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Who Was Better Special: Best of the '90s

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In the previous edition of ‘Who Was Better’ I asked who the superior talent was: Kurt Angle or Bret Hart?

You voted and your winner was…BRET ‘THE HITMAN’ HART with a 25 votes, compared to Angle’s 10.

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The nineties saw a huge transition in wrestling. In just one decade, WCW became the superior wrestling promotion, all before a series of poor decisions saw the company self-destruct. WWE on the other hand, started the decade losing many of its biggest stars, but by the end of ’99, the ‘Attitude Era’ was in full-swing.

These two companies enjoyed their relative successes due to the work of key individuals. I have chosen the five contenders most worthy of the title of ‘Best of the Nineties’, based upon their body of work, historical impact and talent, both in terms of wrestling ability and their capacity to communicate with an audience. These contenders are:

Bret Hart, Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels and Sting.

(I admit that as someone who has only ever watched WCW/WWF I haven’t included wrestlers who may have appeared for ECW or in Japan)

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Bret ‘The Hitman Hart


The cornerstone of the WWE for many years, Hart single-handedly carried the company through its darkest days. During a time of transition, following the loss of Hogan to WCW and the failure of the Ultimate Warrior, ‘The Hitman’ demonstrated that you didn’t have to be a steroid monster to capture an audience as he dominated the main event scene with his brand of mat-based, submission style wrestling.

A Royal Rumble and King of the Ring winner, Bret was one of the most consistent performers the WWE ever had as he reliably put on regular five-star matches. He had the rare ability to be equally successful as a both a face and a heel and did a brilliant job of putting other wrestlers over (as you will notice by his top five). It was his skill that helped to show Austin as a tough SOB, Michaels as having amazing resilience and Owen as a true main-event calibre performer.

While he wasn’t the most charismatic performer, Hart made up his shortcomings by being able to tell a story in a ring (WM13 for example) like few others. He brought a new class to in-ring performing, which hasn’t been matched since his retirement.

His best five matches (of the ‘90s) were:

  1. Bret Hart Vs Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania 12
  2. Bret Hart Vs British Bulldog – Summerslam 1992
  3. Bret Hart Vs Stone Cold – WrestleMania 13
  4. Bret Hart Vs Owen Hart – WrestleMania 10
  5. Bret Hart Vs Mr Perfect – Summerslam 1991


Undertaker


Debuting in 1990, The Undertaker went from the dominant rookie, to WWE legend and cornerstone of the company. Perhaps the greatest ‘big man’ in the history of the business, the ‘Deadman’ possessed power but also technical ability, brawling skills and some speed; demonstrated by his over-the-top-rope dive.

He also possesses perhaps the greatest gimmick in wrestling history. The Undertaker also did an exception job of morphing his character to keep with the times. While he started out with a somewhat cartoonish appearance, he became progressively darker and by the end of the decade he appeared more demonic as he led the Ministry of Darkness.

Few have the presence of The Undertaker. When the gong sounds, the lights dim and Taker slowly proceeds to make his way down to the ring, it’s not just an entrance, but an experience. It all adds ups to creating the most carefully-crafted of personas.

Although having to battle many of the WWE’s limited talents (Bundy, Gonzalez, Yokozuna) and having to work at a slower pace during his early years, once Taker was allowed to show his ability and go head-to-head against the company’s best, he proved himself a legend. During the decade the likes of Hart, Austin, Michaels, The Rock, Triple H, Hogan; all suffered at the hands of the ‘Demon of Death Valley’.

His best five matches (of the ‘90s) were:

  1. Undertaker Vs Bret Hart – Summerslam ‘97
  2. Undertaker Vs Stone Cold – Summerslam ‘98
  3. Undertaker Vs Shawn Michaels – Bad Blood ‘97
  4. Undertaker Vs Mankind – King of the Ring ‘98
  5. Undertaker Vs The Rock – King of the Ring ‘99


Stone Cold Steve Austin


Did any wrestler have an impact superior to Steve Austin in the ‘90s? He was a good tag team wrestler in WCW, drank beers and displayed hints of defiance in ECW, but as Stone Cold he propelled WWE into the ‘Attitude Era’, one of the most successful periods in the company’s history.

The poster boy of a generation, Stone Cold was involved in countless classic moments, from the beer truck incident to the face-to-face encounter with Mike Tyson. When he hit his first Stunner on Vince McMahon, he began a rivalry that would surpass any other of the decade; an achievement considering one wasn’t a wrestler.

Austin was a talented wrestler, using his brawler abilities to beat-down opponents, but it was his overall character which stood out and defined his legend. Everything that Hogan was to the ‘80s, Austin was to the ‘90s.

If anything, Steve Austin taught us that character was the most important thing in wrestling. All it took was one line, one little line, to start a transformation from another mid-carder to legend. A lesson that today’s wrestlers should think about more often.

“Talk about your John 3:16…Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass”

His best five matches (of the ‘90s) were:

  1. Stone Cold Vs Bret Hart – WrestleMania 13
  2. Stone Cold Vs Undertaker – Summerslam ‘98
  3. Stone Cold Vs The Rock – WrestleMania XV
  4. Stone Cold Vs Bret Hart – Survivor Series ‘96
  5. Stone Cold Vs The Rock – Backlash ‘99


Shawn Michaels


One of the most dynamic wrestlers of a generation, HBK wowed audiences with his unmatched talent and unrivalled showmanship. A naturally charismatic performer, it was a rare occasion if Michaels ever disappointed a crowd.

