Note: A couple of weeks back I made a mistake when listing off the final four men in the 1992 Royal Rumble. A big thanks to Luke Bartlett for pointing out my error. It was indeed Randy Savage and not the Undertaker in the final four. Thanks Luke!
The look back at the 90s decade here at the Notes has taken a different shape than what I foresaw when I first started. Originally I wanted to look back at the history of the 90s, but we could write a book about each year. While I could boil it down, it would be unfair to many happenings that deserve exposure. Just look at my column from last week on 1993. Not once was Monday Night Raw mentioned. I debated doing a part two on 1993 to cover more, but I don?t think any of us are up for that overkill at this time. What I have watched happen to this series has seen a history assignment turn into a reflective journal of what I went through as a fan during this time. To be honest I actually prefer this way of doing it. I hope that you have enjoyed the series thus far and are ready for this week’s look at 1994.
If you are looking for the perfect pay per view from the first half of the 90s then look no further than 1994’s Spring Stampede. Here was a show that had it all from great wrestling to brutal brawling. While Wrestlemania X had the Ladder Match between Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels that fans were talking about as the greatest match they had seen, Stampede’s Street Fight between Cactus Jack, Maxx Payne, and the Nasty Boys had PWI writers buzzing that maybe there was one match out there that would bring down the Ladder Match come end-of-the-year voting. In the end the Ladder Match is remembered as one of the greatest matches of the decade while the Street Fight has been largely forgotten. Looking back, other than Michaels-Ramon and Bret Hart-Owen Hart, WMX really had little to offer outside of a couple solid matches. Meanwhile, Stampede had great wrestling from top to bottom. Aside from the Street Fight, we were treated to a great bout between Steven Regal and Brian Pillman for the TV Title, Steve Austin defending the US Title against the Great Muta, and another classic World Title match between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat.
The following month WCW put on another solid show with Slamboree. It was around this time that WCW began to take the focus off the roster as a whole when it came to the product, and placed the emphasis on their new signee, Hulk Hogan. Even June’s Clash of the Champions was a complete afterthought. Normally, the Clashes were not a huge focus, but considering June’s event, it should have meant so much more. Headlining that show was WCW Champions Ric Flair vs. International Champion Sting in a long-awaited unification match. This bout could have headlined any pay per view, perhaps even Starrcade, but the impending WCW pay per view debut of Hulk Hogan at July’s Bash at the Beach overshadowed any hype going into the unification bout. There was little doubt Flair would win as it was fairly obvious Hogan would be fighting and beating Flair at the Bash. Just like in 1990 when they needed someone to be the Back Scorpion, Flair stepped up again, with his professionalism and showmanship, doing all he could to help the company. If you haven?t had the chance to read Flair’s book, his narrative of what happened during this time tells you just how easily WCW caved into Hogan’s requests so early and what it had already cost them. Flair dropped the strap to Hogan at the Bash and as to regain it at the next month’s Clash. But Hogan stepped in and proclaimed the fans were not ready for him to lose the championship. So Flair got a lame count out win. Come October’s Halloween Havoc, tickets for the show weren?t selling. After Hogan had retained against Flair in their first two matches, there was little interest in a third match between the two. So Flair once again stepped up, putting his career on the line to garnish interest in the match. Meanwhile WCW began lining its roster with old WWF stars while Cactus Jack was allowed to walk and Ricky Steamboat’s career-ending back injury made little waves in WCW’s news headlines. By the end of the year, the great Starrcade show that previously featured classic title matches was headlined by a measly match between Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake.
One of the most memorable broadcasts I saw that year was a USWA show. Sid Vicious had recently arrived on the scene and had a title match booked for TV against Jerry Lawler. It was huge for Lawler to be wrestling in a big title match on TV, let alone someone with a big name like Sid. Before the match started, Vicious attacked Lawler and gave him a series of chokeslams, causing Lawler to be stretchered out of the building, the show to be stalled, and Vicious to win the title by forfeit. It was pulled off beautifully.
