Place to Be Nation is extremely excited to present This Week in 90’s Wrestling, courtesy of our good friend Charles from Pro Wrestling Only. We’ll highlight the best of professional wrestling in the 90s – WWF, WCW, Memphis, USWA, All-Japan, and more – for each day of the year! You can find the complete archive of this series here.
All Japan Women kicked off the year with a show at Korakuen Hall. The featured matches saw Akira Hokuto & Yumiko Hotta face Toshiyo Yamada & Etsuko Mita in a ***3/4 match while Bull Nakano defeated Mitsuko Nishiwaki in a tournament final to win the WWWA World Championship, which she would hold for nearly three years.
All Japan Women once again kicked off the year with a show at Korakuen Hall. The show was headlined by Akira Hokuto challenging Bull Nakano for the WWWA World Championship in a ***3/4 match. During the match, Bull gave Hokuto a top rope tombstone piledriver. Aside from being an incredible spot, the significance of this was that Hokuto previously suffered a legitimate broken neck when taking the exact same move in a tag match four years earlier. The legend of Hokuto was born with that match, as she finished the third fall of the match while actually holding her head on top of her body.
New Japan Pro Wrestling ran its first ever January 4 Tokyo Dome show, which would become an annual tradition that still occurs today. The show was headlined by Riki Choshu defeating Tatsumi Fujinami to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title in front of approximately 50,000 fans. Also on the card, Lex Luger defended the WCW World Heavyweight Championship against Masa Chono while Sting & The Great Muta teamed against Rick & Scott Steiner in a ***1/2 match. For a dream match, I think it beats the more acclaimed Steiners vs Sting-Luger tag at SuperBrawl. A live band played much of the entrance music which added quite a bit to the atmosphere, and the card was filled with many other inter-promotional matches where WCW wrestlers faced New Japan wrestlers. Select matches from the show were also broadcast in the United States two months later as a WCW-branded pay-per-view.
USWA TV featured highlights of what appeared to be an insane match from the December 30 show at Mid-South Coliseum where Jeff Jarrett and Robert Fuller teamed against The Moondogs. The Moondogs were incredible brawlers and terrorized the Memphis scene for most of the year.
The Saturday evening WCW show on TBS (at the time simply called World Championship Wrestling) aired matches taped on December 16 at Center Stage Theatre in Atlanta. The main event of the show pitted Dustin Rhodes against Arn Anderson in what turned out to be a **** match that was one of the very best singles matches either wrestler ever had. The show went off the air just before the finish, which aired on WCW Main Event the following day. Earlier, Paul E. Dangerously did a controversial interview evoking Magnum T.A.’s car accident in 1986 while saying that Sting was in danger of suffering the same fate at the hands of Rick Rude.
New Japan returned to the Tokyo Dome, drawing 53,500 fans at the height of the New Japan vs WAR feud, which was an ostensible New Japan vs All Japan feud featuring 1980s All Japan stars who had since left the company. In the main event, Genichiro Tenryu defeated Riki Choshu in a ***3/4 match which was the best match of the night. Also on the show, IWGP Heavyweight Champion Keiji Muto defeated Masa Chono to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, making him a co-holder of both titles, in a *** match while The Hellraisers (Road Warrior Hawk and Kensuke Sasaki as Power Warrior) defeated the Steiner Brothers in another *** match. Jushin Liger pinned Ultimo Dragon to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in a ***1/2 match that featured many spots and sequences that were lifted by other junior heavyweights and U.S. indy stars for the next decade, to the point that the match does not look as good now as it probably did at the time when everything was fresh, even if it’s still a very good match. Despite a few months of hot matches and angles, the New Japan-WAR feud was only getting started, as the next year would produce many more excellent and heated matches.
The last episode of Prime Time Wrestling aired on the USA Network. The show always maintained a comedic format that allowed for extended banter between Bobby Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon or Vince McMahon, but the concept was stale, and Vince wanted to freshen up the time slot. The next week, Monday Night RAW debuted in its place and is of course the premiere wrestling television program today. The final episode did a 2.2 rating.
