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The Rise, Near Fall, And Rise – The WWF in the 90s – 1992

The Rise, Near Fall, And Rise – The WWF in the 90s – 1992

1992 was a year of major transition in the WWF. Unlike the previous couple of years, when Vince McMahon struggled to take the ball completely from Hulk Hogan, he was given no choice when ‘The Hulkster’ left after Wrestlemania, apparently never to return. A past hero came back, but by the time the year was up, he and a number of wrestlers were swept out of the locker room. This opened up promising possibilities for a new breed of WWF superstar. As business domestically continued to slow, the company found their fortunes rising internationally. The trips overseas offered more than just financial relief, as at home, the media continued to hammer the WWF over the previous year’s steroids slip-up. Vince then had to fight a media war on two fronts, when fresh allegations of sexual harassment also emerged.

The year got off to a heck of a start though, when President Jack Tunney left the fans with a cliffhanger at the end of 1991. Tunney was displeased by the antics of Ric Flair, who interfered in two WWF Championship matches between Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker. He decreed that the WWF Title be declared vacant, and that the winner of the Royal Rumble in January would be crowned the undisputed champion.

The 1992 Royal Rumble featured an all-star cast, and is still regarded by many as the best Rumble match ever. Despite the immense talent on show, Bobby Heenan on commentary had no doubts in his mind who would emerge victorious. Ric Flair, the man who had caused all this controversy, was ‘The Brain’s’ choice. However, he was stunned when the buzzer went off and Flair emerged at number three.

But as the match wore on, Flair took on all-comers, and gained grudging respect. Monsoon exclaimed as it got near the end that ‘Naitch’ had made a “believer out of him.” Still, it was a stunning result when Flair eliminated Sid Justice to become the undisputed WWF champion. Since arriving, he had claimed to be the ‘real World’s champion;” now, he had the belt to prove it. In the lead-up, Sid eliminated Hogan, which actually produced cheers from sections of the crowd. Hogan was beside himself and tried to pull Sid to the outside, giving Flair the opportunity to capitalise.

Along with setting a new record for time spent in the Rumble, Flair became the second man – and the second Nature Boy – to have won both the NWA and WWF Titles. He didn’t have time to celebrate, as Hogan chased him from the ring. ‘The Hulkster’ was then confronted by an outraged Sid, which in turn brought out an army of officials to keep them apart. Once again, sections of the crowd cheered Sid, which had to be even more distressing to Hogan.

Backstage with Mean Gene, Heenan and Mr. Perfect, Flair called it “the greatest moment of my life,” and in a quote that would have made JCP/WCW fans cringe, put over the WWF championship as the only belt that signifies that you are number one.

One wrestler who didn’t make it to the Rumble was Marty Jannetty, injured at the hands of his long-time tag team partner, Shawn Michaels. The Rockers broke up during a segment of The Barber Shop (taped in December), the culmination of a frustrating past few months, particularly on the part of Michaels. After shaking hands and deciding to continue rocking and rolling, Shawn rocked Marty with a superkick, and then threw him head first through a plate-glass window. In a backstage interview at the Rumble with Sean Mooney, Michaels – now attired in his Heartbreak Kid gear – said he just saved Marty from twenty-nine other beatings.

Rick Martel returned to the WWF in time for the Rumble, after losing his blindfold match against Jake Roberts at Wrestlemania 7 the previous year. He wrestled in Japan and came back to the Federation on the January 13 edition of Prime Time Wrestling. He lost to the Texas Tornado by disqualification when he sprayed Arrogance in Kerry’s eyes.

Two days before the Rumble, Bret Hart dropped the Intercontinental Title to The Mountie at a house show in Springfield, Massachusetts. It was explained that ‘The Hitman’ had gone against doctor’s orders and defended the belt despite having a high fever. After the bell, The Mountie assaulted Bret with his newly won title belt until Roddy Piper arrived. After telling off The Mountie, Piper turned his back to tend to Bret and was also attacked with the belt. In a title reign of barely forty-eight hours, The Mountie lost to Piper at the Rumble in a short bout.

The Legion of Doom lost by count-out to The Natural Disasters, but got to keep their Tag Team titles. After the match backstage, Earthquake and Typhoon erupted, claiming they should be the new champions. The Beverly Brothers got by The Bushwhackers, but the Beverly’s manager – The Genius – still had a bad night, when he was humiliated by Jamison, who had become Luke and Butch’s mascot of late.

After being injured by Ric Flair and then attacked by The Beverly Brothers at the end of 1991, Jim Neidhart drafted in his brother-in-law, Owen Hart to be his new partner. Owen had left the company back in 1989, when he wrestled as the masked Blue Blazer. He took on a heavy international schedule, and even worked a few matches in WCW. The New Foundation – as the tandem were called – debuted on the December 1, 1991 episode of Wrestling Challenge, where they defeated The Executioners. In a superb opening bout at the Rumble, ‘The Rocket’ and ‘The Anvil’ defeated The Orient Express.

