The Rise, Near Fall, And Rise – The WWF in the 90s – 1991

The Rise, Near Fall, And Rise – The WWF in the 90s – 1991

The start of a new decade saw the WWF attempt to move on from Hulkamania, the driving force that had largely made the WWF the undisputed leader in “sports entertainment.” As explained in part one of our on-going series, the first whisperings that ‘The Hulkster’ may be moving on to pursue other endeavours caused Vince McMahon to move up another top babyface on his roster, The Ultimate Warrior.

However, as the year went on, McMahon struggled to take the ball entirely off Hogan. Indeed, Hulk stuck around for the majority of the year, and the Warrior – despite his immense popularity – struggled as the WWF champion. While Hogan battled with Earthquake, Warrior feuded with Quake’s sidekick, Dino Bravo. The most stand out feud of Warrior’s reign was with Rick Rude, but once again, this seemed to be superseded by Hogan and Quake.

Another factor that would slam the lid shut on Warrior’s reign was the re-introduction of Sgt. Slaughter, designed to coincide with the very real situation in the Persian Gulf. Slaughter, in his new role as an Iraqi sympathiser, was always going to square off with the most patriotic of superstars. And if he was hoisted into the main event picture, that could only put ‘The Hulkster’ in the box seat, which is exactly what happened.

The January 19 Royal Rumble in Miami took place just a few days after the deadline expired for Saddam Hussein to withdraw his troops from Kuwait, which made the victory by Slaughter all the more sinister. Before the match took place, ‘The Macho King’ and Queen Sherri made a last-ditch attempt to reason with the Warrior, who had continually turned down their request for a title shot. When the Warrior spurned the sensual charms of the Queen, he unwittingly sealed his fate.

In a match marred with interference from Sherri and Savage, ‘The Macho King’ smashed his scepter over Warrior’s head to giftwrap a victory for the Sarge. Now, the seeds of what had worked in the past for McMahon were re-planted. Before the Rumble match, Hogan did a backstage interview with Mean Gene Okerlund, when word came through that Slaughter and Adnan were celebrating their victory by defacing the American flag. Hogan was exasperated and claimed that Slaughter’s reign as champion would be just like Hussein’s control over Kuwait – it would be “only temporary.” As prophesised, Hogan became the first to win back-to-back Rumbles when he fittingly eliminated his nemesis, Earthquake. During his victory celebration, he proudly waved Old Glory.

Bret Hart put in a solid twenty minutes before he was taken out in impressive fashion by The Undertaker. Newly-made fan favourite Greg Valentine went forty-four minutes before being thrown out by ‘The Hulkster.’ Right before the Rumble, ‘The Hammer’ lost a match to Saba Simba when his manager Jimmy Hart accidentally hit him with a guitar, which ended their association. Still, that mark was still not enough to garner a record, as Rick ‘The Model’ Martel lasted for just over fifty-two minutes, before being drop-kicked out by The British Bulldog. On the opposite end of the scale was Bushwhacker Luke, who forever entered his name into Royal Rumble infamy when he was thrown out in less than five seconds by Earthquake.

“The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith had returned to the WWF in late-1990, after leaving in 1988 along with his cousin and tag team partner, Dynamite Kid. They worked again for All Japan and Stampede until Davey Boy re-signed as a singles wrestler. This would benefit the company greatly, as they looked to the UK market for sustenance at a time when business was waning in the US. He lasted thirty-six minutes in the Rumble and was one of the final four, before being put out by Quake and Brian Knobbs.

Apart from Hogan’s win, the other big story to come out of the Rumble was the non-appearance of the man who drew number eighteen. That would turn out to be ‘The Macho King,’ who bolted along with his Queen after costing Warrior the title. With several matches between the two not rendering a satisfactory result, the two challenged each other for Wrestlemania in a ‘career-ending’ bout.

On the undercard, Ted Dibiase and Virgil defeated the father-and-son team of Dusty and Dustin Rhodes. Dibiase had been especially harsh to Virgil of late to prove that no matter what, Virgil would always come back for the money. Roddy Piper took a special interest in Virgil, and let slip that he had lunched with the bodyguard the day of the match. Dibiase became frustrated with Virgil and threw him out of the ring before going on to pin Dusty, who had more concern for Dustin, who had injured his knee.

Still in the ring, Dibiase berated Virgil and demanded that he put the Million Dollar Belt around his waist. At first, this was met with resistance, until ‘The Million Dollar Man’ callously reminded him about the plight of his mother. On television, this had an effect on Virgil, as it did here. But, instead of following orders, he smashed his employer in the mush with the belt to a huge reaction. This would also be the end of the Rhodes’ in the WWF for now, as they both departed for WCW, as well as Dusty’s days as a full-time wrestler, when he took a management position with Turner’s outfit.

In other matches, The Rockers triumphed over The Orient Express in a superb opener, The Big Bossman took down Heenan Family member The Barbarian, and the returning Jacques Rougeau – now wrestling as The Mountie – defeated Koko B. Ware.