‘Mr WrestleMania’ was a unique talent, displaying wonderful mix of technical supremacy and exceptional athleticism. Michaels was not only a consistent performer, but a true Mr PPV, creating classic after classic, month after month. Not only was he charismatic in the mic or during promos, but also during matches, which added to his overall brilliance.

Like The Rock, Michaels could play both the heel and the face very well. It was during his cocky heel phase that the legendary DX came to fruition, which in part helped to usher in the ‘Attitude Era’.

Although the backstage behaviour of Michaels in the ‘90s comes under question, when in the ring, few came close to putting on a show like HBK.
It was his natural charisma that created the classic moment in 1996 when the ‘Boyhood Dream’ was finally realised and it remains an important memory in WWE history. HBK was one of the best at understanding that the wrestling is only part of the show (the zip line at WM12, ever-changing costumes etc.)

His best five matches (of the ‘90s) were:

  1. Shawn Michaels Vs Bret Hart – WrestleMania 12
  2. Shawn Michaels Vs Undertaker – Bad Blood ‘97
  3. Shawn Michaels Vs Mankind – In Your House: Mind Games
  4. Shawn Michaels Vs Razor Ramon – WrestleMania X
  5. Shawn Michaels Vs Undertaker – In Your House: Ground Zero


Sting


The cornerstone of WCW, a symbol of everything that was good about the company, Sting proved himself the greatest legend in the history of that company.

Although it can be argued that the others carried their company at one stage, Sting had WCW built on his back, a company that grew to surpass WWE for several years. It was such a shame to see the wrestler who had helped build the company, wrestle in its last match back in 2001.

But during the company’s early days he was a vital member of many of its great moments and feuds, including his rivalry with the Four Horsemen, Vader and the Dangerous Alliance.

Not only was Sting the premier babyface at a time when Hogan’s star was fading, he was the great babyface that linked two generations together: A typical all-American hero who could capture the imaginations of young fans but also athletic and powerful, with the ability to perform at standards worthy of the admiration of adults.

Sting also did a great job of adapting to the times. When the ‘surfer’ character grew stale, he was re-imagined in a ‘Crow’ style and immediately became suited to the adult audience.

His best five matches (of the ‘90s) were:

  1. Sting and Lex Luger Vs Steiner Brothers – Superbrawl ‘91 (Part 2)
  2. Sting Vs Cactus Jack – Beach Blast ‘92
  3. Sting Vs Vader – Superbrawl III (Part 2) (Part 3)
  4. Wargames ‘91
  5. Sting Vs Lord Steven Regal – Great American Bash ‘96 (Part 2)


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So who was the best of the nineties?

Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart
– The pure wrestling god

The Undertaker
– The cornerstone of the WWE

Stone Cold Steve Austin
– The ‘Attitude’ of a generation

Shawn Michaels
– The charismatic showman

Sting
– The face of WCW

Leave your votes and comments below. Remember to judge your votes based on what they achieved during the nineties.

Did I miss anyone you felt deserved a nomination? (I’ve got reasons for leaving some out)

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Comments

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  1. Playboy Stevie V's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Tall
    I figured Rock would be mentioned. He made my initial list, as did Hogan, but I felt that as he only wrestled from very late 96, and the blog is only up to the end of the decade, you are only talking about him wrestling for 3 and a bit years; not much compared to the others.

    I considered Mick Foley in general, as to cover his WCW, ECW and the important WWF days, but, while he was a great main eventer, he was never really the top top guy, like the five listed. No disrespect to him, I thought he was fantastic, but he always seemed one level below Austin, Hart etc.
    Fair enough about Foley.

    BTW great blog!

    A fair discussion about Hart compared to Austin is what I always hear is; Bret kept the E afloat during the dark days. I have mad respect for the hitman, but does anyone consider why those days were dark? I saw why. Because there was not a huge draw during those times until Austin 3:16 was in full effect. No one drew more than Austin, merchandise and all during the 90s.

    Even if Austin came later in the 90s he turned it all around. Imo and what i witnessed. 90s = Stone Cold
  2. TheGreatOne's Avatar
    Stone Cold!!
  3. willy316's Avatar
    I would say Austin. He set the ball rolling with his character and that kind of defined the Attitude Era.
  4. Sahu's Avatar
    Bret Hart!!!

    Reason: I started loving the business only after seeing Bret wrestling against Mr Perfect...

    Bret put over HBK
    Bret put over Austin

    so, two of the ppl in ur list made ur list because Bret had put them over....

    Also Bret helped The Rock from Back politics.....otherwise Rock might have lost in the roster....When The Rock was IC Champion...KLIQ initially wanted him to drop the belt to Bret..thus, Bret will be away from Main event saving HBK...n The Rock is suppressed forever leaving space to HHH..but, Bret never accepted it...he changed the ending n the match ended by a DQ...

    So, it should be BRET all the way!!!
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