Following the 20th year anniversary episode of Monday Night Raw, I decided to look back on the superstars most responsible for this milestone.
Many superstars are responsible for this achievement; however, I feel this list represents the select few that are most responsible for WWE's flagship program's success
Chris Jericho: One of the biggest acquisitions of the Attitude Era was Chris Jericho. Jericho made the leap from WCW to then-WWF in 1999. During a stellar career, Jericho became one of the most successful superstars of all-time, as well as one of the great mic workers in wrestling history. In 2002, Jericho became the first undisputed WWE Champion in company history. He went on to win a total of 24 titles, which included three World Heavyweight Championships and nine Intercontinental Championship reigns, the most in WWE history.
Kurt Angle: One of the most celebrated and gifted athletes in amateur wrestling, Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle made his television debut in 1999. Angle became one of the top heels in the industry and one of the best technical wrestlers of all time, winning multiple World Championships before his departure in 2006.
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler: The glue that held the Attitude Era program together was the announce team of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. Now WWE Hall of Famers, Ross and Lawler were the perfect pairing of a babyface play-by-play announcer paired with a heel color commentator. The chemistry between the two was one of the best in wrestling history. Although I left them off the list due to not fitting the typical criteria of "Superstars", I felt that their importance to the program was too much to not include.
The success of both WCW and WWF in the '90s was due in large part to the nWo. When Ted Turner signed the most popular superstar in wrestling history, Hulk Hogan, along with other major WWF superstars, WCW became a serious threat to the WWF.
But the two biggest acquisitions in WCW history were signing Scott Hall and Kevin Nash away from WWF. Then Diesel and Razor Ramon, Nash and Hall were a major part of early Raw programming. The angle of using two former WWF superstars, or "Outsiders" to invade WCW was born. Add a shocking heel turn from Hogan to the mix, the nWo became one of the most intriguing storylines in pro wrestling history.
This angle was a major part of WCW Nitro's success in the ratings battle known as the "Monday Night Wars". WCW enjoyed an advantage in head-to-head ratings from 1996-1998 thanks to the nWo, which in turn, made WWF improve their program to meet the competition, leading the way to the birth of the Attitude Era.
Whether you love him or hate him, there is no denying that John Cena is the franchise of the WWE. Since 2005, Cena has been the main showcase of WWE Raw, despite criticism from many fans.
For all his doubters and naysayers, Cena remains the most popular superstar in WWE, and the top draw in merchandise and ticket sales. Think about it, even the most anti-Cena fans will tune in or buy tickets just to chant "Cena Sucks" and hope WWE creative will make him lose.
Having said that, WWE lacks a true competitor compared to Nitro in the Attitude Era and ratings are not affected by competition. Wrestling fans will tune in to WWE regardless of how much they complain about the product.
Cena's success is impressive, but the WWE machine remains successful and thriving regardless. Therefore, he ranks behind the major superstars of the Attitude Era, who's contribution to the Monday Night Wars are the main reason we have WWE Raw and not WCW Nitro.
Bret Hart was the WWF champion on the original episode of Raw. At the time, the long-time babyface was the most popular superstar in the WWF.
Hart remained the top babyface until 1997, when he expressed his disdain for the United States and the WWF, becoming a top heel when wrestling on American soil. His feuds with Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels gave us some of the most memorable moments of the early stages of the Attitude Era.
But it was the infamous "Montreal Screwjob" finish during Hart's final WWF match at the 1997 Survivor Series that laid the foundation of the Attitude Era. WWF fans saw the sinister side of babyface announcer and WWF chairman, Vince McMahon, in the infamous "Bret Screwed Bret" promo, creating the heel Mr. McMahon persona, one of the most important villains in WWE history.
But more on that later.
Triple H was one of the top heels in the WWF/E over his long, storied career. Since his WWF debut in 1995, The Cerebral Assassin has won 13 World Championships and 23 total titles.
After Shawn Michaels departure, Triple H became the leader of the second version of D-Generation X, adding X-Pac and the New Age Outlaws to the group. The faction became one of the most popular in WWE history, while showcasing the sophomoric humor that embodied the edgier Attitude Era.
But his true success came as a heel. The Game won his first of many titles in 1999 and had memorable feuds with some of the most popular superstars of the late '90s and early 2000s.
The big criticism about Triple H's success is his obvious backstage stroke. When his storyline romance with Stephanie McMahon became a reality, The Game married into the first family of wrestling and had a major advantage controlling his and others' success in the company.
Regardless, the impact of the Cerebral Assassin is undoubtedly a major reason for Raw's success
What more can be said about The Undertaker? The streak, the championships, the longevity of his career all explain why he is known by many WWE fans as "The Phenom".
