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We celebrated the best of 1994 in our end of year awards, but now it's time to look at the worst of 1994 with our inaugural Wrestling 20 Years Ago “Hall of Shame”. With special thanks to contributions from Del Muir, Chris Lacey and Stewart Brookes. Piece by Bob Bamber unless stated.
The Decline of Lex Luger - Read more: Where did it all go wrong for Lex Luger in the WWF?
We start with something that, in all honesty, could have been top of the tree in 1993. But Luger entered 1994 seemingly on a collision course with the WWF Championship, but the cracks appeared very quickly after only tying with Bret Hart to win the Royal Rumble before losing to Yokozuna at Wrestlemania. It's not Luger not winning the title that earns a merit on this list (that would be in 1993) but his fall from grace afterwards, only the WWF could take such a big act and make them so irrelevant so quickly.
Undertaker Has No Friends
While we cannot be wholly surprised that Undertaker wasn't slated to win the WWF Title against Yokozuna at the Royal Rumble it's fair to say that it taking a dozen heels interfering in the casket match was, perhaps a little much. It wasn't a bad angle necessarily, it was one that wrote off Undertaker for the next few months, but in amongst all that we found ourselves asking – where were the babyfaces? Does the Undertaker have no friends?
We Need A Winner
Bret Hart and Lex Luger both tied for the victory of the Royal Rumble setting up a perplexing set of circumstances leading into Wrestlemania that would see the WWF Title defended twice. While the convoluted Mania card was a result of the WWF having failed to create any marketable stars since the departure of Hogan, quite why a coin toss was required to sort it out when, I don't know, a match might have done? Luger vs Hart – winner faces Yokozuna at Wrestlemania. At least put Luger out of his misery gently!
WCW Cannot Decide Their Own Rules
In over 18 months since I've started this project, I honestly cannot tell you whether throwing someone over the top rope in WCW is a disqualification. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't – sometimes it is in one match, then isn't in the next match. It's the kind of thing that WCW definitely should have tightened up on. It happened quite regularly in 1994, it was even my main gripe with Spring Stampede, which was a superb show.
The Decline Of Yokozuna
On paper, you might look at Yokozuna's 1994 and think he had a pretty good year. Entered as champion and even headlined three of the five pay-per-views including Survivor Series. But the truth is the Survivor Series match was an aberration, that otherwise illustrated the fast decline of the WWF Champion for the better part of 10 months. Yoko fell out of the title picture so quickly he never even got a rematch after Wrestlemania, for a character that was so good, it was a big shame.
Then you say “No Violence”
Pressure from those up above influenced both companies to tone down their violent content on their shows in 1994, it's just a shame that it neutered some of the best parts of it. Cactus Jack and The Nasty Boys took part in two match of the year candidates in April and May, both violent brawls, but the company wanted to reduce the violence. Even more perplexingly, the WWF quickly abandoned an angle on Raw in June with Duke “The Dumpster” Drowse after apparently using his trash can to attack Jerry Lawler was “too violent”. The legitimate apology from Lawler next week was worse, still.
Owen Hart and The 123 Kid Forget Psychology
On the face of it, Owen Hart vs The 123 Kid at King Of The Ring is one of the crispest, most athletic, four minute matches you are ever likely to see. Both of them dived and ran around the ring competing in a highly entertaining spectacle. So what's the problem? Well, the whole match belied the point that the Kid had been on the receiving end of a beating from Jeff Jarrett earlier in the show. The Kid even sold on his way to the ring prior to the Owen match... then he just forgot.
The Dawning Of The New Generation
The WWF's response to seeing Hulk Hogan join WCW was to launch a counter-attack based around their “New Generation” of young superstars like The 123 Kid, Owen Hart (well, and Mabel) and many more. The new was fast and in colour, the old was slow and in black and white. It was a nice idea had they actually followed through on it. Instead, they headlined their first pay-per-view with this moniker with Jerry Lawler vs Roddy Piper.
How much does this guy weigh?
With Vince McMahon having more pressing issues to deal with, the King of the Ring commentary team was left to Gorilla Monsoon and Randy Savage. Oh, and former football player Art Donovan. Donovan was added to the show as he was a footballing legend for the Baltimore Colts in the 1950s and the show was being held in Baltimore. Quite why that meant Donovan needed to be on commentary for the show I'll have no idea. Unfortunately, Donovan wasn't particularly clued up on... anything wrestling related, and proceeded to make mishap after mishap on commentary, regularly asking Randy Savage “how much does this guy weigh?” and (easily the best part) asking “who's this guy?” with Lex Luger stood on the entrance ramp. That's Lex Luger... the guy the WWF had been pushing hard in the past twelve months.
