The WWF Attitude Era was not good.
*Cue TRIGGERED fanbase*
But seriously. It wasn’t. While the build for this year’s Wrestlemania was fairly bad, and the show itself was “meh” with some great moments sprinkled in (Banks/Belair | Hogan getting booed | Samoa Joe in a rain poncho), many will undoubtedly compare it to prior years. Because for some reason wrestling fans have to compare everything to everything else…
Specifically, the Attitude Era.
Multiple memes have circulated comparing the build of this year’s show compared to say Wrestlemania X-7 (even though Rock/Austin only had 34 days worth of build), and the consensus in all comments sections is that the Attitude Era was simply superior. How couldn’t it have been (as Ortiz would put it) “THE BEST! THE BEST!…”
With larger-than-life household names and ratings through the roof, how could this not be as good as we remember? Surely we haven’t been fooled by pure nostalgia, have we?
(You know where this is going…)
The Wrestling Wasn’t Good
It wasn’t. Watch any Raw or Smackdown from 97-01. The match quality is not good, and the matches were extremely short as is. By WWE’s own admission, this is actually the case.
According to WWE’s “100 Matches to See Before You Die” out of 100 matches, only 11 come from the Attitude Era. Only one of these matches even crack the top 10. Even Bleacher Report’s “Top 25 WWE Matches of All Time” only features 6 from the Attitude Era.
In fact, most top-ranked matches come in 2003-09, which was after the Attitude Era. If we are to be called “wrestling fans” then we need to recognize that the actual wrestling was mostly not great at all.
Furthermore, where was the technical wrestling? Technical wrestling was pretty rare during this era. Instead, we mostly got the common slower-paced “WWE Style” and/or blood and guts.
Oh, the Misogyny
Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks headlined the first night of Wrestlemania 37, and they deserved every bit of that spotlight. Women’s wrestling has come a long way, and it’s in no thanks to the Attitude Era. Yes, Trish and Lita put on the occasional formidable match, but not only are those matches very average by today’s women’s wrestling standards, it came far too little. Most women’s matches were vessels for utter objectification, which featured bra and panties matches, bikini contests, embarrassing catfights, and gratuitous oversexualization.
If you need professional wrestling to view scantily clad women, may I introduce you to PornHub?
This is an era that had Trish Stratus on her knees barking like a dog before the boss of the company. WCW and ECW weren’t any better, but it’s a historic stain on the wrestling industry on how women were treated in this era — as nothing more than eye candy. This may have been acceptable in our ignorant and hormone-fueled teenage minds, but we’re all grown-ups now, right?
Simply put, the Attitude Era helped contribute to keeping women in wrestling down, and only in the last 5 years has it (finally) gotten better.
Cringeworthy Storylines & Gimmicks
From the Undertaker’s attempted sacrifice of Stephanie McMahon to a forced marriage through the use of drugs, Attitude Era storylines were pretty cringe. While a few gems exist (Mick Foley’s character progression, Rock vs. Austin, Mankind vs. Undertaker), a lot of it was pretty bad. Many of these come off as rejected story ideas from TV soap operas.
List of Cringe
-Mae Young giving birth to a hand
-Val Venis (now a crazed conservative conspiracy theorist) almost getting his penis chopped off by a stable of offensively bad Asian stereotypes,
-Big Bossman feeds Al Snow his dog
-Road Warrior Hawk’s attempted suicide
-Big Bossman ruins the Big Show’s funeral
-Triple H drugs Stephanie McMahon into marriage
-DX and Xpac’s Blackface
-Terri Runnel’s “fake” miscarriage
…and the list goes on and on…
And sure, you had your not-so-cringe characters like The Rock, Kane and Steve Austin, but you also had a group of thirty-somethings running around acting like 13-year-olds (DX). Let’s be honest, much of the stories and gimmicks out of this era were straight trash and toilet humor.
It’s one thing to loop low-brow humor into wrestling shows here and there, but it was a weekly occurrence and expectation during this era. And maybe you’re into that kind of thing? If so, my condolences…
It hasn’t aged well.
Few Were Elevated
The Attitude Era didn’t really give us much for variety when it comes to top talents. Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Foley, Kane, and Triple H. That’s about it for your main event talent. Yes, these guys were fantastic, but it got a bit repetitive, did it not? You can only get so excited about The Rock telling someone to stick something up their own anus so many times…
No, I didn’t forget HBK, but lest we forget that he retired in 1998. He simply wasn’t a large part of this era. The few wrestlers that seemed to define the era didn’t make up the entire weekly shows, and it’s hard for me to accept that around 5-6 wrestlers formed the best era in wrestling history.
We are in an era now where we have seen multiple headliners and talents become top-tier names over the last 5 years. Reigns, McIntyre, Lashley, Lynch, Charlotte, Belair, Banks, Rollins, Owens, Styles, Bryan, Lesnar, Wyatt, Asuka, Orton, and much more.
Now this could be for a number of reasons: Either the WWF roster in 97-01 was pretty bad overall (it was), and/or there was no intention to elevate anyone else other than the few pillars of the company at that time.
Either way, if you wanted to see new names in the main event picture during this era, you rarely got it.
Hot Potato Anyone?
If my figures are correct, an average title reign during this era lasted roughly 58 days. In fact, during 1999 there were 12 different WWF Championship title changes. That’s an average of one world title change per month.
It’s hard to hold any prestige to your world champion when there are so many title changes. This not only speaks to the short-term title reigns, but also to the short-term storylines. Long-term storytelling just didn’t exist much in this era.
It doesn’t in current WWE either, but that in itself is it’s own problem. So not only were storylines short, they were usually pretty cringe as is. It’s not a good look in perspective.
If a fan is truly that butthurt over Peacock censoring Attitude Era content, the the world of wrestling torrents await you. I won’t tell you how (because it’s not legal), but there are many ways to download and keep unedited Attitude Era shows in your possession forever.
But that’s a bit silly isn’t it?
Why would any self-respecting individual feel the need to go back and watch countless examples of misogyny, tasteless racial and cultural stereotypes, and average-at-best wrestling? Are you honestly afraid of offensive content being erased from the network, or that this is somehow an attack on your ability to experience nostalgia?
Because that’s all this is at the end of the day. As humans, we value nostalgia, even if the product isn’t even that good. We probably felt alive and excited as youths watching pro wrestling during 97-01 — but it likely had little to do with the actual quality of the product.
Professional wrestling has evolved, and it is much better now than it ever was. Professional wrestling has gotten so good that Vince McMahon lost his monopoly over the industry. There is simply too much talent in the world not to be featured on a weekly basis. Because of this, and because of a growing non-WWE fanbase, AEW exists as McMahon’s first level of competition in 20 years.
That’s incredible when you think about it.
The hard truth is that you don’t miss the Attitude Era, you just miss being a kid. But at some point we do need to grow up and recognize that the glorified past wasn’t so great as we remembered.
Wrestling March Madness Winners:
Men’s – Daniel Bryan
Women’s – Asuka
(voting wasn’t even close)
Thanks to all who voted!