Top 5 Eras in Professional Wrestling
A lot of people ask my opinion on professional wrestling often. The question I get asked the most is "When was wrestling its best?"
To be honest, that's a pretty loaded question. Professional wrestling has a long history. Frank Gotch, Lou Thesz, Gorgeous George, Superstar Billy Graham, The Von Erichs, Ric Flair and his 4 Horsemen, Hulkamania, Stone Cold, The Rock, John Cena and tons more have been the Champion or "the face of pro wrestling," it seems rather unfair to pick just one.
I've decided to take the "political" way out and pick my top five "Eras" in professional wrestling. Some people may agree with my answers, some obviously won't, but I will give supporting evidence for each pick and let the reader decide for themselves.
Some have been picked from a purely entertainment standpoint, others have been picked because of their impact on the professional wrestling business as a whole. Now, let's start at number five.
#5 WWE 2005-2010 (PG Era)
In 2001, the WWE purchased their arch-nemesis; WCW. This (of course) is discussed later on. This final shot of the "Monday Night Wars" turned the tide of professional wrestling as a business on its ears. Fast forward to 2004/2005 and Vince McMahon owns a monopoly on professional wrestling. He now owns the rights to all WWE/WWF, WCW, ECW, AWA, and NWA footage and any rights associated with those companies. Vincent K. McMahon now owns Wrestling.
After returning its flagship program, RAW, to the USA Network in 2005, the WWE went through several "rebrandings" and declared its programs to be PG.
With no real threats to Mr. McMahon's empire of professional wrestling, he was able to focus his efforts on other fronts. During this period, the WWE launched several social network campaigns aimed at lifting the WWE brand's image and reputation on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Every year the WWE produces a "Tribute to the Troops" show highlighting the American Military and the sacrifices its members make on a day-to-day basis. The WWE also had programs such as; Stand Up For WWE, an anti-bullying campaign, and a Mashable Awards marketing plan.
Unfortunately, with all of this hype, programs, and campaigns, the actual WWE product suffered from poor writing and horrible story-lines. The WWE had more talent and shows to write and produce (and still do). You had RAW, Smackdown, the new NXT, Superstars, and a website and various home videos to fill with content. Competition creates a stronger product, and no one was creating any for this entertainment monster. TNA had a small following and Ring of Honor was barely on the map but nothing of the likes of WCW and its "Nitro" program.
This era is my number five basically because it "WAS" professional wrestling in the mainstream. Stars like John Cena and Triple H were making movies and joining David Letterman and Jay Leno on their shows. The sheer amount of money that the WWE has earned during this period and its expansion into other media outlets have created a professional wrestling entity larger than itself, even if the actual product isn't as good as years past.
#4 Various Territories in the 1960s and 1970s
Now, I know what you're thinking, "How can you take the easy way out and place such a huge span of years in this slot?". Easy; because this span helped create the "80's Boom" in professional wrestling.
In the 1950s (which is considered the first "Golden Age of Professional Wrestling") the media and pro wrestling promoters thought that they had watered down and thinned the pro wrestling product and scaled down on the number of wrestling programs taking major TV time slots. This is a major reason that a lot of territories started to flourish. If fans couldn't watch it as easily on TV, then their best option was to buy a ticket to the local promotion's show that weekend. The NWA was also established some years prior, to help bind these independent promotions and utilize some of the more popular talent available.
Mid-Atlantic, WWWF, AWA, IWF, and more flourished in the regional areas where they ran their shows. Popular wrestlers could also change territories and try new personalities to widen their audience appeal.
This time frame is what enabled such Hall of Famers as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Andre the Giant, Junkyard Dog, Jerry Lawler and more to become the stars that most people remember from the 1980s.
Some "experts" and "analysts" say that the 1970s was a low in professional wrestling, and for the most part it was, but that was soon to change. The 1980s were about to bring about the "Boom" in professional wrestling, and the business would never be the same.
#3 NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions 1984-1988
Fast forward to 1984. We are right in the middle of the "1980's Boom" of professional wrestling. Jim Crockett in the Southeast United States is now the "Big Dog" of the NWA and Vince McMahon's major competitor in the world of professional wrestling.
The NWA at this time focused more on the athletic competition in the ring instead of the lavish costumes and silly characters of the WWF. Now, that's not saying that the NWA didn't have it's "characters" with stars such as The Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal) with their faces painted and mohawks and shaved heads.
The most popular group during this period is, "without a shadow of a doubt," Ric Flair and his 4 horsemen. This group redefined (some would say "created") what a stable is in pro wrestling. Manager J.J. Dillon, Ole and Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard and, of course, Ric Flair usually held the top championships in the promotion and fans loved to cheer on whoever they faced with hopes that these "baddest of the bad" would lose their titles. The group had members come and go. Some of the most notable members during this period were Lex Luger and Barry Windham. The group had quite a few resurrections in WCW during the late 1980s and into the 1990s.
This period also saw the rise of Ricky Steamboat (who also had a brief period in WWF from 1985-1988) and had matches with Ric Flair that people, to this day, consider them to be some of the best matches ever. Sting also was catapulted to stardom because of a feud with Ric Flair over the Heavyweight title.