Tag Teams (by Del Muir)
I am not the biggest fan of tag-team wrestling. I find it overly formulaic and often lose interest in the standardised format. Two teams that changed this were the Nasty Boys & the Public Enemy. Brilliant brawlers; they bucked the trend. Elsewhere? Very little. One of the best matches of the year was Cactus & Maxx Payne vs The Nasty Boys. Cactus left WCW and we haven't seen Payne since. Another? Shawn & Diesel vs Razor & Kid – buried away on WWF Action Zone. The best shouldn't need you to dig for, it should be front & centre. Here's hoping for 1995.
Call Our Hotline and influence absolutely nothing
Hotlines were a way of making a bit of money out of wrestling fans. Often they were used as a way of providing extra content like interviews, trivia quizzes and news updates. But both companies can be accused of being guilty of perhaps overstepping the mark when it comes to the use of their hotlines. The WWF invited people to vote on who won the Royal Rumble – despite not bothering to do anything with that information, and WCW much more inexplicably would completely mislead people with news updates that were far too good to be true. This was a problem that would only get worse into 1995.
Hogan Arrives... and so do his friends - Read More: Was Hulk Hogan a success for WCW in 1994?
The arrival of Hulk Hogan was a big success for WCW in 1994. While he cost them a fortune he bought the company some much needed exposure, but he also dragged along half of the WWF roster from the 1980s including Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Earthquake, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and others. These weren't even great acts from the 80s like Randy Savage was when he came in at the end of the year, these were acts who were over the hill.
Hogan Arrives... and so does The Honky Tonk Man
As above, but the Honky Tonk Man was so bad he deserves his own section
Hogan Arrives... and the quality of WCW PPVs declines
Superbrawl in February was very good, Slamboree in May was very good, Spring Stampede in April was one of the best PPVs top to bottom you will ever see (four of its matches appeared in my best WCW matches of 1994 list). Hogan arrived, bought his friends along with him, and mysterious things started happening down the card, the quality of the matches dropped significantly – hard working guys like Cactus Jack and Steve Austin found themselves losing grips on their spots. While Hogan was having great main events with Flair it didn't matter so much, but Starrcade in particular was a horrible show, and the quality of WCW's undercards would take a while to recover yet.
The WWF Solve Their Own Mystery
The WWF were building towards Summerslam with their big money main event of, yes, The Undertaker vs The Undertaker. The build started with vignettes talking to ordinary people like road sweepers, deli workers and others who had seen sightings of the dead man. The Undertaker had turned to the dark side having been bought by The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase – even Paul Bearer thought the imposter was the real thing. Cut to the following week and, with no explanation at all, the company announced the Undertaker vs Undertaker main event for Summerslam, despite zero evidence that the Taker on screen was fake.
Undertaker vs Undertaker (by Chris Lacey) Read More: Feud In Review - Undertaker vs Undertaker
This match was doomed to fail: from having to follow Bret and Owen at Summerslam to using a novice (Brian Lee) to pretend to be one of your key characters. The build up was quite intriguing, the Million Dollar Man and his money against Paul Bearer and the urn. The Million Dollar Man had his Undertaker on TV, what would Bearer do? There was 'that' entrance at Summerslam with the giant urn; smoke and lighting effects, if only the show went off the air then. Instead we got this zombie vs zombie bore fest, with both men unable to grab the attention of the crowd or work out that the match plan wasn't working. Thankfully the real Taker pinned the fake Taker and this was the last we ever saw of this feud.
Hulk Hogan Submits
Hulk Hogan very rarely lost in his career, you'd have to look a long, long time to find out an occasion where he submitted. But he did just that in 1994, uttering “I quit” while in a figure four leg lock during the match at the Clash against Ric Flair. Hogan even admitted afterwards he did say it. Did he lose his title? Nope. What kind of whacky powerplay Hogan was pulling, I've got no idea, but it was an early sign that Hulk Hogan's shit was stinking as early as two months into his WCW run.
It's '94, not '84 (by Del Muir)
Backlund: Longest reigning champion of the last twenty years. Held it for a quarter of that time. TV gold. But, please – think he can still wrestle well? Hogan: Biggest star ever in the business. But, please – ignore the fact that he's barely changed his style in the same period of time? "Long live the 'New Generation' in the 'World Wrestling Federation". But, please – watch men in their forties main event pay per views? The Four Horsemen. The Fabulous Freebirds. Both heel factions. Both epic groups. Now we have Sullivan, Beefcake & Earthquake. But, please – Fear them? IT'S NINETEEN-NINETY-FOUR!
