Wrestling, as we know it, has been around for a very long time. Different names have come and gone, thousands of championships have changed hands and even promotions have gone extinct. The reasons for these promotions going could not always be seen in advance and, often, a single event can have a huge impact on the future of the promotion and the industry itself.
But even though many of these promotions exist/existed, without a doubt, the king of the industry has been the WWE, which is who we will largely be focusing on in this article. They have been in charge for years at the top of the heap, but even they have gone through some crazy happenings. In fact, some of the huge events we will cover in this article went on to change wrestling forever and had impact years beyond when they occurred.
While they were huge events when they happened, even the people involved with them at the time probably had no idea just how much they would change the industry. Some of these changed the industry for the better, while others, not so much.
But either way, these events happened and anyone can see that they helped shaped wrestling as we know it. So read on and enjoy reliving some of the biggest moments in WWE history and learn about just how they changed the industry forever.
15 The Success of WrestleMania
After Vince McMahon took over the WWE from his father, there were a ton of people who were not happy with where the company was going and what it would become. But Vince was a young upstart with some brilliant and revolutionary ideas that could change the wrestling world forever. He brought in a ton of talent and began experimenting with national TV deals. He even created the Super Bowl of wrestling. That’s right, Vince McMahon was the one to bring us WrestleMania, which was the first real and true wrestling PPV. Back then, many scoffed at the idea of a wrestling PPV. Would people even buy it or care about it enough to pay for it? The answer was a massive yes, as it has consistently been one of the biggest shows in entertainment every year. It has been a monumental success for the company and made them millions.
14 The Birth of Extreme
In 1992, Paul Heyman and Tod Gordon founded Eastern Championship Wrestling and were winning over some fans with their new and different style of wrestling from the NWA. But they knew they needed to do something massive to really compete. And on the day when the NWA held a new tournament to crown a champion, people would forever know the name ECW. When Shane Douglas won the title, he badmouthed NWA as a promotion, all their wrestlers and threw the title to the ground.
NWA was upset but Heyman and co. didn’t care, as they now had much more eyes on them and renamed themselves Extreme Championship Wrestling. This promotion turned the wrestling world on its head with their excessive violence, crude content and a rabid fan base. This took wrestling to a whole other level and it changed wrestling in a huge way.
13 The Death of Owen Hart
Despite all the crazy antics and high risk moves that wrestling stars do, there was never a major death that occurred as a direct result of something in the ring, until May 23rd 1999. During his harness and grapple line entrance into the ring for his match, Owen Hart plummeted 78 feet and landed onto the ropes at high speed, which flung him into the ring. Announcers made it clear this was not an angle and he was seriously injured. Despite many attempts by medical professionals to revive him, he died as a result of internal bleeding from the horrific fall. This obviously had huge impacts on the company, and wrestling itself going forward, as they had to make adjustments to what is safe and what is not, and making sure people are proficient at what they have to do, as it was said that Hart only performed the stunt a few times before doing it live.
12 Brock Lesnar Leaving for NFL and MMA
When Brock Lesnar arrived in the WWE, he looked like he would be the biggest star in history. Not only was he absolutely MASSIVE and credible in the ring, he was also able to get a huge reaction from the crowd whether he was heel or face. There really was nothing in his way from dominating the WWE for years. However, after WrestleMania XX, he decided to put his career on hold to pursue a job in the NFL. He eventually came back, but not before he joined the UFC. While he is now back in the WWE, there is no doubting that some of his best years were spent elsewhere. His absence allowed future mega stars such as John Cena to fill the void. Imagine if Lesnar stuck around and we didn't get as much Super Cena? It's an interesting thought...
