Wrestling, like anything, has its highs and lows. It's ever changing and evolving, trying to stay relevant to the world around it. Sometimes it takes a little while to catch up and that's usually when the product goes downhill. With the advent of television, wrestling benefitted as there was a demand for new programming and it was a relatively easy product to film. This helped grow the sport and get many new eyes watching.
The 80s brought standardized cable programming which meant everyone was watching the same program, at the same time. Many think McMahon killed the territories, but cable had just as much to do with it. By 1985, the WWE had partnered with MTV and their popularity exploded. With Roddy Piper inciting the mainstream fans with dastardly acts like kicking Cyndi Lauper and Hulkamania there to stop him, WrestleMania ushered in a golden era of wrestling. Merchandise flew off the shelves, bigger arenas were being filled, and wrestlers were finally making the money they deserve for sacrificing their bodies and risking their lives.
This golden era was stretched as thin as possible, but with the steroid trial and changing culture, it got stale. Never was it more stale or stretched thin as 1995.
It seems like the talent was thin at this time, but in reality the same wrestlers were there, they just weren't being utilized correctly. Once Diesel and Razor became Nash and Hall in WCW the tide began to turn. Names, clothes, attitudes, and storylines all got more realistic. Sure, 1996 was just as much of a transition year but it was much more exciting than the growing pains of 1995. At least in 1996, WCW was starting to figure things out, but in 1995, nobody was getting it right.
Hogan's shtick of battling big guys had already grown stale by SummerSlam 1990 against Earthquake, so it was extra lame to see the same opponent five years later repackaged as a friggin' SHARK. McMahon clung to the same formula when he tried to replace Hogan with Luger/Diesel and Earthquake with Yoko/Mabel. Old ideas that smelled as sour as old milk.
But even though it's easy to pick on the wrestling companies for a weak year, we also need to give credit for their ability to come out of it stronger than ever. Both companies were losing money and they could have easily closed up shop. Instead, they persevered and innovated, achieving a new golden era of even greater success.
Thank you 1995, because the sweet is never as sweet without the sour.
15 The Royal Rumble
Shawn Michaels entered at no.1 and outlasted 29 other competitors to win his first Rumble. Sounds impressive until you actually watch it. First off, Michaels' 'iron-man' run was only 38 minutes due to wrestlers entering every 60 seconds. Secondly, his competition was a total jobber-fest with Owen Hart as the only other viable winner (and Bret Hart beat him up on his way to the ring).
Lex Luger and British Bulldog also participated but they were in the middle of a tag-team feud so you knew they had no chance. Yes, 10,000 mildly entertained fans watched Michaels prevail over the likes of: Mantaur, Bart Gunn, Duke Droese, Kwang, Timothy Well, Aldo Montoya, and Dick Murdoch.
Another frustrating part of the night was the non-finish in the title match between Diesel and Hart, as just about every heel on the roster interfered in the match.
14 WrestleMania XI
Held at the same prestigious Hartford Civic Center that also hosted 2006 Skate America and a couple AHL playoff games. Yes, it's the WrestleMania that was headlined by L.T. the football player and zero-time WWE Champion Bam Bam Bigelow. All the stars were there, Jonathan Taylor Thomas AND Nicholas Turturro.
But what about the legitimate superstars Vince always relied on, they must have done something worth watching right? Well, no. The Undertaker continued 'the streak' by defeating King Kong Bundy, and Bret Hart had an unintentionally hilarious 'I Quit' match with Bob Backlund and Roddy 'Whaddya Say?' Piper. Many accuse Hart of tooting his own horn but even he said this match was crap. He genuinely looked embarassed as the crowd laughed at Piper's constant questioning and Backlund's tortured yells.
On the positive side, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Diesel's most energetic and entertaining WWE performance in his exciting match with Michaels. But that was the lone bright spot. And odds are when you're in a match with Michaels, it's going to be good.
Technical problems plagued the event throughout and the whole thing struggled to feel like more than a glorified house show. The show could have been so much stronger if Bigelow teamed up with a fellow heel to take on LT and a partner of his choosing, and if that match was in the midcard. Even if the card was still sub-par, they could have at least ended on a high note with the title match.
Speaking of glorified house shows........
13 In Your House
This year was the last time there would be no secondary PPV between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. Could you believe the poor fans had to wait that long to see Jeff Jarret and Razor Ramon have their rematch?
The first In Your House debuted May 14th in front of 7,000 at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse. It was priced aggressively at $14.95 (and worth about half).
You have to give it to Vince. Attendance was down and the WWE was in danger, yet he charged ahead with even more big events. Even if it was just a last-ditch cash grab, it still pushed wrestling forward and piqued fan interest to suddenly get many more PPVs per year. Many also believe it was simply a reactionary move, as WCW had upped the ante to seven pay-per-views in 1994 and nine in 1995.
