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Top 5 Eras in Professional Wrestling

Updated on June 22, 2017

A lot of people ask me for my opinion on professional wrestling all the time. The question I get asked the most is, "When was wrestling at its best?"

To be honest, that's a pretty loaded question. The industry 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 many more have all been the face of pro wrestling throughout the decades. It seems rather unfair to pick just one.

I've decided to take the easy way out and pick my top five time periods in the buisiness. These picks will not only be divided by years but also by promotions. As such, some picks may overlap each other. Some may disagree with my picks but I will give supporting evidence for each one 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 business as a whole. Now, let's start at number five.

Five Best Eras of Pro Wrestling

1. WWE 2005-2010
2. Various Territories in the 1960s and 1970s
3. NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions 1984-1988
4. WWF 1983-1989
5. WWF 1997-2002
John Cena has been the WWE's top superstar for the past several years.
John Cena has been the WWE's top superstar for the past several years.

#5 WWE 2005-2010 (PG Era)

In 2001, the WWE purchased their rival promotion, WCW. This was final shot of the Monday Night Wars and it changed the industry forever. WWE owner Vince McMahon now had a monopoly on professional wrestling. He owned the rights and video libraries of promotions he put out of business like WCW, ECW, and AWA.

After returning its flagship program, Monday Night Raw, to the USA Network in 2005, the WWE went through several rebrandings and declared their programs to be PG.

With no real threat 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 brand's image and reputation on sites such as Twitter and Facebook. They began producing the annual Tribute to the Troops show where the company performs for a military audience. They also started programs like an anti-bullying campaign and a Mashable Awards marketing plan.

Unfortunately, with so much attention on these other endeavors, the actual WWE product suffered from poor writing and horrible storylines. The company had more talent than they knew what to do with and had more TV programs to write and produce. They had Raw, Smackdown, NXT, Superstars, a website, and various home video releases to fill with content. Competition creates a stronger product and now the WWE had none. There are promotions like TNA and Ring of Honor but they have small followings and are barely a blip on the map. No one has come close to the popularity of WCW and its Nitro program.

This era is at number five mostly because it has maintained keeping professional wrestling in the mainstream. Stars like John Cena and Triple H were making movies and joining David Letterman and Jay Leno on their talk shows. The sheer amount of money that the WWE has earned during this period and its expansion into other media outlets have created a company that is larger than pro wrestling. This success has sadly come at the expense of quality.

#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, this period helped create the 80s boom in the industry.

In the 1950s (which is considered the first golden age), the media and promoters believed that they had watered down and thinned out the product. They decided to scale down on the amount of wrestling programs taking major TV time slots. This is a major reason why regional territories started to flourish. If fans couldn't watch wrestling easily on TV, then their best option was to buy a ticket to the local show that weekend. The NWA was also established some years prior to help bind these independent promotions and exchange some of the more popular talent available.

Mid-Atlantic, WWWF, AWA, IWF, and others flourished in their respective regions 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 Hall of Famers such 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 point in professional wrestling. It was for the most part but that was soon to change. The 1980s were about to bring a massive spike in business and the industry would never be the same.

The Original 4 Horsemen (From L to R: Ole Anderson, Tully Blanchard, J.J. Dillon, Arn Anderson, and Ric Flair)
The Original 4 Horsemen (From L to R: Ole Anderson, Tully Blanchard, J.J. Dillon, Arn Anderson, and Ric Flair)

#3 NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions 1984-1988

Fast forward to 1984. We are right in the middle of the 80's boom. Jim Crockett in the Southeastern US is now the big dog of the NWA and is 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 its own characters. Stars such as the Road Warriors (Hawk and Animal) had their faces painted and rocked mohawks and shaved heads.

The most popular group during this period was, without a shadow of a doubt, Ric Flair and his 4 Horsemen. This group redefined (some would say created) what a stable is in the sport. Manager J.J. Dillon, Ole and Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and Ric Flair usually held the top championships in the promotion and fans loved to cheer on whoever they faced with hopes that these bad guys would lose their titles. The group had members come and go. Some of the most notable members during this period included 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 run in the WWF from 1985-1988) as he had matches with Ric Flair that are still considered to be some of the best matches ever. Sting was also catapulted to stardom because of his feud with 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. The promotion was later sold to Ted Turner and it was renamed to WCW.

#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 boom period of the 80s. Vince McMahon had distanced himself from the NWA and bought up several smaller promotions across the country to create a fully national wrestling company. He bought up TV time and produced Saturday Night's Main Event, the first nationally televised professional wrestling program in primetime since 1955. McMahon had brought the product back to the masses.

In order to bring his product into as many homes as possible (and to compete with Jim Crockett's Starcade event) McMahon developed a crazy idea. He wanted wrestling to have its own Super Bowl. The question is how do you market it to non-wrestling fans in 1985? The answer was a little TV network in its infancy called MTV. A partnership called the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection was born. Cross-promotion was done that involved Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper. This all led to the inaugural pay-per-view event of Wrestlemania. 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 the show started that is most important.

Flash forward to 1987 and Wrestlemania III. 93,173 people are crammed into the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan to view this colossal event. A funny thing about the event was 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 there 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 this era.

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 80s and into the early 90s. The WWF entered into what has now been referred to as the lean years.

