SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
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” (with a little help from Wikipedia to fill in the blanks), I will release my Top 50 wrestlers of the 1990s, 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.
Now we’re getting into the digits where the numbers start resembling the ones following the WrestleMania. That’s right, we enter the earlier 30s, which in turn makes me reflect on my own age – 32 years kicking ain’t so bad after you’ve been past ruffians the likes of Big Bossman & Sabu. Speaking of, let’s look at who we covered so far:
#50. Ken Shamrock
#49. Dean Malenko
#48. Jeff Jarrett
#47. Big Bossman
#46. The Sandman
#45. Davey Boy Smith
#44. The Giant
#42. Ron Simmons
#41. Rob Van Dam
#40. Eddie Guerrero
#39. Chris Benoit
#37. Rey Mysterio, Jr.
#36. Sid Vicious
There are some real good talents below the mid-30s so I’m hoping to uphold the integrity of this list so far with the following inductions.
Hailing From: The Depths of Hell
We could recognize Glenn Jacobs originally in the 90s as Fake Diesel or Issac Yankem D.D.S. (yes, Jerry Lawler’s evil dentist), but that would be doing a great disservice considering the impact that (“Bah Gawd”) Kane made in the latter part of the decade.
Kane has gone through many transformations since his debut in late 1997 at Badd Blood: In Your House, but nothing has topped his original hit tune as the Undertaker’s forgotten, badly burned, badly traumatized brother. There was so much mystery and allure that went with Kane considering that his whole body (except his right arm) was covered in crimson and black. Plus the only time he would talk would be through a voice box that added to his creepiness.
The first time he talked was over six months since he debuted. That’s quite a while to not speak, but to be hanging out at the top of the card with the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Undertaker and Mankind exemplifies how over of an act he was. To add to that, it was at the King of The Ring PPV (the one where Mankind nearly died) where Kane got his first reign as WWF Champion, defeating Austin who was undoubtedly the hottest act in the biz. He may have lost it back the next night on Raw, but it was then that the Big Red Monster was established as a main eventer.
After his big intro, Kane went to hook up with X-Pac in what would be the first of his “odd couple” pairings, and just like his “Team Hell No” with Daniel Bryan, X-Pac & he were a very popular act, winning the tag belts twice until X-Pact turned on his big red friend (and stole his girlfriend to boot)
Since those glory days, Kane has been on a roller coaster of angles and weak plots that ultimately has damaged the character in the long run, but in the 90s hhe added that extra fire and brimstone to an already hot WWF product..
#34: Sean Waltman (1-2-3 Kid, Syxx, X-Pac)
Hailing From: Minneapolis, MN
Finisher: Moonsault, Buzzkiller, Sit-Out Facebuster
Sean Waltman’s 90’s run is one of the most unique of the decade. At least to me, he could be considered the first mainstream cruiserweight in the States. Starting off as the Lighting Kid up in Minnesota (that also included a run in the Texas-based Global Wrestling Federation), Waltman quickly became one of the hottest acts on the independent wrestling circuit and it wasn’t long until he found his way to the WWF (along with several variations of “The Kid” moniker). After infamously upsetting Razor Ramon on Raw Waltman became known as the 1-2-3 Kid. He became a hot upper-mid card act that got him a memorable match with Bret Hart.
The fact that Waltman ran with guys like Razor & Diesel in the Kliq only helped add to his intrigue, especially when he made his way to WCW as Syxx (or the 1+2+3 Kid) as a member of the nWo (which fun fact: he was the SIXTH member – thanks Wikipedia!). Being the great worker he was, he took the “Buddy Roberts in The Freebirds” mantle of the group and had some solid feuds with several other cruiserweights (oh, and Ric Flair).
However, his time was cut short when Bischoff unceremoniously fired him, which according to Hall, Nash & the Torch, turned the tide of the war between Nitro & Raw. Waltman showed up on Raw and so did the ratings tilt.
Waltman’s 90’s run goes severely understated, but if you consider everything he was apart of or help support, it’s one that should not be forgotten. Whether it was the nWo or DX, “The Kid” added, never subtracted.
#33: Chris Jericho
Hailing From: Winnipeg (you idiot), Manitoba, Canada
Finisher: The Liontamer, The Lion Sault
Even above Eddie Guerrero, 1990s Chris Jericho might very well be the most well-traveled wrestler of any generation in professional wrestling. And in a business defined by travelling, that’s saying something.
Son of the New York Rangers’ winger Ted Irvine, Chris cut his lion cub’s teeth up in the infamous Hart Dungeon in Calgary that appropriately was the beginning of a wrestling career that’s chock full of history.
From the Hart house, Jericho was on the loose. He started off wrestling in Canada, but soon found himself in Japan with his Hart Dungeon hombre, Lance Storm, until eventually heading south of the border in CMLL as The Lionheart.
In 1993, he then went to Germany to hone his craft when Lance Storm, where Jericho really started finding success as on on-air persona was during his time in Jim Cornette’s Tennessee promotion, Smokey Mountain Wrestling as one half of the Thrillseekers.
Then in 1995, Jericho found his way through the doors of Philadelphia’s ECW where he feuded with other 90s memorables like Raven, Sabu, Taz and Cactus Jack and had a TV Title reign in the process.