12 The Kliq was in charge
With the weak roster, Vince had to rely heavily on the handful of elite talent he still had left. This meant the Kliq hit their peak of politicking backstage power. Bam Bam Bigelow and Dean Douglas have both spoken out about their WWE departures being related to abuse from the Kliq.
Although the Kliq had a very negative effect on several wrestlers around them, it did have a positive effect in the way that it arguably saved the WWE. The WWE in 1995 was stuck in the old ways of cartoony gimmicks and good versus evil. The Kliq was all about attitude and fans cheering for the 'bad guys'. It was this 'tweener philosophy that shaped the skyrocket success off the Attitude Era just a few years later.
11 King of The Ring
Another 1995 PPV widely considered the worst in its class.
For some reason, McMahon benched what little top-end talent he had and stocked this KOTR with the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps he was trying to find some new stars but it bombed big-time.
The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels both participated but would be out after the quarterfinals leaving: Savio Vega, Mabel, and The Roadie as the final three (Mabel received a bye after HBK and Kama were both eliminated in a draw).
Mabel would win of course, starting his infamous 'King Mabel' run that would ruin many main events to come. The Philadelphia fans had seen just about enough crap and would have rioted if they weren't so bored. Instead they threw trash and chanted 'E-C-W'.
Vince had to be worried after this one.
10 Diesel Bombed as Champion
Bret Hart’s championship reign was the first to suffer from the steroid trial and weak era. The average attendance of 5,000 was unfairly pinned on Bret as the following years would prove it wasn’t the champion’s fault but the time period. Vince was never comfortable with smaller wrestlers on top and wanted to switch gears, but with the steroid users gone, few big men remained.
Enter Diesel. The near seven footer was clean (from ‘roids at least) and larger than life, perfect for McMahon. But Nash lacked in-ring experience and his natural bad-ass charisma didn’t translate as a top face. Hart may have had an average of 5,000, but Diesel’s run was only 4,000. Save for his WrestleMania match with Michaels (which didn’t even headline) most of Diesel’s matches that year were fairly forgettable. And when it comes to Diesel versus Mabel, the less you remember the better.
In any event, when you have the same champion for 11 months of the year and the year is as bad as 1995, it's a rough year.
9 Failure to Capitalize on Owen Hart's Amazing 1994
Owen was easily one of the most entertaining, hilarious, and talented wrestlers in the company, yet he was lost in the shuffle. He has the best ‘WOOO’ this side of Ric Flair and his heel character expertly toed the line of funny/cheesy. His amazing cage match with Bret in ’94 was even more impressive when you learn they were under strict orders not to bleed. With his creativity and talent you’d think Vince would be clamoring to add another elite member to the main event, but again, you’ll mostly find Kliq members there during 1995.
Just imagine an athletic showcase feud between Owen and Shawn, or how he could sell for Diesel. The potential was there, but ultimately squandered.
8 The Dungeon of Doom
Bad wrestling wasn't limited to the WWE alone, as WCW had plenty of crap to offer that year.
They had spent big money on Hogan and his ex-WWE friends in an attempt to legitimately compete with McMahon. Hogan did what Hogan does and faced off against an endless stream of 'monsters'. But instead of Andre and King Kong Bundy, fans were given the 'Green' Giant, Zodiac, and Avalanche. They were also treated to cheesy vignettes that took place in a foggy netherworld and featured Hogan's tremendously bad acting.
It went bad to bizarre as Hogan started dressing like the Phantom of the Opera (no joke) while giving confusing promos about getting Meng's head on a platter.
Of course, the great part of the Dungeon was the introduction of the YETI and the devastating Double-bearhug-of-Doom. A move that most looked like a real pain in the ass.
7 WCW Mainstays Cast Aside
For years the NWA/WCW offered a different product than Vince’s WWE. Their southern brand of ‘rasslin featured a much more hard-hitting and technical style than the flashy New Yorkers. The epic battles Flair had with Steamboat and Sting defined the company and appealed to their specific market.
But when Turner brought in Hogan to take it to the next level, he lost their identity. All of the hard work that went into creating WCW stars was flushed down the toilet for Hogan and his buddies. Matches you watched in the WWE 10 years prior were being recreated with only a few names being changed.
Flair and Vader were treated the worst. Flair lost over and over to Hogan and at one point was even dressed in drag. Vader could have had an epic feud with the Hulkster but it fizzled and he was out of the company by the end of the year.
Sting was pushed out of the limelight but it ended up spawning his most successful gimmick that he still uses decades later. Further proof that the best gimmicks come from honesty.
