Revered as the "golden age," superstars of the early 1990s were regarded as cultural icons, their physiques closely associated to those of superheroes, channeling passion and ferocity through the television screens onto the youngsters that idolized them.
After an exodus due to a nasty battle with the law that rocked Vince McMahon's industry, accusing the promotion of steroid distribution and sexual harassment, many of the top stars, including Hulk Hogan, jumped ship for WCW. Times were tough, yet it allowed the "New Generation" of stars to blossom, including Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, and more. The "Monday Night Wars" then changed the whole landscape of wrestling, with WWE and WCW pushing back and forth for supremacy on Monday nights with Raw and Nitro, respectively. This marked the time where the "Attitude Era" took place, pushing the envelope and appealing to those that didn't even associate themselves to the sports entertainment industry in the past.
The 1990s were also a place where some of the best feuds of all-time took place, with plenty of major leaguers rubbing elbows for short and long durations of time, rewriting history in the process. Here are 15 of the best and most memorable WWE feuds of the 1990s:
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15 The Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage
When The Ultimate Warrior faced Sgt. Slaughter for the WWE Championship at Royal Rumble 1991, many pundits will remember “Macho Man” Randy Savage attacking the challenger during the match, and costing him the bout by nailing him with his scepter to award Slaughter the victory. This set up a Retirement Match between Warrior and Savage, where the latter landed five of his patented elbow drops from the top rope to no avail. Warrior won the contest, and after Sensational Sherri blasted and battered a downed Savage, Miss Elizabeth rushed to her former flame’s aid. Savage never left the company, but instead, married Elizabeth as part of the programming.
That was by far Warrior and Savage’s most memorable match. However, the two juggernauts had some other notable tussles, including a title match at SummerSlam 1992, and a handful of meetings inside the steel cage.
14 Mankind vs. Triple H
Straight out of a fairytale, Mick Foley’s character was indeed odd and portrayed a grotesque image, yet he couldn’t have been more hated than the pompous and arrogant Hunter Hearst Helmsley, the man known as Triple H. Two of their more memorable meetings happened at King of The Ring and SummerSlam 1997, where Helmsley won the former to take home the crown, and Mankind completed his aerial dream in a cage match mimicking Jimmy Snuka’s dive at the summer event. Unlike other pairings on the list, both competitors engaged in warfare under different monikers, shifting into the 2000s when Helmsley had to endure the wrath of Cactus Jack and Mick Foley himself, in a handful of title matches that cemented Foley’s status as a legendary madman in sports entertainment, while Triple H was becoming a superstar in his own right.
13 Bret Hart vs. Jerry Lawler
Long before being a frantic color commentator that lost his marbles whenever he saw “puppies,” Jerry Lawler was a wrestling god in Memphis. When he attacked Bret Hart after the Canadian’s crowning moment at the inaugural King of The Ring pay-per-view in 1993, it set up a lengthy feud between both wrestlers, including the “King” feeding his foot to his opponents, and introducing Isaac Yankem (now known as Kane). A territorial war was present as well, with the Tennessee crowd being behind Lawler -- who worked as a heel -- when the two would have matches in the former AWA and NWA star’s home state. Also, Lawler brought Bret’s little brother Owen into the fold, and you could make a case for the sibling rivalry’s inclusion on this list, too.
12 Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty
The Rockers never held WWE’s tag team belts, yet they were still a pioneering force that inspired many pairings for decades to come. Shawn Michaels had enough of Marty Jannetty after blaming him for a recent run of bad luck, taking it out on the Georgian on an episode of Brutus Beefcake’s “Barber Shop,” where he decked his partner with the “Sweet Chin Music.” Michaels went on to have a far more compelling singles run, but The Rockers feud was sizzling hot as Jannetty appeared in Michaels’ famed heart-shaped mirror he used to check himself out in. They had a string of great matches, including a showdown on an episode of Monday Night Raw in 1993 where Jannetty captured the “Heartbreak Kid’s” WWE Intercontinental Championship with help from Mr. Perfect ringside.
11 The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge & Christian
Both the Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian should be considered as two of the best tag teams of all-time, based on their accolades and the way they revolutionized the entire division. Ever since both teams duked it out at No Mercy 1999 in the first-ever Tag Team Ladder Match, fans knew they were going to be spoiled in the near future.
With the inclusion of the Dudley Boyz into the fray, all three teams would partake in the most famous tag team matches ever, first at WrestleMania 2000 in a Triangle Ladder Match, then at SummerSlam 2000 in a TLC Match (both matches had the tag titles on the line). Perhaps the best match of them all was at WrestleMania 17, where the three teams collided once more for a TLC Match, involving outside interference from Rhyno, Lita, and Spike Dudley.