A strange and frightening newcomer in the form of Papa Shango arrived in January. A master of voodoo, Shango could cast spells and curses on his opponents. Charles Wright was a bartender who decided to give wrestling a shot. While working for the USWA, he became friends with the future Undertaker, who later put in a good word for Wright with the WWF. He worked some house show matches as the largely forgotten Sir Charles in the middle of 1991, before re-debuting as Papa Shango.

From the time Ric Flair stepped into the WWF, he made it known that he wanted Hulk Hogan. It appeared that the dream match that had been talked up in the magazines would finally take place between the two perennial World champions – WWF champion Hogan and NWA/WCW champion Flair. It was an obvious choice for Wrestlemania, but after they worked a series of house show matches at the end of 1991, the company changed gears.

Hogan was named the number one contender to Flair’s title at a press conference a week after the Rumble, to the immense displeasure of Sid. The two would settle their beef, and even teamed up against Flair and The Undertaker on what would be an eventful February 8 edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event. But Sid turned on Hulk and walked out on the match, and then embarked on a path of destruction under the tutelage of manager Dr. Harvey Wippleman. Sid destroyed The Barber Shop on the February 23 Wrestling Challenge, and later in the show, it was announced that Sid and Hogan would face off at Wrestlemania; Randy Savage would now get a shot at Ric Flair for the WWF Title.

Sid was positioned as a psycho killer, routinely injuring preliminary wrestlers with his devastating powerbomb. After each simple victory, Wippleman would declare last rites on his fallen opponents, before they were put on a stretcher. Sid then gave one final coup de grace by knocking them off the stretcher to the floor. One of the unfortunate opponents was future referee, Mickey Jay. After doing a number on Dale Wolfe, Virgil tried to make the save, but only succeeded in getting his nose broken. During interviews and promos, Hogan likened Sid to serial killers like Ted Bundy, noting the sadistic look that Sid had in his eyes.

The match took on greater meaning as it was strongly suggested that Hogan would retire after Wrestlemania. As noted in our previous articles, Hulk was getting pulled closer to movies and television. His relationship had become strained with Vince over the steroid scandal, where he was outed as a customer of the jailed Pennsylvania physician, Dr. George Zahorian. Perhaps seeing the way things were going, Hogan seemed to be serious about retiring from wrestling at this time. A special feature on ‘The Hulkster’ was hosted by McMahon and highlighted his two most famous WWF matches, with Andre at Wrestlemania 3 and Warrior at Wrestlemania 6, respectively.

Flair and his Executive Consultant Mr. Perfect wasted little time in playing mind games with ‘The Macho Man.’ Flair made the stunning claim that before Randy and Liz, it had been Ric and Liz. He provided photographs that were then printed in WWF Magazine to prove the relationship had been real, showing scenes like Flair and Liz at a swimming pool, and cuddled on a couch watching television. Savage and Elizabeth struggled to deal with the allegations, which greatly affected their home life. (Sadly, it echoed the real-life situation for Randy and Liz, who would divorce later in the year). Meanwhile, Flair also defended the WWF title against Intercontinental champion Piper, in a continuation of their rivalry from the previous year.

Also on this SNME episode, Jake Roberts lost to Randy Savage. On the next edition of Superstars, footage was shown of Jake behind the curtain after that match with a steel chair, to strike either Randy or Elizabeth, whomever came through first. As footage snapped back and forth, it appeared that Elizabeth would be the one to be struck. As Jake was ready to swing, he was surprisingly stopped by The Undertaker. Roddy Piper successfully defended his Intercontinental Title against The Mountie, and barring losing the title, had a date with ‘The Hitman’ at Wrestlemania.

‘The Native American’ Tatanka made his televised in-ring debut when he defeated Tanaka on the February 1 Superstars. Late the previous year, vignettes had aired pending his arrival, and he had worked some untelevised try-out matches. This first ‘official’ win would be the start of an impressive two year undefeated streak.

Vignettes aired of Ted Dibiase and Sherri taunting El Matador, obviously to set up a new rivalry, but things changed on a dime on that front too. Sherri quietly left Dibiase and aligned with Shawn Michaels as his valet and apparent girlfriend, and even sang Michaels’ new ‘Boy Toy’ entrance theme. Meanwhile, ‘The Million Dollar Man’ formed Money Inc. with IRS, and took on Jimmy Hart as their manager.

This new pairing paid off immediately when they defeated the Legion of Doom for the Tag Team titles on February 7. This caused a falling out between Hart and The Natural Disasters, when he used their rematch clause for Money Inc instead. The change really occurred due to Hawk failing a drug test, and LOD didn’t return until Wrestlemania.

It was a different story for another new team in the WWF, The New Foundation. It lasted until just February 16, when Neidhart was fired for refusing a drug test and throwing a television monitor. After a short singles run, Owen was put with Koko B. Ware (High Energy) after Wrestlemania.