Shots Fired: Sgt. Slaughter defeated The Ultimate Warrior for the title at the Royal Rumble

After “intense deliberations,” WWF President Jack Tunney announced on the February 1 edition of The Main Event (taped January 29), that Hulk Hogan was the number one contender to face Sgt. Slaughter at Wrestlemania. Earlier, Hogan came to the aid of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, after Slaughter got himself disqualified using a steel chair. Hogan did an interview with Mean Gene where he cut an impassioned promo and then led the crowd into a pledge of allegiance to the American flag.

Mr. Perfect came close to losing his Intercontinental Title again to The Texas Tornado on the February 2 Superstars, but escaped via count-out. During the course of the title defense, Bobby Heenan attempted to go backstage for help, but was cut off by The Big Bossman. Perfect came out to confront Bossman, and after a timely distraction from Heenan, sent the lawman into the ring steps. Tornado came out as well and whipped Perfect into the ring-post before rolling back in at the last second. In this continuing feud between Bossman and Heenan, the law enforcer would get a crack at the Intercontinental title at Mania.

On the February 16 edition of Superstars, a tag-team battle royal took place to determine who would face the Hart Foundation for the Tag Team titles. If one member of the team was put out, the other had to go as well. Animal from Legion of Doom eliminated Paul Roma to end Power and Glory’s night, but as they were on their way to taking out The Nasty Boys, Roma pushed Hawk off the top turnbuckle and the referees awarded the bout to Knobbs and Saggs.

The Undertaker gained a new and more appropriate manager, when Brother Love relinquished his duties to the debuting Paul Bearer. Formerly Percy Pringle III, he guided Rick Rude to the WCCW World Title, and it was Rude who repaid the favour by putting in a good word for Moody, before he himself departed at the end of 1990. Vince McMahon and his lieutenants were bemused when, during their first interview with Moody, they discovered his background in the funeral business. It seemed like fate, and the combination of Bearer and The Undertaker would – even before the year was out – become one of the Federation’s most successful acts.

WWF fans also got their first look at The Viking – soon to be renamed The Berzerker – on the February 17 edition of Wrestling Challenge. Playing the part of this Bruiser Brody-inspired gimmick was John Nord, who came attired in a horned helmet and furry boots, while carrying a sword and shield. He made short work of Doug Isley, defeating him in what would be a bizarre trademark – a preference for throwing his opponents over the top rope and getting a count-out win.

In yet another new signing, ‘The Dragon’ Ricky Steamboat returned to the fold. Despite his past history in the company – which included one of the best matches of all time against Randy Savage at Wrestlemania 3 – all of this was ignored, and he was presented as an all-new act. In the past, ‘Dragon’ had simply been a nickname, but during this run, it became a burden, as he came to the ring with a costume to resemble an actual dragon.

The Brother Love Show – which started in June 1988 – came to an end in March 1991, when The Ultimate Warrior attacked Brother Love and destroyed the set. Played by Bruce Prichard, he left the company for personal reasons. He worked for Global before returning to the Federation in August 1992.

Andre the Giant had taken a sabbatical from the WWF shortly after Wrestlemania 6 the previous year. He worked for All Japan, and even stopped into Herb Abrams’ UWF, where he did two televised interviews, but did not wrestle. On November 30 he had been announced as a participant in the 1991 Royal Rumble, but was unable due to injury. Before Wrestlemania 7, the Giant came back and pledged his support for The Big Bossman’s upcoming match against Mr. Perfect.

America Retaliates: Hulk Hogan set for battle against The Sarge at Wrestlemania

‘Superstars and Stripes Forever’ was the theme of Wrestlemania VII, and would be the mantra for the company moving forward throughout the year. The original choice of venue was the large, outdoor Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, only for the WWF to move it to the much smaller Los Angeles Sports Arena. The company line has always been that it was done for security reasons, but it also very likely due to slow ticket sales. By now, much criticism had been leveled at the WWF for ‘cashing in’ on the Gulf War.

Instead, 16,158 fans – with thousands of tickets reportedly given out for free – turned out to see ‘The Hulkster’ and America triumph over Slaughter and Iraq. Hogan pinned Slaughter for his third WWF Title, but he had only won the battle. The war would continue, when Slaughter threw a fireball in the new champion’s face in the backstage area. The ante would be upped even further when The Iron Sheik returned as Col. Mustafa, and aligned with Slaughter and Adnan shortly after Mania.

Despite executing five consecutive flying elbowdrops, ‘The Macho King’ was dethroned by The Ultimate Warrior. Seeing her meal ticket vanish, an irate Queen took her frustrations out on Savage. Miss Elizabeth – who was shown on occasion watching in the crowd – could take no more and rushed to the ring to dispatch Sherri. When Savage came to, he was initially hostile at the woman he had turned his back on in the wake of the Mega Powers split of 1989. But with the crowd’s urging, Savage became a Macho Man again and embraced his former valet in one of the most emotional and heart-felt moments in wrestling history.

Of course, Randy and Liz were a real-life couple, and the reason for the retirement stipulation was so Randy and Liz could try for a baby, which sadly did not occur. In lieu of wrestling, Savage was utilised as a colour commentator on television. If happy tears flowed at Wrestlemania, it was nothing compared to the next chapter of the story, which would take place at Summerslam.

