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I just finished watching every WWF/WWE Raw, Smackdown and PPV from 1996 to 2001 (up until April 1st 2001, ending at Wrestlemania X-Seven), and every PPV onwards from 2001 to 2004 (from Backlash April 2001 up to Wrestlemania XX, March 2004). Here are my thoughts.

TL;DR: The Attitude Era was awesome, as were Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock from 1997-2001.
My Thoughts:
I wanted to share this. As a professional wrestling fan during my childhood, I watched WWF/E from around late 1999/early 2000 when I was 9 years old during the late Attitude Era, just as Stone Cold Steve Austin left to get his neck surgery and The Rock took the top spot within the business, and I stopped watching professional wrestling up until during the middle part of the Ruthless Aggression era around 2006 at 16. Whenever WWE came to Manchester England, I would go to the events, and my younger brother would buy all the wrestling figures and VHS tapes.
I’ve always wanted to watch all the WWE PPVs, Raws and Smackdowns during the Attitude Era, starting with Stone Cold Steve Austin’s debut in January 1996 during the end of the New Generation Era, and ending it at Wrestlemania X-Seven in 2001, but I never found the time to do so. Well, with the global Covid-19 lockdown of 2020, I finally found the time to track down all of the WWE PPVs, Raws and Smackdowns online thanks to the WWE Network and some torrents, and I watched them all from 1996 to 2004. I began watching them this year in May 2020 and just finally finished watching them today in November 2020. It took me 6 months, and I had to skip a lot of the matches and promos that I had little interest in coming from mid-card talent just to save time, but if I didn’t do that, it easily would have taken me a year or even more just to get through them all.
I also complimented a lot of my watching of every Raw, Smackdown and PPV by watching supplementary WWE Home Video documentaries (such as superstar compilations and documentaries that touched on the Monday Night Wars between the WWF and WCW in the late 90s and early 2000s), as well as watching a lot of Wrestling Bios on YouTube (a fantastic historical YouTube channel about professional wrestling which is extremely interesting, unbiased and fact based). I also want to give a shout out to the wrestling video games of the late 90s and early 2000s, with WWF No Mercy on the Nintendo 64, and Smackdown!2 Know Your Role on Playstation 1, being my favourite wrestling games of all time! I loved playing those video games as a kid.
After watching as much professional wrestling as I could, all I have to say is… damn, The Attitude Era use to be awesome! Here’s my thoughts on each year that I watched:
I skipped through most of 1996 quite fast. Shawn Michaels became the top guy during 1995 and stayed there throughout 1996 and 1997, thanks to Bret Hart dropping the belt to him at Wrestlemania 12. Overall, I found most of the early to mid-year of 1996 to be quite boring and underwhelming. I was never a Shawn Michaels fan of him in the ring or of his persona, so I could care less about his run (and I’ve heard he was an insufferable cunt with his backstage politics and leadership of the ‘Kliq’ thanks to watching shoot interviews which are available to watch on YouTube today). The New Generation Era wasn’t that exciting. However, Bret Hart’s return in late 1996 and subsequent feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin was awesome, and it was great to watch the true Heel Austin character that he was portraying during late 1996 and throughout 1997 begin to develop and get over with the crowd. That was my favourite iteration ever of the ‘Stone Cold character.’ I also enjoyed a few matches of Sycho Sid, and I thought he really could have shined as a top guy should he have chosen to stay in the WWF and not jump ship to WCW later on. He was a great Heel/Tweener in my opinion.
Best Match of the Year 1996: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart, Survivor Series 1996 – Winner: Bret Hart.
The Hart Foundation ruled this year, and it was also the true beginning of the rise of the popularity of Stone Cold Steve Austin following his and Bret Hart’s double face/heel turn at Wrestlemania 13. DX was also formed and we really got to see the beginning of the Attitude Era, which in my opinion is the greatest era in all of professional wrestling history to date. I did start finding Shawn Michaels and the kliq to be quite insufferable during this year and was pissed off for both Bret and Owen Hart, because of the Montreal Screw Job for Bret, and because of the fact that Owen Hart didn’t get a title shot against Shawn Michaels afterwards. But I reckon that was just because of Vince not liking the fact that Bret jumped ship to WCW, Shawn and the kliq being pricks backstage and refusing to work with Owen, and because Owen also accidentally broke Austin’s neck at Summerslam 1997. They didn’t see any reason to make Owen a main eventer then, because WWF’s plans were to make the main guy of the business to be Stone Cold Steve Austin, due to his rising popularity and attitudinal approach which made the company grow in viewership. Also, Stone Cold’s awesome heel/tweener character really was entertaining to watch throughout 1997 as he battled The Hart Foundation and The Rock later on for the Intercontinental title. 1997 in my opinion, is truly a criminally underrated year within the WWF.
Bret Hart was also an amazing in ring performer to watch. True wrestling fans know this. An older cousin of mine who watched wrestling way before I did would always lambast me whenever I would as a kid say “Stone Cold or The Rock was the best wrestler ever”, because he would say “neither of them are. It’s either The Undertaker or Bret Hart!” His favourite is still Bret Hart to this day and I’m sure he’s in his late 30s now. The Best there was, The Best there is, The Best there ever will be! It’s a shame though, because when I was growing up during the Attitude Era, no one would talk about Bret Hart, especially the casuals, due to The Attitude Era in general overshadowing the popularity of the New Generation Era and all the workers from that 1993-1997 period.
Best Match of the Year 1997: A tie:
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Bret Hart, Wrestlemania 13 – Winner: Bret Hart.
The Legion Of Doom (Hawk and Animal), Goldust, Ken Shamrock and Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Hart Foundation (Brian Pillman, Jim Neidhart, The British Bulldog, Owen Hart and Bret Hart) in a 10-man tag team match, In Your House: Canadian Stampede - Winners: The Hart Foundation (Brian Pillman, Jim Neidhart, The British Bulldog, Owen Hart and Bret Hart).
This was one of my favourite years that the WWF ever produced content for. It was great to see The Rock finally make the jump from mid-carder to top star, and of course I was glad Shawn Michaels finally left (I always found his character in and out of the ring to be quite annoying) in order to allow for the Stone Cold Era to begin at Wrestlemania 14, with Stone Cold reigning as the champion throughout 1998. The Undertaker and Mankind had awesome matches during this year too (especially the King of the Ring 1998 Hell in a Cell match, Mick Foley is still one crazy son of a bitch), but it was really all about the Austin Vs McMahon feud during 1998 which in my opinion really boosted the overall popularity of the WWF during this time. It was always great to see Austin finally get one over the evil boss. My favourite match of this year however was definitely the Summerslam 1998 main event match, where it was Face Vs Face, with Stone Cold Steve Austin triumphing over The Undertaker. I love a good Face Vs Face match, but Heel Vs Heel matches are great too. However, I was really disappointed with the direction WWF creative took with The Rock during the latter part of 1998. He was already getting way over with the crowd as a Face after leaving The Nation of Domination (a very racist depiction of a black militant group which I found to be unacceptable even for 1990s standards. I still don’t know what the WWF or Vince McMahon were thinking for allowing that stable to be created lol), and then making The Rock turn Heel again after winning the title at Survivor Series 1998 wasn’t the best idea in my opinion, because I personally believed it stunted his popularity and character a bit. He did go on in 1999 to have some fantastic matches with Stone Cold Steve Austin and eventually turn back Face though after being kicked out of the Corporation.