The Undertaker officially became a fan favourite during a segment of the Funeral Parlour on the February 29 episode of Superstars. After Paul Bearer outlined the two men’s history, Jake Roberts angrily called on The Undertaker to find out who’s side he was on. After taking the urn, Undertaker gravely responded, “not yours.” Jake took the urn and threw it in an open coffin, and when Undertaker tried to retrieve it, he slammed the lid of the coffin on his hand, immobilizing The Undertaker. Jake DDTed Bearer and waylaid Taker with a chair, but still, it wasn’t enough and he continued to stalk “The Snake,” dragging the coffin with him. Finally, in frustration, Jake took off as officials arrived on the scene.

Tom Cole speaks to a ravenous media over the ring boy scandal

The WWF was rocked on February 26 by a New York Post article penned by Phil Mushnick, which outlined allegations of sexual harassment by Tom Cole, who as a teenager worked on the ring crew for WWF events in the North-East. “According to several highly placed sources,” Mushnick wrote, “a lawsuit will be filed soon alleging that male WWF administrative employees and executives sexually harassed and abused underage teenage boys who were engaged as ring assistants in the mid-and late-1980s.” Mushnick had first heard of the situation from Tom’s older brother Lee in October 1991.

Cole had been brought on board to do ring crew for the WWF by ring announcer, Mel Phillips. Phillips was alleged to have acted inappropriately towards Cole and other young members of the crew. When he turned sixteen, Cole said he was solicited for sex by Terry Garvin, including during a road trip from New York to Massachusetts in 1988. There was also claims that Pat Patterson made suggestive remarks and gestures, such as “licking his lips” around him.

In response to the Post story, the WWF issued a statement saying it did not “tolerate illegal or improper behavior by any of our employees at any time” and that it would “take responsible action regarding any legitimate claims filed through lawful channels.” On March 2, Garvin, Phillips and Patterson tendered their resignations. Dave Meltzer claimed that Vince contacted him, and that while Vince said that Patterson was innocent, he did not refute the allegations towards Garvin and Phillips.

McMahon attempted to defend the company on popular talk shows such as The Phil Donoghue Show and Larry King Live. On these panels, Vince was an island unto himself, surrounded by sharks, who claimed they had heard stories of sexual harassment behind-the-scenes, to go along with the still simmering drug issue. Those critics included former World champions Bruno Sammartino and Superstar Billy Graham.

Also chiming in was Murray Hodgson, who worked briefly as an announcer for the World Bodybuilding Federation. He filed a wrongful termination suit, saying he was fired for not having sex with Patterson. Randall Orton – better known as Barry O – said he believed Cole’s allegations against Garvin, and related a similar road trip solicitation in 1978 when he was nineteen, traveling to the next town with Garvin.

If all that wasn’t enough, Geraldo Rivera spoke with former WWF referee Rita Chatterton, who had accused Vince of raping her in 1986. McMahon denied the charge and sued her and Rivera and his production company, but this was pushed aside as the steroid trial took precedence. (A settlement was made in 1994).

Tom Cole met with Vince and Linda McMahon, and their lawyer Jerry McDevitt at the Jacob D. Fuchsberg law firm, which represented Cole. Lee Cole was told to remain in his hotel room, and was flummoxed by the result, which saw Tom accept a settlement of $55,000 in back pay and a job back on the ring crew. Lee thought the plan was for a settlement of no less than $750,000 or they continue proceedings. Instead, Lee believed Vince charmed his brother into taking a lesser deal. Astonishingly, Tom said that for periods of time, he was left alone in the room without his legal representation.

After the smoke cleared, Patterson returned to the fold. Sadly, in 2021, Tom Cole took his own life. On social media, Lee and his family put the blame squarely on the shoulders of Vince and Linda McMahon for having swept the matter under the canvas.

Source: Rollingstone.com “Abuse, Grooming, Drugs, and Sexual Coercion’: The Scandal Wrestling Buried”

Wrestlemania 8 on April 2 in the Hoosier Dome was a transitional point in the history of the WWF. Several top stars would depart right after ‘Mania, or not-long-thereafter. Randy Savage made the most of his opportunity when he pinned his hated rival Ric Flair to once again become WWF champion. Post-match, Flair and Perfect continued to work over Savage’s already injured knee. Elizabeth arrived halfway through to stand by her man, but sadly, not for much longer. She finished up during the WWF’s European tour on April 19 in Sheffield, England, where she accompanied Randy for his match with Shawn Michaels. (The two would divorce later in the year).

Hulk Hogan won his ‘final’ match, albeit by disqualification to Sid Justice. Sid was the first man to kick out of the leg drop, as Papa Shango missed his cue to break up the pin. Thinking quickly, Harvey Wippleman jumped on the apron to get the match thrown out. Sid and Shango beat on Hogan when the familiar beats of the past echoed around the arena. Despite leaving on bad terms after Summerslam the previous year, The Ultimate Warrior was back, and helped Hulk clear the ring.

The dust had hardly settled on Wrestlemania when Justice was also gone from the company. In the lead up to Wrestlemania, Sid had failed a drug test, but since he was in the main event, was allowed to have the match and serve his suspension at a later date. He was part of the company’s European tour, and returned to the United States to feud with Warrior. Sid quit after just two house show matches with the Warrior, the second of which occurred on April 26. He returned to WCW and Shango took his place feuding with Warrior.

