You don’t need it drummed into your head yet again that the mid to late 1990s were the most prosperous for the business of professional wrestling. Both World Championship Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation were taking full advantage of this rise in popularity, tapping into popular culture as never before. But unlike people’s favourite moments or things that turned the tide in the war between the two companies, below I will document the most significant of the ‘Attitude Era’ that lead to a big change in the landscape of how the then-WWF presented their product.
- ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin vs Bret Hart at WrestleMania XIII
The WWF at the time could never have competed at the highest level without a stand out babyface and face of the company. Enter Steve Austin, a heel. Doing everything he could, as a character, to get heat from his audience, Austin somehow managed to work out that there was a culture shift happening in the world, and came into this match as the heel and left as the anti-hero. Bret Hart on the opposite end was one of the last characters still stuck in the old school mentality of characters fighting for honour and giving their all for their audience. The fans in attendance during this match began rebelling against Hart’s characteristics, sympathising with the more flawed and anti-authoritarian figure of Austin, who flipped people off and had a potty mouth. At the end of the match, Austin was put in the Sharpshooter and played the role of the badass as if he was born to do it, with the incredible visual of him scathing in pain from the hold whilst blood from a cut earlier in the match ran from his head down his face. Austin’s character passed out from the pain instead of tapping out, became an instant fan favourite, and to top it off, Hart attacked Austin’s leg after the match, solidifying the first (and only fully successful) double turn in the history of the business.
- Mick Foley Wins His First WWF Championship
Now whilst on the surface this may not seem significant, two things of major significance happened here. Mick Foley, wrestling as Mankind won the WWF Title, beating The Rock in a No Disqualification match. Mankind was the opposite of what a ‘Champion’ was supposed to look like, and given that the character that made him famous (Cactus Jack), was replaced with a character the complete opposite, he was the ultimate underdog in a situation that had fans completely pushing him on to win the big one. The second significant moment in this match was the fact that it had the loudest ‘pop’ from a live crowd I’ve ever seen. Visually, it represented everything that the WWF was at the time. Chaotic, loud and it gave people exactly what they wanted to see. In the final embers of the match, Mankind had the Mandible Claw on the Rock, when Ken Shamrock (representing the Corporation at ringside) hit Mankind with a steel chair, at which point Billy Gunn and the rest of D-Generation X (who had come to watch Mankind’s back during the match) began brawling with member of the Corporation at ringside. Then, the glass broke. Watching the fans on the hard camera going absolutely bat shit crazy as Steve Austin made his return (after an illness kept him off TV) and cost The Rock the title.
Mankind wins the WWF title. Photo courtesy of Sky Sports
- Mike Tyson
You really couldn’t have made it up. WCW was battering the WWF in the ratings war, and whilst the rise of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin was in full effect, the WWF needed a spark. Enter Mike Tyson. Banned from boxing for the infamous ear-biting of Evander Holyfield, Tyson was an ever-present figure in the eyes of the media. Brought in to be a part of WrestleMania XIV was a stroke of genius by Vince McMahon, who introduced him to the live crowd on January 19th, 1998, and pledged a big announcement. Before McMahon could finish though, out came Austin, followed by a slew of agents and backstage personnel to really get over the reality of Austin being a threat. Austin insulted and goaded Tyson, before giving him the middle finger, at which point Tyson shoved Austin and a mass break up ensued. Absolute genius. Tyson would go on to join D-Generation X and side with Shawn Michaels in his feud against Austin, but he would turn on Michaels at WrestleMania as the special enforcer by counting Michaels shoulders to the mat as Austin won his first title. Austin won the title, and Tyson’s poignant role elevated the ‘Rattlesnake’ to the very top of the ‘badass’ mountain in the eyes of the fans.
- The Rock – Nation of Domination
I don’t think anyone will ever forget the chants of ‘DIE, ROCKY, DIE!’, and most importantly neither did Dwayne Johnson. After the infamous bringing together of the Nation of Domination, a black power stable in a time of civil unrest in the United States, The Rock found his voice within the confines of the group under the tutelage of Ron ‘Faarooq’ Simmons. The Rock’s character seemed to gain confidence week to week, being a part of a stable, not needing to be the focus of attention, but taking the right risks and very quickly becoming the must-see member of the group. This of course infamously led to a drawn-out story with the Rock continuing to override Faarooq’s leadership. This, in turn, led to a mutiny within the group, who turned on Faarooq, leaving The Rock to take the reins of the Nation for a short time. Truthfully, aside from the biggest significant shift in pro wrestling, this has to be a close second given that Dwayne went on to become the most financially successful actor in modern Hollywood. He has since hung up his boots in the wrestling world (boo) but completely understandable… I guess.
The Rock with the Nation. Photo courtesy of the Sportster.com
The most famous real-life betrayal in the history of professional wrestling. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that without this situation happening the way it did, there would be no ‘Mr McMahon’ character. And if there was, it wouldn’t have had nearly the effect on the industry that it ended up having with Steve Austin’s rise to prominence. McMahon was legitimately blamed (and rightly so) for the events in Montreal by people in and out of the industry, but I think the thing that solidified his heel status was the interview with Jim Ross the night after the event where he uttered the famous ‘Bret screwed Bret’ line. We all know that was bullshit, quite clearly Vince screwed Bret, but whether or not that line was meant, it set in motion the character that became one of the pillars of the greatest eras in professional wrestling. As it has quite clearly been shown, a great babyface cannot exist without a great heel to play off, and Austin and McMahon were quite literally the perfect fit.
All videos courtesy of WWE YouTube page, Feature Image courtesy of WhatCulture