Best Match of the Year 1998: The Undertaker vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (c) for the WWF Championship. Summerslam 1998. Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin (c)
This year was deep in the Attitude Era, and the storylines involving the Ministry of Darkness, The Corporation and The Corporate Ministry became more and more bizarre every Raw and Smackdown (Vince Russo lol - and don't get me wrong, I think a lot of Russo's WWF creative writing from 1997-1999 was great), but it was still entertaining nonetheless. However, the highlight of this year truly has to go to the feud between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. After Stone Cold triumphed twice over The Rock at Wrestlemania 15 and Backlash 1999, we finally saw the WWF reverse their decision on The Rock, because even as a heel he was still getting quite over with the crowd, so eventually the decision was made to turn The Rock back to Face and force him out of the Corporation. I did notice however Stone Cold’s character turning more ‘Face’ and him becoming less of a ‘Tweener’ throughout 1999, and I missed that intense Heel/Tweener that Austin use to be in 1996/1997 and throughout the early to mid-part of 1998. Nevertheless, Triple H finally made his way to the top card and I found him to be quite boring when cutting promos and never really liked him in general when I was a kid. With Austin having to leave in late 1999 to get his neck surgery done, it was down to The Rock to lead the business as the main guy. With Austin gone from November 1999, I found the last month of December 1999 to be somewhat boring and didn’t care much for the McMahon-Helmsley era. This year though did have some fantastic matches that Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock took part in, and it also saw the introduction of great new talent like Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle. I also enjoyed watching younger talent rise the European title and Intercontinental title divisions such as Val Venis and The Godfather. Awesome gimmicks by the way lol.
Best Match of the Year 1999: A Tie:
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock (c) in a No Disqualification match for the WWF Championship, Wrestlemania 15 - Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin (new c)
The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (c) for the WWF Championship, Backlash 1999 – Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin (c)
Triple H vs. Mankind vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (c) in a Triple Threat match for the WWF Championship, Summerslam 1999 – Winner: Mankind (new c)
This year is still definitely one of my top years of all of the WWF content ever produced (probably my favourite year overall), and as I went back to watch the early to mid-part of 2000, I was surprised at how boring and lacklustre WWF content really was during the early to mid-part of this year. Stone Cold Steve Austin was sorely missed, and with HHH always using heel tactics to screw The Rock so that he could stay as the champ really bugged me. Wrestlemania 16 (2000) was also quite underwhelming in my opinion, but Backlash 2000 was great, and it was great to see Stone Cold return even for just one night, and launch chair shot after chair shot to aid The Rock against Vince, Shane, the stooges and HHH, so that The Rock could go on to win the title that night. I also believe The Rock truly made the WWF globally popular during this year. Stone Cold may have rejuvenated the popularity of professional wrestling in America from 1997 to 1999, but as a kid growing up in the UK during the late 90s and early 2000s, everyone’s favourite here was The Rock. Luckily I had a mate who had two older brothers who were like 20 and 30 years old back in 2000. Me and my mate were both just 10 years old back then, and his brothers would let us watch back some awesome Stone Cold moments on VHS from 1998 and 1999, and they would tell us about how awesome Stone Cold Steve Austin was, and needless to say, he quickly became my favourite wrestler when he finally returned in 2000.
However, this year was great for 2 things. The first one being the fantastic mid-card talent which joined the company, either through the developmental schools or from those who jumped ship from WCW and ECW, with the notable ones being Chris Jericho (who joined the WWF in late 1999), Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. The tag team division also really got a boost too thanks to Edge and Christian, The Dudley Boyz and The Hardy Boyz. The WWF really went hardcore too during this time, as the hardcore division and inclusion of weapons during matches, and the awesome TLC matches too, really turned up the ECW violence factor! As brutal as it was (and as Jim Cornette says, it saturated the wrestling business and also numbed the crowd to always expect this type of ‘Paul Heyman’ violence at the expense of the wrestler’s health and wellbeing, which when looking back, is not a good thing), it was still extremely entertaining to watch. I finally found myself not skipping mid-card matches during this year because the matches were really entertaining and were often better than the main event card at times.
Finally, we also saw many of this mid-card talent not only rejuvenate the Intercontinental Belt division, but also get their shots against The Rock and HHH for the WWF Championship, with Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho getting great pushes. However, my favourite Heel of this year was definitely Kurt Angle, who joined the company in late 1999. His promos today still just make me laugh so much as he rips the crowd, and how he acted like an insufferable Olympic twerp all the time. He was a great performer and talent, and great on the mic too, and he went on to have great matches against other mid-carders until he finally won the belt from The Rock at No Mercy 2000. Though I found his title reign from October 2000 to February 2001 quite intolerable as a kid, it was funny to watch his promos back as an adult and appreciate his in-ring and mic skills.
But hands down, the second thing that made this year great (and the best period of 2000 overall was from September 2000 onwards) was when Stone Cold Steve Austin finally made his return. Not only did we now have an amazing mid-card roster in the WWF during the year 2000, saw technical wrestlers like Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho having rose the ranks, but we also had the top guys like Rikishi, Kurt Angle, Kane, HHH, The Undertaker as the American Bad Ass, and The Rock, and now, we finally also got Stone Cold Steve Austin back. The mid to latter part of 2000 from July/August 2000, all the way up until Wrestlemania 17 on April 1st 2001, when the Attitude Era sadly ended, was definitely my favourite period in Professional Wrestling history ever. And all of 2000 and early 2001 pretty much built up to the much anticipated match up of Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs The Rock, the greatest Face Vs Face match ever. Stone Cold, the original Face of the Attitude Era, facing off against The Rock, the new Face of the company, the two top guys squaring off. I just remember it being such hype in 2000 and early 2001 to see Stone Cold Vs The Rock actually happen, that it almost felt like they had never squared off before. As kids, me, my brothers and my mates would always wrestle each other and choose to be either The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin. When I look at the state of professional wrestling today, it’s sad to look back now, because when we were kids, we just didn’t know how good we had it during the Attitude Era, with two Icons like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin being in their primes at the same time as each other in the same company.