Roddy Piper passed the torch when he dropped the Intercontinental Title to Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart in unquestionably the match of the night. A bout of twists and turns, the referee was knocked out and Piper went to use the bell on an already bloodied Hitman. In the end he chose to throw away the bell and clamped on a sleeper, only for Bret to counter into a pin-fall. Just like Hogan, Piper took an immediate sabbatical after ‘Mania.

In a recurring theme, this was also the last appearance (at least for now) of Jake Roberts. Jake had asked for a release or he would not appear on Wrestlemania to face The Undertaker. Roberts was upset over McMahon apparently having reneged on a promise to put him on the booking team. Jake hit two DDT’s and then went after Paul Bearer. The Undertaker recovered and Tombstoned Jake on the floor and rolled him in for the pin. Jake signed a big money deal with WCW under the authority of K. Allen Frye, only to have the rug pulled out from under him a short time later by new booker Bill Watts. Roberts was forced to leave and was blacklisted from the major American wrestling scene for several years.

In a change of pace, Hawk and Animal returned after losing their Tag Team titles back in February. They did a live interview with Mean Gene Okerlund, where they explained that there had been a missing piece of the puzzle. Hawk would say they were a runaway train without a conductor to guide them. Enter Paul Ellering, who had been their manager since early in their career. Unfortunately, in a decision that would derail the LOD, a vignette aired soon after, where they recovered their ‘childhood toy’ Rocco. This would cause serious ramifications for the already legendary tag team in the near future.

Tatanka’s first test since arriving in the WWF came in the form of Rick Martel. The two had an altercation after Martel had finished his match, and Tatanka was on his way to the ring. A month later, Martel blinded him with Arrogance and stole his sacred eagle feathers. The Native American defeated The Model, but their rivalry was not yet over.

The Natural Disasters did a number on Tag Team champions Money Inc., but didn’t gain the gold when Dibiase and IRS chose to take a count-out loss. Owen Hart went over Skinner, and in an eight-man tag, Virgil, Big Bossman, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Sgt. Slaughter defeated The Nasty Boys, The Mountie and Repo Man when Virgil pinned Knobbs. Due to time constraints, a planned bout between The British Bulldog and The Berserker did not take place.

In a year that would see the WWF clear out a number of wrestlers for drug violations, Vince also made the smart move to close down his World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF).

McMahon had hired bodybuilder Tom Platz to oversee a new magazine (Bodybuilding Lifestyles), and also invested in a new supplement called ICOPRO. The rumours were that he would take the next step and start his own bodybuilding federation, but Vince always shot these rumours down.

At the International Federation of Body Builder’s Mr. Olympia event on September 15, 1990, McMahon and Platz waited until the closing ceremony. They had rented a booth to promote the magazine and ICOPRO, but then cheekily ambushed the IFBB with the announcement of their rival league. The IFBB scoffed and said they could have shut down their microphones at any time, but wanted to let them have their fun. Regardless, they firmly stated that anyone who defected and signed with Titan Sports would be blacklisted.

Despite the threat, McMahon could announce at a press conference on January 30, 1991 in New York, that they had a roster of thirteen so-called ‘BodyStars,’ some of whom had defected from the IFBB. That number included South African Gary Strydom, who was reportedly set to receive $400,000 a year. He also stated that the first WBF Championship would air on pay-per-view on June 15 in Atlantic City. Long-time television partner USA Network provided a timeslot for WBF Bodystars, which debuted on April 4. (Strydom took out the first WBF Championship).

In the wake of media pressure over steroids and the ring boy scandal, McMahon announced in March 1992 that stringent drug testing would take place in the WBF. This rattled the competitors, and they appeared noticeably smaller for the second WBF Championship on June 13, 1992 in Long Island. The IFBB had a drug testing policy, but then abandoned it, which ironically worked in their favour.

Lou Ferrigno of ‘The Incredible Hulk’ fame was signed to be a part of the WBF event in June, but quit shortly after the drug testing announcement, claiming he had carpal tunnel syndrome (he would later compete at the next Mr. Olympia). Lex Luger had also been scheduled to appear. He had signed with the WBF from WCW and became the co-host of WBF BodyStars. He was interviewed at Wrestlemania VIII to promote the WBF, but then a motorcycle accident put him on the shelf.

Strydom successfully defended his crown, but there would not be a third Championship. The pay-per-view drew just three thousand buys. On July 15, McMahon contacted the IFBB to inform them that the WBF was closing. The IFBB agreed to reinstate former members who had signed with Titan, only after each man paid a $25,000 fine.

Over the next few years, the WWF would continue to advertise ICOPRO during their telecasts, featuring endorsements from stars like Bret Hart, Lex Luger and Tatanka, among others.

