‘Plan & The Doc present: The WWF New Generation’s Top 50 Matches, Part 2

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 aforementioned crusade to quash preconceptions about the New Generation Era begins (and mark my words, this is only a beginning) here, with its Top 50 Matches. Some of these you will know and love. Some of them, you may have forgotten just how much you love. And some of them you might not even know exist. But all of them are absolute gems that demonstrate the true history of the New Gen.

Ladies and gentlemen, through these matches, we have something to prove, and each of the ensuing Top 50 illustrates an important point in the case we are making that the New Generation deserves a thorough reappraisal from everyone in the wrestling industry, fans, wrestlers, and promoters alike.

Read the full Introduction and #46 – #50 here

45. Hunter Hearst Helmsley vs. Henry O. Godwinn in a Hog Pen Match, In Your House: Season’s Beatings

Doc: The Arkansas Hog Pen Match could be construed by some as an example of what made the New Gen in their minds lesser. Watch it, however, and you might find yourself agreeing with someone else who would, in support, claim the odd-ball gimmick to be a more successful version of something like the Asylum Match of recent memory. Sure, it was a strange match and, indeed, it did feature one of those weird characters from that era in Henry O. Godwinn that was basically just plucked from the list of stereotypes (and lest we forget that Triple H began his career as one of those stereotypical characters in his own right); nevertheless, if you asked the Hog Pen Match to trade places with the Asylum, I think that you would honestly walk away in 2016 laughing to yourself about the fun you just had watching a surprising 3-star effort whereas the Jericho vs. Ambrose Cage debacle would remain just as bad in 1995 as it was recently.

Think about it in context, for a moment, and it is easier to understand how a Hog Pen Match succeeded as it did. Young Helmsley was a rich snob who belittled the southern country boy pig farmer, whose measure of comeuppance was to get the blueblood covered in pig slop and mud surrounded by live members of his pork farm. The goal was to embarrass a stuck up bully. When Helmsley got the win, it raised his budding profile, and the fans got to see him get muddied up a bit. Mission accomplished. Comparatively, what did the Asylum Match accomplish again?

The New Generation was a time of calculated experimentation and, much like the Kid vs. Razor match referenced earlier, the Hog Pen Match not only culminated a well-booked storyline (for what it was), but it also innovatively climaxed a feud.

‘Plan: Just because these two characters look like two-dimensional stereotypes doesn’t mean that’s all that they are. Certainly there’s no denying it’s where they came from, but through a combination of robust pay-per-view build on television characteristic of the Era and disciplined in-ring talent, this Hog Pen Match proves to be quintessential New Gen in being more than the sum of its parts.

There is, like so many matches of this Era, a great deal more character depth and comment in this match than might, at first, meet the eye. As Doc has already pointed out, there is a sense of revenge against a bully, but so too is there a subtext of class: blue collar vs. white collar, and its typical story of a humbling. Psychological intrigue plays its part, with Godwinn having slopped himself on television several weeks before, demonstrating an immunity to the humiliation that provides the antagonist’s primary motivation to succeed. Consider too that, as a hog farmer, Godwinn is comfortable with the heady environment created by the smells and sounds of the pen, putting the unconditioned suburban snob at a further mental disadvantage. All of these subtleties come to inform the feel-good post-match shenanigans and enrich the action.

Look past the so-called ‘cartoonish’ idea as it appears on paper and you discover a surprising amount of depth, then, in as enlightened an execution of a specialist match type as you can find. It is its Era’s answer to the WrestleMania VII Blindfold Match between Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and Rick ‘The Model’ Martel.

Don’t let the foresight of its design get past you either – it bears a striking resemblance to the structure of more famous match types like the Buried Alive Match, the Last Ride Match and the Ambulance Match alike. It just did it first, and successfully so. The typical match style of the Era is in full force, with a steadier pace and a more cerebral approach than anything you’ll find today, but if you’re a fan who claims to enjoy being told a good story, and are indeed a fan of your word, there’ll be nothing to dislike in this quietly pioneering effort.

44. Doink vs. Marty Jannetty in a Best 2 Out of 3 Falls Match, Monday Night Raw June 21st, 1993

‘Plan: Look at these names on paper and you’ll likely cringe. The evil clown taking on the other Rocker, I appreciate, isn’t going to do much to entice, but those same two men are two of the biggest victims of the negationsim with which WWE treats its New Generation Era – Doink was a tremendously accomplished technical wrestler and Jannetty came to be Raw’s regular showstopper in the second six months of the show’s life, the same way Michaels had been in the first six. This extended, feature-length television classic is one of the finest examples of both these facts.

