The New Generation is not the ugly step-sibling of WWE’s modern historical Eras, but rather a black sheep that deserves better.
Alongside our good friend ‘The Doc’ Chad Matthews, my crusade to quash preconceptions about the New Generation Era began with our ongoing series ‘The WWF New Generation’s Top 50 Matches.’ It continues here, with the first of my Honourable Mention companion pieces.
Compromises were made in the construction of mine and Doc’s list, such is the nature of a collaborative project. There were matches, however, excluded from the finalised 50 that I still feel are worthy of your attention, of historical reconsideration or, in some cases, of just being discovered by a wider audience.
With that in mind, here are my personal five Honourable Mentions of September 1992 to December 1993 inclusive.
The Royal Rumble Match, Royal Rumble 1993
The New Generation Era has a considerably stronger history at my personal favourite WWE event than many, even those fully conscious of the Era’s actual nature, are prepared to give it credit for. A large part of that may be because of a perceived lack of star power in contrast to other Eras. 1995’s own effort suffers chronically from that exact perception, and I dare say 1993’s own take isn’t far behind – especially in lieu of the relatively unusual move of having a still very new character win the event and go on to headline WrestleMania IX.
I contend, however, that is the perceivable lack of star power that plays heavily in 1993’s Royal Rumble bout’s favour. Instead of relying on name value and the natural fan investment that comes with it, the match is at pains to prove its resourcefulness, searching for creative ways to construct a grand narrative around its 30 participants which, to my mind, it does to outstanding effect. The result is a Royal Rumble Match with surprisingly cool moments, surprisingly cool performances and a number of subplots that, at times, intermingle seamlessly.
Perhaps remembered for the strange conclusion where Randy Savage attempts a pin fall or for the debut appearance of Giant Gonzalez, the 1993 Royal Rumble Match should instead be remembered for the strikingly effective underdog comeback story of the 40 plus year old Bob Backlund, whose coast to coast effort unfolds as an infectious dark horse tale you can’t help but back when he goes toe to toe with the leviathan Yokozuna in the Final Three. Ric Flair enters first in a near-reprise of his famous run the year before, only to run afoul of his new found rival Mr Perfect. There’s even a showdown between Yokozuna and Earthquake that gets the live crowd absolutely unglued.
These, among several other subplots, performances, moments and, frankly, inventions combine to make the 1993 Royal Rumble Match well worth the hour of time it takes to sit down and watch it even if, on paper, it looks to be far from such a thing.
The Headshrinkers vs. The Steiner Brothers, WrestleMania IX
The uneven, faddy treatment of the tag team ranks in WWE really started with the onset of the New Generation Era as the stars who had made tag wrestling such an attraction in the later 1980s made their transition into becoming the company’s premier singles stars. This hipster gem from what is remembered as a dour card is a good demonstration of how we can make that historical observation: had the imposing Headshrinkers played a more prominent role and the athletic Steiner Brothers remained in the WWF throughout the rest of the New Generation Era, the tag scene of the age could have looked radically different; frankly, could have looked radically superior.
Tag wrestling throughout the New Gen was not without its successes. The Smoking Gunns were a considerably better team than they get the credit for. The Quebecers led a one-team tag team revival all their own through the dying months of 1993 and early months of 1994. Owen Hart had two excellent championship runs in the division, first alongside Yokozuna and later alongside British Bulldog. Sadly, though, instead of these positives being bolstered by the ‘Shrinkers and Steiners alike, instead of utilising Marty Jannetty and the 1-2-3 Kid as a longer-term team and instead of leaning on the Million Dollar Corporation to pad numbers out, the division mistakenly drifted into the sphere of focussing on teams like the Bodydonnas and the Godwinns.