The Berserker lived up to his name when he went after The Undertaker on the April 25 edition of Superstars. Before the bell, Mr. Fuji took the urn and when Paul Bearer was distracted, he was clocked by The Berserker with his shield. He then took down The Undertaker with the shield and narrowly missed driving his sword through Taker’s chest. The beating ended when he gave him a piledriver on the exposed concrete. Bearer regained control of the urn and managed to get The Undertaker to sit up to the amazement of Fuji and Berserker.

On the May 2 edition of Superstars, High Energy (Owen Hart and Koko B. Ware) debuted, and defeated Duane Gill and Tom Bennett when Owen pinned Gill. The following day on Wrestling Challenge, Repo Man injured The British Bulldog, going so far as to hang Bulldog with the use of his tow rope. The two had a brief feud that consisted mostly of house show matches, with Bulldog coming out on top.

The Mountie introduced his new, supercharged shock stick as Sgt. Slaughter battled Ric Flair on the May 9 Superstars. As the referee was distracted, The Mountie electrocuted Slaughter, and he was taken out on a stretcher. The two would have a series of house show matches until August. Also on that May 9 Superstars, a repackaged Crush had his first match back, defeating Kato. Crush now wore colourful ring attire and was a fan favourite. Vignettes portraying Crush as a young boy revealed a love of ‘crushing’ things, and played up his Hawaiian heritage. His prior run with Ax and Smash was never acknowledged.

Kamala made his WWF return on May 9, under the tutelage of Harvey Wippleman, and Kim Chee (usually played by Steve Lombardi). The Ugandan Giant had last been seen in the company back in 1988, where after he worked in World Class, and Japan, as well as the USWA, where he reprised his feud with Jerry Lawler.

With Sid now gone from the company, Warrior transitioned to working against Papa Shango. As Warrior wrestled Brian Knobbs on Superstars (May 16), Shango placed a curse on the Warrior, which caused him to double over in agony. The Warrior was taken backstage, where he vomited repeatedly on medical staff. Shortly after, during an interview with Mean Gene, a green liquid poured down Warrior’s face. This was another short feud, as he would go on to challenge Randy Savage for the WWF Title.

Kerry Von Erich had his final televised WWF match on the July 26 episode of Prime Time Wrestling, losing to Shawn Michaels. On February 8, Kerry had been charged with two counts of prescription fraud. He appeared in the January Royal Rumble, which would be his last WWF pay-per-view. Kerry had come into the WWF like a whirlwind the previous year, and in short time, defeated Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Title. However, he saw a sharp decline in 1992. Originally scheduled to face Papa Shango at Summerslam, Kerry was let go in August.

After several ominous warnings, The Big Bossman faced his past when he was attacked by former convict, Nailz. Vignettes had aired about an inmate who was allegedly abused by Bossman when he worked as a prison guard. After defeating Dave Roulette on the May 30 Superstars, Bossman was struck by Nailz with his own nightstick and repeatedly battered while handcuffed. After a prolonged and violent beating, referees and officials finally came to Bossman’s aid. Bossman took time off to recover and challenge Nailz at a later time. In October, Nailz also injured Sgt. Slaughter, which resulted in the Sarge retiring and becoming a backstage official.

In an historic occasion which was barely acknowledged for a long time, the first WWF ladder match took place on July 21, 1992 in Portland, Maine. Bret Hart successfully defended the Intercontinental Title against Shawn Michaels, but it was never aired on television. Instead, it was featured on a 1993 Coliseum Video release called Smack ‘Em and Whack ‘Em.

The idea for a ladder match in the WWF came from Bret Hart, who himself participated in a ladder match with Dynamite Kid in 1981 and Bad News Allan in 1983 for his father’s Stampede Wrestling. According to ‘The Hitman,’ a return ladder match between himself and Shawn for the Intercontinental Title was planned for Summerslam, but was scrapped. The match can now be found on two WWE DVD releases. (The Ladder Match and WWE’s Greatest Rivalries: Bret Hart versus Shawn Michaels)

With the upcoming Summerslam being held at London’s Wembley Stadium, a double main event was made. For US pay-per-viewers, it was WWF champion Randy Savage defending against The Ultimate Warrior. Spice was added due to the antics of Perfect and Flair, when Perfect claimed that he had made a deal – either with Savage or the Warrior – to manage them at Summerslam. This caused tension between the two fan favourites, and escalated during a tag team match prior to the pay-per-view.

Outside of the United States, the main event was England’s Davey Boy Smith challenging his brother-in-law Bret Hart for the Intercontinental Title. For the first time, other Hart family members were drawn into the storyline, giving their raw and emotional thoughts about the upcoming bout. Bret’s mother and father (Stu and Helen) were interviewed in Calgary, with Helen breaking down over how this had torn the family apart. Also interviewed was Diana Hart-Smith (the sister of Bret and wife of Davey Boy), and Bruce and Owen Hart.