6 WWE Commentary
All of these Mabel and Savio Vega matches might have been more bearable with good ol' JR on the mic, but that wasn't the case. You see, Jim Ross was fired for leaking information to journalists. He was eventually brought back but relegated to secondary shows and interviews. This meant Vince would be calling all of the 'maneuvers' for most of the year. Even worse, he had Dok Hendrix at his side for a few months before Lawler took over.
McMahon obviously pales in comparison to Ross but there is a morbid fascination to how over the top McMahon goes in trying to hype up the lame action in front of him.
To be fair, I'll take Vince calling IRS versus Aldo Montoya over Michael Cole calling ANYTHING.
5 What were Bret Hart and The Undertaker doing?
The mid-card was very weak at this time but McMahon still had Bret Hart and The Undertaker (among others) to rely on. The problem was that he spread them too thin. Instead of having them face superstars of their caliber that could produce quality matches, he had them mired in brutal feuds for most of the year.
The Undertaker faced Ted DiBiase’s jobber army The Corporation, as they all took turns stealing his urn. This meant matches with IRS, King Kong Bundy, and Kama the fighting machine.
Hart was wasting the best wrestling year of his life constantly battling Jerry Lawler, Jean-Pierre LaFitte and Isaac Yankem.
But that’s what happens when you’re not in the Kliq.
4 Sell Sell Sell
With ticket sales down, both WCW and WWE resorted to alternative income streams.
The WWE had Barry Didinsky hawking particularly ugly WWE clothing that ticked every box of why 90s fashion was awful. Oversized colorful shirts adorned with a graphic of your favorite wrestler big enough to see from space.
WCW had Mene Gene's Hotline, where all of the smarks must have gotten their inside knowledge before the internet. They stopped at nothing to entice the expensive calls, at one point they even teased Ric Flair's death.
Judging by how bad wrestling was at the time, you can't blame the fans for believing another part of wrestling was dead.
3 Uncensored '95
God this was a bad PPV.
WCW loved their gimmick matches and they emptied the bag for this card.
The first match featured a young Dustin Rhodes and Blacktop Bully fighting in the back of a hay trailer as it cruised down the road. This was about as bad as it sounds. It's pretty tough to maintain your balance let alone wrestle a great match while on the back of a moving vehicle. This match is also what got Rhodes fired from WCW for blading (on a PPV called UNCENSORED).
How about a martial arts match........with Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Or boxing......with Arn Anderson and Marc Mero.
To to it off, WCW and Hogan had all but told the fans that The Ultimate Warrior would be signing with WCW, teasing the 'ultimate surprise'. Well the time came and the surprise turned out to be that WCW are a bunch of a liars. Out comes a blatant Warrior ripoff called 'The Renegade' who aped Warrior's mannerisms (and was actually much more athletic).
With the big two in trouble it's no wonder ECW was on the rise.
2 WORST... GIMMICKS... EVER
The year that goofy gimmicks reached their breaking point. Minotaurs, evil pirates, , magicians who stole underwear (seriously),dentists, plumbers, and more. It was the last gasp of the previous era and it went out kicking and screaming.
Perhaps in a very very very odd way Vince was trying to appeal to the common man with all of these ‘occupation’ wrestlers. It just took a few more years to realize that you can appeal to regular people by having your wrestlers act like……..REGULAR PEOPLE.
WCW was just as bad, but they went the supernatural route. The Yeti, Shark and all of the Dungeon of Doom. If you really want to see a parade of wrestlecrap, watch the introductions to WCW World War 3, their three-ring 60-man battle royal.
1 The Tone
ECW was just about the only promotion that didn't have this tonal problem. In fact, they were the first people who knew how to use Steve Austin. After 'Stunning' was fired from WCW, Heyman gave him a chance to air his grievances in the Extreme promotion. This allowed Austin to develop the character that would dominate wrestling for years to come. If you haven't seen his legendary ECW promos yet, be sure to check them out.
Back to WWE/WCW, who definitely had a tone problem. Vince still had the majority of his wrestlers using terrible gimmicks like Bob 'Spark Plug' Holly and Duke 'The Dumpster' Droese. It was actually clear even in 1994 with Razor Ramon's popular 'bad guy' character that fans wanted realistic tweeners with flaws and attitude. But it took until Ramon invaded WCW as Scott Hall for this culture to fully take over.
WCW was even further behind in '95 as they were using all of the WWE stars from the 80s. Hogan was basically doing a legends tour rehash and the traditional WCW programming was pushed aside.
Sure, 1994 was just as goofy but it felt a tiny bit more appropriate and 1996 was making serious progress towards the Attitude Era. But 1995 was stuck in the middle and was the worst year in wrestling.