Andre the Giant came to the ring to ward off the shenanigans of Bobby Heenan during the Intercontinental Title match between Mr. Perfect and The Big Bossman. Andre took the belt from Howard Finkel, and when Perfect poked his head through the ropes to remonstrate, the Giant clocked him in the head with it. Haku and Barbarian ran in to cause a disqualification, before they were cleared off by Andre and the Bossman.

In what could be deemed as unexpected, The Nasty Boys defeated The Hart Foundation to become Tag Team champions, when they used Jimmy Hart’s motorcycle helmet to knock out Jim Neidhart. This was a shock, given the Nasties had only been in the Federation a few months. However, this move was also made to amicably split up the Foundation so Bret Hart could embark on a singles career. Neidhart was made a colour commentator on Wrestling Challenge from March to August.

Power and Glory, who handed Knobbs and Saggs this opportunity were feeling a little sour and gory, when they were dispatched by a vengeful Legion of Doom in under a minute. This was a mere roadblock for Hawk and Animal, who set their sights on taking down The Nasty Boys for the Tag Team titles.

Jake Roberts had recovered from being blinded by Rick Martel on The Brother Love Show, and attempted to get at him in the Royal Rumble, to no avail. A devious piece of fine print tricked Martel into signing a ‘blindfold’ match for Wrestlemania. Not only did Jake have the edge given his recent bout of blindness, but he also had the help of the fans. Still, ‘The Model’ persevered and even got Jake in the Boston Crab at one point. Still, Roberts – with the assistance of the fans – found Martel and DDT’ed him for the win.

Roddy Piper accompanied Virgil to the ring on crutches as a result of a knee injury for his match against former employer, Ted Dibiase. It was unusual to see Dibiase come to the ring alone, but that would be remedied soon enough. After Dibiase shoved Piper on the outside, Hot Rod pulled down the rope with his crutch to send Dibiase tumbling to the floor, where he was counted out. After the bell, Virgil was put in the Million Dollar Dream until Piper hit Dibiase with his crutch.

The former Queen Sherri made the save, and with Dibiase, worked over Piper’s leg until Virgil chased them off. With Piper struggling to get up, Virgil gave him the same tough love Piper had taught him to get his mentor on his feet again. Now shorn of her royal position, the now Sensational Sherri would manage Dibiase, always at his side even outside the ring to create the illusion of being a real couple.

While the significance of this victory would not be recognised for many years to come, The Undertaker started his iconic winning streak at WrestleMania when he walked through veteran, Jimmy Snuka.

In a battle of the strongmen, The British Bulldog powerslammed his way to victory over the massive Warlord. In the lead-up, the two fought after Bulldog claimed he could break out of The Warlord’s submission hold, the full nelson. When on television, the challenge was set, he was waylaid by The Warlord after a distraction from Slick. This would be a long, drawn out rivalry right through to the end of the year.

Demolition hit their lowest ebb when they lost to Japanese wrestlers Tenryu and Kitao. While Tenryu was a big name in Japan, and Kitao was a former yokozuna now plying his trade as a pro wrestler, they were completely unknown to WWF fans. In a quick bout, Smash was pinned by Tenryu after a powerbomb. Demolition would soon be wound up, and Smash and Crush repackaged down the line.

In other matches, The Rockers defeated Haku and The Barbarian in the opener, Texas Tornado pinned Dino Bravo, Earthquake squashed Greg Valentine, and The Mountie beat Tito Santana.

RIP: Undertaker enters his first major WWF rivalry

While the appearance of two random Japanese wrestlers looked out of place, there was a perfectly good reason. In our WWF 1990 article, we recalled that Tenryu had started Super World of Sports (SWS) and signed a working agreement with the WWF. On March 31, 1991, a big pay-per-view was held in the Tokyo Dome called Wrestlefest. A majority of matches featured WWF talent, and in the main event, The Road Warriors (LOD) defeated Hulk Hogan and Tenryu by count-out.

Among other bouts on offer, Earthquake pinned Kitao. This match went without incident, but the next night in Kobe (April 1), a shoot almost took place when Kitao stopped cooperating. We have previously written about this specific incident (Kobe Sumo Shoot article), but the gist is that the match ended in a disqualification win for Earthquake. Kitao was fired immediately when he got on the mic and said pro wrestling was fake.

The axing of The Brother Love Show earlier in the year was not the end of this form of segment. Shortly after Wrestlemania, Paul Bearer was made host of ‘The Funeral Parlor,’ which provided the scene to set up The Undertaker’s first major feud in the company with The Ultimate Warrior. When Warrior reacted angrily to Bearer showing him a custom-made, steel coffin adorned with Warrior logos, The Undertaker emerged from another casket and attacked him. Warrior was locked inside the steel casket and by the time officials managed to break open the lid, the Warrior had passed out.