Best Match of the Year 2000: The Rock vs. Triple H (c) for the WWF Championship, Backlash 2000 (only because of the interference by Stone Cold Steve Austin) – Winner: The Rock (new c)
2001 was a real dichotomy of a year. The early part of 2001 up until Wrestlemania 17 was amazing. Stone Cold and The Rock really kept things going until they finally squared off against each other. Wrestlemania X-Seven is the greatest wrestling PPV ever made in my opinion (and that Limp Bizkit 'My Way' Promo Package for The Rock Vs Stone Cold was just so awesome), and it still breaks my heart that the greatest match I’ve ever watched, that being the main event of Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs The Rock for the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania 17, had to end that way it did, with Stone Cold Steve Austin turning heel. It was a poor decision in hindsight, as Stone Cold should have never joined forces with his arch-nemesis Vince McMahon, and I feel his heel-turn really ruined Stone Cold’s character from irreparable damage onwards. I remember crying that night as a 10 year old because both of my brothers liked The Rock, and I liked Stone Cold, and they teased me about how Stone Cold is crap now for turning heel lol. Also, it was a poor decision for Austin to turn heel too, because The Rock left for quite some time during the early part of Stone Cold’s heel run and up to the beginning of the botched Invasion angle (The Rock left to go make movies, launching his Hollywood career), so there was no ‘True Face’ of the company left to take on Austin who was now the main Heel, and I don’t think The Undertaker could have pulled it off, nor any of the other talent on the roster at that time either. We were spoiled by having both of these superstars, Austin and The Rock, in the business at the same time whilst they were both at their peak popularity, and to this day I don’t think anyone has, or ever will, come close the rivalry they had or to their individual greatness.
Just as Stone Cold was missed in the early to mid-part of 2000, The Rock was missed during the mid-part of 2001 (even though The Rock was only gone for 4 months and not 10 months like Stone Cold was from the latter part of 1999 through to late 2000). It was just too hard to boo Stone Cold as well, and see his former awesome bad ass character turn into the pathetic heel he became. Overall, I couldn’t bring myself to keep watching more Raws and Smackdowns after Wrestlemania 17 because of how much I despised seeing my favourite wrestler, Stone Cold Steve Austin, turn heel, and because of the botched Invasion Angle involving mid-card WCW and ECW talent. I still remember watching the Invasion Angle as a kid throughout 2001 though, but even from memory, I really felt it, and much of the mid and latter part of 2001 for that matter, was crap when compared against the latter part of 2000 and the early months of 2001 which all built up to Wrestlemania 17 (don’t get me wrong, the Invasion Angle, 2002, 2003 and 2004 in the WWF/E had some memorable moments, but nothing which was as good as the Attitude Era that came before it). I hated Austin’s heel turn and leadership of the ‘Alliance’ so much that even when he turned back to a Baby Face in late 2001 and then stayed Baby Face throughout 2002 to 2003 (when he eventually retired after Wrestlemania 19 in 2003), I could not find myself cheering for him as much as I use to, as all I could remember was his heinous heel turn at Wrestlemania X-Seven and those dastardly chair shots he gave to The Rock during that match. I feel Austin’s heel turn did irreparable damage to his overall character forever.
Overall, the creative booking and writing in the WWF really took a nose dive throughout this year after Wrestlemania 17, and maybe that’s because of Stone Cold’s poor decision to turn heel at Wrestlemania X-Seven (a decision he has stated in podcasts that he now regrets having made), because The Rock left for a while to make movies, or because there simply was no longer any competition for the WWF left to fight against in the industry, as WCW and ECW became liquidated and bought out by the WWF, thus leaving little motivation to raise the creative writing bar. I personally think it was a combination of all three reasons as to why the WWF eventually stagnated and became less popular over time.
There were some good moments during the Invasion Angle however. DDP, RVD and Booker T were great talent to see (and I love how DDP is helping people in need today, he’s an amazing guy, and that stupid stalking angle of The Undertaker’s wife was a seriously dumb angle for DDP). Also the audience pops for some of the WWF superstars against the WCW/ECW guys were crazy at times, not Stone Cold level pops from 1997 to 2001, but still some great pops. The Invasion Angle had so much potential, especially if Goldberg, The NWO and if others were brought in, but I heard many of them chose to sit out their lucrative Time Warner contracts after the 2001 WCW demise, or that Vince refused to buy their contracts out until 2002/2003 (which is when we did begin to see Hulk Hogan, Scott Steiner and Goldberg eventually show up in the WWF/E). This all begs the question though, why didn’t Vince and the creative simply wait until 2002 or 2003 to do the Invasion Angle? Talent like the NWO, Goldberg and Eric Bischoff eventually came to the WWF/E anyway, so why even bother making a crappy invasion angle with mid-card talent from WCW and ECW in 2001? The Invasion Angle would have been so much better to see guys like The Rock take on the NWO (which is what he eventually did anyway in 2002), and Stone Cold Steve Austin take on Goldberg (a match we never saw but at least Stone Cold gave him a stunner at Wrestlemania 20 in 2004). It just boggles the mind that the WWF creative just didn’t wait a little while longer to get those WCW/ECW guy’s contracts, and the way WCW/ECW talent were treated by the WWF creative during the Invasion Angle too was very disrespectful. Sting was right to never join the WWF/E … wait… lol.
Best Match of the Year 2001: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock (c) in a No Disqualification match for the WWF Championship, Wrestlemania 17. – Winner: Stone Cold Steve Austin (new c) (only with help from Vince McMahon, Austin turns heel.)
This was the year WWF/WWE really could have finally given the long term professional wrestling fan of the WWF, WCW and ECW the dream matches they always wanted to see. I never watched WCW or ECW as a kid, so it didn’t bother me too much back then if we saw dream matches or not, but this year (and the latter half of 2001) really should have been dedicated to all the old time fans of all the promotions who were watching since the 1980s and early to mid-1990s. I really believe this was the year when the WWE locker room was at its absolute best, with the NWO, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and a bunch of other legends of the business like Shawn Michaels returning, not to mention a massive talent pool of WCW/ECW guys like Booker T and RVD, and of course the existing WWE talent like HHH, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle and of course, The Undertaker, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin (until he left due to creative differences, only to return in 2003) still remaining with the company. 2002 could have been the best year ever from a fan’s perspective. But it wasn’t. We only got a few dream matches in my opinion. Brock Lesnar ruled during 2002 and his character arc was somewhat of a boring repeat of Goldberg’s run in WCW. I also found the Raw and Smackdown draft (WWE’s attempt to create self-competition and split their now massive roster) quite underwhelming, and overall, we never got the dream matches we wanted to see. But if only we did, and if we also got to see Bret Hart (who retired due to a concussion in 2000), Goldberg (who did show up in 2003 but was quickly buried by HHH lol) and Sting (who I heard was in the WWE from 2014 to 2015, but again, was quickly buried by HHH) show up during this year too, then god damn, it truly could have been the greatest year in professional wrestling history ever. But we never got the dream matches we wanted to see. I did however find HHH’s short Face run quite interesting in early to mid-2002 (since he has always played a Heel), and the Vengeance 2002, Summerslam 2002 and Survivor Series 2002 PPVs were really good too, but then again, nearly every PPV during the Attitude Era was amazing, whilst 2002 in my opinion, only had the select few great PPVs. Still, what a star-studded roster 2002 had!
