Throughout the Attitude Era of the 1990s, the WWE (WWF then) was one of the biggest brands in the world. People did not miss the opportunity to tune in week after to week to see their favorite wrestlers duke it out for their pride and for the coveted shot at the title belt. With so many wrestlers coming to fame within this decade, it is difficult to say which of them were better than others. While some names are always going to be revered as legends of the business, below you will find a list of which stars are deemed to be the best WWE wrestlers of the 1990s. You might not agree with every name on this list, or have some suggestions that you would have rather seen instead, but this should be an accurate cross section of the commanding force of professional wrestling as it neared the turn of the century.
There are few people that became as invested in ECW wrestling and did not know who Tommy Dreamer was. There was a reason that he was considered to be the “innovator of violence” and he wore this like a badge of honor. Week in and week out, he would put on a show that the fans were never going to forget. This was amplified even more through intense rivalries that could only really be forged in the Extreme Championship Wrestling that would make names like Sabu and Taz household commodities. It was this brand of wrestling that really found its stride in the 1990s, and was likely to blame for a lot of broken coffee tables and furniture. Dreamer’s efforts would pay off through wide fan acceptance for occasional returns to the ring for WWE events, and would climax the day that he (hopefully) gets inducted into the Hall of Fame.
While the man behind the mask would debut in the WWF in 1995, it wouldn't be until 1997 that the character the world recognizes as Kane would emerge. Billed as the unknown tortured half-brother of the Undertaker, this opened a world of possibility for the character. When it suited the brand, he and Undertaker would team up in a vicious tag team known as the Brothers of Destruction. There would also be points in which these two titans would feud with one another. For the first year of being Kane, the wrestler said nothing. It wouldn't be until X-Pac gave him a voicebox gadget that he could talk in brief sentences. Eventually the WWF/WWE would abandon this storyline of silence completely, allowing Kane to speak freely to audiences in promos after the turn of the century.
While his tenure with the WWE/WWF was a roller coaster ride at best, this is no different than a lot of the wrestlers that were jumping ship from brand to brand and back again as the deals would fall through or sweeten. While in his 1990s run with the WWF Kevin Nash went by the name Diesel, he would later change this to his actual name through his runs with both WCW and TNA Wrestling brands. He would be one of the only wrestlers to obtain the coveted WWF Triple Crown (having won all three titles available). Along with Shawn Michaels, Diesel would also find success in the tag team competitions. Now over 20 years later, Kevin Nash is still signed with the WWE under their Legends contract.
Rob Van Dam
Mr. Pay Per View, Rob Van Dam. You can almost hear the crowd finishing his name for him as was customary when he was wrestling in his prime. While this impressive talent was best known for his high flying martial arts inspired wrestling maneuvers, he was best known for his ongoing feuds with ECW talent like Sabu. It was here in ECW that Van Dam would gain the following that he had been dreaming of, and he would find himself becoming a household name amongst avid wrestling fans worldwide. These fans happily joined him on his journey back to the flagship program WWF and into some impressive reigns as Intercontinental Champion, Mr. Money in the Bank, and both the WWE Heavyweight Champion and ECW Heavyweight Champion simultaneously.
Scott Hall/Razor Ramon
Perhaps one of the greatest personalities to hate amongst the stars of the WWF/WWE through the 1990s, Razor Ramon had you always on your toes. But like many of the big personalities to be featured for the brand, you had plenty of times where Ramon was a face for the company as well, having roaring audiences applaud and cheer when he would enter the ring. The character itself was said to be modeled after a joke that Scott Hall pitched to Vince McMahon which was basically a complete rip off of the movie Scarface. Admitting later that he had never seen the film, McMahon was quick to dub Hall a genius and move forward with his pitch to get him onto television. Some of the noted rivalries that Razor Ramon would be involved in were with Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior before Warrior was released from the company.
Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig
Having three separate runs with the WWF/WWE Curt Hennig aka Mr. Perfect would have widespread success with the brand. While he was a remarkable talent in the ring, he also had a knack for being the best of the good guys out there and the worst of the bad guys. There was an unmistakable flair that came from the second generation wrestler, and this extended through two Heavyweight Intercontinental Championships with the WWF/WWE. Of course, the moniker that he used as a ring name in the later part of his career would be on account of his widespread professionalism and commitment to improving the overall standards of technical wrestling within professional brands. He is considered among fans to be one of the greatest wrestlers to ever get in the ring, and has been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
The reason that the heading for this section is Mick Foley is that there were actually three different personas of the wrestler that all rose to prominence (and successful title matches) with the 1990s. Foley was one of the only wrestlers of his kind, truly sacrificing his own well being for the entertainment of the fans. He was able to gain a lot of fame and notoriety through his portrayal of mentally unwell Mankind, but saw a lot of success with the unmasked wild-west inspired persona of Cactus Jack and hippie Dude Love as well. While Mankind would initially be released as a heel, especially through his feud with the Undertaker, fans would find themselves in a middle ground with the character, rooting for him even when he wasn’t the good guy in the story.
There are likely few people who do not remember Triple H from his very long standing run with the WWF/WWE. He has had several long reigns with the Heavyweight title, not to mention tag team belts and other belts throughout his career as well. Through the 1990s, he was most known for his antics with the group Degeneration X, which featured Shawn Michaels, X-Pac, Road Dogg and several others. This was one of the new coalitions that with spawn the “attitude era” for the franchise, allowing stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin to get edgier and the overall feel of the show to be grittier and less directed towards the younger audience like it had been in the years prior. Now Triple H is an executive for the brand, working behind the scenes and still happily married to the bosses daughter, Stephanie McMahon.
You cannot talk about the 1990s for professional wrestling and not mention “The Nature Boy” Rick Flair. He had a presence that could not be denied, in a profession where everyone has egos the size of the building they are fighting in. Ric was perhaps one of the greatest wrestlers both in and out of the ring, aligning himself with some of the top talent and having epic feuds with household names like Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. Fans from all over the world would be glued to the edge of their seats when his pay per view matches were on, hoping to get another chance to see his impressive Figure Four Leg Lock.
Perhaps known as one of the greatest wrestlers that audiences were ever able to see, is Bret Hart. He hails from Canada but found all kinds of success with the WWF from the mid-1980s through his eventual departure from the company in 1997. His reign in the WWF would see him win multiple titles, including the Heavyweight Championship. He was still acting as Heavyweight Champion when he was fighting in his last match for the WWF in 1997 against Shawn Michaels (his long time personal and professional rival) where he was very blatantly stripped of his title when Vince McMahon had ordered the bell to be rung when Shawn Michaels had Bret Hart in Hart’s signature finisher, the Sharpshooter. Ultimately, he went on to find a few years of success with the WCW.
While there were so many cheesy gimmicks that would come and go throughout the sordid history of the WWF, one of the ones that was a lasting persona that really brought crowds into an uproar was "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase. While much of his dealings with other superstars would be underhanded and disqualification worthy, this was all part of being one of the biggest heels that the brand had ever developed. When he wasn't getting disqualified or beaten up on by a face for the brand at the time (Ultimate Warrior and DiBiase had quite a broiling feud) he was managing some of the talent that would come up through the ranks as an on-camera manager who got involved with matches as often as he could.
The Ultimate Warrior
Every kid in America wanted to be the Ultimate Warrior whenever he was a prominent wrestler for the WWF brand. He brought a level of intensity and fierceness that the ring was rarely seeing at the time, not to mention primarily running out the course of his career as a major face for the company. While he might have left the company on a rather sour note, and without a solid reason that the company or Warrior could give to nail down the root cause, suddenly the world was without one of its most treasured personas fighting for the good guys under the flag of the WWF. Warrior would have many feuds throughout his time in the ring, but none were quite as memorable as his long standing beef with “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
Hulk Hogan was the poster boy for professional wrestling. Even through his later heel turns in other brands, fans were still adoring his legacy through all of the best years that the WWF had to offer fans. You can liken Hogan’s successes to that of modern uber face for WWE John Cena. You were always waiting for a time when it would seem right for the legend to turn heel for the WWF, but that rarely ever happened with his incredible support that he got from the crowd. Ultimately, Hogan would shuffle from brand to brand, coming back at critical moments for the WWF/WWE and solidifying his spot in the Hall of Fame. He had a number of incredible feuds over the years with some of the top talent that came down the ramp to the ring, one of the biggest to happen was with the Ultimate Warrior some time before he jumped ship to the WCW.
