Can’t Knock The Hustle: The Matches That Made Me (Part 2 – The 1990’s)

Sometimes, a writer writes for the masses, touching on topics that are easily digestible for the general public because those topics are what’s hot at that moment.

Other times, a writer writes for themselves, or at least for a much smaller audience.

You’ll notice that most of my columns fall into the former category. It’s not anything I plan. It just makes sense to write about current events more often than not, you know?

When I was putting last week’s column together, I knew it wasn’t going to be for the bigger audience. I knew it wasn’t going to do the “numbers” that my usual columns do, whether it was views, comments, social media likes, and so on. It was still something I wanted to do, because it was fun for me to travel down memory lane like I was able to do. Sure enough, those numbers weren’t where they usually are. As I said, though, I had a lot of fun writing it, so I’m continuing the series this week.

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A brief explanation for those who may have missed last week’s column… the matches that I’ll be including are my favorites from a particular year. Sometimes, my favorite match in a year is also the match I feel was the best to take place in that year. There are also times when my favorite match is something that is, technically, not a great technical bout, but stuck with me for a different reason. All in all, everything mentioned played a major part in making me the wrestling fan that I am today.

The last column covered the years in the 80’s that I was a fan, but now, it’s time to turn my attention to the 90’s. This was the decade when everything changed. Not only was the entire landscape of wrestling changing, from the birth of ECW to the debut of WCW Monday Nitro to the nWo to the Attitude Era, but this was also when I grew out of being a young wrestling fan and turned into *gasp* a teenager! The horror!

We’ve got a lot to discuss, so let’s get the ball rolling, starting in 1990.Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior (WrestleMania 6 – April 1st, 1990): The top two names in the WWF, going to war over the WWF Title, and they both happened to be faces. It’s a scenario that would damn near be impossible to pull off in today’s WWE product, mainly because the company struggles to build one face properly, let alone two at the same time.

One of the most surprising things about this match is that it was actually a pretty good match. You don’t exactly think “workrate” when Hogan and Warrior are being talked about, but they set out to do something special here. This was, to that point in his career, the best match that Warrior had participated in. As for Hogan, you could probably say that it was his best WWF match to that point, too. In my opinion, only his Steel Cage match against Big Boss Man on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event in April 1989 could compete.

Seeing Hogan lose blew my mind at the time. I was a huge Hulkamaniac, but I was also a big fan of Warrior, so I was somewhat torn on who to root for, but Hogan just didn’t lose. Before this match, the last match we saw Hogan lose was to The Genius on Saturday Night’s Main Event five months earlier, but that was by count-out. The last time Hogan was pinned before WrestleMania 6 was in 1988, when he lost the WWF Title to Andre The Giant on The Main Event. That match was famous for the kayfabe screwjob on Hogan, with Ted DiBiase hiring Dave Hebner’s twin brother, Earl, to pull a referee switcheroo. To see Hogan get pinned, clean as clean can be, in the middle of the ring was something I wasn’t mentally prepared for.

One of the biggest and best spectacles in wrestling history, and one of the best “face vs face” matches you’re ever going to see, especially at such a high level.

The Rockers vs The Orient Express (Royal Rumble – January 19th, 1991): This is probably the only opportunity I’ll ever have to talk about Pat Tanaka and Kato (Paul Diamond) in any of my columns.

If you were to make a list of the all-time “out of nowhere classics” in wrestling history, this match would be pretty high on that list. It was nothing more than a random tag match that was put together to open the show. The Rockers were really starting to get hot as an act, and they were one of the more exciting teams you were going to see at the time. The Orient Express were… two dudes that weren’t going to be taken seriously in the WWF, even though Tanaka and Diamond had success in the old AWA. Ironically enough, Tanaka and Diamond, as Badd Company, would defeat The Rockers to win the AWA Tag Team Titles in March of 1988. If you were a major fan, you’d know that, at the very least, this would be a serviceable match. Otherwise, this wasn’t going to be something you were eagerly anticipating.

