One of the most appealing aspects of being a WWE fan is trying to distinguish between the planned and unplanned output from the company.
Sometimes, prearranged events can appear remarkably realistic. But, then, some performers are very convincing in the right setting and we, as fans, are willing participants in the game: we want to suspend our disbelief — we like to be fooled.
WWE has achieved this on many occasions.
Such as the time when Shawn Michaels passed out in a match with Owen Hart on a live episode of RAW on November 20, 1995. As Michaels reached for his head and slumped to the mat, Hart, the referee, the commentators and agents reacted in such a way that Michaels’ collapse seemed genuine.
Everyone was aware that Michaels had been attacked outside the ring the previous month. This brilliantly executed scene was designed to exploit that knowledge. WWE’s claim that Michaels was suffering from post-concussion syndrome and decision to pull him from the ring was part of a carefully arranged scheme to make Michaels’ comeback at Royal Rumble 1996 seem even more heroic, and rally fans behind his quest to win the WWE Championship for the first time, which he did at WrestleMania XII.
Then there are the moments or events involving WWE performers that were not planned, where they suddenly stepped outside their personae before a live audience, in response to injuries, errors, disagreements or other extraordinary occurrences. There have been plenty of those as well.
Here is a list of 15 occasions when WWE wrestlers deviated from what was expected on televised events, due to circumstances beyond their control or otherwise.
15 SHAWN SAVES THE DAY
Kevin Nash spent most of 2002 on the sidelines, recovering from muscle tears.
In Nash’s comeback match from his first injury, he competed in a 10-man tag on the July 8, 2002 RAW. Nash tagged in and levelled Booker T with a boot, but then tore his left quadriceps simply by taking a step and crumpled to the mat, screaming in agony.
The match temporarily broke down. Nash’s pal X-Pac and Eddie Guerrero instinctively threw out the script to check on Nash. Realiing a new finish was required due to Nash’s injury, Shawn Michaels, who was playing a manager role, leapt into the ring and communicated the change of plan to Big Show, who relayed the information to the referee. Michaels superkicked Booker and Show followed up with a choke-slam on Booker for the pin to bring the match to a premature end. The priority was Nash, who required medical attention.
Nash underwent surgery the next day. He didn’t return to action until April 2003.
14 SATURN SEES RED
Saturn’s match with jobber Mike Bell started like any other squash match. Around the 40-second mark, however, Saturn’s mood changed when he landed on his shoulder following Bell’s hip toss and then on his head when his opponent performed his next move, an armdrag.
“I just went off,” admitted Saturn in a Kayfabe Commentaries interview years later.
Indeed. Leaping to his feet, Saturn pounded Bell with hard punches and kicks and then hurled him through the ropes, where Bell landed on his head at ringside. Bell could have broken his neck.
Ironically, Saturn only ejected Bell from the ring to distance himself from his foe, while he regained his composure. Saturn got a grip, and the match continued as scheduled. Saturn knew he was at fault: “I was wrong,” he conceded in the Kayfabe Commentaries interview. “I had no excuse.”
The next month, Saturn’s career took a curious turn when he began a relationship with a mop he named Moppy. Many believe this bizarre and humiliating story line was a punishment for the Bell incident.
13 THE OTHER WWE DOUBLE-CROSS
On November 25, 1985, reigning WWE Women’s Champion Wendi Richter defended her title against the masked Spider Lady at Madison Square Garden.
As far as Richter knew, she was scheduled to retain the title. Penny Mitchell typically worked under the mask of Spider. At MSG that night, however, it was a different woman behind the mask, one much shorter than Mitchell. It was Fabulous Moolah.Richter must have been aware it was Moolah: the two had clashed many times. The two fought without incident for more than six minutes. But then, suddenly, Spider took Richter down into a small package and held her legs as Richter tried to kick out. She failed to do so, the referee counted three and the title was presented to Spider.
Vince McMahon had decided to end Richter’s reign, over a pay dispute. Richter, who snatched the title from Moolah before she could leave the ring, quit the company that night and never wrestled for WWE again.
12 SHAWN CALLS ANOTHER AUDIBLE
While it wasn’t the main event, the match pitting Triple H and Shawn Michaels against Edge and Randy Orton was the biggest of WWE’s New Year’s Revolution pay-per-view on January 7, 2007.
Kicking the match into high gear, Triple H received the hot tag from Michaels and rocked Edge with clotheslines. Turning his attention to Orton, Triple H executed a spinebuster. Though he did not strike the mat with excessive force, Hunter immediately reached for his right thigh, a limb he soon discovered could not bear his weight.
Wincing in pain, he informed his opponents and the referee that he was injured. Hunter decided to continue wrestling, however, he was unable to properly perform the bump off Orton’s RKO or execute a Pedigree correctly on Edge. When Orton entered the ring with a chair and then turned and left without using it, the match was threatening to fall apart.
Fortunately, an alert Michaels sped to the rescue. Improvising, he punched the referee, unloaded with chair shots and smashed Orton through the announce table. The post-match mayhem effectively distracted spectators from the unscheduled confusion moments earlier.
Edge and Orton were supposed to win by disqualification. On the night, there was no finish to the match.
11 THE ACOLYTES CRUSH THE PUBLIC ENEMY
The Public Enemy, Rocco Rock and Johnny Grunge, had a tough time after they left ECW in 1996. Their WCW run yielded few highlights, and their WWE stint in 1999 would be entirely forgettable, had it not been for their match with The Acolytes (Bradshaw and Faarooq) at a Heat taping on March 2, 1999.
According to a 2013 post by JBL on his website, The Public Enemy had arrived four-and-a-half hours late for the taping. Worse, when asked, TPE refused to put The Acolytes over.
Wrote Layfield: “[TPE] finally agreed to go through [a] table . . . and for [The Acolytes] to get DQ’d.” This was intended to set up a tables rematch. Just before they went to the ring, however, one member of TPE decided to change the finish of the match, according to JBL.
JBL claimed he was told by agent Gerald Brisco to adhere to the original finish and drive TPE through a table, regardless. Bradshaw did so: he kicked Grunge off the ring apron and he demolished the table.
That was probably the safest blow Grunge received in the match. Grunge and Rock were decimated by Bradshaw and Faarooq with chairs, pieces of broken table, the ring steps and kicks and punches. The punishment beating was absolutely brutal.
TPE were fired by WWE the next month.
10 MORRISON AND MIZ GO OFF ON TANGENT
John Morrison and The Miz found themselves in hot water after their guest commentary performance on a match between ECW Champion CM Punk and Jamie Noble on WWE’s ECW broadcast on November 13, 2007.
It is debatable as to whether or not Morrison and Miz broke character, but they certainly deviated from the brief as they harped on about each other and essentially ignored the match between Punk and Noble in an attempt to get themselves over.
Backstage afterwards, John Bradshaw Layfield took it upon himself to admonish Morrison and Miz for talking about themselves on commentary instead of Punk and detracting from the match. This resulted in a heated shouting match between Layfield and Morrison. Cooler heads eventually prevailed.
After that commentary performance on ECW, it came as no surprise that Punk retained the ECW Championship against Morrison and Miz in a triple threat match at Survivor Series five days later.
9 SHOULD HAVE HAD THE NIGHT OFF
Kerry Von Erich’s drug problems were no secret inside wrestling in the 1980s. As Ric Flair wrote in his 2004 autobiography, To Be The Man, Kerry was “drug-impaired all the time, whether it was eight in the morning or after midnight”.
This, as Flair confirmed in his memoir, led to some challenging matches with Kerry in the World Class territory in the early 1980s in which Flair had to put holds on himself because Kerry was in no condition to do his job.
A decade later when Kerry was billed as Texas Tornado in WWE, he entered the ring in a similar state for a match with Rick Martel at Madison Square Garden.
The match, held on January 31, 1992, should never have taken place: Von Erich had difficulty maintaining his concentration and balance when he stepped off the ropes, took a clumsy bump off an armdrag and fell down when Martel attempted a hip toss. Nevertheless, fans seemed blissfully unaware that anything was amiss.
With WWE’s support, Kerry entered drug rehab in February 1992.
8 DOUBLE ELIMINATION DISASTER
When John Cena and Batista tumbled to the floor simultaneously at the end of the 2005 Royal Rumble match, many assumed that WWE had decided to re-enact the conclusion to the 1994 Royal Rumble when Bret Hart and Lex Luger eliminated each other at the same time.
That assumption was wrong.
While Hart and Luger were supposed to sail over the top rope at the same time, Batista and Cena were not: Batista was meant to win the match.
Batista and Cena were visibly distressed after their accidental double elimination. The only saving grace was that they had struck ringside at roughly the same time, so the referees could plausibly kill time by raising each wrestler’s hand, while Vince McMahon marched out to clean up the mess.
Unfortunately, as McMahon entered the ring, he struck his right knee against the apron as he slid under the bottom rope and tore his quadriceps. Unable to stand, Vince had to relay revised booking instructions to Batista, Cena and the referees from a seated position. It was the weirdest WWE moment in years.
A restart was called, and Batista eliminated Cena in less than 30 seconds. Problem solved.
7 “WHAT’S MY LINE?”
Lost among the chants for Fandango and Dolph Ziggler’s successful cash in of the Money In The Bank contract and victory over World Champion Alberto Del Rio on the post-WrestleMania RAW on April 8, 2013 was this segment involving Randy Orton and Sheamus.
In a segment, Sheamus sought approval from the audience for a Sheamus versus Show match: “Who here wants to see me kick Big Show’s arse tonight?”
Orton apparently didn’t. Upon his arrival in the ring, he said: “Sheamus, while you’re out here pleading your case and practically begging for support . . . ”
At that moment, Orton curiously fell silent and walked around the ring, as Sheamus looked on, befuddled. Orton then approached Sheamus and whispered to him, twice: “What’s my line?”
Prompter Sheamus jogged Orton’s memory. Finally, Orton finished his sentence: “Big Show’s mine tonight,” he declared. How did Orton forget that?
6 ALEX RILEY TAKES AN EARLY BATH
Still the largest Royal Rumble match in history, the 40-man Rumble in 2011 is remembered for the size of the field WWE put forth and the victory by then-rising star Alberto Del Rio.
The match is less famous for the inadvertent elimination of Alex Riley by John Cena.
Six years on from his double elimination botch with Batista, Cena shoved Riley out of the ring to the floor before Riley could grab the ropes to prevent himself from being thrown. As Riley hit the floor, Cena stood there, dumbfounded.
Strangely, none of the commentators noticed that Cena had eliminated Riley. Not even WWE Champion The Miz, Riley’s associate, who was about to feud with Cena, and had come out to provide guest commentary on the match.
“Notice Alex Riley,” remarked The Miz. “Alex Riley is being very, very smart right now.”
Unable to spot Riley in the ring, Jerry Lawler asked: “Where is he?”
Riley had been eliminated. Riley then had to run back out later in the match to distract Cena to enable Miz to eliminate Cena.
5 LATE RUN-IN PROMPTS GUERRERO MELTDOWN
Eddie Guerrero’s story line in 2005 with Rey Mysterio involving Mysterio’s son Dominick made many feel uncomfortable.
It was claimed by Eddie and confirmed by Mysterio that Guerrero was Dominick’s biological father. It was just a story line, of course, but all played it with such conviction that some believed it were true.
The intense confrontations between Guerrero and Mysterio led to a ladder match at SummerSlam 2005 in which custody of Dominick was at stake. On television, Dominick was taken into foster care for a spell before the match: neither Rey nor Eddie was permitted guardianship until they had “resolved their differences”.
As outrageous as this reads, the custody ladder match happened, witnessed by Dominick from ringside.
The match took an unscheduled turn around the 16-minute mark: Guerrero’s wife Vickie — who was appalled by the way Eddie had behaved to Rey and Dominick — neglected to come out and push Eddie off the ladder as he was about to grab the briefcase above the ring, leaving Rey to improvise and unbalance Guerrero instead. Eddie was livid about the error. When he hit the canvas, Eddie punched the mat in a rage and swore repeatedly. “Where the [expletive] was Vickie?” he yelled.
The audio has been muted in some videos of this match: even if you turn the sound up, you won’t hear Eddie cursing. But he did.
4 ORTON LOSES IT WITH KOFI KINGSTON
A frequent disciplinary problem for WWE in the early and mid-2000s, Randy Orton was suspended more than once, and sent on an anger management course by the company.
As the decade drew to a close, Orton appeared to have matured, much to WWE’s relief.
Then came the November 16, 2009 RAW from Madison Square Garden.
Orton was in the ring, beating down veteran Roddy Piper. As he prepared to blast Piper with the punt, Kofi Kingston was meant to sprint out and rescue Piper. However, Kingston was tardy doing so because he was waiting for his music to play: he was not at fault. None of this would have mattered had Orton reacted in a way that concealed the timing error. Instead, Orton threw up his arms in frustration before Kingston hit the ring.
There was another incident two months later. In a triple threat match on the January 11, 2010 RAW, Orton threw a fit when Kingston was incorrectly positioned for the RKO finish. “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” he bellowed at Kingston.
Perhaps Orton hadn’t matured, after all.
3 OWEN PLAYS FOR TIME
At SummerSlam '97, Steve Austin challenged Owen Hart for the IC title. Their match was going according to plan until the defending champion positioned Austin too low on a tombstone piledriver and sat back, instead of dropping to his knees. Upon impact, the top of Austin’s head spiked the mat.
Austin, who lost all feeling in his arms and legs for nearly one minute, informed Hart that he was injured. Instead of covering Austin, Owen, who had been booked to lose, interacted with the crowd in the hope Austin might recover, given time. Hart looked deeply concerned.
Austin was able to roll onto his belly and crawl towards Hart and roll him up, while Owen worked the crowd. As unconvincing as the pin looked, it was a miracle they were able to pull that off, considering the damage Austin had suffered to his spine.
In the days and weeks after, it was feared that Austin’s career was over. Happily, that was not the case.
2 JBL STRIKES AGAIN
WWE’s first ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view on June 12, 2005 was a glorious evening for the company, and for fans of the original ECW. It was the closest any organisation would come to replicating the magic of the promotion that had made its home at the Philadelphia bingo hall in the 1990s.
There was one blemish on the occasion, however: the shoot fight between John Bradshaw Layfield and The Blue Meanie in the mass brawl at the end of the card.
JBL started it.
Explained Blue Meanie to Power Slam magazine days after the show: “If you watch the [footage], you can clearly see Bradshaw position himself right across from me . . . He was [seeking] me out in the crowd.”
Meanie entered One Night Stand with 14 staples in the back of his head.
“[JBL] punched me right in the area,” said Meanie in the Power Slam interview. JBL’s real punches also blackened Meanie’s left eye and cut his forehead. Fortunately for Meanie, The Sandman realised something was very wrong and dragged JBL off him.
As Meanie has stated in recent interviews, he has buried the hatchet with JBL, and the two are on friendly terms today.
1 MICHAELS OVERSELLS FOR HOGAN
After saying he would never turn heel again, Shawn Michaels switched to the dark side in July 2005, specifically to promote his match with Hulk Hogan at SummerSlam. The turn led to a priceless segment on the August 1, 2005 RAW in which Michaels imitated and mocked Hogan.
In return for going heel, Michaels wanted to work a program with Hogan, which would have necessitated Hogan losing a second match to Michaels. However, Hogan, who had creative control over his matches, refused to job to Michaels under any circumstances. There would be only one match, and Hogan would win.
Michaels was not amused, as evidenced by his absurd overselling for Hogan during their SummerSlam match. It was the strangest thing to see Michaels lodge this public protest against Hogan’s selfishness in the main event of one of WWE’s biggest shows of the year.
Though Michaels and Hogan shook hands after the match and Michaels turned face, the tension remained. Shawn ridiculed Hogan on RAW the night after SummerSlam, and responded to fan chants of “Hogan” the next week with the cutting line: “Until he needs another payoff, he ain’t coming back.”
It was a fair point, actually.