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25 moments that defined the Attitude Era
Whichever way you slice it, one thing's for certain: The Attitude Era was surely up and running by the time The Undertaker and his satanic Corporate Ministry attempted to marry The Phenom and Stephanie McMahon in an unholy matrimony.
It was iconic scenes like these that helped shape what is remembered as the era that thrust sports-entertainment into unprecedented popularity and exponentially grew the WWE Universe. The era was shocking, unpredictable and, at times, crass, and it transcended a single Superstar, match or event. Long-respected rules of the past were broken weekly, if not hourly, during the unapologetic Attitude Era. The "traditional" way of doing things was tossed aside and supplanted by a pulse-raising disregard for authority, censors and the status quo.
The Attitude Era was WWE thumbing its nose at the system, and the WWE Universe was right alongside for the thrilling ride.
WWE purchases WCW: Raw, March 26, 2001
They said it would never happen, but on March 26, 2001 – a mere six days before WrestleMania X-Seven – WCW and WWE officially became one. After battling Ted Turner’s Monday Nitro for years in the so-called “Monday Night War,” WWE Chairman Vince McMahon celebrated his purchase of the Atlanta-based company with an unprecedented simulcast of Nitro and Monday Night Raw, shocking sports-entertainment aficionados on both sides of the proverbial fence.
The mood of the evening was one of revelry for the triumphant Chairman, who gloated about his victory and relished the fact that the fate of his longtime rival rested squarely in his hands ( WATCH). However, as he issued his first address as the undisputed ruler of Monday nights and laid out the future of WCW, Mr. McMahon was rattled by a different bombshell altogether. Live from a WCW ring in Panama City Beach, Fla., Shane McMahon revealed that he – not his father – was the true owner of World Championship Wrestling ( WATCH). This bold coup set the stage for a WCW/ECW Invasion later that year as WWE’s fallen foes joined forces to strike at the organization from within. ( WATCH) — JAMES WORTMAN
The debut of Big Show: St. Valentine's Day Massacre 1999
If a pay-per-view called St. Valentine's Day Massacre didn't already scream Attitude Era, then how about a 7-foot giant tearing through the ring canvas during a Steel Cage Match?
With Mr. McMahon lying battered and helpless following a Stunner from "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the debuting Big Show emerged from beneath the ring and hurled The Texas Rattlesnake into the cage wall several times. The shocking move by The Chairman's new enforcer backfired, however, as the cage broke open and Austin dropped down to the outside floor to win the brutal contest. ( WATCH)
The victory was a huge one for "Stone Cold," who had risked his spot in the main event of WrestleMania XV for the opportunity to fight his bitter rival one-on-one. The devious Chairman had done everything in his power to make sure Austin didn't get to face fellow Corporation member The Rock for the WWE Championship, but The Texas Rattlesnake still found a way to slither away from Big Show's path of destruction and onto The Grandest Stage of Them All, where he'd capture his third WWE Title. ( WATCH) — TOM HERRERA
Crash Holly declares the Hardcore Championship will be defended 24/7: SmackDown, March 2, 2000
One championship that was unmistakably a product of the Attitude Era was the Hardcore Title. With its cracked and duct-taped faceplate, the tough-looking title was the physical embodiment of the reckless and messy wars — all no disqualification, no count-out brawls — that were fought in its name. But when it was around the slim waist of pint-sized extremist Crash Holly in March 2000, the Hardcore Championship took on a whole new element.
Always armed with more courage than body mass, Holly wore a loose-fitting “Attitude” shirt when he declared on an early edition of SmackDown that he would defend the title anywhere, anytime, against any opponent, provided a sanctioned WWE referee was present ( WATCH). The rule, which would eventually come to be called the “24/7 rule,” wound up nearly biting Holly in the keister that night: While loading luggage into his car, Holly was attacked in a parking garage by the three-Superstar contingent known as The Mean Street Posse. Holly escaped after infighting momentarily derailed Pete Gas and company. Thanks to Holly’s invoking of the 24/7 rule, subsequent title defenses would come in venues as varied as an airport baggage claim ( WATCH) and an amusement park. — JOHN CLAPP
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin fills Mr. McMahon's Corvette with cement: Raw, Oct. 12, 1998
When it came to harassing the boss, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin continually explored new and creative avenues to humble Mr. McMahon. Oftentimes, Austin took a vehicular route, as was the case when he commandeered a cement truck on the Oct. 12, 1998, edition of Raw. In this particular instance, McMahon was a victim of his own hubris: Upon arriving to Raw in his sparkling white Corvette, McMahon, who had personally invited Austin to that night's broadcast, insisted the parking garage attendant leave the garage door up so that "The Texas Rattlesnake" had easy access.