For a WWF match, especially at the very beginning of 1991, this was the type of in-ring action that might as well have been coming from a different planet. It just wasn’t anywhere near what WWF fans were used to seeing at that time. On the same show, Ultimate Warrior was defending the WWF Title against Sgt. Slaughter. Hulk Hogan won the night’s Royal Rumble match, with Earthquake, Brian Knobbs, and The British Bulldog rounding out the rest of the final four competitors. Even with Mr. Perfect as the Intercontinental Champion and The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart) as the Tag Team Champions at the time, they were presenting a different style and weren’t flying all around the ring.It’s pretty crazy to think about The Rockers never officially winning the WWF Tag Team Titles. Yes, I know they won the titles later in 1990, only to have the company decide not to air the title change due to a turnbuckle malfunction during the match, which meant The Hart Foundation were still the champions. It’s just wild to think about how good The Rockers were, and how super popular they were with fans all over the world, that were never pushed to the top of the tag team division. This was a time when both Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty were viewed as super “can’t miss” performers that could/would eventually branch out into singles stars. We all know how that worked out, though.

Royal Rumble Match (Royal Rumble – January 19th, 1992): People can argue all they want about whether this is the BEST Royal Rumble match of all-time. This one, with the huge names at the top and the all-time classic commentary job by Bobby Heenan, will probably always be my favorite Rumble match. Not only do I watch it every January, leading up to that year’s Royal Rumble event, but I’ve watched it numerous times at random points, just because it’s so entertaining.

This was such a masterful performance by Flair. Lasting 60:02 in the match, Flair went back-and-forth between being a chickenshit heel, cowering and begging for mercy, and being a take-on-all-comers warrior, often going after the freshest man in the match. There were so many big names in this. As of right now, there are 16 WWE Hall Of Famers in the match, with four or five names that will probably be inducted soon, and of the 15 other Hall Of Famers in the match, Flair got his ass beat by… oh… 15 of them.As I said, though, it is Bobby Heenan that really makes this a special match. As Flair’s confidant and associate, Heenan was absolutely, positively not shy about throwing objectivity out the window. He spent that entire 60:02 going through nearly every known feeling and emotion as he watched Flair eliminate people, almost get eliminated, and everything in between. Heenan cheered, yelled, cursed under his breath, flew off the handle a lot, was on the verge of tears, and seemed to be ready to have a heart attack on several occasions. There hasn’t been an announcer in wrestling history who could’ve done what Heenan did that night, and there hasn’t been one since.

 

Vader vs Ric Flair (StarrCade – December 27th, 1993): Here’s a little tidbit to show you just how crazy of a career Ric Flair has had. On the date of this match, Flair was creeping up on being 45 years old, and was viewed by many to already be well past his in-ring prime. With that said, he was only four years removed from what many “experts” feel was the best in-ring year for any wrestler in the history of the business. On top of that, Flair would win the WCW World Title here and still go on to win that same WCW World Title SIX MORE TIMES in his career.

At this stage of Vader’s career, he was one of the most feared competitors in the industry. The stories have been told a trillion times. Wrestlers used to show up to house shows and television tapings, see their name on the match listings next to Vader’s name, and they would quit the business on the spot. That’s the level of terror that he struck in the hearts of people. When you take that monster and put him up against the “old” and “over-the-hill” former champion, it was a real “David vs Goliath” battle. Flair was used to being an underdog, even as the champion, but people feared for his wellbeing here.As a face, Ric Flair has always been someone who wrestles without fear. Yes, Vader was four or so inches taller than Flair, and yes, Vader outweighed him by over 200 pounds, but The Nature Boy wasn’t going to back down. Especially not wrestling in front of his hometown crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina. It didn’t matter that Vader spent half the match no-selling Flair’s offense and the other half of the match handing Flair his own ass repeatedly.

Wrestling crowds can add a ton to a match. They can make a bad match decent, a decent match good, a good match great, and so on. This was a match where the crowd might as well have added a star to the rating all by itself. I’m not saying the quality of the match was bad or anything. Quite the opposite, actually. If this exact same match took place in Baltimore, Atlanta, Norfolk, or St. Louis, it would be viewed as something that was pretty good. Those were very good cities for the NWA and for WCW, but there was just something about Charlotte… all of North Carolina, if we’re being honest… when Ric Flair was wrestling. This crowd was so hot for “their” guy, almost willing him along. Just a ton of fun here. Great storytelling, a hot crowd, and Flair busting his ass to show that he wasn’t as close to retirement (lol) as many people assumed he was.

