Sorry for the long delay folks but after moving into a new home and dealing with numerous health issues, I'm finally back and better than ever to continue my ongoing articles covering the various eras of mainstream professional wrestling.
Last I left you I had covered the first part of arguably the greatest era in wrestling history in the Attitude Era.
With the Monday Night Wars heating up more than ever and with neither promotion refusing to stay down, the WWF and WCW would need to introduce more stars that would eventually be groomed to be the fore-bearers of this long, deeply personal, and highly entertaining war.
The WWF would fire (no pun intended) first. Introducing a monster that was purely born from hellfire and brimstone.
Coming off The Undertaker's manager Paul Bearer's betrayal of his former friend and confidant to join the Deadman's nemesis Mankind, which resulted in a bitter feud between the former friends that climaxed when Undertaker tossed a fireball into Bearer's face that forced Bearer to return a month later with his face heavily bandaged. Claiming to wanting to reconcile with his former friend now bitter enemy Undertaker, only to be rejected by him. This would cause Bearer to begin cryptically adding in secrets into Undertaker's past if he didn't extend the olive branch, only to be quickly rebuffed by the demon of death valley week after week. With the countless refusals night in and night out, Bearer reached his boiling point causing him spout out Taker's biggest secret. That his younger brother was still alive following a fire that Bearer accused Taker of starting when they were children which also took the lives of their parents. Finally catching Undertaker's attention and having him in the palm of his hand, Bearer claimed that Kane was coming to the WWF and coming for revenge. At first, Undertaker denied any wrong doing in the fire and accused Kane of being a psychotic pyromaniac that brought their home down to a fiery rubble. Then on October 5th, 1997 at the Badd Blood pay per view during Undertaker's historic Hell in a Cell match with Shawn Michaels and mere moments away from finishing off the pesky Heartbreak Kid who previously cost Undertaker his WWF Title, the arena was suddenly engulfed in darkness as the lights shut off. Among the confused and bewildered crowd, the entrance way exploded with a massive fireball as Paul Bearer emerged with a massive shadow at his back, a 7 foot shadow to be precise, Kane had arrived, adorned in red and black and his face covered with a frightening mask hiding the scars from the fire. Undertaker stood in absolute shock as he witnessed the behemoth tear the cell door right off it's hinges and come face to face with the man he thought was dead since he was a child. After causing the corners of the cell to erupt with fireballs, Kane grabbed his brother and drilled him with his own Tombstone piledriver and abruptly leaving the battered and bloodied Michaels to helplessly crawl towards a motionless Taker and cover him for the victory. Coming off the shocking and heartbreaking loss, Undertaker refused to fight his brother even as Kane would harass and assault him every week. Even as he somberly looked on as Kane would embark on an absolute rampage through the WWF, which saw him destroy Vader's face with a wrench and even set innocent crew members on fire! Finally the catalyst occurred when Kane ruined his brother's chance at regaining his WWF Championship by locking him in a casket and setting it on fire. Undertaker would return and accept the challenge which culminated at Wrestlemania 14, a hard fought battle that saw Undertaker barely defeat his monstrous brother with not one, not two, but THREE Tombstones. The sibling rivalry would eventually end at Unforgiven the next month that saw the twin towers battle it out in the first ever Inferno Match, a match that sees the ring surrounded by fire with the only way to win is by setting your opponent on fire, Undertaker would come out victorious in this battle as well. After the feud, Kane would go on to a have an incredible career which continues to this day.
On a related note, during the course of preparing to write this article. Paul Bearer tragically passed away in March of this year. Bearer was an enduring image of wrestling throughout my childhood and forever cemented his legacy by managing The Undertaker and introducing Kane to the wrestling world. Bearer will always be considered one of the greatest and most recognizable managers of all time and his legend will be immortalized as he has been announced as the first inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame of 2014. RIP Paul Bearer.
Kane would not be the only majorly successful star to emerge from this era. As a certain degenerate would find himself ascending from mere sidekick to bona-fide legend.
