WWE's Attitude Era - Cluttered reminiscence
It was the 23rd of May, 1999. Kansas City, Missouri was witness to WWF’s mega-pay-per-view event, Over The Edge. Up next was the match for the Intercontinental Championship title between The Godfather and Owen Hart. Hart was about to perform his comical aerial stunt entry. Alas! Everything that could have gone wrong with the stunt went wrong. The worst had happened. It was confirmed the next day by “Good Ole” Jim Ross. WWF would never see another Bridging Northern Lights Suplex. Owen Hart’s biggest grief was that he was perennially overshadowed by his legendary brother, Bret “The Hitman” Hart and his popular cousin, The British Bulldog. All inspite of his famous victories over them. He died with the grief. May he rest in peace.
The Attitude Era was the pinnacle of the WWF. I deliberately call it the WWF and not the WWE because the former brings me irreplaceable memories. Everytime I see my brother singing praises in glory of John Cena or ranting and raving about how irksome Vickie Guerrero is, I think to myself “Gone are the days…” – a sentiment that would be echoed by everybody who grew up watching this show through the late 90s and the early 2000s. “Gone are the days” maybe a very, very cliched statement, but I believe I’m entitled to use it, seeing the depths to which the once glorious show has sunk.
Everytime I see Josh Mathews or Michael Cole exaggerating about the greatness of people like The Miz and Alberto Del Rio, I’m reminded of that bald, proud man with the beer cans in his hand. Everytime I see them describing how malicious John Laurinitis is, I think of that notoriously unpopular father-son pair, who in hindsight played such a big role in defining the Attitude Era. Everytime I see them explaining the tenacity and courage of Sheamus, I remember that bearded, hairy man who fell off the roof of a steel cage – and still remained smiling. Everytime I see them hating Daniel Bryan, I shudder thinking about the man with the iconic sledgehammer. Everytime I see them awestruck at what a fearsome sight the Big Red Monster is, I see myself being awestruck at what a fearsome sight the Big Red Monster was. No matter how hard they try, that show will never be the same again.
This is not an article about how the show can change for the better. Nor is it a meticulous chronicling of the history of the Attitude Era. It is not about the highs and lows of the Attitude era. Nor is it a comparison between the then and the now. All that this article does is admire that era for what it was. All I want to do is to record everything that comes to my mind when I think about that era. Hence, it may be woefully haphazard in nature, with no particular order, rhyme or reason.
“Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your a**”
For me, this immortal dialogue is the Attitude Era put in a nutshell. There maybe a 100 other incidents that merit a thumbs-up, but this tops them all. Stone Cold Steve Austin may be remembered by people for burying the Deadman or beating the pulp out of The Rock. But nothing can surpass this one-in-a-Gogol moment that defined the Texas Rattlesnake. Alongwith Shawn Michaels, he gave new definitions to the word charisma. Teaming up with Mike Tyson to humiliate The Heartbreak Kid, smashing The Undertaker‘s skull with a TV Camera, never saying “I quit” to The Hitman’s sharpshooter, ramming Triple H by driving a mini-truck, beating the Brothers of Destruction in a handicapped match, delivering the Stunner time after time on Mr. McMahon – Austin had it in him to send the whole world wild with frenzy and excitement. He was Monday Night Raw’s most prized possession. To this day, he remains the epitome of the word “attitude”. If you are not sure, just log on to YouTube and hear the glass breaking music.
If Austin was the biggest “face” of the era, a certain Hunter Hearst Helmsley was its biggest “heel”. The hate that fans had for Edge a few years back, was nothing compared to their burning hatred for Triple H at the time. The very entity of the D-Generation X was one big paradox – the very popular Michaels on one side of the spectrum and the very notorious HHH on the other. Unfortunately, if the Attitude Era lacked anything, it was Shawn Michaels’ persona. HBK was on a four year hiatus from 1998-02, thus missing much of the golden period of the show. His counterpart though, was among the primary architects in making that era golden. His unholy alliance with Chyna, his legendary ladder match against The Rock, his malicious barbed wire beating of Cactus Jack and his shameful betrayal of HBK, not to mention his relation with the McMahons – all of these added to making him Villain Numero Uno of the time. An absolute legend, who later fought in the greatest match of all time, the epic No-Holds-Barred clash against Taker last year.
