Friday, June 30, 2017

Top Ten Things: Wrestling PPVs of the 90s

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things here at Enuffa.com!

Today it's a countdown of the ten best PPV events of the 1990s!  In the middle of the decade the PPV calendar exploded, as the WWF and WCW were jockeying for position as the top wrestling company in North America.  What had been a sparse schedule of 4-5 PPVs a year turned into a monthly rotation of special events.  WCW expanded first, increasing their offerings to ten per year, which prompted the WWF to create two-hour PPVs to supplement their Big Five schedule.  The B-shows were dubbed In Your House, and each had a sub-title to distinguish them.  You all know the Monday Night War history - both companies raised the stakes on an almost weekly basis hoping to win the ratings battle, and by the end of 1997 each was offering a full 3-hour PPV every month.  The wrestling landscape evolved quickly and abruptly during this time period, and the product on both sides became a pop culture phenomenon, breaking buyrate records like crazy.

So which PPVs were the best of the decade?  Given the deep pool of shows to choose from it was tough narrowing it down, but I think I've assembled a list of ten that holds up quite well.  Here we go....




10. Royal Rumble '93


The 1993 Rumble had no right to be as good a show as it was.  Despite a very depleted roster the WWF managed an exceedingly fun Rumble PPV - from the fast-paced opening tag featuring WWF newcomers The Steiners vs. The Beverly Brothers, to the much-anticipated clash of former partners Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, to the excellent Bret Hart-Razor Ramon WWF Title match, the undercard was easily the strongest of any Rumble show to date.  The Rumble match itself suffered from a paper-thin lineup and very few viable contenders, but amazingly it was still a well-worked match with several memorable moments.  This was the year Yokozuna emerged from the pack to become the company's monster heel Champion, enjoying the longest run of any heel WWF Champ since the late 70s.  Even with very little star power the '93 Rumble boasted two good-to-great Title matches, two solid undercard matches, and a decent if thin Rumble match - hardly a thing to sneeze at.






9. Spring Stampede '94


WCW's last great PPV before its transformation into 80s WWF was this somewhat forgotten gem featuring a spectacular Ric Flair-Ricky Steamboat Title match that, while not quite on the level of their legendary 1989 trilogy, was still one of the best matches of 1994.  The two masters grappled to a grueling 32-minute draw which ended with a double pinfall.  Commissioner Nick Bockwinkel held up the Title pending a rematch on WCW Saturday Night, itself a stellar contest.  Elsewhere on the card Vader and The (Big) Boss(man) had a bruising 9-minute fight, Steve Austin defended the US Title against The Great Muta, and The Nasty Boys had a crazy Chicago Street Fight against Cactus Jack & Maxx Payne.  WCW was sadly about to lose its identity, but Spring Stampede hearkened back to the company's glory years with a consistently entertaining card capped off by a fantastic main event.






8. SuperBrawl II


In the early 90s WCW introduced a new annual PPV, SuperBrawl, which in many ways became the new flagship show.  Part of that had to do with Starrcade being repurposed as a BattleBowl special in '91 and '92, but also the early SuperBrawl PPVs had loaded match lineups with big-time main events.  Case in point was the second installment.  Leading off with a Brian Pillman-Jushin "Thunder" Liger Jr. Heavyweight classic set the tone for a memorable night.  After a few somewhat forgettable undercard bouts like Marcus Bagwell vs. Terry Taylor, Cactus Jack vs. Ron Simmons (which should've gotten more time), and Van Hammer/Z-Man vs. Richard Morton/Vinnie Vegas (which should've gotten less time), the show hit its stride with four big matchups in a row.  Barry Windham and Dustin Rhodes faced Steve Austin and Larry Zbyszko, Tag Team Champs Arn Anderson & Bobby Eaton defended against The Steiners, Rick Rude retained the US Title vs. Ricky Steamboat, and Sting regained the WCW Title over former best friend Lex Luger, who left for the WWF after this show.  While SB2 lacked a true Match of the Year contender, it was nevertheless a pretty unrelentingly good PPV with a lot of early 90s WCW star power.








