Every pro wrestling fan looks back on the era they grew up with with a lot of fondness and a bit of cringe. The WWF New Generation era is no exception as both perspectives co-exist. The cringe is certainly conjured up when recalling the plethora of ridiculous gimmicks that were heaped upon some of the greatest in-ring performers of that generation. Still, there are always diamonds in the proverbial rough, and The New Generation had its share of glimmering gems. Grab your fanny pack and venture back to the 90s when occupational gimmicks ruled, Michael Hayes traded in Bad Street and The Freebirds for Dok Hendrix and the Raw band, and the WWF was running on Diesel power.
The WWF New Generation: Part One
Team Bret or Team Lex?
It’s been said that you can’t capture lightning twice. Hulkamania was an entity all its own and embodied what a pop icon of the 1980s was all about. But, all good things must come to an end. Upon Hogan’s eventual exit from the WWF by putting over the mighty Yokozuna at King of The Ring ‘93, a new babyface superstar would be pushed as the potential replacement. The powers that be went to work on passing the baton to Lex Luger. Luger’s uber push was a no-go; The Lex Express was stranded on the side of pro wrestling’s “how to make a baby face” highway. Luger had his successes in the business, but this wouldn’t be one of them. Sure, today New Generation WWF fans get the warm fuzzies when they think about Luger’s build to SummerSlam 1993 because, well, nostalgia! However, no amount of Americana could’ve salvaged Luger’s forced push at the time.
With the Stars and Stripes shelved the already dominant Yokozuna continued to thrive in the main event. In those days, the Federation champion was a clearly defined baby face. However, Yokozuna’s extensive heel reign as WWF Champion was brave new territory, although a turncoat Sgt. Slaughter briefly filled this role in 1991. Yokozuna, however, took the heel championship reign to new heights. Portrayed as unstoppable, he left a slate of Superstars such as Randy Savage and Hacksaw Jim Duggan sidelined.
Shooting Toward the WWF Title
Come Royal Rumble 1994, Bret Hart and Lex Luger were not only the top baby faces, but they were both vying for a shot at the Federation Championship at WrestleMania X. It was a tremendous storyline with both men going over the top rope at the same time, thus allowing for Federation officials to deem this the first Rumble with co-winners, thus setting up a double main event on the grandest stage of them all. With both Luger and Hart having a storied history with Yokozuna, this was an exciting and fresh twist on the pending main event of the tenth installment of Wrestlemania.
Bret Hart dethroned the mighty Yokozuna at WrestleMania X and logic would dictate that Bret was “the guy,” despite already having held the title previously. Fans, understandably so, often view The Hitman as the true leader of that era (more on Bret Hart’s critical role in part two of this article), but, as history reveals, Vince McMahon went in a completely different direction.
A Leader For The New Generation
Interestingly enough, the WWF tagline of “New Generation” had been in circulation for quite some time before officially attaching any one particular superstar as the leader thereof. Kevin Nash had been rising in popularity playing the role of the no-nonsense bodyguard to Shawn Michaels. It was his 1994 Royal Rumble match domination that may have solidified his status as a legitimate superstar. Creative was also slowly planting the idea that Diesel would be better off without Michaels. This angle played the long game as tensions slowly built between the two.
Once the inevitable split between Diesel and HBK took place, Big Daddy Cool was ready to put it into high gear. A mere three days after the 1994 Survivor Series event, where Diesel had his long-awaited face turn, he won the WWF heavyweight title. Not only was he crowned the Federation champion in an eight-second encounter with Mr. Bob Backlund, but simultaneously was given the moniker “The Leader of the New Generation”.
Diesel had a series of great feuds with the likes of Michaels, Sycho Sid, and others however, it was his on-again/off-again rivalry with Bret Hart that brought out the best in Diesel’s reign as champion. It was a rivalry based on a tremendous match the two had previously had at 1994’s King of the Ring pay-per-view. Be it their Royal Rumble 1995 contest, which was Diesel’s first title defense, or their return match at Survivor Series later that year, the two, despite their vast differences in terms of style, always stole the show!
Dentists, Kamikazes, and Hog Farmers, Oh My!
Whether they were taking out the trash or promoted as two-sport athletes such as Bob “Spark Plug” Holly (originally known as “Sparky Plug”), this era’s writers were throwing everything at Titan Tower’s office walls to see what might stick. Few gimmicks piqued the interest of die-hard WWF fans, however. All are familiar with the many hurdles that Glenn Jacobs had to jump before reaching superstar status as Kane. Still, it’s interesting to revisit top-tier talent such as Triple H and others as they floundered through absurd angles and match stipulations before ultimately ascending to the main event.
There was no shortage of bad ideas. Doink, for example, which began as an in-depth character with an eerily advanced level of spook, was soon turned into a fun-loving, uh, well, clown. Not only was Matt Bourne replaced by wrestler Ray Apollo to fill the clown boots of the Doink character, but the sadistic jester vibe that Bourne brought to the table was far more interesting than the jovial circus act of Apollo, complete with a miniature sidekick. We love ya’ Dink, but we needed to see what direction Bourne would’ve taken the character; unfortunately, it just wasn’t in the cards.
Despite its flaws, the period had some bright spots, although they faded as fast as they came. The emergence of such stars as Hakushi, whose entire presentation was stellar, is one such example. Had the internet been the mega platform for fans that it is today, Hakushi would’ve been a 1995 internet darling. Hakushi’s program with the “Excellence of Execution” was the perfect fit for Hart. Yet, despite the rub from The Hitman, Hakushi was regulated to mid-card where he ultimately ended up putting over Barry Horowitz (Yo, Dean Douglas, try explaining that in a backstage classroom vignette).
The WWF New Generation: Part One – In Closing
Rewatching can be frustrating from an armchair booking perspective, but by the time the Monday Night Wars rolled around the cream of the New Generation crop had risen to the top. Say what you will about the gimmicks, but many of the legends we grew to love post-New Generation organically morphed into amazing variations of the once one-dimensional characters they’d been saddled with.
Within the parameters of wrestling fandom we must all take the good with the bad. Regardless of its faults, the New Generation era in the World Wrestling Federation gave many unforgettable moments; we’ll delve into more in part two of our look back.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can check out an almost unlimited array of WWE content on the WWE Network and Peacock.