Nothing makes a wrestling great quite like a rowdy crowd. You can have the two best professional wrestlers in the world share a ring and put on the greatest display of technical wizardry that the wrestling world has ever seen, but if the crowd isn’t into it, then the match is just never going to be as great as it could be. It’s why the greatest wrestlers of all-time are just as well-known for their ability to put on a great match as they are for their ability to get a crowd into the action.
Sometimes, though, wrestlers and promoters go a little too far when it comes to getting the crowd to become emotionally invested in the action. Most of the time, this just results in some particularly vulgar chants and maybe a few pieces of trash being thrown into the ring. Sometimes, however, it leads to a riot. Now, when we say riot, we’re not talking about a bunch of fans yelling at the ring; we’re talking about a full-scale breakdown that often forces everyone in the arena that night to flee for their safety. They’re incredibly rare, but these are the top 15 insane pro wrestling riots.
15. A Young Luke Harper Knocks a Fan Out and Gets a Promotion Kicked Out of Town
Before he became the Wyatt Family’s most underrated member, Luke Harper made the rounds on the indie scene as Brodie Lee. His gimmick is similar to the one he works now. Lee was a dirty trucker-type that usually won matches by just brutalizing his smaller opponents. He also had a knack for getting under the skin of fans. In fact, there was one night when Lee was working a show in Binghamton for the 2CW promotion that his ability to upset fans almost got him into real trouble. While mocking the Binghamton crowd, Lee was suddenly struck by a folding chair one of the fans threw into the ring. Lee went into the crowd to find out who threw it and, when he found him, proceeded to knock the fan out with a single punch. This caused the entire locker room to come out and defend Lee from the angry fans. 2CW was banned from that town shortly thereafter.
14. It Takes Over 40 Cops to Stop the ECW Riot Bubba Ray Dudley Helped Start
The subject of Bubba Ray Dudley and wrestling riots is a tricky one. If you listen to him talk, you’d think that he and the rest of the Dudley family were starting full-blown riots every night they worked an ECW show. However, the truth doesn’t seem to be so simple. While Bubba Ray certainly got fans riled up with his vicious promos, many of the actual riots he claims to have started are still just rumors. However, there was one night during a show in Pennsylvania when Bubba Ray decided to start beating up a fan who had taken a swing at Axl Rotten. According to reports, he beat the fan up so bad that over 40 police officers had to be called in to break up the pandemonium that soon unfolded.
13. Roddy Piper Causes Riots in Puerto Rico and Los Angeles
If you’re not familiar with Roddy Piper’s work prior to him arriving in WWE, you really missed out on some of the legendary wrestler’s greatest heel work. Piper was born to infuriate people and he had a special gift for finding that one thing that would upset an audience more than anything else. Piper became a particularly huge heel in Puerto Rico where his racist heel promos led to fans storming the ring one night while Piper was in a cage match with Jos LeDuc and forcing Piper to leave the arena in a speeding car.
Similar promos made him a top bad guy in the Los Angeles territories where Piper could get crowds to riot by playing La Cucaracha on his bagpipes and attacking the Guerrero family.
12. Stan Hansen and Andre the Giant Trigger a Crowd Stampede
Stan Hansen is a lot like Bubba Ray Dudley and Roddy Piper in that there are many, many legends of him starting riots, but relatively few documented cases of one actually occurring. Hansen was certainly a top heel in both Japan and America where his cowboy persona led to many a drunken fan trying to test him. Other times, it resulted in Hansen doing wild things like swinging a chain above his head.
One time in the ‘80s, it also led to him and Andre the Giant taking their brawl into the crowd. During this fight, Andre started to grab chairs from fans and toss them at Hansen. As you might imagine, this scared some of the fans. In fact, it led to a near stampede breaking out as fans ran in every direction just to get out of Hansen and Andre’s way.
11. Tulsa, Oklahoma Becomes the Stage For Several Nights of Riots
Although there are many contenders for the title of “Best Tag Team Feud of All-Time,” it’s hard to argue against giving the award to the Midnight Express and Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. This was the feud that really created the blueprint for how to do a heated tag match, and fans really used to get into these bouts back in the day. Jim Cornette and Ric Flair once recalled a time when the two teams were headlining a series of shows in Tulsa, Oklahoma. According to them, the riots that resulted from these Tulsa shows were such a huge problem that internal affairs had to be called in to investigate the local police that worked security for the show. Eventually, the county sheriff department had to be called in to handle security duties.
