It is hard to pinpoint when the Attitude Era both started and ended, but to me, it started in 1997 and ended after WrestleMania 17 for a variety of different reasons. Nevertheless, the era was when WWE transitioned from a family-friendly show with unequivocal characters to an adult-themed show with edgier and more ambiguous characters. The program depicted high-volumes of vulgar, sexuality, and violence with politically incorrect characters leading the way. The era also flipped what ought to be a protagonist upside down, with a number of their top-stars being nothing close to virtuous role models. The cutting-edge program triggered some of WWE’s biggest television ratings and ratings ever, causing it to be one of the most must-see programs on television. More importantly, the era very well may have saved WWE’s existences, as its archival’s, WCW, success was taking away WWE’s fans and consequently money, pushing WWE closer and closer to bankruptcy.
The era lastly created some of the most historic and classical matches ever; here are the top 5 Attitude Era matches of all time….
5. Royal Rumble 2000, Street Fight for the WWF Title: Cactus Jack vs. Triple H
This was one of the best WWE feuds ever. Foley was frustrated of being constantly beat up by Triple H, thus he brought back the most evil, sadistic,and remorseless personas ever: Cactus Jack. This was one of the greatest structured hardcore brawls ever, as they did not do high spots to receive a cheap pop from the crowd. Every spot fit nicely in the context of the story they were trying to narrate, and everything they did had meaning and purpose behind it. This was moreover a star-making performance from Triple H, as the fans began taken him seriously as champion. Even though he was a heel, Triple H’s toughness showed, and the fans respected him for it. Foley ended up making Triple H a star while Hunter ended up making Foley more sympathetic. They elevated each other to a higher level.
4. WrestleMania X-Seven, WWF Championship: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock
The Rock and Austin’s story-line was one of best narrated ones in professional wrestling. Surely, Austin’s heel turn did not pan out in the long run, but what happened in the aftermath does change a thing about how exquisite the rising action leading up to their encounter was. After being hit by a car, Stone Cold was not the same scrappy brawler he once was. This was evident when he failed to put Triple H away at No Way Out.
Austin’s heel turn came as a total surprise to many, but in retrospect, the writing staff subtly left a trail of breadcrumbs for anybody who paid closely attention. In a sound byte, which was replayed over and over again in promos leading up to the match, Austin told The Great One, “I need to beat you, Rock. I need it more than anything.” What appeared as a traditional fare for a pre-match build took on different meaning after the match. Austin knew he lacked the pertinacity and ruthless determination to win he once had, but he desperately wanted to be champion. Therefore, in order to do so, he sold his soul to the devil, Mr. McMahon. The match itself was wondrously energetic, triggering the 60,000 fans in attendance to scream at the top of their lungs while the two megastars of the 90s slugged it out and pulled out all the stops to be crowned champion. This match had as much of a “big fight” atmosphere as you’ll find anywhere, and after adding up all the intangibles, this match deserves to be ranked as one of the all-time best.
3. No Way Out 2001, Three Stages of Hell: Triple H vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
We talked about this feud already, but either way, this was an exceptional brawl, mirroring the intensity and abhorrence of Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A.’s epic “I Quit” cage match from Starrcade ’86. This was two wrestlers who despised one another trying to kill each other, and it had everything it needed. It was savagely violent., intelligently booked, and diligently worked, with both wrestlers impeccably playing their roles. The stipulations were creative, inventive, and made the bout feel more like all-out warfare. The finish also marked a pivotal moment, which contributed to Austin’s heel turn, too, as noted above.
2. Badd Blood 1997, Hell in the Cell: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker
This was the only time the Hell in the Cell match had a meaning behind it aside from, “I hate you, you hate me. Let’s fight in a Cell”. Prior to this, a cage match the ideal way to settle a difference without people interfering, though someone realized that it was making the wrestlers look very nonathletic since they could not climb a cage Therefore, Jim Cornette came up with this genius idea. He will tell you that it was not an original idea and that it was just a hybrid between War Games and the Memphis Cage Match, but the design and purpose were brilliant nevertheless.
The towering structure served twin purposes, both as a barrier preventing any outside interference and simultaneously a death trap devised to keep Shawn Michaels from escaping the comeuppance he deserved at the hands of The Undertaker. The latter point vehemently sold this match, as Undertaker brutally beat the hell out of Shawn Michaels. HBK’s shuddering bumps and exquisite selling made the pain seem very genuine; and just when it appeared HBK was finally going to get the upper hand and deliver one of his signature moves or his finisher, Undertaker shrugged it off, leaving viewers wondering if it was even possible for HBK to emerge victorious.
The finish made it even more powerful. They finally debuted Kane; they made him look like a total brute, via tearing the locked Cell door clean off its hinges, and they allowed the cowardly heel Michaels to win yet another tainted contest, all without damaging The Undertaker’s credibility. This was a very innovative and intense match, which also included the long-awaited début of Kane. Everything about it was just about picture-perfect.
1. I Quit Match, WrestleMania 13: Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
This was not a wrestling match. This was a war. These incredibly gifted wrestlers just seemed to click with each other, as they put on a number of compellingly historic matches. On an otherwise lackluster WrestleMania card, these ring masters defined the suspension of disbelief.