Many people may disagree with me, but Mick Foley exceeds even The Undertaker, The Rock and Kane as the man who carved the biggest niche for himself in the industry. His rugged looks, charming smile and multiple personalities gave him a cult following. Whether it be the schizophrenic Mankind, the hopelessly romantic Dude Love, the malicious Cactus Jack or simply Mick Foley himself, one lasting feature stayed throughout – masochism. The extreme rules that are generally set for his matches have led to many an epic, unforgettable encounter. Every kid must have seen this guy with the white shirt falling off a roof in the “Don’t try this at home” ads. Yes, that’s him. If that gave you goosebumps, wait till you see his epic street-fight with Triple H at the Madison Square Garden. For him, barbed wires, steel chairs, sledgehammers, pinstripes and iron nails were just words in the dictionary.
Ask any WWF faithful and he’ll tell you that nothing can ever, ever rival the fixtures of WrestleMania 14, in 1998. While Austin, Michaels and Tyson stole the show with their blockbuster main event, another match changed the entire course of the show. The Undertaker vs Kane. The first ever encounter between the 2 brothers. Ever since he ripped the Phenom apart after intervening in the first ever Hell in a Cell match in 1997, Kane had been Paul Bearer’s trump card to end Taker “once and for all”. The atmosphere, Lawler’s and JR’s awesome commentary, the dark build-up and the insane marketing gimmicks all led to the most anticipated clash of the decade. And it more than lived up to its stratospheric expectations. Unfortunately, both wrestlers, especially the younger brother failed to make much of a mark among the elite ever since. Taker was the primary heel after Triple H for much of the period with his infamous “crucifixion” of Stone Cold being among the high points of the period. His spine chilling music, casket matches, inferno matches and buried alive contests gave him a large fan following – especially in the subcontinent. Not to forget the bike riding – new American avatar in between.
The Attitude Era was more about moments – both on-stage and behind the scenes than about proper, technical, old-fashioned wrestling. It was an era in which the wrestlers threw caution to the winds and possessed an in-your-face attitude. Bubba Dudley’s epic free-fall in WrestleMania 2000, Kurt Angle’s miraculous victory in the most-watched match of all time (will talk about that), Razor Ramon’s moments under the sun in the first ever Ladder match – all showed that you do not necessarily need an ensemble cast to produce magic. This throws light into the quality of the story-lines of that era. It also gives hope to the present Parental Guidance era. Now, without further deviations, let me get back into the awed reminiscence mode. The most-watched match of all time, as I mentioned earlier featured one of the biggest upsets of all time. A spectacular 6 man Hell in a Cell tussle that featured Stone Cold, The Rock, The Undertaker, Triple H, Rikishi and the moronic Angle saw battles within battles within battles, with Angle holding onto win an absolute cracker.
I wish I could keep talking about each of these epic encounters in a more detailed manner. But this would result in the article being as long as Mr Kennedy’s tongue. Recollecting some of them send shivers down my spine. The 3 stages of hell match between Austin and HHH, The Hell in a Cell match between Mankind and Taker at The King of the Ring, The epic WrestleMania 17 match between Austin and The Rock, the legendary No-Disqualification match between Triple H and the HeartBreak Kid in SummerSlam 2002, Austin’s epic victory over Undertaker in the first-blood match at Over the Edge, 1999…. The list could go on and on. The only recent match that has been anywhere near the quality of these encounters was the “End of an Era” battle in this year’s WrestleMania 28. But again, it pitted two Attitude Era veterans against each other.
Any pub talk on the Attitude Era would have the name of The Rock somewhere along the line. The transformation of the very ordinary Rocky Maivia into the “If you can smell” icon is among the greatest stories of this era. The Rock’s mic performances are unparalleled to this day. He was and is, well and truly, the most electrifying athlete of all time. People still say that the greatest match that never was is a hypothetical encounter between The Rock and HBK.
The matches may not have had the technical perfection of an Andre the Giant vs Hulk Hogan clash. They may not have had the violence of a Batista vs Triple H clash. They may not have featured ruthless elimination chambers. Yet, they thrilled the audience like never before and never after. Don’t ask me the reasons. Either there are too many or there is none at all. All it leaves me with, is a profound sense of awe, excitement and nostalgia.
When I keep pining about the era, my brother asks me, “What was so special about the era?”
As a reply, I quote Louis Armstrong’s iconic quote on Jazz: “Son, if you gotta ask, you’d never know.”