 

Bret Hart vs The 1-2-3 Kid (Monday Night Raw – July 11th, 1994): Oh, hey, another “David vs Goliath” match, even though “Goliath” in this scenario was based on his skills and abilities more than his size.The 1-2-3 Kid was a little over a year removed from shocking the wrestling world by pinning Razor Ramon on an episode of Monday Night Raw, and had been racking up victories on WWF shows like Superstars and Wrestling Challenge, including a match against a then-unknown 17-year-old named Jeff Hardy. Bret, on the other hand, was a little over three months into his second reign as the WWF Champion, looking like the best in-ring performer on the planet. Even though Kid was one-half (with Marty Jannetty) of the WWE Tag Team Champions earlier in 1994, he was still seen as someone that was going to be ran through and demolished by “The Hitman” in Bushkill, Pennsylvania that night.

Not only did the champion not demolish the challenger that night, but he barely squeaked out of there with a victory after a 25 minute match. Yes… 25 whole minutes. It would be difficult to compare it to anything in today’s scene. In WWE, the closest explanation would be if Drew McIntyre, as the WWE Champion, faced someone like Ricochet or Mustafa Ali in a match on a random episode of Raw that went 25 minutes. Going into that, you’d probably expect McIntyre to get the win, but that maybe Ricochet or Ali would get a little bit of offense in… maybe a highspot or two to pop the crowd… but that would be it. When McIntyre finally got the win after 25 minutes, your jaw would need to be picked up off the floor.

Bret made Kid look like a million bucks. He made him look like an absolute star that should be contending for the World Title more often. Keep in mind that Sean Waltman was two weeks (when the match was taped) away from his 22nd birthday when this match took place. The best part about it, though, was that Bret gave and gave and gave and gave and gave, doing everything to make The Kid look like a star, but it didn’t do anything to hurt him. It’s not like the WWF Champion looked like a sad sack piece of shit because it took him so long to beat The 1-2-3 Kid. In elevating The Kid, Bret was actually able to elevate himself. That’s a rare thing for a wrestler to have the ability to do, but Bret could do it with regularity.

Bret Hart vs Hakushi (Monday Night Raw – July 24th, 1995): Back-to-back years featuring a Bret Hart match. Strangely enough, I wasn’t really a fan of Bret back when these matches were taking place. I didn’t think he sucked or anything. It’s just that, at that age, I wanted a little more sizzle with my steak, you know? As far as the WWF in 1995, I was a big fan of the likes of Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon, The Undertaker, Sycho Sid, and Yokozuna. Through the years, I have developed a tremendous appreciation for Bret and what he was capable of in the ring. He has a huge claim to being the best wrestler of all-time, but that’s a different topic for a different column… that I will be working on soon.

Bret was capable of having entertaining matches with anybody. Anybody. Big or small. Main event guy or job guy. Young or old. Technical, brawler, or high flyer. Hakushi was a ton of fun to watch, and it wasn’t exactly a surprise that he could have a good match with Bret, but it still blew me away. He was a completely different type of wrestler than most of anybody we would see on the WWF roster in those days. I had never seen any of Jinsei Shinzaki’s work before he arrived in the WWF. Everything he did seemed like something out of the future, but Bret… oh, Bret… he was able to hang with Hakushi every step of the way. This match didn’t even last ten minutes, but they were able to cram so much action into it, that you don’t even look at it as “short” in any way.

Another random episode of Raw, and another great performance by Bret Hart.

Sting, Randy Savage & Lex Luger vs Scott Hall, Kevin Nash & A Mystery Partner (Bash At The Beach – July 7th, 1996): What really needs to be said about this match that hasn’t already been said? One of the most famous matches of all-time, it changed everything about the wrestling business. Ev-er-y-thing. It changed the way people viewed WCW, and then how WCW viewed themselves. The way the WWF handled their business was also changed. Wrestling merchandise was changed forever. Television ratings, pay-per-view buyrates, ticket sales… all changed forever. Even Hulk Hogan’s career was altered for the rest of time. Fans were getting very tired of his same old face act, but this heel turn was the fresh coat of paint he needed, and he rode the wave for years because of it.