In May, Brutus Beefcake was also given his own segment, ‘The Barber Shop.’ He had taken his first tentative steps in February after his parasailing accident the previous year, when he ran-in on several occasions to aid babyfaces against heels Rick Martel, Dino Bravo and Earthquake. Under a mask and in unusual attire, the character was never named, nor was Beefcake ever acknowledged to playing the role. Sans-mask and appearing as Brutus Beefcake once more, he appeared on the April 23 edition of Prime Time Wrestling before being given the interview segment.

In a memorable debut for ‘The Barber Shop,’ Roddy Piper told the emotional story of Beefcake’s accident that almost killed him, as well as mentioning actor Michael Landon, who had just been diagnosed with cancer. In Piper’s mind, his knee was nothing in comparison, as Brutus appeared genuinely moved by the words. (Unfortunately, it would not be until January 1993 that Beefcake would wrestle again, as many felt uneasy about working with him).

The inevitable clash between the established law enforcer in the WWF – The Big Bossman – and relative newcomer The Mountie occurred on the April 15 edition of Superstars. After Bossman defeated Dan Johnson, he was set upon by The Nasty Boys and handcuffed to the rope as The Mountie sauntered to the ring. The Mountie berated him on the mic and even electrocuted him with his shock stick. This would lead to a ‘jailhouse’ match at Summerslam, where the loser had to stay in a New York prison cell overnight.

On the May 10 house show in Long Island, NY, Andre the Giant worked a battle royal, in what would be his final WWF match. A storyline commenced where a bevy of managers attempted to recruit André – including Heenan – but were all turned down in humiliating fashion. On Superstars, Jimmy Hart announced he had signed Andre to be the tag team partner of Earthquake. Andre had accepted backstage, but on television, he swerved Hart by turning him down. In response, Quake hit Andre in the leg with the megaphone and injured the giant’s knee.

Jimmy Hart bounced back on the June 17 edition of Superstars. In a six-man featuring his men The Nasty Boys and Earthquake, they faced The Bushwhackers and Tugboat. Despite their past history, Tugboat turned on his partners, and two days later on Prime Time Wrestling, Tugboat was renamed Typhoon, to form the monster team of The Natural Disasters.

In another shocking management announcement which took place on ‘The Funeral Parlor,’ Bobby Heenan relinquished his duties as manager of Mr. Perfect to pursue a fulltime position as a broadcast journalist. By this point anyhow, The Heenan Family had been largely reduced, even more-so when Haku and The Barbarian left after Wrestlemania. Instead, Perfect would now be managed (or coached) by, Coach. This was veteran, retired wrestler John Tolos, who had co-held the WWWF US Tag Team titles in 1963 with brother, Chris.

Coach also brought in the brand new team of Beau and Blake, The Beverly Brothers, who made their televised debut on the June 22 Superstars. Previously, they were The Destruction Crew in the AWA, and had short stints in WCW and New Japan before coming to the Federation. They would soon be put into a programme with The Bushwhackers.

Since entering the WWF back in early 1986, Damien had been a vital component of Jake’s psychological arsenal. On the April 27 edition of Superstars, Roberts was pitted against Earthquake. During the match, Roberts’ arms became tied in the ropes; now incapacitated, Earthquake made his move on the green bag. Jake was forced to watch as Earthquake squashed Damien in the middle of the ring. When Jake got free and checked the bag, his reaction confirmed the fan’s worst fears.

Roberts announced on ‘The Barber Shop’ that he had a new snake – Damien’s big brother, Lucifer. Quake continued to stir Jake on Prime Time Wrestling by giving Vince McMahon a gift of a snake skin and two dice (meant to signify snake’s eyes) before making a plate of what he called ‘Quake Burgers.’ To Quake and Bobby Heenan’s amusement (and Vince and Lord Alfred Hayes’ disgust), the main ingredient was supposedly Damien. In this feud, Jake would get support from an old rival – Andre the Giant – who was in Jake’s corner for his matches with Earthquake on the house show circuit.

Jake would also give his attention to The Ultimate Warrior, who struggled to deal with the darkness of The Undertaker. Roberts appeared on ‘The Funeral Parlor’ at the end of July to tell Paul Bearer that he had traveled into the darkness, and understood it. Now, he intended to reveal all of its secrets to the Warrior. This involved putting Warrior through a series of bizarre tests, which included being locked in a casket again, and being buried alive. The final chapter was Warrior being locked in a room in the bowels of a building, filled with deadly snakes. Warrior was bitten by a king cobra, and collapsed out the door when he was finally let free.

Just before he passed out from the venom, he got a glimpse of Jake, The Undertaker and Paul Bearer standing over him, as Jake proclaimed that you “never trust a snake.” The Undertaker and Warrior worked a number of matches, including a ‘bodybag’ match and even a ‘casket’ match. Being untelevised bouts, Undertaker’s losses were not acknowledged, and he would continue to be heralded as ‘undefeated.’

Never Trust a Snake: Warrior pays the price for that mistake

Several wrestlers were signed around this time, and besides one other notable one, the buy of the year was arguably Sid Eudy. Standing over six feet with a physique carved in granite – not to mention a load of intensity – Sid looked like the prototypical WWF superstar. He left WCW after Superbrawl I, and vignettes aired for the now-named Sid Justice on the June 8 Prime Time Wrestling, and in the weeks that followed.