Sensational Sherri seemed only to have eyes for Shawn Michaels since she began managing him in February. But an interesting situation occurred when Rick Martel sauntered to the ring as Shawn was wrestling on a August 9 television taping. The Model winked at Sherri, which initially shocked her, only for her face to break out into a smile. Similarly, on the Summerslam Spectacular (August 23), Sherri returned the favour by winking at Martel during his match. With both men fond of their good looks, and Sherri liking both men, she made the stipulation for Summerslam that in their match, neither man would hit each other in the face.

Just as happened with The Natural Disasters, Jimmy Hart began to have issues with The Nasty Boys. As before, there appeared to be favouritism towards his new team, Money Inc. However, Hart appeased The Nasties by signing them a match against Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior at the Summerslam Spectacular. Knobbs and Saggs won via count-out due to interference from Flair and Perfect, which to them meant they should get a Tag Team title shot in the near future.

On June 26, 1992, the wrestling world lost a true legend in the form of Herman Rohde, better known as the original ‘Nature Boy,’ Buddy Rogers. He was 71. Starting his career back in 1939, he developed his arrogant persona over time and became a star of the early television era. Numerous wrestlers would go on to imitate his brash demeanour, including of course, Ric Flair.

Vince McMahon Sr became his booking agent and lobbied for Rogers to become NWA World champion, and on June 30, 1961, he defeated Pat O’ Conner for the title. But with McMahon dominating his dates, other NWA members grew restless and wanted a change. A vote was taken, and Rogers dropped the belt to Lou Thesz in a one fall match on January 24, 1963. Vince Sr withdrew from the NWA and renamed Capitol Wrestling to the World Wide Wrestling Federation. They also recognised Rogers as their first WWWF champion on April 11, but shortly dropped the belt to Bruno Sammartino in just 48 seconds due to a heart condition.

Thesz, who was not a big admirer of Rogers personally, still provided this analysis of him in his book, Hooker:

Rogers is remembered by fans and performers alike as one of the top all-time stars in the business, but it’s probably not common knowledge just how influential he was… He had that indefinable something fans responded to, and he was sharp enough to build upon what he had, paying attention to what got a reaction from the fans. What evolved over several years was the “Nature Boy”, the prototype of the cocky, strutting, sneering, arrogant peroxide blond villain that is almost a tired wrestling cliché today. Rogers invented the character, and I believe he did it better than anyone.

Off the back of a sustained and successful overseas campaign, a crowd of over eighty thousand turned out at London’s Wembley Stadium for Summerslam on August 29. (Other reports suggest a figure of 79,827, which is still – at time of writing – the fourth largest crowd in company history). Not only did fans come to see their countryman Davey Boy Smith win his first WWF singles title, but Bret Hart had also enjoyed considerable popularity internationally, to go with his burgeoning push back in the States.

The match more than lived up to the occasion. In a technical classic, Davey caught Bret out of nowhere and pinned him to become the new Intercontinental champion. The quality of the bout was even more impressive given that Davey came into the match having forgotten everything that was planned, due to having a late-night session the night before with Jim Neidhart. At various times, the camera caught the reactions of Diana Hart-Smith, the sister of Bret and wife of Davey. All three embraced in the ring to a raucous reception.

In the other main event, Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior had their problems with Ric Flair and Mr. Perfect. Neither man was accompanied by Perfect at the start of the match, and it was only halfway through that they materialised. Savage was tripped by Perfect, and it seemed that it had been Warrior that had sold out. However, when the official was knocked to the outside and Randy went out to check on him, Flair and Perfect saw the opportunity to attack the Warrior.

Savage went up top for the second flying elbow of the night, but instead chose to try and dive-bomb Flair on the outside. Unfortunately for Savage, Flair hit him on the way down with a chair. After the referee counted out the champion, Flair and Perfect went on the attack until Warrior made the save. The two then left together, with Warrior helping a hobbling Savage to the back.

Kamala and his handlers made a grave error, when they woke up ‘the deadman’ at Summerslam. After just a few minutes, Undertaker looked to hoist Kamala up into the Tombstone, only for Kim Chee to interfere. Kamala put down The Undertaker and hit three splashes, the final one from the top rope. Kamala, Kim Chee and Dr. Harvey Wippleman left, believing they had succeeded in killing off The Undertaker, only for him to rise up to the disbelief of Kamala. The Undertaker and Paul Bearer then stalked all three to the back.

The Legion of Doom got a memorable reception as they came to the ring riding Harley Davidson’s for their match with Money Inc. Despite Hawk being noticeably under the weather, LOD got the victory. Hawk then missed his flight back to the United States, and later called Vince McMahon to tell him that he had quit. Animal remained to finish up the team’s commitments, sometimes teaming with Crush, before he too left the company due to a back injury.

In other bouts, The Natural Disasters successfully defended the Tag Team titles with a win over The Beverly Brothers, Papa Shango pinned El Matador, Shawn Michaels and Rick Martel went to a double count-out, Nailz beat Virgil, Crush defeated Repo Man, Tatanka defeated The Berserker, and The Bushwhackers and Jim Duggan defeated The Nasty Boys and The Mountie.