Bret Hart vs Steve Austin (WrestleMania 13 – March 23rd, 1997): This is the greatest double turn in pro wrestling history. It had been building and building for a long time, but the crowd in Chicago on that night solidified the entire thing. It was motherfucking art. Bret Hart had long been the conquering hero, but he was being viewed as increasingly whiny leading up to this. On the other end, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was a heel that was presented so well that it was impossible not to like him. Bret was slowly getting more heel reactions from crowds, and Austin was slowly getting more face pops.

The storytelling here was picture perfect for what had been happening. Bret started wrestling with heel tendencies, and once Austin’s head got busted open and he was bleeding like the proverbial stuck pig, his “never quit” started to show, and the crowd began to rally behind him. The end of the match saw Austin get locked in the Sharpshooter and he would end up passing out from the pain. Even if you’ve never seen the match, you’ve seen the all-time great visual of the camera zooming in on Austin’s face as he screamed in pain with blood pouring down his face, into his mouth, down his chin, and onto the mat below. The cherry on the top of this delicious sundae was Bret continuing his attack after the match, only to be stopped by the debuting Ken Shamrock, who was the Special Guest Referee.The rest was history. It helped give the Hart vs Austin feud nuclear heat, which only got wilder when it morphed into United States vs The World. Austin would go on to become one of the biggest names and draws in wrestling history, and a lot of that is owed to this match.

 

Goldberg vs Diamond Dallas Page (Halloween Havoc – October 25th, 1998): This was back when Goldberg’s win/loss record was 8,972-0 or whatever nonsensical number WCW was pushing on everybody at the time. He had been the WCW World Champion for just under four months at this point, but this was only his second title defense, with his first one coming six days after he won the title in the first place. It didn’t do anything to hurt his popularity, that’s for sure, but it wasn’t exactly a title reign with a bunch of great stuff going on.

I didn’t know what to expect when I first watched this one. Goldberg wasn’t exactly known for lengthy matches that rated high on anybody’s star scale. DDP, as over as he was, wasn’t putting out five-star match after five-star match, either. On this night, though, DDP showed the world that he was a miracle worker. In my opinion, this was the best singles match that Goldberg has ever participated in. Both men seemed extra motivated to put something good out, and they were able to find even more motivation once they were out in front of a super hot Las Vegas crowd. This won’t go down as an all-time classic, but it’s something fun to check out if the only Goldberg you know is the one we’ve seen in WWE over the last couple years. You know the one… the Goldberg that is more likely to botch someone into permanent paralysis than he is to do something that will be universally loved. Go back and watch this match to see that he is, in fact, capable of something above average.

Mankind vs The Rock (Royal Rumble – January 24th, 1999): This is probably going to be the only match on these lists that I can call my favorite for a given year, but that I can’t really watch anymore. The match is still great, but man oh man, those chair shots just make me uncomfortable. With everything that we’ve learned about brain injuries in the last 22 years, and with everything we’ve learned about what this did to Mick Foley and the entire Foley family, it’s just something I don’t like sitting through.

This was simply 22 minutes of brutality, and most of it was dished out to Mankind. We know that he has a legendarily high pain tolerance, but The Rock did that man dirty here. The story has been told a million times before, but in the prep work for the match, Mankind and The Rock agreed upon a specific number of chair shots that Foley would take. When the match was happening, Rock admits to getting caught up in the rush of everything that was going on, and he unleashed approximately 924 chair shots to the fucking dome of Mick Foley, all while Mick has his hands cuffed behind his back and is unable to protect himself in any way. Sure, it helped to tell the story. Not only did it show how tough Mankind is, but it also showed the depths that The Rock would reach to win the WWF Title again. That’s fine and all, but as I said before, it just makes me uncomfortable to watch now.

As I did in the last column, I figured I would also list my choices for what I feel was the BEST match in each year, just for the sake of comparison and argument.