10. Big Vito Angers 4,000 Nepal Wrestling Fans by Beating up a Local Legend
You’re forgiven if you don’t remember Big Vito’s time in ECW, WCW, and WWE. He was a prime example of a bit player who managed to find work by playing evil foreigners and tough-as-nails bodyguards. Eventually, however, his willingness to do whatever was asked of him was no longer enough to get him work in the major American promotions. As such, he took his talents to international wrestling organizations. For whatever reason, fans of these promotions really took to Big Vito. Vito was especially over in Nepal where he got to work a match against a local legend known as Mr. Tiger. As it became apparent that Vito was about to beat Tiger, fans started to get angry. They got so angry, in fact, that they began to throw debris and chairs into the ring before eventually rushing it themselves. Soon, almost 4,000 fans were rioting and Vito needed to be escorted out of the arena by the local police.
9. Fans Almost Burn the Arena Down after Vader Beats Antonio Inoki
It’s hard to get a serious push in the wrestling world when you’re just getting started. It’s really hard to a serious push in the wrestling world when you’re a foreigner working in Japan. The Japanese promotions have historically looked to local talent first when deciding who the country’s biggest stars are going to be. Despite this, Big Van Vader rose to the top of Japanese wrestling almost immediately. In fact, he even beat the legendary Antonio Inoki in his New Japan Pro Wrestling debut match.
This was the first time that the promotion’s fans had seen Inoki lose in many years, and they were not happy to see a rookie gaijin be the one to beat him. Minutes after Vader was named the winner, fans started to tear up the building and, allegedly, almost set fire to the Sumo Hall arena. NJPW wouldn’t be able to work that arena for years because of this incident.
8. Ten Minutes of Seth Rollins Inspires Chilean Wrestling Fans to Start Looting
This is one of the most notable entrants on this list for the simple reason that it is the only entrant that doesn’t involve a wrestling match. In 2016, Seth Rollins paid a little visit to Chile in order to sign some autographs and take photos at a local mall. Now, prior to his appearance, there was no indication that Seth Rollins was a particularly popular guy in Chile. However, for some reason, the local fans saw Rollins and just lost their minds. According to the official reports, Rollins was only able to meet with fans for about 10 minutes before everyone started to go crazy. Rollins was escorted out for his safety, but the fans continued to riot and, eventually, loot the local stores.
7. Blackjack Mulligan Gets Stabbed in the Leg During a Boston Riot
Back in the age of territory-based wrestling promotions, fans really fell in love with their local champions. Fans saw these champions as proof that their local promotion was better than your local promotion and they became attached to them in the same way that some sports fans really become attached to their local team. Pedro Morales, for instance, once managed to achieve nearly godlike status in Boston while he was WWWF Heavyweight Champion. As such, when Blackjack Mulligan came into town and started to lay a particularly rough beating on Morales during their championship match, the Boston crowd started to lose their minds.
While security was trying to hold everyone back, one fan managed to run into the ring and stab Mulligan in the leg with a knife. Mulligan claims he had to receive 100 stitches to close the wound.
6. The Road Warriors Take on An Entire Audience in Virginia
We don’t know why you would ever want to fight The Road Warriors in real life. Even when Hawk and Animal weren’t wearing their trademark face paint and spiked shoulder pads, they still managed to come across as the toughest guys in the room. Yet, the team did work in an era when fans seemed to really want to prove that they were tougher than the wrestlers they hated. This mentality led to The Road Warriors having a few violent fan interactions, but none of them were as crazy as the one that occurred one night in Richmond, Virginia.
In an interview with author Greg Oliver, Road Warrior Hawk remembers the Richmond fans coming off the bleachers to block the team from being able to exit the arena. Hawk, a former bouncer, says he had to grab one fan, “dump him on the ground,” and start kicking him in the head. Police were able to get them away from the crowd, but fans went so far as to try to break down the locker room doors to get revenge.