10 The Undertaker vs. Kane
Sibling rivalries were nothing new by the time Kane made his debut at Badd Blood 1997, costing The Undertaker victory against Shawn Michaels in the first-ever Hell In A Cell match. Paul Bearer, longtime manager of The Undertaker, was warning the “Lord of Darkness” about Kane, and that his little brother had survived the family fire Bearer referred to.
The Undertaker was noncommittal in exacting revenge on Kane until WrestleMania 14, where the “Phenom” won the first of many encounters. The Undertaker and Kane have also aligned to form The Brothers of Destruction, which felt like ages ago due to both wrestlers still having singles matches until just a few years ago.
9 Randy Savage vs Jake Roberts
WWE’s most famous wedding, the marriage of Miss Elizabeth and Randy Savage, was primarily remembered for Jake Roberts’ nightmarish antics. Not only did he give the newlyweds a present with a cobra inside the box, he tied up “Macho Man” after a winning a match and had him bitten by a snake. It was a moment that left children cringing, yet the angle was just mesmerizing.
This led to a couple of action-packed encounters between both superstars, including a meeting at This Tuesday In Texas 1991, followed by Savage eliminating Roberts from the 1992 Royal Rumble Match. Roberts, bitter as he was losing matches, usually brawled with Savage after their scrums, which facilitated a feud between Roberts and The Undertaker after the WWE Hall of Famer tried to attack Savage and Elizabeth with a chair following a match on Saturday Night’s Main Event.
8 Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker
Long before their magical WrestleMania encounters, Michaels and The Undertaker battled in the late 1990s in a series of memorable matches. Michaels, the brash leader of D-Generation X and fresh off the “Montreal Screwjob,” had gone over almost everyone in the company, although when it came to the “Deadman,” winning was far from eminent.
Ever since HBK accidentally decked Taker with a nasty chair shot and cost him the WWE Championship against Hart at SummerSlam 1997, the “Phenom” was out to get his fellow Texan. A month prior to the infamous “Screwjob,” The Undertaker and Michaels traded blows in the very first Hell In A Cell Match, where Kane was introduced and cost his older brother the match. Fast-forward three months later and Michaels found himself in a Casket Match, petrified of the “Phenom’s” obsession with the object of death. Again, Kane came to his aid, after a number of wrestlers softened up Taker for the job. This was also the match where HBK suffered his notorious back injury, forcing him to retire from wrestling before his comeback years later.
7 Randy Savage vs Ric Flair
These two prolific madmen had already accomplished major feats in their respective careers before embarking on a program filled with hate, comedy, and such great work ethic in both the ring and backstage segments.
Flair had gotten Miss Elizabeth involved, vowing to show nude pictures of the “first lady of wrestling” to the public. Candid images of the pair were seen in WWE Magazine before that, with Flair proclaiming he dated Elizabeth before the “Macho Man” did. It all boiled over at WrestleMania 8, where Savage and Flair had a great encounter where the former pinned the decorated 16-time world champion for the WWE Championship. Elizabeth made her way to ringside afterwards, trying to save her beau from the attacks of Flair and Mr. Perfect, and slapped the “Nature Boy” around for forcefully kissing her. Fans would enjoy more Flair vs. Savage in WCW shortly afterwards.
6 The Undertaker vs. Mankind
When Mankind came to WWE, it was apparent Mick Foley’s character was a far stretch from the lovable, hardcore icon Cactus Jack, and battling The Undertaker was the perfect amend to what was expected of him.
Mankind’s first major feud skyrocketed him to fame, and credit the “Deadman” for putting him over, especially in the Boiler Room Brawl Match where Bearer turned on his adopted son. A Buried Alive Match followed shortly after, but Taker couldn’t rid himself of the squealing personality.
After approximately two years, which included Foley’s other characters coming to life, Mankind battled The Undertaker at King of The Ring 1998, where the most infamous Hell In A Cell Match took place. The “Phenom” finally got a clean victory over Mankind, who took such a vicious beating that Taker was simply flabbergasted by the end.
5 The Rock vs. Triple H
Starting off as Rocky Maivia against Helmsley for the Intercontinental Championship, these two legends would go on to headline major shows and flourish in the main story lines.
Triple H fronted D-X at the time, and The Rock was the Nation of Domination’s future, simply put. The two rallied their respective troops to battle on multiple occasions, yet they were the premier attraction that really lit up the room. It was a lengthy feud that saw both wrestlers switch from face to heel several times, including disbanding from their groups to form alliances elsewhere. For almost four years, they paved the way for the mid card by headlining almost every show, ranging from a Four-Way Elimination Match at WrestleMania 2000, to the first-ever episode of SmackDown. Their most famous encounter -- and perhaps the best showing from both -- was at Judgement Day 2000, where Triple H edged The Rock in an Iron Man Match. This was where The Undertaker’s “American Badass” persona came into play.
