrestling.
The rise of the "TLC" match
Matt and Jeff Hardy, still dubbed as "The New Brood", faced off against Edge and Christian in the first ever tag team ladder match, dubbed the "Terri Invitational Tournament", at No Mercy in October 1999. The Hardys won the match and the services of Terri Runnels as their manager. The match was well received by critics and both teams received standing ovations the night of the match, as well as the following night on Raw Is War; according to Matt, the match elevated them from "WWF wrestlers to WWF Superstars". The Hardys then declared that they were no longer the New Brood – they were "The Hardy Boyz".
The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray Dudley and D-Von Dudley) debuted in WWF in the summer of 1999 following their departure from ECW. They were initially villains and were responsible for bringing the use of tables into wrestling mainstream. During this time, Bubba Ray became famous for his penchant for driving women (including Terri, Trish Stratus, Tori, B.B., Lita, Torrie Wilson, Jazz, Stacy Keibler, Molly Holly and Mae Young) through tables. The Dudleys faced off against The Hardy Boyz in the first ever tag team Table match at the Royal Rumble in January 2000, which the Hardys won.
Eventually, the three teams were brought together in a triangle ladder match at WrestleMania 2000 for the WWF Tag Team Championship, in what would be the forerunner of the TLC in terms of the spots involved, most notably Jeff Hardy's infamous Swanton Bomb on Bubba Ray through a table. Edge and Christian would win the match and the titles. Afterwards, the Dudley Boyz became fan favorites, while Edge and Christian turned into villains. Edge and Christian would then develop the "con-chair-to" (a play on the word "concerto") finishing move, which involved the two hitting an opponent's head simultaneously, on opposite sides, with chairs (which simulated the clashing of cymbals). This led to then-WWF Commissioner Mick Foley to bring the three teams together for the first ever Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match, or TLC match, at SummerSlam in August 2000. Edge and Christian went on to win the match. The following year, a second TLC match, dubbed "TLC II", occurred at WrestleMania X-Seven, which also sprung the famous spear off a 20-ft ladder by Edge on Jeff Hardy, who was hanging onto the titles above the ring. Edge and Christian also won that match, thanks in part to interference by Rhyno, and withstanding interference from Lita and Spike Dudley, who interfered for the Hardys and Dudleys, respectively.
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 its 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 found dead in his hotel room the day of the event 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. On that same episode, the infamous Brawl for All tournament begins.
- 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.
- September 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.
On November 20, 2012, a three-disc documentary set simply entitled The Attitude Era was released on DVD and Blu-ray disc. The video cover is a collage of WWF Superstars and celebrities of that era, designed as a parody of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. Volume 2 was released in November 2014. Volume 3 was released on August 9, 2016.
Many video games were released by WWF based on the Attitude Era, with some of the most notable titles being WWF War Zone, WWF Attitude, WWF WrestleMania 2000, WWF No Mercy, WWF Royal Rumble, and WWF SmackDown!. Many years later, WWE programming would nostalgically reflect on this time period; a video game entitled WWE '13, which was released in October 2012, paid tribute to the era with its "Attitude Era" mode, which allows the player to re-enact WWF matches and storytelling from SummeSlam in August 1997 to WrestleMania XV in March 1999 (and, in the "Off-script" section, to the November 19, 2001 episode of Raw, where Trish Stratus won her first WWF Women's Championship from Lita). The video game entitled WWE 2K16 featureed some events of the Attitude Era specifically related to Stone Cold Steve Austin, who would also be the games cover star.
- "A special look at the Attitude Era". WWE. Retrieved 2012-03-03.
- "WWE Hall of Fame Inductees "Stone Cold" Steve Austin Biography". WWE. Retrieved 2011-04-07.
- "WWE Championship - Stone Cold". WWE. Retrieved 2011-12-29.
- Tierney, John (23 September 1999). "Take Wrestling. Seriously.". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
- "2007 Wrestling Almanac & Book of Facts". Wrestling's Historical Cards. p. 100.
- Cole, Glenn (30 March 1998). "Stone Cold and Tyson stun Michaels". Slam Sports. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
- Smith, Timothy W. (6 February 1998). "Tyson Confirms a Split With His Two Managers". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2014.
- Stephen Kelly, Adam (December 1, 2014). "'Stone Cold' Says So: Steve Austin on Vince McMahon, the WWE and Hulk Hogan". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
- Ted DiBiase: The Million Dollar Man, p.193, Ted DiBiase with Tom Caiazzo, Pocket Books, New York, NY, 2008, ISBN 978-1-4165-5890-3
- Foley, Mick (2001-07-01). Foley is Good: And the Real World is Faker Than Wrestling. HarperCollins. p. 9. ISBN 0-00-714508-X.
- Reynolds, R.D.; Baer, Randy (2004-10-01). WrestleCrap: True Stories of the World's Maddest Wrestlers. Blake Publishing. p. 201. ISBN 1-84454-071-5.
- The Monday Night War DVD
- "WWE: The Attitude Era". WWE. Retrieved 2013-03-26.
- "Amazon.com "Attitude Era" DVD Release Synopsis". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2012-09-26.