I also felt with Stone Cold Steve Austin leaving due to differences he had with the WWE creative in 2002, and The Rock leaving too (following his defeat by Brock Lesnar at Summerslam 2002) that a void was left in regards to who the next top guy in the business would be. As good as the roster was, no one, in my opinion (at that time), had the charisma and skill that The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin had to carry the company as the main guy (with the exception of perhaps Rob Van Dam). 2002 was also the year I remember when the fan base and overall global popularity of the WWE really started to dwindle, as many of my friends and other casuals alike, simply stopped watching WWE altogether either in late 2001 or during 2002, mainly because of the lacklustre storylines, talent like The Rock and Austin leaving the company, and because they simply ‘grew up’ and thought ‘wrestling is for little kids’ and didn’t want to watch a combat sport which was ‘fake’, switching their interests to other sports like football (soccer), and the UFC.
Best Match of the Year 2002: A Tie:
Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock, Wrestlemania 18 – Winner: The Rock
Rob Van Dam vs. Booker T vs. Kane vs. Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H (c) (Elimination Chamber Match for the World Heavyweight Championship), Survivor Series 2002 – Winner: Shawn Michaels (new c).
Similar to 2002, we did get some dream matches, but not all of the ones I would have liked to have seen. But at least we saw The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin return for one final awesome feud and match at Wrestlemania 19 on March 30th 2003, which also saw Austin’s in-ring retirement. I had to go back and watch the Raws and Smackdowns leading up to No Way Out 2003, Wrestlemania 19 and Backlash 2003 (all of which were the last good WWE PPVs in my opinion, apart from the ECW One Night Stands of 2005 and 2006), because I couldn’t resist watching The Rock’s Hollywood ‘Heel’ character because he was too funny. I feel like after Backlash 2003 though (where The Rock lost to Goldberg, which I must note was a terrible match, but then again, any match with Goldberg in it is a terrible match), WWE became very lacklustre during their transformation into the Ruthless Aggression Era which began earlier in 2002. HHH was also very insufferable during this year as he buried Booker T at Wrestlemania 19 and pretty much everyone else, and I didn’t care for any of the new talent which had joined the company during 2002 and went on to rise the ranks in 2003 like Bautista, John Cena and Randy Orton. I found WWE to have become very boring after Backlash 2003, and once The Rock left the WWE permanently. I also didn’t care too much for the Eric Bischhoff/Stone Cold co-general manager feud either, as I felt Stone Cold portrayed too much of a 'Baby Face' during this time and wasn’t his ‘tweener’ self (and I still couldn’t forgive him for his Wrestlemania X-Seven heel turn and 2001 Alliance heel run, so I began to care less about his character overall, so much so that I was happy when he lost his last match to a ‘Hollywood’ Heel Rock at Wrestlemania 19, which truly felt like justified revenge after the way Stone Cold won against him and turned heel against The Rock 2 years prior at Wrestlemania 17 in 2001).
If only RVD got the ‘mega-push’ he always deserved during 2002 and 2003 however. RVD will always be my third all-time favourite wrestler, with The Rock being second and Stone Cold Steve Austin being first. It’s a shame he never got the ‘mega-push’ he needed, and a shame that during his 2001, 2002 and 2003 push with the WWF/E that he was not booked correctly, because I still truly believe RVD had the potential to become an all-time wrestling great like Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.
I also feel that 2003 was the last good year that the WWE has ever had. As a kid, I remember being disappointed in the direction that the Ruthless Aggression Era took which began in 2002 and the direction the WWE has pretty much taken since then (specifically being disappointed in the lowering the overall ‘ECW style’ violence factor). We saw less and less hardcore matches, and no more crazy Hell in the Cell bumps being taken by the superstars or by the hardcore legend Mick Foley. In a way, The Ruthless Aggression Era essentially began to lay the foundation for the current WWE PG-Era as long back as 2002 and 2003. Oh, but the Bikini Challenge match between Sable and Torrie Wilson at Judgement Day 2003 was awesome (lol). At least they kept the divas around for a bit longer after the Attitude Era before they went all feminist and PG around the late 2000s and early 2010s.
Best Match of the Year 2003: The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Wrestlemania 19 – Winner: The Rock.
Similar to the previous year of 2003, I found this year to be boring too, and I really felt like this was the year that was the true ‘end of an era’, a goodbye letter to The Attitude Era and the Monday Night Wars between the WWF and WCW. The Rock returned at Wrestlemania 20, as did Stone Cold Steve Austin to referee Goldberg Vs Brock Lesnar, both of who were just about to leave the company, and we finally saw Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit get the pushes they deserved as the top guys. But the minute John Cena became the ‘main guy’ after that, that in my opinion, is when the WWE truly died and became the boring snooze fest that it is today. Yes, there were some good moments from 2005 to 2008 as the Ruthless Aggression Era came to a close, but John Cena’s ‘hip-hop’ character really was just beyond excruciating (he was much better as a Heel and as the ‘Doctor of Thuganomics’). I don’t know why anyone would pay to watch him as a Face, other than to watch him lose. I couldn’t bring myself to watch anymore WWE after Wrestlemania 20, because I remember during my mid-teens watching John Cena win night after night from I think 2005 up until I stopped watching in 2006, so why would I want to continue watching any more professional wrestling if I can still remember how terrible it became during the mid-2000s?
Best Match of the Year 2004 (of what I watched): Eddie Guerrero vs. Brock Lesnar (c) for the WWE Championship, No Way Out 2004 – Winner: Eddie Guerrero (new c) – with help from Goldberg.
2005 and 2006
I lied, I did watch the ECW One Night Stand 2005 and ECW One Night Stand 2006. I found them entertaining when I watched them as a teenager, so I had to hunt them down again. But only because in the 2006 one, we finally saw RVD become champion, and to do so in the most satisfying way, in front of a rabid pro-ECW anti-Cena crowd, and by defeating John Cena (who I still despise to this day lol). I think this was the last live WWE PPV I ever watched as a teenager, and I loved it. I might try to track down all of the ECW recorded live weekly shows and PPVs from 1995 to 2000 now. I wish I got to watch them all as a kid lol, but I don't think they were broadcast here in the UK. I also remember the eventual disastrous reboot of ECW by the WWE in 2006 to 2010, and from what I can remember from what little I watched in 2006, it was shit, it wasn’t even hardcore. They got all of our hopes up for a return to the ‘Attitude Era ECW style’ of violence, but we never got that. Still, at least the ECW One Night Stands of 2005 and 2006 were both pretty good.