The storytelling on show in this instance is world class. Both mid card talents prove themselves an even match for the opposite, and mixing Jannetty’s athletic brilliance with Doink’s larger than life character-driven mind games proves to be an ingenious pairing as the contest begins to demonstrate habits that are very commonplace today. In that regard, it’s somewhat precognitive. Don’t discount Doink’s mind games as being anything other than sinister either; though the character appears cartoonish on the surface, his antics are indicative of a disturbingly gleeful sadist indulging himself in twisted false sympathy.

The action is simple when it’s grounded, but that’s no bad thing. I’d take this style of a match over a lot of what we see today. Watch as the two manage to bring the crowd out of their seats simply in the manner by which they tease a vertical suplex – to do nothing and gain the same reaction that today requires suicide dives and 450 splashes is true mastery of the craft! This doesn’t mean it’s a match with a limited athletic vision either, though. There’s exhilarating high spots and tense false finish alongside its more sombre passages that will appeal to fans of a more contemporary taste as well as those of an older school predilection like myself.

I was eager to champion the cause of this match and its story of an outnumbered and beleaguered babyface Jannetty taking on a total of two manipulative Doinks to my co-writer when we were first making these picks because it’s a real gem, with a delightful ending that teases something crushing before wreaking some Macho Madness-fuelled justice to complete proceedings on an uplifting note.

It was a rare thing in the New Gen Era to get quite so clean and complete a television affair as this.

Doc: One of the things that I loved about this project, particularly once we started writing this series, was that I got to go back and watch some of these TV matches that I watched live, but that I was too young to remember at the time and that I had never previously been prompted to go back and revisit. I’ve studied greatness for the last seven years writing books about the WrestleMania Era’s most iconic wrestlers and performances, but when I consider that my current fandom is basically held together by watching good matches week to week via one of the many WWE platforms, I find myself appreciative of the opportunity to rewind the clock not to the types of matches, mind you, that are going to drastically change the way I viewed the era’s finest by any means, but the types that give me something new to consider historically in the form of a neatly packaged equivalent of what we might see today from Seth Rollins on an episode of Raw here and there – a good match that is like an extra serving of a great dessert.

Doink vs. Marty was one such match.

‘Plan and I do not view wrestling match quality in quite the same way, but I appreciate his viewpoint and find it very interesting, so suggestions like this from him are usually spot on. This one certainly was spot on; I had a blast revisiting it. It reminded me how good Matt Bourne was as Doink the Clown, who somehow managed to get lumped in with the gimmicky ’90s stuff that folks like Triple H often cite as a reason why the Attitude Era was so much better despite the fact that he was far from the generic garbage man or race car driver; Bourne owned that role as Doink and made it the real deal in 1992/1993 with a pretty awesome character portrayal. Truthfully, I did not remember him being quite so adept in the ring aside from a Summerslam bout with Bret Hart that I always really liked, but this match with Marty was a better long-form expression of his in-ring abilities.

As far as Jannetty goes, well this was simply a match that made me a little clearer on why our buddy Maverick has such a high opinion of HBK’s former partner and on why, with all due respect to the obvious dichotomy between the arguable all-time greatest and his Rockers cohort, the whole “Jannetty” thing has been blown out of proportion. 1993 was an exceptional year for Marty Jannetty in the mid-card; this match serves as a reminder that being a “Jannetty” is not really that bad of a thing.

43. Razor Ramon vs. Goldust for the Intercontinental Championship, Royal Rumble 1996

Doc: This was one of my picks, it being my personal favorite Goldust match and in my opinion the clearest representation of what made his envelope-pushing, groundbreaking character work so well in that era. Say what you will about the Goldust persona today, but he was an integral part of the final year of the New Generation and the type of act that helped set the stage for the Attitude Era, perhaps not in the sense that Dustin Rhodes and his acting pushed others to step up their games in what became the most competitive environment in pro wrestling history, but definitely in the sense that it veered hard toward a more aggressive mindset toward getting eyeballs on the product by any means necessary.

I thought it one of the more novel character portrayals in WWE lore, that opinion partially shaped by having watched The American Dream’s oldest develop “good hand” skills in the ring back in the early ’90s, only to see much of that skill downplayed in favor of his erotic Hollywood director act. Given how dressing him up like an Oscar statue was seemingly designed to mask his more aggressive and violent take on Adrian Adonis and other forebears, the heart of the controversy surrounding a Goldust discussion in the here and now is what Vince McMahon was really hoping to get out of him, but no matter how we may reflect back on the reaction to that persona in hindsight, I have always been in awe of what Dustin Rhodes the man tapped into; that was a dark character.