When Austin later roared into the building in a cement truck, the then-wheelchair-bound McMahon immediately grew suspicious. With the executive watching from afar, Austin delicately hovered the truck's spout over the top-down Corvette and let they grey mixture flow. A camera that was fixed on the WWE Chairman tracked McMahon's countenance as it changed from wide-eyed disbelief to pleading regret to scrunched-up rage ( WATCH). Once again, "Stone Cold" had gotten one over on the boss. — J.C.
The formation of The Corporate Ministry: SmackDown, April 29, 1999
On April 29, 1999, WWE made its triumphant return to network TV with SmackDown, a special event that preceded the official broadcast premiere of the blue brand by several months. As exciting as this milestone was for the entire WWE Universe, a cloud hung over the festivities in the form of The Undertaker’s Ministry of Darkness.
Earlier in the week on Monday Night Raw, The Undertaker attempted to wed Mr. McMahon’s daughter Stephanie against her will in a sick and twisted ceremony that was halted by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin ( WATCH). Yet, even though The Ministry was seemingly thwarted in its initial attempt to seize control of WWE, a far more sinister plot was brewing.
Finding common enemies in The Chairman, Austin and new fan-favorite The Rock, The Undertaker and the power-hungry Shane McMahon — then the leader of The Corporation — forged an ominous alliance on that first-ever SmackDown event in the form of The Corporate Ministry ( WATCH). With the likes of Triple H, The Big Boss Man, The Acolytes and Viscera filling out its ranks, this menacing assemblage of battle-hardened ring warriors from both The Ministry and The Corporation was nearly unstoppable. — J.W.
The Big Boss Man crashes the funeral of Big Show's father: SmackDown, Nov. 11, 1999
To say The Big Boss Man's crashing of Big Show's father's funeral was in poor taste might be an understatement. The former corrections officer from Cobb County, Ga., had antagonized The World’s Largest Athlete and his family for weeks in fall 1999, yet none of Boss Man’s cruel antics could compare to the date he appeared graveside to mock the burial of Show's father.
Flanked by his mother and other family members at the cemetery, Show was saying his parting words to his father when The Boss Man pulled up in a boat of a car that had a giant loudspeaker on top. At full volume, the wicked Superstar taunted the big man and even made a pass at Show's newly widowed mother, throwing The World's Largest Athlete into frenzy. The angry giant scrambled onto the hood of the car but was promptly rolled off once Boss Man stepped on the gas. As family tended to Show, the vile competitor chained the casket to his car and drove off, dragging Show's dead father behind him. Big Show gave chase and jumped on the casket, but he couldn't hang on, and he again fell to the ground. ( WATCH)
It was surreal and uncomfortable to watch. — J.C.
Mankind morphs into Cactus Jack: Raw, Jan. 10, 2000 & SmackDown, Jan. 13, 2000
At the turn of the millennium, the power-hungry McMahon-Helmsley Faction did everything they could to make life miserable for the beloved Mick Foley.
First, Foley was forced to leave WWE after losing a Pink Slip on a Pole Match orchestrated by Triple H on the final Raw of 1999 ( WATCH). Then, The Game presented a series of vignettes that featured a bogus Mankind mocking The Hardcore Legend. But when the entire roster threatened to walk out on Triple H and Stephanie, Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy was reinstated.
During an epic Eight-Man Tag Team Match in the main event, Triple H clocked Mankind across the skull with the ring bell and sent him crashing through the announce table with a Pedigree. But that didn’t phase the indestructible Mick Foley. He peeled off the Mankind mask, his face covered in blood, and stared at The Game with a crazed look in his eye as Triple H cowered up the ramp.
Three days later on SmackDown, Mankind declared that indeed he was not ready to face The Game in a Street Fight for the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble. But Foley tore off the old button-down to reveal the “Wanted Dead” T-shirt ( WATCH), Triple H’s jaw dropped realizing he was responsible for the re-emergence of Cactus Jack — the most sadistic of Foley’s personas — and was forced to face him in only two weeks at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. ( WATCH) — ZACH LINDER
The Rock is crowned "The Corporate Champion": Survivor Series 1998
What makes a sell-out? In the case of The Rock, it was naming himself “The People’s Champion,” and immediately turning his back on the fans to win the WWE Title.
