One of the signature elements of a professional wrestling match is that it has a predetermined outcome, not to mention key spots, including the finish, that are typically planned before the wrestlers hit the ring. The fact that wrestling isn’t actually competitive in terms of who wins or loses matches is why a lot of people who don’t appreciate sports entertainment tend to dismiss it. Despite the predetermined nature of the business, however, wrestlers do take real hits, and, if anything, need to cultivate even greater skill to make it look like they’re hurting each other without genuinely doing so.
Besides that bumps, bruises, and full-blown injuries that can result from a preplanned match, there are those times when the plan itself goes off the rails. Sometimes it’s a matter of miscommunication. Sometimes a spot goes wrong, or a prop malfunctions. In those rarest of cases, wrestlers even start to legitimately fight, or shoot on each other.
So, while the overwhelming of wrestling matches follow at least a loose script, there are most certainly those instances when matches veer off script. The results can include injury, embarrassment, or hard feelings between wrestlers. Sometimes, a match going off script can even lessen a performer’s stature in the eyes of management. Fans may be tempted to think of matches going off script as a thing of the past—recalling infamous stories like Bruser Brody losing it against Lex Luger, or mass the confusion tied to the Montreal Screwjob. There are far more recent incidents, though. This article looks at 15 of the most notable ones.
15 Roman Reigns Can’t Reverse The Tombstone
WrestleMania 33 closed with Roman Reigns facing The Undertaker. The match seemed like a bit of a strange choice for a main event given that there was no world title on the line and, though both guys are major stars, there was little kayfabe reason for them to headline over Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt or Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg. From a match quality and star power perspective, the match didn’t seem to have anything over Seth Rollins vs. Triple H either.
The reality became clear after the match finished. First of all, WWE was furthering its coronation of Roman Reigns as the guy with another WrestleMania main event victory, and becoming just the second guy to pin The Dead Man at ‘Mania. More to the point, after removing his signature garments in the ring, all indications were that this was The Undertaker’s retirement match.
The match wasn’t great, as The Undertaker really looked his age and Reigns, while better than some fans want to give him credit for, wasn’t good enough to pull off a quality match. The match reached its lowest point when Reigns tried to reverse a Tombstone piledriver and failed miserably, ultimately forced to drop the Phenom’s body. To be fair, the blame probably belongs at least equally to The Undertaker for not being able to successfully execute the spot at that stage of the match. Regardless, the guys had to call an audible, with Reigns settling for a Superman punch after they aborted the reversal attempt.
14 Big Cass Gets Hurt For Real
After splitting from Enzo and turning heel, Big Cass looked like he was lined up for a big push. He thoroughly dominated Enzo in their follow up match, and even picked up a decisive victory over Enzo’s new big buddy, The Big Show, at SummerSlam. It looked as though Cass and Enzo would have one last match to put seal their rivalry when they clashed in a late summer Street Fight match on Raw. On a spot gone wrong, Cass wound up tearing his ACL. While we have to assume Cass was scripted to win, he wound up taking the loss because he was legitimately too hurt to continue the match.
Beyond the outcome of the match itself, the new finish may have helped Enzo in the long run. With abundant rumors that he had backstage heat, and after getting beaten down by Cass in every previous encounter, he looked on the brink of slipping way down the card, if not being let go. Off the momentum of this victory, Enzo transitioned to the Cruiserweight division, leading to the heel turn that set him up to be the focal point of 205 Live.
13 Charlotte And Sasha Banks Can’t Break A Table
Charlotte and Sasha Banks had what may well have been the greatest women’s in-ring rivalry in WWE history in 2016, including a number of PPV bouts, two Raw main events, and an Iron Man match. The most unique spectacle of all? They became the first women to main event a PPV, in the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell Match.
The match was good, though not quite great. One of its shortcomings was the finish, which came across anticlimactically. All Charlotte had to do to collect the pin in the end was land her secondary finisher, Natural Selection. It would appear that the women had planned on something much bigger though, as the moments leading up to the close saw her Sasha Banks against a table not once, but twice in the ring. Blame it on Banks’s low weight. Blame it on Charlotte’s fatigue. Blame it on a faulty table. For whatever combination of reasons, the table never gave way, making the end of the match come across as clunky, and likely forcing the improvised finish.
12 Cesaro’s Poor Teeth
As The Bar, Cesaro and Sheamus are known as a hard hitting and tough tag team. Their match with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose at No Mercy 2017 pushed things to a new level.
After The Bar had dropped the Raw Tag Team Championship to a recently reunited Ambrose and Rollins at SummerSlam, this PPV collision presented a heated rematch. The Bar controlled most of the action, but one key spot saw Cesaro go for a splash in the corner. When his would-be victim got out of the way, Cesaro ate the top of the ring post.
