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In the mid-'90s, the World Wrestling Federation was facing tough times. The product it creating during the "New Generation" Era (the early-mid '90s) couldn't compete with the product being turned out by rival wrestling promotion World Championship Wrestling and upstart independent promotion Extreme Championship Wrestling. WCW's ultra-hot New World Order angle took the wrestling industry by storm, while ECW's focus on brutal violence and edgy storylines to match put anything the WWF was doing to shame in comparison. The WWF was even on the verge of bankruptcy during the Monday Night Wars, facing its stiffest competition ever.

What did the WWF do to save itself? What all great companies do: it stole everyone else's ideas and did them better.

The WWF started taking a page or twenty out of the ECW playbook by injecting more extreme violence, overt sexuality, and overall vulgarity into its programming. The move offended and shocked the parents' groups who had grown used to the company's family-friendly programming back in the days of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant -- but at the same time, the edgier content was drawing in viewers in numbers that the WWF had never seen before and hasn't equalled since. Pay-per-view buyrates went through the roof and ratings rose well above what WCW was doing; the WWF was back on top again.

There was also a video game by Acclaim at the time, WWF Attitude, released in 1999 to much fanfare after the popular WWF War Zone. The graphics were photo realistic (for the time), there was tons of speech and voice samples, many wrestlers and outfits to unlock, and for the time a great, in-depth create-a-wrestler mode. When it was released, it was considered the best wrestling game on the market, with THQ being the only ones close enough to touch it with their WCW entry. The game managed to capture much of the spirit of a Raw or PPV broadcast during the Attitude Era, hence the name, and at the time it was praised by many. But the gameplay was stiff even at the time, and speaking of time the game was dated on release. They had many of the face and heel wrestlers accurate, but there was no Big Show, there was no Hell in a Cell. And the arena customization was from 1997-1998. When Acclaim's license ran out THQ would pick it up and make the popular Wrestlemania 2000 and No Mercy games, also based on the Attitude Era. They would also produce Smackdown!, which would later become Smackdown vs Raw. And now, the latest game in the series, WWE '13, features the Attitude Era heavily.

The official beginning of the Attitude Era, as marked by WWE's official timeline, is March 29th, 1998 -- the date of Wrestlemania 14, where Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship (in what would be Shawn's last match for four years, due to an injured back). Austin and Michaels kicked things off a little early, however; Austin's infamous "Austin 3:16" speech at King of the Ring 1996 (as well as his submission match with Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 13) -- as well as Michaels' involvement in the Montreal Screwjob, his role in the formation of D Generation X, and a notable assist from the debuting Mankind (whose feud with The Undertaker brought more extreme matches than had ever been seen in the WWF at that point) -- helped build the atmosphere that fostered the Attitude Era.

Wrestlers closely associated with the Attitude Era include:

  • Stone Cold Steve Austin
  • The Rock
  • Vince McMahon, who played a larger-than-life version of himself ("Mr. McMahon") and feuded with Steve Austin throughout most of the Attitude Era.
  • The Undertaker and the Ministry of Darkness (The Acolytes {{[[[John Bradshaw Layfield]] Bradshaw}} and Farooq], The Brood [Gangrel, Edge and Christian], Paul Bearer, Viscera, and Mideon)
  • Triple H, who became the most prominent heel in the company during much of the era.
  • Mick Foley (aka Mankind, Dude Love and/or Cactus Jack), whose first WWF Championship (as Mankind) win coincided with WCW's infamous Finger-Poke of Doom segment and turned the tide of the Monday Night Wars.
  • D Generation X (Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Chyna until 1998; Triple H, X-Pac, Chyna, and the New Age Outlaws [Road Dogg Jesse James and Billy Gunn] thereafter)
  • The Nation of Domination, a Black Power-themed stable (except for when Owen Hart joined) which also included Farooq (Ron Simmons), Mark Henry, Ahmed Johnson, D-Lo Brown, and The Rock.
  • Kane, Undertaker's half-brother.
  • Sable, the first major breakout female star of the Attitude Era, who helped set the standard for future WWE Divas.
  • Goldust
  • Kurt Angle, who had probably one of the most successful rookie years of any WWE superstar in history.
  • Shawn Michaels, whose raunchy antics alongside Triple H as part of the original D Generation X lineup paved the way for the Attitude Era. Due to his career-stopping back injury, Shawn would only appear sporadically during the "official" Attitude Era timeline, and never in a wrestling capacity.
  • The Big Show, who was the first major defection from WCW to WWF.
  • The Corporation, a stable comprised of hand-picked wrestlers representing Mr. McMahon. This group eventually joined with the Ministry of Darkness to form the Corporate Ministry stable.
  • Chris Jericho, who jumped ship to the WWF in 1999 after languishing in WCW's midcard for years and went on to become a bigger success than he ever (EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVER) was in WCW.
  • Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, who -- along with Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn -- jumped ship to the WWF from WCW in 2000, signaling the beginning of the end of the Monday Night Wars.
  • The Hardy Boyz (Matt and Jeff Hardy), The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley), and Edge & Christian, who feuded with each other on and off for the last couple of years of the Attitude Era and raised the bar for tag team action of all kinds in the company.
  • Scotty 2 Hotty and Grand Masta Sexay, better known as Too Cool; the tag team won fans over with their post-match dancing antics. They would eventually be joined by...
  • Rikishi, one of the many members of the famous Anoa'i wrestling family. His signature move was the Stinkface -- he would down an opponent in the corner, then smother their face with his enormous ass.
  • Right to Censor, a late-Attitude Era stable led by ECW alumni Stevie Richards that was opposed to "smut" in the WWF. They were a blatant mockery of the Parents Television Council, which was leading opposition to the WWF's risque direction. Despite the parody, the WWF would end up capitulating to nearly all of the PTC's criticisms by the end of the era.
  • Trish Stratus, who started her career in the middle of the Attitude Era as a standard valet before breaking out as a major wrestler; she retired from full-time competition as the woman with the most Women's Championship reigns in the company's history.
  • Lita, Girl Next Door whose lucha libre and high flying skills as well as showing that Muscles Are Meaningless when it comes to taking on men (as bodybuilder Chyna; who at the time was stronger than Triple H, did before) helped take women's wrestling to the next level.
  • Vince Russo, the head writer of the WWF from 1996 to October 1999; any of his successes can really be attributed to Vince McMahon's editing and input.
  • Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, the signature commentators of the era.

