The World Wrestling Federation in 1994 was going through a huge transition. The anabolic steroid trials were running rampant which limited the body-builder physiques in Vince McMahon Jr’s company. Not only that, the mainstays of the previous few years were bolting for World Championship Wrestling or local promotions Smoky Mountain Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling. Between January of 1993 and 1994 the WWF lost The Beverly Brothers, The Repo Man, Kamala, Tito Santana, Ric Flair, The Nasty Boys, Giant Gonzalez, Big Bossman, Damien Demento, Koko B Ware, Jim Duggan, Brutus Beefcake, Gene Okerlund, Bobby Heenan and the biggest star of the 80’s, Hulk Hogan. That’s quite the turnover in one calendar year.
With most of the stalwarts of the previous years gone, Vince Jr. had to create new stars almost on the fly. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall were floundering in WCW as Vinnie Vegas and The Diamond Studd, and Scott instantly became a star as Razor Ramon. When Kevin got to the WWF he was Shawn Michaels’ bodyguard and was barely pushed up until his career turning performance at the 1994 Royal Rumble. There was a 21-year-old kid working for Herb Abrams called The Lightning Kid, who Vince rechristened 1-2-3 Kid, doing insane bumps that Jeff Hardy would have found too dangerous. He got over as a never-say-die underdog. The Wild Samoans Afa and Sika’s nephew Rodney was rechristened Yokozuna and within 5 months of his debut, he was WWF Champion. Jeff Jarrett had been a huge star in the Tennessee territories going back to the 80’s and brought his shtick to WWF to become one of the top heels. Owen Hart went from an opening match tag-teamer in 1993 to a huge star in 1994 due to his skills and ability to work with anyone. Then there was the main event babyfaces, which Vince Jr had to figure out who to push over the other.
On one hand you had Bret “The Hitman” Hart who had been with the WWF since 1985 and had been a 2-time Intercontinental champion, 2-time Tag Team Champion and was WWF champion from late ’92 to Wrestlemania 9. He pretty much held the boat intact as the “fighting champion” after Vince sent Randy Savage to the announce booth and the trio of Hogan, Flair and Ultimate Warrior departed. With the larger than life muscleheads of the 80’s disappearing due to the steroid crackdown, the smaller guys such as Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and the 123 Kid started getting more TV time. Bret wasn’t over the top like Hogan, Savage or Warrior, but he could work with anyone and at the very least fans got their money’s worth in the ring. He was the mainstay of the main event scene through most of 1993.
Then you had the heir apparent to Hogan in the eyes of Vince McMahon…. Lex Luger. As shortsighted as the idea was, Vince did all he could to make it happen. Luger was a former football player for the Miami Hurricanes and the Memphis Showboats of the USFL that turned to wrestling because of the money to be made. Never a wrestling fan, he drew tons of mostly unwarranted criticism for getting pushed to the moon in the Florida territory and then as Ole Anderson’s replacement in the Four Horseman led by Ric Flair. Barely in the business for a year, all of a sudden Lex Luger is working main event programs in Jim Crockett’s territory which would eventually become WCW. He did well as a babyface but was a natural heel. He had a cocky demeanor, a chiseled physique and the money he was making gave him a narcissistic attitude that many in the back didn’t appreciate, even if Luger didn’t actually mean to come off that way. He eventually became WCW Champion in 1991 but when he couldn’t take “We Want Flair” chants anymore (that’s a story for another day), he bolted not for the WWF but for the WBF. Younger readers may be going “what the heck is the WBF?” Years before Vince Jr lost his mind creating his own football league, he created his own body-building federation. That’s another story for another day but Lex became the antagonist on the WBF show until it folded. After it folded, he was branded The Narcissist and became one of the top heels of the WWF in 1993. Even if the gimmick of staring at himself in mirrors was a little goofy, he played the role to perfection as this was his natural attitude really. Then came the departure of Hulk Hogan. After Hogan took his ball and went home, Vince needed to create the next one and the guy with the closest physique was Luger. On a very famous event on the deck of the USS Intrepid, there was a bodyslam challenge where football, wrestling and other sport stars from all over the country on July 4th tried to bodyslam Yokozuna. After everyone had failed, all of a sudden Luger appeared out of a helicopter and slammed the big guy, getting a huge ovation from the crowd. Luger was branded Made in The USA with a patriotic gimmick, given his own private bus and feuded with Yokozuna for most of 1993.
This is where Vince had a problem heading into 1994, he tried like hell pushing Lex as the future champion but Bret was just as over and hardcore fans saw right through the patriotic gimmick as Lex had been a cocky heel for most of his career. At the 1994 Royal Rumble, Vince would put his Wrestlemania 10 main event to the test when he had co-winners for the first and only time, having both Bret and Lex win the event to earn shots at Yokozuna. Now the fans had to make a choice, Lex or Bret. Despite Lex doing all he could, there was no stopping Bret. The fans made their choice and so did Vince, having Luger fail to defeat Yokozuna only for Bret to defeat Yoko for the WWF Championship in the final match. This is where booking kind of hit the wall for the next few months.
