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 second 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 1995.
Read the ‘92/’93 Honourable Mentions here, read the 1994 Honourable Mentions here, the full New Gen series introduction and #46 – #50 here, read #41 – #45 here, read #36 – #40 here, read #31 – #35 here, read #26 – #30 here, read #21 – #25 here, read #16 – #20 here, read #11 – #15 here, and read #6 – #10 here.
Royal Rumble Match, Royal Rumble 1995
The 1995 Royal Rumble Match does not enjoy a positive reputation among the fan base. This feels like a shame to me, and has for some years.
I too used to think very little of it. The lack of roster depth and the decision to reduce the interval between entrants from 90 seconds to 60 contributed to the sensation that, rather than a short Rumble Match, you were actually watching an overlong anti-climax.
Then I watched the match in the context of having seen the entire show preceding it and my viewpoint changed entirely.
While I will not contend that the 1995 Royal Rumble Match is among the best of its genre, when watched in a certain light it takes on fresh new life as a vibrant sprint towards the door leading to the highest echelon of competition in the industry. I have written on this at length in other columns so shall save my words here. Put in simple terms, Shawn Michaels’ marathon effort from entering first to emerging victorious helped portray him as being on the same athletic level as Diesel and Bret Hart, who earlier that same night had wrestled in a violent, transformative World title clash that set them apart in a league all their own.
Moreover, the 1995 Rumble makes effective use of the parts it does have. Crush and Lex Luger are well produced as minor favourites for victory. Michaels is accompanied by a game British Bulldog in their coast-to-coast journey. The match makes efforts to tick off other popular Rumble tropes, from cameos of returning legends to outside interference furthering mid card storylines. Quite expectedly, the final minutes showcase elite athleticism and an ever-evolving in-ring sophistication. Cap that all off with a genre-altering, iconic conclusion where “only ONE of Shawn Michaels’ feet touched the floor!” and you have a match more than worthy of an Honourable Mention among the Era’s very best.
Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart in a No Holds Barred Match, Monday Night Raw, March 27, 1995
It’s a curiosity that one of the greatest rivalries in the history not just of WWE but of all of pro wrestling saw its final, ultimate and climactic encounter not at WrestleMania, not even on pay-per-view but on the go-home episode of Monday Night Raw several days before ‘Mania XI. Nonetheless, that was the backdrop for this No Holds Barred confrontation between the warring Hart brothers.
What makes the situation even more curious is the fact that this, to my knowledge, is the only time in the entire history of WWE’s flagship Monday night programme that an entire episode was dedicated to showing a single match.
The crowd is electric from the moment Owen Hart emerges, and that electricity is only amplified further when the older Hitman makes his way to the squared circle. The action opens explosively, the anxious tension of WrestleMania X now a distant memory as the King of Harts launches an immediate offensive on the Hitman before the latter can even get into the ring. From there, it’s all right hands and hair pulls and Irish whips into the steel of guard rails and ring steps.
Though there is minimal use of weaponry and blood is entirely absent, there is no denying this is a violent match that embraces the stipulation in a manner that speaks truly to the deeply emotional nature of the storyline now scribing its final page. They brawl briefly into the back, find themselves scrapping on concrete and the match is no older than five minutes before Owen is begging off.
Faces are raked, eyes are gouged, turnbuckles are exposed and there is nothing beautiful to be found in this guttural encounter that, had the company hung on for a few more nights, could have entered immortality on a WrestleMania stage. Had that happened, its infamy would be a guarantee. Its aggressive tone, its nasty aesthetics are grimy, primal even, and would have made for a transformative ‘Mania sequel contrasting severely – and that’s really the only suitable word for it – with their immortal curtain jerker in 1994.
Its creative accomplishments still stand, however, in spite of its positioning on an episode of Monday Night Raw. It makes for an uncomfortable watch when keeping in mind the nature of the story, but a transfixing one. I almost regret it not making the list-proper. It certainly has grown to become one of my favourite TV matches of all-time, punctuated with a conclusion that hints towards the Hitman’s heinous actions at WrestleMania 13, a year of stifled aggression finally overwhelming the victorious older brother.
It is an ugly end to an ugly family odyssey.
Owen Hart and Yokozuna vs. Razor Ramon and Savio Vega for the WWF Tag Team Championships, Monday Night Raw, July 31, 1995
My colleague Doc was eager to ensure that the Owen Hart / British Bulldog tandem got at least one entry onto the main list of this series, passionate about their qualities as a team. Arguably that came at the expense of the Era’s biggest surprise hit in the tag division, being the unlikely big man / little man duo of Owen Hart and Yokozuna – two men brought together because of their history with the Hitman Bret Hart.
Together, Owen and Yokozuna won the championships from the Smoking Gunns at WrestleMania XI when the former selected the latter as his mystery partner while crowing about how Yoko once offed his older brother for World title gold. They went on to dominate the (admittedly depleted) division for most of the year in a manner that might remind modern fans of the JeriShow title reign of 2009.
This match, against another seemingly odd-ball partnership that was born from the fiction of The Bad Guy Razor Ramon helping to bring Savio Vega into WWE’s world, is one of the finest hours for Owen Hart and Yokozuna – and it doesn’t even have an ending! At least not until the following week.