Famous events/matches associated with the Attitude Era include:

  • The aformentioned WrestleMania 13 match between Bret Hart and Steve Austin, which managed to perfectly execute a rare "double turn" -- Austin (the heel) and Hart (the face) both turned after the match was over, with Austin becoming a badass face and Bret becoming an America-hating Canadian heel (he remained a face in Canada and other foreign territories, though).
  • The very first Hell in a Cell match, which featured Shawn Michaels going up against The Undertaker (as well as the debut of Kane).
  • The Montreal Screwjob.
  • The aformentioned WrestleMania 14 WWF Championship match between Austin and Michaels.
  • The entirety of the Austin/McMahon feud, which is widely regarded as one of the best feuds of all time.
  • D Generation X invades a WCW live event with a tank. They also manage to raise WCW's ire by showing up to their headquarters in Georgia.
  • The second Hell in a Cell match, where Undertaker tossed Mankind off the top of the sixteen-foot-high cell onto the Spanish Announcers Table, producing one of the most-used video clips in WWE history. Foley crashing through the table was this generation's equivalent of Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant, although Foley's later fall through the roof of the cage into the ring below was far more damaging (and far less rehearsed).
  • The 1998 Survivor Series main event: rising face The Rock aligned with Vince McMahon to screw Mick Foley out of becoming champion (the first of many allusions to the Montreal Screwjob), which gave rise to The Corporation.
  • Mick "Mankind" Foley's first title victory, as noted above.
  • The debut of Paul Wight, formerly The Giant in WCW, who broke through the ring during an Austin/McMahon cage match and threw Austin through the cage (costing Vince the match in the process). He later became The Big Show.
  • The formation of the Ministry of Darkness.
  • The death of Owen Hart.
  • The debut of Chris Jericho on Raw is War in 1999, making him one of the first major defections from WCW to the WWF.
  • The debut of SmackDown! on the UPN network.
  • The Raw segment known as "The Rock: This Is Your Life!", where Mick Foley paid tribute to The Rock; this segment remains the highest-rated professional wrestling segment in television history (with an 8.4 rating).
  • No Mercy 1999, which included the first-ever tag-team Ladder Match (between "The New Brood" [The Hardy Boys] and Edge & Christian) and Chyna winning the Intercontinental Championship from Jeff Jarrett in his last WWF Match (making her the first woman to ever hold said championship).
  • The debut of Kurt Angle.
  • Steve Austin is run down in a parking lot by an unknown assailant (later revealed to be Rikishi, working on orders from Triple H) and is out of action for ten months. (The vehicular assault was the kayfabe explanation for Austin taking time off for neck surgery.)
  • The marriage between Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, which resulted in the McMahon-Helmsley Regime and Triple H becoming one of the WWF's biggest heels. (The couple would later marry in real life.)
  • Stacy "The Kat" Carter briefly flashed the crowd at Armageddon 1999 following a "Evening Gown in a Pool" match, marking the first instance of intentional nudity on WWF programming.
  • The Radicalz -- Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, and Eddie Guerrero -- all appear on Raw just a few weeks after being released from their WCW contracts.
  • The retirement of Mick Foley at the hands of Triple H in 2000 (and their instant-classic Street Fight at Royal Rumble a month prior to Foley's retirement match).
  • The Rock ending Triple H's reign as WWF Champion at Backlash 2000 (marking the first time the Rock had been WWF Champion as a face) in a highly intense match.
  • The Undertaker returns in his "American Badass" persona after having been away from WWF programming for several months.
  • The Hardy Boys, the Dudley Boys, and Edge & Christian compete in the first Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match at SummerSlam 2000.
  • Steve Austin wins his third Royal Rumble in 2001, setting up...

...the end of the Attitude Era, which took place on April 1, 2001 -- the date of WrestleMania X-Seven (WrestleMania 17). The WWF had purchased WCW -- and many of its wrestlers' contracts -- weeks prior to the event, and it had also hired on former ECW mastermind Paul Heyman as a color commentator (following the departure of Jerry "The King" Lawler) following ECW's bankruptcy. The Monday Night Wars had ended -- and so had the need for the Attitude Era. At WrestleMania X-Seven, Steve Austin defeated The Rock in the show's main event to win his fifth WWF Championship... with the help of longtime archenemy Mr. McMahon=, a move that ended their feud and the Attitude Era in one swift blow.

Mileage varies on the quality of the WWF/WWE product after the end of the Attitude Era (since the company has lacked the competition that created the necessity for the Attitude Era), and when (or even if) it began to go downhill, but few can deny that the wrestling world hasn't been the same since.

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