Razor reflected the uncomfortable feelings that the Goldust persona brought out in people back then. His reactions, as Dustin Rhodes wrote in his book a few years ago, were pretty much genuine; Scott Hall, the man, was not exactly thrilled to be involved in that angle. Artistically, that touch of realism brought a lot to the table, making their Royal Rumble bout that earned Goldust the IC Title a fascinating watch if you’re able to get beyond any sort of emotional disgust with the angle or the kinds of fan responses to it.

‘Plan: Portrayals of characters like that of Goldust in his formative year matter, and whichever way you cut it there’s something inescapably ugly about the negative manner with which the then-WWF opted to present the Bizarre One; it is a manner that, today, we should learn from. Nonetheless, what Doc says rings true: Goldust was an important early indicator that this was a company that was changing, their move towards the Attitude Era gathering pace, and in history he occupies a very unique, very important corner in that regard.

For the third year running, Ramon was able to create a borderline-show stealer of an Intercontinental Championship Match on a Royal Rumble card, and for the third year running it proves a radically different style of match to those that preceded it. The shenanigan-driven affair against IRS in 1994 followed by the athletic encounter with Jeff Jarrett in 1995 is followed up with this highly unique contest, deeply cerebral and heavily reliant on Goldust’s character to work. Work it does. If you’re able to put aside any possible discomfort brought about by the WWF’s clear lack of social responsibility (you’ll find no grandiose rhetoric of encouraging social change from this privately owned company), you’ll find yourself confronted with a kind of a match that has quite literally only ever existed during and within Goldust’s initial run in the company.

It’s a deliberately paced match, and purposefully minimalist in the content it presents. Considering that Ramon’s bread and butter throughout the Era became action-heavy, high octane encounters that placed an emphasis on big game-changing moments and elite levels of conditioning, seeing him involved in something so apparently uncharacteristic  is equal parts jarring and intriguing. Intrigue is very much the word of the day, too, and those who have been enjoying the needling antics of a villainous Shinsuke Nakamura in recent months will likely get a real kick out of the Era’s highest profile composition of controversy. Just be prepared to approach it with an open mind.

42. Bull Nakano vs. Alundra Blayze for the WWF Women’s Championship, Monday Night Raw April 3rd, 1995

‘Plan: Today it wouldn’t be uncommon to see a championship defence the night after WrestleMania, but in 1995 there was something that felt special about seeing a title bout that turns out so incredibly well it really deserved to be included on the ‘Mania card the night prior, and if it had been it might be getting spoken of as a classic. Move over Trish and Mickie, Charlotte and Asuka, because Bull Nakano and Alundra Blayze were doing the typical post-Women’s Revolution match twenty years before the Women’s Revolution.

Nakano and Blayze were no strangers to one another at this stage, and it is perhaps because of their familiarity with one another that sees the champion jump the perennially popular Blayze from behind during her entrance, woman-handling the challenger like she’s made from paper and apparently looking to tear off limbs in a manner that might remind you a little of Ronda Rousey’s interaction with Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley at WrestleMania 34.

The difference, of course, is that Blayze is a full-time wrestler and not just an on-screen authority figure, and it is with her precognitive high flying retinue of offensive moves that she is able to take the fight to her brutal opponent in this match that operates exclusively in huge gestures. You might even call it spotty, what with it’s high number of false finishes and plethora of cruiserweight style exchanges. Hell, you even get a little in the way of Attitude Era style brawling on the outside of the ring! It’s a renaissance match if ever there was one, wrestled between two very talented women motivated to seemingly prove a point the night after the biggest show of the year they weren’t featured on.

Had they been featured on that card, especially in lieu of Blayze’s title victory, then the discussion about the greatest women’s match in WWE history might have been very different for a very long time, and how that could have in turn reshaped the discourse of the Women’s Revolution – hell, of women’s wrestling in WWE generally – we’ll never know. This match deserves better treatment than to gather dust tucked away in its forgotten corner of television match history, and it was a pleasure to bring it to the table for this list.

I’ve even talked myself into wondering if we’ve ranked it much too low.