After all that, Lionheart caught the eye of WCW and he signed with the promotion where he began wrestling for New Japan. Enter June of 1997 where he won his first of three WCW Cruiserweight Championships by beating Syxx 1-2-3 (ohhh let the bad wrestling puns flow!) Jericho then became a full-fledged heel after his second title win when he destroyed Rey Mysterio’s knee with the help of a Liontamer and a tool box.
Thus, crybaby, insecure Chris Jericho was born – an absolute contradiction to his Lionheart epithet and one of the best heels WCW had on the roster. He’d mispronounce names like they were menu items at a Cambodian restaurant (“Hoot-n-toot Guerrera”, “Gene Mean” & “Tony Skeevone” were a few of my personal favs) and rip apart fans’ signs despite if they were for or against him.
He’d besmirch opponents by collecting items off their person (nicknames, masks, headbands, you name it) and in one of the storylines had him temporarily exiling “The Man of 1,000 Holds” Dean Malenko. He crowned himself “The Man of 1,004 Holds” and it was through this self-aggrandizing channel where he had his first incarnation of “The List” for which he became known as.
No doubt about it, Jericho was a star, but as 90s era wrestling fans know, WCW management wasn’t the greatest at utilizing or building younger talent. After feuding with Goldberg and winning the T.V. Title, Jericho discovered where his glass ceiling laid in World Championship Wrestling, and in the middle of 1999 he left for brighter pastures in the WWF and did it with one of the best debuts in the company’s history.
I remember exactly where I was for this moment. 14-year old me was watching it unfold on a white Admiral 19-inch television in my bedroom. That’s where “Raw Became Jericho” and all that work that he put into the business started paying off.
Hailing From: Hollywood, Calif.
Finisher: The Curtain Call
For The 1990s, “The Grandson Of A Plumber”took one controversial turn as Goldust, but before he ever coated himself in gold facepaint or donned a blonde wig, he started off as Dustin Rhodes in 1990. He and his famous dad Dusty briefly feuded with Ted DiBiase in the WWF before both set sail for WCW where Dustin started off tagging with big names like Barry Windham & Ricky Steamboat. Eventually, Rhodes went on a singles run that gave him a U.S. Title reign and for the most part he showed his ability to work well as an upper card babyface that was pretty over with the crowd (I take his Wrestle War 1992 War Games appearance as a solid example).
He was fired from WCW in 1995 for an unauthorized blade job (at least that was the reasoning), but then showed up in the WWF as the ambiguous Goldust that caused many eyebrows to be raised (not The Rock’s quite yet) by both the fans and the business alike.
Even before Steve Austin, Goldust was really the first character in WWF to create a bridge from the company’s “New Generation” movement into the Attitude era. And considering this was the 90s and not present day, homophobia was still a prominent ideal in America’s culture. People were not as accepting and that absolutely boiled over into the product.
Goldust had three separate runs with the Intercontinental belt and if it wasn’t for his character being so controversial (and Rhodes’ out-of-the ring troubles) he could have been at the top of the card in some extremely memorable scuffles with the likes of Steve Austin and The Rock. America just wasn’t ready for the man they didn’t call Dustin Runnels.
Hailing From: The Bowery
Finisher: The Evenflow DDT
If Kurt Cobain joined wrestling? Look no further than Raven. Covered in tattoos, waist flannels and tattered jean shorts, Raven was a petulant, nihilistic intellect that would DDT you onto a steel chair after quoting Robert Frost. Everything cool, mysterious and rebellious about the mid-late 1990s, Raven epitomized.
However, the first half of his decade run would be characterized quite differently. After one cup of coffee with the WWF and some time spent in Texas’s Global Wrestling Federation, Raven went over to WCW in 1992 as Scotty Flamingo where he hit the waves with a surfer gimmick.
While he was there, he won the Light Heavyweight Championship and joined his future foe, Diamond Dallas Page’s stable, but he didn’t see eye to eye with Bill Watts. That got him setting sail for WWF where he was placed in a rich-boy manager role as Johnny Polo.
It wasn’t until Raven found south Philadelphia is when he found the character we’re all familiar with. It was in ECW is where Raven established his Bowery brand. He got controversial, he got violent and he portrayed himself as an underground cult leader for lack of better phrasing (sometimes to the monetary detriment of the promotion – see High Incident 1996). Raven in ECW was a major contrast from the product that the two major promotions were peddling at the time.
The Raven character found his way back into WCW, but this time without the surfboard and now with a band of flunky misfits who he labeled as “Raven’s Flock” (that included a sign toting Billy Idol wannabe and an unwashed Billy Kidman). The WCW version of Raven may have been a little toned down in comparison to the ECW version, but it still packed a uppercard punch (and I’d argue more if booked properly). He feuded with DDP in what was one of my all-time favorite grudges as well as Goldberg, Booker T and Chris Benoit. Raven, like many in WCW, was extremely underutilized.
Quote this column, nevermore.
What do you think of the list so far? Am I off-base with some of this or am I hitting the ropes like a seasoned vet of the squared circle?
Follow me on Twitter @DominicDeAngelo and let me have it.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: The Top 50 Wrestlers Of The 1990s (pt. 3) – #40-36: The countdown continues with Sid, Benoit, Guerrero, Sabu, Rey Mysterio