Top 10 Wrestlers of the Attitude Era (late 1990s/early 2000s)

There was never a better time to be a pro wrestling fan than during the period from 1996-2002, when WWF was in the midst of its legendary Attitude Era. This era of wrestling made it in number 4 of the best things of the 1990s and still to this day I can go back and watch any episode, segment, or match from the Attitude Era and remind myself why I am a wrestling fan. Though I do have a very soft spot for the New Generation Era, it was important for the company to change from the family-friendly image to keep up with the times. TV ratings were at an all-time high, it was cool to be a fan and you could find a good wrestling product on TV just about any time you wanted to.  Sit through one three-hour episode of Monday Night Raw, and you’ll be longing for the old days, even if you weren’t a wrestling fan in the old days. This era captures everything that I truly miss about wrestling; proper storytelling, amazing in-ring work, varied match stipulations, and outrageous character that definitely felt bigger than life.  Outlandish things were happening, but there was always a reason behind them, and the stories were most often very interesting.  These are not just story lines, these were epic sagas that was happening in wrestling and never again did we ever felt the same with the media again. If that’s not enough, the matches in this era took risks. In the Attitude Era, WWE climbed back to the top of the wrestling world by taking chances.  People got hit with chairs, set on fire, thrown off the top of gigantic structures and run over by cars on a weekly basis. All of these things kept my interest and mixed that up with a good story, you’re presented with the most awesome moments in life! Sure, The Attitude Era ripped off Extreme Championship Wrestling’s hardcore wrestling phenomenon, but for the fact that this single era brought the highest ratings that the WWE has ever had should tell you about the success and reception it deserved. And who do we have to thank for all that was given to us in the Attitude Era? None other than Vince McMahon. Sure, the man has done some of the most questionable decisions in the business, but starting this trend in wrestling was the best thing he’s ever done for the company and wrestling itself. This was an era of wrestling that was so innovative, captivating, and so entertaining, that it’s always worth coming back to. Wrestling fans to this day are still waiting for another era like this but unfortunately since WWE went back to the times of PG, not giving two shits about telling good stories, and over enthuses on pointless in-ring work more-so than anything else. As a result of seeing wrestling getting worse and worse, it makes going back to the Attitude Era a lot better than we remembered. And these are the ten wrestlers that are responsible for making the Attitude Era so great!

Number 10.  –  Ken Shamrock

UFC legend Ken Shamrock came to the WWE in 1997, debuting on Monday Night Raw in February of that year to referee a submission match between Steve Austin and Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13. Afterward, he began to wrestle full-time, engaged in various feuds, won the 1998 King of the Ring tournament and captured the Intercontinental and World Tag Team Championships. It’s not just his accomplishments that made him in the list, it was his ruthless attitude that’s aways entertaining to watch whenever he snaps and goes berserk. There really no wilder character than “The Most Dangerous Man in the World.” I really dug the Ken Shamrock character because he was the wildest babyface of all time! With a character like that, you would of’ve think that he gone far in his wrestling career. Unfortunately, that was not the case because the bookers didn’t really give him a whole lot of TV time, he was shoved in too many mid-card feuds, and we never really had an Austin vs. Ken Shamrock match, that would have been a chaotic fight!  After he left the WWE in 1999, Shamrock returned to MMA and UFC. He also made appearances in Ring of Honor, TNA and Juggalo Championship Wrestling. Today, he still has the occasional fight, with his last bout being in 2010. Would Ken Shamrock been a big wrestling star? He would have because nobody had the temper like he did and whenever he snaps, get ready for the ride of your life!

Number 9.  –  The Dudley Boys

 This the best Tag Team of this era. This is the only Tag Team that won the WWF Tag Team Championship, World Tag Team Championship, WCW Tag Team Championship, ECW Tag Team Championship, and TNA Tag Team Championship. The two “brothers” from Dudleyville are the most decorated tag team within recent years, having won 23 tag team championships within every organization they’ve been in. Anything that you want to see in Hardcore wrestling in the Tag Team division, the Dudley Boys always deliver! The Dudleys are the most famous wrestlers to make use of tables during their matches as part of their gimmick and being part of the historic double TLC matches for the WWF Tag Team Titles at SummerSlam 2001 and Wrestlemania X-7 against the Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian. Let’s not forget that they’ve created the created Tag Team finishing maneuver called the Dudley Death Drop (3D) that still can’t be matched. The Dudley Boys are completely impulsive but we love them for being responsible for brining life back to the Tag Team division and no other tag team has lasted long together as these two!

