Anybody in the WWE can be a wrestler, but it takes a special kind of polishing to make someone into a bonafide superstar. In theory, it seems like a complicated process in trying to get a wrestler over as a serious main event level superstar. One would think that it takes meticulous planning, putting the right people in the right segment together, writing the right material, etc. Again, in theory, the perfect push encapsulates all of that into one neat little ball, but at the end of the day, all it takes is one moment. Of course, it has to be the right moment for the right wrestler, but history tells us that a wrestler's rise to superstardom is based all in a single moment.
Now, how a wrestler is booked from then onwards and how the company chooses to capitalize on that moment is a completely different story, but before anything else falls in place, a wrestler needs one just moment to come off as a superstar. Just one moment to get the crowd on their side. Just one moment to make the crowd take them seriously as a mega-star. Just one moment to go from the average wrestler to a full fledged main eventer. Every wrestler we've seen in the main event has had that moment in some way or another. Here are just 15 examples.
14 Batista's Thumbs Down
Timing is a huge factor in pro wrestling and just how well or poorly everything meshes together in a single moment can make or break a wrestler's career. For Batista, timing certainly worked in his favor. After winning the 2005 Royal Rumble and teasing breaking away from Evolution for months, Batista had to make a decision as to whether or not he would challenge for JBL's WWE Championship on Smackdown or Triple H's World Heavyweight Championship in the main event of WrestleMania. With much persistence from Trips and Ric Flair, it looked like Batista was choosing Smackdown after giving a thumbs up to the elated pair. Then, things turned grim for the duo when Batista placed his thumbs down and decided to wreck both men. Batista's face turn had been teased long enough that fans genuinely wanted to see it happen and in this moment, they went nuts when it finally did. The timing... the facial expressions of all parties involved... all done to perfection. The perfect execution helped Batista win the crowd over in time for his World Heavyweight Championship coronation at WrestleMania 21.
13 Jeff Hardy Earns The Undertaker's Respect
In 2002, Jeff Hardy had just jettisoned into singles competition after being betrayed by Matt Hardy in favor of going to Smackdown for his V1 gimmick. Jeff Hardy was still popular, but he struggled to be taken seriously as a main event star early on. After all, he had nothing to separate himself as a singles star. He still had the same theme, character, style, and more or less the same attire that he had when tagging with his brother. Things seemed to take a turn for the better on June 24th, 2002 when he got to face The Undertaker in a Ladder Match for the WWE Championship. Although Taker beat the unholy hell out of The Charismatic Enigma, Hardy endured The Deadman's offense and was able to mount a comeback. The crowd were on their feet numerous times when it looked like Hardy could pull off an upset victory. Not only did they all believe that Hardy had it in him to win it, they desperately wanted to see it. While they were disappointed to see Undertaker retain, Hardy earned The American Badass' respect after enduring his barrage of punishment. Somehow, Hardy looked better in defeat than he would've in victory and the fans had quickly accepted the idea of Hardy as a main event player. Unfortunately, Hardy's backstage antics would de-push him down the card soon enough and lead to his release. If not for Hardy's unfortunate drug problems, he possibly could have won his first World Title before 2002 ended.
12 Randy Orton Into The Thumbtacks
Before he carved out an illustrious career for himself as The Viper, Randy Orton was the Legend Killer. For a rookie first starting out in WWE, it was a terrific gimmick, but it didn't have any longevity in the industry much like Orton himself up until a certain point. Before rising through the ranks of WWE, he was pegged as nothing more than the company's resident pretty boy. A guy with all flash with no substance who didn't have anything else to offer other than being a poster boy. Backlash 2004 was the night that Orton finally proved all of his critics wrong. This is the night where his long feud with Mick Foley culminated in a Hardcore Match for Orton's Intercontinental Championship. Orton took the most punishment he had ever taken in his career up until this point. Perhaps ever. Foley grinded his face in barbed wire, tossed him off the stage through a table, and slammed Orton back first into a horde of thumbtacks. The way Foley constantly dished punishment out on Orton helped the young upstart shine like a bright star. This was the night that Orton earned his stripes in WWE and mere months later, he became the company's youngest World Heavyweight Champion ever.