2007 to 2020 (today).
I think the WWE in the last 13 years since 2007 to 2020 during their PG Era (which began in 2008 following the end of the Ruthless Aggression Era) has been quite shit if I’m honest (I personally think the product started to get shit from 2004/2005). When I was younger in the early 2010s, I did however find myself drawn back to the product to watch The Rock cost John Cena the title at Wrestlemania 27 against The Miz in 2011, watching CM Punk face off against John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011 following his infamous and sorely needed ‘pipe bomb’, and also casually following the return of The Rock to face John Cena throughout their Wrestlemania duology at Wrestlemania 28 and 29, from 2012 to 2013 respectively, all with a small glimmer of hope in the back of my mind that maybe, just maybe, Cena would finally fuck off or turn heel, and that The Rock and CM Punk would bring about the return of The Attitude Era, but that never happened.
I also see the WWE did eventually bring in talent from Japan like Shinsuke Nakamura and from smaller promotions like AJ Styles during the mid and late 2010s (a move I believe the WWE should have made much earlier), but I just don’t care for wrestling anymore. I haven’t cared for it since 2006 when I stopped watching it as a teenager. And I never really watched too much WCW or ECW as a kid in the 90s (therefore I had little interest in Sting’s 2014-2015 run in the WWE, which I found him coming to the WWE a little too late for my tastes, or the return of Goldberg in 2016- 2017 and up until 2019). I also never watched anything else from the smaller promotions during the 2000s and 2010s (promotions like TNA/Impact Wrestling, NJPW, ROH and AEW). As I got older, I did learn to appreciate the in-ring skill, talent and the bumps the athletes took as they wrestled, but I guess I was always more interested in the promos, the build ups, the storylines, the entrances and the music, and the ‘extreme’ violence attitudinal factor. Nothing will ever beat the WWF ‘ECW style’ Attitude Era of 1997 to 2001.
It sure was fun to relieve watching some of the best matches and promos in the WWF from 1996 to 2001, as well as finally experience the Bret Hart/Austin feud from 1996 to 1997, and watch the genesis of the Stone Cold character being created in 1996. Nothing will ever beat this specific time period in professional wrestling history. I’m sure people love wrestling from back in the day, the 70s, 80s and early to mid-90s, but in my opinion, the greatest period, hands down, in all of professional wrestling, will always be the late 90s to early 2000s. And that’s because of the fantastic storylines which targeted the male demographic aged 18 to 35, the great anti-establishment characters like Stone Cold Steve Austin, the hardcore violence, and because of the competition in the industry at the time with promotions like ECW and WCW competing with the WWF, thus forcing the WWF to shift into a different ‘attitudinal’ direction. Thanks to Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, during the late 90s and early 2000s, professional wrestling was made culturally relevant within pop culture at that time. It was cool to like wrestling back then as an adult, but now, being associated with professional wrestling today is pretty much seen as embarrassing and ‘for kids’. And this is because since the mid-2000s all the way up to today in 2020, I personally believe professional wrestling has been terrible, and this is because of the boring characters, boring storylines, backroom politics burying talent (Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, I’m looking at you arseholes), the moving of the product to a more PG rating targeting children, the lack of hardcore matches and blading, the death of kayfabe, and the lack of competition for the WWE, resulting in them no longer even attempting to innovate or be entertaining within their creative department.
We may never see another ‘Attitude Era’ occur in a professional wrestling company ever again. Nevertheless, the WWF won the ‘Monday Night War’ in 2001, and since then, they dropped the Attitude Era direction, and the WWE continues to be one of the most boring TV shows today that you could possibly watch, as they continue to refuse to listen to the fan’s open rejection of characters like John Cena and Roman Reigns throughout the 2000s and 2010s. During the Attitude Era, the WWF listened to the fans (because they needed to, in order to get ratings, more viewership, compete with WCW, and ultimately turn a profit as a company), resulting in the fans getting talent over, not the company with their forced pushes and boring storylines, but since the mid-2000s, the WWE hasn’t given a shit what the fans want anymore (apart from perhaps Daniel Bryan's push and win at Wrestlemania 30 in 2014). And to add further insult to injury, every WWE Home Video Release from 2002 onwards, and every WWE Network documentary since launching from 2014 onwards to today, has always mostly been something relating to ‘nostalgia’ (often referencing the past glory days of wrestling and The Attitude Era of the late 90s to the early 2000s), making me hate the current product of ‘professional wrestling’ even more whenever I remember how good it use to be. Seeing what professional wrestling has become today is embarrassing. I could care less about the ‘Dave Meltzer’ 5 star match rating crap, if there’s no ‘ECW style’ hardcore violence and/or no awesome storylines and characters like Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock to cut great promos, then I’m not going to watch it. Vince McMahon likes to call the business industry of professional wrestling ‘sports entertainment.’ Well, the WWE has certainly been far from ‘entertaining’ for the past 15 years.
Nevertheless, at least when we were kids we got to witness the Attitude Era and the greatest period in Professional Wrestling History. Bret Hart may have inadvertently caused The WWF Attitude Era and thus created the heel McMahon character following Survivor Series 1997 and The Montreal Screwjob, as well as the continued competition coming from WCW at the time, but Stone Cold Steve Austin ruled The Attitude Era!
submitted by David_Farooq to SquaredCircle

An ode to "The Triple Threat" Era of ECW

I’ve been watching ECW since the beginning of the pandemic, taking short breaks after the lapse of each subscription month and then starting the hardcore binge again. I’m calling this period The Triple Threat Era (June 97-January 99). Here are my posts from the Eastern Championship, Birth of Extreme, and Feel My Pain eras. In this post, I’ll be discussing the stretch of ECW that took place from Wrestlepalooza 1997 to Guilty as Charged 1999, bookended by the departure of Raven and Taz’s first world title victory. This era was dominated by Shane Douglas title reigns, made possible only with tons of assistance from his Triple Threat running mates: Chris Candido, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Francine. Read on for a deep dive.
Shane Douglas truly was The Franchise.
  • Cut the fucking music! I have never had more respect and appreciation for a wrestler whose matches I did not care for much. While Shane Douglas had previous iterations of The Triple Threat including Malenko, Benoit, and Brian Lee, the mid-97 to early-99 iteration was far and away the most memorable. Once Shane recaptured the world title at Hardcore Heaven 97, he carved out a perfect character who was both a credible champion and bully-coward bailed out by his more proficient buddies.