New Japan came home once again, this time drawing 48,000 fans (their first non-sellout at the Tokyo Dome since 1989) for a card headlined by Genichiro Tenryu defeating Antonio Inoki in a major upset. To save face for Inoki, New Japan shot an angle in the weeks preceding the show where Inoki wanted the match to be martial arts rules while Tenryu wanted the match contested under traditional pro wrestling rules. Neither would sign the contract until they got their way, and then it was announced that the match would be pro wrestling rules a few days later. Also on the card, Shinya Hashimoto successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Masa Chono while The Hellraisers (Kensuke Sasaki as Power Warrior in LOD getup teamed with Road Warrior Hawk) defeated Scott Norton and Hercules Hernandez to win the IWGP Tag Team Titles. In the in-ring highlight of the show, Rick & Scott Steiner defeated Keiji Muto & Hiroshi Hase in a ****1/4 match where Scott debuted the Steiner Screwdriver, a scary looking vertical suplex into a tombstone piledriver.
Even in heavy rains that hurt last-minute walk-up sales, New Japan drew 52,500 fans to the Tokyo Dome for a show headlined by Shinya Hashimoto defending the IWGP Heavyweight Title against Kensuke Sasaki in a **** match while Antonio Inoki defeated Sting to win the BVD Martial Arts tournament. Also, UWA Junior Heavyweight Champion Shinjiro Otani turned back El Samurai while IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Norio Honaga defeated The Great Sasuke in a pair of disappointing matches. In a rematch from the previous year, IWGP Tag Team Champions Hiroshi Hase & Keiji Muto avenged their loss to the Steiner Brothers in a ***3/4 match-up.
All Japan Women kicked off the year with a show at Korakuen Hall. In the main event, Manami Toyota and Sakie Hasegawa challenged Kyoko and Takako Inoue for the WWWA World Tag Team Championship in a ****1/4 match.
New Japan drew 54,000 fans to the Tokyo Dome to see Keiji Muto defend the IWGP Heavyweight Title against UWFI’s top star Nobuhiko Takada in a rematch of their October encounter, in what turned out to be a disappointing match. Takada won the IWGP title and the post-match angle set up future matches against Shiro Koshinaka, reviving their famous junior heavyweight feud from the 1980s, and Shinya Hashimoto. Also on the card, Antonio Inoki defeated Vader in a **** match that was a miraculous carry job from Vader while Shinya Hashimoto defeated Kazuo Yamasaki in a compact but solid *** match. In addition, Jushin Liger defeated Koji Kanemoto to regain the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in a ***1/2 match.
Despite complaints at the time of a poor lineup compared to previous years, New Japan drew 52,500 fans to the Tokyo Dome for a show headlined by Riki Choshu challenging Shinya Hashimoto for the IWGP Heavyweight Title in a ****1/4 match, a rematch of their memorable G-1 Climax match five months earlier. Also on the card, Kengo Kimura & Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Masa Chono & Hiroyoshi Tenzan to win the IWGP Tag Team Championship and Jushin Liger defeated Ultimo Dragon to win the J Crown titles in a ***1/2 match. Most notoriously, we saw the first and last appearance of Chris Jericho as Super Liger, a would-be nemesis for Jushin Liger, who wore a similar costume. Jericho scored a victory over Koji Kanemoto but looked awful in doing so, and the gimmick was shelved immediately.
The WWF debuted Shotgun Saturday Night in syndication, which had a completely different aesthetic from anything else in the WWF, or wrestling for that matter, at the time. The show was filmed in bars and other small venues across the country. Finding locations to run the show became a logistical nightmare over time, which led to Vince losing interest in Shotgun and it becoming a run-of-the-mill B-show. The first show was sprinkled with vignettes featuring a ranting Bob Backlund, who opposed the more adult themes of the show. We also saw the first appearance of The Sisters of Love, who were The Headbangers dressed as nuns, managed by Brother Love.
