The WWF Attitude Era was certainly one of the most risque, edgy eras in WWE history. Prior to this, in the early 1990s, Vince McMahon presented the Next Generation Era, which was a spin-off of the Golden Era of Hulkamania, but with a new wave of superstars.
As names such as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, and the “Macho Man” Randy Savage were some of the biggest WWE names in the 1980s, most of these wrestlers were reaching the conclusions of their careers. As a result, Vince McMahon had to establish a new batch of stars at the start of the 1990s.
Names such as Bret Hart, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker were among the names who were the most popular babyfaces and heels during the New Generation Era.
However, as this time, WWF was oversaturated with gimmicky characters, such as the Bastion Booger, Damien Demento, Kwang, Giant Gonzalez, Nailz, and Papa Shango. While this era did help develop WWE Hall of Fame careers of Hart, Razor, HBK, and Yokozuna, WWF was approached with same stiff competition during the advent of WCW Monday Nitro.
In September 1995, WCW presented the debuting Monday Nitro weekly television program to compete head-to-head against WWF’s Monday Night Raw. Nitro was not as revolved so much around gimmicky characters, and the mastermind of the programming, Eric Bischoff, decided to have more of an edgy feel. As a result, Vince had to adjust the way that Raw looked, also presenting edgier content. This was shown primarily with the advent of D-Generation X and the feud between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vince McMahon.
This move ended of being beneficial for WWF. Although Raw was unable to win the ratings war for 83 consecutive weeks, WWF was able to bounce back, ultimately winning the Monday Night Wars which lasted from 1995 to WCW’s closure in 2001. Due to the allure of the Attitude Era, WWE was able to once again create a new wave of stars to lead the company into greater heights. Although the Attitude Era ended shortly after WCW’s demise, there were many memorable names who were remembered from the timeline.
Here are 15 memorable names from the Attitude Era.
Steve Austin, who came to the WWF with experience in USWA and WCW, became the most popular name out of the Attitude Era due to his feud with Vince McMahon. Although he started of in the WWE as The Ringmaster, Austin quickly saw that this gimmick was not working, and turned into a no-nonsense, beer-swindling brawler who became the anti-establishment hero to the fans.
Although Shawn Michaels became popular during the Next Generation Era, his contribution to the Attitude Era among the most important in the eventual success of the WWE during the Monday Night Wars.
In 1997, Michaels started the D-Generation X faction, along with Triple H, Rick Rude, and Chyna. HBK left WWE for four years from 1998 to 2002 to recover from a back injury that occurred during a match, but DX ended up boosting the careers of Triple H, Road Dogg, Billy Gunn, and X-Pac, as these names became inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2019 along with Chyna.
Also coming from WCW, Triple H debuted in WWE as Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Starting off as a pompous aristocrat, Helmsley became more popular as his character evolved into Triple H. Along with being a co-founder of DX, his rise to the main event stemmed from his angle with Test, which ended up causing him to steal Test’s girlfriend, Stephanie McMahon.
This drew the ire of Stephanie’s father, Vince, who defended his daughter. However, Triple H took a passed-out Stephanie to a wedding drive-in, marrying her without her knowledge. In the end, Stephanie would eventually turn on her father, thus commencing the McMahon-Helmsley era and the early stages of Triple as a main-eventer.
Another WCW defect, Chris Jericho came to WWE in August of 1999 with experience from also working in Japan, Mexico, as well as ECW. For several weeks, WWE started to present “Countdown to the Millennium” vignettes, with a screen counting down to a mysterious ending.
All of a sudden, while The Rock was cutting a promo on the August 9 episode of Raw, the countdown ended. Then, mystery was solved: Chris Jericho debuts, and his career in the WWE begins. During the Attitude Era, Jericho became one of the most popular names in the company, and even unofficially became WWE Champion on the April 17, 2000 episode of Monday Night Raw.
Known as the 9th Wonder of the World, Chyna was another founding member of DX, and became arguably the most dominant woman in WWE history. Not only did she act as a bodyguard of DX, but she also became the first woman to enter the Royal Rumble in 1999, as well as becoming the first and only woman to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
In 2019, she entered the WWE Hall of Fame with the DX faction.
Third-generation superstar Dwayne Johnson, debuting in 1996 as Rocky Maivia, came into the company as a blue-chipper, and even won the Intercontinental Championship just six months after his debut. While he was receiving a push as a babyface, his bland character became received by immense jeers, with even fans chanting “Rocky sucks” and “die Rocky die.” This led to Rocky Maivia leaving for a short period of time to recover from injury, and returning to turn heel and join the Nation of Domination.
