Last updated on May 8th, 2022 at 11:27 am
While the WWE continues to evolve, it is the Attitude Era that left the biggest mark in the company’s long-running history. With larger-than-life personalities, memorable promos, and impressive gimmicks, the 90s helped redefine pro wrestling into what it is today.
Although Wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Superstar Billy Graham, and Bruno Sammartino took the company to new heights, wrestlers who came in the 90s introduced a totally new approach to professional wrestling.
Technically speaking, the Attitude era helped set the precedent for the eras that would follow. Apart from taking professional wrestling mainstream, the Attitude Era also helped WWF regain a bigger chunk of the pro wrestling market.
Simply put, it helped establish the company as the big dog of professional wrestling. No other franchise came close to matching WWF’s superiority. This being the case other wrestling franchises such as ECW and AWA were forced out of business.
Due to the influx of talent that came into the company, the WWF began to perfectly execute new storylines and angles. The newly gained popularity helped WWF dominate both national and cable television. In 1989, Randy Savage’s feud with Hulk Hogan was one of the best feuds that wrestling fans had ever witnessed.
However, it’s Hulk Hogan’s match with the Ultimate Warrior in 1990 that would mark the commencement of a new era. For the first time in his wrestling career, Hulk Hogan was clearly pinned at the centre of the ring during Wrestlemania 6 by the second most popular wrestler in the company.
In the years that followed, there would be some instability with the World Heavyweight title something never witnessed in the WWF before.
By 1992, three different wrestlers including Randy Savage, Ric Flair and Bret Hart had lifted the title. The same was the case with the Intercontinental title, which had been lifted by seven different wrestlers as well.
The lack of stability was definitely a breath of fresh air and was a clear indication of the exciting years ahead.
One of the heaviest wrestlers of all time, Yokozuna was undeniably one of the most dominant wrestlers to ever step into the squared circle. A two-time WWE champion, Yokozuna was a main event wrestler who went head to head against some of the biggest names at the time.
Although he was not athletically gifted, Yokozuna made up for his shortcomings by using his massive strength and size. Apart from wearing opponents down with girth, Yokozuna also tossed opponents around the ring.
Towards the end of his illustrious wrestling career, Yokozuna became a household name and one of the most respected villains in sports entertainment. Although WWE marketed Yokozuna as a sumo Japanese wrestler, Yokozuna was indeed an American Samoan and a member of the renowned Anoi’a family.
To further push the Japanese storyline, WWE brought Mr Fiji, a true Japanese wrestler onboard as Yokozuna’s manager. Like most villains in the WWE, Yokozuna would go to any extent to win a match.
However, instead of taking cheap shots, Yokozuna would employ the services of his manager Mr Fiji who often carried salt in his pants. While Yokozuna was part of some amazing matches, his classic encounter with Randy Savage at the 1993 Royal Rumble event would go down as one of Yokozuna’s greatest matches of all time.
This win not only made Yokozuna a main event wrestler but also one of the biggest names at the time. Many wrestlers and fans began taking Yokozuna seriously.
Just like Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Rock and Stone Cold, Kane is also another wrestler who should also make it into the all-time wrestling greats list. Although many people consider The Big Red Machine a complimentary wrestler, his contribution to sports entertainment and The Attitude Era cannot be overlooked.
Both masked and unmasked, Kane gave us great storylines and matches that remains a significant part of wrestling culture to date.
Take for instance his long-running feud with The Undertaker or his King of The Ring (title match) win against Steve Austin. At his peak, Kane was this unstoppable monster that went through anyone who dared to confront him. Back in the early 1990s, Glen Jacobs was a little-known wrestler who traversed through the indie scenes.
Prior to his WWF debut, Kane worked with various promotions such as Smoky Mountain Wrestling and the United States Wrestling Association.
While Kane adopted various gimmicks early on in his career, it is the repackaging done by the WWF that helped Jacobs become a household name. After signing with the WWF, the promotion repackaged Glen as Kane, one-half of the brothers of destruction.
For a bigger part of the Attitude Era, Kane remained a pivotal figure in the company. Apart from his long-running feud with his half-brother The Undertaker, Kane also handed multiple defeats to many of the biggest stars in the promotion at the time including Stone Cold Steve Austin.
By the end of his illustrious wrestling career, Kane had won 11 tag team titles as well as two world championship titles, the WWF Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship title.
8. Triple H
One of the richest professional wrestlers of all time, The Cerebral Assassin is an iconic figure in sports entertainment and one of the greatest in-ring performers. Although he thrived as a singles wrestler, Triple H’s popularity in the WWF back in the 1990s culminated from his involvement in Degeneration X, a stable that he co-founded alongside Shawn Michaels.
While many fans were not aware back then, DX ultimately became a major and significant component of the Attitude Era. Although he joined the WWE in the second half of the 90s, Triple H career in the WWE picked up rather quickly.
