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The WWE Hot 40 Years: Honorable Mention – #40

July 29, 2022 | Posted by Len Archibald
Vince McMahon WWE Smackdown Image Credit: WWE

I must be inspired.

That’s pretty much it. There has not been much to inspire me to write. I was in the hospital when CM Punk made his return to AEW and professional wrestling as a whole so by the time I got out, an article would have already been old hat. There has been much in the wrestling world that has come and gone – The Undertaker entered the WWE Hall of Fame and countless performers passed away (RIP, Scott Hall…), but there has not been much that has got my bipolar ass fired up enough to put key to board.

But 2022, she be good to me.

First off, an actual old long shot prediction I made became a reality: after making his way through the independents and lending his expertise and vision to a new national promotion, Cody Rhodes returned to WWE as a worldbeater, a greater star than when he left and is now the current favorite to win the 2023 Royal Rumble to dethrone Roman Reigns as the undisputed WWE Universal Champion. Unfortunately, an injury to his pectoral muscle has thrown a wrench in those plans, but the timeline is still in place.

Image Credit: WWE

What wasn’t in the plans for WWE: Vince McMahon retiring from CEO duties of the company. Most (myself included) believed WWE would be pried from his cold dead hands. But they were instead pried from his warm, squishy grapefruits. With hush payment allegations on his back, McMahon found the one thing even more powerful than the steroid trial that forced him to switch the superficial appearance of WWE performers. His dick.

Bad jokes aside, what’s causing all this? Let’s just say Vince McMahon’s retirement (and some lively discussion in the comments section for the same story) has given me the itch. The “easy” thing to do is write and discuss Vince McMahon’s career and legacy as arguably the greatest professional wrestling promoter in history.

But I’m not feeling that. Instead I want to do something more…fun.

Oh, for those who don’t know me, I’m Lenny, I’m Canadian, I’m bipolar, I’m an Anarchist, I write…differently than most everyone else so leave your comments about my writing style where you leave them but goddammit, I’m here to do me.

In 1982, Vince McMahon Jr. purchased the World Wrestling Federation from his father Vince McMahon Sr. and dramatically altered the direction of the business. For 40 years, Vincent Kennedy McMahon has held the WWF/E under his grip. What I plan to do is count down what are (in my opinion) WWE’s best 40 years. I plan to consider WWE’s best years from an influential, financial, creative, and in-ring standpoint. Some years are great for in-ring theatrics, but there’s nothing groundbreaking creatively. One year might be shaky financially but holds a creative and influential spark that changes the company and changes the culture for the greater future good. At the end of the day, this is MY OPINION, but my goal is to be as objective as possible. There were some years I was surprised were ranked higher, where some years disheartened me to see they were as low as they were. But this shit took a lot of work and it was honestly great to re-examine and re-assess WWE under an annual-by-annual bubble. Let’s go!


Image Credit: WWE

To be honest, I haven’t been following much WWE in 2022 for my own reasons. I know Cody Rhodes made his return as a bigger star, only to suffer an injury shortly thereafter. Roman Reigns pretty much has been the top dog after beating Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania – so much that he’s become a part-timer, which has somehow made the Usos a main event tag team attraction (shocked?) Drew McIntyre has been treading water while Austin Theory has risen significantly and seems to be the new WWE main event pet project. On the woman’s side, Bianca Belair has pretty much enjoyed her time on top comfortably with Becky Lynch and Carmella chasing. Asuka is nowhere to be found. Edge’s stable Judgment Day had been slightly derailed by his subsequent ousting as leader, and untimely injuries. Liv Morgan has relieved Ronda Rousey of her time as Smackdown Women’s champ in a feel good moment. NXT 2.0 has Bron Breakker and Carmelo Hayes consistently on top while Toxic Attraction was an attraction until Cora Jade (with Roxanne Perez) won, then obliterated her new women’s tag title. The world still revolves around Mandy Rose, though.

