Can you pinpoint a moment in your life where things just seemed to change? You really couldn?t explain why, you just knew that things were different. Maybe it was a new outlook on life or a being in new surroundings. For some reason, the wrestling world changed in 1992 for the better. I cannot point to one moment and proclaim it as the reason 1992 was such a good year when it came to quality in wrestling. It was a combination of many things, be it the rise in new stars, changes in business infrastructure, or possibly Ric Flair’s WWF Championship reign which heralded a temporary end to champions made of muscle alone. Whatever the reason(s) for the change in 1992, I am truly grateful as a wrestling fan for the spectacular matches I witnessed and still think of to this day.
The WWF title had been declared vacant at the end of 1991 and the championship would be decided in 1992 Royal Rumble match in which 30 men would get their shot at greatness. I couldn?t believe how cool it was. The WWF Championship would be decided the 30-man Royal Rumble. This was going to be good. I thought for sure it would come down to Hogan and Flair. It just had to with all that was going on. But that was not to be. Instead, there was a swerve. With the final four contestants being the top four men in the company, Hogan, Undertaker, Flair, and Sid Justice, the end to this Rumble climactic in a way very few Rumbles are. Hogan threw out Taker only to be dumped over the top himself by Sid. It’s funny looking how that made Sid the bad guy even though if Hogan had done it, he would have been cheered. It was freaking every man for himself! With that, Hogan actually helped Flair win the Rumble and the title. This was the beginning of something great for the World Wrestling Federation. For the first time in years, a genuine wrestler was champion.
Come Wrestlemania VIII, I was excited as I had been in a while. When I finally got to watch the show on tape, I was blown away. Macho Man Randy Savage beat Flair for the championship in one hell of a match, Hogan beat Sid by DQ, the Ultimate Worrier returned, and I thought the I-C- title match between Bret Hart and Roddy Piper was the best match I had seen up to that point. I just watched it again this week and still feel my adrenaline going as these two tear into each other. At the end of the match Piper went to hit Hart with the ring bell but opted not to win the match in a dirty way. For that, he was cheered. Can you imagine a wrestler doing that today and getting cheered? He would be booed out of the building for his ?do the right thing? mentality. After a disappointing Mania in 1991, WMVIII struck back with a great show.
Things would only get better come Summerslam. In front of an enormous crowd in London , Davey Boy Smith defeated Bret Hart to become the I-C champion. This match still stands as a classic. It testified to the title’s prestige that the I-C title was decided in the main event. Could you imagine WWE doing that now? No way with three world championships would they put the I-C, Tag Team, U.S. or any other title in the main event of a pay per view, and that is a really sad thing. This championship used to mean so much. Right now WWE has one of the best I-C champions they could have in Rey Mysterio. Rey should be headlining Smackdown every week with that title on the line. It is years like 1992 that make me long for a time when champions meant so much more. In my ideal world, there would be very few backstage segments, and the world champions would wrestle very rarely on free TV, especially if the champion were a heel. They would be there every week for sure to do interviews, but that would be the extent. The I-C champion would be the fighting champion who was second only to the top guy.
If you were to name one match in the career of Davey Boy Smith, you would likely name this match with Bret Hart, which boasts how good it was with all of the great matches Davey had in his career, and his title reign being fairly uneventful as Shawn Michaels quickly snagged the belt from him. I loved the British Bulldog and it is a shame there aren?t too many workers like him anymore. He was a guy you could put anywhere on the card and he would have a great match. The only downside to it was that he rarely worked extended programs with anyone. While you may see guys like Big Show or Kane as guys that can be inserted anywhere on the card, and no disrespect to them, but they don?t have the quality matches that Davey Boy could. Even though Davey Boy had that big win, he would only keep the belt for a few weeks before dropping it to one of the best I-C champs of all time, Shawn Michaels. When Survivor Series rolled around that year, Michaels took on Bret Hart, who was now World Champion, in a champion vs. champion match. While there was a match earlier in the show which drew the most hype, Hart and Michaels proved why they belonged in their spots with one hell of a match.
The Undertaker, who had been in the WWF for a little over a year and had just been through a frightening program with Hulk Hogan, became a fan favorite in 1992. This babyface turn would mark the beginning of Taker’s reign as one of the most revered competitors in the wrestling world. Why is that? Because of human nature. For months and months, Taker scared the living daylights out of little children and now he was becoming a force for good? Hey, at least he was on our side, right? Taker quickly began his infamous feud with the giants of wrestling. He would start with Kamala and continue for years to come.
WCW’s Superbrawl showcased two of the year’s most memorable matches. Ricky Steamboat and Rick Rude had a great match for the U.S. title and Brian Pillman and Jushin Liger blew the wrestling world away with their curtain-jerking bout for the Light-Heavyweight Championship. In spite of the great year WCW had with the emergence the monster Vader, and Ron Simmons becoming World Champion, I always loved one show in particular that WCW had to offer: Battle Bowl. It felt like a cross between Survivor Series and Royal Rumble. Two man teams were drawn and would face off. The winning team would then go into a battle royal at the end of the night. In 1992, one of my favorites at the time, the Great Muta, won the battle royal despite also competing against Masahiro Chono earlier in the night for the NWA Championship. Every now and then I wish WWE would do the Battle Bowl either on a pay per view or on a three hour Raw episode.
Also in 1992 was one of the highlights in the careers of Sting and Mick Foley as they went at it at Beach Blast. Watching this match back now, it still stands as a great brawl. It is a match that stands the test of time yet is overlooked in the great matches in the history of WCW. While certain main event guys wouldn?t take big bumps or get down and dirty with other competitors, Sting did. He deserved every ounce of respect and success he had. He had the look to be a star, but he didn?t get by on that alone. While you could poke fun at some the main eventers of that time as big brutes who had no business making the money they did, Sting refused to get by on looks alone and became a great wrestler. I look at him and can?t help but think of John Cena today. John Cena is not the new Austin or the next Rock. He is this decade’s version of Sting as well as the first Cena. When I look at Sting’s rivalry with Mick Foley in the early 90s, I think of Cena’s series with Umaga in early 2007.
Yes, the wrestling world was a pretty good place to be as a fan in 1992. As mean as this will sound, a large part was due to the absence of Hulk Hogan. Bret Hart would not have become champion if Hogan was around, which we realized quickly in 1993 when Hogan came back. The World Wrestling Federation’s playing field became more even as younger stars rose to the top and quality wrestling outshined muscles and political power. WCW was doing well also with its deep roster of quality performers who could put on a good show regardless of the atrocious writing. But as we know, all good things come to an end.