The '90s were a decade of change in WWE. With the Golden Age of Wrestling on its way out, fans began to see a new era in wrestling taking shape, featuring wholly different performers than any other prior.
As the WWE struggled to maintain its high ratings after the departure of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and other prominent names in the early '90s, new promotions also took the world by storm — including rival companies like WCW, ECW, and NJPW.
With the end of the decade drawing near, WWE tried hard to stay with the times, updating their programming to include more adult-oriented content, giving way to the Attitude Era. As that got underway, new innovations were being made to wrestling, such as the introduction of hardcore wrestling and a more mat-based style popularized by Curt Hennig, Bret Hart, and Eddie Guerrero.
It was a new generation of wrestlers for a new era of pro wrestling history. From up-and-coming talents like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart to older veterans who still had a lot of gas left in their tanks, here are some of the greatest wrestlers of the 1990s.
15. Mr. Perfect
Curt Hennig will forever be remembered as perhaps the most underrated wrestler of his generation. After competing in various promotions in the 1980s, Hennig would come into his own by the decade's end, leading to a successful run in WWF and WCW as a consistently high-performing mid-card wrestler.
Billed as a boastful wrestler able to perform everything “perfectly,” Hennig truly lived up to his name regarding his in-ring performance. His agility and safety in the ring were all praised by his peers, paving the way for similarly-styled wrestlers like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Dolph Ziggler in the years that followed.
As we've mentioned before, Goldberg's legacy as a wrestler has been a point of heavy contention among fans. Some view him as one of the greatest wrestlers to headline a WCW and WWE pay-per-view. Others believe him to be an unsafe worker who lacked the stamina to wrestle as long as his contemporaries.
Regardless of which camp you fall into, there's no debating that Goldberg was one of the biggest draws for WCW back during the promotion's glory days. A talented enough wrestler whose immense strength and agility were his two greatest attributes, he will forever be a name permanently tied to WCW, one of the best and most-remembered big men in the wrestling industry.
13. Kevin Nash
Along with his backstage friend group, The Kliq, Kevin Nash was one of the new faces of wrestling who emerged after the heyday of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and André the Giant had passed. As one of the brash new faces in WWE at the time, Nash (under his ring name Diesel) was perfectly paired with some of the decade's best wrestlers, having fantastic chemistry with Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, and Bret Hart.
However, it's Nash's time in WCW that continues to define his career. With his best friend, Scott Hall, he practically made wrestling relevant again by the mid-'90s, leading to WCW's sudden boost in weekly ratings with the formation of the nWo.
From a gimmick standpoint, a Samoan American wrestler being billed as a Japanese sumo wrestler is, of course, inexcusably problematic. But no matter how offensive his onscreen persona is, the amount of in-ring talent Yokozuna demonstrated in his matches must be commended.
For a man his size, he could move around the ring with a ridiculous amount of poise. One of the definitively best heels in WWE in the early to mid-'90s, he dominated absolutely everyone in his matches, from up-and-coming faces like Bret Hart and Lex Luger to established veterans like Hulk Hogan. A legend who passed away far too soon, he was one of the most awe-inspiring wrestlers to watch in a match.
11. Triple H
Like his fellow Kliq members (many of whom are highlighted on this list), Triple H had a lot of backstage pull that allowed him to climb the ranks of WWE television. While he's been criticized for engaging a little too heavily in office politics that guaranteed his push in WWE, he also demonstrated some fantastic in-ring abilities and character work that also accounted for his ascension in the company.
As the Connecticut Blueblood, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Triple H was an entertaining enough mid-card wrestler with decent runs as the Intercontinental Champion in the mid-'90s. However, it was with the emergence of D-Generation X that led to Triple H's rise in the company as one of the most dominant, high-performing heels of the Attitude Era.
10. Mick Foley
What more can be said about Mick Foley that hasn't already been said? A world champion on several occasions, he wrestled in every major continental wrestling company in the '90s, headlining multiple WCW, ECW, and WWE pay-per-views.
Put simply, Mick Foley was responsible for hardcore wrestling's emergence into the mainstream, picking up from where his forerunners like Terry Funk left off. Through his three unforgettable characters — the hippie Dude Love, the sadistic Cactus Jack, and the masochistic Mankind — and his ability to take unparalleled bumps, he became the go-to example of a hardcore wrestler during the peak of his career.
9. Scott Hall
Another of the influential Kliq, Scott Hall seemed like the next big thing in WWE in the early '90s. Feuding against future headliners like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Diesel, the “Bad Guy” Razor Ramon was poised to become the future face of the company.
As great as Hall's time in WWE was, his run in WCW as one of the founding members of the New World Order more often comes to mind. When he first hopped the WCW guardrails and seized a mic, Hall forever changed the wrestling world, leading to one of the greatest wrestling eras of all time.
8. The Great Muta
One of the most decorated wrestling legends there is, Keiji Mutoh is one of the most influential wrestlers of the '90s. Like his longtime rival, Sting, he's a name that helped pioneer a distinctly new movement of wrestling: one that was cinematic, athletic, technical, and gimmick-heavy all at once.