Doc: If having ranked it too low becomes clearer in hindsight, we can put the blame on me for it. Here we go with another from the 1995 Raw library that I did not see back then, and yet another really good match to add to the memory bank. Wow. I basically missed Alundra’s entire run in the WWF, to be honest, because the Women’s Championship making a brief comeback around her waist was confined to the period of my personal fan hiatus. I think that ‘Plan is right about women’s wrestling history potentially being thought of in a different way had this match been given the historical assist by WrestleMania and its stage, the perception of which were never really hindered by the economic downturn of the mid-’90s as much as the New Generation era itself, maybe because the Manias of that era gave us four of the greatest matches of all-time. It holds up very well against matches like Trish vs. Mickie or Lita and some of the early matches from the revolutionaries in NXT, and that is just at first glance through two viewings; I have the spark to do a Top 50 Women’s Matches in WWE lore later in the year to further explore the topic of Blayze vs. Nakano and its place in history.

Fortunately, in this time of reflection during which we are re-evaluating aspects of the past that we feel need to be given the benefit of modern perspective, we get to see a match like Blayze vs. Nakano and add another layer of context to the discussion about women’s wrestling, specifically why it took so long to water the seeds that were planted by matches like this one. The WNBA planted its flag in American sports culture a year after this match took place, so it was not like the WWF would have been attempting to break barriers without a major sport/entertainment company setting a mainstream precedent. Needless to say, Vince McMahon took his company in a different direction, but it’s difficult not to wonder if it ever crossed Linda or Stephanie McMahon’s minds to use competition rather than sex to advance the position of women in the industry as Blayze was replaced by the barbie-come-to-life, Sunny, and her sensuous appeal as the female face of the WWF.

41. Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Yokozuna for the WWF Championship, Monday Night Raw February 28th, 1994

Doc: We are getting close to beginning a part of the countdown that will bring to the forefront of our New Generation discussion matches that many of you are more familiar with than these. This is sort of the sleeper hit section, and this match between Hall of Famers is yet another to look forward to on your upcoming New Gen watchlist.

I do not look back at Yokozuna’s prime with fondness by any means, but I have always respected him for his achievements; being the top heel for over a year is an amazing accomplishment in my book, even if the work done creatively was not generationally significant. Though I have never actively sought out an old match of his while thinking to myself, “Man, I really want to watch that Yokozuna bout from back in the day,” I do not shy away from rewatching performances against Bret or Undertaker in 1993/1994. I would add the Savage match to that list; should I ever again have reason to revisit the Road to WrestleMania X or anything of the sort that might find Yoko vs. Savage in the line-up, I will gladly watch it again. You know, it was probably the most enjoyable Yokozuna match that I have seen, eclipsing his most famous pay-per-view matches.

To be honest, I would also rather remember this match instead of Savage vs. Crush when reflecting on Macho Man’s final months in the WWF as an in-ring competitor; I have never been a big fan of the Mania X Savage-Crush match, but it was the last memory that I had of Savage as a WWF Superstar. This match against Yokozuna leaves a much better final reminder that there will never be another Randy Savage.

‘Plan: The most enjoyable Yokozuna match is the perfect way to describe this rip-roaring silent hit from the forgotten libraries of Monday Night Raw lore. I stumbled upon it during my research for my second book, and it completely blew me away. The energy of it, the creativity of it and, once again, the forward-thinking nature of it took me completely by surprise, and will do the same to anyone willing to donate fifteen minutes of their time to visit it.

If ever there was proof that the Macho Man – in my mind, the greatest of all time – still had a massive amount to offer the company as it transitioned into the next phase of its modern history then this is that proof. Before the idea of stealing a WrestleMania main event spot even became an established trend during ‘Mania season, here Savage is looking to do just that in his efforts to dethrone the leviathan that eliminated him a year prior in the final two of the Royal Rumble Match and, in doing, flip WrestleMania X entirely on its head.

It’s not just that baseline concept that has me calling it forward-thinking, though, but also the way the match is put together. In spite of the size difference, the two create a match that powers along with the pace of an Attitude Era great, and weaves in a bunch of shenanigans around the referee that wouldn’t be all too unfamiliar today – as a matter of fact, they’re executed somewhat better than a lot of what we currently see!

It’s a shame that one of Yokozuna’s best matches, one based on pure athletic competition and pulled away from the sometimes cartoonish manner in which Yoko was produced, is one nobody seems to be aware exists. More than any match on this list, please, I would love for you to familiarise yourself with this one. It’s not an all-time great but I guarantee it’ll exceed your expectations and entertain you with its honestly quite exhilarating story that presents the Macho Man at his very best as a canvas artist.

——

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Aside from its well-known financial struggles as compared to other eras in WWE lore, what is the quintessential aspect of the New Generation that makes it so historically ill-regarded, in your opinion? Do you personally agree with that stance?

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