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:
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.
14 Mankind vs. Triple H
13 Bret Hart vs. Jerry Lawler
12 Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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