5 Times WWE Experimented With The Attitude Era Before It Started

As regular readers of Retro Pro Wrestling will know, we've just finished covering every WWF and WCW pay per view that took place in 1996. 

It's been a fun time.

We got to relive the formation of one of the most successful gimmicks of all time in the New World Order. We got to watch Shawn Michaels' first WWF championship run, a run which -though it may have bombed at the box office- certainly delivered plenty of quality main events throughout the year.

We also got to witness the very first examples of the World Wrestling Federation experimenting with the kind of programming that would form the nucleus of the much-missed Attitude Era.

Whilst the general consensus is that the Attitude Era as we know it today began in the latter half of 1997, 1996 saw many moments that would have fit right in with the edgier, more adult-orientated programming that the World Wrestling Federation would begin peddling in the wake of the infamous Montreal Screwjob.

Don't believe me?

Just check out this list of five times that the WWF experimented with the Attitude Era a whole year before it started.

1: Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel - Good Friends, Better Enemies

Even though he was gone for most of it, The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels probably deserves more credit than he gets for developing the foundations of the Attitude Era in it's formative years.

It wasn't just his -ahem- attitude throughout 1997, nor the foundation of D-Generation-X that earned HBK his PG14 badge, but also some of the high profile matches he had back in 1996.

It started with this one - a no disqualification championship match against former buddy Kevin 'Diesel' Nash at In Your House 7.

Sure, this match - Shawn's first as WWF Champion - may have been tame compared to the kind of all-out violent chaos we would get in the thick of the Attitude Era, but for early 1996, it was groundbreaking.

The two smashed through tables, used Mad Dog Vachon's prosthetic leg as a weapon, and introduced fans to the kind of no holds barred style that would be a staple of the Attitude Era's in-ring product.

2: Stone Cold's 'Austin 3:16' speech

Though tame by comparison to the kind of promos we'd get once the Attitude Era kicked off proper, the monologue that Steve Austin delivered following his 1996 King of the Ring victory was groundbreaking in its ferocity and close-to-the-bone style.

For newer fans, imagine CM Punk's 'Pipe Bomb' delivered back at a time when even the word 'ass' was too much to be broadcast on WWF TV.

It would take at least another year for Austin to go from popular mid-carder with a cool gimmick to all out superstar, and another year after that before he would become the trash-talking phenomenon we know so well today, but credit where it's due - Stone Cold was one of the first to drop an Attitude Era style promo in the World Wrestling Federation.

3: Mankind vs. The Undertaker - Boiler Room Brawl 

The whole of Foley vs. Taker throughout 1996 could be considered a precursor to the Attitude Era - they had wild, violent matches that really raised the game for everyone, but it was the Boiler Room Brawl back at Summerslam 1996 that was really the standout moment.

The only other time this writer remembers the action spilling backstage was the time Macho Man Randy Savage faced Crush in a Falls Count Anywhere match at Wrestlemania 10, but even that didn't come close to matching what we saw in the Boiler Room brawl - this one really set the tone for the kind of backstage brawls and hardcore matches that were a staple of the WWF's adult-focused product.

4: In Your House: Mind Games

Remember earlier when I said that some of Shawn Michaels' 1996 title defenses helped introduce the in-ring style that would become famous in the Attitude Era? Look no further than his landmark outing with Mankind for the perfect example of just that.

But it wasn't just the match itself that made Mind Games such a perfect example of the WWF experimenting with the Attitude Era before it started. 

Early in the show, we had an appearance from ECW mainstays Tommy Dreamer, The Sandman, and Paul Heyman. Then there was the moment Steve Austin, Brian Pillman, and Owen Hart all got together in the ring to rag on Owen's brother Bret, in which the language went above the usual family-friendly fare that was used at this time.

In fact, I don't think I can sum this one up any better than I did in my original review, where I wrote:

 it has to be said that this one was memorable not for the matches, but for the shift in tone that was a little less subtle than the companies previous steps towards an edgier product.From the ECW invasion at the start of the show to the dramatic and violent main event, via Stone Cold Steve Austin's 'off-colour' comments and the occasional use of suggestive language, this was a milestone in the World Wrestling Federation's gradual transformation into the Attitude Era. 

5: JR's Heel Turn 

The heel turn itself sucked, but it did give us much more than the ill-fated Fake Diesel and Razor Ramon thingt also gave us a turning point in how Vince McMahon was perceived on TV.

Up until that point, Vinny Mac had been just an over-enthusiastic broadcaster famous for shouting "One, Two, he got him! No he didn't" and of course "What a maneuver!" but JR was the first person to go out on television and out McMahon as the owner of the World Wrestling Federation.

From there, everyone from Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin to The Undertaker would be seen on TV, confronting McMahon as the owner of the company whenever things didn't quite go their way.

That's all I've got, but I'm sure there are plenty more examples out there. If you can think of any, drop me a line and let me know. You can reach me either here via Retro Wrestling, on the new RPW Facebook page, or on Twitter @RetroPWrestling.

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