The best wrestlers from WWF's 'New Generation' Era
The period between 1992 and 1997 was one of transition for the World Wrestling Federation to say the least. The company had been hit by a steroids scandal in the early 90’s. And the megastars of the company’s golden years such as the Ultimate Warrior, Jake Roberts, Roddy Piper, and most damaging of all: Hulk Hogan, had left. They also faced stiff competition from rival company World Championship Wrestling, who snatched up former WWF stars such as Hogan.
The WWF responded with its self-termed ‘New Generation’ campaign of promoting a new wave of talent with more subdued physiques than their predecessors, to combat the backlash of the steroid scandal. This ‘New Generation’ era has a mixed legacy among wrestling fans due to the record low attendances and television ratings the company experienced at the time. And matters weren’t helped by the array of absurdly cartoonish characters on the under card, who deserve an article of their own: from TL Hopper the wrestling plumber, to Duke Droese the wrestling garbage man. And who can forget Mantaur?
But even lull periods have their highlights, helped mainly by the immense talents who did their best to carry the company at an awkward time. Here are ten wrestlers who highlighted this era, with their abilities and their prominence determining their ranking.
10. The 1-2-3 Kid
‘The Kid’ was a notable example of the WWF deviating from its emphasis of monstrous physiques, with his slender 212 pound frame making him look like a child compared to other stars of the time. But the Kid’s big break came on May 17, 1993, when after spending weeks as a jobber (an unknown wrestler whose job is to lose and to make another wrestler look strong), he scored an upset win over established star Razor Ramon. The rest of the 1-2-3 Kid’s New Generation run was highlighted by brief tag title reigns with the likes of Thurman ‘Sparky’ Plugg (the wrestling race car driver), and an impressive July 11, 1994 WWF title match against Bret Hart. But the Kid was a game changer and pioneer for smaller men looking to make an impact in the world of wrestling.
9. Lex Luger
With Hulk Hogan departed by the summer of 1993, the WWF was looking for someone to replace him as their all-American hero. Enter the mirror loving Lex Luger. After debuting shortly before with his villainous ‘Narcissist’ character, Luger was repackaged in red, white, and blue in the hopes of being the next top star. Luger made his claim for the WWF title by body slamming champion Yokozuna on the USS Intrepid (nothing more American than wrestling on a warship), and travelled around the country in his ‘Lex Express’ bus to glad-hand with fans. Despite challenging for the title at both SummerSlam 1993 and Wrestlemania X, and co-winning the 1994 Royal Rumble, fans didn’t quite take to Luger the way the WWF had wanted. He slowly dropped down the card before leaving the WWF in late 1995 and appearing for rivals WCW the next day in spectacular fashion.
The faux-Japanese (real life Samoan) Yokozuna was the WWF’s top villain in 1993, having held the WWF title twice. Though his first reign only lasted a mere two minutes due to being challenged by, and losing to Hulk Hogan immediately after winning the title at Wrestlemania IX, Yokozuna won it back at King of the Ring to hold the title for an impressive nine months. He was hardly the most agile or skilled wrestler, but Yokozuna’s humungous 550 pound physique made him an intimidating monster, leading to feuds with top stars such as Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Lex Luger, and the Undertaker.
One of the most outlandish characters in the history of wrestling, Goldust is someone who will stick in the minds of fans of a certain age. Debuting in 1995, ‘the Bizarre One’ seemed ahead of his time in the family friendly New Generation. Sporting a blonde wig, he'd spout lewd homoerotic innuendos at opponents. Cloaked in ambiguity however, it was often questioned whether Goldust was actually attracted to his opponents, or if it was just mind games to gain a psychological advantage. Goldust will always be remembered as a captivating, if controversial character.