The Rick Rude Challenge
  • The Rick Rude Challenge was really fun and immediately gave Shane’s world title reign a unique dynamic. Rude, under the guise of being helpful and allowing Shane to sharpen his skills, presented Douglas with increasingly challenging opponents. This led to some great Hardcore TV matches against (pre-Head) Al Snow, Axl Rotten, and Phil Lafon. The angle concluded when Rude pulled a great double turn on Shane, by hand-selecting Bam Bam Bigelow to take his world title on the October 20, 97 episode of Hardcore TV. (Bam Bam re-joined the Triple Threat after losing the title a few weeks later, which didn’t make that much sense, but was enjoyable nonetheless!)
Injured Shane may have been more entertaining than regular Shane.
  • After Bam Bam caused/exacerbated Shane’s elbow injury at the November to Remember 97, Shane was on and off the shelf for much of 98. It was really entertaining to hear him on commentary for much of that year. He was a great heel color commentator, and had pretty good chemistry with Joey Styles, who was used to flying solo. I loved that The Franchise was constantly scouting potential future opponents. Though it was clear his main rival was Taz for much of 98, he was constantly revealing awareness for other contenders who were nonetheless on his radar. He was particularly concerned with Justin Credible and Rob Van Dam, which instantly raised their (justin) credibility, and planted the seeds for future feuds.
The 1.5 year build for the Shane vs. Taz feud was truly special.
  • At Wrestlepalooza 97, Taz defeated Shane, for the latter’s World TV Championship, in less than 4 minutes. Once Shane won the world title in August 97, it really felt like a video game where Taz had to go through Candido, Bam Bam, and his final boss, Sabu, before getting to Douglas. It felt like Sabu was the final boss, and not Douglas, because that’s how the storyline played it up. Shane even admitted in a December 98 Hardcore TV backstage promo that he expected to ‘get got’ by Taz, and that he did not mind dropping the belt to an old-school guy like Taz. I’d say this was the first time ECW did the long-form chase to the title, where the somewhat traditional babyface had to overcome an empire in order to hold the throne. Taz was the perfect character to complete this mission, and his World Championship victory at Guilty as Charged 99 was exceptionally well-deserved.
The Miserable Fucking Workhorse- Taz.
  • It seemed like even in kayfabe, Taz truly bought into his own gimmick (meta). This led to nothing but golden segments and matches throughout this stretch. There was nothing that Taz did on the microphone or in the ring that wasn’t in perfect alignment with his character. The way he just wrecked fools left and right with brutal, stiff T-bone suplexes was insane. If any other wrestler had tried to cut credible, badass promos with a ripped up sweat towel over their head, they would have looked like an idiot. But not Taz. His commitment to the gimmick really made his words and actions look serious at all times. An egotistical Taz creating the FTW Championship and pissing off an injured Douglas by believing himself to be the rightful world champion (even before getting his win back on Bam Bam at Heat Wave 98) was perfect.
Taz vs. Sabu might be ECW’s greatest ever feud.
  • I love Dreamer vs. Raven (vs. Sandman), but Taz vs. Sabu might take the crown on longevity alone. Taz and Sabu both debuted for the company in its charter year of 1993, their paths crossing numerous times in battles over tag titles, TV titles, neck injuries, and who stayed vs. who did not. I loved that Taz and Sabu feuded in 98 as an unexpected treat. Taz was gunning for Shane, and it seemed like the last guy he’d have to face before getting a crack at the champ was Bam Bam. He defeated Bam Bam, and then his old nemesis Sabu appeared at the perfect moment to steal his thunder and number one contendership in the 6-man tag at November to Remember 98.
The Triple Threat vs. New Triple Threat (RVD, Sabu, and Taz) feud was so hype.
  • I loved the build-up where Taz eventually hugged it out with Sabu to cement the team formation. Ending the November to Remember 98 match with Sabu pinning Shane, who was locked into the Tazmission, was the perfect swerve to re-open the Taz-Sabu grudge feud. Taz talking about giving Sabu “three receipts” for the contendership theft (and various other past slights) carried the program from November to Remember 98 through Guilty as Charged 99. The angle peaked when Taz seemed to have re-broken Sabu’s neck with a vicious Dragon Tazplex through a table on a December 98 Hardcore TV episode. It was not clear if the dangerous move was intentional, and the cell phone call from the Jersey Turnpike where Taz explained not giving a fuck about hurting Sabu (and the upcoming two receipts) was icing on the cake of a great angle. Did it make sense that Taz let himself get pinned by Sabu to hand him the FTW Championship? Not really. Did I care? No, because I was too wrapped up in the overall great storytelling and characters.
Bam Bam Bigelow really ECW-established himself in 1998.
  • Bam Bam had been making appearances for the company since February 96. It was always great to see him, but it seemed like he would disappear before he could really get started on any feud or hyped up match. He didn’t consistently start appearing on Hardcore TV until mid-97, and that more present run included an early loss to Spike Dudley. It was weird. That being said, his feud with Taz leading up to their match at Living Dangerously 98 was really entertaining. He overlooked Taz, caught up in his own celebrity and external distractions, but he was still able to pull off the win. The infamous spot where the two men plummeted through the ring was really impressive, and a moment for the all-time wrestling highlight reel. It made sense for Taz to come up short in their first encounter, and the follow-up where Taz gave him props for getting the W at the PPV was great. Their rematch at Heat Wave 98 was dope, going through the stage and seeing a finish reversal from Living Dangerously. Though Bam Bam really only got the spotlight and world title for brief windows, he really seemed to give a shit and made everyone he feuded with look good.
Chris Candido vs./with Lance Storm was fun as hell.
  • Candido was both goofy and serious as fuck, and his feud/partnership with Lance Storm completely stole the show on the undercard. I’ve highlighted ECW’s ability to perfect the shades of gray feud, where no characters are truly babyfaces or heels, and the Candido vs. Storm feud perfectly encapsulated this. Candido, especially when Sunny started regularly making appearances for ECW in 98, was at both times a detestable, borderline-abusive boyfriend, and a undeniably talented mat technician. Lance Storm, featuring that hilarious blonde rat tail, did a great job of being both an underdog babyface betrayed by the Triple Threat (a cruel ending to his internship), and also the kind of a cocky douchebag who deserved his beatdowns. Their feud eventually dragged a bit, as they just never seemed to stop facing off, but they always put on a great match when the bell rang. I could have definitely done without the whole “Tammy Lynn Bytch” (Dawn Marie) inclusion into the storyline, as it merely seemed like a way to disparage Sunny without any quality pay-off. Sunny herself was an absolute bombshell in every appearance she made, but her characterization by booking and commentary (and that of most of the women in ECW) was incredibly regressive.