His heel run led to joining forces with Vince McMahon and winning the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1998, and being the leader of The Corporation stable. Although he started to reach much popularity as a heel, his charisma led him to eventually become a babyface, and a stable fan favorite in the later part of the Attitude Era.
The Big Show
Yet another WCW defect, The Big Show debuted in WWE at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre pay-per-view on February 14, 1999, assisting Vince McMahon in his steel cage match against Steve Austin.
Shortly after, at WrestleMania, the alliance between Big Show and Vince McMahon ended, following Big Show being unable to defeat Mankind to become special referee in the main event. During the Attitude Era, Big Show had several flip-flops from heel to babyface. He was able to win the WWE Championship at the 1999 Survivor Series PPV, though.
Coming into WWE with several years of experience in the ring from WCW, ECW, CWA, and WCCW, as well as Germany and Japan, Mick Foley ditched his hardcore Cactus Jack character in exchange for a deranged Mankind character. He made a quick impression by commencing a feud against The Undertaker, which led to a Boiler Room Brawl and eventually the notorious Hell in a Cell match at King of the Ring.
Foley was instrumental in the turn of the Monday Night Wars when he won the WWE Championship as a babyface against The Rock, which Tony Schiavone tried to spoil the results by telling everyone who was watching Nitro. However, this backlashed, as around 600,000 people turned the channel to Raw.
Edge & Christian
Edge made his WWE debut in 1998, coming from the crowds portraying an unstable character. Christian debuted during Edge’s match against Owen Hart at In Your House: Breakdown. Edge and Christian feuded, but eventually banded together to join The Brood faction with Gangrel.
Once The Brood dissolved, Edge & Christian remained a tag team and became one of the most successful teams in the WWE before splitting up and having their own successful world championship singles careers.
The Hardy Boyz
Along with Edge & Christian, The Dudley Boyz, and Too Cool, Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy was also one of the most successful tag teams in the Attitude Era, participating in legendary ladder matches against The Dudleyz and Edge & Christian at WrestleMania 2000 and WrestleMania 17.
Similar to Edge & Christian, Matt & Jeff Hardy also split into successful singles careers. However, The Hardy Boyz would have occasional reunions, winning the tag team championship multiple times.
In 1999, Kurt Angle made his WWE debut. Angle made one of the fastest rises in WWE history, becoming WWE Champion just a year after debuting at the No Mercy pay-per-view. Angle participated in several high quality matches during the Attitude Era, feuding against names such as The Rock, Chris Jericho, and Chris Benoit.
His Olympic gold medal wrestling career was certainly beneficial to Angle’s “it factor” and quick success in the company.
Lita came into the WWE after being a part of the ECW brand. She started off as a manager of Essa Rios in 2000. Shortly after, Lita started to manage The Hardyz, as they called themselves Team Extreme.
Lita was also a staple competitor in the women’s division, winning her first Women’s Championship the same year of her debut after defeating Stephanie McMahon.
Personally, Lita is my all-time favorite female competitor in WWE.
Test is arguably one of the most underrated wrestlers in WWE history. Test had an instrumental role in the beginning of the McMahon-Helmsley Era, and was a very agile competitor for his size.
While he was never booked to win a World Heavyweight Championship, he was both a member of The Corporation, as well as an adversary of the group. Test had a notable feud with Shane McMahon, which led to a match at SummerSlam 1999. Test won this match, which allowed he and Stephanie to see each other. Eventually, Stephanie would turn on Test and willfully align with Triple H.
Coming with experience from Smokey Mountain Wrestling, Kane debuted in 1997 during the Hell in a Cell match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, costing Undertaker.
Before debuting as Kane, Glenn Jacobs had two unsuccessful gimmicks in WWE, which were Isaac Yankem, DDS, and the fake Diesel. This time, however, the intimidation of Kane was instrumental in his character working, as compared to his previous characters.
Less than a year after debuting, Kane won the WWE Championship in a First Blood match against Steve Austin. He lost it the next night against Austin.
Rikishi had several gimmicks in the World Wrestling Federation before this character debuted in 1999. His popularity rose when he started teaming with Too Cool, entertaining the fans by dancing after the conclusion of their matches.
Pro wrestling is certainly a business where someone has to go through years of ebbs and flows before reaching something than sticks, and similar to Kane, Rikisha finally found something as a singles competitor that worked. On a June episode of SmackDown, Rikishi won his first and only Intercontinental Championship, defeating Chris Benoit.