At one of the most unique pay-per-view events in WWE history, a new champion was set to win the vacant WWE Championship in a 14-man bracketed Deadly Game Tournament. In an effort to adopt a façade of formality, Mankind had taken to wearing a torn button-down shirt and sloppy necktie. The deranged brawler seemed to be Mr. McMahon’s groomed “corporate” pick to win the tournament to keep the title away from his adversaries. The deck was stacked against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock while an easy road to the finals was paved for Mankind.
But in the main event, The Rock locked Mankind in The Sharpshooter and Mr. McMahon quickly called for the bell, a reference to the previous year’s “Montreal Screwjob.” The Rock embraced his new suited overlords and The Chairman announced that “the people screwed the people” while anointing The Rock as his new crowned jewel, his Corporate Champion. ( WATCH) — Z.L.
The Undertaker kidnaps Stephanie McMahon: Backlash 1999 & Raw, April 26, 1999
Taking orders from a supposed “Greater Power,” The Undertaker held the entire WWE Universe in his icy grip with the formation of The Ministry of Darkness — a sinister coalition of Superstars sharing The Deadman’s affinity for making opponents quake with fear. Not content with merely dominating in the ring, The Undertaker set his sights on Vince McMahon himself, abducting the WWE Chairman’s daughter Stephanie at Backlash 1999 and holding her for ransom. Among his demands? Complete ownership of WWE.
Unable to satisfy The Phenom’s lofty mandates the following night on Raw, Mr. McMahon was forced to bear witness as his daughter was lashed to a macabre Undertaker symbol and made to participate in a dark wedding ceremony that would make her The Deadman’s bride. In what was perhaps the most chilling moment ever to transpire in a WWE ring, Stephanie was mere seconds away from unwillingly sealing this unholy union with a kiss — until the most unlikely hero came to her rescue.
Before The Undertaker could lock lips with The Billion Dollar Princess, the sound of breaking glass reverberated throughout the arena and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin charged the ring. Leveling The Undertaker’s Ministry minions and forcing The Deadman to retreat, The Texas Rattlesnake freed Stephanie and looked on as Mr. McMahon reunited with his shaken daughter. ( WATCH)
As explained by WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross that night, “[Austin] didn’t do this for Vince. He did it for Stephanie because it’s the right thing to do.” — J.W.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin gives The Corporation a beer bath: March 22, 1999
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin did not suffer fools gladly, and in his perspective, anybody who stood across from him in the ring was nothing short of a fool.
The Rattlesnake’s unique talent for getting under the skin of his rivals was on display days ahead of his WrestleMania XV main event against WWE Champion The Rock when Austin chose an appropriately "Stone Cold" way of rattling The Great One. As The Rock postured in the ring with Corporation pals Mr. McMahon and Shane McMahon, Austin interrupted the festivities by driving a Coors Light truck to the ring. Armed with 30 gallons of Rocky Mountain lager, Austin told The Rock that at WrestleMania, he would check in to room 3:16 of the "SmackDown Hotel" and burn it to the ground. ( WATCH)
While a shaken Rock tried to rebut, Austin matter-of-factly unfurled a hose from the truck and began to douse The People’s Champion and the McMahons with the frosty brew. The Corporation members floundered about the soaked ring, as the WWE Universe in Albany, N.Y., gave deafening approval to "Stone Cold's" hell-raising.
With its crisp aftertaste, the beer bath remains one of the most beloved moments in Raw history. In terms of shaping the Attitude Era, few scenes can rival that of a suited Mr. McMahon trying to swim through a torrent of beer being sprayed out of a high-pressure hose. — J.C.
The debut of Kane: Badd Blood 1997
You’ve got to hand it to Kane: He’s always known how to make an entrance. With his unhinged unveiling in October 1997, The Big Red Machine quieted any and all speculation that his mere existence was an untruth. Throughout that previous summer, The Undertaker and Paul Bearer had let the WWE Universe into their relationship deeper than ever before. During that time, Bearer revealed The Phenom had a younger brother, Kane, and that the brother had survived a fire set by The Undertaker at a funeral home years earlier.