Over in SMW, the company was featuring talents like Chris Jericho and Lance Storm. Together they were known as the Thrilseekers. The likeness to the Rockers was clear. Jericho immediately drew notice as a younger Shawn Michaels. The seeds for a future dream match had been planted. Also debuting in SMW that year were the Gangstas, one of the most controversial tag teams of the decade. Their style took SMW by storm and added a whole new dimension to the show. It wouldn?t be until the following year that they found their home in ECW.
And as for ECW, what a year. Shane Douglas threw down the NWA championship after winning it in a one-night eight-man tournament. The hardcore dream match of Cactus Jack and Sabu was touring the circuit, and a jobber known as Mikey Whipreck won the TV Title and would hold it for several months, despite never having performed an offensive move.
The Ladder Match Wrestlemania X featured catapulted the career of Shawn Michaels. Ric Flair has stated on a few occasions that Razor Ramon’s greatest claim to fame was being in the vicinity when Michaels wrestled a ladder that night. Flair’s feelings may not be shared by everyone else, but his point about HBK is significant in that Michaels had something to prove to the wrestling world. After his suspension the previous year after failing a drug test he had to get back in good graces with the company. Amazing how that suspension was what led to the storyline that brought him to the Ladder Match at Wrestlemania. He was a born star ahead of his time waiting for his time on top. After not being allowed his spot by headliners before him, Michaels took his place as an undeniable star of the wrestling world at Wrestlemania X. They could push big muscle heads all they wanted; they wouldn?t stand in his way. That night it became clear that Michaels was the future of the company.
After Yokozuna had been dethroned by Bret Hart for the WWF Championship, the roster needed a new top heel. Owen Hart fit that mold perfectly as the two Hart brothers feuded through the summer for the championship. Once that feud came to an end, Bob Backlund, who hadn?t been a big name in the company in years, emerged as a threat to Hart. He beat the Hitman for the championship at Survivor Series only to lose it days later to the extremely popular Kevin Nash.
The rivalry between Nash and Shawn Michaels had been slowly brewing for months. As HBK’s bodyguard, Nash began to emerge as a star in his own right, even doing what Michaels couldn?t do and beating Razor Ramon for the Intercontinental Title. After costing Nash the title in a rematch with Ramon, Shawn and Nash had it out during their match at Survivor Series. Nash and Michaels? team had dominated their opponents, but when they got into a squabble, their entire five man team was counted out, causing Ramon to walk away with another win over HBK. Only a few days later, Nash would beat Backlund at Madison Square Garden for the championship and would usher in a new era for the World Wrestling Federation.
Who would have thought at the beginning of 1994 that the year would end with the WWF being represented by a bodyguard and Hogan representing WCW? Was this change a good thing? The emergence of Nash was a move made on chance as well as capitalizing on his rising star power to turn him into the next mega-star. In the short term it could only be a good move. There was no way Backlund could remain champion for long. WWF was looking for a new big man to fill the spot left by Hogan. Instead of relying on Bret Hart, Nash was thrust into that spot. One has to wonder the true feelings beneath the surface for Shawn Michaels. As happy as he was for his friend, here was a guy he had personally brought into the company, made a star, and now had to watch as a guy with much less talent was handed the championship before him. At the same time, this was nothing new to HBK, at least this time, it was a friend of his and he could be happy for him. Plus, it would mean his first shot at the World Championship at Wrestlemania the next year.
Meanwhile, WCW had taken a severe downturn. Men like Rick Rude, Sting, Vader, Ron Simmons, Cactus Jack, Dustin Rhodes, and Ric Flair were the faces of the WCW in the months leading up to Hogan’s arrival. Now, it was Hogan, Beefcake, Avalanche, Kevin Sullivan, and Jim Duggan as the big stars. Flair had given up his career to salvage a storyline, and Sting had been given the shaft, forcing to play second fiddle to Hogan. WCW had a history of making some really dumb mistakes, but what they allowed to happen in 1994 planted the seeds for the company’s demise. The doctor should have been called in right there with the diagnosis. WCW had less than seven years to live.