Number 8.  –  The Undertaker

One of the best things of the Attitude era was that they took the dead man gimmick and update him to a much darker and more demonic direction before the gimmick became an outdated Halloween spook. It all made the tables turn when Undertaker faced Shawn Michaels in the first Hell in a Cell at Bad Blood ’97 and his brother Kane debuts and cost him his match. The back story of the Kane character is that Undertaker set his family house on fire as child leaving all of his family members to burn, except that Kane survived and wanted nothing more than revenge. Throughout 1998, Kane and Undertaker had a fierce rivalry together at Wrestlemania 14, having two Hell in a Cell matches, an Inferno match, and so many wars together that went on and off as brothers. It was the second biggest rivalry of the company in 1998 only right behind Austin vs. McMahon. Hell, he even threw Mankind off the Hell in a Cell twice and made history! Of course the darkest part of the Undertaker character was when he began his own faction called the Ministry of Darkness. In 1999, Undertaker was the biggest heel of the WWF and wanted to destroy McMahon and Austin. Part of the reason why I can’t put Undertaker higher on the list is because that Ministry of Darkness storyline went too far by having him to be in a weak Hell in a Cell match with Big Boss Man at Wrestlemania 15 and having Vince McMahon as the higher power of the Ministry of Darkness into the Corporate Ministry was bar-non-stupid. It pushed him into mid card status and became tag team champion with Big Show. And yet the worst part of all is…

…(sigh) his American Badass Biker gimmick. I’m not at all a fan of Biker Undertaker because all of the mystique of a deadly character made tremendous storytelling and as a biker, why keep the name “Undertaker” who buries his victims, not become a member of a Harley Davidson bike gang. It would take four years after this immediate change to bring back the “Dead Man” because I did no like this character trying to compete against Stone Cold Steve Austin’s badass character.

Number 7.  –  Chris Jericho

One of WCW’s most talented stars never made it outside of the mid-card zone, but when Y2J made it to the WWF, the bookers pushed him as far as they could. After Shawn Michaels retire, we never could imagine another wrestler could match up to his stature, but Jericho delivered everything that we’ve waited from WCW. Jericho just had the attitude, charisma, and flying-technical skills that made him one for the millions.  The moment when he made his WWF debut during the millennium countdown was some of the best debuts ever in company. Jericho didn’t disappoint his potential. He kept giving off some of the hardest hitting matches, craziest technicality, and cut the wildest promos. He was a despicable heel (reminiscing to Rowdy Roddy Piper) but was a lovable babyface. He knew how to control people’s emotions and almost every impact he delivers causes a huge reaction. I especially love it when he constantly mocks Stephanie McMahon making it a fierce rivalry between rebel and spoiled brat. Chris Jericho’s rebellious behavior and undying ego got his popularity rising to the top faster than any mid-carder in this era. And to even add more credibility to Chris Jericho’s resume, he was the first ever WWF Undesputed Champion (winning the WWF Championship and WCW World Heavyweight Championship) from The Rock and Austin. I can’t imagine a harder working wrestler than Chris Jericho. He started as the lion heart into Raw is Jericho that ran rampant throughout the years!

Number 6.  –  Kane

Kane, back when he used to have mystique, was some of the most fierce and feared competitors of the whole roster. At one point in time, he really was scarier than the Undertaker reminiscing to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. When Kane wore his mask and hides his burned face, you know something terrible is going to happen. At one point in time (1997-2001) Kane was just an unstoppable monster that had only very little wrestlers could take down. Scariest part is that he’s the brother of the Undertaker (kayfabe). It’s the scariest backstory that any wrestler in the history of wrestling where the two brothers had a rough childhood, and Kane was horribly burnt in a fire. He had to wear a mask and a full bodysuit because of the scars that covered his body. No wrestler in their right mind would want to face him. At Wrestlemania 14 he was the very first opponent that was this close to end the Undertaker’s streak. Hell, he had an undying hatred for Undertaker that they would go far as to burning each other in an Inferno Match. He was the devil’s favorite demon, and capable of annihilating his opponents while showing no sign of remorse… and then they became tag team partners more times than not. Kane, even though he was incredibly mysterious and disturbing, had a lot of memorable moments such as teaming with X-Pac as a tag team and ended up in betrayal, taking Stone Cold’s WWF Championship (for a single day), and so many more. I would love to put Kane higher, but Kane today lost a lot of credibility since he took off his mask and did an awful miscarriage storyline with Lita, Matt Hardy, and Gene Snitsky. It’s because we really miss the mystery of Kane so much that it made going back to attitude era so worth it all.