1990: Jushin Thunder Liger vs Pegasus Kid (NJPW’s Dream Tour on November 1st)
1991: Sting, Brian Pillman and The Steiners vs Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Larry Zbyszko and Sid Vicious (War Games at WCW’s WrestleWar on February 24th)
1992: Sting, Dustin Rhodes, Ricky Steamboat, Barry Windham and Nikita Koloff vs Arn Anderson, Rick Rude, Bobby Eaton, Steve Austin and Larry Zbyszko (War Games at WCW’s WrestleWar on May 17th)
1993: Kenta Kobashi vs Stan Hansen (AJPW’s Budokan Hall Show on July 29th)
1994: Mitsuharu Misawa vs Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW’s Budokan Hall Show on June 3rd)
1995: Kenta Kobashi vs Toshiaki Kawada (AJPW’s New Year Giant Series, Day 14 on January 19th)
1996: Shawn Michaels vs Mankind (WWF’s In Your House: Mind Games on September 22nd)
1997: The match I chose as my favorite
1998: Mitsuharu Misawa vs Kenta Kobashi (AJPW’s 26th Anniversary Show on October 31st)
1999: Edge and Christian vs Jeff Hardy and Matt Hardy (Ladder Match at WWF’s No Mercy on October 17th)

Like last time, it is now your turn, ReaderLand. Talk to me about the 1990’s. Tell me what your favorite matches from the decade are. Again, we’re talking FAVORITE matches, not necessarily BEST matches. Hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.