New Japan packed 55,000 fans in the Tokyo Dome for a show built around the retirement of Riki Choshu. Choshu faced Kazuyuki Fujita, Yutaka Yoshie, Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Takashi Iizuka and Jushin Liger in a series of short singles matches before his retirement ceremony. Like almost all retirements in wrestling history, Choshu eventually returned to the ring. Also on the card, Kensuke Sasaki successfully defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Keiji Muto while Shinjiro Otani retained the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, holding back a challenge from Ultimo Dragon in a ***1/2 match.
New Japan drew 52,500 fans to the Tokyo Dome for a show headlined by Shinya Hashimoto vs Naoya Ogawa, which went to a no contest and was quite the spectacle, while Keiji Muto defeated Scott Norton to regain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Also on the show, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima defeated Genichiro Tenryu & Shiro Koshinaka to win the IWGP Tag Team Titles in a *** match and death match legend Atsushi Onita faced Kensuke Sasaki. Other key matches on the show saw Jushin Liger successfully defend the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship against Koji Kanemoto while Kendo Ka Shin & Dr. Wagner Jr. defeated Shinjiro Otani & Tatsuhito Takaiwa to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
WCW drew 38,000 fans to Monday Nitro at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA, drawing the single biggest gate in the history of the company in the process. Sadly, they gave the large crowd one of the most destructive wrestling shows of all time, headlined by the Finger poke of Doom, as it has come to be known colloquially, where Kevin Nash laid down for Hulk Hogan, who regained the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, reuniting the NWO in the process. The advertised main event was Kevin Nash defending the title against Goldberg in a rematch from Starrcade, where Nash controversially ended Goldberg’s streak. However, Miss Elizabeth schemingly filed charges of aggravated stalking against Goldberg to get him out of the building, giving us a series of awful vignettes, while Hogan and Nash tricked new WCW President Ric Flair into changing the main event. Hogan had announced his retirement six weeks earlier to run for President, which was a publicity stunt that reeked of jealousy following the gubernatorial victory of Jesse Ventura in Minnesota. In actuality, the scenario was contrived to give him some time off of television and build to a big return on a later date. The live Nitro ran opposite a taped episode of Monday Night RAW, and Tony Schiavone, under orders of Eric Bischoff, dismissively told fans watching at home that Mick Foley would be winning the WWF title at the end of their show, which backfired, as fans turned to RAW quickly, giving the WWF yet another victory in the ratings war. Since Foley was a big fan favorite at the time, Schiavone never regained credibility as an announcer. While WCW showed creative signs of a decline as early as 1997, the company had its biggest year ever in 1998. In 1999, it spiraled out of control quickly under the booking of Kevin Nash and later Vince Russo, making the year a rapid fall from grace. The story of WCW in 1999 should frighten every wrestling promoter in the world since it demonstrated how quickly a hot wrestling company can experience a massive decline. The show drew a 4.9 rating.
Meanwhile, the WWF episode of RAW, which was taped on December 29 in Worcester, MA, was built around the first WWF World Championship win for Mick Foley, who was wrestling as Mankind at the time. Mankind defeated The Rock to win the title, continuing their placeholder feud to get Rock ready for Steve Austin at Wrestlemania. Speaking of Austin, he made a surprise appearance where he blasted Rock and assisted Mankind in winning the title. Austin’s arrival resulted in one of the loudest pops of any era. The show drew a 5.7 rating.
In the “To Watch” queue:
Riki Choshu, Masa Saito & Shinya Hashimoto vs Vader, TNT & Terminator (NJPW 01/04/91)
Akira Hokuto vs Kyoko Inoue (AJW 01/04/92)
Manami Toyota vs Toshiyo Yamada (AJW 01/04/92)
Akira Hokuto vs Debbie Malenko (AJW 01/04/93)
Bull Nakano vs Kaoru Ito (AJW 01/04/94)
Etsuko Mita & Mima Shimoda vs Yumiko Hotta & Sakie Hasegawa (AJW 01/04/94)
Bret Hart vs Vader (WWF House Show – Stockton, CA – 01/04/97)
Shawn Michaels vs Steve Austin (WWF House Show – Stockton, CA – 01/04/97)