WrestleMania 34 is coming up, and being a wrestling fan, I tend to get a little more nostalgic for them olden days of when wrestlers didn’t have scripts with WWE verbage in front of them. DeLorean back to my early days of fandom during the 1990s and you had a product that was hotter than any Seth Rollins theme song (you know, ”Burn It Down?” Okay, I’ll see that bad joke right out the door).
So from now up until “The Grandest Stage of Them All”, I will release my Top 50 wrestlers of the 1990., factoring in their impact from the kid-friendly first half to the cuss-ridden, beer drinking second half to determine where exactly your favorite heel or face fall in rank. This week I cover #45-41, but before we do that, let’s look at the list so far:
50. Ken Shamrock
49. Dean Malenko
48. Jeff Jarrett
47. Big Bossman
46. The Sandman
Now it’s time to see the rest that round out the 40s (except for #40, you get that next week. Is this how you promote, WWE? Build suspense and not just throw gauntlet matches out there all willy nilly?)
#45: “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith
Hailing From: Golborne, United Kingdom
Finisher: Running Powerslam
The neat aspect about Davey Boy’s 90’s run was that be small or major, he had his “Bulldog” teeth sunken into a hot angle or storyline in both the first and second half of the decade (at least in WWF, that is).
First, he found some real solid success in the 80s WWF as apart of The British Bulldogs with The Dynamite Kid. However, Dynamite Kid was was notorious for having an explosive personality (hey ohhh) so when Davey Boy returned to the WWF in 1990, Vince gave him the lone “British Bulldog” badge. This eventually led to a very memorable Intercontinental title win at Summer Slam 1992 where he pinned his brother-in-law Bret in front of his home country crowd at Wembley Stadium.
Then when the “Attitude” tide started changing, he was apart of one of the hottest (and unprecedented) factions that was The Hart Foundation, being equally adored in Canada as much as it was hated in The States.
Then after leaving the WWF in lieu of that whole Montreal Screwjob thing in late 1997, Bulldog returned to back to the WWF in the second half of 1999 where he won the Hardcore Championship and eventually feuding with The Rock for the WWF Championship. Not too bad of a stretch all things considered, which to be more specific “all things were considered” could be called his forgettable WCW stints during the decade, which is the main reason why he isn’t higher in my Top 50.
#44: The Giant
Hailing From: Aiken, S.C.
Finisher: The Chokeslam
Everybody knows him as The Big Show now, but if you grew up in the 90s as a wrestling nerd, you’ll always associate him with his former and somehow simpler moniker, The Giant. Originally billed as Andre The Giant’s son (which 12-year-old me bought hook, line and sinker – “he’s super tall and he’s got the same outfit, how can it not be!?”), the artist later known as Big Show was only 23 when he debuted and became WCW Heavyweight Champion right out of the gate defeating a “still babyface in 1995” Hulk Hogan through controversial means. He’d then go on to scuffle with Randy Savage, Ric Flair and Loch Ness (one of these is not like the others).
Giant had two runs with the WCW title until he fell prey to the New World Order, dropping the belt to Hogan at the money-vortex that was Hog Wild 1996. Soon, he became a part of the nWo and then began to foreshadow his lengthy WWF tenure by turning face again, then later turning heel in unsettling fashion. Somewhere in between that however, he had a memorable feud with Kevin Nash due in part to both their extraordinary statures and Giant being dropped on his neck in extremely frightening botched powerbomb spot (a pot of coffee was also involved).
Eventually, Giant made his way to the WWF, also debuting in major fashion by helping Vince McMahon defeat Stone Cold Steve Austin at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1999. Considering he signed a nine-year contract with Vince, things looked extremely promising for Giant (who temporarily went by his real name Paul Wight after he debuted), but due to poor booking the man we now know as Show never truly got his proper billing.
