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WRESTLING COLUMNS

The Real Birth Of The "Attitude" Era
August 17, 2005 by Michael Vanes


I'm going to start this article with an old OWW chestnut; this is my first article, and my first attempt to write an article on anything in particular in many, many years, so please excuse my rustiness in writing. I would appreciate any CONSTRUCTIVE criticism, and I would also appreciate flowing praise!

The years 1995 and 1996 really were the then WWF's dark ages. Business was down, 'Big Daddy Cool' Diesel spent the majority of this time as one of the least successful champions the WWF had ever seen, Mabel was a number one contender, midget wrestling was standard procedure and, shudder, Todd Pettingill had a job.

Ironically however, during these dark days, two of the promotion's (and wrestling as a whole) all time greats were at the peak of their powers. I am, of course, referring to Bret 'The Hitman' Hart, the Excellence of Execution, and 'The Heartbreak Kid' Shawn Michaels, the Showstopper. Both these men were worthy and memorable WWF champions who participated in many excellent matches (which is really more than can be said for 'Big Sexy'). Their views on the way wrestling should move forward, however, differed greatly; Shawn Michaels was one of the first superstars to embrace the edgier attitude the WWF was beginning to adopt, whilst 'The Hitman' (who took his status as a role model very seriously) was vehemently against it. In retrospect, their future, and the future of the company, seemed intertwined.

By 1997, Hart and Michaels were in an unusual position; both were technically heels, but in a very untraditional sense. HBK was the leader of the original D-Generation X. This group of reprehensible, anti-establishment individuals consisted of a young Triple H, Chyna, and briefly 'Ravishing' Rick Rude. This merry band of reprobates were heels in every sense of the word, yet were getting huge pops from the crowds; highly unusual, especially from a company that had always had clearly defined 'goodies' and 'baddies'. Stranger still was the heel status of Bret Hart, who by this time was the leader of his own gang, The Hart Foundation. The Foundation included 'The Hitman''s brother, Owen, brothers-in-law 'The British Bulldog' Davey Boy Smith and Jim 'The Anvil' Neidhart, and Brian Pillman. This group of rogues were mega over as heels in the US, thanks to their anti-American stance. However, virtually everywhere else in the world (we still loved the Hart Foundation here in the UK!), and especially in Hart's native Canada, his status as a hero soared; US fans at the time would not agree, but Hart had never been cooler than he was at this time.

Hart and Michaels, who had always been polar opposite characters both in and out of the ring, were entrenched in a rivalry that would set the standard for the 'attitude era', and take wrestling away from 'the cartoon era' (or the 'rock 'n' wrestling era', whatever floats your boat). We saw what these guys got up to backstage, in the locker rooms. Emphasis was placed on promos and skits, and the build up to what would be their final match at Survivor Series 1997 was treated with as much as importance as the match itself. This rivalry was more soap opera than wrestling, something that would become commonplace over the next few years.

I'm not going to go into detail on the 'Montreal Screwjob' (or the 'Montreal Incident' as wwe.com laughably puts it); it's been done to death. Instead I put to you that the match itself, the build-up, and indeed the oft discussed finish was the real dawn of the WWE's 'attitude' era (sitdown and shaddap 'Stone Cold' fans!). It was a championship match with more to it than champion vs. number one contender, it was dramatic even before the bell rang, about something more than just the title, which is more than can be said for King Kong Bundy vs. Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker vs. Psycho Sid, Yokozuna vs. Lex Luger or Diesel vs. Mabel. The ending too, was significant, and not just for the obvious reasons. How many times over the last few years have we seen 'controversial' finishes to matches" 'Stone Cold' aligning with Vince McMahon vs. The Rock at WrestleMania X7, the now standard run-ins, and of course the 'ironic' ending to The Rock vs. Mankind at the 1998 Survivor Series are just a few examples of how the 'Montreal Screwjob' changed everything. Before that match, the most controversial ending to a match would be a DQ or, hold your breath, a count-out. It also gave us the heel that defined the 'attitude' era, Mr. McMahon, who took the transition from corny commentator to spawn of Satan like a duck to water; I think Vince had been waiting his whole life for a chance to get himself in the squared circle, and didn't he do it brilliantly!

The 'attitude' era was born on November 9th 1997; it was a day that changed wrestling forever, and not just because "Vince screwed Bret" or "Bret screwed Bret". It was a match that has been a prototype for every main event that would follow, giving us drama as well as wrestling, controversy in the ring as well as out; it blurred the distinction between real life and kayfabe, most recently played upon with the whole Matt Hardy/Edge/Lita scandal. In short the whole sorry 'Montreal Screwjob' affair was an atypical wrestling match we have become used to seeing since the whole 'attitude' era blew up, but was not commonplace back in 1997. In short, it was bad for poor old Bret, and in retrospect, excellent for wrestling fans and the WWF/WWE. It was Vince McMahon's masterstroke!

by Michael Vanes ..


Jackieellisworld wrote:
In all fairness, Diesel never was booked right. He fighting Sid, Mabel,etc. When he fought Bret and HBK, he was having good matches.

How was this good for wrestling fans" The attitude era change the business for the worse. It destroy WCW because WCW had to change itself into a "ATTITUDE" company when WCW was "ALWAYS" the best workrate promotion. It also destroy ECW because WWF took their ideas and style. Now we stuck with only one major wrestling company until October(THANK TNA and WWWA). The attitude era killed KAYFABE and now faces beating heels is not as important anymore.

Have you notice that ever since the Attitude era, we don't see international talent on American tv no more" That's because WWE and Vince feel like these guys don't have the right gimmicks. One thing WCW and ECW always did better than the WWF was using international wrestlers.
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