7. SummerSlam '92


The 1992 edition was not only the best PPV of the year, but also featured the best match of the year, plus a few other standouts.  Noteworthy undercard matches included The Legion of Doom vs. Money Inc., former Demolition partners Crush and Repo Man (Smash) in a brief but fun little match; and Shawn Michaels vs. Rick Martel in a terribly entertaining heel vs. heel match.  But this show is remembered for its huge double main event.  The World Title match between Randy Savage and Warrior, while not quite up to their WM7 match, was still a pretty epic bout with an intriguing face vs. face dynamic.  The show closer though still holds up as one of the best matches of all time - Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith faced off for the Intercontinental Title, creating a 25-minute in-ring masterpiece.  Late 1992 marked a WWF turning point where smaller, athletic wrestlers were being spotlighted and given marquee spots on the roster, and SummerSlam '92 was a great illustration of this.






6. Canadian Stampede


Widely considered the best show of 1997, In Your House: Canadian Stampede was a streamlined, two-hour show that never let up for a minute.  With a lineup of only four matches, there was no room for filler, and thus not a bad match on the show.  In the opener, Hunter Hearst Helmsley formally began his feud with Mankind in a wild brawl that spilled out all over the arena and even picked up again later in the night.  From there the WWF launched its new Light Heavyweight division with a nice spotfest between The Great Sasuke and newcomer Taka Michinoku.  While not quite up to the standard set by WCW's Cruiserweight division, this was a refreshingly different match for a WWF card.  Next up was the WWF Title match, as The Undertaker defended against Vader (subbing for an injured Ahmed Johnson) in probably the best match of their 1997 series.  Then came the monumental headliner - a five-on-five war between hometown heroes The Hart Foundation and their hated (in Canada at least) American adversaries led by Steve Austin.  The match was an epic melee that involved not only the ten official participants, but various Hart family members seated at ringside.  While nothing was really settled in the end, this match (and this PPV) was a glorious chapter in the US vs. Canada feud of 1997.






5. Summerslam '97


SummerSlam '97 was the climax of the awesome USA vs. Canada feud between the Hart Foundation and a group of American wrestlers, where the lines between babyface vs. heel were as blurred and elastic as they had ever been.  The main event saw Bret Hart challenge The Undertaker for the WWF Title, with Shawn Michaels as the guest referee.  The match was a methodical but drama-filled epic, with the Bret-Shawn vendetta adding another layer to the tension.  In the semi-main slot was the Owen Hart-Steve Austin Intercontinental Title match, which was on its way to stealing the show before an unfortunately executed piledriver that temporarily paralyzed Austin.  The third standout was the opener - a Mankind-Triple H Steel Cage match.  This violent, hate-filled display of brutality was as good as anything else on the PPV, even without the use of blading.  Mix in a solid undercard comprised of several accomplished talents (Bulldog vs. Shamrock, Goldust vs. Pillman), and SummerSlam '97 was a very strong card which the company built up to very effectively.  I consider this the best of the first ten SummerSlams.






4. King of the Ring '96


KOTR 1996 was the first edition that struck the right balance between a tournament elevating someone new, and a strong overall card.  The show had a few throwaway matches (Smokin' Gunns vs. Godwinns, Ultimate Warrior vs. Jerry Lawler, Vader vs. Jake Roberts), but also sported an awesome Marc Mero-Steve Austin semi-final match (where Austin took an errant kick to the face that split his mouth open), an absolutely brutal Undertaker-Mankind war that began their legendary feud, a surprisingly good Goldust-Ahmed Johnson Intercontinental Title match, and a 4+ star WWF Title match between Shawn Michaels and Davey Boy Smith, two guys who had great power vs. finesse chemistry and delivered in spades here.  But King of the Ring '96 is mostly remembered for the tournament final and its aftermath, where Steve Austin dominated an injured Jake Roberts before cutting probably the most famous and important promo of all time.  "Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16....Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!"  Thus began the rise of arguably the biggest draw in wrestling history.