This was my preferred brand during this time, and some of my favorite memories were watching these larger than life characters battle it out on TBS or at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Ultimately, the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions couldn't stand up to the giant that was the WWF and was later sold to Ted Turner and rebranded/renamed WCW. This is the reason that this "Era" is number three and that the number two spot goes to...
#2 WWF 1983-1989
Hulkamania, Andre the Giant, Macho Man Randy Savage, The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, Ultimate Warrior, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Wrestlemania. Do I really need to go on?
Once again, here we are in the "1980's Boom" of professional wrestling. Vince McMahon has distanced himself from the NWA, has bought up several smaller promotions across the country to create a fully national wrestling program, and is buying up TV time and producing the Saturday Night Main Event which is the first nationally televised professional wrestling program in prime-time since 1955. Vince McMahon has brought back professional wrestling to the masses.
In order to bring his product into as many homes as possible (and to compete with rival Jim Crockett's "Starcade") Mr. McMahon has a crazy idea. Create a Super Bowl of professional wrestling. The question is, how do you market it to non-wrestling fans in 1985? The answer, a little TV station in its infancy called, MTV. Rock N' Wrestling is born. Mr. T, Cyndi Lauper, and wrestling on MTV. Now, I don't think I need to give a history lesson on the importance of this Pay-per-view. The event itself wasn't a smashing success. It drew only 19,000+ to the actual event and perhaps 1 million on TV, but it's what it started that is most important.
Flash forward to 1987 and Wrestlemania III: 93,173 people crammed into the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan to view this colossal event. A funny thing about that, the WWF decided to exclude the entire state of Michigan from pay-per-view access to this show. So if you lived in Michigan, the only way to see the event was to actually be there. Nifty bit of business trickery Vince.
The main event of Wrestlemania III? A little WWF Heavyweight Championship match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. The other big match on the card? Oh, just a match that is considered the best in Wrestlemania history; the WWF Intercontinental Championship match between Macho Man Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat. Some consider this event to be the pinnacle of the "1980's Boom" of professional wrestling.
The success of Wrestlemania and Hulkamania carried the WWF for a few more years, but all the attention and excitement started to wane towards the late 80's and shortly afterward, the WWF experienced what has now been referred to as the "lean years."
#1 WWF 1997-2002 (Attitude Era)
The Monday Night Wars. Any professional wrestling fan knows of this crazy time in sports entertainment. The WWF Vs. WCW. This is considered by many to be the best couple of years in pro wrestling history, myself included.
So why does the WWF/WWE get the #1 spot and not WCW with the nWo? Well, that part might not be so simple. With headline talents like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, the Undertaker, Kane, and others; it seems like a no contest, right? Not so fast. WCW had its fair share of headline talent. Bret Hart, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, Sting, Goldberg, among others. So what made the difference? Quality of the product.
Now a lot of wrestling fans are going to hate me for saying this, but Vince Russo played a HUGE factor in the success of WWF during these years. Of course, a one, Mr. Mcmahon had all veto and final say-so (something Russo didn't have in WCW). The outlandish stories, lewd sexual remarks, and actions, violence, and bloodshed sky-rocketed the WWF to the top, but it was more than that.
The WWF had a way of making the finish to a match a marvel to watch. Just when you knew how the match was going to end, it went in a totally different direction. Remember Mike Tyson turning on Shawn Michaels and DX? Did you see that one coming? Didn't think so.
Storylines such as Shawn Michaels and Triple H's stable DX and their wild antics, Stone Cold Vs. Mr. McMahon, Undertaker Vs. Kane, and more, kept the ratings moving upward. Remember when I said competition creates a better product at #5? It's true.
Another factor in the WWF's dominance in the Monday Night Wars? Innovation. The Hardy Boyz, the Dudley Boyz, and Edge and Christian took ladder matches to a whole new level and created the TLC match (Tables, Ladders, and Chairs) which now has a pay-per-view centered around this match type. The Undertaker had his "Hell in a Cell" match, which now has its own pay-per-view, as well.
Each pay-per-view felt like it meant something. Each Championship had a meaning to it. Every match had a reason for taking place, and about 90% of them were the best they could be.
I thoroughly enjoyed this time in professional wrestling history and because the WWF/WWE won the Monday Night Wars and eventually bought its major competitor, WCW, it gets my number one spot on this list. It proved, in the end, that it was a better product.
So there you have it. My opinions on the "best" of professional wrestling. I realize that some great moments were left out. ECW, The nWo, Jeff Jarrett's TNA, and more were barely discussed. Remember earlier when I stated that this was a loaded question? It's impossible to state which "Era" is the best because, in the end, we're all fans of certain characters, we all have our ideas of what makes good TV, and different things entertain us differently.
Like all industries, professional wrestling has its highs and lows, its peaks and valleys. Who knows, in another 10 years this list may radically change.
My point is; don't allow anyone to tell you who or what is the best. Decide for yourself. If your favorite wrestler of all time is The One Man Gang, don't let me tell you any different. Don't mind the laughing. It's nothing personal. I assure you.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Josh Gerry