10 Segments and Gimmicks from the Attitude Era You'll Never See in Today's WWE
Beginning with Vince McMahon's industry-changing promo in December 1997 and running through the June 2002 introduction of "ruthless aggression," WWE's Attitude Era featured some of the most over-the-top, unapologetically in-your-face moments in pro wrestling history.
Some have gone on to live in eternity, staples of the most popular period in sports entertainment. Those, mostly involving Steve Austin embarrassing Vince McMahon, D-Generation X disrespecting authority and The Rock laying the smackdown, are rightfully replayed ad nauseam when discussing the most unforgettable moments in WWE history.
There were others, though, that are better off left as moments in time.
They are poor attempts at edginess, such as the second incarnation of the iconic Goldust character, or were demeaning to women, including the many gimmick matches that objectified them. Those are moments that could never, and would never, be welcome in today's WWE product.
As Bleacher Report continues its homage to the magic of the Attitude Era, relive these segments, listed chronologically, that are more misses than hits.
The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust
The Goldust character notoriously took things too far, earning a reputation as one of the most controversial personas in WWE history. In late 1997, he underwent a transformation that would prove even more controversial and, at times, in bad taste.
As The Artist Formerly Known As Goldust, he would be led to the ring on a leash by Luna Vachon or make fun of his legendary father, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. One week, he might be clad in pink neon and women's lingerie, and the next, cross-dressing as Sable.
No longer was the character conceptualized. Instead, it was a weekly competition to see if he could out-outrageous his look from the week before. It was a blatant attempt to be edgy that everyone saw right through and by April was abandoned for a preacher gimmick.
We would never see it on today's WWE TV because of the lengths The Artist went to capture headlines and leave fans in awe. The PG nature of the shows would not allow for it, nor would advertisers, who would likely balk at the idea of their name associating with a man in yellow paint and a ball gag.
Attempted Castration of Val Venis
If the Attitude Era taught us anything, it is that Val Venis was a terrible judge of bedmates, as we found out in the summer of 1998. The adult film star-turned-pro wrestler set his sights on Mrs. Yamaguchi, the wife of Kaientai spokesman Yamaguchi-San. When he finally made one of his "films" starring her, he incurred the wrath of the faction.
Then, he caught a beatdown courtesy of Taka Michinoku, who revealed himself to be the brother of Mrs. Yamaguchi.
The entire ordeal concluded with Yamaguchi-San threatening in an overly stereotypical way to chop off Venis' member in a moment so outlandish that only head writer Vince Russo sitting in front of the latest episode of The Jerry Springer Show could actually think it was appropriate.
With Venis bound from the ceiling, trunks around his ankles, the loudmouth heel ready to make good on his threat, it became clear that there were no boundaries Russo would not cross in the name of entertainment.
From the suggestive video to the absurdity of the threat to the fact that WWE was ready to simulate a wrestler getting his penis chopped off, none of it made for good television. Like so many of the angles and segments on this list, it tried so hard to be part of the Crash TV movement that it was transparent and never hit like management surely thought it would.
No one benefited, and for that reason alone, it would have no place on today's WWE shows. Failing to benefit young talent happens routinely in today's WWE without pissing off the censors and sponsors.
The Brawl for All
The Brawl for All was an idea Vince Russo concocted in response to John "Bradshaw" Layfield saying that he could beat any of his peers in a real fight. Determined to set up Bradshaw to fail, Russo pitched the idea of a legit fighting tournament that would accomplish two things: determine the toughest man in the locker room and give those without a ton of television exposure time to get their faces on Raw.
The tournament featured Steve Blackman, Marc Mero, Mark Canterbury, Bradshaw, Brakkus, Savio Vega, Droz, Road Warrior Hawk, Bart Gunn, Bob Holly, Quebecer Pierre, "Dr. Death" Steve Williams, The Godfather, Dan Severn, 8-Ball and 2 Cold Scorpio.
There were injuries, outcomes based on questionable judging and an unexpected knockout artist in Bart Gunn. The former tag team champion won the tournament after knocking out Williams, Godfather and Bradshaw, foiling plans for Dr. Death to emerge victorious and challenge Steve Austin for the WWE title later in the year.
The unpredictability of it all and the fact that it left talent suddenly unavailable because of injuries suffered in the tournament made it a bigger inconvenience than anything. Hindsight tells us it was a risk with no real reward and, as such, not worth replicating.
Then or now.
Big Boss Man Feeds Al Snow a 'Pepper' Steak
The rivalry between Big Boss Man and Al Snow was an entertaining enough affair centered on the WWE Hardcore Championship in the summer and fall of 1999. Constantly intensifying, it reached its peak on the September 2 episode of SmackDown, when Big Boss Man invited Snow to his hotel room for a meal.
Sensing their rivalry may finally be over, Snow took him up on the offer...only to find out that the steak he had eaten was his missing chihuahua, Pepper.
Considering the depths to which Boss Man would sink later that year, including crashing the funeral of Big Show's father, the fact that it was as heinous an act by a heel at the time says something.
Today, there would be too much backlash to warrant pulling off an angle like this. Even though no animals were actually harmed in the process, it is not an important enough segment of television ever to risk trying again.
Of course, the angle gave way to the horrifically bad Kennel from Hell match at Unforgiven 1999. Management thought surrounding the squared circle with a steel cage, a few Rottweilers and the Hell in a Cell was a good idea.
It was not.
That match, like so many of the instances in which WWE management overthought things, was an abject failure. A colossal failure. It was awful and has never been seen again. Even if it never comes back, it would be too soon.
The Godfather Offers Up His Women
With his bravado and showmanship, The Godfather was exactly the type of character that excelled during the Attitude Era. He was a pimp, he had "hos" and the fans ate it up. A staple of opening matches throughout the Attitude Era because of the fun and energy he brought to his performances, he was far more important to the layout of cards than he probably gets credit for.