Week after week, wrestlers from both sides of the fence showed interest in Sid, arguing about whether he would be a fan favourite or a rulebreaker. During an interview with Slaughter and Co. on the July 20 Superstars, Justice was revealed to be the special referee for the ‘Match Made in Hell’ at Summerslam. Slaughter attempted to get Sid on side, but he was rebuked and told that “justice would be served.” Sid also made it clear to Hogan and the Warrior that he would not favour them either.

Mike Rotundo (or Rotunda) had previously been in the WWF back in 1984, where he formed a tag team with Barry Windham called The US Express. They became Tag Team champions in January 1985, before dropping the gold to Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik at the first Wrestlemania. After another short run with the belts, Windham left, closely followed by Rotundo. His most memorable work was with Jim Crockett Promotions/WCW before re-signing with the WWF. Like Steamboat, he was cast as an entirely new act, playing the role of evil taxman, IRS.

Another new face to the company was Big Bully Busick, along with his manager, Harvey Wippleman. Busick was an amateur wrestler and powerlifter who worked as a preliminary wrestler back in the WWWF days. After a stint with Global, The Bully and Wippleman arrived in July. Wippleman was a nerdy, gravel-voiced manager, best known for his run in Memphis as Downtown Bruno. In 1987, he managed Sid when he was the masked Lord Humungous in Continental, and it was Sid who put in a good word. He would also come to manage The Warlord, when Slick left the company to become an ordained minister.

Also coming soon to television was Skinner (Steve Keirn), who was formerly one half of The Fabulous Ones with Stan Lane. A vignette was aired as well for Tatanka (Chris Chavis), but it would be sometime before the Native American would appear.

Flair for the Gold: The Brain announces the impending arrival of Ric Flair

Much has been written about the disastrous tenure of Jim Herd as Executive Vice President of World Championship Wrestling (1988-1992). But of all the bad decisions Herd made, running off Ric Flair had to be the worst. Flair’s contract was coming up, and Herd made it clear he would have to take a big pay-cut, as he believed that Flair’s main event days were done. Herd also came up with the idea of changing Flair’s name to ‘Spartacus.’ Naturally, all of this did not sit well with Flair, who also happened to be the WCW World Heavyweight champion at the time.

When Flair turned down dropping the belt to Lex Luger, as well as to Barry Windham – as he felt without the belt he would have no leverage – Herd fired him anyway, two weeks before The Great American Bash. Flair sent feelers to the WWF and signed in August, while still in physical possession of the ‘big gold belt.’ Unable to appear in person just yet, Flair sent the belt.

Bobby Heenan was given the task of putting Flair over to the WWF audience. On the August 11 episode of Wrestling Challenge, Heenan first showed off the ‘big gold belt,’ and stated that it belonged to Ric Flair, the “real World’s Heavyweight champion.” ‘The Brain’ said that comparing this belt and the WWF Title that Hulk Hogan wore, was like “comparing ice cream to horse manure.” WCW or the NWA was never referenced, apart from being “another organisation.”

Largely due to losing Flair – which upset many WCW fans who chanted “we want Flair” at live events – and the general mishandling of the situation, Herd resigned in January 1992.

Brothers In Arms: Hogan and the Warrior geared up for Summerslam

Summerslam 1991 on August 26 went to the traditional home of the World Wrestling Federation – Madison Square Garden. A crowd of 20,000 came to see a match made in heaven, followed by a match made in hell. On the June 17 Superstars, Miss Elizabeth was brought to the ring by Mean Gene, who was asked to describe how she felt about the ‘Macho Man.’ After mentioning his caring and tender nature, she then stated that she loved him. Savage left the commentary position, and festering up his courage, said he loved her as well. He produced a ring, and with fans yelling for him to get on his knees, Savage did so and proposed. Elizabeth replied with an emphatic “ohhhhh yeaaaaaah!” Just like for their reunion at Wrestlemania, fans openly wept.

The real relationship between ‘The Macho Man’ and Elizabeth was never acknowledged, but they had in fact married in 1984. None of this was known by the public, so fans were ‘invited’ to attend their wedding at Madison Square Garden. It went without a hitch, and with much pomp and circumstance. However, at the wedding reception, a couple of uninvited guests – Jake Roberts and The Undertaker – crashed the party. Savage was knocked unconscious and Elizabeth was terrorised by Roberts’ deadly king cobra, until Sid Justice made the save.

In the match made in hell, Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior teamed up to face The Triangle of Terror of Sgt. Slaughter, Gen. Adnan and Col. Mustafa. Hogan got the winning pinfall on Slaughter as Warrior chased Adnan and Mustafa to the back with a steel chair. ‘The Hulkster’ celebrated with special referee Sid Justice, the latter of which had walked a fine line between good and evil, but came through and was accepted as a fully fledged fan favourite.

Conspicuous by his absence was The UItimate Warrior. The popular story is that Vince McMahon fired him the moment he came through the curtain. This was because the Warrior had allegedly held up Vince for more money – $550,000 to be exact – or he would not appear on the pay-per-view. Apparently, Warrior felt that he should have been on the same pay scale as Hulk.

