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90s WWF Main Events vs 00s WWE Main Events


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S.L.L.'s post in the other thread got me thinking, for WWE, what has been a better time period?

 

Obviously, because there's more wrestling on TV now, there have been far more good matches that people have seen this decade than last decade.

 

But would you say the peak stuff from the 2000s is better or worse than the peak Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels matches from the 90s?

 

Let's talk.

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S.L.L.'s post in the other thread got me thinking, for WWE, what has been a better time period?

 

Obviously, because there's more wrestling on TV now, there have been far more good matches that people have seen this decade than last decade.

 

But would you say the peak stuff from the 2000s is better or worse than the peak Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels matches from the 90s?

 

Let's talk.

Well, a big part of my argument would be the quality of the WWE's undercard and their free TV wrestling these days. '90s WWF's in-ring strong suit was it's main event matches, particularly when they featured those two guys above, as well as contributions later in the decade from Austin.

 

But 21st century main events also had some real good stuff from HHH in 2000, Austin in 2001, Lesnar in 2002, Eddie and that other guy in 2004, Mysterio in 2006, and Cena this year. The cast is a bit more scattershot, but the quality is definitely there.

 

21st century WWE big main events gave us....

 

Cactus Jack vs. Triple H (Rumble '00)

The Rock vs. Steve Austin (Mania X-7)

Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker (No Mercy '02)

Eddie Guerrero vs. John Bradshaw Layfield (Judgement Day '04)

Rey Mysterio vs. John Bradshaw Layfield (Judgement Day '06)

John Cena vs. Umaga (Rumble '07)

John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels (Mania 23 and London Raw)

John Cena vs. Randy Orton (SummerSlam '07)

 

....all of which would probably stand up well next to your better '90s WWF main events.

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1990's

 

Hart vs. Smith SS 92

Hart vs. Michaels SurSer 92

Hart vs. Hennig KotR 93

Michaels vs. Jannetty Raw 93

Hart vs. Hart WM10

Michaels vs. Ramon WM10 Given 5*

Hart vs. Hart SS 94 Given 5*

Kliq tag match from 94

Hart vs. Diesel RR 95

Michaels vs. Jarrett 7/95

Michaels vs. Ramon II SS95

Hart vs. Smith 12/95

O. Hart vs. Michaels Raw 2/96

Hart vs. Michaels WM12

Michaels vs. Diesel NHB 4/96

Michaels vs. Smith 6/96

Michaels vs. Mankind Mind Games

Hart vs. Austin SurSer96

Four Way WWF title match 2/97

O. Hart vs. Smith Euro title finals

Hart vs. Austin WM13 Given 5*

Michaels/Austin vs. Smith/O. Hart Raw 5/97

10 man tag 7/97

Michaels vs. Taker HiaC Given 5*

Love vs. Austin 5/98

Taker vs. Mankind HiaC

HHH vs. Rock SS98

Rock vs. Austin WM15

Hardys vs. E&C Ladder 99 Should have been given 5*

 

2000's

 

