Recently, I started to take a look back at the Pro Wrestling Illustrated 500 magazine series that started in 1991. That seems to have gotten some traction as a popular idea. Thus, I decided to take a look back at the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Year-End Awards that the magazine issues out each year.
The Year-End Awards date back to 1972. I’m not going to start at the very beginning. Instead, since the PWI 500 was introduced in 1991, I’ll stay with that theme of the 1990s and begin the series in 1990. I may go back at do the late 80s, but for now I’ll start with 1990.
Lets take a look back at the PWI Awards and see how the fans voted for various awards.
1990 Rookie Of The Year: Steve Austin (15,296)
1st Runner-Up: El Gigante (13,382)
2nd Runner-Up: Brad Anderson (5,926)
3rd Runner-Up: Chris Chavis (2,168)
Austin wins the award though El Gigante was a lot closer than I was expecting to see, vote wise. Steve hadn’t been introduced to WCW in his first year. He had a brutal feud with his trainer and mentor, Chris Adams in Texas that saw ex-wives get involved. Of the four guys listed, Austin is by far the best in-ring worker of the group. Can’t go wrong with the choice of Austin winning the award.
According to the magazine, Brad Anderson was “well on his way to becoming a member of the Four Horsemen.” Their logic was that he is the son of Gene Anderson. I’m not sure about anyone else, but I’ve never heard of Brad Anderson. So, it’s safe to say he didn’t achieve that goal. Chris Chavis would be better known as Tatanka in a couple of years for the WWF.
1990 Inspirational Wrestler Of The Year: Sting (22,947)
1st Runner-Up: Hulk Hogan (15,294)
2nd Runner-Up: Jerry Lawler (7,239)
3rd Runner-Up: Nikolai Volkoff (4,714)
It was the largest margin of victory for all of the awards with Sting winning by almost 7,700 votes. Back in February of ’90, Sting suffered a devastating knee injury that some thought could cost him his career. Less than six months later, Sting returned to action and won the NWA World Championship from rival Ric Flair at the Great American Bash in July. For such a quick recovery from a serious injury, no wonder fans voted him into the number one spot.
Hogan got a decent showing after recovering from an attack by Earthquake in the spring of ’90 only to return at SummerSlam and win the match by count-out. Hogan would regularly win matches against Quake on the house show market to inspire kids all around the country. Lawler had embraced a baby face persona imploring people to not do drugs and booze. Volkoff embraced the USA and apparently fans got behind him a little bit.
1990 Most Improved Wrestler Of The Year: Paul Roma (11,127)
1st Runner-Up: Doom (10,596)
2nd Runner-Up: Tugboat (8,285)
3rd Runner-Up: Cactus Jack (5,927)
Not quite sure how Roma had improved in-ring wise, but nonetheless he won the award. He was achieving some success with Hercules with the team of Power and Glory while becoming a rule breaker. Roma was the more impressive competitor in his tag team, so that might have helped him win he award. Plus, he does have a badass elbow drop from the top rope.
They got rid of their manager Woman, lost their masks and won NWA World Tag Team Championships with Teddy Long, but Doom couldn’t get the award. Ron Simmons and Butch Reed aren’t going to impressive people with their wrestling, but their powerhouse style meshed well with a team like the Steiner Brothers to put on some enjoyable matches throughout the year.
Tugboat probably shouldn’t even be ranked in this category. Cactus Jack might have not gotten a better showing because he is more of a stuntman than an actual wrestler. Plus, he mainly wrestled in the USWA and hadn’t gotten much of a national exposure to showcase his style.
1990 Manager Of The Year: Teddy Long (12,927)
1st Runner-Up: Bobby Heenan (11,927)
2nd Runner-Up: Ole Anderson (10,146)
3rd Runner-Up: Jim Cornette (8,293)
After three months of managing the tag team Doom, Long was able to lead them to the NWA World Tag Team Championships. The quick turnaround can be attributed to Long and his managerial ways. Heenan had an impressive year leading his Heenan Family stable to the tag team and Intercontinental championships, but just wasn’t enough to overcome Long’s quick rise in the NWA.
1990 Feud Of The Year: Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger (14,912)
1st Runner-Up: Hulk Hogan vs. Earthquake (13,420)
2nd Runner-Up: Ultimate Warrior vs. Rick Rude (12,565)
3rd Runner-Up: Chris Adams vs. Steve Austin (8,222)
The once hated heel surprised many fans when he saved former rival Sting from a Four Horsemen attack. Lex Luger stepped up as one of the most popular wrestlers in the NWA and chased after the NWA World Championship held by Ric Flair. Throughout the first half of the year, Luger had numerous shots at the gold but came up short against the Nature Boy each time. Despite coming up short, the matches didn’t fail to have plenty of action and emotion from the crowd as many people wanted to see Luger breakthrough and become the top guy. That would happen in later years, just not at the expense of Ric Flair.
The top feud for the WWF in 1990 came in second place. Earthquake became the most hated man in the WWF when he took out Hulk Hogan and they met at SummerSlam. Hogan and Quake had a good match at the event, which ended in a count-out win for Hogan, and they would continue the feud by having stretcher matches throughout the end of the year.
Warrior vs. Rude in ’89 was a highly talked about feud as they wrestled at Mania and SummerSlam. However, their feud in 1990 was rushed and had lost a lot of interest amongst a lot of fans. I’ve noticed a real lack of direction from viewing shows during the timeframe, so a second runner-up spot is rather surprising to see. I would have thought maybe the Flair/Sting feud would have been higher.