After Shawn Michaels was forced into retirement with a broken back. The reins of DX was handed to Triple H who reinvented it with more members to incredible success. Unfortunately tension would begin to rise as Triple H would begin to see himself as better than the group and deserved a shot at the WWF title. After seemingly reconciling with his compadres, he would do the unthinkable when he attacked his friend X-Pac and betrayed the group. Now checking out on his own with his ever loyal companion Chyna at his side, Triple H would turn his attention to the WWF Title, but more importantly, to Vince McMahon's daughter Stephanie. It was during Stephanie's wedding to her boyfriend Test that Triple H would reveal one of the most shocking and outrageous moments in wrestling history. Triple H would show a video of him and a drugged and unconscious Stephanie pulling into a Vegas drive-thru wedding where Triple H would dastardly marry the potential heir to the wrestling empire. The shock and awe would not stop there when during a match between her "husband" and father, Stephanie would do the unimaginable, turning on her own father and joining Triple H which would see the birth of the McMahon-Hemsley regime, a regime that would see Triple H's former DX teammates reunite with their former Judas and becoming the power couple's lowly henchmen. During this regime, Triple H would finally reach the mountain top and capture that elusive brass ring, the WWF Title, from then on the regime would wreak havoc as King and Queen Hemsley would flaunt their shiny crowns and cast their sledgehammer wielding iron fists upon any unfortunate superstar that looked at them wrong. Following this, Hemsley would become involved in a legendary feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin that started when Triple H orchestrated Austin being ran over by a mysterious driver. The feud that followed would become one of the most hated and deeply personal feud of all time, a feud that saw Austin exact some payback by lifting a trapped Hemsley in a car with a crane and sending it crashing down on its roof. Shockingly a mere few months later, these two would join forces and become a two man Power Trip that saw them capture all four major titles, Austin being WWF Champion, HHH being Intercontinental Champion, and both being Tag Team Champions. After returning from a potential career ending quad injury, Hemsley reemerged as the face of the company by capturing the WWF Title a then record 8 times and forming the stable known as Evolution that featured Ric Flair and two up and coming superstars that will be covered in the next entry. Today Triple H is semi-retired and serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the company and is currently being groomed to one day take over as CEO once Vince McMahon steps down (the sooner the better). No matter how people may judge his questionable backstage tactics and under handed ways or the way he's worked his way up from the very bottom to the very near top, which a lot of fans claim is due to being married to Stephanie McMahon in reality. No matter how fans think of his tactics, they cannot question how a guy who first started out as a Connecticut blue-blood named Hunter Hearst Hemsley to being one of the most legendary superstars of all time and proving once for all that he is the Game and he is that damn good.
With Triple H and Kane following Austin and Rock's footsteps. The WWF still needed someone to carry the load, and who better to carry the huge load than a giant.
Well it's the Big Show! Not since Andre has the wrestling world ever seen an actual living giant, that is until the arrival of the Big Show. Big Show put the wrestling world on notice when he made his thunderous debut in WCW in late 1995 with one purpose, kill Hulkamania. Calling himself The Giant, Big Show targeted Hogan for what he called revenge for defeating and humiliating his "father" Andre (no relation in reality of course). After his feud with Hogan, Big Show would go on to win the WCW Heavyweight Title twice and be involved in memorable feuds with Kevin Nash, Sting, and Goldberg. After his stint in WCW, Show made his shocking debut in WWF as Vince McMahon's enforcer during a cage match between McMahon and Steve Austin. Show lived up to the BIG debut by manhandling Austin and tossing him into the cage like a ragdoll. After serving as McMahon's bodyguard. Show would go on to win every current championship in the WWE. He would be involved in many entertaining feuds with Big Bossman, The Rock, Mick Foley, and Undertaker. Big Show would go on to be one of the most enduring and recognizable wrestling superstars today.
Not only were the top superstars of the Attitude Era some of the greatest superstars of all time. The company's mid carders would also go on to become legends in their own way. Starting with one of my favorite superstars of all time and a true Ayatollah.
Towards the end of 1999, a mysterious countdown graphic started appearing on WWF television, the countdown was called the Countdown to the Millennium. The countdown drew to a close by interrupting The Rock as the arena exploded with pyro and the titantron flashed with the word JERICHO and a figure appeared on top of the ramp with his back facing the ring and his arms spread wide in a Christ like pose, Jericho had arrived in WWF as he christened Raw is War as Raw is Jericho. Like the Big Show before him, Jericho made a name for himself in WCW as he electrified audiences with his high flying ability and awesome charisma. Jericho would go on to win the Intercontinental and European Titles before achieving what no other superstar has ever accomplished by defeating Stone Cold Steve Austin AND The Rock in the same night to become the very first Undisputed WWF Champion. Jericho would go on to reinvent himself from a high flying charismatic pretty boy to a bombastic and hardcore brawler to a slow talking, suit wearing cerebral villain to an energetic and flashy rock star. When I think of the top 10 superstars of all time, there's no question I would include the Ayatollah of rock and rolla, the Lionheart, the king of the world, and truly the best at what he does.
Not only would Jericho make an explosive debut but someone else would make another debut at the end of 99 albeit less flashy but would ultimately prove to be equally as explosive only with a little bit more Olympic flare.
