Professional wrestling is unique. No fan of Stranger Things will sit there and ask, “Why was Eleven scripted to say that?” or “Why wasn’t the Demogorgon booked to go over?”. Nor will fans of the UFC complain that Demetrious Johnson needs to turn heel nor will hockey fans bemoan the parity booking in the Metropolitan Division. But pro wrestling is different. It’s not like the 1970s when there was a reasonable belief among the fans that what they were watching was legitimate sport; we all now know that pro wrestling is choreographed and the outcomes of matches predetermined. But it’s within this twilight nether region of sport and theater in which we fans love to live.
We know it’s fixed but, much like Fox Mulder on The X-Files, we want to believe. Anytime we see something that might be “real,” we’re all the more intrigued. Did that wrestler just “shoot” on the other? Do these two really hate each other. Is this wrestler legitimately hurt, or just “selling” his injury really well? Well, here are 10 crazy WWE moments that you thought were scripted but were actually real, and five that were the exact opposite.
15 Real: Brock Lesnar vs Randy Orton
At SummerSlam 2016, Brock Lesnar took on Randy Orton in the main event. The WWE invested a lot into the main event; they let Brock Lesnar fight Mark Hunt at UFC 200 in exchange for the UFC advertising SummerSlam. Pretty much everybody ended up with egg on their faces after Lesnar failed a subsequent drug test and the WWE had to admit that Lesnar is not subject to their wellness policy.
The WWE ended up with even more egg on their face when they tried to contravene another one of their rules. Vince McMahon has banned "blading" for years, but he wanted blood in the main event. So everybody agreed that Lesnar should try to cut Orton open with an elbow the “hard way”. What wasn’t planned was the profuse amount of blood that spilled from Orton’s head and Orton being legitimately knocked loopy. The referee had to call the match early. Even wrestlers backstage were confused as to what happened, with Chris Jericho nearly getting into a fight with Lesnar. Gee, who ever thought that letting a 275-pound former UFC heavyweight champion elbow another man as hard as he could was a bad idea?
14 Real: The End of Royal Rumble 2005
Bret Hart and Lex Luger were booked to both win the 1994 Royal Rumble, with the two doing an excellent job of going over the top rope and hitting the floor at the same time. Batista and John Cena did an equally good job of hitting the ground at the same time at the 2005 Royal Rumble. There was just one thing: Batista and Cena were not booked to do that. Batista was booked to eliminate Cena and win clean, but somehow they screwed up and both went over.
Nobody at the time suspected this was real because the two hit at exactly the same time. Vince McMahon then marched to the ring to tell people what to do. In doing so, he somehow freakishly tore not one but both his quadriceps muscles. So there Vince sat in the corner, barking orders at the refs and wrestlers, all the while experiencing agonizing pain. In the end, the match was restarted and Batista won as planned.
13 Scripted: Paige Insulting Reid Flair
During their feud in the autumn of 2015, Paige insulted her challenger for the Divas Title, Charlotte, by denigrating the memory of her dead brother, Reid. To longtime watchers of the WWE, it was clear Paige was told to deliver this disgusting line, and much of the “heat” fell upon the WWE and the writing staff, not the character of Paige. Ric Flair, father of Reid and Charlotte, was clearly upset and said on his podcast that he had not cleared the line or been informed ahead of time.
The take coming out of all this was, “What a horrible thing the WWE writers did to Charlotte and Ric”. However, in a recent interview on the Agenda Podcast, former WWE writer Tom Casiello said the line was actually Charlotte’s idea, as she was desperate to generate more heat for their feud.
12 Real: Sin Cara Stops His Match After Finger Injury
The original Sin Cara, Luis Ignacio Urive Alvirde, better known as Místico, had a real rough time of it in the WWE. He never got used to the WWE style and routinely botched moves. Furthermore, he didn’t speak/want to learn how to speak English, he apparently had a bad attitude backstage, and he was popped for a wellness violation. But the last straw may have been his finger injury.
During the August 19, 2013 edition of Raw, Místico had a match with Alberto Del Rio in which he dislocated his finger. He indicated to the ref that he could not continue and the match was ended. Now, for many of us, a dislocated finger can be quite painful and inconvenient. But in pro wrestling...well, wrestlers often continue, even when they shouldn’t. Triple H finished a match with a torn quad; Finn Balor popped a shoulder back into place and continued. A dislocated finger is not seen as a just reason to abandon a match. Místico was released shortly after and since then Sin Cara has been played by Jorge Arias, the erstwhile Hunico.