11 Chris Jericho Wins WWE Championship...Kinda
Once upon a time ago, Chris Jericho was contemplating walking out of WWE not long after joining. Several months following an impactful debut, fanfare for Jericho had sizzled down reasonably low for Jericho. He was directionless on the card without anything of note to do. He lost matches left and right, he was replaced from the WrestleMania 2000 Fatal Four Way main event with Mick Foley, and worst of all, he lost to Mabel on Sunday Night Heat. That was the last straw for Jericho. Right before he planned to sign his resignation papers, a WWE writer told him he was winning the WWE Championship that night. On April 17th, 2000, Jericho stunned everyone in attendance by beating Triple H for the WWE Championship. Though that win was redacted from the history books due to the controversial finish, Jericho's win lit up the arena. The positive reaction not only re-instilled interest in Jericho's WWE career, it made backstage figureheads realize that they should rethink Jericho's role in the company. Since his faux World Title win got such a huge reaction, they realized Jericho was worth placing in the main event picture. That's exactly what happened and a year later, Jericho was given the World Title for real when he became WWE's first Undisputed Champion.
10 Triple H: "I Am The F*****g Game!"
For years, fans watched Triple H have a slow rise to the top. From being a Connecticut Blueblood to Shawn Michael's lackey to the midcard leader of DX, he had finally made it to the main event scene in 1999. All it took was one promo to cement his presence as a serious superstar. In the weeks leading up to his big main event Triple Threat WWE Championship match against Mankind and Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H had a sit-down interview with Jim Ross to let out his frustrations of being overlooked for so long in the company as a main event star. He talked about still being bitter about getting punished for The Curtain Call incident and bitter over how backstage moguls like JR held him back from what he deserved.
"You guys wanna talk about being students of the game?" Triple H quipped. "I AM the f*****g Game!"
Not only was a star born here, but so was his new nickname. He came off like a superstar who belonged in the main event and his entrance into the main event scene was long overdue. That's why The Game guaranteed victory at SummerSlam. Granted, this electric promo is derailed by the fact that he failed to capture the WWE Championship at SummerSlam as he promised. To be fair, he was supposed to as that was the original plan, but Stone Cold Steve Austin's politicking stalled Triple H's crowning achievement until the night afterwards, which kind of made Trips look like a doofus who couldn't deliver on his promises, but he still made his way into the main event. Better late than never.
9 John Cena Never Quits
After beating JBL at WrestleMania 21 for the WWE Championship, John Cena was still missing a moment that would solidify him as a main event superstar. That moment came when he defended his title against JBL in a gruelling I Quit Match at Judgement Day. It still remains one of the bloodiest matches ever contested under WWE soil. Most of the blood involved belonged to Cena. JBL strangled, battered, and bloodied Cena to a pulp until he was donning a crimson mask, but The Champ refused to quit. Though he was still his rapper character at this point, we saw shades of the Never Give Up character that Cena would adopt later on. Cena survived JBL's unrelenting barrage long enough to convince JBL to quit himself. This match set the standard for John Cena's Never Give Up mentality for his character. He endured an onslaught from JBL that left him pouring out like a faucet, but still never gave up. 12 years later, John Cena's character still lives by that mantra.
8 Shawn Michaels: From Rocker to Rockstar
There are a number of moments in Shawn Michaels' career that we can argue for launching his career into superstardom. His Ladder Match with Razor Ramon, his 1995 Royal Rumble win, etc, but the moment that I think solidified the Heartbreak Kid as a main eventer was when he finally kicked Marty Jannetty to the curb. Together, The Rockers were a stellar team, but interchangeable as individuals with little personality. When the team started to show signs of dissension, the two made an appearance on Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake's Barbershop talk show to confirm that all was well in the windy city between them. Perhaps they were until Michaels superkicked Jannetty on the spot. To make matters worse, he tossed his former friend's head through the barbershop window. To this day, this moment is considered the template for the perfect tag team breakup and a lot of that has to do with Michaels' performance. As soon as he turned, he exuded the cocksure confidence that would be associated with The Showstopper for years to come. That quick change in persona earned him his Intercontinental Championship, main event spots with names like Ric Flair and Randy Savage, and eventually, his first WWE Championship.
7 The Miz's Promo on Being Hazed
In 2009, The Miz repackaged himself as far as both his look and character were concerned. Gone were the shades of the inexperienced reality tv star. Miz's new attitude showed us a more serious, commanding presence on the mic as well as a more polished moveset. He was able to end 2009 as the United States Champion and then kicked off 2010 in style with a career making promo. In a time when detractors still struggled to take The Miz seriously in his new role, The Miz cut a promo highlighting the hardships he suffered in the locker room among the boys in the back. He mentioned some snide remarks made by JBL. He mentioned getting kicked out of the locker room in his rookie year after spilling chicken on an unnamed superstar's (Chris Benoit) bag. He pointed out being banned from the dressing room for months, but now having his own private dressing room. This should be an uplifting story of an unlikely rise to prominence, but the way Miz's arrogance exudes through his words makes him come off as an unabashed bastard. He knew how to tell a sympathetic story with enough villainy that you couldn't help but hate him regardless of his misfortunes. He proved to be the perfect heel worthy of not only the top heel spot in the company, but also deserving of main eventing WrestleMania the following year. He went on to lose a lot of his momentum after years of poor booking, but thanks to a recent Talking Smack promo against Daniel Bryan, he's brought himself back to prominence.
6 Edge's Spear Through Flaming Table
An argument could be made that Edge's cash-in to win the WWE Championship earlier in 2006 did more for Edge's career than this moment, but seeing as he was booked to lose that title just a month later, there was still clearly something that Edge needed to show WWE to prove to the company that he should be a top player. Enter Mick Foley. Mick Foley always had a knack for getting young guys over and Edge was no exception. The two found themselves in a No Holds Barred match at WrestleMania 22. The two threw everything but the kitchen sink at each other, but it was the match's final moments which leave it edged in history. After Lita doused a table with gasoline and lit it on fire as Foley stood on the apron, her boyfriend seized the opportunity to spear the Hardcore Legend through that table to pick up the win. Not only did the two steal the show for this sole moment, Edge proved exactly how far he'd be willing to go make a memorable impression to the WWE brass. From then on, Edge had the company's full trust in him to deliver whenever necessary. Shortly afterwards, Edge would be primed as the company's top heel and given a longer WWE Championship reign.
5 DDP Rejects The nWo
By January 13th, 1997, not only did the nWo still feel fresh and new, they were also still untouchable. No one had laid the nWo out up until this point. That is until Diamond Dallas Page crossed their path. Up until this point, DDP was muddling in the lower midcard scene. This night made him an instant main eventer. After defeating jobber Mark Starr in swift fashion, DDP was met in the ring by Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, who offered DDP an nWo shirt and a spot in the group. It seemed as though the Master of the Diamond Cutter accepted. Until, after putting on the shirt, out of nowhere, DDP hit Hall with a Diamond Cutter. A furious Nash lunged at DDP only to topple out of the ring onto a table while the People's Champion of WCW stood tall in the ring. The crowd went nuts when they saw someone finally drop not one, but two members of the nWo in one fell swoop. DDP became an instant star that night. Though it still took a couple years before he captured the WCW World Championship, he was a mainstay of WCW's main event scene from then on.
4 Roddy Piper's Coconut
When "Rowdy" Roddy Piper first debuted in WWE in 1984, he struggled at first to connect with audiences as a wrestler because, well, he literally couldn't wrestle. Upon joining WWE, he was injured following his wicked Dog Collar Match against Greg Valentine at Starrcade: A Flair for the Gold and had to settle on being a manager. Piper had to rely solely on his mic abilities and those abilities impressed Vince McMahon so much that he gave The Rowdy One his infamous talk show, Piper's Pit. It is here when Piper started to make a name for himself, especially when he had Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka as a guest. After cracking a coconut over the Polynesian's head, Piper grew to be associated with controversy. Piper started being pegged as an unpredictable nutter and there was no telling what he was going to do next or who he was going to do it to. The moment made Piper into WWE's top heel character. Shortly afterwards, he had a high profile feud with Bruno Sammartino, attacked Captain Lou Albano and Cyndi Lauper during their awards ceremony, and then reached the pinnacle of his fame by feuding with Hulk Hogan.