4 Steve Austin vs. The Rock
Besides Hogan, there are only two other wrestlers that propelled WWE to such great heights. Both Steve Austin and The Rock were on a collision course, set to take over the reigns as the top guys in the company.
Granted, their feud didn’t last too long in the 1990s, seeing how they met twice at WrestleMania events after the year 2000. Towards the end of 1997, these two brash loudmouths feuded over the coveted Intercontinental Championship, leading to the title being thrown into a river, the Rock getting a “3:16” message on his beeper, and other fine musings.
Battling over the WWE Championship added a little more muster to their rivalry, and that was due to The Rock’s allegiance with Vince McMahon under The Corporation. Many other casualties, including Shane McMahon, The Undertaker, Kane, The Big Boss Man, and others got involved, but ultimately, it always came down to the “Texas Rattlesnake” and the “People’s Champion” to hold the throne, specifically at WrestleMania 15, which set off a trilogy of encounters. The two battled in many other prestigious singles matches, but also took part in other battles alongside their peers, such as the Six-Man Hell In A Cell at Armageddon 2000.
3 Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin
These two superstars were arguably WWE’s hottest commodities in 1996, along with Michaels and The Undertaker. Both Hart and Austin worked tremendously well together in hyping the rivalry, based on the promos and backstage segments filled with disdain for one another.
It all came crashing down at WrestleMania 13, where an iconic scene of Austin wearing the crimson mask refused to tap to Hart’s “Sharpshooter” in a Submission Match, which he eventually lost due to unconsciousness. Hart would attack Austin after the bell, and that incident will go down as one of the most confound moments in wrestling history, since the fans had turned on a likeable babyface and aligned themselves with the brash, cold-hearted rattlesnake.
Credit both Hart and Austin for commencing the war of territories in the late 1990s (besides Hart and Lawler earlier), as Austin was beloved in the United States, and the fans passionately hated Hart as he as his Hart Foundation stable mates would enter through the curtain. It was a remarkable time, since the exact opposite would happen in Canada, seeing how the “Hitman” was a national hero, while “Stone Cold” left the Canucks disgruntled with his presence.
2 Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart
Some call it the greatest rivalry in wrestling history, based on the real-life hostility between both superstars. Continuing where the Hart and Austin feud left off, Michaels would be inserted in the picture against his Canadian foe for the rest of 1997. An enemy he knew all too well.
They had a fantastic title match at Survivor Series 1992, not to mention taking part in the first-ever Ladder Match for the promotion; a match perceived as a rarity to collectors and enthusiasts. They topped that with WrestleMania 12's first-ever Iron Man Match, where Michaels would pin Hart in extra time to take home his first WWE Championship. When they would meet a couple of years later for another run, both Michaels and Hart shared mutual disgust for one another, a relationship filled with ill will and deceit. It wasn’t for the cameras. This was as real as it would get.
Survivor Series 1997 will go down as the most infamous night in the sports entertainment industry, as WWE president Vince McMahon called for the bell to protect his investment and award Michaels an impromptu victory, while Hart was jumping ship to WCW. The “Montreal Screwjob” shook the wrestling world, complete with a violent altercation backstage where Hart struck McMahon in the eye. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that Hart reconciled with both parties.
1 Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon
After McMahon took a monumental risk to shift his product into the mainstream by creating the tendentious and sometimes off-putting Attitude Era, he was left with no choice but to include himself into the fold as the evil boss, especially after his bust-up with Hart in Montreal.
“Stone Cold” was undoubtedly the chosen one to lead the fold after defeating Michaels at WrestleMania 14, his rebellious character already gaining a superabundance of hype. But, his fascination with troubling his boss began in September 1997, where he “stunned” McMahon and left the head honcho in shock. Austin pushed McMahon’s buttons yet again at WrestleMania 14, ruining Mike Tyson’s unveiling. It all went downhill from there, up until Austin had his hand raised by McMahon at WrestleMania 17 when he defeated The Rock and joined the dark side.
It was a special time to be a wrestling enthusiast during the Austin vs. McMahon rivalry. Week after week on WWE’s flagship program, Raw, fans tuned in to see Austin stick it to his boss, whether it be with a beer truck or loading the President’s Corvette with cement, only to have McMahon summon enforcers to take down the “Rattlesnake.” It became more than just cat and mouse, since many observers related to an agitator that pissed off his superior and wanted to shower himself with beer after his accomplishments. You could say the Attitude Era saved WWE, since they surpassed WCW Nitro and won the “Monday Night Wars,” but had it not been for Austin vs. McMahon (and of course, Eric Bischoff’s spoiler blunder about Mankind winning the title since Raw was pre-taped), the interest to have that specific male demographic tuning in could have faded. Simply put, Austin vs. McMahon was unique, and despite authoritative figures engaging themselves into the storylines, it’s more or less impossible to emulate something remotely close to that again.
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