Candido/Storm vs. RVD and Sabu: a four-way dance of competitiveness.
  • This rivalry was particularly enjoyable, because it was a feud involving four massive egos feeling conflicted between wanting to establish superiority over their partner, and wanting to be the best tag team. Every time they faced off in 98, a high quality match was guaranteed. As a side note, I love the continuity of long-term alliances presented throughout ECW, and the fact that Candido had not forgotten his way-back friendship with Sabu at various turns of the rivalry, including when the two teamed together at A Matter of Respect 98 vs. Lance Storm and RVD. Nevertheless, the match ended with Candido betraying Sabu, and both men returning to their original tag team partners.
The quintessential studmuffin, Joel Gertner.
  • It’s wild that Joel Gertner didn’t have a job for life in some nationally-televised company. He was such a great heel manager, so creative on the mic, and had one of the most punchable faces in wrestling history. Even the way he said his own last name was downright aggravating. He made each Dudley seem special with their own unique call, and did a great job of shooting down the crowds who were getting too into his intros. His promos on Beulah leading up to the 6-man tag at Heat Wave 98 of the Dudleys vs. Dreamer, Sandman, and Spike Dudley were really outstanding. Was it very distateful to bring a blown up sex doll to the ring and call it “Beulah”, after kayfabe breaking the neck of the real Beulah? Absolutely. And it was also super effective at building the most dastardly team in ECW history. It’s also kinda funny that D-Von pulled a somewhat-Katie Vick in 98, with that sex doll in the back of an ambulance. Gertner also did a great job of sharing the mic, particularly with Buh Buh, which helped the latter transform into one of the nastiest, most scathing promos in the company.
Beulah and Fonzie put on an all-time show at As Good As It Gets 1997.
  • Facing off in a mixed tag team match with their respective partners of Tommy Dreamer and Rob Van Dam, the two demonstrated their insane value to the company by orchestrating one of the most emotional finishes in company history. Beulah hit her spots like a pro, and blew the roof off the ECW Arena when she hit her DDT and heDreamer’s pose. Fonzie bumped like a motherfucker for Beulah, and when he bounced out of the ring in a bloody heap, the crowd rightfully lost its shit in his honor. Crazy to think that for non-kayfabe reasons, Bill Alfonso likely kept his job because of this match, but this is a kayfabe enjoyment post, so I’ll leave that out.
Little Spike Dudley gets crowd surfed.
  • Speaking of As Good As It Gets 97, Bam Bam Bigelow throwing Spike into the crowd, and then Spike getting surfed around the ECW Arena, was so fucking cool. It was one of the moments I’ve seen on the ECW highlight reel that I looked forward to reaching one day. The David vs. Goliath mini-feud between Bam Bam and Spike was perfect for both of them. Bam Bam was kinda sputtering in nothing feuds and a background member of the Triple Threat, while Spike regularly appeared on the undercard, getting his assed kick by main eventers and his brothers. Spike getting the shock win on Hardcore TV in August 97 gave both guys a jolt, and set the stage perfectly for Bam Bam trying to throw Spike around in increasingly faviolent ways.
Spike Dudley Giant Killer.
  • Read also: Spike Dudley Dick Kicker. Spike’s sequence of marching to the ring, looking like a psychopath, kicking his much larger opponents in the balls, and then hitting the Acid Drop on them was truly the perfect formula to get him massively over in late 97 throughout 98. It was fun to see him go on a tear, defeating random fatsos and bigger names making one-off appearances (Mabel, One Man Gang, 911). It’s no surprise that he really started feeling like a force when he started getting wins over his big brothers, and it was particularly fun to see Buh Buh or Big Dick carry him halfway across the ring when taking the Acid Drop. When he challenged Shane for the world title on a late November 98 episode of Hardcore TV, it seemed like everyone at the Elks Lodge in Queens was ready to see Spike walk out with the gold. While it was all for not, Spike established himself as the most loveable underdog in ECW during this stretch.
Sabu vs. Sandman just looked like if fucking hurt.
  • I can’t even imagine what these guys put in their bodies to make these matches happen. I mean, based on shoot interviews, I kinda know, but just oof. Two guys who could realistically die in a wrestling ring, jumping off of ladders, throwing chairs at the back of each other’s heads, and sending the crowd into absolute frenzy when they’d get up to hit their iconic poses after smashing the other through a table. Paulie did a great job of hyping up their November to Remember 97 match as too violent for PPV, and ‘sneaking it into the broadcast’ against the wishes of the providers. Their Stairway to Hell Match at House Party 98 was even more brutal, ending in barbed wire halo for Sandman, a broken jaw for Sabu, and a brutal caning finish. The match was so violent, we only get to see a few highlights on a follow-up episode of Hardcore TV.
The genesis of the Whole Fuckin’ Show.
  • ECW did a great job of gradually building guys, and not hot-shotting anyone at the expense of long-term booking. RVD went from the karate kid in 96, to cocky blue-chipper in 97, to the whole fucking show in 98. He may not have been world champion, or even in the championship picture, but he was clearly being built as the most talented guy on the roster. As RVD and Sabu fought classic matches with Candido/Storm, DreameSandman, and The Dudleys in this era, the backstage segments told a few brilliant stories at once. An arrogant RVD felt like he was carrying the team, and that he was really just showcasing himself as Mr. Monday Night, in order to be scooped up by Raw or Nitro. Sabu gave him a shove every time he threw a verbal jab at his partner, and their mini-feud against each other recaptured the magic of their 96 series that originally put RVD on the map. It’s no surprise that at Wrestlepalooza 98, the two put on a classic, 30-minute time limit draw for the Television Championship.
The Van Dam Lift
  • Another RVD highlight from this era was his execution of the Van Dam lift on the January 20, 98 episode of Hardcore TV, where he lifted a 166-pound dumbbell while split legged over two exercise benches. Unreal. By fall of 98, he was mega-over. His historic TV title reign had begun with his defeat of Bam Bam Bigelow on the April 8, 98 episode of Hardcore TV. The early part of this run included a great mini-storyline about how RVD was the one guy who Bam Bam couldn’t beat (beat). There was no looking back. Crowds started losing their shit when he’d appear, and chant along when he thumb-pointed Rob-Van-Dam at himself. You could see him getting more and more confident on the mic and in backstage segments, and it’s truly a crime how his promo time and vocabulary got cut down to nothing in his post-ECW career.
Speaking of guys with great build-ups: Justin Credible.
