Finding myself something new to distract myself with, I decided to turn to the fabled WWF Attitude Era as I, like most others, remember it fondly as the pinnacle of professional wrestling.
While it doesn't take much effort to stumble on a Smark's hot takes on the Attitude Era, this is not going to be that. I'm simply just going to relive it, Raw by Raw, show by show, and anything else in-between.
The Attitude Era put professional wrestling in the national mainstream spotlight, but how does it hold up 20 years later in 2017? I'm going, painstakingly at times, roll through it all for as long as I can.
Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mr. McMahon, The Rock, the Undertaker, Mick Foley and on, and on and on were some of the names to burst to stardom during this era. I'm going to start with the Monday Night Raw the night after the infamous Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997.
For those who don't know about The Montreal Screwjob, just watch the below video and come back to me. But short story, Bret Hart was about to real-life leave WWF for WCW, he was still the champion and was scheduled to face Shawn Michaels at 1997's Survivor Series. Vince McMahon, then mostly known as an innocent on-screen announcer, legitimately had the referee ring the bell while Michaels put Bret in his own finisher the Sharpsharter. Bret didn't tap, he looked furious and then all hell broke out.
Well, all right. Let's get into this, as the Monday Night Raw after the above events was one of the most tense shows of all time. Nov. 10, 1997 from Ottawa, Ontario.
Shawn Michaels opens the show with a dripping with grease heel promo. You can tell everyone in the ring can just taste the tension as Rick Rude awkwardly walks out by himself after the ring announcer announced Shawn Michaels.
This is special television, the crowd, wrestlers and everyone in Ottawa that night could cut the damn uncertain anxiety with their pinky fingers.
Michaels comes out hard and cements himself as this putrid character who literally has zero fucks to give. It's an odd sight to look back on even now, because this character was built on this boyhood dream and HBK being the most gifted performer in the industry. Not only is he hated on his own, but HBK's heel turn has gone the extra mile with HHH and Chyna attached at his hip.
In an odd sight, Ken Shamrock comes out to confront the group. This was a pretty painful promo as Michaels went right for the World's Most Dangerous Man jugular as he says something along the lines of "try and put a sentence together."
Man, Ken was an interesting talent in the ring but he was rough on the mic. But, all in all, this was an important segment to rewatch. WWF had to take the Michaels is the most hated guy in our company ball and run, and boy oh boy did they run with it. A little foreshadowing, but everything being done to make Michaels this cowardly heel is looking to the future and the mega push of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Also, holy shit.
I forgot how annoying watching this shows in full was. The change from Raw to War Zone (the 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. segments of the show) was a literal show restart. Pyro would go off after another show introduction, an hour into the show, and all of a sudden Jerry Lawler replaces Jim Cornette at the announce table.
Weird stuff. The show literally promos into another show halfway through, I must have blocked that out from my memory. Also, my god go watch the commercials. Mosh and Thrasher smashing Legion of Doom action figures, Jerry Lawler and Sunny doing a karate action figure tournament, man this is awesome.
A thing this show had going for it was Kane and Paul Bearer interrupting the Undertaker's match as their first feud starts to spark. We're at the part where Undertaker is playing the role of "I won't fight my flesh and blood."
Some other notes about this show are the inaugural Light Heavyweight Championship tournament with Sunny as ring announcer (why), The Rock introducing himself as The Rock for the first time while also simultaneously kicking off his first feud with Stone Cold, and the fact that the goddamn show ended in the middle of the HHH/Shamrock main event.
Seriously, I had to watch the next week's episode to see how the current week's ended. I feel like that's an automatic minus-8 points. The show ends without a pinfall and we never get the promised Bret Hart situation response from WWF.
With that segue, let's move on to the next week's Raw. One of the best goddamn and most recognizable interviews in industry history with Vince and J.R.'s "Bret Screwed Bret" intense moment.
We're still in Canada, and the Canadians still "(we) want Bret." Sorry, Canada ... here's Ken Shamrock instead. Shawn Michaels is still at least laying on the Bret Hart stuff, though.
