The Attitude Era may have been the most successful period in WWE history, but it was also the most wild and chaotic with main event matches that routinely spilled out of the ring, up the aisle and into the audience. Superstars, Divas and authority figures regularly involved themselves in the bout, adding storyline elements to the in-ring action.
It was a style of match the company perfected at that time, one that led to performers such as The Rock, Triple H, The Undertaker and Kane having some of the best matches of their legendary careers.
The first great example of the main event style that would captivate audiences and lead to so many classic matches over the course of the Attitude Era occurred in May 1998 at the Over the Edge pay-per-view.
Steve Austin, the anti-authority rebel, defended his WWE Championship against corporate stooge Dude Love. The egocentric owner of the company, the evil Mr. McMahon, served as the special referee, while his associates Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson were guest timekeeper and ring announcer, respectively.
With the corporate side of WWE trying to prevent the resident antihero from retaining the title, would the Texas Rattlesnake be able to overcome the odds? And which Superstar would step up and provide backup for Austin in his war with McMahon and Dude Love?
At WrestleMania XIV, Vince McMahon's worst nightmare became reality as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels to become the WWE champion. Not the pretty boy that The Heartbreak Kid was by any stretch of the imagination, Austin was a beer-drinking, middle-finger-flipping, foul-mouthed roughneck from Texas who did not comply with the boss' vision of what a champion should be.
Around the same time, Mick Foley was using his Cactus Jack persona while teaming with Terry "Chainsaw Charlie" Funk to battle the New Age Outlaws for the WWE Tag Team Championships.
Just 24 hours after the same WrestleMania that crowned Austin as the face of pro wrestling in North America, Foley and Funk were brutalized by the Outlaws and a reformed D-Generation X inside a steel cage. All the while, fans chanted "we want Austin," unsympathetic to the beating suffered by the hardcore legends.
That warped Foley, who gave a shoot promo in the center of the ring that would ultimately lead to a heel turn. Gone was Cactus Jack and back on television was Dude Love, who attacked Austin during what should have been a monumental match between the Texas Rattlesnake and McMahon.
Love's attack put him in line for a title match at the Unforgiven pay-per-view in April, which ended in disqualification. To make matters worse, Austin blasted McMahon with a steel chair, further intensifying their feud.
At Over the Edge, with the deck stacked against him, Austin would have to defeat his future Hall of Fame opponent while also thwarting the plans of his biased employer.
With or without any help.
The Over the Edge main event was the first great championship defense of Austin's career. He and Love wrestled a brilliant match that saw them brawl around the arena, including the aisleway.
The Undertaker made an interesting addition to the match, protecting Austin and preventing any unfairness on the part of McMahon, Patterson and Brisco. He chokeslammed both Patterson and Brisco through tables in spots that popped the crowd and really injected that additional element to the bout that elevated it from "excellent" to "classic."
McMahon bumped late, and Austin scored the pinfall on Love while using the limp hand of his boss. The fans had what they felt would be a happy ending.
But McMahon was not finished. Instead, the issues between him and Austin would only get worse as the year progressed. The epic encounter between Austin and Dude Love served as the launching point for some of the best television the company has ever produced.
Foley would revert back to his Mankind persona, aligning himself with Kane in a war with Austin and The Undertaker. For the next six months, the four Superstars would find themselves entangled in a web of matches, moments and segments that would define the Attitude Era for eternity.
Austin would carry the company over the next five years as the biggest star in the industry and the most popular babyface McMahon's promotion ever produced.
As for McMahon, he would develop into the greatest villain in wrestling history, an authority figure the likes of which companies still try to reproduce and emulate to this day.