3. SummerSlam '98


The 1998 edition of SummerSlam felt like a monumental event.  At a time where the company was still rebuilding from the roster holes left by Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and others, they began manufacturing new and exciting characters like crazy.  Led by Steve Austin and the "Attitude" formula, the WWF was riding the biggest wave of momentum in a decade.  The stacked undercard was highlighted by D-Lo Brown vs. Val Venis, X-Pac vs. Jeff Jarrett, Edge and Sable vs. Marc Mero and Jackie, and an MMA-inspired Lion's Den match between Ken Shamrock and Owen Hart; while the top two matches involved the eventual "Big Four" of the Attitude Era.  First up was an Intercontinental Ladder Match between The Rock and Triple H, in a gritty, hard-hitting bout that helped catapult both men to the next level.  The main event was a huge face vs. face match for the WWF Title - Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker.  Austin's biggest Title defense to date featured intense back-and-forth brawling punctuated by a few high spots like Taker's gasp-inducing top-rope legdrop through the commentators' table.  Overall, SummerSlam '98 was arguably the best edition up to that point, with two four-star main events and a strong collection of undercard bouts.  The WWF was on an amazing roll with the success of Steve Austin, and continued to build for the future with numerous young stars ready to rise to the occasion.






2. Survivor Series 1995


The 1995 edition was a return to form for Survivor Series, as it restored some level of importance to the elimination matches while still featuring an epic WWF Title match.  Even the opening bout, featuring lower-tier undercard talent, was treated like a meaningful contest that showcased multiple feuds.  The Bodydonnas (Skip, Rad Radford, Tom Prichard, and The 1-2-3 Kid) faced The Underdogs (Marty Janetty, Bob Holly, Hakushi, and Barry Horowitz), and wrestled like they had something to prove.  The match featured tons of aerial moves and spectacular high spots, and ended up being one of the show's highlights.  An all-women's elimination match followed (captained by Alundra Blayze and Bertha Faye), spotlighting several Japanese wrestlers utilizing intricate, crowd-pleasing movesets previously not seen in the WWF.  While the middle of Survivor Series '95 was rather forgettable, the final two matches were both excellent.  The semi-main event slot went to the first (and only) Wild Card Match, where babyfaces and heels were selected at random to form teams: Shawn Michaels/Ahmed Johnson/Davey Boy Smith/Sycho Sid faced Razor Ramon/Yokozuna/Owen Hart/Dean Douglas.  The unusual pairings made for an extremely exciting, unpredictable dynamic, and the result was one of the best elimination matches I've ever seen.  The main event went to WWF Champion Diesel and Bret Hart, in a slow-paced but realistically brutal No Holds Barred match featuring strong psychology and character development.  The WWF at this point was building a new roster, and the 1995 Survivor Series was an extremely watchable show that pretty much blew away everything else on the WWF's PPV calendar that year and came closest to matching the first two stellar Survivor Series PPVs.






1. WrestleMania X


The top spot on this list belongs to the tenth edition of 'Mania.  While the quality was inconsistent, this show spawned the two best matches of 1994, which also just happened to be two of the best matches of the entire decade.  The Bret Hart-Owen Hart kickoff is almost certainly still the greatest opening match in PPV history, as the two feuding brothers tore the Garden down in an absolute clinic comprised of some of the best technical wrestling I've ever seen.  A slew of varied matches followed: a comedy match with Bam Bam Bigelow & Luna Vachon facing Doink and Dink, a strange Falls Count Anywhere variation between Randy Savage and Crush, a decent Alundra Blayze vs. Lelani Kai Women's Title match, and a very entertaining Quebecers-Men on a Misson Tag Title contest.  Then came the first of two WWF Title matches, as Royal Rumble co-winner Lex Luger challenged Yokozuna in a rather disappointing rematch from SummerSlam '93.  But things picked up huge in the semi-main slot, as Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels danced with a ladder for the undisputed Intercontinental Title.  If any match was going to overshadow both the main event of WrestleMania and the Bret-Owen clinic, this was it.  The years have actually favored Bret vs. Owen in my opinion, but at the time this match was the damnedest thing I had ever seen.  Shawn and Razor essentially gave birth to the modern Ladder Match, and basically every such match since owes it a debt.  In terms of defining the Spotfest, this might be the most important bout of the 1990s.  Closing out the show was the second WWF Title match, where Bret sought to avenge his 'Mania 9 loss to Yokozuna.  While not quite as entertaining as their first encounter, this provided closure to the feud and felt like a true crowning moment for Bret as the company's top star.  Despite being an uneven show, 'Mania X featured two five-star all-time classics and therefore is my pick for the best PPV of the 1990s.



That's all I got for today folks.  Check back at Enuffa.com for more Top Ten Things and other wrestling-related ballyhoo!


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