Years later, Hogan and Slaughter would state on interviews that they were prepared to “sort the brother out,” but McMahon agreed that he would pay the money, as that was what was advertised, and the show had to go on. Another version of the firing was that Warrior was indefinitely suspended, and then fired. Either way, this marked the end for The Ultimate Warrior, at least for now.

In a technical wrestling classic, Bret Hart took a major stride in his single’s career, when he submitted Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Title. In attendance were Bret’s parents Stu and Helen, whom Bret celebrated with in the crowd. Despite a bad back, Perfect put on a superlative performance, bumping all over the place to make ‘The Hitman’ look good. Coach’s tenure was brief, as he left after Summerslam; Perfect took a hiatus and The Beverly Brothers were signed by The Genius.

Hawk and Animal made history when they became the first tag team to capture the AWA, NWA and WWF Tag Team titles, after defeating The Nasty Boys. Likewise, Virgil shocked Ted Dibiase when he defeated him for the Million Dollar belt, and Big Bossman sent The Mountie directly to jail in their ‘jailhouse’ match.

The Natural Disasters went over The Bushwhackers, despite having Andre the Giant in their corner. After the match, Earthquake and Typhoon went after Andre, only to be stopped by the Legion of Doom. This was Andre’s final WWF pay-per-view, and he would finish with the company in October.

IRS got a win over Greg Valentine, and The British Bulldog, The Dragon (Ricky Steamboat) and The Texas Tornado defeated Power and Glory and The Warlord. This was Steamboat’s one and only WWF pay-per-view in this run, as he would quit right before the Survivor Series and rejoin WCW. Paul Roma left in October and also signed with WCW after a hiatus from wrestling.

The Champ Arrives: Flair made his intentions felt on The Barber Shop

In the afterglow of Summerslam, and the Triangle of Terror neutralised, ‘The Hulkster’ acknowledged and accepted the challenge of Ric Flair. Still, Hulk was distracted from wrestling duties, as he began filming his next action-comedy flick, Suburban Commando. The film would also see The Undertaker appear as one of two bounty hunters sent to kill Hogan’s character, Chep Ramsay. Ironically, it would be The Undertaker – not Ric Flair – who would give Hogan the most trouble by the end of the year.

The anticipated arrival of ‘The Nature Boy’ took place on ‘The Barber Shop’ on September 21. Brutus chose to sit it out and let Heenan hold the microphone. Apart from Hogan, Flair also wanted a fight with Roddy Piper, who had previously accosted Heenan and spat on the belt. The following week, Flair was to make his in-ring debut, but chose to pick a fight with Piper, who was doing commentary with Savage and McMahon. Piper tried to ignore him, despite being slapped in the head, and was then waffled with the belt. During the melee, McMahon and Piper were laid out with a wooden chair. Flair would have his first match on the September 29 Wrestling Challenge, defeating Jim Powers.

The WWF pulled the plug on Sgt. Slaughter’s Iraqi sympathiser character after the loss at Summerslam, and the fact that the Gulf War had ended. The Sarge explained to Mean Gene and in a series of impassioned vignettes that he now saw the error of his ways. He had lost his friends and family, as well as his country. On Superstars, he came to the aid of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, who was at the mercy of The Nasty Boys. Duggan was initially angry and distrustful, but in the end, gave him a chance. Slaughter grasped the opportunity – and Old Glory – with both hands to form a tag team combination with Hacksaw over the next few months.

Just as passionate as Slaughter wanting his country back, was ‘The Macho Man’s’ campaign to be reinstated after the horrible actions of Jake Roberts and The Undertaker at his and Elizabeth’s wedding reception. With red tape as it is, this was drawn out, and it was unknown for the time being what decision Jack Tunney would make. On Superstars, Sid was set to go against a masked wrestler named ‘El Diablo.’ Before it began, The Undertaker and Paul Bearer came to the ring, where El Diablo was given a pay-off from Bearer to step aside. However, it was a ruse, and the masked man turned out to be Jake. Together, Jake and The Undertaker tied Sid’s arms in the ropes and brought out the cobra, only for Jim Duggan to make the save.

Anticipation was at a fever pitch, when Savage was coaxed into the ring on the October 21 Superstars by Jake, and – just like Sid – got his arms tied in the ropes. This time though, and in a highly graphic scene, Jake brought out his cobra. Nobody managed to save ‘The Macho Man,’ as the snake bit into his arm. Eventually help arrived and freed Savage, who was clearly affected by the venomous reptile.

On October 5th during the WWF’s European tour, Tito Santana scored a pinfall victory over The Undertaker in Barcelona, Spain. While there, Tito undertook training to be a matador, an El Matador to be precise. (The character debuted on the November 3 edition of Wrestling Challenge with a win over Tanaka). Fittingly, Andre the Giant finished up his time with the WWF on the October 9 show in Paris, standing in the corner of The British Bulldog for his match with Earthquake.

