Match of the Decade: Ranking Pro Wrestling Illustrated Annual Winners (1990s)
Each year since 1972, Pro Wrestling Illustrated has recognized the best match of the year as voted on by the readers of the magazine.
Some of the wrestlers who participated in multiple matches of the year were Shawn Michaels (nine matches), Bruno Sammartino (five matches), and Ric Flair (five matches).
It's no coincidence that many of the wrestlers selected are recognized as the best in the business.
Here, we will list and discuss the ten winning matches during the 1990s and provide a ranking to identify who was the "Best of the Best" to be called the 'Match of The Decade'.
By no means does this list identify the top ten matches during the decade, just the winners chosen for each year.
Please provide your opinion as I would like to hear what your selection(s) would be.
10 —Diesel v. Shawn Michaels w/ Psycho Sid (4/2/95)
Diesel defeated Bob Backlund for the WWF Championship in November, which did not sit well with Shawn Michaels. This motivated Michaels to win the Royal Rumble and gain a shot at the title in WrestleMania XI.
It looked liked Michaels would win the match, especially after playing some "Sweet Chin Music." The referee, however, was outside after hurting his ankle, so the count was delayed and Diesel was kicked out.
Though Michaels outworked his opponent the whole bout, the match swayed to Diesel's favor at the end. Diesel was able to retain the title after executing the "Jackknife Powerbomb." Diesel cleanly defeated Shawn Michaels.
I remember being disappointed with the outcome and the match, and still feel this way today. I'm sure there were a dozen or so matches more deserving to win Match of the Year.
Other top matches in '95:
- Rey Misterio v. Psicosis
- Eddy Guerrero v. Dean Malenko
- Ultimo Dragon v. Chris Jericho
9 —Shawn Michaels v. Marty Jannetty (5/17/93)
During an interview on Monday Night Raw, Michaels stated that he would defend his WWF Intercontinental Title against anyone, anywhere, when Marty Jannetty appeared in the ring—from the crowd—to accept the invitation.
This match would be the first match for the returning Jannetty, which was scheduled for the end of the show.
The two former partners provided a fast paced match, which Jannetty controlled for the first half of the match. The fans were clearly behind Jannetty, chanting "Marty, Marty, Marty." Curt Henning was ringside.
Since Jannetty was on his game and reversing every move, Michaels grabbed his belt to attempt to leave the arena. But to his dismay, Mr. Perfect appeared to lure him back to the ring. Henning remained on the outside of the ring.
Toward the end of the nine-minute bout, Michaels took control of the match and hit Jannetty with his "Sweet Chin Music." But instead of pinning Jannetty, Michaels began taunting Hennig. He then threw his folded towel (which he always carried) at Michaels, who backed into a small package for a count of three.
Jannetty won his only WWF title, but lost it back to Michaels weeks later due to interference from Diesel.
Though the match was sound, especially for a non-PPV card, I didn't think it deserved to win Match of the Year.
Other top matches in '93:
- Cactus Jack v. Vader
- Sting v. Vader
- Bret Hart v. Curt Henning
8 —Steiners v. Lex Luger & Sting (5/19/91)
Not much led up to this match that was booked for SuperBrawl. The Steiners defeated teams like the Road Warriors, Freebirds, and Midnight Express in prior matches. No other team provided a good matchup with them, except for the team of WCW United States Champs: Luger and Sting. It would be four excellent fighters who respected each other bringing their best for the WCW World Tag Team Championship.
The men exchanged body slams, suplexes, and clotheslines during this ten minute match.
The matches only flaw was that viewers had an idea of two things. First, the titles were not going to exchange hands because Luger and Sting were main event single wrestlers who were competing for the World Titles. Second, the outcome was not going to be "clean."
That's exactly what happened. As Luger and Rick fought outside the ring, Sting executed the "Stinger Splash" and was ready to pin Scott.
Down the ramp came Nikita Koloff, who was measuring Luger for a nasty "Lariat". Sting noticed Koloff and moved Luger out of the way and received the clothesline, which knocked him out. Not knowing what happened, Scott rolled over Sting for the pin.
Realizing who was to blame, Sting ran after Koloff. The two fought backstage and outside the arena.
This is the only non-WWF match recognized by PWI. Politics played a big part.
Other top matches in '91:
- Ric Flair, Larry Zbyszko, Sid Vicious & Barry Windham vs. Steiners, Sting & Brian Pillman—War Games
- Cactus Jack v. Eddie Gilbert
- Randy Savage v. Ultimate Warrior
7 —Bret Hart v. British Bulldog (8/29/92)
The match was the main event of SummerSlam at Wembley Stadium in London, England. It pitted two fan favorites fighting for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. This match caused friction in the Hart clan, since Brett's sister is married to Davey Boy Smith.
