In our previous article, we delved into some of the goings-on during the WWF’s New Generation era. It’s an era that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of WWE history. However, diehard New Generation fans will always hold near and dear the great storylines, matches, and moments that fueled the era. Join us as we look back on more of the hits, and some of the pits, of this fascinating time in wrestling’s history – The WWF New Generation, Part Two.
The WWF New Generation: Part Two
Say Hello to the Bad Guy
As previously noted in part one, the New Generation got a lot of things right and Razor Ramon’s run should be at the top of that list. The Bad Guy’s work rate in and of itself was worth the price of a live event ticket in those days. The Intercontinental Championship was, at that time, still highly touted and Ramon was at the center of it all. Whether feuding with Jeff Jarrett, Goldust, or the epic ladder matches he had with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X and SummerSlam 1995, respectively, The Bad Guy was representing the mid-card extremely well.
Much discussion has been centered around why Razor never reached the WWF Championship, but with the results his Intercontinental title matches were yielding, it seemed just as important. Ramon took the “mid-card” championship and solidified it as the working wrestler’s title. He’d end up capturing the IC title a total of four times, and with each loss resulting in a chase to regain that was just as compelling as the previous. Razor Ramon joined an elite group of stars such as Mr. Perfect and The Honky Tonk Man who had cemented their respective legacies as the greatest champions to have ever held said title. Razor Ramon, like his predecessors, elevated the IC title and gave the battles for it even greater significance.
Say Goodbye to the Bad Guy
Razor Ramon remained a staple in New Generation storylines until his infamous departure from the WWF in 1996. Many wrestling fans have had their share of gripes against Vince McMahon’s handling of certain characters and storylines; Razor’s run during the New Generation seemed different, however. Despite never holding the top prize, he had the Midas touch, and people were invested. The screeching tires intro of his theme song was an indication that the personification of cool was about to enter the arena.
His departure from the WWF in 1996 left an undeniable void in the Intercontinental title picture. The image of Razor, oozing machismo with arms outstretched sliding down the aisle, is forever etched in our minds.
A Journey in Excellence
Bret “Hitman” Hart is one of the most recognizable stars of the New Generation. Vince McMahon once referred to Bret Hart as “the Cal Ripken, Jr. of the World Wrestling Federation”; it was a reference to the persistent hard work and dedication that Bret had poured into his career, likening him to Major League Baseball’s “Iron Man”.
Amongst many fans of the New Generation, Bret Hart will always be the unsung hero and the true leader of the era. Perhaps what made Bret seemingly the uncrowned leader, however, is the fact that he was present as a top-tier singles competitor long before the “New Generation” was conceived. Winning the WWF title for the first time in 1992 from Ric Flair, Hart found himself the well-deserved pioneer of the “smaller” performer finally having the opportunity to shine.
Bret Hart was adored by fans on every continent. Perhaps he was not the pop culture icon that Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were, but he was certainly becoming a household name, nonetheless. With appearances on every major talk show platform, guest-starring in popular television shows along with being immortalized in an episode of The Simpsons (something no other pro wrestler has ever had the distinct honor of having), The Hitman was everywhere.
Timing is Everything
With the controversy of the steroid trial, various other scandals, and losing Hulk Hogan’s star power, Vince’s empire was struggling to stay above water. The next wrestling boom period was still some time away and the WWF was battling poor attendance to live events and TV tapings. Because of these issues, the WWF was relegated to smaller venues which translated poorly for television presentation. Crowds are the heart and soul of the product and only a few years prior the WWF experienced massive success which equated to raucous crowds. This reduction in attendance made even the most die-hard fans concerned.
With the likes of such talent as Bret Hart, The Undertaker, and others, it wasn’t for lack of authentic stars but perhaps the New Generation gets to rightfully cry “wrong place/wrong time” in a business that is proven to be cyclical. All the major players of the New Generation, however, would go on to have mega programs during the Monday Night War era, complete with thunderous crowd responses, thus proving they were the needle movers that New Generation fans always knew they were.
The Boyhood Dream
After defeating Diesel at the ‘95 Survivor Series, Bret Hart seemed poised to finally take charge as the rightful leader, but it was short-lived as fans soon witnessed. The Heartbreak Kid, meanwhile, was being groomed to take the ball and run. Shawn Michaels had been involved in a real-life bar brawl that, at the time, rocked the wrestling world. In true wrestling fashion, his real-life issues were made into a kayfabe storyline that resulted in Michaels collapsing on a November 1995 episode of Monday Night Raw while battling Owen Hart.
The collapse (apparently stemming from his nightclub attack) launched a cleverly crafted build to his eventual return. However, before it was clear that he would return to the squared circled, The WWF hype machine went to work on our emotions as we were left with the question of whether or not this was HBK’s swan song or not; you know you fought back tears while watching the premiere of “Tell Me A Lie”!
The hype culminated with the announcement that Shawn Michaels would return at The Royal Rumble in 1996. The showstopper picked up where he left off to run through the other combatants at that year’s Rumble. The machine was fully behind Shawn and it was blatantly obvious that his road to WrestleMania would see him crowned the new WWF champion.
A feud on the scale of Bret Hart versus Shawn Michaels deserves its own article, but for the sake of this series, we’ll summarize simply by stating what great encounters the two had and especially at WrestleMania 12’s classic Iron Man Match. With the inevitable “boyhood dream” now realized the Hitman went on hiatus. In one fell swoop, HBK was deemed “The Leader of the New Generation” in the WWF.
Planting The Seeds Of Attitude
With Shawn Michaels on top, the product slowly began to drift into new territory. Love or hate the Kliq, their clout in WWE history is well established and cannot be ignored. As an elite group of competitors and even shrewd businessmen, they each played a vital role in the winds of change that began to blow during the New Generation. They didn’t act alone, however, as the perfect storm of competitors was also unshackled. In part three, we’ll take a look at what led the WWF to transition from the squeaky clean New Generation to the polar opposite of the Attitude Era.
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.