Once again showing both its creative bravery to innovate and its precognitive qualities, here the New Gen predicts the infamous ending to Monday Night Raw in 2008 when then-General Manager William Regal took the show off-air before the championship bout between Randy Orton and Triple H could conclude. In this 1995 instance, four New Gen stalwarts wrestle an expansive title match that stretches across almost half the entire hour that the show is on the air. Owen and Vega provide their typical brand of athletic elitism while Ramon and Yoko season the faster paced elements with size and strength. It’s a classic combination that proves as effective here as it always is. The pace fluctuates, but the energy never dissipates even when the leviathan Yokozuna is making his gargantuan presence felt with his effectively placed ring-juddering cameos.
The ace in the hole, though, is the brave decision to have the match still active as the programme goes off air. Some may scratch their heads as to the intention, but focussing on the effect is the key to enjoyment here – it adds a ticking clock to proceedings, a time bomb waiting to go off as the heroes of the hour fight against ever increasing odds to beat the ‘time limit’ and earn their reward for their hard-fought effort that they were earlier cheated out of thanks to a technicality exploited (arguably quite rightly) by Jim Cornette.
When that elating moment never comes, then, and the minutes run out, not only is it a crushing blow that’ll leave you with as exhilarated a smile on your face as you could get in pro wrestling, but it concludes Raw with a hell of a cliff-hanger. Marvellous stuff!
Hakushi vs. 1-2-3 Kid, Summerslam 1995
Hakushi vs. 1-2-3 Kid kicks off Summerslam 1995 with a hidden mid card gem truly deserving of your attention. In a match that combines futurist athletic styles with a compelling character-driven subtext, the two martial artists light up the fans packing out the Civic Arena.
Hakushi / Kid should, by rights, prove an easy match to love for audiences of today, exhibiting tropes common in the 2018 in-ring product. People might talk excitedly about the talent and exploits of men like Ricochet and Will Ospreay, but here Hakushi and the Kid demonstrate those men are far from the first to pursue such an eye-widening routine. The whizz-bang physical fireworks of this Summerslam opener should, ironically, watch as familiar to any fan of the aforementioned. If there is a difference, it is only that Hakushi and the Kid strip their own effort of any fantastical strain on disbelief, walking the line between choreographed and over-choreographed with expert intuition, the action always remaining firmly in the realms of believability.
There is a brilliant subtext to this match too. Hakushi had relied on his unusual martial arts offence to invoke menace and dominate his opponents since arriving in the WWF a couple of months earlier, but in the Kid he meets his American match – think the famous Bruce Lee / Chuck Norris confrontation from Way of the Dragon rendered on a pro wrestling canvas with all the bespoke theatricality that comes with the industry.
I was delighted to see my colleagues Maverick and Chad ‘The Doc’ Mathews include this match in their Top 100 Mid Card Matches of All-Time series. It might lack the relentless explosiveness of the more famous Kurt Angle / Rey Mysterio Summerslam curtain jerk some seven years later, but it remains a stunning, horribly under-appreciated piece of work in its own right. It stands up to modern standards, often watching a lot like matches you might see today on an episode of 205 Live in particular, though if anything this Honourable Mention executes the style with greater cerebral depth, as was the trademark of its Era.
Razor Ramon and 1-2-3 Kid vs. The Smoking Gunns for the Tag Team Championships, In Your House 4: Great White North
I have already mentioned several times in the main portion of this series’ countdown that Razor Ramon and 1-2-3 Kid had as Era-defining a friendship as did Diesel and Shawn Michaels; theirs was a physically smaller, mid card equivalent, but one that proved just as effective. Like with their Kliq brethren, their relationship remained in a constant state of flux for practically the entire Era’s duration too, beginning with the famous upset victory on Monday Night Raw in 1993 and lasting all the way through to their Cry Baby Match at In Your House in February of 1996 – the year they both departed for WCW.
This Tag Team Championship Match is a vitally important chapter in that story and one that should prove to be curiously familiar in theme and tone to any die-hard fans of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, oddly enough.
The match plays out as a stripped back, barebones version of the Rollins and Ambrose vs. The Bar classics of 2017. The Smoking Gunns go in as champions, the cornerstone team of their Era, and Ramon and Kid challenge on the back of having recently re-solidifying their friendship after weeks of dissension and physical altercations. The contest is produced in a manner that subtly emphasises the seminal nature of two Era-defining tandems colliding over the gold thanks to early stalemates and a confidently steady pace, while the increasing moral disparity between a Kid on the wrong path and a Ramon trying to rein him in adds a layer of emotional complexity.
While the match runs a little too short to be able to hit that extra gear needed to carry it to greater infamy, a breathless false finish sequence that has the live crowd unglued in the final half demonstrates how comfortably the match could have reached that superlative level had it been given a few more minutes of clamour before diving into its surprisingly effective character-driven subversion of a finish.
Kid plays up after the bout, ambushing the celebrating Gunns and trying to take the titles for his own until Ramon calms him down, the two taking the next step towards their outright feud that would lead the mid card into 1996. And all this on a night Razor Ramon, the man to be betrayed by the Kid, wrestles for the Tag Team and Intercontinental Championships both on the same night, no less. Sound oddly familiar?!
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