In a truly unsettling moment, Cesaro’s mouth hit metal. Afterward, onlookers suspected he’d knocked his front teeth out. The results were even more troubling, though, because in reality he had impacted those teeth—knocking them up into his gums. It’s a remarkable credit to Cesaro’s real life toughness that he finished the match as if he hadn’t been brutally hurt. He hardly missed any ring time at all, and had even recaptured the tag titles with Sheamus in the fall.
11 Sexy Star Injures Rosemary
While lucha libre has a large audience, it’s unusual for an event to cross over to the attention of US wrestling fans and critics. This past year’s TripleMania saw such an instance arise, featuring Sexy Star, best known as a top star for Lucha Underground, and Rosemary who had risen to fame via her efforts for TNA.
The two were involved in a fourway match in which Sexy reportedly started shooting with one of the wrestlers. It’s not entirely clear what the issue was, but the shoot antics weren’t limited to just those two performers. Things came to a head as the match progressed toward the planned conclusion—Sexy forcing a submission out of Rosemary via armbar.
The cross armbreaker can be performed safely in professional wrestling, but is a legitimate hold that, applied with malice intent, can legitimately break someone’s arm. Sexy clamped on the hold to not only win the match, but visibly cranked on it for a few moments after the bell had rung in an unplanned spot that legitimately hurt Rosemary.
Sexy has claimed it was a misunderstanding and she didn’t mean to hurt her opponent, but Rosemary has rejected the apology. The wrestling community at large seems to have sided with the latter, and the general consensus is that Sexy is now blackballed from any wrestling promotion of significance.
Sexy Star recently was involved in yet another shoot incident in a match with Diosa Quetzal at an MDA event after no-selling a stiff kick and going on to unleash a barrage of strikes.
10 Sami Zayn And Kevin Owens Don’t Bump For The New Day
On a European tour, newly minted heel Sami Zayn put over Kofi Kingston in a singles match. The bout was aimed at pushing a feud between The New Day and Zayn and Kevin Owens. According to a variety of reports, the aftermath was slated to see Zayn and Owens do battle with Kingston, Xavier Woods, and Big E, and take several hits before retreating from a battle they couldn’t win.
Instead, the aftermath of the match saw Owens jump Kingston, only for New Day to arrive and run off the heels who hardly took any hits at all before bailing on the action. After an awkward pause, New Day’s music hit. Owens, and all the more so Zayn, reportedly took the heat for the segment going awry by going off script. It’s rumored that they thought they were doing what was best for their characters, but going against management’s orders is a big no-no, and reportedly caused them to be sent home early from the tour.
9 A Bloody NXT War Games
This fall, NXT brought back the traditional WCW gimmick match of War Games. The concept and the match itself were generally greeted with excitement. While some fans—particularly old school viewers—balked at the rule changes and the degree to which the big spots of the match were choreographed it by and large worked. WWE is rumored to be considering making War Games an annual gimmick match based on that success.
One aspect of the match that did go awry from management’s perspective was the degree of bloodshed. War Games is notoriously violent and the company could hardly expect a blood free encounter with that many performers, foreign objects, and a steel cage. Just the same, it’s clear that the degree of blood—particularly from Alexander Wolfe—was not part of the plan. In a company that generally steers clear of anyone getting color, both for safety and public relations concerns, this one went a bit off the rails.
8 Finn Balor Takes The Barricade Bomb
SummerSlam 2016 should have marked a career making night for Finn Balor, and it’s clear enough that that was the plan. After cleanly defeating Roman Reigns on Monday Night Raw, the newly arrived Demon King faced off with Seth Rollins with the first reign as Universal Champion at stake. Balor won the match clean, and looked as though he had a rocket strapped to his back as a new top player for the company.
There was, however, one spot that went horribly wrong. Rollins delivered his signature buckle bomb only, to add extra emphasis, fired the powerbomb not into a corner of the ring, but against the barricade that separated fans from the ringside area. It was a more dangerous spot, be it Rollins not throwing correctly, or Balor taking the bump incorrectly, it ended in the disaster of Balor badly injuring his shoulder. Balor was forced out of action for the better part of a year, completely derailing his push and presumably forcing the company drastically change its booking plans for the months to follow without their new champion in place on Raw.
7 Seth Rollins Gets Overzealous
Seth Rollins is known as one of the best in ring performers in the world today, and an incredible athlete. His athleticism and verve may have gotten the better of him on the Raw after TLC, though. In squaring off with Kane , The King Slayer went for a suicide dive on Kane. After the first attempt landed, he didn’t miss a beat, rushing back into the ring to go for another.
