January 6, 2000
Twelve dates of the decade
Whenever the time comes for us to switch the calendars on our walls, it presents the great tradition of retrospection. This year has caused some to look back on 1999, and others to look back on a thousand years. As a wrestling fan, I humbly look back at the last decade and think about the industry has changed. The business has seen dizzying highs and lows since the advent of 1990 and there's no better time to look back it than now.
This column looks back at the 12 dates that those who call themselves North American wrestling fans can not forget. The events that transpired on these dates had unquestionable effects on wrestling: effects that are still being felt to this day.
February 6, 1990 (Clash of the Champions X)
Coming off a red-hot 1989, the NWA crashed and burned on this live TBS broadcast due to one bad booking decision and one twist of fate. The Four Horsemen turned heel and dumped Sting from the group. This left the NWA with one only one viable babyface headliner, but looked to establish the upcoming Sting-Ric Flair PPV conflict as a classic babyface-heel matchup. It blew up in the company's face as Sting ruptured a patella tendon in a freak accident climbing the steel cage later in the show.
The chance that the NWA may have had to surpass the WWF fizzled with this show as Lex Luger was sloppily turned face and neither he nor Sting would ever be the same performers again.
June 27, 1991 (George H. Zahorian convicted of selling steroids)
The Zahorian case opened up a can of worms that wrestling, but the WWF in particular, had to spend years trying to close up. Several WWF wrestlers were named in this case, including Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper. The floodgates opened as national prosecutors looked to charge the head of the WWF, Vince McMahon. He would eventually be charged with possession and conspiracy to distribute.
Scandals and legal troubles stemming from this cases drained much of the WWF's resources, both mentally and financially. The glorious '80s suddenly seemed so far away for the people at Titan.
June 11, 1994 (Hulk Hogan signs with WCW)
The Turner organization took a quantum leap towards big league credibility by signing the most famous wrestler in the world. Many have argued that Hogan had a negative impact on the company's product, but prior to his signing, gaining mainstream attention proved exceedingly difficult for WCW.
With the WWF steeped in legal troubles, the timing could not have been better.
Whether or not WCW was better to watch, a much bigger audience was at least paying attention.
July 22, 1994 (Vince McMahon found not guilty)
Had Vince McMahon been judged guilty, the wrestling landscape may very well have become barren. WCW's rise to the top would have certainly occurred quite quickly. As well, ECW and other promising independent organizations may have found the opportunity to go national far easier with one less giant on the horizon.
Yet none of this would occur as McMahon beat the rap and tried to rebuild the glory that his company had once seen.
August 27, 1994 (The birth of Extreme)
"Tonight, as God the father my witness, I declare myself as the NEW ECW WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION!" With those words, Shane Douglas threw down the NWA title belt and Eastern Championship Wrestling became Extreme. NWA promoters were shocked and appalled, but ECW was fast becoming the most influential promotion in North America and needed to solidify its own identity. Today, ECW is seen on national cable and produces six pay-per-views a year: a major player in the wrestling business.
September 4, 1995 (WCW Monday Nitro premiere)
Most wrestling experts saw running Monday Nitro against WWF Monday Night RAW as a suicide maneuver on Eric Bischoff's part. After the show premiered, no one was laughing except Bischoff himself. The highlight of the program was Lex Luger, having wrestled for the WWF the day before, suddenly returning and talking down to his former Titan employers. The WWF and the rest of the world now knew that WCW meant business.
The Monday night wars continue to this day and thus far have had a tremendously positive impact on the popularity of pro wrestling.
June 23, 1996 (King of the Ring '96)
The WWF still had over a year of ratings losses to come their way, but Steve Austin emerged from the shadows to establish his now legendary character on this night. Austin 3:16 would most likely never come about under any circumstance other than Austin defeating the born-again Jake Roberts. Austin was not given much microphone time in his first few months. This event opened the company's eyes to the potential of the "Stone Cold" character. Millions upon millions upon millions of T-shirts later, it's hard for both Austin and the WWF not to look back on this date fondly.
July 7, 1996 (Bash at the Beach)
"Hulk Hogan, you can go to hell. We're out of here...straight to hell!" Tony Schiavone made the call that millions of wrestling fans would remember as Hogan finally turned heel and joined with the Outsiders to form the New World Order. The Outsiders invasion storyline propelled WCW to the top of the ratings but until Hogan joined, many were cynical about the situation, citing that WCW would likely bury ex-WWFers Hall and Nash simply to humilate Titan.
The nWo storyline would reshape wrestling in countless ways: blurring the heel-face structure, propelling WCW to an 82 week ratings winning streak, and popularizing the booking concept of the power struggle.
October 5, 1997 (Brian Pillman passes away)
Fans and wrestlers alike were stunned to discover that the "Loose Cannon" had departed us all too soon. The troubling cirumstances around the death also restarted the mainstream media's assault on the drug testing situation in professional wrestling. The similar death of Louie Spicolli months later would make fans' hearts heavier and worsen the public perception of pro wrestlings as overdrugged athletes.
November 9, 1997 (The doublecross in Montreal)
The Survivor Series match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels need not be chronicled any further (observe the SLAM! archives). The repercussions of the event are still visible today and the finish has been repeatedly mimicked by both companies. This event triggered the McMahon-Hart family feud and the "WWF Attitude" era began to operate in overdrive in Bret's absence.
Ironically, the event nearly buried the WWF as many wrestlers were ready to boycott the following night's RAW. How different history would have been had more wrestlers acted on this threat...
March 29, 1998 (Wrestlemania XIV)
The WWF's losing streak to WCW was about to be stopped cold. The mainstream media tuned in to see Mike Tyson but received a top-notch pay-per-view certifying Steve Austin's ascent to the top of the WWF mountain. The buyrate was high but Eric Bischoff downplayed the event, stating that it could have been higher with the media attention involved. The problem for he and Time Warner is that those who tuned in liked what they saw and many didn't turn back. The WWF has been doing big-time business since this event.
May 23, 1999 (Owen Hart dies tragically)
Wrestling has been witness to numerous tragedies but none were as shocking nor did any involve the circumstances that occurred at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. The stunt gone wrong attracted a flock of critics who questioned wrestling's directions. It put Vince McMahon back under the gun. Most importantly, however, it robbed wrestling of one of its most gifted and classiest performers.
What is notable is not only the impact the event had, but the impact it did NOT have. Many called for wrestling to tone down and others simply called for more wrestling and less soap-operatic schtick. These changes have not yet come to pass.
There you have it, 12 influential events of the past 10 years. Reflecting on these events causes one to imagine how the wrestling landscape would be today if even one of them were changed. It also creates the great interest of pondering what events will transpire in the next 10 years and how different wrestling will looked in 2010.
Bryce McNeil is from Prime Brook, Nova Scotia, and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. He's written for SLAM! Wrestling before, including: