"The only way you get to stay number one is to be number one." -Ric Flair
Vince McMahon could make anyone a megastar in wrestling. I wholeheartedly believe he could get a box of Eggo Waffles over as a monster heel if he really wanted to. During his 30 year career running the WWF/E, McMahon has trusted very few wrestlers as his #1 star. This list is a way to chronicle Vince's #1 stars and the guys who turned him from a millionaire to a billionaire (and back to a millionaire). So sit back, enjoy and try not to get buried because here are Vince's #1 Golden Boys of the last [almost] 30 years:
- Reign: Jan 23rd 1984 - June 13, 1993
- Events: Between MSG Supershow '84 and King of the Ring '93
- Timeframe: 9 years, 4 months, 21 days
In the history of World Wrestling Entertainment, no wrestler was loved more or inspired a nation like Hulk Hogan. With all that said, Hogan was/is an asshole. When Hogan beat The Iron Sheik in Madision Square Garden, Hulkamania was born. Spending nine years as Vince McMahon's top draw is a feat in itself, but it's something that couldn't be done without the stable of talent Vince had at the time. The build of Hulk Hogan during this reign was creating great characters that you believed Hulk Hogan could actually lose to (HA!). Vince McMahon needed Hulk Hogan as much as Hulk Hogan needed Vince McMahon. Vince learned that with Lex Luger in 93 and Hulk learned that in both wrestling companies he's ruined since leaving WWF.
Potential #1 Stars During This Reign: Ultimate Warrior was the first person to beat Hogan clean since he became Hulk Hogan but a year later, it was still Hogan on top of Wrestlemania 7. Randy Savage & Ric Flair are darkhorses, but neither of them came as close as Warrior did. Also, neither was as crazy (that says A LOT).
- Reign: June 13th, 1993 - March 20 1994
- Events: Between King of The Ring 1993 and Wrestlemania X
- Time Frame: 9 month, 7 days
If you read above, you'll learn that Hulk Hogan was/is an asshole. After Hogan lost his title against Yokozuna, he left the WWF and Vince had no idea who he wanted to make his new star. To make it even harder, Vince had to pick between two totally different wrestlers, Bret Hart and Lex Luger. Let's go behind the scenes. Bret Hart was supposed to beat Hogan at Summer Slam 93. This win would have cemented Hart as the #1 guy in the business. Lex Luger was built as Hulk Hogan's heir apparent, but as the quote goes, "If you're the next anybody, you ain't nothing but the next nobody." So, what does Vince do? He had BOTH Bret and Lex win the 1994 Royal Rumble! But by that Wrestlemania, the fans knew who was next in line.
Other Potential #1 Stars During This Reign: Darkhorse for Yokozuna, solely because was the only WWF Champion during this reign.
- Reign: March 20th, 1994 - March 31, 1996
- Events:Between Wrestlemania X and Wrestlemania XII
- Time Frame: 2 years, 11 days
When Bret Hart beat Yokozuna for the WWF Title at Wrestlemania X, The Hart Era had officially begun. Bret Hart has the dubious honor of being WWF's poster boy during the worst period in company history. Between the steroids scandal and Mabel, Bret Hart was there to try to hold onto what Hogan had started. (Yes, I'm blaming two years of a stale WWF on Viscera for obvious reasons.) Bret Hart spent this reign feuding with an evil dentist, a pirate, a king and a Japanese saint, which sounds like the start to a shitty joke. But the most telling thing about Hart's reign was when Vince had him wrestle for nine minutes.....at Wrestlemania.....against Bob Backlund......in 1995......the same night Backlund played chess with Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Sigh.
Potential #1 Stars During This Reign: Diesel had Pam Anderson in his corner during his Wrestlemania XI match with Shawn Michaels. He also held the WWE Championship for 358 days during this reign. They share equal relevance.
- Reign: March 31, 1996 - March 29, 1998
- Events: Between Wrestlemania XII and Wrestlemania XIV
- Time Frame: 1 year, 11 months, 29 days
It's an iconic call after he beat Bret Hart in their 60 minute Iron-Man match at Wrestlemania XII: "The Boyhood Dream Has Come True For Shawn Michaels." Vince McMahon decided to go with his second straight former tag team specialist and he couldn't have picked someone with more charisma and showmanship. But Shawn must have been eating his vitamins and saying his prayers because he was kind of an asshole. While saying you've "lost your smile" isn't the best way to avoid jobbing, it is definitely the most creative. Shawn was part of all three Wrestlemania main events during his run (He guest-commentated the match between Sid and Taker at Wrestlemania 13).