One of the crown jewels of NJPW in the '90s, Mutoh helped raise the promotion to prominence on a global scale. His time as the Great Muta has been cited as a key inspiration for numerous wrestlers that have followed, from Satoshi Kojima to Seiya Sanada. The inventor of the Poison Mist, the Moonsault, and the Shining Wizard, he's had some amazing matches the world over since his career began in 1984 — none more famous than his repeated clashes against Sting in NJPW and WCW.
7. Hulk Hogan
By the beginning of the 1990s, Hulk Hogan was still flying high as the leader of Hulkamania, leading to several successful victories over emerging stars like Yokozuna and The Undertaker. By the mid '90s, though, Hogan's age was starting to set in, his popularity also beginning to wane as modern wrestling acts like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart took center stage.
Needing a change, and realizing he was no longer than star attraction in WWE that he was in the late '80s, Hogan jumped ship to WCW. His first few years in the company were decent, but his eventual heel turn into Hollywood Hogan, leader of the nWo, helped reinvent his onscreen persona to accommodate the new age. It was enough of a shift to help repopularize Hogan for another few years, culminating in some of the best character work of his career.
In the 1990s, Sting was the most remarkable wrestler who never once stepped foot in a WWE ring. Rising to prominence in WCW, he was one of the mainstay wrestlers you could find on the company's roster, elevating the promotion's product throughout the '90s.
In the 1980s and early '90s, Sting was portrayed more as a lovable underdog — a young bleach-blond surfer striving to prove himself against the greats like Ric Flair. By the '90s, with the arrival of the nWo, a new period in Sting's career began, portraying him as the largely silent, darkly-clad protector of WCW. The results of the character change speaks for itself, with Sting becoming one of the most popular wrestlers at the time in WCW.
5. The Undertaker
Making his debut to WWE in 1990, The Undertaker immediately made his mark as a drastically different kind of wrestler. Sure, he had the same theatrical gimmick as other wrestlers of his era, but his ingenious presentation, high pain tolerance, and incredible agility for a man his size instantly made him a standout wrestler among WWE's talent at the time.
From there, the Phenom only continued to solidify his place as one of WWE's premiere athletes of the '90s, 2000s, and most of the 2010s. Changing with the times, he's been portrayed as an Old Western mortician, a Satanic cult leader, and a Gothic creature of darkness. But no matter the incarnation, he remained one of the best wrestlers WWE had in their roster.
4. The Rock
The first third-generation wrestler in WWE, young Rocky Maivia was almost immediately booked as the kind of fledgling star to one day secure a place at the top of WWE's programming. With his plucky demeanor, '90s attire and hairstyle, never-say-die attitude, and elite wrestling pedigree, it was clear he was destined for greatness in the industry.
In what is now one of the best booking decisions ever made by WWE's executive powers, an unremarkable early start to his career soon led to The Rock prematurely turning heel. Taking on a more brash, arrogant attitude, he began referring to himself in the third person, brutally trashing all of his opponents on the mic.
It was a critical moment in not only the young wrestler's career, but in WWE's history itself, leading to one of the most famous wrestlers of all time, and the star pupil of the Attitude Era.
3. Shawn Michaels
Like his contemporary and real-life rival, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels was seen as one of the bright young talents in WWE in the early '90s. Breaking from the uber popular tag team, The Rockers, in 1992, Michaels became the dominant heel in the company by the mid '90s, enjoying success as a Tag Team Champion, Intercontinental Champion, and WWF Champion by 1996.
Combining pure athleticism with his flamboyant personality, speed, and attitude, Michaels was one of the most consistently high-performers in WWE throughout the '90s. His time on television may have hit a serious roadblock owing to a back injury in 1998, but as his final opponent The Undertaker once said, Shawn Michaels could've wrestled a broom and made it entertaining to watch.
2. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Any talk about the 1990s wrestling world is incomplete without mentioning the Texas Rattlesnake, Stone Cold Steve Austin. As the blond-haired Stunning Steve Austin, Austin was a gifted technical wrestler in WCW and ECW back in the early '90s, enjoying major success in his matches with Brian Pillman and against veterans like Ricky Steamboat.
But it's when Austin moved to WWE that he truly became the legend he's considered today. Shaving his head and ditching his original gimmick as Ted DiBiase's lackey, Austin became the foulmouthed, beer-guzzling, anti-authority superstar we know him as now. The biggest star to come out of the Attitude Era, he's one of the most popular wrestlers of any decade there is.
1. Bret Hart
No wrestler is as frequently cited as the definitive best quite as often as Bret Hart. Trained in the legendary Hart Family Dungeon, wrestling was literally in Hart's blood, having been raised to compete by his father, Stu.
Introduced to WWE as one-half of the influential tag team, The Hart Foundation, with his brother-in-law, Jim Neidhart, Hart achieved fast success thanks to victories against Demolition, Rhythm and Blues, and The British Bulldogs in the late '80s and early '90s.
After setting out on his own, the Hitman continued his climb to prominence as a singles competitor, winning the King of the Ring, the Intercontinental Championship, and the WWF Championship by 1992. Watching him wrestle, you truly understood why he took to calling himself the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.