After the Golden Era of the 1980s, WWE split into two eras during the 1990s. The Next Generation Era prevailed from 1993 to 1997. The promotion then ushered in the Attitude Era of 1997 to 2001. In addition to the continued rise of promotion as a global brand, the decade also produced defining moments and iconic characters.
Meanwhile, sports entertainment became a two-horse race because WWE received a tough challenge from WCW. The Monday night wars between RAW and Nitro lifted the industry to greater heights, with the Eric Bischoff-led promotion taking the driver’s seat of the ratings for 83 weeks.
But as characters changed and left and championship belts changed hands, there were prototypical narratives throughout the decade that colored every broadcast. These plotlines were so standard that they were ongoing stories throughout those years. Some of these narrative formulas may still hold sway, but they certainly helped define professional wrestling during this eventful era.
9 Welcome to the Armed Forces
The 1990s saw the rise of the Gulf War, in which a coalition army of 35 countries attacked Iraq in response to its invasion of Kuwait. Patriotism among Americans was so high that Whitney Houston’s version of the Star-Spangled Banner, which she sang at Super Bowl XXV, debuted at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart.
Pro wrestling jumped on the trend by having characters like Sgt. Slaughter, who sided with General Adnan on a pro-Iraqi stance during his feud with Hulk Hogan. Slaughter eventually abandoned Adnan and began feuding with him. There is also Sgt. Craig Pittman, who had a decent run in WCW in the mid-’90s. The short-lived Truth Commission joined WWE in 1997, with Interrogator, Recon, Sniper, and Tank.
8 group against group
If the 1980s put individual talent at the forefront, the 1990s was the heyday of factions in the two biggest wrestling promotions. In WWE, there was Money Inc. with Ted DiBiase and Irwin R. Schyster. The Hart Foundation also feuded with The Union, while Degeneration X had their battles with The Corporation. Who can forget the Black Panther Party-inspired Domination Nation and the towering Oddities with Kurrgan and Giant Silva?
In WCW, the New World Order set the benchmark with Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall. There’s also the Magnificent Seven with Ric Flair, Buff Bagwell, Lex Luger, Jeff Jarrett, and the Steiner Brothers. Wrestling fans will also remember Sullivan’s terrifying Animal House with Cactus Jack, Abdullah The Butcher and the One Man Gang. On the other hand, Team Canada, featuring Lance Storm, Mike Awesome, Elix Skipper and Tylene Buck, rebranded titles to celebrate all that is great north of the American border.
7 In the mood for love
Romance became a central theme for some parts during the decade. There’s WrestleMania 7 when Miss Elizabeth met with “Macho Man” Randy Savage to defend him against Sherri. Savage eventually made a successful marriage proposal and was married on the air in August 1991 in what became known as a “Match Made In Heaven”.
Then there’s the kayfabe wedding between Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. The Game kidnapped Vince’s daughter from her bachelorette party and took her to a Las Vegas wedding. That angle wouldn’t work anymore, but the real-life boyfriends became one of professional wrestling’s power couples. There were also short-lived on-screen romances like The Rock and Trish Stratus and the embarrassing story of Mae Young-Mark Henry.
6 occupational tricks
In addition to Mike Rotunda’s IRS character playing a tax collector, professional wrestling also dabbled in other professions such as policeman (Big Boss Man), Royal Canadian Policeman (The Mountie), garbage collector (Duke “The Dumpster ” Droese), a clown (Doink), an adult film actor (Val Venis) and a pimp (The Godfather).
Mike Shaw also played a priest as Friar Ferguson before WWE received a negative pushback from the New York Catholic Church. TL Hopper was a wrestling plumber while Thurman “Sparky” Plugg was a NASCAR driver. How about Phantasio, the wizard wrestler who debuted in 1995, and Abe “Knuckleball” Schwartz, who dressed as a baseball player during the 1994 Major League Baseball strike?
5 the american hero
Professional wrestling had to have a prominent figure that American children could look up to because of their unwavering loyalty to both flag and country. The patriot first took on that role in the 1990s when he stepped out wearing the all-star mask and flag of the United States.
Hogan took on the same role and Luger inherited the mantle from him. Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle also clung to All-American persona when he signed with WWE in 1998.
4 boss vs employee
Ted DiBiase’s bodyguard Virgil had enough when he attacked his boss with the Million Dollar Belt during the 1991 Royal Rumble. He defeated DiBiase at WrestleMania 7 after training with Rowdy Roddy Piper.
That trend continued when Stone Cold Steve Austin feuded with Vince McMahon (who could forget Austin dousing the McMahons with beer?), and D-Generation X had battles with The Corporation. The Rock also started a rivalry with the Corporate Ministry, setting in motion his meteoric rise as a face.
3 foreigners are bad
This trope started before the 1990s with prominent figures like Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik. But he continued with Yokozuna, The British Bulldog, Kamala, Lance Storm and William Regal.
Essentially, foreigners were portrayed as a threat to the American way by badmouthing everything they could about the United States while building their own country. Yes, a great story needs fantastic villains, but foreign fighters don’t have to be the only choice for the role.
2 sexual advances
A lot of what WWE did in the ’90s wouldn’t work in WWE today, because they’re immediately going to get a lot of flak on social media, not to mention a potential endorsement hit. But it was during the 1990s that sexually explicit themes became part of the story.
There were also times like the Miss Slammy pageant where WWE Divas were wearing thongs. There were also exhibitions of some fighters, planned or not.
He was the biggest draw in wrestling of the late ’80s and ’90s. That’s why there was always a story for Hulk Hogan. While he headlined eight of the first nine WrestleManias, the sixth through ninth editions occurred within the decade. His enormous popularity also led a generation of children to remember to say their prayers and take their vitamins. Hogan also capitalized on his immense popularity in various products that promoted his brand.
Even when he turned from face to heel, Hogan was still in the spotlight when he formed the NWO with Hall and Nash. They became a disruptive force in WCW, but Hogan remained the main draw. It was a story, and it’s about pitting other great fighters against him.
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