The loss at Summerslam didn’t diminish Money Inc. for too long, as they recaptured the Tag Team titles from The Natural Disasters on the November 1 edition of Wrestling Challenge. The Nasty Boys arrived before the match to protest over why Money Inc. was getting the title shot instead of them. Dibiase and IRS tried to buy off Knobbs and Saggs, but to no avail. The Nasties did a number on Money Inc., and IRS appeared to injure his knee when he was thrown to the outside.

After the damage was done, The Natural Disasters rumbled down to the ring for what seemed like a straight forward title defense. Dibiase and IRS hung in there, but it looked all over when Earthquake hit a powerslam on Dibiase. At this, The Headshrinkers made their way to the ring, causing a distraction. Behind the referee’s back, Earthquake was whipped into the turnbuckles so hard, it caused him to go over the top rope, where he crashed head first into the guardrail. After repeatedly wearing him down with sleeper holds, Dibiase slapped on the Million Dollar Dream to recapture the gold.

Jimmy Hart went to the commentary area to celebrate with Bobby Heenan, when The Nasty Boys appeared again and confronted Hart. After giving him a ‘pit stop,’ they pressed ‘The Mouth of the South’ over their heads and threw him onto Dibiase and IRS.

CANCELLED

CANCELLED!

Just as The Wild Samoans (Afa and Sika) had been a force in the WWWF in the 1980s, so The Headshrinkers promised to do the same in the 1990s. Samu Anoa’i (the son of Afa) and Solofa Fatu (Afa and Sika’s nephew) signed with the company at the end of 1992, along with Rodney Anoa’i (another nephew of Afa and Sika). Originally known as Kokina – a name he used prior to the WWF – Rodney would quickly be repackaged as Yokozuna – an idea credited to Sgt. Slaughter – and given Mr. Fuji as his manager. Samu and Fatu had ample experience, having worked together for Jim Crockett Promotions, WCCW and International Wrestling in Montreal, as well as WCW. Rodney was younger, but already had worked in Japan and Mexico, and in the dying days of the AWA.

Randy Savage’s title reign lasted only a short time, when he dropped the WWF Championship back to Ric Flair on the September 14 (taped September 1) edition of Prime Time Wrestling. The odds were against Savage, as he had to contend not only with Flair and Perfect, but also Razor Ramon, who interfered halfway through the bout. With an already injured knee, Savage still refused to give up while in the figure-four leglock, but eventually passed out and the referee called for the bell.

Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) was signed from WCW, where he was managed by DDP and named The Diamond Studd. He was mostly used as a lower-card wrestler, but with his new Tony Montana-inspired gimmick, was immediately pushed in the WWF. He was thrust into the main event picture of the Survivor Series, when Savage and Warrior formed a tag team (The Ultimate Maniacs), and challenged Flair and Ramon at the Thanksgiving pay-per-view.

Flair barely had time to enjoy this victory when he unexpectedly dropped the WWF title to Bret Hart. Despite the momentous occasion, it occurred on a house show in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on October 12; the match was later featured on Coliseum Video. The location did have significance, in that it was where Bret made his debut back in 1978 for his father’s Stampede Wrestling promotion. ‘The Hitman’ was hyped from the start as a ‘fighting champion,’ willing to take on all comers. Commentators on both sides of the fence questioned if Hart was pushing himself too hard, as in short time, he would successfully defend against some of the biggest and toughest in the Federation, such as Papa Shango and The Berserker. At the Survivor Series, Bret would face Shawn Michaels, who would soon become a champion himself.

Another one of Bret’s opponents he dispatched was The Mountie. Their bout on October 26 lasted just seventy-five seconds, and led to The Mountie (Jacques Rougeau) quitting the Federation. Ironically, his brother Raymond returned to the company that same month as an announcer, replacing Eduard Carpentier on the WWF’s French-speaking broadcasts. He also conducted interviews on the weekly English telecasts, in similar style to Mean Gene Okerlund. Raymond had retired from in-ring competition and left the company after the 1990 Royal Rumble.

Also returning to the WWF in October was ‘The Beast from the East,’ Bam Bam Bigelow. Bigelow had appeared in the WWF back in 1987, and was given an immediate push to the top. However, by July 1988, he was gone due to a series of injuries. He also got on the wrong side of some members of the locker room, most notably Andre the Giant. Bam Bam got some quality wins on television leading into 1993, including pinning El Matador on Prime Time Wrestling.

The dynamic of Survivor Series was changed when the Warrior was fired (along with Davey Boy Smith). There have been some different reasons given, most popularly that they simply failed drug tests. Bret Hart also claimed years later that he got a phone call from McMahon to tip him off that he had to fire his brother-in-law (Davey) and the Warrior because their steroid dealer in England had been arrested. Needless to say, McMahon was given little choice but to let them go pending another media scandal.

Surprisingly, Savage announced that he wanted Flair’s Executive Consultant, Mr. Perfect, to be his new tag team partner. This bombshell was dropped on the November 16 edition of Prime Time Wrestling, with Perfect and Heenan – along with McMahon, Jim Duggan and Hillbilly Jim – on the panel. Initially, Perfect scoffed and Heenan laughed at the very notion, but as the programme went on, and more words were exchanged, Mr. Perfect seemed to be considering it.