Hailing From: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Finisher: The Tazmission
Sure, you could make an argument for The Giant, a wrestler who spent 90s time in the WWF & WCW, to be higher up on this list than Taz (or any other ECW stalwart for that matter), but “The Human Suplex Machine” helped define and establish Extreme Championship Wrestling’s wrestling identity. With catchphrases like “FTW” and “Just Another Victim” the original mayor of Supex City was one Italian ball of badass, so putting him in a feud with an established veteran and bigger star (both figuratively and literally) like Bam Bam Bigelow added to Taz’s “Beat Me If You Can, Survive If I Let You” toughness.
Plus, with the way belts got turned over in the late 90s, putting a heavyweight championship on a wrestler for nine months could be on the level of Bruno Sammartino holding the WWWF title for eight years in the 1960-70s. I’m pretty serious, too. Besides Hollywood Hogan, who very rarely defended the WCW title, it was unprecedented for teenage me to see a title reign that long. Nine months was an eternity which made Taz’s ECW run all the more memorable. You had to really be behind somebody if you were going to do that and Paul Heyman was that with Taz all the way up until he left for WWF at the end of the decade.
Too bad Taz never got the fair shake he deserved in WWF, because the early 2000s would have been a lot more intriguing if he did.
#42: Ron Simmons
Hailing From: Perry, Ga.
Finisher: The Seminole Slam
While Simmons had decent enough fanfare in the later part of the decade as Faarooq, the original Nation of Domination leader made the list solely off his WCW run from 1990-94 and for good reason.
Even if it was just the technicality of a name change due to WCW cutting it’s ties with the NWA brand, Simmons & Butch Reed (known as the tag duo, Doom) became the first ever WCW World Tag Team Champions at the beginning of 1991, but it didn’t take long for Ron to break away from Reed to go on his memorable babyface singles run. He defeated the likes of Scott Hall & Kevin Nash before they became stars and duked it out with Lex Luger for the World title at Halloween 1991. He’d also have a feud with Cactus Jack and eventually in 1992 would win the WCW Heavyweight belt from Vader to became the first African-American to win the WCW Heavyweight Championship.
However, due to some missed bookings and lack of trust because of said missed bookings, Simmons’ push and title run only lasted five months. After that, Ron floated around the midcard until he left (briefly) for ECW and then went on to WWF as Faarooq to form one of the most edgiest stables to come across pro wrestling.
Could Simmons been made more of star in either promotions? In WWF, he totally could have, but it’s tough when you have so many unique personalities and characters already taking up the main event spots.
#41: Rob Van Dam
Hailing From: Battle Creek, Mich.
Finisher: Five-Star Frog Splash
If I could compare any 90’s wrestler to the kind of cool popularity that Kenny Omega currently has, it would be none other than Rob Van Dam in ECW.
RVD was absolutely one of a kind before WWF hammered that phrase into our heads, but (shocker) WCW didn’t see that in 1993 when they billed him as Robbie V as a lowercard talent. Thankfully, he only spent a year there until he eventually found his way to 7th & Ritner at the ECW Arena in Philadelphia, where “The Whole F’n Show” was born.
With unimaginable athleticism and a stoner demeanor, RVD created an identity that was tangible to a wild, teenage-adult male fan base that was looking for someone to get behind. There was no better ECW duo to do that than the tag team he formed with Sabu (and that was after a longstanding, worth-watching feud between the two).
While guys like Taz, Bam Bam Bigelow and Shane Douglas took up a great deal of the main event picture for the brand, RVD was the resin-fueled adrenaline that pumped the excitement throughout that now historic bingo hall, being that guy you always wanted to root for (even if he was a heel) and always wanted to see gold around his waist. Van Dam got that with Sabu and the tag belts, but he really made his name on his ECW Television Title reign after he beat Bigelow at Living Dangerously ‘98. Highlighted by an extremely notable rivalry with Jerry Lynn, Van Dam held that belt for 700 days, eventually having to drop it due to injury. While he never won the World Title like a Taz, a Sandman or Sabu, RVD carved his own path to stardom that deems him worthy of the #41 on my list.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS ARTICLE: The Top 50 Wrestlers Of The 1990s – #50-46: The countdown begins with those who just made the cut