If you have never heard of the band Fozzy, that’s quite alright. Not to many people have although this was something that 90s breakout wrestler Chris Jericho tried tirelessly to promote in the latter stages of his professional career. All in all, the impressive wrestler would have an amazing run on the professional circuit, getting a total of 32 combined title reigns between WWF/WWE, WCW and ECW. He was one of the few wrestlers to have a very long standing introduction into the WWF, having promos that went on for a long time prior to his initial debut with the company. Jericho would seemingly immediately get into a feud with a now dwindling Degeneration X, sparking a rivalry between both Road Dogg and taking the Intercontinental Title away from Chyna.
Savage was easily one of the most controversial wrestlers to have ever stepped foot in the ring. Few people could match his overwhelming intensity, so it was easy for him to stay in the spotlight, when even some of the other people who had become famous through their former feuds dimmed and faded out. Savage would actually host some of the greatest feuds that fans would ever see throughout the 1990s, having incredible bouts with the likes of The Ultimate Warrior, Ric Flair and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, all of whom have been included on this list of the greatest superstars of the decade. All Slim Jim promotions aside, there were few that could cut a promo for a feud or an upcoming match quick like Macho Man could. This is what made him a household name throughout the 80s and 90s and makes him still relevant in the discussion for best showmen of that era.
It is easy for people to know who the Undertaker is. He has had one of the longest standing careers in the WWF/WWE. He has always been a main eventer too, from his humble beginnings coming out to eerie music accompanied by Paul Bearer all the way up through his incredible feuds with the likes of Mankind through the latter part of the 1990s. Fans were not always behind the massive wrestler, as his persona rarely changed and that could make him either a face or a heel depending on who he happened to be entangled with at the time. Perhaps one of the worst things about Undertaker through the 1990s though, was undoubtedly his companion Paul Bearer. Through his career, he would attain one of the most impressive winning streaks that Wrestlemania has ever seen, or will likely ever see again with 14 straight victories.
Rowdy Roddy Piper has a big attitude and he is not afraid to let everyone know about it. Through some of the best matches in WWF history, Piper was able to solidify his presence to the masses as both an incredible heel for the company and be one of the best faces that the company has ever had too. Roddy Piper was not one of the most accomplished men in the ring however, but he more than made up for his lack of in-ring prowess with his incredible charisma and overwhelming persona that all but forced fans to become enthralled each and every single time that he picked up a microphone and had something to say.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
There is nothing quite like knowing you are one of the most badass guys to ever step into the squared circle. While he had a short run as “Stunning” Steve Austin with the WCW as a heel, when he signed with the WWF, execs saw an opportunity for him to lose the pretty boy act and adopt a truly new beer swigging, middle finger waving, hell bringing son of a gun. He was an instant hit with adoring fans who needed this anti-hero to really round off the attitude era. This also gave Vince McMahon a chance to get out from behind the scenes and into the action, when the two would spark an on-camera feud that would go on for many years and resulted in numerous breathtaking matches between the two.
Shawn Michaels has always fell to his good looks and charm to carry him through the early part of his career, but it was his sheer talent and ability in the ring that made him an incredible persona to watch from week to week. Michaels will likely always be remembered for a few instances in his career, starting with his presence in the bad boy group of Degeneration X, then his involvement in the “Montreal Screwjob” which gave him the Heavyweight Championship unfairly won from Bret Hart, and finally his perceived throwing of a match at Wrestlemania. The last of these was done in order to try and save some of the wrestlers from leaving the brand when WCW was offering a pretty lucrative deal for fresh talent.
If you smell what the Rock is cooking, then you can tell how important it is to have a lasting catch phrase. The Rock might be all over the movie screen now, being featured in all kinds of major releases, but when he got his start with the WWF, people were floored by his character and charisma. He had a way with the microphone, and a physicality in the ring that really ushered in a step away from overly sized behemoths in the ring to be replaced with truly muscle bound, confident and charismatic forces of nature. The Rock was a truly impressive specimen, and respectfully earns the right to be deemed the greatest WWE Wrestler of the 1990s from his title reigns to his overall popularity with millions of fans worldwide.
Written by Garrett Parker
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