Number 5.  –  Kurt Angle

It’s not every day that we get an athlete from different sport enter the wrestling world and make it his new profession. After winning a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics — with a broken neck, no less — celebrated amateur wrestler Kurt Angle would find his way to WWE in late 1999. Clad all in red, white and blue, Angle attributed his success to his “Three I’s” (intensity, integrity and intelligence), all the while lambasting members of the WWF who did not live by his example. Remember, this was the era where wrestling is filled with so many tough guys and hardcore wrestlers willing to bash anyone’s heads, and then Kurt Angle came along and made himself an idiotic character who thinks America still wants their hero to be patriotic, standards, and believe in the American dream. He’s one of the most lovable wrestling characters I’ve ever seen in wrestling where it just made himself look gullible and laughable. Angle was frequently responsible for some of the most humorous moments of the era, including his association with Edge & Christian (as a member of “Team ECK”), strumming the ol’ guitar with Austin, getting annoyed when the crowd chants “What?,” and his Texas Rattlesnake–esque milk truck assault on The Alliance in 2001. But as much as you like to laugh at his character, remember we’re dealing with an olympic gold medalist here. Kurt Angle reintroduced the technicality that once was lost in the WWF since they departed their ways from the New Generation Era. Even though Kurt Angle stole the moves from the likes of Ken Shamrock, he delivered physical moves that no other wrestler in the roster was doing; suplexes, german suplex, choke holds, dynamic slams, and so many more that categorize to the technical side of wrestling. Because he was so damn talented it pushed him a lot faster than any other wrestler at the time winning the Intercontinental Championship & European Championship (as EuroContinental Champion), King of the Ring, and even the WWF Championship within just a year since his wrestling debut. Not that many rookie was went as far as Kurt did and he still stands as one of the top stars in the wrestling world. There is no individual that deserved as much as he did and still to this day he put a good name in professional wrestling.

Number 4.  –  D-Generation-X

I simply couldn’t choose just one of these wrestlers in this faction to be in the list so I decided to just place all of the members into one list… except for Shawn Michaels. A lot of people considers D-Generation X as rip-offs of the WCW’s New World World, but what DX has over NWO is the right amount of members that all are stars in their own right. In a matter of fact, each of these members were big stars instead of being overshadowed by rank. Admittedly, this faction started just to save Shawn Michael’s ass from losing since the Kliq were no longer around. But after Shawn Michaels retired after Wrestlemania 14, Triple H was left bringing back X-Pac from WCW and made the New Age Outlaws a big deal. Meanwhile, Chyna became a bigger star instead of just being Hunter’s bodyguard and made history of becoming the first Woman to be Intercontinental Champion. DX ever some of the best parts of watch Monday Night Raw because of their over the top segments and shoots that were perverted, surprising, and extreme. In a matter of fact, let’s take a look at each of the members.

Triple H – No longer was he that stupid Hunter Hearsh Helmsley high clansman character, he was a top notch badass who done a better job as leader than Shawn Michaels ever did. What became a faction for Shawn’s ego turned into an iconic stable of Attitude where he lead and kept the groups strong and united. Being the master genius that he always is, he not only made DX popular in the ring, but also outside of the ring as well! Who can ever forget their trip to New York City, Invading WCW, and shouting “Leeets Get Ready To Suck It!” It’s crazy that he wasn’t just living in the times, the times was living with him. He made this sexual revolution a reality by starting small when Shawn Michaels left into a pop culture phenomenon and there’s a reason why he’s the CEO of the WWE today!