Obviously the big news this year are the hush money payment allegations directed at Vince McMahon and John Lauranitis, allegations that have got so bad that Laurantitis got sent home permanently and Vince retired/was relieved of/was told to GTFO from his duties at WWE. this is the most crippling year WWE has experienced with Vince, the CEO and chief creative mind for 40 years basically being ousted because of his extra-curricular activities. This is an honorable mention as the year is not done and much can still happen before December 31, but as is – if I was going to be objective, I would still rank 2022 near the bottom of the list just for Vince stepping down alone.

Oh, and this is now a must read.

#40 – 1995: King Mabel, King Mabel, Your Crown is Most Unstable

Image Credit: WWE

Now we’re talking. This may be the undisputed pick from most readers and journalists. I’m not going to front: 1995 SUCKED from nearly every conceivable level. Financially, WWF was barely keeping afloat; Diesel started the year as champ and would end up being the company’s lowest-drawing in history. Creatively, WWF was bankrupt, as the company was at the height of its cartoon-character concepts for their in-ring performers. We got garbage men, Men on a Mission, a Man O’ War and whatever Mantaur was. Dentists, Rockers (not those ones, they were fun), Knuckleballers and Turncoat Native Americans(?!?!) were the new new.

This was the year WCW debuted Nitro with Lex Luger’s shocking appearance at the Mall of America and fired the first shot in the Monday Night Wars – and the WWF had nothing to respond with. Bret Hart was still considered the main crowd favorite but he took a back seat to Diesel and Shawn Michaels. Fans would begin to see the full breadth of the Kliq’s influence – and even though it meant money for those who reaped the benefit, it was the worst drawing year in the company’s history. No seriously, the WWF incurred a loss of $4,431,000, a figure that nearly brought the company teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Vince McMahon has gone on record that things were so bad that he (HE) was about to mortgage his retirement home. Yeah. To make up for lost profits the WWF would create the In Your House pay-per-view and with it, the monthly pay-per-view model to ensure fans that every event was “must-see”.

The 1995 Royal Rumble was not a good way to kick off the year, considered by most to be the worst of all time (spoilers). The Rumble match was very rushed with new entrances every 1 minute instead of the normal two(ish). It tried to tell a story between The British Bulldog and Shawn Michaels starting and ending the match together, but it felt convoluted and did not give any of the match competitors a real time to shine. The eventual winner, Shawn Michaels would become a literal pinball at WrestleMania XI to basically put over himself as the main event of the WWF.

What were the heavy hitters doing?

Razor Ramon lost his Intercontinental title to Jeff Jarrett (I’m not spelling out his name), The Roadie in tow and was chasing that title. Bob Holly and the 1-2-3 Kid would shockingly win the WWF Tag Team titles over Bam Bam Bigelow and Tatanka in a tournament after Shawn Michaels and Diesel relinquished them. But the victory was short lived as The Smoking Gunns would defeat Kid and Holly the next night on Raw and become newly crowned champs.

The aftermath of the Royal Rumble Tag match, though – was the real meat and potatoes.

After the loss, a dejected Bam Bam Bigelow would find himself being mocked by former New York Giants football star, Lawrence Taylor. After a brief verbal scuffle, Bam Bam would lose his cool and push LT down.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we just set up our WrestleMania Main Event.

Image Credit: WWE

Shawn Michaels and Diesel should be plenty enough as a World Title match to draw the fans in, right? Nope, we need two CCs of celebrities, STAT.

Speaking of turncoat Native American’s, Tatanka’s faction, the Million Dollar Corporation was deep in their feud with The Undertaker. Taker was slated to face Million Dollar Corporation lackey, King Kong Bundy with the Million Dollar Man in his corner at WrestleMania.

WrestleMania XI is considered one of the worst WrestleManias of all time. I personally have it ranked as my least enjoyable WM of them all. Remember those CCs of Celebrities? PAM ANDERSON! JENNY MCCARTHY! JOHNATHAN TAYLOR THOMAS! NICK TUTURRO! NFL STARS! Now while WrestleMania always had celebrity involvement in some way, this was starting to feel like overkill and Vince McMahon had no confidence in his own roster. Of course, back then my 15-year-old horny ass could watch Pam Anderson blow bubbles all day.

