After 1990 saw declining house show attendance, television ratings, and pay-per-view buyrates, the WWF decided to pivot to a more controversial and adult oriented product in 1991. The company ran controversial television angles that included the Undertaker trying to kill the Ultimate Warrior by suffocating him in a casket, Jake Roberts having a deadly cobra bite Randy Savage, and Roberts slapping Savage’s wife Elizabeth. House shows saw a continuation of some of these themes as the Ultimate Warrior beat up Sensational Sherri after cage matches at the beginning of the year. The WWF also tried to seize on current events by giving the WWF Championship to American hero-turned-Iraqi sympathizer Sergeant Slaughter. However, this direction failed to restore fan interest and may have done the opposite as families began to tune out the product. The WWF’s other media gambles were also flopping as the World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF) was losing money and an experiment in weekly pay-per-view, This Tuesday in Texas, failed to take off. To make matters worse, the declining fan interest caused the WWF to lose a reliable cable partner in NBC. The April 15 edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event would be the last of that series to air on NBC for more than a decade.
In response, WWF owner Vince McMahon pivoted back to Hulk Hogan, the centerpiece of the WWF’s 1980s expansion boom. Hogan regained the WWF Championship from Slaughter at WrestleMania VII and spent much of the year defeating Slaughter and his cronies on house shows, eventually finishing the feud with a victory in a handicap match at SummerSlam. However, while Hogan’s presence on top stopped some of the house show bleeding that had happened while the Warrior held the title, it did not lead to the revival that McMahon hoped for. Hogan also did himself and the company few favors when questions about his past steroid use started to swirl. On The Arsenio Hall Show on July 16, Hogan denied using steroids except to rehabilitate a bicep injury in 1983. When questioned later, he was not able to keep his story straight. The summer trial of Dr. George Zahorian also reflected poorly on Hogan as it was revealed that the former WWF ringside physician had sold steroids to Hogan, McMahon, and a handful of other WWF wrestlers. While Hogan and the WWF hoped the scandal would go away, national media kept asking questions, which hurt the company’s image to families and sponsors. And when Hogan briefly lost the WWF Championship to the Undertaker at Survivor Series, fans reacted positively to the title switch, signifying that they were ready to move on from the Hulkamania boom.
1991 also marked the rise of a new talent in the WWF as veteran Bret Hart moved out of the tag team ranks and captured the Intercontinental Championship from Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam. This changing of the guard started to build the foundation for a new WWF babyface, one that was not as strong on the mic but one who had stronger in-ring skills than past main eventers. Former WCW/NWA Champion Ric Flair also jumped to the WWF in the summer, arriving with a great deal of fanfare. However, the WWF failed to market Flair effectively to its fans and his series of “dream matches” on house shows against Hogan in the fall of 1991 failed to live up to box office expectations. The WWF saw Sid Justice, another arrival from WCW/NWA as a future main eventer but Sid’s hot run was stopped in its tracks when he suffered an arm injury and was sidelined for the last three months of the year. And the company found it hard to fill holes in the roster made by the Warrior, who was fired after SummerSlam; Rick Martel, who left shortly after WrestleMania VII after one of the hottest runs of his career; and Perfect, who was suffering from what was feared to be a career-ending back injury.
Overall, it had been a rough two years for the WWF. Going into 1992 it had to find a way to creatively recapture the magic of the 1980s boom while also repairing relationships with television partners and sponsors. Would it find a way to get Saturday Night’s Main Event back on the air? Were they ready to move on from Hulk Hogan? And how would it grapple with a steroid scandal that threatened to erode everything that had been built from the first WrestleMania?
This column, which will be released on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, will review all major WWF television shows and pay-per-views throughout 1992. Wrestlers win/loss totals will also be provided for their matches, noteworthy house shows will be broken down, and at the end of each week a review will be provided of major backstage news that affected WWF booking and business.
Here was the WWF’s roster to start 1992:
Babyfaces: The Big Bossman, Chris Chavis, Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, Sid Justice, El Matador, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Jimmy Snuka, the British Bulldog, the Texas Tornado, Greg Valentine, Virgil, Koko B. Ware
Heels: The Barbarian, the Berzerker, Ric Flair, the Genius, Colonel Mustafa, Ted DiBiase, Hercules, Repo Man, the Mountie, Rick Martel, Jake Roberts, Irwin R. Schyster, Skinner, the Undertaker, the Warlord
Tag Teams: Hacksaw Jim Duggan & Sergeant Slaughter (babyfaces), the Beverly Brothers (heels), the Bushwhackers (babyfaces), the Natural Disasters (heels), the New Foundation (babyfaces), the Orient Express (heels), the Rockers (babyfaces)
Enhancement Talents: The Brooklyn Brawler, Barry Horowitz, Jim Powers
And here is a list of the WWF’s champions to begin the year:
WWF Champion: Vacant (Vacated by WWF President Jack Tunney on December 7 after the controversial result of the Hulk Hogan-Undertaker title match at This Tuesday in Texas)
WWF Tag Team Champions: The Legion of Doom (defeated the Nasty Boys on August 26, 1991 at SummerSlam)
Intercontinental Champion: Bret Hart (defeated Mr. Perfect on August 26, 1991 at SummerSlam)
The first WWF broadcast of 1991 was the January 4 edition of WWF Superstars, featuring Vince McMahon and Mr. Perfect on commentary. According to thehistoryofwwe.com, it was taped in Austin, Texas on December 4, 1991, and drew a heavily papered crowd of 7,500.
