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The Worst Year in Wrestling EVER: A Case For--And Against--1999

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For the rest of the series, check out these years here. 199119952007201120011993200220092010

Two weeks ago, we asked you, the Cagesider, to weigh in on the debate of 2010 being the worst year in wrestling ever. The year saw the retirements of Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, and Dave Batista, plus the arrival and subsequent burial of the Nexus, and TNA being damaged beyond repair with the arrival of Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff. The year also saw one of wrestling's darkest chapters finally close as Bret Hart got his physical and emotional retribution from the Montreal Screwjob, a five-match series that may still be the pinnacle of mainstream tag team wrestling in this decade, and the buildup and eventual culmination of one of the greatest rivalries on the independent circuit in El Generico and Kevin Steen.

Despite more than a few compelling arguments that it's the worst year ever...

..your votes have decided it's not the worst year ever. Send the next patient in, please.

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We as a society tend to look at some aspects of the past with rose-colored glasses. Everything was better before. Everything is awful today. The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle. Ask anyone who's lived through the era of segregation if things were better then. Ask a reasonable person if they would rather live in a time where people of power and stature had no accountability at all or in a time where they could have a voice, and that voice can potentially reach millions. If we look at society objectively, of course some things are worse than they were before. But at the same time, some things are better.

This week's Worst Year Ever takes us back to what is for many one of their favorite years in professional wrestling. But an objective look at it-which I'll try to give as best as possible-says...you know, maybe it wasn't that good. It's time to party like it's 1999.

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THE CASE FOR 1999 BEING THE WORST YEAR EVER

If I were to mention the year 1999 to the average wrestling fan, your first thought will probably go to the events of January 4 in Atlanta. What began as perhaps the most anticipated rematch in recent memory in WCW ended as one of the most disgusting acts in professional wrestling history. It's known simply as the Fingerpoke of Doom. I broke down the events of that night 14 months ago, which you can read here. But here's a summary for those that weren't there or born or haven't seen it:

Kevin Nash was supposed to defend the WCW world title against Goldberg, who suffered his first loss just over a week earlier to Nash. The match doesn't take place because during the show, Goldberg gets arrested for aggravated stalking. While Goldberg's being questioned in a police station across the street (no, I am not making this up. Tony Schiavone mentioned this himself during the show), Hollywood Hulk Hogan arrives (it's his first appearance on the show in months and his first public appearance since appearing on The Tonight Show to announce he was running for President of the United States...feel free to laugh) and challenges Kevin Nash for the world title. It's not the advertised match for the show, but the leaders of the two nWo factions facing each other is not a bad consolation prize.

Except it turned out to be the booby prize of all booby prizes. About a minute after the bell rings, Hogan cocks his fist, then pokes Nash in the chest. Nash goes down in a heap, Hogan covers, then the two, along with their respective cornermen Scott Hall and Scott Steiner, hug it out as if they'd just won the World Series. Where was Goldberg in all this? He arrived at the arena from the police station (across the street, remember?) after it was found out that the stalking charges were trumped up and Goldberg wrecks shop until Lex Luger pops him from behind and Goldberg gets tasered. This event on its own is a disaster. But combine that with what the WWF did that night-six days earlier technically-made the Fingerpoke of Doom a mortal wound in terms of WCW's future. I'll get to what WWF did on that night later.

Two events that are pretty difficult to mess up are the Royal Rumble match and Wrestlemania. And yet, the WWF in 1999 managed to mess up both TO A GREAT DEGREE. The Royal Rumble match, though it featured a woman competing for the first time in Chyna, was served as nothing more than storyline fodder between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon. They were the first two in the match, the last two in the match, and the only two that mattered in the match. Did you know at three different times in the match, there was no one in the ring? And if you think the Rumble match itself was hard to watch, the match preceding it is impossible by comparison, especially considering what we know now.

Mankind vs. The Rock for the WWF Championship in an I Quit match in and of itself is one of the most violent matches in WWE history. But the carnage has been forever immortalized in the Barry Blaustein documentary Beyond the Mat not just for its brutality, but for the heartbreak one can feel in watching Mick Foley's six-year old daughter Noelle cry and scream in terror as Foley took one sick bump after another. And that's not even counting the 12 chair shots in a row he took at the end of the match. It's uncomfortable to watch to say the least.