The show from Cornwall, Ontario opens with Stone Cold, the IC Champ, who is quickly interrupted by Rocky Mavia and the Nation of Domination. The group distracts Stone Cold so Rock can steal and run off with his championship.
Rocky is still obviously figuring out his character, but the sight of Austin hitting is stride is a goddamn thing of beauty. After watching Rock steal his belt, he flips off the camera, and then runs over to J.R., rips off his cowboy hat, steals his headset and promises an intense revenge. While the storylines are either heaping shit rocks or non-existent, watching these superstars start to bud makes it all worth it.
After some other non notable stuff, DX beats up WWF Commissioner Sgt. Slaughter with HHH attacking him with a briefcase after degrading Sarge and Ms. Sarge.
We then go to some match just so Jeff Jarrett can talk on the phone with the announcers during a Scott Taylor (Scotty 2 Hotty) match in the Light Heavyweight tourney. Double J, at least, reveals that he will re-re-redebut on the next week's Raw.
OMG. HERE WE GO ON THE ATTITUDE ABOUT TO COME OFF.
Marc Mero comes out to confront Butterbean (!!!!!!), who is in the "biggest set of Zubaz" Jim Cornette has ever seen. Mero is talking crap as Sable watches, Butterbean jumps the fence and they push each other.
Goddamn those Zubaz.
We get to the more intense portions of the "Why Bret Why?" interview with Vince, and finish with Goldust/Vader stuff, Sgt. Slaughter making a match with HHH at the next PPV, and Rocky vs. Dude Love. Also, more Stone Cold and Rocky scrambling over the stolen championship belt.
The interview between J.R. and Vince is fascinating not only in the context and subject matter, but watching the Mr. McMahon character start to form (intentional or not).
These are extrememly entertaining shows through and through, just not a lot of in-ring action at all.
Basically just repeat everything I just wrote about up until the pay-per-view, D-Generation X: In Your House. The main events were Shawn Michaels vs. a very green Ken Shamrock (not green in the Irish way), and Sgt. Slaughter vs. HHH.
I can not believe I rewatched this entire show. Fuck me, from start to finish this was the quintessential of worst-case scenario 1997 WWF. Also, just soak in all the insane fan signs if you find yourself watching anything from this era on the WWE Network.
I'm just going to break the show down by the card, from start to finish:
Taka Michinoku def. Brian Christopher for vacant Light Heavyweight Championship:
Vince McMahon's ill-fated answer to WCW's cruiserweight division should exactly why the WWE (still) doesn't know how to do with entertaining performers who don't have a connection with the crowd. When Taka and Grand Master Sexay are going at it in the ring, I'm all about this 12-plus minute opener.
When we're focusing on Christopher being the product of Jerry the King Lawler's sperm, I start to fall asleep. Taka is one hell of a worker who deserved more than what he got, but this was a fun match to kick the show off. In retrospect, the next night on Raw Lawler and Christopher trick Taka and beat the ever-loving shit out of him. They do a combo spike piledriver, then each individually piledrives the young superstar. I already take back everything I said two sentences ago.
Los. Boricuas (w/ Savio Vega) def. The Disciples of Apocalypse:
Don't make me say anything about this match. I watched it so you don't have too. I mean, seriously, Savio Vega isn't even in this one.
Butter(fucking)bean def. Marc Mero (w/ Sable) in a "Toughman Match:"
God damn it, this is so late 90s. Mero had been egging Butterbean on for months, and it only kept going with this convoluted 10 minutes of action in the "Toughman Match." So far, this isn't very fun and I'm regretting every choice that led me to this point.
Mero shows his boxing skills as he tries to hang with the knockout artist of the 1990s in Butterbean. It's a decent of a enough sideshow and it served as the moment where Mero really, really turns into a piece of shit with this "storyline."