Opening Contest: Roddy Piper pins the Brooklyn Brawler with a sleeper hold at 1:18:
Piper spent much of 1991 as a commentator, working Superstars broadcasts with McMahon, the Honky Tonk Man, and Randy Savage. He also worked as a second for Virgil in his feud with Ted DiBiase, eventually feuding with DiBiase himself on house shows, a program that saw Piper lose to DiBiase regularly via referee stoppages. After Ric Flair arrived, Piper began feuding with him over disrespectful comments that Flair’s consultant Bobby Heenan made. And as The Royal Rumble approached, Piper threw his hat into the ring to achieve a dream of becoming WWF Champion.
The Brawler was going on his ninth year in the company. In 1991 he continued his demotion to glorified jobber status, picking up a sole win in fluke fashion over Big Bully Busick.
Piper’s entrance is not complete until Flair does an insert promo about how Piper may not show up to the Rumble because he is scared of him. The Brawler blows his nose in Piper’s t-shirt, leading to an angry Piper firing away and jokingly wearing the Brawler’s hat. Piper then reverts to his old finisher, a sleeper hold, pinning the Brawler to win the WWF’s first televised match of 1992.
Gene Okerlund’s Update segment recaps how the Rockers came up short in their pursuit of the Legion of Doom’s tag team titles on last week’s show. Okerlund announces that the Legion will defend the WWF Tag Team Championship at The Royal Rumble against the Natural Disasters. The Disasters and Jimmy Hart yell about being fired up to take the Legion’s tag team titles.
The British Bulldog pins Louie Spicolli after the running powerslam at 1:40:
The Bulldog entered 1992 in midcard purgatory. He started 1991 well by finishing fourth in the Royal Rumble and won a feud with the Warlord at WrestleMania. However, he was unable to win the Intercontinental Championship from Mr. Perfect in the spring. While the Bulldog was used as an attraction for the WWF’s tour of Europe, where he won a battle royal at Royal Albert Hall, he did little of note on American television for the rest of the year despite clocking more in-ring appearances than any other WWF star.
Spicolli had served as an occasional enhancement talent going back to 1988, typically working WWF shows on the West Coast and Southwest. Fans in the future would come to know him by his ring name but also Rad Radford in the WWF in 1995.
In the split screen, Hacksaw Jim Duggan says he is a friend of the Bulldog but will not be afraid to go toe-to-toe with him in the Rumble. Spicolli fails to take the Bulldog off his feet with some shoulder blocks and gets tossed around as a result. A clothesline against the buckles and the running powerslam give the Bulldog his first win of the year.
Call 1-203-353-2884 to get information about attending the WBF’s Personal Fitness Weekend!
The Mountie (w/Jimmy Hart) beats Rudi Gonzalez after a knee drop at 2:09:
Jacques Rougeau returned to in-ring competition as the Mountie in early 1991, winning his debut at The Royal Rumble against Koko B. Ware. Portraying an evil Canadian law enforcement officer, a feud with the Big Bossman was the next logical step and the two battled throughout the summer until the Mountie lost a Jailhouse Match at SummerSlam, spending the night in a New York City jail where it was implied that he suffered abuse at the hands of his fellow inmates. Instead of moving further down the card, the Mountie maintained a prominent place on television, feuding with Intercontinental Champion Bret Hart after the Mountie electrocuted Bret with his trademark shock stick on a September episode of Superstars. The two were booked to face off for the title at The Royal Rumble, which took them both out of the 30-man main event for the WWF Championship.
Gonzalez started wrestling in 1982 for Southwest Championship Wrestling in San Antonio, Texas, trained by Manny Fernandez, Tully Blanchard, and Chavo Guerrero, Sr. He did a few enhancement matches for Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling in the 1980s and also worked for WCW in that role in 1991. This was his first enhancement match for the WWF.