Wrestlemania XV had some pretty lofty standards to live up to. While Wrestlemania XIV wasn't the best Mania ever, it was at the time very much in the top five. Well-paced, good action, lively crowd. Mania XV had one and a half of these. Wrestlemania XV is essentially what happens when Vince Russo is told to book a three-hour episode of RAW is WAR. Frantically paced, many face/heel turns for no inexplicable reason, a wrestler getting knocked the fuck out man by a superheavyweight, and a simulated hanging. You can say it's one of the crappiest Manias ever.

And it also had this.

A thousand words in and I haven't even gotten into one of the shocking moments ever witnessed in a live wrestling event. Owen Hart gave his life to the wrestling business. He was in a family full of wrestlers, so his destiny was written for him right out of the womb. While Owen was never a world champion, he was far and away one of the most reliable hands on the WWF roster, able to carry anyone to a good match, or at the very least a serviceable one. Away from the ring, he was one of the funniest and most humble men anyone would meet by many accounts. That's what made his sudden death on May 23 at the Over the Edge PPV even more tragic. During a promo for an Intercontinental title match, the harness that was to bring down Hart, decked out in his Blue Blazer outfit, snapped well before it was intended to snap, bringing Owen some 75 feet down to the ring. The fall had killed him. Controversially, the show went on following the incident, a decision still questioned by many to this day. The tribute the next night is one of the more emotional episodes of RAW in the company's history.

The tragedies would continue to pile up for the Hart family. Late that year, Bret Hart was on the receiving end of a thrust kick from Goldberg. The kick resulted in a severe concussion. Hart would have three more in the days and weeks that followed, leading to his retirement from the ring. The kick ended a tumultuous two-year in-ring run that somehow resulted in him being one of the worst booked main eventers on the roster.

Quick shoutout to the worst wrestling PPV ever, Heroes of Wrestling. Let the following sink in: the two worst rated matches on the show now have a combined six WWE Hall of Famers. Six.

Back to Russo. After leading a creative team in part responsible for booking the WWF to the point of confusion and repulsion (along with unprecedented television ratings not seen before--or since for that matter), Vince sought greener pastures and more money in WCW. Russo's booking style--shorter matches, more vignettes, promos, and backstage segments, swerves, worked shoots, and sexualized content--was turned up to eleven when he got to Atlanta. No longer having to cater to Vince McMahon, he turned up his booking style to 11... and turned of WCW viewers. He was out of a job just three months later... only to be hired back when the booking committee that replaced him did a worse job than he did. When Russo is the better of two options, you have screwed up in life.

The early WWF storylines post-Russo weren't much better. One involved Al Snow being fed his pet dog by rival Big Boss Man. The storyline ultimately led to this... I'm not even sure what this is, nor do I care to talk about it. And they almost immediately chased that with Boss Man being involved in a storyline where Big Show's "father" "dies of cancer". And him crashing a funeral. At the height of this storyline, we got Big Show, WWF Champion. For the record, Big Show turned three times from his WWF debut to his first title win. Figure that one out.

How was Big Show, WWF Champion even possible? Blame it on the late Owen Hart.

Remember that errant piledriver that temporarily paralyzed Stone Cold Steve Austin? Summerslam 1997. Mind you, Hart had nothing but the best intentions on that piledriver, but his grip slipped and the rest is history. That piledriver did what wound up being irreparable damage to Austin's neck. Well, it was reparable, but he never took an extended period of time off to properly get the neck healed. The burden of being the biggest name in wrestling had finally taken its toll by November 1999 when Austin left to get surgery on his neck. The injury deprived us of what would have been a dream three-way with Steve Austin, The Rock, and the quickly rising Triple H.

I'd like to explain the Corporate Ministry storyline that led to the end of the Austin-McMahon storyline, but I don't want to hurt your head. At least it did give us the most priceless reaction in the history of anything. Vince and Jim, take it away.

That will never not be funny. Ever.

With the exploding popularity of wrestling in 1999, needless to say it found its way into mainstream news, and often for the wrong reason. In July, 12-year old Lionel Tate killed 6-year old Tiffany Eunick by using wrestling moves he had seen on TV. But the injuries that led to Tiffany's death seemed to indicate this was much more than imitiating wrestling moves: the injuries she suffered were similar to someone falling off a three-story building. The controversy put wrestling in the crosshairs, but was largely off the hook when the verdict and subsequent sentencing came down. In 2001, Tate, tried as an adult, was found guilty of first-degree murder. Initially offered a three-year prison sentence and ten years probation before trial, Tate was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The sentence and conviction were overturned three years later, but the troubled Tate would find himself in trouble with the law on multiple occasions. In 2005, Tate was charged with armed burglary, armed robbery, and violating probation. The next year, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

I almost forgot (and I know this is a shitty segue): Vince McMahon, WWF Champion.