3 CM Punk's Pipe Bomb
For years, CM Punk found himself overlooked as a wrestler. When he finally struck gold with his first World Heavyweight Championship, fans were more interested in programs starring guys like Batista, John Cena, Shawn Michaels, and Chris Jericho. Even when he found himself leading one of WWE's hottest stables, Nexus, fans had their eyes set on the impending Rock-Cena WrestleMania main event. June 5th, 2011 was the night when CM Punk demanded everyone's attention. Following a Tables main event between John Cena and R-Truth on Monday Night Raw, Punk took his place from atop the ramp and delivered the promo of his career. CM Punk lit the wrestling world on fire when he name-dropped companies like NJPW and ROH all while spewing venomous hatred towards Vince McMahon and his "doofus son-in-law." In a time when the lines between reality and fiction hadn't been blurred since the Attitude Era, Punk had everyone debating just how much of his promo was a shoot. People were finally giving Punk some rightful attention. The attention on Punk helped get people talking about WWE again and for the first time in seemingly ages, wrestling was a hot commodity again. Within a matter of weeks, CM Punk had the WWE Championship around his waist in his homeland of Chicago and later in the year, for his 2nd title reign, he was the longest reigning WWE Champion of the modern era.
2 Foley Tossed Off The Cell
History has proven that sometimes, all it takes is a wrestler to put his body on the line in dire situations for a crowd to warm up to them. Mick Foley had been doing this for practically his entire career, but he took his punishment to a whole new level at King of the Ring 1998. Under the guise of Mankind, he challenged The Undertaker to a Hell in a Cell match and before the opening bell even rang, anarchy let loose. It was brutal enough to see Foley fall from atop the cell through the announcer's table. It turned gruesome when he fell through the cell barrier to the ring and found his tooth inside his nose. That wouldn't be the end of Foley's night either as he did a run-in for the main event. After enduring that much pain and punishment, Foley became a staple of the main event scene. Even if Vince McMahon wanted to deny Foley of his main event spot in the company, he couldn't because he felt he owed Foley that spot after what he put himself through on this night. As Foley detailed in his book, Have A Nice Day, McMahon approached Foley after his HIAC beatdown and said "Mick, you have no idea how much I appreciate what you just did, but I never want to see that again." Just a few months later, on January 4th, 1999, McMahon would repay the favor by booking Mrs. Foley's Baby Boy to win the WWE Championship.
1 "Austin Will Not Surrender!"
From the moment that Stone Cold Steve Austin made sure Austin 3:16 whipped Jake the Snake Robert's ass up and down the King of the Ring, people knew he was going to be a big player in the company. All that was missing was a proper moment to solidify The Rattlesnake's ascension to the top. Austin's slow, but steady ascension up the card began when he entered a feud with Bret Hart. The two followed up their classic Survivor Series contest with an even better match at WrestleMania 13, the latter of which doing more for Austin's career than any other match. With blood pouring down his face, Austin hollered in agony as Hart locked in the sharpshooter, but refused to give up. "Austin will not surrender!" Jim Ross echoed through the commentating set. Austin never did surrender. He just passed out. The way that this was executed—including both the double turn and Austin walking to the back on his own refusing referee's help—made Austin look like a million bucks. From that night on, he was a made man in WWE and almost exactly a year later, his coronation was made when he won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XIV.
January 23rd, 1984 is a significant date for not only Hulk Hogan, but also the wrestling world as a whole. The Hogan Era began on this night and made wrestling a hot commodity throughout the 80s. Still fresh from his role of Thunderlips in Rocky III, Hogan quickly took WWE by storm and was being primed to be the new face of the company. He kicked off 1984 by playing the part of the American hero when he faced off against Iranian invader Iron Sheik for the WWE Championship at Madison Square Garden. Within minutes, Iron Sheik locked in his then-unbreakable Camel Clutch and things looked dire for Hogan's championship aspirations. Suddenly, Hogan powered to his feet, slammed Sheiky Baby to the ground, and hit the Atomic Leg Drop for the win and his first WWE Championship. Hogan held that title for over four years, put WWE on the map, and became a global phenomenon in the process.
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