In 1995-96, the WWF
was in a tough spot: buyrates were plummeting, crowd
attendance was falling, and many of their biggest stars were leaving for
: Kevin Nash
, Scott Hall
, Lex Luger
, Ted DiBiase
and Sean Waltman
, among many others, defected to WCW
simply left or were fired.
A new group of talent was brought in to try to stop the bleeding--Mick
Foley, Brian Pillman, Goldust, Rocky Maivia, and the, ahem,
Ringmaster, who you better know as Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were finally given their chance to shine,
headlining Wrestlemania XII. The WWF called it The New Generation.
It didn't work.
June 1996: Stone Cold Steve Austin wins the King of the Ring,
coining his Austin 3:16 catchphrase during the coronation ceremony
and establishing himself as a legitimate heel threat for the first time.
July 1996: Hulk Hogan made a surprise appearance at Bash
in the Beach '96, shocking the world by turning heel and kicking off
the nWo angle that would catapult World Championship Wrestling ahead
of the WWF in the ratings for the next two years.
Fall 1996: An increasingly heartless Steve
Austin moves into a feud with perennial babyface Bret Hart.
November 1996: Austin and Hart have an incredible match at Survivor
Series '96 which saw Hart go over in a fluke.
The fans started cheering Austin.
Let me repeat that: The fans started cheering Austin. The
asshole. The heartless bastard. The complete anti-hero.
Early 1997: Austin and Hart continue their increasingly bitter
March 1997: At Wrestlemania 13, Austin and Hart met in an "I
Quit" match. In the most famous double turn in wrestling history,
Austin turned babyface by establishing himself as a tough son of a bitch
who wouldn't submit, even as his face was covered with a crimson mask
of blood. Bret Hart brutally attacked Austin with a chair after
the match, consummating the heel turn that had been building up for
The most amazing thing is that Austin didn't radically alter his behavior--he
still broke the rules, cursed out the fans, and did everything that had
made him so hated in the first place. Yet, the fans now cheered for
him. They were tired of seeing the same old comic book character
routine. This was shades of gray. This was the beginning
of a new era. This was the beginning of WWF Attitude.
The second phase was the coming of Degeneration X. After turning
heel in September of 1997, Shawn Michaels, HHH, and Chyna formed
this new stable. The story behind it was that the three of them wanted
to join their Clique-mates in WCW, so they were acting as
obnoxiously as possible to try to get fired from the WWF. While
they were indeed a heel stable, they weren't the cheat-at-all-costs,
be-as-hated-as-possible heels of old--they cracked jokes, they made insider
references, they were downright funny sometimes. Fans loved to hate
them, instead of just plain hating them.
If the Stone Cold Steve Austin character was to be the new babyface
style, Degeneration X was the new heel style.
November 1997: Symbolically and realistically, the end of the
"old" way of doing things came at Survivor Series '97. Bret Hart
had been increasingly vocal in opposing the new "extreme" direction the
WWF was taking, and combined with money problems and backstage differences,
the company decide to intentionally breach Hart's contract and let him
go to WCW.
One prob: He was still the WWF Champion at
the time. A match had been signed for Survivor Series between Hart and
Shawn Michaels, who agreed to put their personal differences aside for
a few weeks and do some matches so that Hart could drop the title to Michaels
before he left the company.
Hart didn't want to lose the title in Montreal, his home town.
Survivor Series was in Montreal. After hours and hours of deliberation,
a screwjob ending was decided upon, wherein Hart would keep the title
and then lose it to Michaels the next week at a house show.
Vince McMahon brutally doublecrossed Hart, having the bell ring
while Bret was in his own finishing maneuver, the Sharpshooter, and awarded
the title to Michaels. The era of pure babyfaces riding off into
the sunset was over, and this was their wake-up call. For more details,
see The Montreal Incident.
March 1998: Insanely over Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated
Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XIV to win his first WWF Championship.
The next, night, Vince McMahon would permanently take an on-screen role
as Mr. McMahon--an evil caracature of himself.
MISTER McMahon became disgusted with Austin--Austin wasn't a "corporate"
champion. He drank beers in the ring. He cursed. He attacked
officials and referees. He did everything a good champion wasn't
supposed to do--everything the fans were supposed to be booing
him for. McMahon became the obvious villain to feud with Austin,
and the night after Wrestlemania, McMahon began an immensely popular feud
with Austin that would last for the entire year. It was everything
the fans wanted to see--a blue collar worker taking it to his greedy,
arrogant, snobbish boss.
Two weeks after Wrestlemania, the WWF beat WCW in the ratings for
the first time in two years.
The era of saying your prayers, eating your vitamins, and believing
in yourself was over.
The era of Attitude had arrived.