This heavy-hitting affair between two teams as athletic as they were powerful is not for the championships, but such lack of stakes doesn’t take away from the bout’s awe-inspiring visuals or convention-defying content. Speaking personally, I would kill to see more standard tag team matches seek to replicate this level of achievement today, and were they to do so tag team wrestling might be able to become again what it once was. That’s what this match is: not just a glimpse at what wasn’t but a reminder of what once was too. It’s worth its weight in gold for that.
Razor Ramon vs. Rick Martel for the Intercontinental Championship, Monday Night Raw, 11th October 1993
Everyone knows the story of Razor Ramon feuding with Shawn Michaels when both men claimed to be the true Intercontinental Champion, but lost to time is the match that put Razor Ramon in position to carry his Intercontinental title into the famous Ladder Match at WrestleMania X in the first place.
This is that match, and it’s another television blinder, sharing an element of its DNA with the beloved Bret Hart / Roddy Piper encounter at WrestleMania VIII – namely, a unique mix of the outgoing Golden Age in the form of perennial Rock and Wrestling mid card presence Rick Martel and, of course, the new school athletic discipline of the incoming New Generation in the form of perennial 1990s Intercontinental Champion Razor Ramon.
This does mean that an appreciation for the structuralism of the 1980s ring product is necessary to get full enjoyment from this unexpectedly epic encounter, considering that, like the predominant style of Martel’s heyday, it relies on simpler content compiled in deeply sophisticated fashion rather than shock and awe visuals. So too is it unafraid to settle into its narrative patiently, slow-burning its way through the run time as it builds to an exhilarating, somewhat frenetic crescendo.
These aspects might put off more modern fans, are perhaps even why it’s limited to Honourable Mention territory, but make for a deeply satisfying experience once you hit the final act and the tale told by these two all-time great mid card acts crashes vibrantly into its conclusion. I have a particular place in my heart for this Intercontinental Championship Match for that reason, and it is with confidence I can say, were this exact match to have happened the exact same way on a WrestleMania card three to four years earlier, surrounded by a style of the same ilk, it very well could have stolen that given show.
For the full experience, be sure to check out the prelude battle royal from the Monday Night Raw (MNR) the week before.
Marty Jannetty vs. 1-2-3 Kid, Monday Night Raw, 25th October 1993
There are no stakes sitting behind this babyface / babyface encounter, but it deserves honourable mention here simply for its quality, and particularly for its contribution to the counter-narrative needed to dispel one of pro wrestling’s greatest injustices of memory.
I have said several times that it was Shawn Michaels who become MNR’s earliest MPV in the first half of 1993, but once his suspension kicked in and he became absent his former partner Marty Jannetty very ably slotted into that same position for 1993’s latter half. It didn’t matter if it was against Michaels himself, Doink or a tag team like the Quebcers, Jannetty was regularly having riotous matches like clockwork on WWE’s flagship brand, and this particular match is just another example of that trend.
It’s no world-shattering effort by any means, it might not even stick long in your memory, thanks largely to more advanced versions of this same style having become the contemporary norm in the 21st Century. For its time, though, this was another instance of the dizzying visuals the Rockers cut their teeth on. Only, this time, those visuals are amplified in frequency thanks to the presence of the Kid – arguably the one performer who could outdo any Rocker when it comes to aerial offence. What’s more, Kid’s size introduces a differential that allows Jannetty to utilise elements of a ground and pound powerhouse style too.
The result is an affair where every sequence proves utterly unpredictable in the purest sense of the word. Throw in the presence of an interfering and contemptuous Johnny Polo at ringside causing distractions, and that unpredictability increases as both performers seek to take advantage.
Unfortunately, being a TV New Gen match, the contest results in no clear victor, preventing it from really hitting that next gear it feels like it needs. Still, were it on an early In Your House pay-per-view, it might have come to enjoy something of a minor legacy. Further, that this match provides a strong foundation for a storyline that would then evolve over the following months resulting in an extremely brief Tag Team Championship run for Jannetty and the Kid as a team makes its one bad habit a little more forgivable.