Perfect was stung by the idea that he was now just a ‘former’ great, and simply walking in the shadow of Ric Flair. When he said that he would seriously consider the offer, Heenan cajoled him, and even went so far as to slap Perfect. In response, Perfect held Heenan by his tie and poured water over his head as he confirmed that he would team up with Savage at Survivor Series. It would be his first match since dropping the Intercontinental Title to Bret Hart at the previous year’s Summerslam, after which he retired due to a back injury.

The rise of Shawn Michaels since breaking up The Rockers culminated in him beating Davey Boy for the Intercontinental Title on the November 14 Saturday Night’s Main Event. Despite the win, only Bret Hart’s WWF title would be up for grabs at Survivor Series. This would be the final episode of SNME, which had taken a big hit when NBC dropped the progamme in the middle of 1991, citing poor ratings. The final two shows were aired on FOX. Also on this show, The Ultimate Maniacs defeated Money Inc. by count-out, and Bret Hart submitted Papa Shango. (Saturday Night’s Main Event would make a return in 2006).

The Survivor Series main event was a glimpse of the future (albeit with some speed bumps along the way). In a highly technical bout that went for twenty-six minutes, Bret finally warded off the plucky Intercontinental champion by submitting him with the Sharpshooter. Conspicuous by her absence at Shawn’s side was Sensational Sherri, still missing in action after the accidental altercation with Marty Jannetty. Marty finally made his way back to seek revenge on his former partner and tried to smash him with his own mirror, but Shawn had cowardly pulled Sherri in front of him.

Despite some tension between Perfect and Savage – at one point Perfect appeared to be walking out of the match – they worked through it and came close to beating Flair and Ramon more definitively with the Perfect-plex, but the referee had been knocked out. A second official arrived, and could do no better at controlling the action, and in the end, Flair and Ramon were disqualified.

The Undertaker put Kamala to rest in the first ever ‘coffin match,’ after hitting Kamala with the urn. The Big Bossman also got some revenge on Nailz, when he defeated him in the ‘nightstick’ match, both bouts concluding in just over five minutes.

In other matches, The Headshrinkers defeated High Energy, Yokozuna squashed Virgil, Tatanka pinned Rick Martel, and in the only Survivor Series-style bout on the card, The Natural Disasters and The Nasty Boys defeated Money Inc. and The Beverly Brothers, when the Nasty Boys survived.

Legendary WWWF champion Bob Backlund made an unexpected return to the fold after a eight year hiatus. Backlund had been a star for Vince McMahon Snr as his chosen champion, before Vince Jnr took over and went in a different direction. Disillusioned by this new concept, Backlund left in the middle of 1984. After wrestling on Pro Wrestling USA cards, Backlund left wrestling in 1985 before reappearing in Japan for UWF-i in 1988-89, and in 1991 for Herb Abrams’ UWF in the United States.

Bret Hart was surrounded by wolves as he attempted to do an interview with Mean Gene on Superstars. After saying he wants to be the greatest WWF champion of all time, he was first confronted by Bobby Heenan, who lobbied for Ric Flair to get another shot at the belt. Then Ric Flair got in ‘The Hitman’s’ face, followed by Razor Ramon, who already had a match lined up with Bret for the upcoming Royal Rumble. Flair and Ramon attacked Bret until Mr. Perfect evened up the odds.

The Steiner Brothers made their way to the Federation, when they signed in December after an issue over their pay at WCW. They would be lined up against The Beverly Brothers at the Royal Rumble. Meanwhile, a serious incident took place at a December 14 event in Green Bay, Wisconsin between Nailz and Vince McMahon. A loud argument ensued when Nailz went to speak to McMahon, apparently over his pay from Summerslam. It ended with Nailz shrieking and overturning furniture to get to McMahon, clasping his hands around his throat wrestlers and other employees burst into the office. Nailz called police, alleging that McMahon had ‘grabbed his balls.’

For a while, Heenan and Mr. Perfect had been on the heel side of the panel on Prime Time. Due to the falling out, ‘The Brain’ introduced a new panelist – Jerry “The King” Lawler. Lawler also served as a colour commentator on Superstars, while still wrestling for his Memphis-based promotion, the USWA. At one time, Lawler was an opponent of McMahon and his national expansion, when he co-owned Continental Wrestling with Jerry Jarrett. He had even attempted to sue the WWF for their use of ‘The King’ moniker for Harley Race in the mid-1980s. Starting with the upcoming Royal Rumble, Lawler would combine his time between wrestling and broadcasting in the WWF, and making trips back-and-forth to Memphis for the USWA.

Will the “Hitman Era” usher in a whole new future for the WWF? Can this more athletic style of wrestling really cut the mustard moving forward? Is it really the last time we will see Hulk Hogan in the ring? Did Vince really grab Nailz’s balls? Find out the answers to all these questions – except about Nailz’s balls – when we return with part four of the The Rise, 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.