Steve Cook continues his journey through his own wrestling history, looking at 1994!
When you look back at your history as a wrestling fan, you notice points where your tastes change.
1994 was one of those points for me. Up until this point in my Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration, we’ve seen some pretty silly angles make the list since I remember them fondly. Once I hit the age of 10, I was looking for some meatier stuff. I needed something more serious to grab my attention. Undertaker vs. Underfaker might have made the list before, but not now. I was over that type of nonsense. I have no fond memories of Brian Lee acting like the Undertaker, though I did appreciate the Leslie Nielsen segments as part of the build.
Here’s some other things I appreciated!
5. Missing My First Episode of Monday Night Raw
I don’t experience the Fear Of Missing Out too often these days. More often than not, I’m viewing wrestling content via on demand or streaming services. Back in 1994, I had seen every episode of Monday Night Raw live. I disappointed the first time I had to miss the show, especially since I knew that Bret Hart was scheduled to take on the 1-2-3 Kid and it was surely going to be a classic. It was, as I found out years later when I watched it.
I was at Kings Island, though. So it’s not like I was too sad about it. I just wished they’d booked Bret & the Kid for any other week!
4. Mr. Bob Backlund
I was not the wrestling historian in 1994 that I am now. So I didn’t know a whole lot about Bob Backlund other than he had held the WWF Championship for 5 years back in the day. He came back to the WWF in 1992 and worked as a pretty bland old school babyface for a good period of time. I can’t say I ever looked forward to his appearances on TV at that point. Then, all of a sudden, Backlund got a WWF Championship match against Bret Hart on Superstars. Bret won a hard-fought match and tried to shake hands afterwards, but Backlund snapped, slapped Bret & put the cross face chicken wing on him. As it turned out, Backlund was tired of what society was becoming & wanted to bring things back to the way they were back in 1978 when he was the WWF Champion. He never fairly lost the title either, since Arnold Skaaland had thrown in the towel for Bob when he refused to submit to the Iron Sheik’s Camel Clutch. Backlund would apply the chicken wing to many people on his path to regaining the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1994.
The character change Mr. Backlund underwent in 1994 would last for the rest of his public & private life. The man has worked that character everywhere he’s been for the past twenty-six years, so one can assume it’s actually him at this point. I was interested in his storyline, and thought he would have made an interesting champion for a period of time longer than three days. But that didn’t happen.
3. The Last of Steamboat
One of my early favorite pro wrestlers we haven’t touched on much so far here is Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. I just thought that guy was one of the best pure wrestlers out there. His offense, his selling was all on point. To this day, I can count the number of bad Steamboat matches I’ve seen on one hand. Ricky’s matches on WCW television were a big part of my getting into that product and accepting it on the level of the WWF. He was always one of the best wrestlers wherever he worked. Greatest babyface of all time? I was more sold on that before I watched 1989 WCW in further depth & saw the awkwardness of the Family Man storyline, but in-ring he’s got a great argument for it.
Ricky’s career got cut short in 1994 during a match with Steve Austin. A regular bump ended up breaking Steamboat’s back and taking him out of the business. It was a sad day when I heard Steamboat had to retire, and further evidence of the change in the WCW product I had grown to enjoy. We’ll discuss that more later.
2. Bret vs. Owen
The best compliment I can pay Owen Hart is that I disliked him for a good portion of the 1990s. I was always a Bret Hart fan since I started watching, and bought into the “best there is, best there was, best there ever will be” catchphrase. It wasn’t too far off the mark. When Owen turned against Bret, I couldn’t believe the temerity or the unmitigated gall of the man. How could a brother turn against a brother?
Obviously, I wasn’t alive during the Civil War and I hadn’t studied it yet. All I can say for sure is that I was deeply into the Bret/Owen angle. When I heard through the static that Owen had beat Bret at WrestleMania X, I couldn’t believe it. Owen went on to win the King of the Ring tournament just like Bret had and crowned himself the King of Harts. They had a tremendous cage match at SummerSlam, and Owen managed to convince the matriarch of the Hart family, Helen, to throw in the towel on Bret at the Survivor Series. It was a beautiful feud played out by two masters, and I loved all of it.
1. The Hulkster Changes WCW
Here’s something I didn’t love, which is my main memory of 1994.
The main thing I liked about WCW was that it was different from the WWF. That doesn’t mean I hated the WWF. A lot of people out there still don’t get this idea that you can enjoy different wrestling companies. I liked the fact that WCW presented a different product from the WWF, giving me two different things to watch. I like variety! Some of y’all don’t, and prefer stanning a certain product. That’s not me. That’s never been how I’ve operated. I’ve always preferred having a variety of wrestling products to watch and support. I don’t go all-in on one because that’s not my style.
I like to play the field.
Hulk Hogan coming to WCW was one thing. I was already over the Hulkster at this point, but I understood the idea of him drawing eyeballs. Hulk Hogan bringing all his friends with him, and turning WCW into WWF from a few years ago? I wasn’t on board with that. This wasn’t the first or last time WCW would try to be a WWF clone in order to gain a fanbase, but it was the first time I saw it, and I was not impressed. I was with the WCW fans in their traditional markets that would cheer Flair over Hogan.
Eventually, WCW figured this out, and we had something worth watching. But those first few months with Hogan were rough. Right when Steamboat retired, we had all of these Hogan cronies come in and clog up the TV shows. Not great times.
Next week, we’ll look at 1995 & the beginning of the Monday Night Wars! Join us then!