A brief feud was started on the November 2 edition of Superstars between Intercontinental champion Bret Hart, and fellow Canadian, The Mountie. Miffed at it being a non-title bout, The Mountie berated Bret on the microphone outside the ring. When Bret responded that he didn’t give title shots to jail birds, Jimmy Hart threw a bucket of water on ‘The Hitman’ and The Mountie shocked him several times with his cattle prod.

The strain between Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty began when Shawn injured his knee during a match with The Natural Disasters on the November 3 Wrestling Challenge. Marty was distracted by Jimmy Hart when the damage was done. As officials tried to help Shawn onto a stretcher, he lashed out at them.

Vignettes for the repackaged Barry Darsow were aired, as he transitioned from Demolition Smash to Repo Man. While still working as Smash, he wrestled as Repo Man in dark matches on the July 30 and August 20 tapings of Wrestling Challenge. Wearing a black, Lone Rangers-style mask and attire adorned in a tire tread pattern, the sneaky and despicable Repo Man worked in the late hours repossessing everything, from a kid’s bike to a car. His signature weapon was a tow rope, using trucker’s knots to tie up a defeated foe and pummel them after the bell.

Taped on November 11 but airing on the 24th, Survivor Series Showdown took place in Utica, New York. Five matches were shown on USA Network, which included Big Bossman getting a win over Earthquake by disqualification after interference from IRS. Jake Roberts and the rest of his team went for Bossman until LOD made the save. Ted Dibiase – with the help of Repo Man – reclaimed the Million Dollar Belt. Dibiase attempted to stuff a hundred dollar bill in his former bodyguard’s mouth, when El Matador saw him off.

Tombstoned: The Undertaker deals a deathly blow to The Hulkster

The remarkably rapid rise of The Undertaker saw him become – at the age of 26 – the youngest WWF champion in history, when he pinned Hulk Hogan at the Survivor Series. In ‘The Gravest Challenge,’ The Undertaker delivered a Tombstone onto a steel chair, provided by Ric Flair. The shock was palpable, as it appeared that this time, Hulkamania really was dead. While the finish was screwy, Hogan had been perplexed about how to keep The Undertaker down, and it was a dominant display by a man who had barely been in the company twelve months.

The end of the match would have serious ramifications in a couple of ways, kayfabe or otherwise. Due to the controversial finish, Jack Tunney adjudicated in a backstage interview with Mean Gene, that Hogan would get a rematch with Undertaker at the next available opportunity. This happened to be December 3, as the WWF experimented with doing a pay-per-view on a Tuesday night. Aptly named This Tuesday in Texas, the event took place in San Antonio.

Hogan complained that his neck had been injured from taking the Tombstone, which weighed heavily on The Undertaker; that is, until he saw the footage. Hogan’s head came nowhere near hitting the chair, and it’s universally agreed this was politicking on the part of Hogan. Not surprisingly, The Phenom was distrustful of Hulk from that point forward.

The opening Survivor Series matchup pitted Ric Flair, The Mountie, Ted Dibiase and The Warlord against Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, The British Bulldog and Virgil. Mr. Perfect had returned to become Flair’s so-called ‘Executive Consultant.’ Bobby Heenan technically did not return to managing, but instead was made Flair’s ‘adviser.’ Perfect had been drafted into the role, as Heenan could not keep up with ‘The Nature Boy’s’ antics on the road.

In a natural response, WCW had issued a lawsuit about Flair using their World title belt. To skirt around this, Tunney ordered that the image be digitally altered if he ever tried to show it on television. This was still not enough for WCW, and so at Survivor Series, Flair used one of the WWF Tag Team belts, but again WCW argued that it was the representation that mattered, and the judge agreed. Soon after, this aspect of Flair’s ‘real World’s champion’ character was wound up to avoid further legal trouble. The bout ended with several wrestlers getting disqualified all at once, leaving Flair the sole survivor.

Jim Neidhart’s return to the ring after the splitting of The Hart Foundation hit a speed bump when he faced Ric Flair and hurt his knee. As officials helped him to the back, The Beverly Brothers came out for their match, and seized the opportunity to beat up ‘The Anvil.’ Neidhart vowed revenge on The Beverly Brothers, but was unable to participate in Survivor Series, where he was to team with Hacksaw Jim Duggan, The Texas Tornado and El Matador. The solution to the problem was decided by team captain Duggan, when he drafted in Sgt. Slaughter. Another substitution – only it wasn’t planned – was swapping out ‘The Dragon’ for El Matador, after ‘The Dragon’s’ abrupt departure from the WWF.

On the other side, they faced Col. Mustafa, The Berserker, Skinner and Hercules. The latter was a late replacement also, filling in for Big Bully Busick, who was already out of the company. Despite two late subs, and for the second occasion in Survivor Series history, a clean sweep was performed by Hacksaw and company. Meanwhile, there were more issues for The Rockers, when a miscommunication by Marty caused Shawn’s elimination, and an argument ensued. This was another one-sided affair as The Nasty Boys and The Beverly Brothers were victorious over The Rockers and The Bushwhackers, with just Beau pinned on their side.