WWF Tag Team Championship New Age Outlaws (c) def. The Legion of Doom by DQ:
On paper, hey all right. In reality, holy shit Hawk was somehow a worst seller in the late 90s than he was in his prime. I'm just bummed that Road Dogg and Billy Gunn didn't wear their South Park-themed shirts like they would the next night on Monday Night Raw from Portland, Maine.
It ends in DQ, the next night Kane murders Hawk and the Outlaws come in and stomp him some more. The New Age Outlaws were really coming together, they dominated the weekly show and they were physical as all hell.
Watching this match now in 2017 just makes me think Billy Gunn and Dolph Ziggler are related somehow. Maybe Ziggler was a little Smoking Gunn. Billy Gunn absolutely flies around the ring as he and Road Dogg start to turn into a heel team for the ages with brutal, dirty physicality.
HHH (w/ Chyna) def. Sgt. Slaughter in Boot Camp match:
My goodness this match went on for eons. This feud had been going on since HHH ditched the unter earst elmsley from his official ring name, and it ends with a brutal Pedigree on a chair. Nice to see Sarge in there for nostalgia reasons, but HHH in his prime should be going at it for 17:39 with someone of equal or lesser value and not an aging "commissioner."
I hated this feud as a kid, and I still hate it as a bigger kid. A confrontation between authority figure and wrestler doesn't always have to end with the two duking it out in the ring. Sarge should have never been viewed as a threat to HHH and thankfully this didn't slow anything down for him, because at this point his character was already cemented as one of the most hated heels on the roster.
Jeff Jarrett def. The Undertaker by DQ:
We're just building the first Undertaker-Kane match. Nothing to see here by Double J in another 1990s identity crisis. A fun thing to note about this was that the next night JJ would beat Vader by countout. So, not a bad little gimmick to walk around bragging about beating Taker-Vader on back-to-back nights.
WWF Intercontinental Championship Stone Cold Steve Austin (c) def. The Rock (w/ D'Lo Brown, Faarooq and Kama Mustafa):
Stone Cold drives his truck to the ring, beats the hell out of a bunch of people, accidentally gives the Ref a Stunner, gives one to the Rock and pins him. Weird shit. We're pretty much just buying time until the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania and hysteria of Austin-McMahon. This is just a little time-filler for this feud, and both the Rock and Austin.
Rocky was on the brink of getting away from the Nation of Domination and Austin was on the brink of being the top guy in the entire industry.
This was fun, but there are brighter items coming in Vol. 2.
WWF Championship Ken Shamrock def. Shawn Michaels (c) (w/ HHH and Chyna) by DQ:
Wow, this is green Ken Shamrock (and not in the Irish way). Definitely not his best performance, which is a shame due to him getting to fill the top of a 1997 PPV card. The announcers are selling his belly-to-belly as a definite match-ender while molding HBK into this devious heel with terrible friends.
It's OK back and forth stuff for 15 minutes, but Shamrock starts to get much sloppier in the send-home portion of this one. The moment where I lose interest in Shamrock as a viable main eventer comes when his head is rested upon the ropes. HBK walks away, taking the referee with him so HHH can level The World's Most Dangerous Man with a big right hand cheap shot.
HHH puts his all into it and even gets a big smack out of it ... but Shamrock doesn't sell in the least. Hell, he doesn't even flinch. From there, it's belly-to-belly into his self-proclaimed "Toe Lock" (not Ankle Lock yet, I guess) which brings DX into the ring to attack the contender from behind.
Also, god damn it HBK:
It's the show before the Royal Rumble and it was in Springfield, Massachusetts so I am going to take the In Your House show with a major grain of salt. In the month or so after the Montreal Screwjob things could have gone much worse, but thankfully Vince was working with stars like HHH, HBK, Austin, Rock, Kane, Undertaker, Owen Hart, Mick Foley, the New Age Outlaws and so on and so forth.
The segments are wacky, the matches are weird as shit and the endings are straight out of Dusty Rhodes' dream journal, but it could have been worse.
Wow, all right. We will tackle the Royal Rumble and Road to WrestleMania 14 with our next edition of revisiting the famed Attitude Era. It can only get better from here, right?