  • He went from debuting at As Good As It Gets 97 to looking like a credible main eventer by the end of this era. I wasn’t a big fan of his look, as the jorts and flannel look reminded me too much of Raven, but Credible had a way funnier face and no hair. Then I realized, Credible got really good heat by taking the best parts of other wrestlers, but just clearly not being that guy. He had Raven’s attire, adopted a slightly modified version of Dreamer’s pose, and took Sandman’s cane. It’s like he was a loathsome collector of all the things you liked about other wrestlers. He was great in the ring, and the return of Jason at Orgy of Violence 97 immediately elevated him. His entourage including Jason, Nicole Bass, Chastity, and eventually Jazz really had a freak show vibe to it in the best way. Building him up through injuring Mikey Whipwreck in late 97, to going after Dreamer at his grandpa’s tribute in spring 98, to an awesome summer series with Jerry Lynn (another guy with some great build-up during this stretch) later that year, did a great job of establishing him as a threat and (seemingly) future top guy.
The Louie Spicolli Tribute was so sad, man.
  • You can find the segment on YouTube, and I’d highly recommend watching it. I wrote about Spicolli in my last series post, but it really was heartbreaking to see his young life mourned by the entire roster on a February 98 episode of Hardcore TV.
There was no need for ‘crooked referee’ Jeff Jones.
  • ECW had already done the crooked ref storyline before with Alfonso, and that wasn’t great, but at least they almost immediately transitioned Fonzie into a managerial role. Jones would do the same thing each week, where he’d screw face wrestlers without a whole lot of backstory or clear motivation. It led to some fun moments, like Beulah kicking him in the balls (seemingly every week), but it felt very overdone.
Jack Victory looked like a bum.
  • I bring that up more so to talk about the New Jack singles run that never truly got off the ground in this era. He had some great runs with The Gangstas and The Gangstanators (huge Kronus fan as well), but New Jack cut some awesome promos in the summer of 98 (specifically one on a subway car from the July 13, 98 Hardcore TV) and it felt like it was his time to shine. His first major singles feud was against Jack Victory, who looked very out of shape and like an 80s wrestling character who inexplicably time-traveled into the modern wrestling world. Their singles matches got bumped from back-to-back PPVs at Heat Wave and November to Remember 98 in favor of parking lot brawls, and while a New Jack brawl was always entertaining, it just seemed like he wasn’t a priority enough to get a featured match.
The Lawler-Dreamer feud that kicked off this era in Summer 97 was very enjoyable
  • Mostly because it cemented the forever Dreamer formula of getting the absolute shit kicked out of him for weeks at a time, and then getting a big win. Their wildly overbooked match at ECW’s second-ever PPV, Hardcore Heaven 97, (interference by Rick Rude and Beulah, and two lights-outs for debuts by Jake Roberts and Sunny), was a lot, but was very fun (a running theme in ECW).
The 6 month phenomenon of Al Snow.
  • I cannot believe Al Snow went from a somewhat confused guy who turned up in December 97 to ‘what everybody wanted’ to see by May of 98. It’s really one of the wildest six months run in wrestling, to go from nothing, to mega-over, to gone. Well, one mannequin head, some deranged locker room promos, some rave lighting, and thousands of bashing styrofoam heads later, Al Snow was an overnight success. His entire run of defeating midcard guys, showing up as a very helpful mystery tag partner, fluking his way past RVD and Sabu (when they cost each other their matches while teaming/feuding), and then being the uncontrollable foil to the manipulative Shane Douglas, simply worked. While it made sense that Shane went over at Wrestlepalooza 98, Al Snow built himself up credibly and got a really cool send-off where the roster held both title participants up on their shoulders as the show went off the air. Far and away the greatest beneficiary of the WWF/ECW talent exchange.
The WWF/ECW talent exchange,
  • ECW made-off fairly well, all things considered. Having Sunny appear at what seemed like the peak of her career in 97 was a big deal, and Al Snow quickly became a big star in the company. Brakkus and Darren Drozdov kind of seemed like snoozers, but Brakkus (with sniveling manager “Mr.” Lance Wright) had a pretty good mini-feud with Taz. As always, Heyman did a great job of highlighting Brakkus’ strengths (taking off his shirt and posing), and hiding his weaknesses (wrestling, anything wrestling related). Even 2 Cold Scorpio came over for an awesome pair of two-off matches with Taz at House Party 98 and RVD at Living Dangerously 98.
Wow was Masato Tanaka impressive.
  • Debuting in July 98, he had some out-the-gate bangers with Mike Awesome. The way these two guys would throw each other around, power bomb each other through tables, and smack the shit out of each other with chairs was equally terrifying and magnetic. Tanaka getting Awesome-bombed through a table and then his head immediately sliding under the guardrail was really scary, but instantly made him feel like a bad-ass-mother-fucker. His power-ups from chair shots, and him bombing Awesome through a ringside table from the ring certified him as someone who could take anyone on the roster.
The Hardcore Chair Swingin’ Freaks were a really great, face tag team.
  • Knowing what happened to both Balls and Axl in real life makes watching their matches (read: the chairshots) exceptionally depressing, but wow were they loved by the fans. On top of being great hardcore wrestlers, I was pretty impressed with Balls’ regular ring skills. Joey Styles remarked that Balls had a fairly impressive amateur wrestling career, and it showed in his execution of suplexes, dropkicks, and lifts. This could not have been more apparent than in his June 27, 98 match vs. Masato Tanaka, which was so good it was replayed in full a few months later on Hardcore TV. The short-lived team of Balls and Tanaka, with Axl as their manager, in November 98 was also great, and their tag titles win from The Dudleys was a feel-good moment where the underdog team (or at least half of it) finally got its big win.
What the fuck happened to Stevie Richards.
  • It was very sad to see Richards go from one of ECW’s hottest stars in the first half of 97 to just gone. I know there are non-kayfabe reasons for his departure, but as someone who got excited when he showed back up at November to Remember 97 (as Superstar Stevie Richards), I was bummed to see him just disappear again. Nova, in some December 97 backstage promo, had a one-off line about Richards leaving him (“Twice!”), and that was it.
Sandman’s departure was abrupt, but not sad.
  • I loved when Hardcore TV would start off with “Breaking News,” as it added a layer of reality to the show and made you think not everything was just in the can. When Heyman broke the Sandman news, I was sad he was gone, but happy that the guy who had been there since Episode 2 in April 1993 (and even before that in the pilot episode from 1992) had a big-money opportunity. I love that ECW did not seem to begrudge him of this, and if anything, it was a breath of fresh air for a character who had done it all to leave for a while.
Heading into 1999.
  • I am most excited to watch matches featuring Super Crazy and Yoshihiro Tajiri. Their debuts in December 98 and January 99 (respectively) were instant eye-catchers, and their match against each other at Guilty as Charged 99 stole the show. For ECW’s final two years, I’m excited to see what stars they make as their original headliners move on to ‘greener’ pastures.
TL;DR: This period of ECW is especially great because of the dominance of The Triple Threat, Taz defeating an empire, and the rise of The Whole Fuckin' Show, Rob Van Dam.
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