Chyna – The 9th Wonder of the World isn’t just a nickname, it’s a reputation earn by the hardest working woman in the wrestling world. She did what no other woman wrestler accomplished since and after. First woman ever to win Intercontinental Champion twice, enter the Royal Rumble, and wrestle so many men and beating them. She was extremely reminiscent to Xena and once she broke out that persona of just being Triple H’s bodyguard and lover, she became an unstoppable force. Not only that, she made muscular women accepted to the public where she can be jacked-up while looking sexual at the same time. It’s definitely hard for male wrestlers and audiences alike to not focus on the garments that she wore, but it was part of her feminine dominance that ran full force in her wrestling career. It’s funny that she’s still continues the D-Generation X ways today by becoming a pornstar… If you ain’t down with that! We got two words for ya! SUCK IT!!!

X-Pac – If there’s any member of D-Generation X that was not only as loyal, but the spirit of this entity, it has to be X-Pac. This character change was so much better than his 123 Kid gimmick and his Syxx character in the NWO. Even when DX broke up in Wrestlemania 15, he still continues the cross chops and kept the intro music with New Age Outlaws and Kane. Even today, since he hasn’t came back to the WWE roster, he still carries the essence of DX and I never seen anyone that is reluctant to the changes in the wrestling world today like Shawn Waltman. He does more cross chops, shouts “Suck It”, and even X-Factor & Bronco Buster his opponents more than anyone in the faction and without him, DX would have faded away and never have a reunion.

New Age Outlaws – These are are arguably the best tag team in the WWF and are suitable for this team than anyone else in the roster. As stated, D-Generation X made the mid-card a special attraction in the Attitude Era and these guys are responsible for it. Their “oh you didn’t know?” catchphrase popped crowds across the country, and fans chanted along with the pre-match spiel of “Road Dogg” Jesse James each and every night. 

D-Generation-X was the sexual revolution of professional wrestling doing that iconic DX-chop and broken so many rules that television refuses to air.  Even when Triple H disbanded the faction at Wrestlemania 15, X-Pac, Road Dogg, and Billy Gunn continued the DX tradition; keeping fans aware that the faction’s popularity is still alive and well. And we finally got D-Generation-X back when Triple H married Stephanie McMahon and begun the McMahon-Hemsley Era (just without Chyna around). D-Generation-X was the biggest thing in Attitude Era, and it wouldn’t’ the same without them.  They’ve made mid-card and main events special whenever they’re involved in these shows. If you ain’t down with that we got two words for ya! SUCK IT!!!

Number 3.  –  Stone Cold Steve Austin & Vince McMahon 

I just can’t separate these two because they were really made for each other than any other rivalry in wrestling history. These two are responsible for bringing back the WWF from being defeated by WCW in the Monday Night Wars by simply putting the most intense rivalry ever seen in television. Ever since Vince McMahon screwed Bret in the Montreal Screwjob, the whole world knew how big his ego is. It was genius for him to face the consequences and exploit that ego to create controversy. And for an individual that could push that ego into full force was the new face of the WWF, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin did what Bret Hart should have done, and that’s break every rules that McMahon created and Austin not only did that, but he made it extremely personal. Stone Cold is the polar opposite of Vince where he swears, fights dirty, and drinks constantly making Vince lose all of his temper to wage war on Stone Cold since he was incapable of putting him caged up from being so reckless. Austin always foiled Vince’s plans and rarely does Vince reign supreme. They are the most important feud in WWF history because it was everything we hate about our bosses and have Stone Cold to represent the common man who stands up against the higher ranks. These two have so many damn memorable moments that it’s worth going back to watching them grind each other’s gears from 1997 all the way to 2000. Austin’s rebellious behavior is what made the Crash TV movement so popular, not just WWF. And night after night after night Vince would just love to piss off fans and Austin comes back to get even. Sometimes a feud is not just about the matches they have, but the segments and events that they’ve done together. The chemistry between the two is the ultimate measuring stick of what makes a wrestling feud great. Sure you can place Austin as his own spot on the list as the greatest of all time, but all of his other feuds didn’t make him an all time great, his hatred and battles with Vince McMahon did! That’s why they’ both made it in the list together. For two consecutive years these two were recognized as the best rivalry of the professional wrestling world and still to this day we get a chance to see Austin to continue to ruin Vince’s life. People still pay money to see it and it never get old! No other rivalry can ever say the same thing.