11 Edge Retiring and Basically Killing SmackDown
There is no doubting that when he was active, Edge was among the best and most popular superstars in all of wrestling. And he was almost single handily responsible for making SmackDown much-see TV in 2008-2011. But, sadly, his career was cut short as he was forced to retire after injuries made it a terrible idea to continue wrestling. After his departure, SmackDown had no superstar with Edge's star power, so the show took a big hit and it became a second rate show, which it remains to this day, despite the brand split. While they tried a bunch of different things to try and regain the glory that Edge took with him when he retired, it hasn't worked. Numerous attempts have been made to make it even with Raw again, and the brand split still has a chance to do it, but I doubt they will get back to where they were in the mid to late 2000s with Edge as their franchise talent.
10 The Birth of Hulk Hogan
If you were asked to name the most recognizable and famous wrestler of all time, it would have to be Hulk Hogan. He electrified millions across the world and even people who haven’t seen a single wrestling match will know him for his signature look. But early oin, he had to work hard for his success like everyone else. After a few stints in different promotions, he began to demonstrate superstar potential and then, once he began his second stint in the WWE in the early 80s, things got nuclear. Hulkamania would soon run wild and Hulk not only helped mold the WWE into what it is today, but he is a huge reason why wrestling is as popular and mainstream as it is today. The crazy thing is that this all likely wouldn’t have happened if Hulk would have been awarded the AWA Championship, which is what he wanted. When he didn’t get it, he went back to the WWE and history was made.
9 Vince McMahon Taking Over
There is absolutely no arguing that Vincent Kennedy McMahon is probably the biggest reason the WWE is where it is today, for better or worse. McMahon officially took control of the WWE in 1982, but his influence was being felt years before that, as everyone knew he would take over after his father was done with the business. When he took over, he began to expand the business and take risks that the older generation wouldn’t, en route to becoming the major force in wrestling and sports entertainment today. If it wasn’t for these seeds that were planted over 30 years ago, they would not have blossomed into the juggernaut that we have now. As much as people love to hate on Vince McMahon, the day he decides to retire from his post at the WWE will be an extremely sad and emotional one for everyone, as he is truly the man behind the machine.
8 WWE Goes Public
While this may not get talked about that much, it is definitely a huge reason behind a number of changes that the WWE has made over the past decade and a half. The WWE first went public in 1999 and this changed a lot of things. Now they didn’t only have to worry about what the fans thought, but also had a responsibility for their stockholders. And issues began to rise because most stock owners care more about short term results as opposed to planning and sticking with things for the long term. This is also a reason why they often do “what’s best for business” and are gearing their content to a more general audience, which is better for advertising and the like. Also, being public now, the WWE can’t keep their doings secret and must release their plans and ideas to stockholders to okay as well.
7 The Death of Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero was widely recognized as one of the most talented wrestlers of his time, but was constantly held back. Whether it was his lack of personality early on or his bouts with drugs and alcohol, something always held him back. But eventually, everything clicked, and he was a main eventer and a champion, capping it off with an emotional win at WrestleMania XX against Kurt Angle to retain his title. He was in the middle of another championship push and then the unthinkable happened. He was found dead from an apparent heart attack, which is still one of the most tragic and horrific moments in history. His death led to the creation of the WWE Wellness Policy and while WWE stars have died previously, none passed at the height of a push, in their prime, like Eddie did.
Hopefully, WWE's Wellness Policy can help prevent these types of tragedies.
6 The Creation of the NWA
Before the NWA was formed in the late 1940s, the world of wrestling was an absolute mess. With no “biggest show in town,” different areas and territories constantly fought each other for supremacy. They each would name their own “world” champion. With so much going on, it was extremely hard for fans to follow every area and know who their wrestlers and champions were. So, in 1948, most of the major owners realized they were better off working together than they were bickering and fighting with each other. So, the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) was born. And for the better part of three or four decades, the NWA was the biggest show in town and only after some would break away (like Vince McMahon Sr. and others), would they relinquish some of their power. They were a blueprint for the system we have today and if it wasn’t for this alliance, who knows what wrestling would look like today.