At this time, both tag team sensations were being pushed as single competitors. Hart beat Mr. Perfect to win the belt in SummerSlam '91 and then feuded with Mountie.
The Bulldog was the feature wrestler to headline the push in Europe. Due to his origin and popularity, WWF was a success on Sky Sports in England.
The match was over 20 minutes of "see-saw action," which was a famous line of McMahon's play-by-play commentary. That was indeed the case in this match.
The match ended with Hart trying to perform a "Sunset Flip," which the Bulldog prevented and was able to pin Hart's shoulder for the victory.
80,000 fans went nuts at Wembley Stadium with the victory.
Hart was clearly upset with himself and initially wouldn't shake the Bulldog's hand, which ignited 80,000 fans to boo. But, when he finally did, the fans went nuts yet again.
This loss allowed Hart to make a run at the WWF World Title, which he succeeded. As for Bulldog's title reign, it lasted less than three months, and he was released shortly afterward for drug related reasons.
Other top matches in '92:
- Jushin Thunder Liger v. "Flyin" Brian Pillman
- Sting, Nikita Koloff, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat & Barry Windham vs. Arn Anderson, Bobby Eaton, Steve Austin, Larry Zbyszko & Rick Rude —War Games
- Eddie Gilbert v. Terry Funk
6 —Bret Hart v. Shawn Michaels (3/31/96)
Shawn Michaels received a shot at the WWF World Title at WrestleMania XII after winning the Royal Rumble. The match was booked to be an Iron Man Match, with the winner being determined by the amount of scoring conditions within sixty minutes.
Shawn Michaels dominated the match, especially the first half. With less than a minute to go and the score at zero-zero, Michaels flew off the top rope but was stopped by Hart who then applied the "Sharpshooter." Michaels was able to hold off until the bell rang.
Hart left the ring with the belt thinking the match was a draw. But, Gorilla Monsoon told the referee that the match would continue in sudden death overtime.
After connecting with the "Sweet Chin Music," Michaels was unable to pin Hart quick enough. About a minute later, Michaels connected again with a super kick to become the new WWF World Heavyweight Champion.
Other top matches in '96:
- Rey Misterio v. Juventud Guerrera
- Bret Hart v. Steve Austin
- Shawn Michaels v. Mankind
5 —The Rock v. Mankind (1/24/99)
Leading up to this match at Royal Rumble, promos were shown to reflect Mick Foley's past matches and brutal punishment he was able to sustain. This type of match, "I Quit," would benefit Mankind due to this ability to take and deliver pain.
Rock's promo (which is a classic) discussed how he was going to beat Mankind up all over the arena and make him say those two words.
Some famous quotes from the Rock's interviews leading up to the match include:
"Rock plans on sprinkling a Rock Bottom here and a Rock Bottom there. Rock going to take Mankind to the English announcer table and the Rock is going to go down the line. Spanish announcer table, French announcer table, Ho Chi Ming chow Chinese announcer table all the languages down the Rock's Rumble."
"Rock is going to drag Mankind down 'Know Your Role Boulevard,' hang a right down 'Jabroni Drive'. There it is the 'Smackdown Hotel.' Take his candy ass from room to room until it's check out time."
Boy, is Rock missed.
The match was pretty even until the fight was brought to the stands, where Mankind fell 15 feet through the electric circuit board. This caused most of the lights in the arena to go out.
From that point on, the match turned out as advertised. It was simply a test of how much pain Mankind could take before he would be forced to say the words.
The Rock dragged Mankind to the middle of the ring and handcuffed his arms behind his body. From the middle of the ring and up to the aisle, The Rock smashed the chair onto Mankind's head which cut him wide open, all the while demanding that Mankind quit.
Finally, a pre-recorded sample of Mankind saying "I quit" blared on the speakers, but those words never came out of his mouth. The match was over and The Rock regained his WWF World Heavyweight Championship.
Shortly after, Mankind regained the belt using a forklift truck. Then, finally, The Rock ended the feud by winning the belt a third time with the help of The Big Show during a ladder match.
Other top matches in '99:
- Edge & Christian v. Hardys
- Chris Benoit v. Bret Hart
- Steve Austin v. Rock
4 —Bret Hart v. Steve Austin (3/23/97)
This feud began in October of 1996 due to Austin's relentless taunting of Hart—including Austin saying that you need to put a "S" in front of Hart's nickname (Hitman), in order to understand how Austin felt about him.
Hart eventually fought Austin and defeated him at Survivor Series.
But the feud continued when Austin helped Psycho Sid defeat Hart for the belt the day after Hart won the belt.
This led to the booking of a No DQ Submission Match for WrestleMania XIII with special referee Ken Shamrock. This is the first of two non-title matches that were recognized as a Match of the Year for their respective year during this decade.