Many speculated that Tunney would reinstate Randy Savage to take Sid Justice’s spot and get revenge on Jake Roberts, when Sid had to withdraw with an elbow injury. But Tunney stated that for medical reasons, he could not in good faith allow Savage to compete, after the nasty snake bite incident on television. Despite this concern, he booked a match to make up for it between Savage and Roberts for December 3’s This Tuesday In Texas. LOD and Bossman defeated IRS and The Natural Disasters when LOD were the sole survivors.

In the December 3 rematch in San Antonio, there was another controversial ending to Hogan and The Undertaker, when Flair again got involved, despite Jack Tunney being at ringside. This time, Flair’s interference did not pay off, and it was The Undertaker’s head that hit the steel. Paul Bearer got up on the apron, but Hogan cut him off, and emptied the urn of its ashes. This he used to blind Undertaker, and with a quick roll-up, Hogan was now a four-time WWF champion.

In the other major selling point of the pay-per-view, Randy Savage got the victory, but he was left badly beaten and distressed as Jake got the last laugh. Savage suffered through three DDT’s after the bell, but the emotional pain was worse, as in a shocking act typical of Jake, he went so far as to slap Elizabeth.

While fans were used to seeing Sherri – who they knew was a wrestler – getting thrown around by men, it was unheard of for Elizabeth to be involved in a physical altercation. Jake may have been angered that his programme with Warrior got put off, but he was determined to make up for it with Randy Savage. The follow up promos between the two were a masterclass, with Savage crying over his inability to protect his new wife, and Jake disturbingly aroused by inflicting pain on a woman.

Bret Hart successfully defended his Intercontinental Title against Skinner, British Bulldog pinned The Warlord in their seemingly never-ending feud, and Ted Dibiase and Repo Man defeated El Matador and Virgil. These were the matches that aired on the broadcast, with a host of other bouts non-televised. One that does deserve mentioning is The Rockers against Legion of Doom. Once again, Michaels and Jannetty showed their frustrations with each other over the loss, and in a segment that was taped the next day but would not air until the new year, the team would fracture for good.

Tunney had been criticised for his drawn out decision whether or not to reinstate Randy Savage. But the most controversial handling of a situation by the WWF President was when he stripped Hulk Hogan of the WWF Title, and declared the championship vacant. In a huge cliffhanger going into 1992, the winner of the Royal Rumble on January 19 would also be crowned the undisputed champion. In a nod to the previous two titleholders – Hogan and The Undertaker – they were guaranteed a number between 20-30 in the Rumble.

Dr. George Zahorian poses with Vince and Hogan

In an investigation dating back to 1989, Pennsylvania physician Dr. George Zahorian III was sentenced on June 28, 1991 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, by US District Judge William W. Caldwell. He was found guilty on twelve of fourteen counts; eight of distributing steroids and four of illegally distributing prescription painkillers. He was fined $12,700 and had to serve three years jail. One of the four wrestlers – and a powerlifter – he had supplied steroids and controlled substances to was Terry Bollea (Hulk Hogan). Zahorian had an association with the McMahon family business since the 1970s.

Not only did this cause embarrassment and bad publicity for a company that provided family-friendly entertainment – along with a champion who told little kids to say their prayers and eat their vitamins – but it could have spelled doom for Vince McMahon. During Zahorian’s trial, it was revealed that he had supplied steroids to not only a few, but a host of WWF wrestlers, and had even sent them to Vince’s brand new office at Titan Towers. In the middle of 1994, Vince would have to answer to the charges of conspiring to distribute steroids, possession of illegal steroids with intent to distribute and embezzlement for allegedly using money from Titan Sports Inc. to purchase illegal steroids.

Hogan would make the situation worse, when he agreed to appear on The Arsenio Hall Show in July 1991. Hulk chose not to take the high road and come clean; instead, he fumbled his way through an explanation, at first denying and then admitting he took steroids on a few occasions just to treat injuries. The audience and general public did not buy it.

As put it: ‘You can actually hear Arsenio get progressively more dejected as he realized he wasn’t going to get a confession out of the Hulkster. He made one last salvo to give Hogan the chance to admit to his Hulkamaniacs that he had used steroids more than three times before looking down at his hands as if to say, “Oh, don’t mind me.”’

Appearing on Arsenio and lying to the public was, as Hogan would write in his autobiography, “the biggest mistake of his life.”

Inside Edition would do an expose, and interviewed former wrestlers David Shultz and Superstar Billy Graham, who scoffed at Hogan’s performance. It must be said of course, that both Shultz and certainly Graham had an axe to grind against McMahon and the WWF. The legendary Bruno Sammartino would also weigh in down the line, as the media backlash increased, and ultimately cause a schism between Hogan and Vince.

With business already down from the halcyon days of the 80’s, will the WWF recover from the steroid scandal? Or will other legal issues rock the boat? Will Hulk Hogan survive the following year? Or will (Sid) justice be served? Did Big Bully Busick get a raw deal? All that and more will be discussed in part three of our ongoing series The Rise, and Fall, and Rise of the WWF in the 90s.

Special thanks to the Wrestling With Paul YouTube channel which was a great help in constructing this article.