The feud between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon in the late 90s fueled the WWF Attitude Era and their massive ratings.
The feud between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon in the late 90s fueled the WWF Attitude Era and their massive ratings.

#1 WWF 1997-2002 (Attitude Era)

The Monday Night Wars. All fans know of this crazy time in sports entertainment. It was the WWF vs WCW for TV ratings. This is considered by many to be the best couple of years in the buisiness, myself included.

So why does the WWF get the #1 spot and not WCW with their NWO storyline? With headline talent like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, and Kane among others, it seems like a no contest, right? Not so fast. WCW had its fair share of headline talent. They had Bret Hart, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, Sting, and Goldberg. So what made the difference? It was the quality of the product.

Now a lot of fans are going to hate me for saying this but writer Vince Russo played a huge factor in the success of the WWF during these years. Of course, Mr. McMahon had editorial control and the final say over his ideas; Russo would have more freedom in WCW, which proved to be a bad thing. The outlandish stories, lewd sexual content, and increased violence skyrocketed the company to the top.

However, there was more to their success than just catering to a mature audience, The WWF had a way of making the finish of 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 when Mike Tyson turned on Shawn Michaels and DX during the main event of a Wrestlemania? Did you see that one coming? Didn't think so.

Storylines such as the stable of DX and their wild antics, Stone Cold vs Mr. McMahon, and Undertaker vs Kane kept the ratings moving upward. Remember when I said competition creates a better product at #5? It's true.

Another factor in their dominance was 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 specific match type. The Undertaker had his Hell in a Cell match, which now has its own pay-per-view as well.

Each major event 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 period. Because the WWF won the Monday Night Wars and eventually bought WCW, it gets my number one spot on this list. It proved in the end that it was the better product.

Conclusion

So there you have it. My opinions on the best eras of professional wrestling. I realize that some great moments were left out. ECW, the NWO, Jeff Jarrett's TNA, and others were barely discussed. Remember earlier when I stated that this was a loaded question? It's impossible to state which period is the best. In the end, we're all fans of certain characters, we all have our ideas of what makes good TV, and we are all entertained by different things.

Like all industries, professional wrestling has its highs and lows. Who knows, in another 10 years this list may radically change.

My point is that you shouldn'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 me laughing. It's nothing personal, I assure you.

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      charlonefox 5 years ago

      Great article.

      My favorite era was of course the attitude era.

      But I'm starting to watch wrestling more often these days because of Cm Punk. I find him to be very interesting and there is something about him that makes Monday night Raw watchable.

    • Josh Gerry profile image
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      Josh Gerry 5 years ago from Winston-Salem, North Carolina

      Cm Punk definitely has a talent on the microphone that the WWE hasn't seen in a long time.

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      Colby Jack 5 years ago

      WCW failed because of piss poor business decisions, and Vince Russo. I think WCW was better. Theres two drastically different types of wrestling fans. The era was great because you had two different products. The WCW fanbase was NEVER picked up by WWE, and the industry suffered. TNA bringing in the old guys was an attempt at reeling them in, but generally it failed. Wrestling won't be great again until the local territories rise again. And that's your job. Good read

    • Josh Gerry profile image
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      Josh Gerry 5 years ago from Winston-Salem, North Carolina

      I partially agree with you on the WCW issue Colby. Unfortunately, WCW failed because they were trying too hard to beat WWF/WWE instead of nurturing their product.

      I have heard TNA called the "New WCW" and to an extent it's true.

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      Razor 4 years ago

      I ask myself this all the time, being that I no longer even pay attention to one of my favorite pasttimes. I'm 29 now, & in the late 80's, I remember watching Sunday morning WWF & it was like a natural opiate back then. Fast forward to the early 90's, of Bret Harts,HBK's,& my all time fav, Razor Ramon. Then after all the drama & dust settled, the Monday Nie Wars. My thumbs still hurt from clickingf back n forth to see Stone Cold & NwO. I really am blessed to have grown up as a teen during the BEST era in wrestling.....1990-2001.

    • AWAFlashback profile image

      David Aaron 4 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I am, obviously, an AWA guy, but terrific list. That 1998-2001 era past my time as a fan, but that era brought me totally back! The Austin/McMahon/Rock stuff was terrific. The NWA in the mid 1980s also had such great matches. They combined the modern focus on entertainment with the awesome workers of the time. When the NWO was first forming, that was pretty exciting also and got me back into wrestling for maybe a month.

      http://hubpages.com/@awaflashback

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      jjammin1812 2 years ago

      I've been searching for the current Pro Wrestling Territory map and can't find one. I believe, but am not sure, the old territories still have some life in them yet there is no real news to be found . . . or web sites . . . about any of them! (...maybe because I just haven't found them yet...)

      I that the WWE industry has the most money to spend on talent and on what's best for business. So, I suggest that "The Authority" take a lesson from the old man and step into the shadows and bring back GM's to run things with the Authority having a little influence here and there to right the coarse of any GM in power.

      Then, influence the territory leagues with a promoter in each territory with the off-air contract proposal to search for talent to move towards the WWE locker room. This could spark up the current showings in all the territories current talent and bring renewed cash flow in for the promotion of those the WWE promoters see as on their way to the WWE! Over all, this could bring about more talent . . . fund territorial airings . . . win over greater numbers in audience attendance . . . and fuel the current talent to step-up their game! And isn't that really what's best for business anyway!?!?!

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