USWA hottest feud got a respectable showing with over 8,000 votes. Austin really came into his own and it was clear that he was going to be a star. Ex-wives and a blood feud made for one hell of a year between a once mentor and protege relationship.
1990 Most Popular Wrestler Of The Year: Hulk Hogan (18,825)
1st Runner-Up: Sting (15,172)
2nd Runner-Up: Ultimate Warrior (14,928)
3rd Runner-Up: Lex Luger (11,726)
Despite losing the WWF World Championship at WrestleMania VI, Hulk Hogan remained the most popular wrestler amongst readers of PWI. Perhaps his hiatus in the spring and early summer helped due to the attack by Earthquake. His reign as the most popular wouldn’t last forever, though.
Sting and Warrior were neck and neck for the second spot. Is this indicative of Warrior failing as WWF World Champion? Sting never gave up and fans likely took that into consideration. Had Luger managed to defeat Flair for the NWA World Championship, he may have overcame Warrior as the third most popular wrestler.
1990 Most Hated Wrestler Of The Year: Earthquake (15,275)
1st Runner-Up: Ric Flair (13,582)
2nd Runner-Up: Rick Rude (11,935)
3rd Runner-Up: Eddie Gilbert (8,867)
When you takeout Hulkamania you can assure the fans will not come anywhere close to cheering for you. Quake quickly became the most hated villain in the WWF and that translated into the awards. Kind of surprising how short of a run he had as a top singles heel wrestler, honestly.
Flair and Rude are here for obvious reasons. Flair being the leader of the Horsemen and taking out guys like Sting and Lex Luger throughout the year. Rude always calls fans overweight and hogs, to go along with terrorizing heroes in the WWF. Plus, he insulted the Big Bossman’s mother! You just don’t do that, Ravishing One!
Just to give you an idea of what Eddie Gilbert is all about. He depended on chains and brass knuckles to knock out opponents. Oh, and the may have spit fire into Jeff Jarrett’s face to win the Southern Championship. But wait, there is more. Eddie got in his car and ran over Jerry Lawler because he is one evil bastard. Had any of that happened on a national stage, Eddie would have been by far the most hated man in wrestling.
1990 Match Of The Year: Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior (24,180)
1st Runner-Up: Sting vs. Ric Flair (18,236)
2nd Runner-Up: Hulk Hogan vs. Earthquake (9,234)
3rd Runner-Up: Royal Rumble (6,288)
Not at all surprised that the two larger than life characters in wrestling history squaring off at the biggest show of the year, WrestleMania, got the match of the year award. The atmosphere at the Sky Dome is unforgettable and the action will live in many people’s memories for a lifetime. That’s what the match of the year should accomplish.
Sting/Flair was memorable in its own right with Sting overcoming a major knee injury and defeating Ric Flair for the NWA World Championship in a passing of the torch moment. Sixteen minutes of great wrestling with an outcome that people wanted to see. Can’t go wrong with that, folks.
Kind of surprising that the Royal Rumble match was voted for the match of the year. Perhaps that has to be because it is a popular concept of a match for the time? Based off of pure wrestling entertainment, I would have thought maybe the tag match between the Nasty Boys and the Steiner Brothers would have gotten some more love from the fans.
1990 Tag Team Of The Year: Steiner Brothers (18,377)
1st Runner-Up: Demolition (15,271)
2nd Runner-Up: Doom (11,384)
3rd Runner-up: The Legion Of Doom (10,868)
This seemed like an easy choice as the Steiner Brothers had been on a role in recent years as a tag team electrifying crowds wherever they wrestled. By April, Demolition regained the WWF World Tag Team Championships. In August, they lost the Hart Foundation and quickly became a shell of their former selves when the Legion of Doom came to the company. It’s one of the quickest falls from grace I’ve ever watch happen on television.
Doom should get credited for a good showing in the awards as they had only a few months in 1990 where they weren’t getting destroyed by the Steiner Brothers. Ron Simmons and Butch Reed meshed well as a unit and don’t seem to get a lot of credit for their rise in the tag ranks during the time.
1990 Wrestler Of The Year: Sting (19,481)
1st Runner-Up: Ultimate Warrior (18,176)
2nd Runner-Up: Hulk Hogan (12,003)
3rd Runner-Up: Lex Luger (8,284)
A busted knee in February to winning the NWA World Championship in July. Sting winning the wrestler of the year shows fans giving credit where credit is due. Sting had become of the most entertaining wrestlers in the country and defeated the face of the NWA to become the new top guy for the company. A well deserved award for the Stinger.
Warrior became a double champion at WrestleMania VI by beating Hulk Hogan to win the WWF World Championship to go along with the Intercontinental Championship. Warrior vacated that the Intercontinental Championship, but successfully defended the WWF World Championship against top heels in the WWF including a steel cage match against Rick Rude at SummerSlam.
Despite not being champion for most of the year, fans may have voted for Hogan due to his comeback from the Earthquake attack and numerous victories over Quake on the house show market.
Luger may have had a breakout year by holding the NWA United States Championship for most of the year and several hard fought battles with Ric Flair throughout 1990. He is a distance second from Sting in the NWA in terms of popularity and that’s made evident by his over 11,000 vote difference.
Would you agree with how the PWI readers voted for the awards in 1990? Who would you have voted for during this time?
Leave your thoughts below!
Thanks for reading.
31-year old currently living in Syracuse, New York. Longtime fan of the New York Mets, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Vikings. Avid fan of professional wrestling and write reviews/articles on the product. Usually focusing on the old school wrestling.