The rumors and “What if’s …?” all ended at Badd Blood. At the end of the inaugural Hell in a Cell Match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, as The Deadman signaled for the Tombstone Piledriver, the arena went dark and the now-familiar organ introduction to Kane’s music sounded. The Deadman, like the WWE Universe, watched in disbelief as The Devil’s Favorite Demon marched to the ring and ripped off the door to the Cell. Kane raised his hands skyward and then thrust them down, as flames shot out of the four ring posts. The unsettled Undertaker then ate a Tombstone from his younger half-brother (as we’d come to find later). ( WATCH)
“This is shocking,” Jim Ross yelled in disbelief. As usual, J.R. was spot-on. — J.C.
"The Greater Power" is revealed: Raw, June 7, 1999
“It’s me, Austin! It was me all along, Austin!” Those are the words that haunted the WWE Universe in one of the most notorious revelations in television history. ( WATCH)
After Shane McMahon merged The Corporation with The Undertaker’s demonic Ministry of Darkness ( WATCH), The Corporate Ministry became an unstoppable entity capable of accomplishing anything in WWE. The Deadman claimed it was all possible due to a “Greater Power.”
At the close of the May 31 edition of Raw, the mystery man, shrouded in a cloak, revealed himself to The Texas Rattlesnake. Austin was furious and the WWE Universe continued to speculate on whether it was perhaps Shawn Michaels, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase or Jake “The Snake” Roberts — all Superstars both “Stone Cold” and The Phenom had significant history with.
One week later, it was revealed to be none of these men — instead, the mastermind unveiled was Mr. McMahon himself. The Chairman had orchestrated a massive scheme that involved the kidnapping of his own daughter ( WATCH), and explained there was nothing he wouldn’t do to make Austin’s life a living hell. — Z.L.
"This Is Your Life": Raw, Sep. 27, 1999
Only six months removed from one of the most intense and brutal rivalries in the history of sports-entertainment ( WATCH), Mankind attempted to make amends with The Rock. The pair won the World Tag Team Championship on two occasions, much to the dismay of The Great One ( WATCH), but Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy was elated with what he believed was an exciting new friendship.
The Hardcore Legend threw Rocky a blowout for the ages, introducing personalities from his partner’s past to show him “This Is Your Life!” The 20-minute celebration was the highest-rated segment ever on Raw, but The People’s Champion was not amused by Mankind’s quirks. The Rock insulted each guest, though one did prompt The Brahma Bull to reveal his favorite kind of pie.
When Rocky was not receptive, Mick hoped that his some gifts would elicit a smile. He presented his partner with matching Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection jackets and an airbrushed sweatsock he identified as “Mr. Rocko.” Mankind’s final guest was WWE’s most famous clown other than Doink, Yerple. Mankind and his goofy face-painted friend sang “Happy Birthday” to the honoree, but The Rock not so politely broke the news that his birthday is, in fact, in May. – Z.L.
The debut of Chris Jericho: Raw, Aug. 9, 1999
Most people wouldn’t knowingly enter a verbal sparring match with The Rock, but then again, most people aren’t Chris Jericho.
On Aug. 9, 1999, a cryptic clock that had been appearing on the TitanTron for several weeks finally counted down to zero — just as The Rock was in the middle of running down Big Show. The lights in Chicago’s Allstate Arena went black, pyrotechnics exploded and a mysterious figure appeared on the stage with arms outstretched and his back to the WWE Universe. ( WATCH)
“Welcome to…Raw…Is…Jericho!” the newcomer exclaimed, seemingly indifferent to the fact that he was audaciously interrupting The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment. Many in the crowd and watching at home already knew this brash and outspoken egotist as Chris Jericho, a former Cruiserweight and World Television Champion in rival company WCW. However, to the uninitiated, he was instantly recognized as one of the few people bold enough to halt The Rock mid-sentence and go so far as to call The People’s Champ an “idiot” as he extolled his plan to save WWE from mediocrity.
The Rock ultimately silenced Y2J as only The Rock can, but Jericho’s irreverent rant on Raw that night would set the tone for one of the most unique and memorable WWE careers of all time, the likes of which we may never — EEEVER — witness again. — J.W.
Triple H reforms D-Generation X: Raw, March 30, 1998
They say anything can happen the day after WrestleMania. That tenet was marked with a signature "X" on the March 30, 1998, edition of Raw when Triple H announced the formation of the DX army — "an army to take care of business that should've been taken care of right from the start."