Intercontinental Champion Bret Hart pops up in the split screen and repeats his desire to get revenge on the Mountie at The Royal Rumble. The Mountie smothers Gonzalez and drops a knee off the ropes for the finish. Afterward, the Mountie handcuffs Gonzalez to the middle rope, reads him his rights, and shocks him.
A replay of Jake Roberts slapping Elizabeth at This Tuesday in Texas airs.
Okerlund interviews Randy Savage and Elizabeth. Savage declares that he wants to win the WWF Championship for a second time. He adds that he is going to bring Jake Roberts down whether it is before the Rumble, during the Rumble, or after the Rumble. Elizabeth says she feels sorry for Roberts because of what her husband will do to him.
The Beverly Brothers (w/the Genius) defeat Scott Bazo & Ken Johnson when Blake pins Bazo after the Shaker Heights Spike at 2:50:
The Beverlys debuted in June the previous year, initially paired up with Coach, who was also managing Intercontinental Champion Mr. Perfect. The team had the generic gimmick of arrogant jerks and after SummerSlam Coach was replaced by the Genius, which was an upgrade for the team’s look. The Beverlys had two ongoing feuds as 1991 came to a close. Their first was against the New Foundation, triggered by the Beverlys attacking Jim Neidhart in the fall. Their second was against the Bushwhackers, who they were booked to face at The Royal Rumble after the Beverlys and the Genius harassed the Bushwhackers friend Jamison after a squash match.
Johnson was a Johnny Valentine trainee who started working in 1979. He had been used as an enhancement talent on WWF television going back to 1988.
Jamison is shown in the audience during the Beverlys entrance, holding up Bushwhacker Hasbro toys. The Bushwhackers and Jamison do an insert promo where they vow to rip out the Beverlys blonde hair by the roots at The Royal Rumble. Johnson takes a beating as Blake powerslams and back suplexes him and Beau adds a rolling snapmare off the second rope. Bazo fares no better when he tags in, taking a bellyo-to-belly from Blake and eating the Shaker Heights Spike.
A new Chris Chavis vignette sees him talking by a river that he puts over as a lifeblood for his Native American ancestors. He promises to be the river to carry Native American culture to the WWF.
It is announced that the Hoosier Dome will host WrestleMania VIII on April 5. Fans are urged to call 317-239-5151 to reserve seats.
Okerlund does The Royal Rumble Report. In Rumble promos, Virgil says he is used to being an underdog and people should bet on him, the Nasty Boys call their opponents “twenty-eight geeks” that are about to experience “Nasty sensation,” Ted DiBiase and Sensational Sherri tell people that the cream will rise to the top, Sergeant Slaughter puts over his hand-to-hand combat skills, and Sid Justice likes his chances because he has always stood alone.
The Undertaker (w/Paul Bearer) pins Richie Garvin after the Tombstone at 1:43:
The Undertaker was one of the WWF’s biggest successes in 1991. Debuting at the 1990 Survivor Series and initially managed by Brother Love, the Undertaker cut a path of destruction through the company, eliminating several men from the Royal Rumble and defeating veteran Jimmy Snuka at WrestleMania VII. By that time the Undertaker picked up a new manager, Paul Bearer, and the duo entered into a feud with the Ultimate Warrior and the two did good business on house shows, where the Warrior beat the Undertaker in body bag and casket matches. In August, Jake Roberts joined forces with the Undertaker as part of the Warrior feud and the two also fought Sid Justice when the Warrior was fired after SummerSlam. When Sid got injured, the Undertaker was programmed against Hulk Hogan for Survivor Series where he shocked millions by winning the WWF Championship after Ric Flair’s interference. Although the Undertaker lost the belt less than a week later to Hogan at This Tuesday in Texas, he did not lose momentum and his feud with Hogan continued into The Royal Rumble where the two would be allowed to draw from the last ten numbers.
Roberts does an insert promo that puts over the value of the WWF Championship and warns the Undertaker to fear the snake. As expected, Garvin is no match for the Undertaker and after the Tombstone, the Undertaker and Bearer stuff Garvin into a body bag and the Undertaker stomps it.
Tune in next week to see Randy Savage face the Barbarian! Also, El Matador, the Natural Disasters, Hacksaw Jim Duggan & Sergeant Slaughter will be in action! And Ric Flair will appear on the Funeral Parlor!
The Last Word: The big news on this show was that the Legion of Doom would face the Natural Disasters at The Royal Rumble. That was a natural progression of existing storylines as the Legion were not able to eliminate both of the Disasters from their elimination match at Survivor Series. It also makes The Royal Rumble undercard tag team heavy but that was to be expected with so many top singles stars needed for the Rumble match.
Up Next: Wrestling Challenge for January 5!