Between 1985 and 1991, the World Wrestling Federation had become a must-see product on television. Vince McMahon had transformed a regional form of entertainment into a global phenomenon. In 1989, the WWF Superstars embarked on a World Tour where shows were broadcast nationally, in France and Great Britain.
All over the world, Hulk Hogan – the company’s most popular star – inspired children to always do the right thing, telling them “say your prayers and eat your vitamins”. His endless supporters, the ‘Hulkamaniacs’, dressed in red and yellow in support of him. He had the world at his feet.
Suddenly, in 1991 the muscle bound icon was exposed as being an abuser of anabolic steroids. The WWF’s resident doctor, George Zahorian III, was convicted of selling steroids and other controlled substances. In his trial, he testified that he had sold Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper and a whole host of Superstars these illegal supplies between November 1988 and March 1990.
The national media jumped over this and it became front page news. Hulk appeared on the Arsenio Hall show and denied any involvement in abusing steroids, only admitting to using them carefully under a doctor’s supervision in order rehabilitate injuries. This only made things worse for Hogan as he went against Vince McMahon’s orders of admitting to using them when they were legal. People saw through his lies and he was publicly scrutinised. He faded into the background in April 1992.
As the WWF was dealing with such bad press, a scandal was brought to life that involved three WWF employees (Mel Phillips, Pat Patterson & Terry Garvin) being accused of sexually harassing young male members of the ring crew. This plus the steroid scandal did the World Wrestling Federation so much damage. Under such scrutiny, more of WWF’s most recognisable Superstars were disappearing. It took around four years for the WWF to recover in terms of live event attendance.
Vince McMahon had no choice but to steer his company in another direction. He couldn’t risk having guys around who were built like their muscles could explode, especially as he was to face charges for the distribution of steroids. He was acquitted in 1994 of all charges but did admit taking steroids himself in the 1980s.
McMahon looked further down the food chain at Superstars who still had the look, but didn’t have the size. McMahon re-introduced bigger men into the fold, but they weren’t muscular…they were monstrous. As always, the Coliseum Video cameras had the story on tape…how the New Generation was born.
Smack’Em Whack’Em – WWF Championship Match: ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair vs Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart – October 12, 1992
White hot from his main event loss to Davey Boy Smith at SummerSlam 92, Bret Hart had proven to Vince McMahon that he had all the tools to succeed at the top of the card. His opponent and WWF Champion Ric Flair had been a huge star in the eighties, but since his debut in 1991 his superstar status had diminished somewhat, sharing the spotlight with the likes of Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan. Flair’s stock had fallen from what it had been five years ago and Vince McMahon was taking the WWF in a new direction with younger stars.
In the match for the WWF championship, Bret wrestled as a main eventer. No luck involved, Bret was just as competitive as any main eventer and proved that he was ready to replace what was the past. He took the title in his home country and began the journey to a new generation.
At the next Pay-Per-View at the Survivor Series, Flair and his long-time rival Macho Man would be involved in a tag team match on opposing sides. Bret closed the show where he defeated Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels. Both Macho Man and the Nature Boy would never wrestle in the main event for the WWF Championship on PPV again.
WrestleMania IX – WWF Championship Match: Bret Hart vs Yokozuna – April 4, 1993
Now, Bret hart had been carrying the WWF Championship for nearly six months. A solid crowd favourite, he had become the most popular star in the company. Having defeated Razor Ramon (eight months into his WWF career and replacement for the recently fired Ultimate Warrior) at the Royal Rumble he was guaranteed to be in the main event at WrestleMania. The Narcissist Lex Luger also debuted at the Royal Rumble.
In February a blast from the past returned in the shape of Hulk Hogan. Looking smaller than before, one could speculate that he was just saying his prayers. His return slotted him into the tag team title picture with his friend Brutus Beefcake against Money Incorporated. However, by a miracle that would soon change.
At WrestleMania Bret met Yokozuna (winner of the Royal Rumble Match that guaranteed his WWF title match at Mania). The champ walked into the match as underdog. He definitely put the crowd on edge and in his favour. Rumour has it he was originally supposed to win. However, Mr. Fuji threw salt into the Hitman’s eyes, allowing Yokozuna to get the victory.
Post-match, Mr. Fuji issued a challenge to Hulk Hogan, who gladly accepted and was champion two minutes later!
So it looked like the New Generation had stepped back a bit, but WrestleMania had made another main event Superstar out of Yokozuna. As many of you know, Yoko pinned Hogan at the next PPV to begin his second reign as champion.
SummerSlam 1993 – WWF Championship Match: Yokozuna vs Lex Luger – August 30, 1993
The Narcissist Lex Luger wrestled his first WWF match in February of that year. A conceited and rude Superstar, Lex didn’t have much support from fans. He was more interested in looking in the mirror. On July 4 he made a late entry into the Stars and Stripes Challenge, where Mr. Fuji invited any American to attempt to bodyslam the WWF Champion.
The usually unpopular Luger accepted the challenge and succeeded. This immediately turned his character into one who represented what was good in America. Lex Luger began the ‘Call to Action Campaign’ bus tour that took him all over the United States to make a bid for a WWF title shot.