After a brief stint in WCW, Triple H joined the WWE in 1996 going with the name Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
Just like the Rock, Triple H received immense backing and push from the management during his early months with the company. Despite all the push, it was quite clear that Triple H was not yet ready for the main event scene.
As a member of The Klique, Triple H together with Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels and Scott Hall were believed to have some sort of influence not only with the chair Vince McMahon but also WWE’s creative team.
7. Mick Foley
Considered to be one of the most complete wrestlers to ever step into the squared circle, Mick Foley is an accomplished hardcore wrestler best known for his wide range of gimmicks. Although he was not the most technical or athletically gifted wrestler during his wrestling days, Mick Foley’s strength lied entirely in his characters, execution and death-defying stunts.
Moreover, his diversity and plethora of gimmicks made him a staple for the WWE. Whether it is playing a deranged boiler room freak or a sadistic psycho obsessed with barbed wires and thumbtacks, Mick Foley executed all these gimmicks with ease.
While we have seen various wrestlers adopt different gimmicks, Mick Foley’s strength lied in his perfect execution that made us believe we were seeing four different people.
Although Mick Foley was not able to win lots of titles, he gave wrestling fans plenty of classic matches throughout his illustrious wrestling career. One of his greatest matches was against The Undertaker at Hell in a Cell in June 1998. Even though Mankind ended up losing the match, his resilience and determination made it a classic performance.
Being a hardcore booking, the match was full of thumbtacks and various WWE Weapons.
On one occasion, The Undertaker threw Mankind off the steel cage into the announce tables, but the wrestler continued with the match. At Wrestlemania 22, Mick Foley was yet again part of another classic as he went head to head with Edge.
Many wrestling pundits and fans consider this encounter with Edge to be one of the best wrestling matches of all time.
One of the most dominant forces to ever step into the squared circle, Bill Goldberg is a wrestler who loves to annihilate his opponents. Prior to winning his first-ever Heavyweight title with the WWE, Bill Goldberg went 173 matches undefeated.
Although he made his WWE in 2002, Bill Goldberg was already a well-established name back in WCW after making his debut back in 1996.
With WCW, Bill Goldberg defeated most of his opponents in just under 2 minutes. His dominance, agility and brute strength saw him rise quickly through the ranks. Moreover, fans had quickly begun to warm up to this dominant wrestler with a monstrous yet charming charisma.
In no time, Goldberg became the WCW World heavyweight champion and thus had to relinquish the Intercontinental title.
5. Shawn Michaels
Mr Wrestlemania aka The Heartbreak Kid’s role and contribution to sports entertainment will forever remain in the annals of history. One of the greatest in-ring performers, Shawn Michael was one of the many wrestlers during the Attitude Era who helped redefine sports entertainment.
Even though a back injury almost forced him into early retirement, Shawn Michaels managed to come back 2 years later and wrestled until his eventual retirement from pro wrestling.
The first-ever grand slam champion, Shawn Michaels is one of the most decorated WWF wrestlers winning four world titles and six tag team titles. Although Shawn Michaels made his WWF debut back in 1987, the wrestler together with Marty Jannetty ended up lasting for a few months after a bar incident that led to their dismissal.
One year down the line, WWF ended up resigning the duo. In 1992, The Rockers ended breaking up after being super kicked by Shawn Michaels through a window.
The break-up of the stable would ultimately prove to be the turning point in Shawn Michaels wrestling career. Under the suggestion of Curt Hennig, Shawn Michaels adopted the nickname “The Heartbreak Kid”. Apart from the new nickname, Shawn Michaels also ended up transforming his character into a corky villain.
At his singles pay per view match, Shawn Michaels ended up defeating one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Tito Santana.
In the process, Shawn Michaels was not only in the limelight, but also managed to have his name in the main event scene becoming the number contender for the world title.
Even though Michaels was unsuccessful in winning the title in his first attempts, it was quite clear that it was a matter of time before he would ultimately become one of the biggest draws in the company.
4. The Rock
One of the greatest black wrestlers of all time, The Rock’s smack-talking and anti-hero tactics made him one of the most memorable wrestlers to ever step into the squared circle. His expertise in verbal smackdown made him the people’s favourite bully.
Apart from his mic skills, The Rock is also a solid wrestler, whose technical skills saw him become a 10-time world champion. Although The Rock was not always a solid wrestler, his transition from the mid-card into the main event scene was rather quick.
Unlike many wrestlers on this list, The Rock signed with the WWE in the mid-’90s as Rocky Mavia, meaning that the young wrestler had a lot of catching up to do. During his early years in the WWF, the company packaged him as a third generational superstar.
Despite his lack of wrestling experience, the promotion pushed Rocky Mavia heavily. After just a few months, Rocky Mavia won the Intercontinental Championship title. Even though Rocky Maivia was champion, he was still not so popular with the fans.
