10 Next-Gen WWE Moments That Led To The Attitude Era
WWE’s Next Generation era has often been derided as a bad time for the company. It was filled with dozens of stupid characters, bad pushers and titleholders and 1995 was one of the worst financial years in WWE history. Still, there were some good things there, various talents went on to bigger business down the road, leading up to Attitude Era kicking off in late 1997.
Yet, the seeds of the Attitude Era were deposited in the New Generation Era in various ways. There was an early blurring of certain lines between what was real and what was kayfabe, as well as a few bits that were shocking for the time but would become regular material later on. The Attitude era didn’t come out of nowhere, it needed some seeds planted from the next-gen era to work, because those moments were essential for the Attitude era to work as well as it did. did.
ten The fall of classic babyfaces
It took a while, but one thing about the next-gen era was that the classic babyface champion presentation didn’t work.
First, the attempt to turn Lex Luger into a hero with the Lex Express failed because fans didn’t respond to him as the new Hogan. Diesel became a badass bragging about his greatness, but by making him a guy in a suit talking about being a model, he ruined his reign. Likewise, Shawn Michaels overcame his cocky attitude, but his first title run was ruined by making him too good of a guy.
He finally figured out that fans were no longer reacting to the traditional babyface, which played a big part in the Attitude Era Champions.
9 Jake Roberts vs. Jerry Lawler
In 1996, wrestlers tried to separate their real lives from the script, and WWE almost never lifted the curtain on the truth. That changed with the return of Jake Roberts to the business and his candor about his past addictions.
This led to a feud with Jerry Lawler mocking Roberts for his drinking, which even included pouring real alcohol down Jake’s throat, something Jake didn’t expect. Although it crossed a line, the feud was one of the first times WWE recognized a wrestler’s real issues and worked them into a storyline. This would repeat itself in various ways in the Attitude Era, with Jake setting a new tone for his struggles.
8 Bret’s head
While he’s had some good feuds in WWE, Bret Hart has also had some tough ones. He and Hakushi had decent matches, but the feud was thrown into a loop by Jerry Lawler’s accusations that Bret was prejudiced against the Japanese.
Then Hakushi threw a wrinkle in things by holding up a fake severed head of Bret (complete with sunglasses) as a warning. It was far more shocking than the usual menacing promotions with uncomfortable implications. Yet, it also showed things changing by presenting a feud as a really nasty rivalry.
seven Humanity vs. Undertaker Buried Alive
While the Undertaker had always been sinister, there was always a “family” aspect to his dark side. That changed with his brutal feud with Mankind which included a Boiler Room Brawl and Paul Bearer turning on Undertaker.
Their Buried Alive match was a crazy twist because coffins are one thing, but burying a guy in a grave was another. The final shot of the Undertaker’s hand clinging to dirt like a horror movie was shocking and showed a darker side to WWE that the Attitude Era would develop.
6 Vader crushing the gorilla
For years, it was unwritten law in WWE that the “president” of the company was banned. Such was the case for Gorilla Monsoon when he succeeded Jack Tunney as on-air president in 1995. But in early 1996, after Vader ran over a jobber, Monsoon suspended him.
Vader attacked with Gorilla hitting some chops, but Vader then crushed him with a Vader Bomb. It was an excuse for Vader to take time off for surgery, but it was also amazing to see the on-air authority figure presented like that. Which was an idea the Attitude Era would perfect well over time.
5 Pillman’s pistol
Admittedly, it was a moment that almost got WWE thrown off television. However, in terms of blurring the lines between fact and fiction, few have made it work like Brian Pillman. Already handling his “Loose Cannon” act, Pillman was attacked by Steve Austin to excuse his leg injuries.
Austin then tracked down Pillman to his home where Pillman brandished a gun to restrain him. Cameras showed Austin bursting in, then cut to black as a gunshot went off. It may have crossed some serious lines, but presenting the heat between them as something so real was an idea that WWE would use a lot in the next few years.
4 Working with ECW
Desperation can often bring genius. Such was the case when WWE contacted the more renegade ECW for a few appearances. The first had Tommy Dreamer and Sandman featured as “crashing” a WWE show and mentioning that “outlaw” promotion.
Later, a full RAW in New York swarmed ECW stars for memorable appearances. It would help spark WWE while proving that their fans would react to more brutal action from the ECW guys. It also showed that a WWE audience would react to ECW’s hardcore antics and set the tone for the wilder stuff to come in the Attitude Era.
Looking back, Goldust aired in 1995, it’s amazing. Somehow Dustin Rhodes was brilliant at making this weird character work with some really shocking things to see at the time. It was a weird act with its cinematic references and demeanor, not above giving “mouth of mouth” on Ahmed Johnson from other weird angles.
Still, it led to success as Intercontinental champion and the addition of Marlena further sparked the act. Goldust set the tone for other outrageous Attitude-era figures that broke WWE from its family roots.
2 The curtain call
One moment was enough to change the course of WWE and all of wrestling, forever. If, on that fateful night in Madison Square Garden, Shawn Michaels beat Diesel in a cage match and just left him there, so many things would be different. Instead, the Kliq came in for a hug in farewell to the departures of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.
This kayfabe breakout meant that Triple H was responsible for losing his spot as King of the Ring to Steve Austin. However, it also blurred the lines with the internet talking about it and the changes it brought about shook things up for a long time.
1 Austin 3:16
While most point to Austin 3:16 as the start of the Attitude era, it wasn’t as significant at the time as most think. Austin was still in the middle of the card for a while before bursting out, but his speech after winning King of the Ring changed from typical heel bragging to something more.
Austin was now a “cool heel”, someone fans could applaud for his attitude even as he beat the guys up. This trash talk caught the eye as Austin could click beautifully with the popularity that finally took off in time for the Attitude Era and brought him and WWE incredible success.
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