The week’s Raw is rightly considered one of the worst in a long time. A result of short term booking decisions coming back to haunt the creative department and fans not buying into what is being offered. The problems facing the WWE at the moment, however, pale in comparison to those that faced the company some 20 years ago
20 years on from 1995 – arguably the worst year in WWF history – Craig looks back at the events that shaped that year in the latest ‘Well That Didn’t Work‘.
Ah, 1995 what a year for Wrestling you were. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this particular year for the WWF. On the 20th anniversary of it, it’s only right we look back at a year where the WWF nearly lost it all. and
A remarkable turnaround in fortunes considering how strong, somewhat surprisingly, 1994 had been for the promotion. Sure, the Rumble finish was a bit screwy but Wrestlemania X had been the best ‘mania for a number of years, perhaps since Wrestlemania 3, Owen Hart made perfect sense as King of the Ring and the blow-off of his feud with his brother Bret at SummerSlam, inside a cage, was brilliant. Yes there was the Undertaker vs Undertaker match at SummerSlam too and inexplicably, as the WWF was beginning to put all the focus on the ‘new generation’, they headlined KoTR with Roddy Piper versus Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler. But by and large it was an OK year.
That same statement can’t be said for 1995. It was such a bad year for the company that there have been books written on the subject – the excellent Titan Sinking available on Amazon in UK here and USA here. It’s a subject widely discussed in Hardcore Holly’s book, particularly the influence of ‘The Kliq’ and recently I looked at the fortunes of Shane Douglas, a superstar that joined the promotion in 1995.
Yet for me, I still listed it as one of my Top Five years in Wrestling the other week. Confused? You needn’t be.
1995 is a great study point in looking at errors that Vince McMahon has made whilst at the helm in the WWF.
It was a year that demonstrated that the techniques that Vince and co deemed as tried and tested were no longer washing with the WWF fanbase.
The 1995 Royal Rumble saw Shawn Michaels win despite entering number one. Previously, and subsequently, such an iron man performance would really boost a performer, entrances at that year’s Rumble were every 30 seconds making for a chaotic and short Rumble.
One thing that Vince McMahon has been mocked for throughout his time at the helm of the WWF was his over reliance on big guys. 1995 was no different with Kevin ‘Diesel’ Nash holding the WWF title for much of the year, a run that is heavily criticised by fans, commentators and fellow wrestlers alike for its like of drawing power.
That year’s Wrestlemania saw a return to celebrity involvement. The original Wrestlemania, ten years prior, had featured Muhammad Ali, Cyndi Lauper, Liberace and the Rockettes. The 1995 showing saw Pamela Anderson heavily involved – accompanying Shawn Michaels for his WWF title match – and Lawrence Taylor in the main even. In the end, the WWF missed a beat by allowing Diesel to go over HBK in the title match, despite the impressive showing from Michaels.
Taylor, a former NFL linebacker, headline the show in a match against Bam Bam Bigelow, in a match carried by the latter but won by the former. Around 15,000 paid in to the arena for Mania with the show getting a buyrate of 1.3 – down on the 1.68 received the previous year.
Reaction to the event was mixed, John Powell of SLAM! Wrestling rated the event as the worst WrestleMania of all time while Pro Wrestling Illustrated columnist Dave Rosenbaum believed that Wrestlemania XI “saved” the WWF in its feud, which was then in the early stages, with rival World Championship Wrestling.
In previous years, WWF fans would have to wait until June for the next PPV but this year the promotion announced that their calendar would feature events every month with an ‘In Your House’ taking place the months where none of the ‘Big Five’ took place.
The reaction to these two hour shows probably wasn’t what the powers at be at the WWF had expected. The first one – from the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse, New York had an attendance of 7,000 and a surprising 0.83 buyrate.
King of the Ring saw Mabel – midcard tag team wrestler fo Men on a Mission fame – win the tournament defeating Savio Vega – who wrestled four times on the show, including the in ‘Free for All’ with Mabel competing twice.
What the WWF hoped for from a programme involving Diesel and Mabel God only knows but ultimately it was a few matches between two very limited performers. Worse still, the few moves Diesel could perform – such as his Jackknife Powerbomb – weren’t possible against Mabel. Resulting in slow plodding matches featuring mostly punches, kicks and lock-ups such as their SummerSlam main event. At the same time, Bret Hart – one of the best wrestlers the company had at this point – was still stuck in a feud with Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler which had started at King of the Ring 1993 and now involved Hart taking on Lawler’s dentist Glenn ‘Isaac Yankem, D.D.S.’ Jacobs (I. Yankem – geddit?)
The Kliq were running roughshot over the WWF and their influence continued to grow as the year came to an end. The backstage group – featuring Diesel, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon and Triple H – were in Vince’s ear constantly securing themselves the more financially lucrative spots on cards and dominated their respective division.
According to Bob Holly’s excellent book, they played a significant part in forcing out both Bam Bam Bigelow – who went from headlining Wrestlemania to being gone from the company within six months – and Shane Douglas out of the promotion.
By Survivor Series the WWF had all but given up on Diesel as main eventer and he dropped the gold to Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart. In 1996 he, and Scott ‘Razor Ramon’ Hall, jumped to the WCW loosening the grip the Kliq had on Vince and his booking decisions.
1995 was a grim but very interesting year. The wrestling was largely pretty bad – although several gems like HBK v Razor II at SummerSlam, Bret v Hakushi at IYH1, Taylor v Bam Bam at ‘mania and Bret v Bulldog at IYH5. Ultimately, like I said at the start, 1995 is best remembered as where thing were going badly for the WWF while at the same time it had some real challengers in WCW who by now had a weekly episodic TV show of their own.
It’s a year that can be best remembered for its poor in-ring product, dwindling fan interest and backstage politics. It’s also, as I said at the start, an excellent reference point for the hits and misses of Vince McMahon and with the WWE Network it’s easy to relive Diesel’s WWF title run or Mabel’s King of the Ring win.
You can read all previous ‘Well That Didn’t Work’ pieces here.