With that said, there isn't a chance in hell that character would fly today.
Promoting prostitution? Nope. Not gonna fly. And offering up women to the opposition in exchange for calling off a match? Hell no. Definitely not OK.
At that time, with that audience and in that social environment, it worked and led The Godfather to the Hall of Fame. It's just not a feasible gimmick or character for today, but then again, neither is Max Moon or The Berzerker.
Human Sacrifices by the Ministry of Darkness
In 1999, The Undertaker underwent one of his many evolutions, becoming a darker and more sinister version of The Deadman than we had ever seen before. The leader of a cult-like Ministry of Darkness, he would terrorize WWE by sacrificing Superstars to the Higher Power or initiating them into his faction.
Mideon, Ryan Shamrock and even Stephanie McMahon would find themselves at the mercy of The Phenom in segments that crossed the line into the dark arts and tested the limits of good taste.
Were they as offensive or over the top as some of the other things witnessed on WWE television at the time? Absolutely not, but they still were largely unnecessary to get the Ministry storyline over.
The imagery of innocent people crucified on The Undertaker's giant symbol would almost certainly earn heat from religious organizations, rendering any potential revival of such a segment not at all worth the trouble it would cause.
Give Mae Young a Hand
The age difference between Mark Henry and Mae Young, who was in her late 70s, was probably already enough to keep their relationship from appearing on today's WWE TV. That already stretched believability, let alone the implied sexual nature of the pairing.
Case in point: On the February 28, 2000, episode of Raw, a pregnant Young went into labor. After weeks of ridiculousness, she finally gave birth...to a hand. A latex hand straight out of a Halloween costume shop that had been covered in various forms of goo as a visual gag, strictly to get Gerald Brisco to vomit on live TV.
That someone decided the segment should have made television in the first place is reflective of the mindset in the company when it came to pushing the limits. Worse yet? Vince Russo was well gone when that angle played out, leaving Vince McMahon to shoulder the majority of the blame.
Bra and Panties Matches...Any of Them
The Women's Revolution in WWE has seen women depicted as athletes and rebellious antiheroes in their own right, their stars burning as brightly as any man's. Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Shayna Baszler, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Ronda Rousey are as big of stars in today's wrestling landscape as any of their full-time male counterparts, and that is reflective of how far WWE has come in addressing the imbalanced presentation of its male and female wrestlers.
The only thing the Attitude Era addressed was the objectification of women in matches where they ripped off each other's clothes in hopes of leaving their opponent in her bra and panties.
Bra and Panties matches, Evening Gown matches and any other number of matches that presented women as sexualized objects became staples of the show well into the Ruthless Aggression Era before the PG Era took effect.
There are some who criticize WWE for turning "Women's Revolution" into a buzzword or marketing ploy, but the idea of positioning women as strong, powerful, competitive and athletic while putting them in spots equal to their male counterparts is a hell of a lot more appealing than the sexploitation that pervaded the Attitude Era.
Mr. McMahon Degrades Trish Stratus
Not many Attitude Era segments are quite as difficult and uncomfortable to watch as the March 5, 2001, angle in which Trish Stratus sought forgiveness from Vince McMahon.
A week after she had been dumped in public and humiliating fashion, she was determined to repair the relationship and offered her apologies to The Chairman of the Board. Vince wasn't willing to simply accept and move on—no. Instead, he ordered her to her hands and knees, forced her to crawl around the ring and then had her bark like a dog.
If that was not bad enough, he had her disrobe on live television.
Satisfied he had punished her enough, he tossed his jacket over her and ordered her out of the ring.
There is so much wrong with this storyline, beginning with the fact that it was extremely demeaning and arguably a form of assault. Then there is the fact that Stratus really had nothing to apologize for, rendering the entire impetus for the segment illogical.
Finally, the degradation was neither entertaining nor necessary. In the years after the angle, Stratus suggested it didn't bother her because she understood there was payback coming down the line.
It was mean-spirited, and no slap, low blow or any other sort of vengeance Stratus achieved at WrestleMania X-Seven makes up for what she endured.
Like so many other instances throughout the Attitude Era, it objectified women and situated them beneath men. No wonder Stratus, Lita, Ivory, Jacqueline and Molly Holly had a hard time early in the push for women's wrestling getting fans to invest in the in-ring work and stop chanting "we want puppies" every time a woman set foot inside the squared circle.
Perry Saturn's Concussion Confusion
Whether Perry Saturn's sudden shift in character during the spring of 2001 was the result of a brutal beatdown dealt to jobber Mike Bell during a television taping is up to one's own interpretation. What is not is that the character that ensued made light of concussions in a way that would never be accepted today given what we know about them.
After enduring a wicked Clothesline From Hell by Bradshaw in a May 21 tag team match, Saturn appeared loopy and was announced to have a concussion. All within the context of a storyline, of course. He began spouting off nonsense such as "rabbits eat radishes so they can have babies" or insisting that yellow crayons are good for fiber intake. He even entered into a loving relationship with a mop that he not-so-creatively named Moppy.
The whole storyline fell flat and disappeared after a rare pay-per-view appearance for him against Raven at Unforgiven in September.
In recent years, WWE has bolstered its concussion protocol and funded research into developing a treatment for CTE, a degenerative brain disease likely caused by chronic head trauma, but it's also had a concussion lawsuit brought against it and been criticized for mistreating its wrestlers. Saturn himself started a GoFundMe page in 2016, saying he had a traumatic brain injury from the concussions he suffered as a wrestler and needed help paying for treatment.
For all these reasons, such a storyline would never fly today.
And rightfully so.