5. A Riot in Calgary Leads To a Trampling and the End of Stampede Wrestling
We’ve seen how territory wrestling fans became attached to their champions, but that’s nothing compared to the way they attached themselves to local talent. If you were a professional wrestler who was from the same part of the world as the fans you wrestled in front of, you were automatically a huge babyface. You can imagine, then, just how popular Bret Hart and the rest of the Hart family was in Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling promotion. They were so popular, in fact, that when Bret Hart, Davey Boy Smith, and Sonny Two Rivers took on a team of heels led by Bad News Brown, a riot broke out as a result of the heels playing to the crowd.
The riot became so bad that a woman was trampled which inspired announcer Ed Whalen to quit on-air. It also led to the promotion getting banned from working shows in Calgary for six months which in turn expedited the failure of the company.
4. Joey Ryan and Karl Anderson Close a 2007 Indie Show With a Race Riot
Riots in the modern era of professional wrestling are a pretty rare thing because most wrestling fans are well-aware of the nature of the business, so you don’t really see many of them suddenly decide to rush the ring because of scripted entertainment. Even though true wrestling riots are rare nowadays, they do still happen. One of the worst wrestling riots ever actually happened in 2007 at an NWA Pro show in Houston. When a team of heels led by Joey Ryan and Karl Anderson started hurling slurs at the local Hispanic crowd, the fans soon took to the ring.
What made this instance so particularly dangerous was that the first wave of fans who hit the ring were just kids. Nobody, not even the security, knew what to do about this. Eventually, the heels left the ringside area just as things reached their boiling point and the show was declared to be canceled.
3. The Horsemen “Break” Dusty Rhodes’ Ankle and the Crowd Rebels
Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes headlined a number of major shows throughout the ‘80s. Fans just couldn’t get enough of watching common man Dusty Rhodes battle the rich and handsome Flair. It really was the perfect professional wrestling feud. What really sent the feud into overdrive, however, was the night that the Four Horsemen broke Dusty Rhodes’ ankle in Atlanta. Aside from the fact that the fans in attendance couldn’t believe that the Horsemen would betray Rhodes, what really set them off was the fact that the Horsemen convincingly beat down Dusty inside of a locked steel cage. That cage would soon prove to be the best decision NWA ever made as the fans in attendance hopped the rails and tried to enter the ring. This was a mass riot that took quite a while to dissipate. NWA certainly sold a lot of tickets as a result of this event, though.
2. Ox Baker’s Heart Punch Turns Cleveland Into A Warzone
This is arguably the most famous and important riot on this list for the simple fact that it is one of the few full-scale wrestling riots to have been perfectly caught on film. It’s also the riot that made Ox Baker a heel legend. See, there once was this highly-anticipated match between Ernie Ladd and Johnny Powers in Houston. One of the stipulations of this match was that Ladd could get $5,000 if he managed to escape from the heel Powers’ famous Powerlock submission hold.
Just when it looked like Ladd was going to escape, newcomer Ox Baker hit the ring and hit Ladd with the dreaded Heart Punch. Soon thereafter, the fans started to hit the ring. The first fan tried to enter with a chair and was promptly pushed down. Eventually, though, fans started throwing chairs into the ring and rushing in such great waves that there was no chance to start them all. In mere minutes, the arena turned into a warzone.
1. A 1997 WWE House Show Becomes the Site of the Company’s Biggest Riot
Given the level of talent involved in this particular riot, it’s amazing that more people don’t know about it. It all started when fans in Arkansas went to a local WWE show thinking that they were going to witness an episode of RAW. However, RAW had been filmed the week before and the event that evening was just a house show. This fact inspired the crowd to start tossing trash into the ring. Eventually, they calmed down so that the show wouldn’t be canceled. Although they initially calmed down but were soon agitated by the poor quality of the show itself.
Things took a turn for the worse when Shawn Michaels was hit by a piece of trash and told the fans that he was canceling the main event. Shortly after Michaels walked out, the fans in attendance started to fight each other, throw beer bottles, and set things on fire. When it was all said and done, dozens were arrested and many were injured.
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