5 Monday Night Wars
In the business, competition is always what is best for fans. If one promotion or show is top dog, they can basically do whatever they want without recourse as there is no other show in town. And that is exactly what the WWE was doing before the WCW decided to challenge them on Monday nights. And while the fans were excited to see what would happen, everyone pretty much thought the WCW was in way over their heads and would get crushed. But to the surprise of many, the WCW actually pushed the WWE to their limits and the ensuing back and forth battle created some huge stars on both sides and led to some incredibly memorable matches and moments. This shook up the business like never before. Not only did WCW rise to the occasion against all odds, but the WWE showed it wasn’t just going to roll over and let someone steal their thunder.
4 WWE Buying WCW
To understand how big this acquisition was, you have to understand the landscape of wrestling in the 80s and 90s. The 80s featured the NWA and the WWE going head to head and the 90s mainly featured the WWE butting heads with WCW. This conflict was good for business, as it allowed for some healthy competition and a ton of great content for fans to enjoy every week and for the media to talk about. However, eventually, the WCW wasn’t a threat anymore and saw their brand lose a lot of steam. Because of that, the WCW was purchased by the McMahons, which changed things fast. Interesting storylines and a ton of new talent came into the WWE, which led to the original brand split with Raw and SmackDown and eventually changed the industry. During the 1990s, you would have never expected this acquisition to happen, but it did and it changed the industry for good. At the moment, it doesn't seem as though the WWE will ever have compeition again, which many fans believe is leading to a stale product.
3 The Horrific Chris Benoit Situation
This situation is still extremely touchy and the repercussions from it are still being felt today. Of all the things that have ever happened in the decades and decades of wrestling, this is probably the most horrific and it’s really not even close. On June 27th 2007, authorities entered the Benoit residence to find the lifeless corpses of Benoit himself, his wife and his son, in an apparent double murder-suicide. The impact was massive on the public opinion about wrestling. Every major media channel picked the story up and had millions pointing the finger at wrestling, and the WWE in particular. The WWE still carries this stigma to this day, despite going after a young audience and “PG-ing” their content. The way this has changed the business can’t be fully talked about yet, as it is still occurring as we speak.
2 The Hulk Heel Turn
Up until this point, Hulk Hogan was probably the most popular and famous superstar in WWE and wrestling history. The 1980s were absolutely magical for The Hulkster, as he had the world in his palms. But in the 1990s, many people grew tired of his shtick and it began to go stale, leading to him leaving the WWE and then signing an absolutely massive deal in WCW. Even a promotion change couldn’t help Hulk, so he did the only thing left for him to try and that was to go heel. The biggest babyface in the industry going heel was shocking to say the least. And this turn was enough to actually put WCW over as the biggest promotion in the world, as their ratings exceeded the WWE for a period and it changed the wrestling business in the process. This heel turn is leading to many fans calling for John Cena to do the same, to help the WWE with their ratings issues. You never know...
1 The Montreal Screwjob
No matter how old you are or how long you have been a wrestling fan, you likely know the story of The Montreal Screwjob, but in case you don’t, let me fill you in. After a long tenure with the WWE, Bret Hart was moving to WCW, due to contract issues with the WWE. The WWE and Vince McMahon were obviously not happy about this, but they had no choice, as they couldn't afford to keep him anymore. Hart refused to drop the title to his rival, Shawn Michaels, at their match at Survivor Series in 1997, so a plan was devised to take the title from him. They claimed to be afraid that Hart would bring the belt to WCW, like Alundra Blayze had done in the past. So during the match, with Hart in a Sharpshooter, the referee called the match, despite no tap from Hart. This sneaky betrayal led Hart to leave and not return for over a decade, while the WWE lost one of its biggest stars on bad terms. This led to the rise of Stone Cold in Hart’s absence and the heat also turned Vince McMahon into Mr. McMahon, who was arguable the biggest heel during the hottest period in wrestling history.