Oh, and this happened too. What happened to comeuppance in this world?

Enough with the tragedies. On with the triumphs of 1999.

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THE CASE AGAINST 1999 BEING THE WORST YEAR EVER

$251.4 million, and $56 million. That's how much revenue and profit WWF had in 1999. Needless to say, the wrestling business was scalding hot. (photo via betweentheropes.com)

Remember earlier I told you about the Fingerpoke of Doom? On the same night the infamous poke aired, RAW is WAR aired one of the more shocking title changes in company history, putting the championship on someone who, if you look at the history of the WWF, isn't exactly what fits their profile of world champion and face of the company. That someone: Michael Francis Foley. And for all the flack Michael Cole deservedly gets, his call of Foley's title win was easily his best work. While Foley never got an extended run as WWF Champion (hell, hardly anyone did around this time), the fact that one of the most respected people in the business even got the prize at all is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Just how hot was WWF running in 1999? They decided three hours of TV weren't enough. They need five. Who knew a Rock catchphrase would turn into one of the longest-running shows in the history of primetime television? After a one-off pilot about a month after Wrestlemania XV, WWF introduced their first primetime network television show with Smackdown in August on UPN. The show almost singlehandedly kept the network afloat for years.

Speaking of The Rock, he and Mankind had one of the more physical rivalries in WWF history in early 1999. It was barbaric not just by today's standards, but by Attitude Era standards. Would you believe that just six months later, they by accident formed one of the most beloved duos in WWF history? They did. The Rock ‘n Sock Connection weren't exactly known for their in-ring prowess (though they were more than competent in the ring); their comedic timing made for some of best segments on WWF programming. They were only together for a few months, but won the tag titles three times together. Not bad for a couple of people who were damn near killing each other earlier in the year.

Speaking of tag teams, holy shit did it get an upgrade. One of the under-the-radar feuds of 1999 involved two members of the original Brood, Edge and Christian, against the two people that replaced them in the group, The Hardy Boyz. Why did they feud? Why else: a woman and money. The $100,000 Terri Invitational Tournament (capped off by the first tag team ladder match in WWF history) was the genesis of a rivalry that would span for the remainder of the Attitude Era...and begin a resurgence of the tag team division. With the addition of the Dudleys, the rise of the Acolytes, and the reemergence of the New Age Outlaws, 1999 was never a better time to have a buddy to partner with.

You know some things are so awesome, they don't need a description. So bask in the glory that is one of the greatest debuts in professional wrestling history.

Oh, what the hell, I'll give you one anyway. By 1999, the writing was on the wall for WCW's undercard performers: try as you might, but you'll never break into the main event. This left much of the roster with two choices: stay and suffer while collecting paychecks they'll likely never see if they go elsewhere, or leave for greener pastures and hope for the best. Chris Jericho, four times a cruiserweight champion and once television champion, opted for the latter. Despite having main event talent and main event charisma, he didn't have a "main event" look in the eyes of WCW. So what does the WWF do the second they get their hands on Jericho? They make him a big fucking deal. A month-long countdown clock until his debut as the Millennium Man. Y2J, he called himself. Have T-shirts for him shortly after his debut. Oh, and... have him in his first act in the WWF cut a promo with The Rock 25 feet across from him. By the end of the 10 minute segment, WCW surely realized they fucked up. They fucked up badly. They had a gem and they let him go. And he would not be the last.

photo via rfvideo.com

Show of hands if you had ECW getting a national television deal. You know ECW, don't you? The promotion that had this. And this. And this. Oh, and don't forget this. I'm not talking about one of those TV deals where you had to go out of your way to find their show. I mean a pretty decent deal. Granted, the timeslot sucked (Friday night at 8pm, aka the graveyard of television in America) and it was really nothing more than a doorstop for what followed. But the wrestling company that was once thrown off of PPV making it to national television has to be one of Paul Heyman's crowning achievements. Ok, the TV deal ultimately sunk the company, but tell me: how many other big independents get national television deals? Not many.

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Okay, I made my case. Now it's your turn. Vote and discuss. Next up: scary, scary drugs lead the way in the wrestling world in this year.

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