In the 1980’s two men, Hulk Hogan and Bob Backlund, would dominate the WWE. The 1990’s started with Hulk Hogan on top but the early 90’s would see many more wrestlers step up as threats to Hulk Hogan’s reign.
Hulk Hogan was still extremely popular in the WWE but his crown for most popular was actually being challenged by the ultra energizing Ultimate Warrior. The Ultimate Warrior’s face paint, outfit and electrifying entrance were a crowd favorite. In 1990 Vince McMahon decided to pit the two most popular WWE wrestlers against each other. Instead of turning one heel, like with the Mega Powers, Vince McMahon simply let the two face each other as good guys and let the fans choose which side they were on. The crowd seemed to be split evenly in popularity but the Ultimate Warrior would win the match and the WWE World Heavyweight Title.
In 1990 Sgt. Slaughter would return to the WWE but instead of the patriotic character everyone was used to in his first stint, Slaughter returned as a heel that supported Iraq. Sgt. Slaughter would defeat the Ultimate Warrior with help from Randy Savage to capture the WWE World Heavyweight Title at the 1991 Royal Rumble. Since Sgt. Slaughter had turned on America the United States needed to find someone just as patriotic to defeat Slaughter. They once again turned to Hulk Hogan who would defeat Sgt. Slaughter at Wrestlemania VII.
The Phenom and the Real World Heavyweight Champion
In 1991 two new challengers arose to the top of the WWE. In 1990 the Undertaker made his debut at the Survivor Series. The Undertaker was a large man who seemed to be invincible and had some kind of powers over lightning, fire and anything else. The Undertaker became very popular in 1991 after feuds with the Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage.
Also in 1991, Ric Flair left WCW and signed with the WWF. Ric Flair brought with him the World Title he held in the WCW and called himself the “Real World Heavyweight Champion”.
Since Ric Flair considered himself the real champion he often took shots at the WWE Champion Hulk Hogan but it was the Undertaker who would get the first shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Title. The Undertaker would defeat Hulk Hogan to win the WWE World Heavyweight Title when Ric Flair interfered in the match and cost Hulk Hogan the win. President Jack Tunney ordered the Undertaker to give Hulk Hogan a rematch at Tuesday in Texas and Hulk Hogan won the title back. After some controversy over the two matches Hulk Hogan was stripped of the title and it was decided the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble would be the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
Instead of doing the big money match of Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan, Vince McMahon decided that Hulk Hogan would feud with Sycho Sid, figuring they could hold off on the Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair feud. At the 1992 Royal Rumble Sycho Sid would eliminate Hulk Hogan beginning their feud. Meanwhile Ric Flair would go on to win the WWE World Heavyweight Title.
When the WWE was finally about to go forward with a Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair feud Hulk Hogan left the WWE because of a steroid scandal. Ric Flair began a program with Randy Savage. Ric Flair claimed to have slept with Randy Savage’s wife, Elizabeth. Randy Savage would then defeat Ric Flair at Wrestlemania VIII. Randy Savage was set to take on the Ultimate Warrior when Ric Flair attacked him and injured his knee. Later in the year Ric Flair would use Randy Savage’s knee injury to his advantage and regain the WWE World Title.
The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be
The second title reign of Ric Flair’s would not last very long. Ric Flair had an ear injury and he would need to drop the title. The new champion would be rising star Bret “the Hitman” Hart. Hulk Hogan returned to the WWE and that meant making him the World Heavyweight Champion again. Vince McMahon did not want Hulk Hogan wrestling Bret Hart in a face vs. face match though. Bret Hart instead took on Yokozuna at Wrestlemania IX and Yokozuna would defeat Bret Hart thanks to interference from Mr. Fuji. Hulk Hogan would then burst on to the scene to beat Yokozuna immediately after the match and win the WWE World Heavyweight Title.
It was time once again for Hulk Hogan to leave the WWE, this time to head to World Championship Wrestling. Vince McMahon wanted Hulk Hogan to lose the title to Bret Hart as a way of passing the torch but Hulk Hogan refused. Instead Hulk Hogan defended the WWE World Heavyweight Title against Yokozuna. Yokozuna kicked out of Hulk Hogan’s leg drop and then did a leg drop of his own to win the the WWE World Heavyweight Title. Yokozuna then gave one final Banzai Drop to Hulk Hogan to end Hulkamania.
Bret Hart was still given his chance at winning the WWE World Heavyweight Title though. At the 1994 Royal Rumble Bret Hart and Lex Luger would both win the Royal Rumble and would both wrestle for the WWE World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania. Lex Luger failed to defeat Yokozuna but Bret Hart would go on to beat Yokozuna and win his second World Heavyweight Title.
In 1994 Bob Backlund retuned to the WWE. Bob Backlund claimed that he never actually lost the WWE World Heavyweight Title years ago because he did not quit or submit to the Iron Sheik; he only lost because his manager threw in the towel. Bret Hart would give Bob Backlund a title shot in an “I Quit” match. The match ended when Bret Hart’s brother, Owen, convinced their mother to throw in the towel on behalf of Bret. When the towel was thrown in the match ended and the WWE World Heavyweight Title was awarded to Bob Backlund. Bret Hart had lost the title the same way that Bob Backlund did 10 years earlier.
Bob Backlund’s title reign would not last though. Diesel, now known as Kevin Nash, would get a title match against Bob Backlund. Diesel started off the match by kicking Bob Backlund in the stomach and then immediately doing his finisher, a jack-knife powerbomb, winning in eight seconds. Diesel would then go on a long title reign, which included teaming up with Shawn Michaels and winning the tag team titles, and Shawn Michaels also winning the Intercontinental Title. Bret Hart would then get another shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Title at Survivor Series 1995 and would end Diesel’s lengthy reign.