Sunday, January 11, 2009

Titan’s ’93: ‘Rasslin’s most disjointed year

By Rick Morris

I have recently been reading Bret Hart’s new book “Hitman” and a review will be forthcoming shortly. But in the course of perusing it, I became aware of just how strange a year 1993 was in the World Wrestling Federation. It may be the most crazy, disjointed 12 months that any promotion has ever experienced.

The year dawned with the aftermath of the firings of the Ultimate Warrior and Davey Boy Smith, both of whom were fired not long after wrestling in the co-main events at the epic SummerSlam ’92 show. Also, Randy Savage was on his way to the announcer’s booth at the conclusion of a long feud with Ric Flair and Flair was on his way back to WCW after Vince McMahon made the decision to take him out of the WWF Title picture. A new sometimes-live program, Monday Night Raw, was set to replace Prime Time Wrestling on the USA Network and become the flagship program of the company.

With these developments all having taken place before the traditional “Road to WrestleMania” got started in earnest, the promotion was free to set its lineup for the big event and beyond. Bret Hart was set to defend the WWF Title against Yokozuna, who won the championship match by capturing the Royal Rumble in the first year that the stipulation was in place. Also appearing in positions of prominence heading into the big event in Las Vegas were the following:

^ Hulk Hogan: He came back in an attempt by McMahon to recapture the interest level of the glory days. Programmed into a tag title match with Brutus Beefcake against Money Inc., he would end up leaving WrestleMania IX as the WWF Champion after an impromptu extra match.

^ Curt Hennig: “Mr. Perfect” was one of the greatest pro wrestlers of his time and was in the midst of a moderately successful face run after surprisingly returning from a severe back injury the previous autumn.

^ Ted Dibiase: Now a part of the tag team title unit Money, Inc., his wealthy jerk persona was continuing to sow major heat as it had since his debut in 1987.

^ Jerry Lawler: He had come on board recently as a heel announcer and utility upper-card heel.

^ Doink, Lex Luger and Razor Ramon: They were being pushed heavily as upper-card heels.

All seven of these performers were being called upon to fill top-level spots on the card early in the year. What else did they have in common? They were all gone by later in the year.

Now, Doink, Luger and Ramon were still with the promotion, but all were turned face in fairly abrupt fashion during the year. Luger’s transition was the most abrupt and stunning – from the arrogant, self-obsessed “Narcissist” to the selfless all-American hero when Hogan left and McMahon felt the need to have a muscular babyface challenging Yokozuna for the title.

As for the others … Hogan left after dropping the belt to Yokozuna and not to Hart due to circumstances we may never fully understand because Hogan, Hart and McMahon all tell different stories … Hennig left the company in the fall after the Survivor Series … Dibiase hurt his back in Japan and was through as a wrestler for the company after SummerSlam … Lawler was taken off of TV later in the year when charges arising from a sex scandal made it necessary for the company to distance itself from him.

Additionally, the company had brought in possibly the greatest tag team in the world in the Steiner Brothers early in 1993 and put the straps on them that summer – but by the fall, they were moving down the card rapidly and would be gone early the next year. And Sensational Sherri left the company midway through ’93 after seconding a series of main-event heels over the years. In a similar vein, Jimmy Hart left with Hogan and Bobby Heenan would take off later in the year, so the mouthpiece/announcer ranks were changing as well – and Jim Ross’s surprising arrival at WrestleMania further set the tone that times were changing.

The landscape at the end of 1993 that would not have been recognizable earlier in the year had some other new and returning faces to distinguish it also. Savage got involved in some in-ring action again with a feud against new heel Crush. Diesel began what would be a storied WWF career in the ring after starting as just a bodyguard. Jacques Rougeau came back as ½ of a tag team known as the Quebecers and they would shortly capture the tag straps from the Steiners – and be managed by Scott Levy’s Johnny Polo character.

The company was flailing due to the revolving door of wrestlers coming and going as well as abrupt changes in direction that were being made due to sheer panic. The steroid scandal, which had erupted in the media in the months prior to WrestleMania VIII in early ’92, was well on its way to degenerating into McMahon’s federal trial in the summer of ’94 and the product was suffering for it. Many decisions were completely unfocused, such as putting the belt on Hogan at a time when Raw was becoming the company’s flagship program. McMahon had spent so much time in the glory days bragging about he and Hogan taking wrestling out of the “small, smoke-filled arenas” that the early Raw programs in the small halls seemed a jarring throwback.

Ultimately, the desperate, grasping moves of a promotion trying to get back to the recent boom period defined the chaotic 1993 WWF period. Ironically, WCW is probably a bit more infamous in the minds of wrestling fans for their own miserable moments that year (Paul Roma as a member of the Four Horsemen, the Hollywood Blondes breakup, the Shockmaster, the Arn Anderson/Sid Vicious scissors shoot brawl), but the WWF’s year was more consequential because it set in motion the stupid “New Generation” theme that characterized the company’s aimless direction until the next boom began to bubble up in ’97-98. And in a further ironic touch, several of the underutilized wrestlers in WCW in 1993 would form a big part of the core of the Attitude Era (Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Dustin Rhodes, Davey Boy Smith, Big Van Vader).

That last note perfectly exemplifies the cyclical nature of the wrestling business, because the next time that the WWF (soon to become WWE) would go through a post-boom hangover in ’02-03, they again tried to throw as much muck as they could at the wall to try to get the good times to come right back – and who were some of the big names they brought back at that time? Hogan, Ramon (now known as Scott Hall), Diesel (now known as Kevin Nash) and Scott Steiner. Ah, the wacky revolving door in the wrestling business!

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