From the moment the bell rang, the two began brawling all over the arena. The action in the ring was minimal, as Hart was looking to take out months of frustration. This is the action that I favor.
Watching this match again, I can truly understand and remember why Hart is one of the best ever. He can excel in a scientific match or he can brawl when required.
This match truly deserved the recognition it received, and the fans appreciation at the arena was felt with their reaction to each move. Headlocks and arm-bars were not permitted.
After numerous submission holds, Hart was able to get a bloodied Steve Austin to submit to the "Sharpshooter."
This match is one of four WWF/E which was rated five stars by Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Other top matches in '97:
- Undertaker v. Shawn Michaels
- Eddy Guerrero v. Rey Misterio
- Bret & Owen Hart & Davey Boy Smith & Jim Neidhart & Brian Pillman vs. Steve Austin & Ken Shamrock & Goldust & Legion of Doom
3 —Razor Ramon v. Shawn Michaels w/Diesel (3/20/94)
While Shawn Michaels was away, Razor Ramon began to rule the Intercontinental division. This didn't sit well with Michaels. So, after his return, he began claiming that he was the rightful champion.
The feud culminated in a ladder match at WrestleMania X. Along with the Austin-Hart match (ranked above), this match received five stars from Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
The match was even until the end, when Michaels knocked out Ramon with a superkick and then a piledriver. Due to fatigue, Michaels was not quick in taking advantage of the knockout.
Once he was able to get his energy back, the ladder was set for Michaels to climb and grab the Intercontinental belt. Ramon regained his consciousness and shoulder-blocked the ladder over when Michaels was climbing. Michaels right leg got tied up in the rope with the push. This allowed Ramon to climb the ladder and grab the belt.
I think the lure of this match was due to the high risk of injuries that these two men were willing to take in order to perform an excellent match.
Other top matches in '94:
- Eddy Guerrero v. Dean Malenko
- Shawn Michaels v. Jeff Jarrett
- Sabu v. Devon Storm
2 —Hulk Hogan v. Ultimate Warrior (4/1/90)
This Title v. Title match—the first in WWF history—between the two most popular wrestlers at that time was appropriately billed as "The Ultimate Challenge".
Egos were portrayed as the reason for the conflict. Ultimate Warrior was seen as the wrestler for the 90s, as Hogan was for the 80s.
Most of the 20 minute match was a contest of strength and back and forth shifts of momentum.
Hogan locked Warrior in a lengthy sleeper hold, which Warrior fought his way out of, shook the ropes for his trademark adrenaline rush, and then scored with three consecutive clotheslines. This brought Warrior fans to their feet.
It was clear that the 60,000 plus fans in the Toronto Skydome were split on who they were rooting for.
The match finally reached its climax when Warrior performed his "Gorilla Press Drop" on Hogan, followed by the "Warrior Splash" and a pin. Hogan kicked out of the pin, then proceeded to "Hulk Up" (predictable). He the hit Warrior with the Big Boot, setting him up for the "Atomic Leg Drop." However, Warrior rolled out of the way (unpredictable) to avoid the move and scored another "Warrior Splash," which pinned Hogan for the 3-count.
I remember my emotions swinging from annoyed to ecstatic in a blink of an eye. I was very happy that the WWF was moving on, and that the win was clean.
Other top matches in '90:
- Bobby Eaton & Stan Lane v. Tracy Smothers & Steve Armstrong
- Steiners v. Nasty Boys
- Ric Flair v. Lex Luger
1 —Undertaker v. Mankind (6/28/98)
The third ever 'Hell in a Cell' match occurred at King of the Ring in Pittsburgh, Penn.
A couple of minutes into the match, The Undertaker threw Mankind off of the top of the cell. The 16-foot fall onto the Spanish Announcers' table has become one of the most used clips in professional wrestling history. The fall also inspired play-by-play commentator Jim Ross to utter what is considered the most memorable comment in the history of professional wrestling: "Good, God almighty, good, God almighty. That killed him. As God as my witness, he is broken in half. "
Foley still continued to fight, even with paramedics wanting to wheel him out to the ambulance.
As if that fall wasn't enough, Undertaker choke-slammed Mankind through the roof of the cell, causing Jim Ross to scream "Good, God. Good, God." while his broadcast partner Jerry "The King" Lawler muttered softly "That's it, he's dead."
Ross added, "Will somebody stop the damn match? Enough is enough."
When the match ended, Foley insisted that he not be carried out on a stretcher as he was earlier, but to be allowed to walk out. Ultimately, he was helped to the back by WWF officials.
This show of two warriors battling out proved that Mick Foley was one tough S.O.B.
Well deserving for match of the year and my choice for "Match of the Decade".
Other top matches in '98:
- Steve Austin v. Dude Love
- Juventud Guerrera v. Billy Kidman
- Rock v. Triple H
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