11 Real: Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn's Refusal To Sell For The New Day
On an episode of SmackDown Live this past November, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn went off script and were punished for it. They didn’t have a match on the upcoming Survivor Series, but the New Day had to look strong going into their match against The Shield. So Sami Zayn was booked to lose to Kofi Kingston, which he duly did. However, afterward, he and Owens were meant to “feed for” the New Day; that is, run at them to attack, only to be knocked down repeatedly. However, Owens and Zayn opted not to do this and instead just left.
It was a curious stand to take and it was also a little curious how furious Vince McMahon became, throwing them off the European tour. Now, though, both Owens and Zayn are focussed upon again and all seems to be fine.
10 Scripted: Joey Styles’s "Shoot" Promo
For WWE’s ECW revival show, One Night Stand, in 2005, they brought in former ECW commentator Joey Styles. They must have been impressed because they brought him back in November to call Raw every week. However, on the May 1 edition, Styles “quit” and delivered a vicious promo insulting Vince McMahon, the fans, and the whole concept of “sports entertainment”. WWE went so far as to take Styles off of their website. The promo was great and Styles addressed some fans’ real criticisms of the product. However, anybody who might have believed that some or all of what Styles had said was off-script was quickly corrected. The promo was merely a way to build heat for One Night Stand 2006 and the revival of the weekly ECW show on Sci-Fi, on both of which Styles would call play-by-play for.
9 Real: Daniel Bryan's Stinger
This match has now become infamous as a sad portent of things to come for Daniel Bryan. However, viewers of the June 17, 2013 episode of Raw had no idea what was going on. In a match against Randy Orton, Bryan suffered a nerve injury; a “stinger”. The injury left Bryan unable to feel either of his arms. He was clearly out of sorts and shaken up. Orton was confused himself, and it was clear something was up. Bryan wanted to finish the match but the referee, on orders from the back, rightly stopped the match. Bryan, normally an easygoing and amiable fellow, was furious backstage and screamed at Triple H right in his face.
The incident in question did not halt Bryan’s considerable momentum. He won his first WWE Championship two months later. However, the injury was ominously prescient, as Bryan would wrestle his final match just two years after this incident. At least, his final WWE match...for now...
8 Real: Randy Orton Losing his Cool Against Kofi Kingston
Orton has appeared on this list a lot so far. It’s a shame, because, as solid as a worker as he’s been for 15 years, one thing Orton is definitely not good at is keeping his poker face on when things don’t go as a planned. Perhaps the best example of this is a match Orton had with Kofi Kingston on Raw in late 2009. Kofi has never been hotter as a singles star than we has during this feud. But his push came to can abrupt end after this match.
Kofi botched the finish. It’s hard to tell how, though, because it looked fine to most viewers. The rumor is the Kofi was meant to block the first RKO attempt, and then Orton was to miss a punt, and then hit the RKO. But Kofi took the RKO on the first attempt, which led to a furious Orton yelling, “Stupid!” at Kofi. It fit Orton’s character just fine, but, allegedly, Orton told creative that this meant Kofi was not ready for the main event and his push was curtailed.
7 Scripted: Matt Hardy's Return To Attack Edge
This is one of the greatest “worked shoot” segments in Raw history. Matt Hardy had only been gone for less than three months but his return on the July 11, 2005 episode of Raw shocked the wrestling world. Hardy attacked Edge and yelled that he and Lita would pay for what they had done to him. Hardy was referencing the real life affair between Edge (Adam Copeland) and Lita (Amy Dumas), who had been Hardy’s longtime girlfriend. The affair and Edge’s betrayal of his best friend had not been mentioned on air and the commentators stayed silent while Hardy was escorted out by security, as he yelled that fans could see him on Ring of Honor television.
Of course, when the same thing happened the next week, all fans knew it was a work but because it drew on real-life circumstances, we were all the more intrigued.
6 Real: Kurt Angle Getting Knocked Out
SummerSlam 2000 was Kurt Angle’s first PPV main event, but it did not go as planned. The love triangle between Kurt, Stephanie McMahon, and Triple H was the “male soap opera” done at its best, and their Triple Threat title match against WWE Champion, The Rock, was hotly anticipated. Angle and Hunter brawled with each other before The Rock even came down to the ring.
Triple H tried to pedigree Angle on the announce table, but the table gave out under their weight. Angle was legitimately knocked unconscious. Hunter and Rock had to improvise an entire match with just the two of them, but luckily both were seasoned professionals who had hundreds of matches against one another, so nothing seemed too amiss. Apart from the table break. Angle returned at the end of the match to do the scripted finish, but seemed kind of out of it. Frighteningly, Angle has said that he can’t remember the match at all.