Debuting in an era with a roster full of gimmick superstars, The Undertaker remains the greatest pure gimmick character in the history of wrestling. Although we have seen many changes to The Undertaker character, the Deadman is most notably known for the old school gong and death march theme, one of the most iconic entrances in the history wrestling.
The Undertaker was the main event on the debut of Monday Night Raw and is still a part-time competitor. His longevity can only be outweighed by his success as a seven time World Champion, as well as one of the greatest superstars of all time.
It was announced recently that Mick Foley will be a member of the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame Induction class. I'd be hard pressed to think of a more deserving superstar.
The hardcore legend had one of the longest careers in pro wrestling history, despite putting his body on the line in some of the most barbaric matches. Foley had many faces during the Attitude Era, including Mankind, Dude Love, Cactus Jack, and a stint as Commissioner Foley following his retirement.
Some of the most memorable moments of the Attitude Era were brought to us by Mick Foley's selflessness to entertain the fans at any expense. Whether it be jumping through a table from the top of a 20-foot cell, falling on thumbtacks, or taking shots from a barbed wire bat, Foley was an instrumental part of the WWF's success in the late '90s.
But Foley's impact on the Monday Night Wars is what truly puts him near the top of this list. When WCW's Tony Schiavone spoiled Foley's taped title victory over The Rock on a live broadcast of Nitro, 600,000 households switched their televisions from Nitro to Raw. This marked the end of Nitro's dominance in the Monday night ratings battle, thanks in large part to Mick Foley's title victory
The Icon. The Showstopper. The Main Event.
"The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels was the total package of what a pro wrestler should be. He had charisma, flamboyance, and the mic skills that matched an equally impressive luchador style of wrestling.
HBK was responsible for many of Raw's most defining moments. From 1996-1998, Shawn Michaels battled with Bret Hart for the top spot on the WWF food chain, both on TV and behind the scenes. Of course, the always entertaining rivalry between Michaels and Hart will be best remembered for the Montreal Screwjob. However, when both superstars were willing to work with one another, it made for great wrestling and great TV.
After Wrestlemania 14, Michaels was sidelined due to a major back injury. HBK returned to action in 2002, adding a World Heavyweight Championship to his previous three reigns as WWF Champion. His legendary career would last until 2010, after losing his final match to The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 26. The Heartbreak Kid took his rightful spot in the WWE Hall of Fame the following year.
Dwayne Johnson is the most successful person in the history of professional wrestling due in large part to his success as an A-List, Hollywood actor. However, it was his major success in professional wrestling that jump started his worldwide fame.
The Rock was one of the most popular superstars in wrestling history. Fans would tune in to watch his legendary promos, quote his catchphrases, and be electrified by all things that made The Rock awesome. Debuting as Rocky Maivia, a tribute to his wrestling lineage, he became a bona fide superstar when he developed the persona of "The Rock".
As a member of The Nation of Domination, The Rock became a rising star and a major heel in the wrestling industry. Following a brief run as a babyface, he saw his first WWF Championship reign as a member of the hated Corporation faction. After his run with Team Corporate, The Rock once again became the "People's Champion" and one of the most popular babyface superstars in wrestling history.
Nine World Championships and nearly 30 motion pictures later, The Rock still electrifies fans with the same nostalgia and swagger he had during the Attitude Era.
Vince McMahon's influence on WWE and Monday Night Raw's success is obvious from a business standpoint. As the chairman and owner of WWE, he is the ringleader of the WWE and responsible for what he calls, "Sports Entertainment".
But as a superstar, the Mr. McMahon character was one of the most important factors in WWE's success.
Mr. McMahon took to the "Evil boss" persona like a fish to water. McMahon knew how to get a negative reaction from crowds, and no one garnered more heat than Vince McMahon.
The Mr. McMahon character was one of the most hated and greatest heels in wrestling history. With the Montreal Screwjob, McMahon jumped from babyface commentator to ruthless, evil boss instantly. Although the "Bret screwed Bret" promo may have given birth to the Mr. McMahon persona, it was his rivalry with the number one superstar on this list that truly made WWF Raw the premier wrestling program in the late '90s.
Stone Cold Steve Austin was the most popular superstar of the Attitude Era and the main reason why WWF beat WCW in the ratings battle. Austin's outlaw, anti-hero persona was the perfect complement to Mr. McMahon's heel, as well as any heel he faced during his main run with the WWF.
Austin represented anyone who ever wanted to get revenge on an evil boss. Whenever you heard glass shatter, you knew Austin was going to take down every single person in his path, and the fans would go nuts watching it.
With Stone Cold Steve Austin, you never knew what to expect, and the unpredictability of Raw made for great TV. With the exception of Cena, Austin shared a rivalry with every single person on this list, and most times came out victorious. There was no superstar who embodied the Attitude Era more than the toughest S.O.B. in the WWF and the success of McMahon's company relied largely on the awesomeness of Stone Cold Steve Austin