WWE in the 1990s: The Most Important Decade In The Company's History?

Dan PowerSenior Analyst IFebruary 8, 2011

WWE in the 1990s: The Most Important Decade In The Company's History?

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    The Rock, Big Show, The Undertaker, Triple H, Mankind and Steve Austin.

    We all agree that the 1980s was the decade in which WWE was put on the map by Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan, with the help of many others in their shadow.

    In the 1990s, the company was riding a roller-coaster, with many highs and lows.

    There were many crucial historic moments. Many events contributed to the important transition between the explosion of the '80s and the permanent establishment of the company in the 2000s.

    There were also many flops and WWE even reached such a low level that they were on the edge of bankruptcy at some point. But they learned from their mistakes and re-emerged stronger than ever with the Attitude Era.

    So, with no more introduction, let's see what made the 1990s such an important decade in WWE history.

The End of an Era and a Long Hard Transition

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    A Royal Rumble 1992 Promotional poster featuring the old guard and some newcomers.

    The old guard that ruled in the '80s became older and played smaller or non-wrestling roles. Many of them also retired or joined the competition.

    At Wrestlemania VI, in 1990, Hulk Hogan passed the torch to the Ultimate Warrior. In a champion vs. champion match, the Ultimate Warrior was then the holder of the Intercontinental Title and he managed to defeat Hogan for the WWF Championship.

    However, The Ultimate Warrior entered in a contractual conflict with Vince McMahon and left the company in 1991. He came back in 1992 for few months, but once again, his odd relationship with McMahon led him out once again, and the same happened in 1996.

    Hulk Hogan, who was only the shadow of what he was in the '80s and Randy Savage was on the side for a while before he also joined WCW.

    Other big names such as Roddy Piper, Ted DiBiase and Jake Roberts were no longer in their prime and eventually disappeared.

    There were even some blasts from the past with the comebacks of Bob Backlund and Sgt Slaughter, who both became transitional WWF Champions. And many others joined for a short period of time as those in the following slide. 

Many Greats Came and Left

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    Sid, Diesel vs. Yokozuna, Razor Ramon with Ric Flair, Lex Luger and Vader.

    Diesel, Razor Ramon, Ric Flair, Sid, Lex Luger and Vader are some who come to mind first and there are many others such as Yokozuna.

    As you can see, in the transition between the "Golden Era" of the '80s to the Attitude Era, a lot of legendary wrestlers had short runs with the company.

    With Lex Luger, for example, they tried to replace Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior as the top powerhouse. Diesel and Sid also played the powerhouse role, but it seemed the fans were no longer high about this wrestling style.

    The tastes changed, and the fans were looking for a different kind of hero, so WWE came with some new top faces as you will see in the next slide.

The New Faces of The Company

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    Bret Hart, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels all met at one time or another in the second half of the '90s.

    WWE's answer to the new fans' wishes as top faces were Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker who all became WWF Champions.

    Those new faces of the company were all different from what there was in the past.

    Bret Hart, who made his mark in the tag team division in the previous decade, was the leader of the transition between the 1980s and the 2000s. In some way, he was the link between Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin, two of the biggest draws in pro-wrestling history. Hart's style reminded the great technical wrestlers of the '70s such as Bob Backlund, but a little bit more flamboyant.

    Shawn Michaels also started with WWE as a tag team specialist and he replaced Bret Hart as the top face. With his outstanding flashy style, in and out of the ring, he was a genuine showman. Then, in the late '90s, he became the icon who passed the torch to Stone Cold at Wrestlemania 14.

    The legend of The Undertaker started in 1990 and, less than one year later, he defeated none other than Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title he would lose some days later. But another icon was born and The Deadman would become The Phenom of WWE with his legendary Wrestlemania streak among countless other accomplishments and classic moments.

    If he can be considered as a powerhouse, he was more of a brawler in the ring.

Monday Night Raw

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    From Kane to Bret Hart, from Triple H to The Undertaker and from Stone Cold to The Rock, Raw was the stage for all those icons of the '90s.

    Starting on Jan. 11,1993, WWE fans were served with a brand-new TV show, which featured more high-profile matches than on the usual syndicated programs.

    From that moment, the fans could watch their weekly show live (one week out of two from 1994 to 1999) and the comments were not recorded in studios as before.

    The style of Monday Night Raw was less generic than the syndicated shows and more exciting with more interview segments. We can even say it had more attitude than its predecessors and it would become the flagship show of the company in the future.

    A lot of history has been written or Raw, and it is the longest running weekly show in TV history.

A Storyline for Everyone

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    The Oddities, The Brood, The New Hart Foundation and The Nation Of Domination.

    There was not a majority of wrestlers left without a storyline as nowadays. Long lasting rivalries were not only reserved for the top-card wrestlers. Even the wrestlers in the mid and low card divisions had their share of storylines.

    When there was a storyline for everyone, the shows were amazingly entertaining. There were almost no random matches with no buildup on the pay-per-view cards; and on the weekly shows, the storylines were always reminded with outside interference or interview segments.

    With the continuity of the gimmick-heavy style inherited from the '80s, the creative team was actually creative. Even the worst wrestlers had flashy or out-of-this world gimmicks so the fans had something interesting or weird to watch, with some good and a lot of bad, but at least entertaining.