No disrespect to Bret Hart, but the greatest pure technical wrestler of all time would make his debut in this era. Kurt Angle boasts perhaps the most accomplished wrestling resume ever written. Angle would win an actual Olympic Gold Medal in freestyle wrestling in 1996 and he did it with a broken friggin' neck. Angle debuted as a self righteous and arrogant Olympic role model boasting his gold medal and spouting his three I's of wrestling, integrity, intelligence, and intensity every chance he got. Angle would prove to be one of the most intense and technical perfectionist the wrestling world has ever seen. Winning every major title in the WWF and eventually working his way up to claim the WWF Championship which he so richly deserved. Angle would be involved in many great feuds with the likes of The Rock, Steve Austin, Triple H, Big Show, Chris Benoit, and another collegiate wrestling athlete that I'll spotlight in the next era. There is no doubt that Angle has taken the top spot of greatest pure wrestler of all time and a true Olympic hero.
Rounding out the rest of the mid card are two more superstars that would earn their footing in WCW. One a lucha libre from a legendary wrestling family and a technical legend whose careers would both end in heartbreaking and shocking tragedy that would rock the entire wrestling world.
Born into the legendary Guerrero family, Eddie Guerrero was born to be great and great he was. Mesmerizing WCW audiences with his precise and breathtaking aerial maneuvers. Eddie would move on to WWF where he would finally breakthrough the main event scene by finally realizing his dream by winning the WWE Championship along with preaching his mantra of "I lie, I cheat, I steal" but in a good way. Guerrero would be involved in memorable feuds with fellow luchas Rey Mysterio and his own nephew Chavo Guerrero to brawlers like Big Show and Shane Douglas to even technical experts like Kurt Angle and the next entry to this list. Tragically, Guerrero's life would abruptly end in 2005 when he died from an unexpected heart attack. Guerrero will always be remembered as one of the greatest luchas of all time and one of the greatest superstars of all time, Viva la Guerrero.
Benoit's story would become the most shocking and tragic story in the history of professional wrestling. First there's no denying that Benoit's wrestling career is one of the most storied of all time. Being trained by the legendary Stu Hart in the fabled Dungeon, Benoit would develop a rare combination of high flying and technical style that would gain respect from every true wrestling fan. Benoit would begin his fabled career in the early days of ECW and eventually work his way up to WCW where he would be involved in some of the greatest pure wrestling matches of all time including a World Heavyweight Title match against Bret Hart which saw Benoit claiming the enchanted title. Benoit would then make his way to WWF in shocking fashion as a seemingly invading group of former WCW guys which included Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn called the Radicalz. Benoit would work his way up through the card taking part in some mesmerizing feuds with Chris Jericho and Steve Austin, but is most memorable feud was with Kurt Angle which saw the two put on some of the most intense and nearly flawless matches anyone had ever seen. After participating in arguably the greatest triple threat match ever with Triple H and Shawn Michaels and winning the World Heavyweight Title, Benoit had finally achieved his dream. Then in a sudden and undeniably tragic twist, it was learned that Benoit tragically murdered his wife and his 7 year old son then committed suicide in an act that would shake the entire wrestling industry to its core. The event would lead to numerous discussions in the media about steroid abuse and unprotected chair shots to the head which would lead WWE to radically change it's policies regarding performing enhancing drugs and chair shots to the head. As tragic and horrible as this event would be, there is still no denying that Benoit will be remembered as one of the greatest technical practitioners ever to step into the squared circle.
While the WWF would begin to drastically expand and enjoy worldwide success, WCW would begin to slowly but steadily decline during the Monday Night Wars, but they also would elevate mid carders to the main event picture and create a few more household names, including a 5 time, 5 time, 5 time World Heavyweight Champion.
Debuting as one half of the legendary tag team Harlem Heat with his brother Stevie Ray and going on to win the WCW Tag Team Titles a record 10 times. Booker T would be the stand out of the two and would eventually break out on his own while his brother would join NWO. Booker's solo career would get off to an impressive start when he won the Television Title a record 6 times. He would then eventually win the ultimate prize in the World Heavyweight Title, a title which he would go on to win 4 more times. As one of the most prolific and famous African American wrestlers of all time, Booker would go on to be and continues to be a true trailblazer for all inspiring African American wrestlers. Now can you dig that sucka?
These superstars aren't the only reason why this era is arguably the greatest ever. Here are some other examples.