HHH vs. Jack RR00

Ten man tag Raw 2/00

HHH vs. Jack HiaC

Triple Ladder WM00

HHH vs. Jericho LMS

TLC I SS00

HHH vs. Benoit 10/00

Angle vs. Rock 10/00

6 man HiaC

Benoit vs. Jericho Ladder RR01 Should have been given 5*

HHH vs. Austin 2/3 falls

Rock vs. Angle 2/01

Angle vs. Benoit WM17

TLC II

Rock vs. Austin WM17

Austin/HHH vs. Jericho/Benoit 5/01

TLC III

Benoit vs. Austin 5/01

Benoit vs. Angle 6/01 Cage

Angle vs. Austin SS01

Jericho vs. Rock 10/01

Austin/Angle vs. Jericho/Rock 11/01

10 man tag 11/01

Jericho vs. Rock RR02

Angle vs. Edge 4/02

Angle vs. Edge Hair vs. Hair

RVD vs. Eddie Ladder

Angle vs. Edge Cage

Rock vs. Taker vs. Angle

Edge vs. Jericho Cage

Michaels vs. HHH SS02

Benoit vs. Angle 9/02

Edge vs. Eddie No DQ

Edge vs. Angle 10/02

TLC IV

Angle/Benoit vs. Jr/Edge Should have been given 5*

Eddie vs. Jr 11/02

Elimination Chamber I

Four way elimination 12/02

Angle vs. Benoit RR03 Should have been given 5*

Angle vs. Benoit 2/03

Michaels vs. Jericho WM19

Lesnar vs. Angle WM19

Angle vs. Lesnar SS03

RVD vs. Christian Ladder

Angle vs. Cena 10/03

10 man tag SurSer03 Michaels' team vs. Bischoff's

Lesnar vs. Benoit 12/03

Michaels vs. HHH 12/03

RR04

Benoit vs. Michaels 2/04

Three way WM20

8 man tag 4/04

Orton vs. Foley 4/04 FCA

Three way 4/04

Michaels vs. Benoit 5/04

Eddie vs. JBL 5/04

6 man tag 8/04

Elimination Chamber 1/05

MitB I

Michaels vs. Angle WM21

Angle vs. Eddie 4/05

Michaels vs. Benjamin 5/05

Tanaka vs. Awesome ONS05

Michaels vs. Angle 6/05

HHH vs. Batista HiaC

Benoit vs. Regal 7/05

M. Hardy vs. Edge Cage

Angle vs. Taker 2/06

Jr. vs. Angle 6/06

Benoit vs. Finlay 11/06

Four way tag Ladder 12/06

Cena vs. Umaga LMS RR07

MitB III

Cena vs. Michaels Raw 4/07

Four way 4/07

Hardy Boyz vs. WGTT Ladder

 

Whew. That's all I could find/remember.

 

The '90s has better quality, where the '00s has quanity.

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For comparative purposes, your better WWF big main events of the '90s:

 

Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior (Mania VI, and I don't care what anyone says, I still love this match)

Ric Flair vs. Randy Savage (Mania VIII)

Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog (maybe not a main event, strictly speaking, but close enough)

Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (Summerslam '94)

Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog (IYH December '95)

Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (Mania XII)

Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind (Mind Games)

The Undertaker vs. Bret Hart (Summerslam '97 and One Night Only)

Canadian Stampede 10-man

Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (Badd Blood)

Steve Austin vs. Dude Love (Over the Edge '98)

Steve Austin vs. The Undertaker (SummerSlam '98)

 

Even considering how many more PPVs WWE ran in the 2000's than in the 90's, the 90's still seemed to have the deeper library of great main event matches, though they are clustered a bit more densely in '96-'98. Similarly, 2000's has a cluster this year with all the great Cena matches, and I left off the matches with Khali and Lashley which I feel are good enough to include. If Cena comes back and continues to be great, it's possible we'll see a similar pattern in '07-'09, with Cena being a Bret/Michaels/Austin level performer.

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Okay, I meant to write this last night, but it was late, and even an obsessive maniac like me needs sleep.

 

Earlier, I said, "Well, a big part of my argument would be the quality of the WWE's undercard and their free TV wrestling these days." And if I were to argue 21st century WWE has been better than 90's WWF, that's probably where the heart of the argument would lie.

 

You compare the PPV main events of the 90's with those of this decade, the 90's seems to come out on top, though this decade isn't over and Cena could likely be a Bret/Michaels/Austin type performer who can deliver those matches regularly. But as it stands, I'd have to give the 90's the edge there.

 

The difference is what's going on below that.

 

Are we counting TV or PPV or Both? Either was I would say the 2000's. Back in the early 90's the champ would hardly wrestle on TV so you had main events that featured guys like Damien Demonto or Henry Godwin.

These tended to be filled with lesser performers, squash matches, short matches, Russo-riffic matches, or some combination of the above. Can't think of a situation in the 90's where you had a guy like Matt Hardy coming out every week this year and delivering great spotlight TV matches. Don't think it's an environment he would have excelled in, at least not as a singles wrestler. Conversely, if 90's WWF had the same environment it has had this decade, I imagine we might be looking at guys like Marty Jannetty, The Orient Express, the Matt Borne Doink, The 1-2-3 Kid, Furnas and Lafon, Flash Funk/Scorpio, and probably a host of others in a different light than we usually do. Not that we look down on those guys, but these are guys who didn't have the opportunities that Matt Hardy has today to deliver really high quality matches on a regular basis. And then, of course, there are the guys from that era who already get recognition as great workers who would have had the opportunity to expand their bodies of great matches even further. Maybe Yokozuna would've gotten his due as a great big man worker in his lifetime. Or maybe he would've just died of a heart attack even sooner. Who can be sure?