The Game took a scathing shot at Shawn Michaels for losing the WWE Title to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (proclaiming that HBK had "dropped the ball"), and wasted no time executing his renovation plans for the rowdy stable. The new, determined leader of DX brought back his longtime friend X-Pac, who told the WWE Universe that they planned to turn WWE upside down starting that very night — and assumingly dish out plenty of DX chops in the process. ( WATCH)
In Raw's main event, X-Pac quickly delivered on his warning by tossing a steel chair to The New Age Outlaws during their Steel Cage Match against Cactus Jack & Chainsaw Charlie. Planting Jack onto the chair with a vicious spike piledriver, the Outlaws pulled off a coup and swiped the World Tag Team Championship away from the hardcore duo. As Pac and The Game entered the cage to inflict further punishment, it became clear that Triple H had recruited two more for his menacing army of Attitude Era power players. ( WATCH) — T.H.
The Montreal Screwjob: Survivor Series 1997
The controversial WWE Championship encounter between WWE Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels and Bret “Hit Man” Hart at Survivor Series 1997 unquestionably remains one of the most talked-about moments in sports-entertainment history to this day. Going into this emotionally charged battle, waged in front of the "Hit Man’s" countrymen, speculation ran rampant regarding Hart’s imminent move to WCW. Would he leave WWE as its champion? If he did, what would be the ramifications? Would he tarnish the legacy of the illustrious title once he began competing for the rival Atlanta-based organization? These questions hung in the air of Montreal's Molson Centre as the night’s hotly anticipated main event approached.
Waging psychological warfare against the departing "Hit Man," HBK trapped Hart in his own signature submission maneuver, the Sharpshooter. As The Excellence of Execution persevered, refusing to tap out to the hold, WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon ordered referee Earl Hebner to ring the bell — even though Hart never submitted. Michaels was awarded the WWE Title under the most dubious of circumstances, while Mr. McMahon ensured that Hart would not leave WWE with the organization’s grandest prize. Irate, Hart responded by destroying equipment at ringside and spitting in The Chairman’s face. ( WATCH)
The wounds from that notorious turn of events took more than a decade to heal, and the intense, deep-seeded rivalry between Hart and The Chairman lingered until WrestleMania XXVI, when The Excellence of Execution made Mr. McMahon submit to the Sharpshooter. This time, the referee made the right call. — J.W.
Mick Foley wins his first WWE Championship: Jan. 4, 1999
To realize the full impact of Mankind's massive upset over The Rock, all you had to do was take a look at the utter anguish on Mr. McMahon's face as he screamed out: "No! Not him! Anybody but him! Not Mankind!" ( WATCH)
Yes, Mrs. Foley's Baby Boy had done the unthinkable — winning a No Disqualification Match on Monday Night Raw to claim his very first WWE Championship. Up against seemingly insurmountable odds, Mankind showed plenty of heart as he endured The Great One's punishing blows and dealt with persistent interference from The Corporation. After Ken Shamrock's steel chair attack sparked a brawl between Mr. McMahon's clan and D-Generation X, an already explosive battle devolved into total pandemonium once the sound of shattering glass ripped through the arena.
With a steel chair shot heard 'round the entire WWE Universe, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin flattened The Brahma Bull and helped cement Mankind's status as one of the defining Superstars of the Attitude Era. The moment was also a pivotal turning point in the Monday Night War, as WWE seized firm control in the ratings clash over WCW and never looked back. — T.H.
Triple H marries Stephanie McMahon: Raw, Nov. 29, 1999; Armageddon 1999 & Raw, Dec. 13, 1999
Occasionally, hindsight reveals that some moments play out over the course of several weeks. That was certainly the case in Triple H’s game-changing marriage to Stephanie McMahon.
Step one: the wedding itself. As Stephanie and her longtime beau Test were set to utter their “I dos” on Raw, Triple H emerged and introduced camcorder footage of The Cerebral Assassin cruising down Las Vegas Boulevard. He pulled into a drive-through chapel, and quickly wed Mr. McMahon’s pride and joy in a $40 ceremony while Stephanie appeared unconscious in the passenger seat. ( WATCH)
Step two: the fight for justice. Two weeks later at Armageddon, Mr. McMahon battled Triple H in a No Holds Barred Match. If The Chairman was victorious, the wedding was to be annulled. The Game pinned Mr. McMahon and Stephanie ran to the ring to tend to her fallen father, but it was all revealed to be an elaborate ruse. The Billion Dollar Princess smiled and embraced her new husband. ( WATCH)
Step three: the betrayal. The night after Armageddon, Mr. McMahon appeared on Raw — sledgehammer in hand — and demanded answers from his opponent, but The Chairman got his daughter instead. With a devilish new demeanor and hairdo, Stephanie declared, “I’m not daddy’s little girl anymore.” ( WATCH)
The McMahon-Helmsley Era dominated Raw for years, and the power couple remains a backstage influence to this very day. — Z.L.
