If there’s one era that gets ridiculed more than the current product, it has to be the WWE New Generation era from 1993-1996.
This is often considered a dark time for wrestling. Ratings were in the toilet, McMahon was in the news for all the wrong reasons, and many wrestlers from this era wouldn’t live beyond their 50s.
While real-life stories were pinning professional wrestling in a negative light, there was actually some game changing moments in this era that helped shift the WWE into the beloved Attitude Era.
And ah yes, who could forget the classic Fake Razor and Fake Diesel storyline, and that unforgettable Undertaker Vs. Undertaker match at SummerSlam. Okay, while some of the hate is surely warranted, I still think this era gets unfairly treated as the bastard child of the WWE.
From the debut of Monday Night Raw, to a heavier PPV schedule, to some of the most iconic feuds and matches in the company’s history (seriously), here’s 10 reasons why the WWE New Generation era didn’t suck.
10. New Pay Per Views
From the late 80s into the 90s, WWE fans would anxiously await the “Big Four” Pay Per View events – Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and of course the granddaddy of them all, WrestleMania.
Though it started in ’85, it wasn’t until 1993 that the King of the Ring became a Pay Per View – and then a couple years later, a new PPV series branded “In Your House” rolled along. Starting in 1995, In Your House would go on to make 5-6 annual appearances, which helped break up the previous long wait in between the Big Four.
While some of the In Your House’s were less than memorable (were looking at you Hog Pen Match) and lacked the production value of their counterparts, it was still a welcomed change from WWE fans who previously had less than half a dozen major events to look forward to.
This would set the stage for a heavier PPV schedule which still exists today.
9. Kid’s Programming
It’s easy for 20 and 30 something’s (i.e. adults) to look back and laugh about certain storylines or characters that existed during the WWE New Generation era… but there’s one major flaw with this mindset: the product was aimed at kids, not adults.
When the company was barely out of the Golden Age (“say your prayers and eat your vitamins!”) and hadn’t yet shifted to edgier content, the audience was still primarily kids.
I’ll be the first to admit that as a young kid in the early 90s Doink’s evil clown debut was terrifying, and that the Undertaker vs. Undertaker storyline was all the rage amongst my circle of friends (feel free to let me have it in the comments section below). The fact is we were the target audience of the time – young impressionable kids; not adults mocking something that’s intended for children.
8. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon Ladder Match at WrestleMania X
Before The Hardy Boys, Edge, and Christian modernized the use of ladders in professional wrestling, there was Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon in the WWE ladder match that still gets talked about today.
The infamous bout put Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, both in their prime, squaring off for the Intercontinental title.
The feud and storyline leading up to the MSG meeting was built perfectly, and we also need to realize that this was 1994 – ladder matches were not the norm. In fact, this was only the second ever WWE ladder match, and first to take place at a PPV.
Who could forget HBK hitting an iconic splash off the top of the ladder? The match not only stole the show (on a pretty stacked card mind you) but it’s also regarded as one of the best matches in WrestleMania history. Even Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer gave it a very rare 5 stars.
Sunny embodied the WWE’s fan favorite Attitude Era before the Attitude Era even existed.
Female wrestlers like Moolah and Sherri rightfully get a lot of credit for being pioneers in the seemingly male-dominated world of professional wrestling. Later in the Golden Age of the WWF we were introduced to “the First Lady of Wrestling” – an innocent valet in Miss Elizabeth.
Then in 1995, “the Original Diva” came along. While Sunny was not a wrestler, she had twice the charisma of many who were lacing their boots in the locker room. Sunny’s mic skills were simply on point, especially in comparison to another rising female star whose promos were cringe-worthy at best.
Sunny strutted her sex appeal and quickly got over with the crowd – it was clear she was outshining her original heel gimmick as manager of the Bodydonnas.
So why does Sunny make this list? Sunny was hugely over during the New Generation era and you can’t deny her role in the WWE transitioning into the more adult-oriented content of the Attitude Era.
6. The Hart Brothers Feud
While we laugh about the awful Fake Razor and Fake Diesel storyline of the New Generation era, it’s easy to overlook some of the more memorable feuds of the early 90s. One of the best coming from the brother versus brother feud that ruptured the Hart family.
The Hitman was the baby faced fan favorite who was quickly moving up the card while his younger brother Owen seemed to always be in his shadow – perhaps a storyline that was true to life as Bret was the bigger draw.