Weekly Power Rankings

The Young Bucks vs Lucha Brothers: Because I already covered All Out in my Running Diary, I won’t be talking about the events that happened there much outside of merely ranking them. Just know this was a fantastic match between two teams who have a stupid amount of chemistry together. There’s a pretty good chance that this ends up being my AEW Match Of The Year, and is right up there for my overall Match Of The Year, as well.
AEW Continuing To Build Their Roster: Tony Khan continues to run the real-life AEW like any of us would if we were in control of the virtual AEW while playing Extreme Warfare Revenge. Christian Cage debuted on March 7th. Andrade El Idolo debuted on June 4th. Malakai Black debuted on July 7th. CM Punk debuted on August 20th. Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole (BAY BAY), and Ruby Soho all debuted on September 5th. More names are rumored to be coming sooner than later. It’s all happening so fast. The company is building one loaded roster. They’ve got the ammunition. Now, it’s time to see what they can do with it.
Kenny Omega vs Christian Cage: A fun pay-per-view main event hurt only by the fact that everybody knew who was going to win. I’m starting to see a ton of people on social media shifting to the “Christian Cage is good, but not main event quality” side of the argument these days, though, which is concerning.
Drew McIntyre vs Sheamus: As we’ve seen numerous times in the past, you know you’re going to get a war when these two face off. This week was no different. It is interesting to see McIntyre on the losing end of two straight matches. He had gone nearly three months since losing back-to-back matches. I’ve seen a lot of people say that it’s probably because he’s heading to Smackdown in the upcoming Draft, but wouldn’t you want him to be as hot as possible in his move to Fridays, especially since he would presumably step into the Universal Title picture immediately?
The Creed Brothers: I was very curious to see how these two amateur standouts would look in a professional wrestling ring. Well, consider me impressed. Yes, it was a squash match victory against *checks notes* Chuckie Viola and Paxton Averill, who may or may not even be real people, but they looked as good as can be in two minutes. There are still some presentation wrinkles that need to be ironed out, but they’re off to quite the start. I’ve said that Gable Steveson potentially teaming with his brother, Bobby, to form the modern day version of The Steiners is an incredibly intriguing idea. Little did I know that they might be beaten to the punch by Brutus and Julius Creed.
Minoru Suzuki: Well, I hope you’re happy, folks. Wrestling Satan himself has made his presence felt in AEW. It will probably just be the one match against Jon Moxley on tonight’s episode of Dynamite, but it is going to be a brutal bout. Someone’s going to get hurt.
Ruby Soho: As the winner of the Casino Battle Royale, she is now the next challenger for Britt Baker’s AEW Women’s Title. More importantly, though, she looked refreshed, energetic, and ecstatic to be out there and wrestling again. It was really great to see her again.
Santana and Ortiz vs FTR: Because I’ve seen several people say something similar, I pose this question to you… do you consider FTR’s time with AEW to be a flop to this point? They won the Tag Team Titles, but they only held them for two months, and they weren’t even viewed as the top team in the company while they were on top. This was another good match for the duo, but again, the story was more about their opponents than it was about them. Santana and Ortiz seem to be on the rise, and now, I wonder what will happen with FTR in the immediate aftermath of this.
Ember Moon vs Kay Lee Ray: This may have been Ember’s best match in NXT, and it came in a losing effort. This was given Takeover-levels of time, and both women used it wisely. Kay Lee Ray is the newcomer to the NXT brand, so it’s not a surprise that she won here, but Ember has been putting in some good work recently, so I’d like to see her rewarded for it.
Britt Baker vs Kris Statlander: If you’ve read my work for a while, you’ve seen me make mention about Charlotte Flair getting the pushes she gets in part because she LOOKS like a superstar. She passes the eyeball test right away before her matches even begin, and there aren’t many women in wrestling that you can say that about. Well, Britt Baker is one of those women. Her facial expressions, body language, and the way she carries herself tells you, as soon as you see her, that she’s somebody you need to pay attention to. As an opponent, Kris Statlander provides something different in the AEW women’s division with her overall power game. It presented a nice clash of styles here, and it worked out well.
Roman Reigns vs Finn Balor: As I’ve talked about before, this was a match that you knew would be good, but you also knew that there would be no title change. That’s the only real problem with Roman Reigns and his very lengthy title reign at this point. You know that certain people, as good as they are, simply aren’t going to beat him for the Universal Title, especially on a random episode of Smackdown. It doesn’t really take away from the quality of the match. The level of suspense, of course, is thrown out the window.
CM Punk vs Darby Allin: All I wanted was something passable. There was a fear and a worry, deep in the backs of everyone’s minds, that Punk might not be in the ring shape that he needed to be in, or that his rust would be too much to overcome in his first match back. Other than the new ring gear and a little more salt and pepper in his hair, he looked exactly the same as he did when we last saw him on a regular basis on wrestling programming. That alleviated a little bit of the worry, and the match itself took care of the rest. Credit goes to Darby Allin for busting his ass, like usual, to help make his opponents look great. His performance here isn’t going to get mentioned enough because of the story on the other side of the ring.
Raw Tag Team Turmoil: If there’s one thing WWE has been able to do regularly well in recent years, it would be having these types of matches on their television shows that take up a huge chunk of air time without overstaying its welcome. It wasn’t the first one, but I always think about Seth Rollins’ performance in a Gauntlet Match on the February 19th, 2018 episode of Raw, mainly because I was there in the front row, when he wrestled in back-to-back-to-back matches that lasted 57:58 of total in-ring time, with the entire match going 1:37:32 in length. When you have the right performers, you can do stuff like that once in a blue moon. My only issue is that we went through the entire 58:25 of total action for this match, just to end up with Bobby Lashley and MVP winning, which means we get a rematch of a match we just saw last week. Beggars, choosers… you know the deal.
Miro vs Eddie Kingston: Eddie Kingston is in a weird spot in AEW. His booking is similar to how WWE would use Bray Wyatt, but on a smaller scale. Like Wyatt, Kingston will shine in his character work and his promos. Also like Wyatt, Kingston doesn’t seem to win the matches when they matter most. He’s had 39 matches for AEW on television or pay-per-view. His win/loss record in those 39 matches is 27-12, which isn’t too bad. Looking a little deeper, though, his record is 0-7 in matches where a title or some sort of stakes (Casino Battle Royale) happen to be on the line. I was happy we were getting this match, because I knew it would be fun. It wasn’t something where I was expecting a title to change hands, though. With each passing title shot, it makes me wonder if that’s the “spot” AEW has decided to put Kingston in.
Carmelo Hayes vs Santos Escobar: Not exactly breaking news, but Carmelo Hayes has an incredibly bright future ahead of him. The same can be said about Santos Escobar, even at the age of 37. This was a lot of fun, and in a normal, non-PPV week, it would’ve ranked much higher on this list.

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