D-Generation X invades WCW Monday Nitro: Raw, April 27, 1998
D-Generation X brought the fight to WCW when it stormed the site of Monday Nitro in 1998 in a tactic that WCW head honcho Eric Bischoff would later call an “arrogant, aggressive, ruthless move.” The degenerate swashbucklers Triple H, X-Pac and The New Age Outlaws, accompanied by Chyna, were clad in helmets and fatigues when they drove a tank to the Norfolk Scope in Virginia. ( WATCH)
With a megaphone in hand, Triple H rallied the troops outside the arena, who in this case were WCW fans. Leading chants of “DX” and “WCW sucks,” the degenrates effectively turned WCW’s own audience against the company on its home turf. The maneuver helped sway the Monday Night War in WWE’s favor, but it was also perfectly emblematic of the Attitude Era’s take-no-prisoners, gloves-off approach. By ambushing Nitro, DX not only acknowledged the competition — they literally knocked on its door, shattering every rule in the book. — J.C.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin's first Stunner to Mr. McMahon: Raw, Sept. 22, 1997
You always remember your first, and Sept. 22, 1997, saw plenty of them. It was the first Raw to be broadcast from Madison Square Garden, the first WWE appearance of the legendary Cactus Jack ( WATCH), but most importantly it marked the first occasion that Mr. McMahon was bitten by The Texas Rattlesnake.
On one of his rampages, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was restrained in the ring by members of the New York Police Department. Mr. McMahon — known then as broadcaster Vince McMahon — left the announce desk to attempt to cool down The Texas Rattlesnake. But McMahon’s attempts to calm Austin only riled him up further. The Chairman must have known he was in danger. Austin had delivered “Stone Cold” Stunners to other authority figures including Commissioner Slaughter ( WATCH) and Jerry Lawler ( WATCH) over the previous two weeks alone.
While the WWE Universe knew McMahon as an announcer, Austin knew him as his boss. The future WWE Champion facetiously thanked his superior for caring, but quickly changed his tune and dropped The Chairman with an emphatic Stunner. New York’s finest slapped on the handcuffs and hauled Austin off to prison. ( WATCH)
It was the first Stunner experienced by the boss, but certainly not the last. The blow ignited a four-year rivalry that became the centerpiece of WWE. — Z.L.
Bret Hart snaps: Raw, March 17, 1997
The tirade unleashed by Bret "Hit Man" Hart during a March 1997 Raw was as conspicuous a sign as there could be that the change in WWE toward an edgier, more aggressive style was a fait accompli. For years, Hart was WWE's wholesome hero with the moral compass that never wavered, never needed recalibrating. After suffering a controversial loss to WWE Champion Sid in a Steel Cage Match ( WATCH), however, a fed-up "Hit Man" opened the release valve on what appeared to be a decade's worth of aggravation.
Post-match, Raw play-by-play announcer Vince McMahon attempted to interview Hart. He managed to ask one off-point question about "frustration” before the normally even-keeled Hart, in a shocking outburst, shoved McMahon to the mat and declared that "Frustration isn't the [expletive] word for it!" As soon as he returned to the announce desk, McMahon — also the WWE Chairman then, as he is now — apologized to the TV audience. He'd have more apologizing to do before the night was over. ( WATCH)
The "Hit Man" went off on a rant in which he decried the anything-goes mentality that was clearly taking hold in the WWE locker room. Believing his cage match loss to be unfair, The Pink and Black Attack suggested, in considerably more colorful language, that the decision was nonsense. With the verve of Mike Ditka, the dependably scrupulous Hart broke form and began spitting profanities as if it was going out of style. Whether you bought into “Hit Man’s” argument, there was no denying something had snapped inside WWE’s hero. — J.C.