WM XI had Razor Ramon get Dusty’d over the Intercontinental title with Jeff Jarrett; Bret Hart have one of his worst single bouts in an “I Quit” match against Bob Backlund, with Roddy Piper’s guest referee becoming the unintentional center of the show; The Undertaker putting King Kong Bundy away handily in a throwaway match, Shawn Michaels going cuckoo for Coco Puffs in a losing effort to Diesel for the WWF Title and Lawrence Taylor defeating Bam Bam Bigelow, effectively killing off the character with most WWF fans.

Apart from Shawn Michaels from SummerSlam 2005 posessing the body of WrestleMania XI HBK and getting himself over as the #1 babyface in the WWF, the only other notable moments during WrestleMania was Kama the Supreme Fighting Machine stealing the urn at the end of the Undertaker/Bundy match so he can melt it into a chain (man, where I lived that was a BOSS move), and Owen Hart revealing a returning Yokozuna as his tag partner for the WWF Tag Title belts against The Smoking Gunns. I will never forget 1) the looks of terror the Gunns shared knowing Yoko was going to MURDERDEATHKILL them and 2) the moment Yokozuna entered the match and clapped that first leg drop – it was like a nuclear bomb went off, which is funny because Yoko is from Japan, which is even funnier because he’s not. I guess those moments brought WrestleMania up a notch. No, I’m kidding, this show was the drizzling shits and everyone, including Vince McMahon knew it.

The mainstream appeal of WrestleMania XI appealed to no one and on May 14, 1995 the WWF would alter the Pay Per View business with the first In Your House Show. It did not change much in the way of business right away as there was no identity to the shows yet, nor a had a creative model to build feuds to these events. Instead, 1995 went the way of debuting superstars, each one more cartoonish than the next. Just as we thought Bret Hart may be done with his ongoing feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler, Lawler pulled out his dentist, Issac Yankem D.D.S. Oy.

This all came to a head at the 1995 King of the Ring in Philadelphia, considered the worst King of the Ring ever…Bret Hart and Jerry Lawler would figuratively and literally stink up the joint in a Kiss My Foot Match, Diesel and Bam Bam Bigelow would easily handle a returning Sycho Sid and Tatanka to a heatless crowd and King Mabel…Ah, yes, King Mabel. The King No One Believed In. After defeating The Undertaker, then Savio Vega (that is really backwards), Mabel sat atop his throne…to the tune of “ECW” chants from a very, very, VERY pissed off audience.

But take heed, young readers. For those who get distraught over WWE doubling down on decisions that are against fan sentiment, even back then Vince McMahon was not one to steer the ship in a different direction…and he sailed right into the iceberg that was SummerSlam 1995. Say it with me: one of the WORST SummerSlams ever. Get me my Cheetos, I’m mad typing over here. Or typing mad. The voice in my head sometimes talks backwards to me. Before SummerSlam, Jeff Jarrett and The Roadie would both leave the WWF over contract disputes, leaving one of their main feuds up in the air.

Two new debuting superstars would make their PPV debuts, as the snobbish Hunter Hearst Helmsley would defeat Bob Holly and Sunny would also debut with Skip in a losing effort to Barry Horroritz. Wow if there weren’t two more different career trajectories…Hunter would spend the fall and winter feuding with Henry O. Godwin (yes, the acronym is exactly what it means), a hog farmer, in hogpen and slop matches that would make fans of Georgia Championship Wrestling wince.

The Undertaker’s feud with the Million Dollar Corporation would continue to fizzle out as he defeated Kama in a very tame casket match. Bret Hart would defeat Issac Yankem D.D.S. in a match most do not want to remember. King Mabel and Diesel worked such a clumsy World Title match that Diesel had to convince Vince McMahon to not fire Mabel as at one point during the match, Mable dropped himself right on Diesel’s back, almost injuring him.