Luger received the shot but only managed to win by count-out. However, Luger became another face of the World Wrestling Federation.
WrestleMania X – Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship: Razor Ramon vs Shawn Michaels – March 20, 1994
The Intercontinental title was long considered the championship that the best wrestlers competed for. Shawn had spent most of 1993 as champion, until a suspension forced him to vacate the title. Razor Ramon had since become champion and a huge crowd favourite. Over the last two years, Michaels had transformed from tag team wrestler to a star that was beginning to knock on the door to main event superstardom. Only the second ladder match in WWF history, these two stole the show with it and really displayed what the New Generation was about.
Shawn not only used the ladder as a weapon but used it as a platform to launch himself off for a larger than life splash which was the most famous moment of the match, maybe WrestleMania itself. Razor won the match at Madison Square Garden that night.
Over the course of 1994, Shawn Michaels began to gain momentum, in terms of notoriety and perhaps being looked at as a serious headliner. So lost in the shuffle during the late eighties and early nineties, he wouldn’t have been looked at due to his size. However, HBK showed such athletic ability and provided such gripping moments on the mic and inside the ring, that he had become a bigger star than he’d been before.
In late 1994 he and his bodyguard Diesel split after a series of mishaps on Shawn’s behalf. Eventually, Diesel snapped and became a hero to the fans. Just three days later he became WWF champion in eight seconds by beating old timer Bob Backlund. In January 1995, Shawn Michaels won the Royal Rumble, setting up the WWF championship match at WrestleMania.
WrestleMania XI – WWF Championship Match – Diesel vs Shawn Michaels – April 2, 1995
In what was a feud ending contest, Shawn challenged Diesel for the championship. The match (which played second fiddle to Lawrence Taylor and Bam Bam Bigelow’s) exposed both men’s capabilities. Pamela Anderson, probably the world’s hottest pin-up (at the time) escorted Diesel to the ring.
Shawn, although in real life was best buds with Diesel, took the opportunity to somewhat sabotage his run as top babyface by getting himself “over” with the crowd that caused them to cheer Shawn’s name. This was not good news for Diesel (Kevin Nash). Shawn proved to his peers that he was the man and he did what he had to do to make it to the top. Eventually Diesel was victorious and the fans would cheer for him.
The match in itself was what represented ‘The New Generation’. Unlike four years previous, there was No Savage, no Hogan, no Flair and no steroids. This might not have been the best time in the WWF financially, but it was changing the course of history.
A year later, Shawn Michaels catapulted himself to the very top and became the face of the World Wrestling Federation along with his frenemy Bret Hart. The two battled in the main event as the New Generation hit its peak. The Heartbreak Kid took the title and headlined 1996.
New Superstars entered the fray to replace the departing Diesel and Razor Ramon and some of those who had played a smaller role became stars. Vader had recently been with WCW and was a new threat for Michaels. Owen Hart and the British Bulldog were hot as heels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Marc Mero and Mankind made their debuts.
The Undertaker, who had been with the company since 1990, even beating Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship, always remained at the top of the card. He always had a huge following and is a “super superstar” to this very day. The new generation was about making new stars and not recycling previously made men.
This was especially true when the man who made the ‘Attitude Era’ a phenomenon, took the ‘New Generation’ to the extreme.
Tournament Final – Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts vs ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin – King of the Ring – June 23, 1996
After defeating Marc Mero and Vader respectively, the Snake and Austin fought for supremacy. In what was an uneventful final, due to Jake’s kayfabe rib injury and his notable lack of fitness, Steve Austin’s victory speech made up for that and more.
Jake Roberts, who had been making quotes out of the bible, was to be the brunt of Stone Cold’s wrath.
Austin went on to let everybody know that it was his time and he was going to run through all of the WWF Superstars. He was didn’t care who it was… he was going to become the WWF Champion. This was the first speech that really contained colourful language. It was this promo that the infamous “Austin 3:16” slogan was born. Reminiscent of ECW, this was the sowing of the seeds that would take the New Generation to a new era of “Attitude”.
Thanx for the memories
1992 was a year where things really fell off a cliff financially for the WWF. Very similar to 2002. TV ratings, live attendance, PPV buys, etc. all took a nosedive. The steroid scandal crippled them. In 1992 alone Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, The British Bulldog, The Legion Of Doom, Sid Justice, The Warlord, Hercules, The Barbarian, Jimmy Snuka, Chris Walker and any other guy that was a walking red flag for steroids all disappeared.
Also, an interesting side note to the Bret Hart WWF Title win story, when names were being brought up in meetings as to who would beat Flair for the Title, the other name besides Bret was Tito Santana. Those were the two names at the top of the list. The idea behind those two names was the WWF didn’t just want a guy who wasn’t juiced up, they also wanted a great in ring worker and more importantly someone who was “clean”. Someone who wouldn’t cause any further scandals for the company. And Tito was as clean as they came. In my opinion they made the right choice in going with Bret. I’m not sure how well El Matador would have gone over as WWF Champion.