However, in 1998, Rocky Maivia’s career would ultimately pick up when he not only turned heel but also join the Nation of Domination stable. This time around, Rocky Maivia began referring to himself in the third person as The Rock and began insulting the fans who often booed him.
While this was a risky move that would have gone either way, fans began to see glimpses of the wrestler he ultimately turned out to be.
The Nation of Domination’s feud with DX as well as The Rock’s feud with Stone Cold helped place the Rock as one of the company’s top prospects for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship title.
Although The Rock’s rise to stardom was rather short, mainly due to the massive support and push that he received from the back office, The Rock ultimately became one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
By the end of his illustrious wrestling career, The Rock was not only a 10-time world champion but also a 5-time tag team champion and a 2-time intercontinental champion.
3. The Undertaker
One of the most dominant forces in the WWE, The Undertaker is a living legend and one of the biggest names in pro wrestling. An iconic figure, The Deadman’s mystic aura and “supernatural” skills were more than enough to send shivers down any wrestler who dared to step into the ring with him.
Although The Undertaker made his WWE debut as a member of the Million Dollar Team headed by Ted Dibiase, he slowly learned the ropes on his own, ultimately becoming a breakout star.
In his illustrious 30-year career, The Phenom managed to win the World Championship title a record 7 times (WWF Championship & World Heavyweight). During the 1990s, wrestling fans knew very little about kayfabe and thus many of us ended up believing that The Undertaker and the mysterious Paul Bearer had supernatural abilities.
In 1991, Paul Bearer proved to be the missing piece to The Undertaker, a wrestler who was not only committed to the character but also possessed impressive athleticism.
Many people consider Paul Bearer to be the cream to Undertaker’s coffee. During his stint with the WWE, The Undertaker became the pioneer of many firsts. Although Undertaker’s in-ring skills and aura made him a force, it is his impressive run at Wrestlemania that separates him from the rest.
Many wrestlers including Shawn Michaels, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Kevin Nash and Randy Orton all came knocking for the streak but ended up falling short.
Even though Brock Lesnar ended up breaking the streak, it was quite clear that The Undertaker at that point in time was half the wrestler he was. Age had finally caught up with him and it was quite impressive that he took Brock Lesnar for that long.
2. Bret “The Hitman” Hart
One of the most electrifying stars of the 1990s, Bret Hart was a household name during his peak. While fans loved and hated him in equal measures, one thing was still clear; he was a top draw for the WWE. Unlike most wrestlers on this list, Hart’s entry into the WWE was rather fortunate, to say the least.
During his early days, Bret Hart was in contract with Stampede Wrestling, which was run by Stu Hart.
Although many fans and analysts would later come to idolize Stampede Wrestling for its role in producing some of the top talents in pro wrestling, the promotion had little to no impact in the early days. One of the main reasons why Stampede Wrestling never took off was the fact that many people at the time considered the hart family to be eccentric.
Moreover, the company also operated on a shoestring budget and on many occasions failed to raise enough cash to pay video editors.
However, when McMahon was expanding his territory in Canada, he decided to purchase Stampede Wrestling from Stu Hart including its talents. Many of the wrestlers from Stampede Wrestling filled the company’s bottom cards.
However, a proposal from Bret Hart would ultimately change the fortune of not only the wrestler but also most of the talents brought in from Stampede Wrestling.
Bret requested the formation of a new stable, the Hart family, which consisted of his brother in law, Jim Neidhart, and Jimmy Hart the stable’s manager. Even though the Hart Foundation never got the push that they deserved, they still gave many teams in the tag team division a run for their money.
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin
When the Texas Rattlesnake first entered the squared circle, no one would have ever fathomed that the wrestler would turn out into one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. Although Austin showed glimpses of hope during his early days, he was still a shadow of the wrestler he later turned out to be.
During this period, Austin was a pretty average wrestler with nearly zero technical skills and went by the ring name Steve Williams. Under the guidance of Dutch Mantel, Austin changed his ring name to Steve Austin, as the name Steve Williams was not available.
After a brief appearance as a pro wrestler, Austin returned to Texas, to receive a crash course in professional wrestling. In his second appearance for ECW, Austin would take part in a teacher vs student storyline with Adams, one of the biggest stars from Texas.
What began as a simple storyline, ultimately turned into of the best and biggest feuds of all time. Adams played a crucial role in hiding Steve Austin’s weaknesses, as the wrestler continued to learn the ropes of pro wrestling.
Few years down the line, Austin had grown into one of the most promising young prospects in WCW. Austin would later join the Dangerous Stable Alliance headed by Paul Heyman before feuding with the likes of Ricky Steamboat.
Nonetheless, a string of injuries would see a young Austin go down the pecking order.
Ultimately, Austin got involved in a disagreement with WCW chair, Eric Bischoff which led to his dismissal from the company. After a brief stint with ECW, Austin would ultimately sign with the WWE and the rest was history.