The only real notable match saw Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon re-create magic as their Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Title was as good, or even better than their 1994 WrestleMania X classic – depending who you ask. One great match does not save a show, as SummerSlam 1995 was another clunker that had fans being driven away into the arms of ECW and WCW, as WCW Nitro debuted one week later with Lex Luger in tow.

Another notable debut: Dustin Runnels returned to the WWF as Goldust, a heel nicknamed “The Bizarre One” because of his sexual mindgames he would play on his opponents. Goldust was a character that was way ahead of its time, using sexuality, a flair for the dramatic and movie trivia to trigger his opponents (and thousands of homophobic fans at each live show). Goldust’s antics were one of the few bright spots in a very dark period for the WWF.

It was becoming readily apparent that the year-long Diesel-as-champ experiment was not jiving the way Vince McMahon wanted, and with Shawn Michaels’ metoric rise as the top babyface in the WWF, they would finally make an attempt to right the ship. Wait, he just relinquished his newly won Intercontinental Title?

Motherf— this year was a hot mess.

Yes, 1995 is the first year that HBK would give up a title after a bar fight with some Marines would put him on the shelf for a hot minute. Dean Douglas would effectively win, then lose the title to Razor Ramon.

Survivor Series 1995 would emanate on November 19, 1995. I won’t go so far to say it was the worst event in history, but it is pretty low on the list. The show was notable for two things: one, Bret Hart and Diesel had a great match in which Hart would reclaim the WWF World Heavyweight Title and two, in the aftermath Diesel would undergo a character shift – what is called a “soft” heel turn, whose IDGAF attitude – get this – got him over with the fans. Diesel in fact, was the first WWF superstar to flip the bird on WWF television. Way to read the room.

Before WWF’s final pay per view of the year, Alundra Blayze would give the WWF one more parting shot on its nearly dead body when she shockingly left the company and defected to WCW. Problem was, she was still WWF Women’s Champ – and we all know how that turned out. On December 13, 1995, Blayze, now returning as her original mantra, Madusa, would effectively dump the women’s title in the trash on live television on Nitro. The action enraged Vince McMahon so much that he made the call to effectively kill the WWF women’s division and WWF women’s wrestling for years.

Image Credit: WWE

But, Xanta Claus. Let’s talk about Xanta Claus. Let’s not and say we did. Actually, the words you just read is good enough to burn that horrible memory into your frontal lobe. To make a long story short, 1995 continues to the butt and punchline to most wrestling jokes. The number of horrible, outdated gimmicks that debuted (notable exceptions, Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Goldust) were staggering. The financial losses continued to mount. Wrestler defections to WCW hurt the company on several fronts, most of all its credibility as a top-tier wrestling promotion. The in-ring presentation for the most part was atrocious given a few exceptions. And creatively: King Mabel. King Mabel, yo. -facepalm-

Oh, yeah – The Fabulous Moolah was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Hindsight, my brothers and sisters. Hindsight.

One shining light: on December 18, 1995, during a taped episode of Monday Night Raw, The Ringmaster would make his in-ring debut. No one – NO ONE had a clue that this man running the ropes as The Million Dollar Champion would end up becoming not only one of the company’s biggest stars of all time, but one of the men who would effectively help save the company and push it to heights never before seen.

Image Credit: WWE

1995 At A Glance

World Champion on 1/1: “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel
Intercontinental Champion on 1/1: Razor Ramon
Tag Team Champions on 1/1: Vacant
Woman’s Champion on 1/1: Bull Nakano
Best Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon IC Title Ladder Match (SummerSlam 1995)
WrestleMania Main Event: Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor
Notable Debuts: Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Sunny, Goldust, The Ringmaster
MVP: Shawn Michaels (even when absent, the best in-ring competitor and character the WWF had – despite the backstage Kilq politicking)

Catch my film reviews every week on Hometown Stations – Lima, Ohio!
This week I review Jordan Peele’s Nope!


article topics :

WWE, Len Archibald