During the Attitude Era, the WWF would add to it's championship divisions which until then only featured the WWF, Intercontinental, and Tag Team Championships. Trying to match the success of WCW's wildly entertaining Cruiserweight division, the WWF would introduce the Light Heavyweight Championship that would feature high flying cruiserweights and death defying lucha libres. Also hoping to match ECW's brutal and wild hardcore matches, WWF would create the Hardcore Championship which featured out of control and chaotic matches that would go from the ring to even the Mississippi River, a stipulation would later be added to the championship that forced the champion to defend the title 24/7 which would lead to countless amusing brawls that would take place at an airport, play place, and restaurants. The WWF would also introduce a second mid card title in the European Championship. WCW also tried to match WWF with it's own Hardcore Title, but would prove to be a mere carbon copy and lacked the entertainment and uniqueness of the WWF's version.
The Attitude Era would serve as the stage of the most remembered and beloved moments in wrestling history. Most of which included Steve Austin, Mick Foley, The Rock, Undertaker, and Triple H. Below are a few examples that will live on forever in the hearts and minds of wrestling fans worldwide.
Mick Foley's Hellacious Fall
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Along with Hogan body slamming Andre the Giant, this moment is without a doubt the most famous highlight reel in wrestling history. Undertaker and his bitter nemesis Mankind would square off in a Hell in a Cell match on June 28th, 1998 at the King of the Ring. The match would start off with the two fighting on top of the cell which was pitched to Foley by Terry Funk. After a few punches and chair shots, history would be made. After staggering Foley with a few hits, the Undertaker would grab Foley and toss him from the top of the cell sending him crashing hard into the announce table. A spot that was planned by Foley in advance against the reluctance of Vince McMahon who would eventually agree to the spot. Foley would suffer from a separated shoulder from the fall but as you can see in the video above continued the match that would feature another memorable spot where Undertaker would toss Foley through the cell roof and sending him straight down onto the solid wrestling mat which resulted in Foley getting his tooth knocked out and through his nose from a chair that fell through as well and landed on Foley's face.
This spot would be replayed years later and continues to be the most famous spot in all of wrestling and would skyrocket Foley into the main event picture and into this year's WWE Hall of Fame class.
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Perhaps the most infamous and controversial moment in wrestling history happened on November 8th, 1997 at Survivor Series which featured a WWF Championship match between Bret Hart and hated rival Shawn Michaels. Leading up to the match, Bret Hart was growing increasingly frustrated at the direction the company was going and mainly at Michaels' backstage antics. When he informed Vince McMahon that he was planning to accept an offer from WCW and would drop the title to HBK the next night on Raw to prevent him losing it in his home country of Canada where he was viewed as a hero and role model. After several attempts of convincing Hart to stick with the original plan, McMahon, Michaels, and Triple H would secretly meet to discuss the finish at which at the suggestion of Triple H, McMahon would preemptively order the ref to end the match while Hart was trapped in his own finishing move and would award HBK the victory and the WWF Title, all without Hart's knowledge. After the match, Hart would visibly lash out at McMahon and even spit in his face. Following the event
Hart and McMahon would get involved in a heated exchange backstage that resulted in Hart punching McMahon in the face and blacking his eye. This event would cause a long period of hate and bitterness between Hart and McMahon. A rivalry that would last until 2006 when Vince McMahon invited Hart to be inducted into the Hall of Fame an offer to which Hart accepted. A few years later, Hart and HBK would reconcile their differences live on Monday Night Raw with a heart warming handshake and hug.
At the risk of putting all my readers to sleep I'll reach the conclusion to this installment of the series and the conclusion to this amazing era.
The world of professional wrestling had never before seen a level of popularity and mainstream fanfare that the Attitude Era and Monday Night Wars provided. Until this era, it was only the Golden Era that saw the industry reach mainstream popularity, but the Attitude Era made it a way of life. Never before has there been millions upon millions of people and children donning the shirts of their favorite superstars ranging from Steve Austin, Sting, NWO, The Rock, DX, and Goldberg. It was the only era that featured so many diverse and unique wrestling styles and storylines that will endure forever. Looking back at this momentous era as I yearn to relive the greatness of it, I think how truly blessed I and so many of my generation of wrestling fans were during this time. It almost brings a tear to my eye when I fondly look back at all the amazing moments and superstars. I think it's safe to say that the industry will never ever achieve that amount of greatness and popularity again, but it shall forever live on in my generations hearts, minds, and Youtube channels. This truly was a wrestling renaissance and will serve as the last great wrestling era the world will ever see.
So now having covered the rise and peak of mainstream wrestling, I will begin to cover the slide down the slippery slope of decline and the eventual death (in my opinion) of the industry as a whole. In my next article I'll be covering the final moderately entertaining era of professional wrestling. Until then Hulkamaniacs, good fight, good night.