In real life, Lex almost completely disappeared from the main event scene instantly and only made a cameo at the King of The Ring in June to cost Crush the tag team title (since Crush cost him a KOTR slot). He moved on to feud with Tatanka and Ted Dibiase’s crew after a Tatanka heel turn that could be seen a mile away. While this was going on Vince saw potential in Diesel and quickly had Razor Ramon drop the IC title to him in May, only for Diesel to inexplicably face Bret for the WWF title at KOTR. The move made almost no sense since they weren’t going to give the title to Diesel after just giving him the IC belt and he was nowhere near the main event since he arrived. Also at the ’94 KOTR was a completely horrible Roddy Piper vs Jerry Lawler match that stunk up the final match of the night. The only thing they got right that night was pushing Owen Hart to win the KOTR. Owen had turned heel at the Royal Rumble in a great storyline of him tired of being the little brother. He had defeated Bret cleanly at Wrestlemania 10 in the opening match only to watch Bret win the WWF title later that night. The message was clear, if Owen beat Bret on his best day, what’s that say about Owen?
To make a long story short, (too late), even if they got Owen right, the WWF still got a lot of things wrong. In my less than humble opinion, this is how they should have booked the middle of 1994. The first piece of the puzzle was Lex Luger. After Wrestlemania 10 he was supposed to feud with Mr. Perfect for costing him the title, but Perfect backed out due to his back injury so Lex transitioned into a feud with Crush…..which ended shortly after Crush went to jail for real. Talk about no luck. Instead of Bret work with Diesel in a one-off at the KOTR that made no sense, this is what should have happened. Once Vince figures out Perfect is not coming back, he should have had Lex immediately turn heel by attacking Bret on Monday Night Raw in early April. Lex could cut a promo on Superstars that weekend saying he’s tired of catering to fans with the stupid patriotic gimmick and its the WWF title, not the USA, that he loves the most. Whether he goes back to being the Narcissist or is just Lex Luger circa 1991, point is the fans would have certainly gone for heel Lex as the antagonist to Bret. Not to mention the buzz surrounding Wrestlemania was the fans chose Bret, so Lex could have worked with that in a jealousy angle. Instead of Diesel vs Bret, now you have the main event of KOTR being Bret Hart vs Lex Luger. Fans would have definitely been interested to see heel Lex against Bret.
So what about Diesel? Diesel had already beaten Razor Ramon for the IC title in May so it would have been natural to have the rematch at the KOTR. Since the plan was to give Razor the title back at Summerslam, they still could have booked Razor vs Diesel at KOTR with a BS finish to set up Summerslam. That way you keep Diesel with the title without wasting the main event.
Unfortunately that impacts the actual KOTR tournament because in real life Razor made it to the finals before losing to Owen Hart. With no Razor, who has enough star power to put Owen over in the finals? The answer is simple really, Bob Backlund. Bob Backlund was WWF champion for 5 years from 1978 to 1983 before giving way to Hulk Hogan. After being away for 10 years, he made a return in 1993 and was mostly a bland, mid-card babyface from 1993 to most of 1994. In real life he turned heel in July of 1994 and became a grumpy old man character that got over huge, culminating in beating Bret Hart for the WWF title at Survivor Series at the age of 45. In this revised history, Backlund beats Kwang in the Qualifying match on Raw, then Bam Bam Bigelow and IRS at the ppv only to be cheated out of the finals by the returning Jim “The Anvil” Niedhart. Owen wins the tournament and Bob wins respect.
When all is said and done, you have a main event match that makes sense in Lex vs Bret with Niedhart in Bret’s corner, screwing Lex out of the title. Diesel and Razor work a match that ends with Diesel keeping the title, and Owen wins the KOTR to shoot himself into the main event picture, putting Backlund over in the process.
Now what to do afterwards? Instead of Tatanka turning heel on Luger, the natural Summerslam buildup has Tatanka remaining babyface to take on the “turncoat” Luger. Diesel takes on Razor as intended so that’s not changed. Bob Backlund then turns heel on July 30th after losing to Bret in a title match with the announcers bringing up how close Bob came to winning the KOTR. The grumpy old man gimmick stays on course uninterrupted but with added flash. Bret takes on Owen at Summerslam uninterrupted and Undertaker makes his return taking on Underfaker. These are the most realistic situations to improve what was an underrated era that predated the goofy cartoon gimmicks of ’95-’96. A heel Luger would have made the company more money and would have been a lot more believable than have him flounder with nothing to do from April to July. Everything else remains on course. Oh wait…I had forgotten the Roddy Piper and Jerry Lawler match. Yeah, let’s keep it that way.