    There were also a lot of great less greater stables for everyone, from jobbers to main-eventers. To name a few, we can mention The Nation Of Domination, The Brood, The Corporate Ministry, The J.O.B. Squad, The Oddities, The Disciples Of Apocalypse and The New Hart Foundation. 

A Solid Mid-Card Division

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    Jeff Jarrett vs. 1-2-3 Kid aka X-Pac and Goldust vs. Bam Bam Bigelow.

    In addition to the top draws, there was a great bunch of mid-carders. They were some of the greatest enhancement talents ever such as IRS, Owen Hart, X-Pac, Jeff Jarrett, Bam Bam Bigelow and Goldust.

    The jobbers to the top stars were a full part of the new era of the gimmick-heavy style, with brand new kinds of characters.

    In the '90s, we could see a trash collector, a plumber, a porn star, a hockey player, a prisoner and all kinds of other gimmicks. 

The Women's Division in Jeopardy and the Re-Birth

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    Bull Nakano vs. Alundra Blayze; Sable, Sunny and Chyna

    In 1990, the women's division was deactivated and, until 1993, the only women seen in WWE were managers.

    In 1993, Alundra Blayze joined the WWF and she carried the reactivated division for two years. But, except for Bull Nakano, she had no competition.

    Then, 1995 marked one more deactivation of the division, for three years. But, in that period, we witnessed the arrival of the first modern Diva, Sunny.

    The division came back to life in 1998, for good this time. The Diva concept was invented and a new generation of women joined the company, including Sable, Jacqueline, Ivory and the mighty Chyna. Those women were the first prototypes of the 2000s Divas.

The Montreal Screwjob and the Birth of the Attitude Era

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    Triple H, Stone Cold, The Undertaker, Mankind, The Rock.

    After struggling against huge financial issues following the departure of Hulk Hogan and other great names of the 1980s, the WWF tried to to maintain the standards established in the last decade.

    The company went through some issues with a product that was not really appealing and many fans started to watch what the competition had to offer, and WCW became a huge threat.

    But, in 1997, at the Survivor Series, a major historic moment took place with the Montreal Screwjob. It eventually led to the birth of the Attitude Era.

    The product was then edgier and entered a new phase that would save the company. In addition to the more adult content in promos, there was also the birth of the Hardcore Championship.

    There was blood like never before or after in regular programming. And, obviously, with that revolution of the product, some new top superstars made their mark and contributed to save and reinforce Vince McMahon's empire. Those saviors are in the next slide.

A New Generation of Top Superstars Emerged

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    Steve Austin, HHH and The Rock with the WWF Championship.

    During the Attitude Era, a new generation of mega-stars emerged. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Mankind and The Rock became the leaders of the new wave. With their star power, they contributed to bring the WWF on a new higher level that surpassed the Hulkamania era on many points.

    Stone Cold was arguably the biggest name of the Attitude Era and he attracted a whole new generation of fans with his unique style.

    Triple H worked his way to the top at the same moment and he was the leader of DX; he eventually became one of the biggest draws in the 2000s.

    Mankind was the king of hardcore and he brought in WWF a rarely-seen violence on our TV screens for a wrestling show.

    The Rock was probably the greatest ever on the microphone and many of his promos became pure classics.

    In addition to those four pillars of the Attitude Era, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker continued to cement their legacy. There were also Kane, Kurt Angle, Edge and Chris Jericho, who debuted in the late '90s, who joined the mix.

    If you add the APA, Big Show and the other mid-carders, you had an impressive roster that carried the company, now stronger than ever, into the new millennium.

The Monday Night Wars

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    DX invading WCW and Stone Cold vs. Vince McMahon.

    It was Raw vs. Nitro in a no mercy battle between WWF and WCW for the Monday night TV wrestling audience. Only one promotion could survive, and the WWF emerged victorious.

    Vince McMahon himself put his body on the line in an epic rivalry against Stone Cold. That feud is considered by many as the greatest ever in pro-wrestling history and it was fought of many fronts, with rarely seen intensity.

    In addition to the unforgettable Austin vs. McMahon angle, DX literally invaded WCW and went above the limits by appearing at the competition's events and headquarters.

    The DX Army traveled in an army jeep, with military outfit and with a megaphone to shout insults against WCW. Those segments became instant TV classics.

    In the end, the WWF won the war and it led WCW on the edge of bankruptcy. Then, in 2001, McMahon bought the competition and his company became the sole survivor as well as the biggest pro-wrestling promotion in that part of the universe.


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    So, that's it for that travel back in the '90s. As you could see, there were many major and historic moments that built what WWE is today.

    For all the reasons I mentioned, I think this was the most crucial decade for the company. Vince McMahon overcame each and every obstacles on his path to supremacy in the universe of pro wrestling.

    After the peak reached in the '80s, WWE had to find a new identity and the creative team found the best ways to survive to eventually create an empire that is nowhere near to fall.

    Do you agree with me when I say that the '90s was the most important period in the company's history? Do you think the transition was a success and established new standards? What is your opinion about the '90s?

    The comment section is wide open for discussion...