"Tyson and Austin!": Raw, Jan. 19, 1998
The pull-apart brawl between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Mike Tyson elevated the Attitude Era in the pop culture hierarchy. By entering the wrestling ring in January 1998, “The Baddest Man on the Planet” had ventured into the domain of that year's Royal Rumble winner, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. As Mr. McMahon proudly welcomed Tyson and his entourage to Raw, "Stone Cold's" familiar glass-shattering music hit and The Texas Rattlesnake marched to the ring with one thing on his mind: to make sure Tyson knew whose ring he was standing in. ( WATCH)
Tyson lunged at "Stone Cold" after Austin took the liberty of flashing a two-bird salute before Tyson’s "beady little eyes." With that, the brawl was on. Security dragged Austin out of the ring, as an irate McMahon shouted, "You ruined it!" McMahon's allegation couldn't have been further from the truth. The Austin-Tyson melee provided WWE a water cooler (and watershed) moment that had expansive crossover appeal. The chaotic scene was covered by news, sports and entertainment media outlets. More than that, the fracas underscored the "anything can happen" unpredictability of the Attitude Era. — J.C.
The Undertaker vs. Mankind - Hell in a Cell Match: King of the Ring 1998
If the WWE Universe can point to one single match that defined everything the smash-mouth Attitude Era was about, it is the shockingly brutal Hell in a Cell encounter between Mankind and The Undertaker — perhaps the most hard-hitting match in WWE history.
After starting the bout on top of the cell, The Deadman hurled Mankind off, and Foley crashed through the broadcasting table 15 feet below. The fall remains one of the most iconic sights in all of sports-entertainment. Jim Ross immediately exclaimed, “As God as my witness, he is broken in half!” ( WATCH)
Physicians attempted to remove Foley on a stretcher, but The Hardcore Legend was thirsty for more punishment. The Phenom once again gained the upper hand and Chokeslammed Mankind through the top of the Cell, sending Foley tumbling to the ring’s canvas. A steel chair went along for the ride and smashed into his skull along the way. With that, Jerry Lawler declared, “That’s it, he’s dead.”
But Foley wasn’t done. He scattered thumbtacks across the mat, later became a human pin cushion and was even seen grinning ear to ear as Ross theorized that he was perhaps enjoying himself. But Foley wasn’t smiling — The Hardcore Legend was simply attempting to use his tongue to jostle a dislodged tooth. — Z.L.
The formation of D-Generation X: Raw, Oct. 13, 1997
The Attitude Era's most groundbreaking faction got its start on the Oct. 13, 1997, episode of Raw. The original four-Superstar ensemble of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Chyna and "Ravishing" Rick Rude had been collectively revolting against the system prior to then, but it was during a backstage interview that night that HBK famously anointed the team "D-Generation X." With DX rivals The Hart Foundation standing in the ring, the often sophomoric group egged on Bret Hart's contingent from backstage, via the TitanTron. ( WATCH)
A royally annoyed "Hit Man" challenged the "two degenerates," Michaels and Triple H, to face the Foundation in the ring. Instead, The Showstopper and The Game continued slinging insults and dropping double entendres for their own amusement. HBK complained that he was sick of hearing his generation, Generation X, being put down. He turned to Triple H and thoughtfully asked, "Do you think you're a degenerate? I'm positive I'm one." Triple H conceded that he, too, was a degenerate, and with that, HBK declared his rogue band "D-Generation X.”
"You make the rules and we will break 'em," the cocky HBK boasted. As the several subsequent iterations of DX would prove over the years, HBK was right on the money. — J.C.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin coins "Austin 3:16": King of the Ring 1996
At the time it happened, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's King of the Ring coronation speech just seemed like exciting, grade-A trash talk that bordered on the sacrilege. Rarely before had a Superstar spoken so bluntly, let alone with the venomous fury that Austin expressed that night. Years later, it's plain to see the harangue was game-changing play that set in motion WWE's gradual shift toward the attitudinal. ( WATCH)
Austin had just downed WWE Legend Jake "The Snake" Roberts in the King of the Ring tournament final ( WATCH), Austin's second match that night. Earlier in the evening, The Rattlesnake suffered a busted lip, requiring a visit to a nearby hospital. He returned to the arena moments before his match with Roberts, and on his way to the ring, was informed that Jake, a born-again Christian, had quoted a Bible passage during his pre-match interview. After dismantling "The Snake," Austin mockingly spewed, "Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16 … Austin 3:16 says 'I just whipped your @SS!' " That's the line that caught fire, but the rest of the interview fought against the establishment and faithfully projected "Stone Cold's" path to the top.
"It was what I was feeling and it was from my heart and from my guts and what was going on inside my brain," Austin commented years later. "And nothing but attitude." — J.C.