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I don’t want to get too much into theories of management here, but:

 

Years ago I was living across the street from the Howard University campus when Ted Turner came to speak to the business school. He gave an almost by the numbers entrepreneur speaks at minority business school speech with lots of “picking up own bootstraps” “grabbing your own oars” type metaphors (those may be just entrepreneur at all business school cliché’s and not just HBCU ones) but in among his clichés and homilies he built a long section around “never set goals in life, because then when you accomplish them you stop and stagnate”. This is kind of ridiculous bit of advice for those of us who don’t have a Midas touch but really was the guiding philosophy of modern era entrepreneur. Don’t set goals, surround yourself with competent people with strong work ethics and monetize one success to move onto the other. I think about that speech a lot when thinking about what I liked about Bischoff era WCW. Bischoff era WCW was all about almost indifferent Laissez faire leadership, surrounded by lots of guys with strong work ethics and lots of hours of wrestling. Nobody in management really cared about LWO v Rey feud, nobody in management really cared that much about the cruiserweights, about keeping track of wins/losses in Armstrong brothers/Villanos/Disorderly Conduct/Texas Hangmen series, etc And that was really the joy of late nineties WCW. “Hey awesome El Dandy is going 15 against Villano V in the main event of the Pro”, “ What the fuck? Konnan wants to embarrass Antonio Pena by having Villano IV work unmasked as Tony Pena against Regal, but Regal realizes that IV can go and so has a mat clinic with him instead of squashing him”, “ I thought Eaton was completely washed up but he’s having this fun match with some kid named Dinsmore on the Main Event”, “women’s cruiserweight tourney?”. Laissez faire management, large roster with guys with strong work ethics and lots of time to fill.

 

 

Vince Jr is not known for laissez faire management. He’s not a guy who operates like a modern entrepreneur (more like turn of the century entrepreneur) . He’s known as an absolute control freak. The WWF under him (and Patterson) in the 80s and nineties was a tightly controlled ship. The whole “WhiFF” complaint about the WWF style being built around guys controlling their own bumps and move execution not mattering is a style that allows for management control (almost perfect information model where you can tell exactly what work labor is performing). The complaints about guys having their movesets limited, the real standardized formulas, the nature of the finishes, the way the promotion would get mad and change the crowd noise when the wrong guy was getting over, the way at one point I could tell you based on card positioning exactly how many exchanges would take place in any match (as a novelty party skill, this was not a skill I’m particularly proud of)…all that is very controlled style. I don’t want to sound critical of that style as sometimes you get great things out of it. Normally I point to Canadian Stampede as the peak of WWF style wrestling. The way that it’s worked is a very WWF way to of organizing labor. Style that is very different from early 90s All Japan 6 Man, or a Wargames match or New Japan v UWF elimination match. But I think it holds up well next to those. (And really if you wanted to explain to someone the “philosophical” differences between the different feds those would probably be the matches I’d show).

 

I’d argue that the big difference between the 90s and the 00’s is that in 1999 Smackdown debuted ( I’d also be curious as to the exact time period when Patterson first left). And suddenly you had hours of WWF time to fill with stuff that management didn’t really care about.

 

I don’t think much changed in the way RAW worked from a wrestling standpoint. Rock v Austin at Mania, Rock v Jericho stuff, the two HHH v Cactus PPVs, the 01 heel Austin run, Batista v HHH HIAC, Cena v Umaga are all things that stand up well against the top of the line 90s era WWF and feel like they are part of the same page.

 

There is a lot of HHH stuff that I don’t care for that I don’t think you’d ever see in the nineties. The HHH matches that feel like instead of him working wrestling as a narrative story he’s trying to work wrestling as a speech (collection of talking points); the way in which Elimination Chamber matches have been worked and his signature 3-ways I don’t see happening in the nineties.

 

But the real 90s-00 change is the addition of the extra hours of “lesser” (in booking importance) TV. In the nineties at the point that Bischoff and Vince didn’t give a rat’s ass about tag wrestling, if you wanted to see US style tag wrestling you watched Thunder/WCWSN or Too Cool v Hardys on Shotgun. Too Cool v Hardys wasn’t going to be given anywhere near the time that an Armstrong brothers match would get on Thunder or the Main Event. Smackdown is two hours which is a lot longer than Shotgun. It also at one point was running separate PPVS. Things like Eddy v Big Show, Eddy v JBL, Eddie v Benoit from Iraq , MNM main event run, the June 2005 Rey v Eddie Smackdown match etc. just wouldn’t have happened in the nineties.

 

I’m not claiming that Smackdown is Thunder (maybe the worlds best Shotgun but that’s a different story).We’ve all seen Smackdown scripts. I’m not making the claim that Smackdown isn’t scripted and controlled. But in terms of choices for how time is allotted on a show, RAW is something that clearly the fed cares about more.

 

So at its best this decade WWE has had these shows that are (outside of the HHH self aggrandizement that fucks shit up) carefully put together the way WWF traditionally puts together a card and plays to the WWF/Es strengths…plus you have this additional show where WWE doesn’t really care that much about what happens if you give Tatanka and Sylvain Grenier 20 minutes. It’s that element of guys being given time because management doesn’t care that I think is the big new positive feature of the WWF in the 00s.

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