5 Real: Daniel Puder's Kimura Lock On Kurt Angle
Four years later, Angle almost got his arm broken in a legit fight. The segment was at least partially unscripted, which was entirely stupid. Angle was in a segment with the the Tough Enough contestants. First, Kurt competed in a (shoot?) amateur wrestling exhibition against Chris Nawrocki. Kurt quickly won, submitting Nawrocki with a neck crank –which is apparently illegal in amateur wrestling– and legitimately breaking the poor guy’s ribs. He then asked if any of the other contestants wanted a try.
Enter Daniel Puder. The bell rang. Angle awkwardly brought Puder down, only for Puder to get Angle’s arm in a kimura. Angle was in incredible pain but couldn’t tap, given how embarrassing it would have been for WWE’s best wrestler to tap to a contestant . He leaned over on Puder. Thinking quickly, referee Jimmy Korderas counted the pinfall on Puder, despite Puder bridging up at two. An irate Angle then berated a smirking Puder. Puder would win the competition, but he had tremendous heat the rest of his short career for upstaging Angle.
4 Scripted: John Cena Vs. The Rock Promos
Leading up to WrestleMania XXVII, everybody was abuzz about the promos The Rock and John Cena were cutting on each other. Unfortunately, the main event was John Cena vs The Miz, not The Rock. But the two would face off at WrestleMania XXVIII (and XXIX) and the promos they cut on each other, especially before their first match, were savage. The two got personal. The Rock mocked the plethora of colorful merchandise hawked by Cena and denigrated the WWE’s golden boy cash cow. Cena followed The Rock’s not-so-PG lead and threw some homophobic jabs Rocky’s way. The two even insulted each other off mic in the ring.
Everybody knew the match would be a work of course, but many people truly believed the two didn’t like each other, and it made the match that much more interesting. Of course, in retrospect, it seems it was all a well-executed act to make it seem like they really hated each other.
3 Real: Lesnar Knocking Himself Out
If you re-watch the closing moments of WrestleMania XIX, you might think, “Wow, Lesnar is really selling how tough that match was". But Lesnar wasn’t selling. The new WWE Champion was meant to be celebrating his crowning glory but instead he had no idea where he was. He had attempted an ill-advised shooting star press, apparently on the suggestion of John Laurinaitis. Lesnar could do the move in Ohio Valley Wrestling, the WWE’s then developmental territory. But now Lesnar was even bigger and this was at the end of a long main event at WrestleMania.
If you haven’t seen it, Lesnar jumps up for the shooting star, and lands right on his head. He knocks himself out on Angle’s ribs and fell on his neck. Angle, still in wrestling mode, actually goes for the pin. Thankfully, Lesnar had enough presence of mind to kick out, and Angle guided him through an improvised finish. After the match, as doctors were tending to Lesnar, Angle went into convulsions backstage due to his severe neck problems.
2 Real: The Original Screwjob
We all know the Montreal Screwjob, when Vince McMahon (along with Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Earl Hebner) legitimately screwed Bret Hart out of his WWE Title. But that wasn’t the first screwjob. The Original Screwjob occurred on November 25, 1985, at Madison Square Garden. The Women’s Champion, Wendi Richter, had been a huge part of the WWE’s national expansion and her connection with pop star Cyndi Lauper drew in a lot of viewers.
But she was either nearing the end of her contract, or she wanted more money (accounts differ) and Vince McMahon decided he needed the title off of her. Her opponent was “The Spider”, a new character that was, in actuality, a masked Fabulous Moolah. The Spider quickly rolled up Richter and the referee counted three, despite Richter kicking out. Richter unmasked Moolah in anger and then immediately left the building. She never spoke to Moolah again.
1 Scripted: Punk's "Pipebomb" Promo
Arguably the greatest promo in Raw history occurred on June 27, 2011. CM Punk, the number one contender for the John Cena’s WWE Championship, delivered a scathing, visceral, and truthful promo. Punk revealed that his contract was set to expire at midnight on the night of Money in the Bank, the night of his title match (which was true). He then went on to insult Cena, Vince McMahon, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, John Laurinaitis, and the fans, and said he planned to win the title and take it New Japan Pro Wrestling or Ring of Honor, adding a shout-out to Colt Cabana for good measure.
The WWE did everything right. Apart from Punk’s brilliant delivery, his use of “banned words” such as “wrestling” and “Dwaaaayne” (The Rock's real first name) was brilliant. As were all the tiny details, like airing the WWE copyright signature before the promo so they could abruptly end the show after cutting Punk’s mic. Also, how the WWE handled it afterward online, by “suspending” Punk, was brilliant. It all lead up to an amazing atmosphere and title match at Money in the Bank in Chicago. And then a month later Punk was feuding with Kevin Nash. Womp womp.