Potential #1 Stars During This Reign: Funny enough, Bret Hart was more significant during Shawn's reign than his own reign. Between his feud with Austin, The Hart Foundation and winning the world title, Hart became a national hero (his words, not mine). Also, The Undertaker had heavy influence in the company and was an important piece in enhancing the Hart/Michaels feud.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
- Reign: March 29, 1998 - January 20, 2002
- Events: Between Wrestlemania XIV and Royal Rumble 2002
- Time Frame: 3 years, 9 months, 22 days
When Mike Tyson lifted Steve Austin's hand, the Austin Era had begun. But let's be honest, Vince Russo is the reason the Stone Cold Steve Austin is a megastar. Trust me, I heard him say it in a shoot interview. Back to reality. When Vince McMahon gave Stone Cold Steve Austin the ball, he punted it into space. The best thing about Austin's reign as #1 was the amount of peaks and valleys. He'd lose, then he'd win, he'd lose, then he'd win. Also, Steve Austin rivals Alberto Del Rio for the amount of different types of vehicles he drove into Raw (monster truck, zamboni, beer truck, forklift...). Austin headlined and won at every Wrestlemania he was healthy for during this run and it's hard to believe it was less than four years.
Potential #1 Stars During This Reign: The Rock and Triple H helped make 2000 one of the best PPV years in WWE history, while Austin was out most of the year. But let's not kid ourselves, as much as the crowd loved Rock and hated Triple H, when Austin came back, the fans knew who their #1 star was. Kurt Angle is a darkhorse for his 2000-2001 WWE Title reign and also his involvement as the #1 face during the WWF/WCW/ECW Invasion.
- Reign: January 20, 2002 - April 2, 2006
- Events: Between Royal Rumble 2002 and Wrestlemania 22
- Time Frame: 4 years, 2 months, 13 days
It would be easy and childish to start this paragraph by saying "Triple H has his spot because he's fucking Stephanie McMahon." I'm a bigger man than that. Instead, I'm going to take you to January 7th, 2002 when Triple H returned to MSG and New York City went insane. But in their efforts to show their love for Triple H, New Yorkers at that show created a monster with a head as big as his nose. When Triple H won the Royal Rumble and outlasted 2001 winner Stone Cold Steve Austin, the wheels were in motion for Triple H's rise. After turning heel, we got one of the most hated characters, both in and out of the ring, in WWE history. Triple H didn't get heel heat during this time. Triple H got 'Oh My God DIE DIE DIE I HATE YOU PLEASE DIE" heat. Triple H, more so than anyone on this list, can bury someone on the microphone as bad as he can bury someone in the ring. At the end of the day, however, Triple H gave us entertaining TV and a great stable in Evolution during his 4 year run, even though his face was in 80% of all segments.
Potential #1 Stars During This Reign: Brock Lesnar was a major force in WWE, headlining his first Wrestlemania despite being on Smackdown. He was scheduled to beat Steve Austin in 2002 before Austin left the company. Kurt Angle continued to grow during this time, but was never backed as a true #1 star. Batista was put over like a million bucks by Triple H, but after his move to Smackdown, a certain rapper/marine ran to the hill with his vacant spot on Raw.
- Reign: April 2, 2006 - Present
- Events: Wrestelmania 22 - ?
- Time Frame: 5 years, 3 months, 15 days+ (as of Money in the Bank 2011)
When Triple H tapped out at Wrestlemania 22 and the Boy Wonder was still holding his spinner belt, the fans knew John Cena was here to stay. At this day and time, Cena's reign is scarred with the return of a PG WWE. John Cena remains the first and only #1 star to be unintentionally booed after having their career defining moment. It's easy to sit in the midst of John Cena's reign and call it a failure before it even ends, but he has put together an impressive catalogue. Say what you will about his reign, but the facts are solid. For the last 5 years plus, we've been Hustle'd, Loyalty'd and Respect'd all the way to the bank. So put on your Cena shirt, Cena hat, Cena wristbands, pop in your DVD copy of "The Marine" and Salute Your Jorts because he's our #1 star...for now.
Potential #1 Stars During This Reign: Randy Orton was a big part of the company both times John Cena was hurt and early in 2009. Undertaker, Batista and Edge are all longshot darkhorses with the amount of time each had as a staple on Smackdown. The negative being it happened on Smackdown.
The most important thing to remember is none of the 'passing of the torch' transformations happened overnight. At Summerslam 1996, TWO months after Stone Cold's famous"Austin 3:16" promo, Steve was in the PPV Free for All match against Yokozuna. Establishing a #1 star may take one year, two years or even longer to cement a superstar as the 'Golden Boy'. CM Punk's name has been thrown around for next in line to John Cena's current holding of #1 star. It's hard to believe Punk would take over that title before Wrestlemania 28's huge main event, but hell, who would of expected Punk to even be considered a #1 star back in 2006 (Chris Mullet aside)?
To wrap this up in a bow, what does it take to be a #1 star? Like any other company, it takes some ass-kissing, a little backstabbing and playing of the politics game. Regardless of who the #1 star is, one thing is true, the fans are the reason they are there...and by fans, I mean Vince McMahon since he probably knows what we want more than we do.