The 6 foot 10 Diesel was originally brought in as the body guard for Shawn Michaels, often assisting him to pick up a tainted win. Diesel eventually broke out on his own, briefly capturing the Intercontinental title, before capturing the WWF title on November 26, 1994. After the failure of the Lex Luger experiment, Diesel was pushed as the new top star. Though charismatic and cutting an imposing figure, his size limited his wrestling abilities. And like Luger, the fans didn’t take to him, resulting in ‘Big Daddy Cool’ losing the title to Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1995 before leaving for greater success in WCW in 1996. Diesel deserves credit though for great matches against tremendous talents such as Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.
5. Razor Ramon
I’d highly recommend any wrestling fan who enjoys a good promo to waatch this ‘Razor Ramon Vignette’. The results are indicative of why Razor Ramon was such an entertaining character. Obviously influenced by Scarface’s Tony Montana; he spoke in a faux-cuban accent, and referred to himself as the ‘Bad Guy’. Scott Hall, the man behind the gimmick, was one of the most underrated wrestlers of his time; putting on many enjoyable matches. He peaked with his two ladder matches with Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania X and SummerSlam 1995; both considered pioneering showcases, and two of the greatest ladder matches of all time.
4. Owen Hart
After languishing in the WWF under card in the early 90s, 1994 saw ‘the Rocket’ Owen Hart’s career ascend into space. Owen feuded with his brother Bret, complaining about being in the more successful Hart’s shadow. Owen defeating his brother at Wrestleania X, winning that year’s King of the Ring tournament to become the ‘King of Harts’. He then faced his brother in a losing effort for the WWF title in a steel cage at SummerSlam ’94 in what was possibly the match of the year. It wasn’t just Owen’s immense technical ability that places him on this list. His work as a whining, dastardly villain made him someone that the fans would love to see get their comeuppance. Owen enjoyed reigns with the Tag Team and Intercontinental titles before his tragic death in 1999.
3. The Undertaker
The Undertaker is someone who would appear on a list of the greatest of any era he’s wrestled in during his 26 year career. The New Generation wasn’t the most outstanding of these, admittedly. He spent most of his fighting a different monster of the month (Giant Gonzalez, King Kong Bundy, and Kama). But what made the Undertaker a staple of the New Generation was his status as one of the few big stars of the company; emphasised by how big a draw he was whenever the WWF toured abroad (Bret Hart attested in his autobiography that a South African promoter refused to put on a show unless Hart and Undertaker were the main event). All of this is understandable, as the aura that the Phenom conveyed made him a cut above the other gimmicks of the time.
2. Shawn Michaels
Starting his singles career in 1992, after being a part of the popular ‘Rockers’ tag team, Michaels enjoyed repeated success with the Intercontinental title before finally capturing the WWF title against Bret Hart in a 60 minute Ironman match at Wrestlemania XII; with then commentator Vince McMahon bellowing ‘The boyhood dream has come true!.’ The amount of classic matches Michaels had during this period were unreal: the two ladder matches with Razor Ramon, the aforementioned Ironman match with Hart, his WWF title matches with Diesel at Wrestlemania XI and In Your House 7 in 1996, and against the burgeoning Mankind at In Your House 10. Michaels’ ability to churn out classics was rivalled only by one man…
1. Bret Hart
After Hulk Hogan’s exit, Hart did his best to carry the company as the top guy when experiments such as Lex Luger and Diesel failed. Despite not being the biggest wrestler, or the best on the microphone, Hart’s matches were always exhibitions of exciting technical wrestling mixed with captivating storytelling. It was easy for fans to root for him as the scrappy underdog, fighting for everything earned; much like his real life fight to break into the main event scene when he was often overlooked for bigger men such as Luger. But Hart proved himself time and again; capturing the WWF title 5 times. In what was considered a turbulent time for pro wrestling in America, Bret Hart’s matches were diamonds in the turd; holding up in any era since. Hart had many nicknames: ‘the Hitman’, ‘the Pink and Black Attack’, and ‘the Excellence of Execution’. But the one that sums him up is this: ‘The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.’
Read our introduction to the Top 50 Wrestlers of WWF’s Golden Era (1985-1992).