Number 2.  –  Mankind

I’m so much of a Mankind fan that I just went crazy for this character. It was genius to make what once an extremely dark character into a gullible hardcore nut that had so much brain damage. Wether if you like Mankind, Dude Love, or Cactus Jack, Mick Foley brought ECW hardcore wrestling style to the New Generation Era that lowly evolved into Attitude. He became a huge attraction of the WWF when he took the hardest bumps and faced the most violent matches. Without him, this Crash TV image that the Attitude Era needed wouldn’t’ get so many audiences tune in and bring out their vicarious behavior. Part of what made Attitude work is that it showed that anyone can be a star and Mankind accomplished that dream. The reason why I put Mankind over all of Mick Foley’s characters is because the Mankind persona was iconic, gullible, and lovable all at once. We all feel sorry for Mankind who had a heart of gold to damage his body but we love him for doing it for our own entertainment. Who can ever forget all the times he knocked people out with Mr. Socko, being the first ever Hardcore Champion, tossed off the Hell in a Cell with Undertaker twice, Rock This is Your Life (highest rated episode of Raw), and taking more high risk moves and crash landed harder than any one else in the ring? He was the happy-go getter of a roster filled with badasses. He was the most different of all the wrestlers, appearing like a human Crash Test Dummy! Sure Austin vs. McMahon got people tuning into the product and Austin started the Attitude Era in King of the Ring 1996, but the night that Mankind won the WWF Championship was when WWF started beating WCW in the ratings! Without that historic episode of Raw is War, who knows how would WWF beat WCW in the Monday Night Wars. And yet, he didn’t even stop the gaining ratings when he did the Rock This Is Your Life segment that still stands as the highest rated episode of Raw history! Not even Stone Cold Steve Austin drew as much money as Foley did! Mankind  is one of the most important figures of the whole WWE product and WCW would probably destroy WWF without his involvement of the company. We sympathized, we laughed, we were in awe, and we amazed with almost everything Mick Foley succeeded and it’s a darn shame people forgot about that. Nobody has ever took as many stunts and bumps as Mankind and for that we honor Foley as God for never giving up after all the beatings that he has received for the WWE!

Number 1.  –  The Rock

There was no doubt in my mind that The Rock had to be number 1 on this list. Sure a lot of fans would have argued that Stone Cold Steve Austin is a better wrestler, but Steve Austin wasn’t the best of his time. There were too many big fishes in the pond and The Rock did a lot more for the Attitude Era as whole than Austin ever did. Austin’s whole purpose was to fight Vince and he went absent in mid 1999 leaving the Rock to carry the company. And The Rock not only had the Attitude era right behind him, but also became the biggest star that the WWE has ever had. The Rock started out as an outdated smiling babyface that was behind the times, became a member of the hated Nation of Domination, became the corporate champion when he won The Survivor Series 1998 tournament, teamed up with Mankind as Rock n’ Sock Connection, and broke free as the greatest single wrestler since Hulk Hogan. You simply can’t argue with all of the iconic aspects of the Rock’s character like him raising his eye brows, raising his right fist in the air as he stand on the mid rope, mocking his opponents, and shouting “If You Smell What The Rock… Is Cookin’!” That is single handedly the best catch phrase in all of wrestling and none after it could even come close. And whenever he cuts promos, he makes it like he’s the resurrection of Muhammad Ali. He’s not all talk, he’s also brutal in the ring. The Rock had some of the best move sets as well like his iconic Rock Bottom and People’s Elbow that still continues to raise people off their seats and yell for Rocky! The way The Rock moves is incredibly where he keeps jumping back to his feet and sometimes when he gives someone a pump, he poses out with reaction.  While a lot of the characters in the Attitude Era look like trash hardcore wrestlers, The Rock dressed with class while still with the crash tv times. Everything that the Rock does is purely entertaining and very little wrestlers out there could ever match up to him. Even though Vince McMahon brought the best out of Stone Cold, The Rock brought the best out of everybody else and still managed to beat many of them. The Rock also has a talent for everything that can keep everyone interested no matter what, that’s why he’s a big Hollywood movie star today. Not only that, but almost everything he does creates as significance to the WWF product. If you disagree, how about the term Smackdown he used a lot that became a word in the webster’s dictionary and a secondary weekly show to compete against WCW’s Thunder? Almost everything that the Rock did is memorable and it’s the reason why he’s so famous around the world. If anything The Rock deserves all the credibility given to him and he deserves nothing more than to be the best wrestler of the attitude era and possibly the best WWE wrestler of all time!

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