Bret Hart is the Champion of the mid-card - READ MORE
Some circumstances dictate that the main event of a major show should be headlined by a non-title match. The Royal Rumble has made this a common place, and other shows sometimes require that you've got a non-title marquee match that you are better off placing your main title match in the mid-card. None of these applied in 1994 when Bret Hart went into three consecutive pay per views in 1994 as Champion and headlined none of them. Instead we got Lawler/Piper, Undertaker/Undertaker and Undertaker/Yokozuna.
Steve Austin loses the US Title in less than 30 seconds (by Stewart Brookes)
Jim Duggan defeating Steve Austin in 35 seconds at 'Fall Brawl 94' perfectly represents the changing of the guard within WCW. Austin, a well-pushed and tenured performer, had engaged in a career enhancing series of matches with legendary babyface Ricky Steamboat for a number of months. Any momentum he had gained was instantly wiped out as he was steamrollered by a relic from the late 80s and Hulkamania, whose sole qualification for the role of secondary Champion for the company was simply being Hogans mate. A combination of this defeat and injury would see Austin later become a performer deemed expendable by WCW.
Sting (by Del Muir) - Read More: 1994 - A Year to Forget for Sting
Remember Sting? Just about. Miss him? Damn right. Stinger had great matches with Ric Flair and Vader in 1993, he could easily be to the 90's what Hogan was to the 80's. What stopped it happening? Well, it could well be Hulk himself: Young guy, great wrestler, unique look and unbelievably popular with the fans, 'can't have that, brother'. The only noticeable contribution Sting had to make in the second half of last year was part of the shackling feud with the Three Faces of Fear and his resplendent taste in braces. There's literally nothing else.
WCW Retire Ricky Steamboat
While this likely would've been the natural course anyway – Steamboat would never return to the ring after suffering the injury in 1994 – WCW firing him just months before his contract was going to expire was a classless move, as was doing it Fed-Ex. It was a similar story with Steve Austin, but given that that one was a more financially motivated move, and that Austin's time in the company and the industry compared to Steamboat's was relatively short, ditching Steamboat like that was a horrible thing to do.
WCW “Retire” Ric Flair... for the sake of a buyrate
WCW moved a lot of trees to accommodate Hulk Hogan in 1994, the roster changed dramatically, the cheque-book got drained regularly and they even spruced up the Centre Stage set for his arrival. It's not, so much, the idea of asking Flair to retire (he'd be back in the ring inside 12 months) nor is it that booking Flair and Hogan on the same cards would've been easy, but to do the show at Halloween Havoc in October (rather than at Starrcade in December) just to make Hogan's negotiations easier was poor, as was them getting people to buy the show while the whole time planning Flair's comeback.
The Three Faces of Fear - Read More
WCW had a massive talent pool in their ranks in the early 90s. Be they guys like Cactus Jack or Steve Austin, that they used regularly, or guys like Chris Benoit and Brian Pillman that had been around less frequently, the could point to some stellar talents in their phone book. So what name, or names, did they pick out? The Butcher, Avalanche and Kevin Sullivan. Nope, me neither.
Midget-Mania (by Stewart Brookes)
While the WWF mid-card wasn't exactly bursting with talent waiting for an opportunity at the end of 1994, surely Vince and company could have come up with something better to fill 15 minutes of pay-per-view time than The Royal Family vs Clown R Us at Survivor Series 1994? While we all know everything in the WWF is solely booked to amuse one man, this is one of the instances when surely he was literally the only person who was amused? What's even more irritating is that new WWF Women's Champion Bull Nakano, who had an incredible match at Summerslam 1994 that drew an indifferent crowd in, is actually at the event, her only contribution being a backstage promo with Todd Pettengill.
Diesel “Wants To Be Like Bret Hart”
I've got a funny feeling that Diesel might feature a lot during this article at the end of 1995, but in truth the company did very little wrong with him in 1994. But once he won the title he cut a promo that in length, delivery and content belied what had made the Diesel character so popular in the first place. Amongst which was claiming he wanted to be “just like Bret Hart”... it was perhaps just the tip of the iceberg.
WWF Lose Randy Savage - Read More: Randy Savage's Depature From The WWF
The company wanted to keep Savage, but Savage didn't want to stay. His last in-ring appearance for them was a Wrestlemania in March, after that he was left as an announcer, despite the fact he still wanted to actively compete in the ring. Now, in another world arguing that Savage wasn't necessary would be fine, but given their “New Generation” promise involved using guys in main events older than Savage, and the fact they had an absolute drain of over talent, why the company didn't work harder to keep Savage (particularly with WCW hoovering up talent) we will never know...