Team Razor Ramon vs. Team IRS, Survivor Series 1993
Quite possibly one of the best Survivor Series Elimination Tag Matches nobody ever talks about, Team Ramon vs. Team IRS suffers for not stemming from a renowned historical feud like some of the most fondly remembered matches of its kind often did. Ramon / IRS was instead a mid card feud not destined for WrestleMania and so, as the lead feud in the match, this curtain jerker perhaps lacks the necessary status to be worthy of inclusion in many ‘Best Of’ lists.
Make no mistake, though: this does not mean it isn’t worth plaudits. Quite the opposite, in fact, as it marries up several parallel narratives to create a multi-layered iteration of its subgenre. Its cast of characters is woven together far tighter than is typical for a Survivor Series Elimination Tag Match, in fact, as months of televised story progression climax in this single confrontation. Ramon and Martel had competed for the Intercontinental Championship that Shawn Michaels had previously forfeited. Shawn Michaels had previously retained that title against Mr Perfect thanks to interference from Diesel. Martel and his team mate Adam Bomb had a tense relationship thanks to Harvey Wippleman’s interference in a previous Martel / Ramon match. IRS had mocked Ramon for losing in a rematch with the 1-2-3 Kid, while 1-2-3 Kid and Marty Jannetty were a newly formed team on the back of several encounters with Johnny Polo. I could go on, but suffice to say the scope of this match when deconstructed into its component parts is, frankly, breathtaking.
But then comes its master stroke. With Mr Perfect – originally Diesel’s rival to be featured on Team Ramon – unable to attend the event, the company needed a replacement which it found in the addition of Randy Savage, announced as a surprise replacement ahead of the match. His introduction electrifies the crowd, as do his resultant explosive performances. Savage complements the match as a compelling attraction without once ever overshadowing it, before he is eliminated in a manner that furthers his own ongoing blood feud with Crush.
I recommend reading the context behind this line-up on Wikipedia at the very least, before sitting down and watching how the endless list of storylines and character interactions are played off of throughout the match’s cerebral and, in its own right, exciting action – all while achieving the two core objectives of the match itself, being the furthering of the Ramon / IRS feud and the establishment of the newly formed Kid / Jannetty partnership as Tag Team Championship contenders.
Shawn Michaels vs. 1-2-3 Kid, Monday Night Raw, December 6th 1993
From one Rocker to another, here’s another tremendous effort on the part of the vastly under-appreciated 1-2-3 Kid in a match stemming from Michaels’ assault on Razor Ramon the preceding week; and, in that context, an early example of how the Kid’s relationship with Ramon was as integral a part of the Era as Michaels’ was with Diesel. Let’s call it the mid card equivalent.
While the notion of ‘The Jannetty’ is a toxic one I refuse to adhere to, there is a certain truth in the idea that Michaels was the more polished performer of the two former Rockers, Jannetty the scrappier, earthier of the pair, and that shows when watching this in tandem with the aforementioned Jannetty / Kid match. The action operates with immediate, far greater zeal than the Jannetty effort, aided somewhat by the purer moral alignment – unlike in the case of the Jannetty match, this is outright heel vs. babyface, and the animosity in the match’s tone proves the primary benefit. More than that, though, there is greater mastery on show, the execution generally more ambitious but no less precise; indeed, it may even be more precise, impressive as that is.
Not that there is no downside, to that. Again in comparison to the Jannetty match, the greater ambition in sequencing here threatens to watch as too overtly choreographed on several separate occasions, diluting the compelling realism of the other Kid-on-Rocker affair.
With a run-time considerably longer than you might anticipate and content that borders as much on exhaustive as it proves exhausting, this is a match that explodes into life to begin with before grinding slower and slower to a sweat-drenched, limb-aching grand finale that never comes thanks to a combination of Michaels’ despicable actions and the Era’s love for shared universe storytelling, often, as once again is the case in this instance, at the expense of a great match having a great ending.
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