For decades, sitting on top of the wrestling mountain were the NWA, AWA, and the WWF. But that all was about to changed in the early 90s.
By 1990, WWF was all over cable and national television.
It was running four successful Pay-Per-Views (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series).
New story-lines and angles were executed to perfection due to the vast amount of talent that headed to the WWF from recent defunct organizations.
The WWF World Heavyweight Championship was around the waist of Hulk Hogan heading into the new decade. His feud with "Macho Man" Randy Savage during 1989 was outstanding.
After defeating wrestlers like Andre The Giant, Savage, Ted Dibiase and Zeus in the past few years, the big question heading into 1990 was...who was going to be Hogan's next foe?
The choice was the current Intercontinental Champion Ultimate Warrior, who's popularity was second to only Hogan. It may have actually been greater than the World Champ.
The match was a "Champion vs. Champion" match with both titles on the line.
This was a bit of a surprise to some, because the Warrior was so popular with the fans and everyone expected him to make a heel turn by WrestleMania VI.
Hogan was the most popular wrestler and the "face" of the WWF, so he couldn't turn and "faces" v. "faces" matches were not common in 1990.
So it would have to be the Ultimate Warrior. The WWF perfectly sold this idea and forced the fan base to choose sides.
This was apparent in the Toronto Skydome, as close to 70,000 fans booed and cheered for each wrestler.
It looked like the match was going to end, when Hogan "hulked" up after Warrior executed his "Gorilla Press" and splash.
At this point it was a typical Hogan match. His opponent would continue to hit Hogan, who would feed off the crowd, who then would point and gesture no with his figure before swinging his foe against the rope, give the big "boot" and then the leg drop for the win.
The only problem was, to the delight of fans who didn't like predictable endings, Warrior moved out of the way from the leg drop and splash him for the three count.
For the first time since returning to the WWF in the early 80s, Hogan was cleanly pinned and a new era began in the WWF.
Warrior held the title until Royal Rumble in 1991 when he lost the belt to Sgt. Slaughter.
I was not happy with this decision at all. It was clear that the WWF wanted Hogan to be the champ again but Slaughter. Dibiase, Savage, or most other heels would have been a better choice. To me having the Warrior lose to an over-the-hill wrestler like Slaughter was slap to his accomplishments.
Hogan began to feud with the Undertaker after winning the belt in WrestleMania VII.
With Hogan on temporary leave, after being stripped of the belt in December 1991, three different wrestler (Ric Flair, Savage, and Bret Hart) held the belt in 1992.
For the first time in decades, the WWF championship didn't have any stability heading into the mid-90s.
The WWF Intercontinental Championship was also sported by various wrestler during the early 90s.
From 1990 through 1992, seven different wrestlers (Mr.Perfect, Texas Tornado, Bret Hart, The Mountie, Roddy Piper, British Bulldog, and Shawn Michaels) held the title compared to the ten who won it during the past decade.
I guess the short term WWE title reigns that occur today leads back to this period of time.
Heading into the mid-90s, a new stock of young and talented wrestlers were being groomed to be take the WWF into the next century.
After failing to succeed in its latest business relationship with WCCW and CWA, Verne Gagne left the creativity and business decision to a young salesman name Eric Bischoff.
Bischoff went from selling advertising time to running a company that was over 40 years but was on its last leg.
The AWA World Title was no longer recognized as a "World" title, but as a second class championship.
Eric's idea to bring back the fans was to create a long running tournament dubbed the "Team Challenge Series".
The wrestling rosters were divided into three teams, led by Larry Zbryszko (Larry's Legends), Sgt. Slaughter (Slaughter's Sniper's) and Baron Von Raschke (Baron's Blitzers).
Some of the matches were held in a studio, without fans, due to the small attendance. Others were held in the Rochester Civic Center to be aired on ESPN.
This idea, which ran until August of 1990, was unsuccessful in stopping the bleeding and was even blamed for speeding up the AWA collapse.
The collapse occurred in 1991 after various attempts by Verne and Greg Gagne to save the once fine promotion.
NWA's power and influence was extremely reduced heading into the 90s, mainly, due to various organizations (e.g. Mid-South/UWF and WCCW) withdrawing from the organization in an attempt to go national or closing their doors because of loss of business.