In 1994, tension finally boiled over when Owen attacked the Hitman at the Royal Rumble. The siblings would go on to partake in an iconic feud which dominated WWE programming in 1995.
Arguably one of the best booked storylines in WWE history, the Owen and Bret feud was dramatic storytelling at its finest… and it happened during the New Generation Era.
5. Pillman’s Got A Gun!
Wrestling purists (and perhaps more generally speaking: most self-respectable human beings) mostly agreed that this segment was “inappropriate” at best.
I’m of course referring to that time in November 1996 when Steve Austin smashed his way into Brian Pillman‘s suburban home with a sledgehammer on prime time network television… and then Pillman pulled out a 9mm glock… and then the live feed seemingly cut out with the viewers left to wonder if Pillman just murdered Steve Austin. Right, that time.
While it’s a far cry from the days of good ol’ rasslin, it sure did help plant the seeds for the Attitude Era – one of the most financially successful periods for the company. Actual wrestling may have taken a back seat to the dramatic/soap opera-esque storylines, but wrestling fans were eating it up.
While there were some unforgettably dramatic moments that took place outside the ring in the 80s, the “Pillman’s Got a Gun” segment upped the ante. If you were a teenage wrestling fan in 1996, there’s no way you weren’t glued to your screen.
4. Monday Night Raw
Debuting in 1993, Monday Night Raw was a game changer. Professional wrestling was given primetime coverage in a one-hour time slot on the USA Network.
The early Raw’s at the intimate Manhattan Center hold a special type of charm that is difficult to describe if you weren’t watching at the time. Sure, there may have been a lot of squash matches, and few title changes, but Monday Night Raw was fresh and innovative, and would set the stage for the infamous Monday Night Wars of the mid to late 90s.
Plus who could forget Sean Waltman as a jobber upsetting Razor Ramon with that moonsault?!
Without Raw’s debut, the professional wrestling landscape may not exist as we know it today… and Raw started during the New Gen era.
3. Hogan’s Departure
Lets pretend Hogan’s impromptu title run in 1993 didn’t exist, because it was awful and showed the company desperately trying to bring back some of that 80s wrestling magic. Yes, even as an 8 year old I knew that it was complete bologna that Bret didn’t get the title from Yokozuna at Ceasar’s Palace.
But that aside, Hogan more or less being out of the picture in the early 90s forced the WWE creative team to… well, be more creative.
Yes, there were some laughably bad gimmicks during the WWE New Generation Era (T.L. Hopper and Duke the Dumpster Droese aren’t going to the Hall anytime soon) but Hogan’s departure, along with other top billed guys like the Ultimate Warrior, would force the company to take chances on up and coming talent.
Which brings us to…
2. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels getting pushed
We loved Hogan’s run in the 80s as much as anyone. Saying our prayers and eating our vitamins was high on the priority list. But by the time the 90s were in full swing, the WWE needed a change. They needed young and fresh talent to move up the card.
In 1993, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were given the push.
Even though they lacked the Hulk-physique that Vince seemingly loved, you couldn’t deny Hart and Michaels in-ring skills and charisma. They were both over in their own right, and despite the wrestling bubble having burst after the 80s explosion, Michaels and Hart helped the limping company stay in business before its successful run into the Attitude Era. One other star helped catapult the company toward the end of the New Generation Era…
1. Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass
The name “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is synonymous with the Attitude Era. One can argue that if it wasn’t for Stone Cold, the WWE as we know it, may not even exist today. Fans seemingly forget that the seeds for Stone Cold were planted in 1996, during the New Gen era.
Austin first debuted with the WWE early in 1996 as Ted Dibiase’ protege, dubbed “The Ringmaster”. Within a few short months, he dropped the gimmick and won the ’96 King of the Ring. This is also where he cut the infamous “Austin 3:16” promo, a nickname that ended up making Austin and the WWF a pretty penny over the years to follow.
Austin had a very memorable feud with Bret Hart throughout ’96 and ’97 and it was a pivotal time in the WWE’s history. Austin, the heel, was seemingly getting more and more crowd cheers, while the baby-faced Hitman was starting to get heat.
We all know the rest of the story. Stone Cold was pushed to the moon and the WWE chartered into what became known as The Attitude Era. The Attitude Era did huge business for the WWE, but many fans overlook the fact that the WWE was already blurring the lines and stepping in a different direction as early as 1996 – during the New Generation Era.