The biggest blow to the NWA was when Ted Turner withdrew from organizations in 1993. The main reason for withdrawing was due to demands for the NWA World Champion Ric Flair to be booked in the other NWA promotions. Turner quickly realized that he offered more to the NWA than the other way around and changed the name on the "Big Gold Belt" to WCW World Heavyweight Champion.
For almost one year the NWA World Heavyweight Title remained vacant.
After acquiring Jim Crockett Promotions, WCW struggled to identify themselves with the current ownership. Ted Turner wanted to make changes and instill new ideas to a promotion that was becoming stale with its story-lines.
Guys like Jim Herd and Skip Frey were not qualified and others like Dusty Rhodes, Bill Watts, and Ole Anderson still believed in their "old school" ways.
The biggest feuds heading into the 90s was Ric Flair and the WCW's two youngest stars, Sting and Lex Luger.
Usually with the help of his fellow Horseman, Flair would escape with his title.
On July 7th 1990, Sting defeated Flair at the Great American Bash. The feud continued but with Flair under a mask and being called the "Black Scorpion". He was finally unmasked at Starrcade.
Flair won the title back in January of 1991 and unified the WCW International Title with the NWA World Title.
Flair left WCW months later with the belt and headed to the WWF. The reason for his departure was due to Jim Herd wanting Flair to take a substantial pay cut. Flair also blames his departure to Herd's terrible ideas to reduce his role and change his ring attire.
At The Great American Bash in 1991, Lex Luger defeated Barry Windham in steel cage match to win the vacant belt. He remained champion until February of 1992, when he loss the title to close friend Sting.
The title changed hand three other times in 1992, with Van Vader holding the title heading into 1993.
Besides impacting the World Title, Flair's departure led to the latest Four Horseman splitting up.
Sid Vicious headed to the WWF, Windham turned heel after losing the match with Lex Luger, and Arn Anderson starting teaming with Larry Zbyszko as the "Enforcers".
To replace the Four Horseman, Paul E. Dangerously was brought in from the AWA to create the stable Dangerous Alliance.
The reason for the creation of Paul's stable was to seek revenge at the people who fired him when he was the WCW commentator.
The group were Rick Rude, The Enforcers, Medusa Miceli, Bobby Eaton and "Stunning" Steve Austin.
Throughout 1991 and 1992, the "Alliance" dominated WCW and held most of the titles.
Another stable during these years were the Diamond Exchange led by Diamond Dallas Page. Include in this stable were Scott Hall, who was named Diamond Studd, Scotty Flamino (aka Raven), and Vinnie Vegas (aka Kevin Nash).
USWA & GWF
After SuperClash III, the AWA severed its ties with CWA and WCCW. But, the United States Wrestling Alliance was formed without the AWA to continue their plan in competing with the WWF and WCW.
The main focus of the USWA were Jerry Lawler and the Von Erichs.
The talent of both organizations were pretty deep, but the story-lines were staled. It was basically what made each promotion successful in the early 80s.
The roster also included The Soultaker (aka Papa Shango), Kamala, Eddie Gilbert, Jeff Jarrett, Eric Embry, and the Southern Rockers.
The relationship only lasted to September of 1990, as the WCCW withdrew from the USWA due to revenue disputes.
With the USWA only focusing in Tennessee, there was a void in Texas.
To fill that void, local promoters with ties to the WCCW decided to form Global Wrestling Federation in 1991.
GWF had the backing of ESPN, who aired the shows daily in the afternoon.
The original stars of GWF were Doug Gilbert, Patriot, Scott Anthony, Stan Lane, The Handsome Stranger (aka Marcus Bagwell), Cactus Jack, Eddie Gilbert, John Hawk (John Bradshaw Layfield), Booker T, and the Lightning Kid (aka 1-2-3 Kid).
By the mid-90s, ESPN began changing their afternoon format which was bad news for GWF. They were not able to continue without a backing like ESPN.
In 1994, GWF closed their doors.
Heading to the Mid-90s
The landscape in the early 90s was basically the same as it was in the late 80s.
There were the WWF, JCP/WCW and everyone else. Smaller regional promotions came to existence with the thoughts of competing with the "Big Two" but would find themselves short for various reasons. Just like their predecessors before them.
USWA and GWF would meet their fates in the mid-90s.
But, other promotions always seemed to spring out of nowhere. That's what exactly happened in Philly.
The next article will discuss the birth of ECW, as well as, the early roots of the Monday Night Wars.
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