Rollins overshot, however, and effectively sent himself into the barricade like a missile. The broadcast team tried to cover for him, suggesting that Kane had caught him with a shot (and maybe some of the blame does go to Kane for not catching him). Regardless, it was an unfortunate blown spot for one of WWE’s finest that surely did not go as he and WWE had originally planned.
6 AJ Styles And Kevin Owens Fumble To A Finish
AJ Styles and Kevin Owens are two of the most talented and most over stars in WWE today. However when they feuded this past summer, the general consensus was that they didn’t demonstrate a great deal of chemistry. The worst of their feud came up at Battleground. The finish saw Owens roll up Styles and it’s unclear exactly what happened. All we know for sure is that the ref gave the pin a slow, awkward three count. In the aftermath, Styles looked angry (though it was difficult to tell, in the moment, if that were legitimate or him selling the loss).
The general consensus seems to be that something went wrong—a theory supported by Styles winning the belt back shortly thereafter to resume the original course of the storyline. Whether Styles should have kicked out, Owens was supposed to do something different, or the ref messed up a cue remains in doubt. Regardless, the finish was uncharacteristically sloppy given the talent involved.
5 Peyton Royce Accidentally Scores The Pin At TakeOver
NXT TakeOver: War Games saw a women’s Fatal Fourway for the vacant title pitting Ember Moon against Kairi Sane, Nikki Cross, and Peyton Royce. It was a solid match, but the late stages saw a pretty clear mistake go down. In a bit of a contrived spot, Royce wound up stacked on top of Cross to set up Sane to deliver her signature elbow drop off the top to both of them.
The trouble is that, in Royce laying on top of Cross to wait for the spot, she actually had her in a clear pinning predicament. That the ref never counted undermined the authenticity of the match. Fortunately, the audience did get a cool spot out of it but it seems that Royce actually ought to have a claim to the title for her uncounted pin on Cross that lasted well longer than three count.
4 Shinsuke Nakamura Dumps John Cena On His Head
Shinsuke Nakamura squared off against John Cena in a match to determine the challenger for Jinder Mahal’s WWE Championship at SummerSlam. In theory, this ought to have been a shining moment for the Japanese star as he not only held its own against one of the biggest WWE stars of all time, but actually pinned him. The victory was marred by a suplex gone wrong, however, in which Nakamura visibly dumped Cena on his head and neck.
It was an honest mistake that no one really seems to deserve blame for. Just the same, in the aftermath of the match many fans noticed Nakamura clearly apologizing to Cena. Cena spoke about the incident in an interview afterward, explaining that he told Nakamura he had nothing to be sorry about. Everyone involved seemed to move on the incident. However, in a moment that should have been a big celebration for Nakamura, moving up to the main roster main event scene, we instead got an akward moment in which he clearly looked sorry.
3 The Authors Of Pain Blow Their Finisher
The Authors of Pain have come along quickly on NXT as not only an imposing monster tag team, but workers who have advanced quickly. It’s widely believed by NXT fans that the pair may well become what WWE originally intended for The Ascension to be, as legit monsters and a worthy successor to a Road Warriors style legacy.
The two hit a rough spot in late 2016, though, in a match against a pair of enhancement talents. They worked a spot in which they intended to power bomb one of the jobbers on top of the other. Unfortunately, instead of landing back to chest for a relatively safe spot, instead they accidentally slammed the two guys’ heads together. Reportedly, the hit knocked out both men momentarily, and caused an awkward stoppage for the match.
2 Chris Jericho Wasn’t Supposed To Work A Triple Threat
Chris Jericho has been in and out of WWE as his schedule and personal preferences dictate. This past summer, he showed off for a one off appearance for WWE—claiming that he was only there to record a sound bite for the WWE Network, before getting roped into working a surprise match. It made sense enough for Jericho to get in the ring as he engaged with two men he had history—his opponents from the preceding two WrestleManias, AJ Styles and Kevin Owens.
According to Y2J, however, he was only supposed to wrestle Styles.
It seems that the triple threat was the upshot of the botched finish to Styles-Owens at Battleground. WWE needed to get the title back on Styles, so the match became a Triple Threat for Jericho’s one night stand. Surely, he couldn’t complain, as he got to work a more historically important match given the title change that ensued.
1 Nia Jax Derails Plans For Bayley
Bayley was positioned as the top contender for Alexa Bliss’s Raw Women’s Championship this summer, but WWE was forced to take a left turn when Bayley got hurt. The injury went down in a match with Nia Jax that saw the face hurt her shoulder on account of Jax’s error.
Jax hasn’t been known as the safest worker, responsible for not just this mistake, but for ringing Charlotte’s bell in an earlier incident and generally appearing a bit clunky in the ring. Her size and relation to The Rock will surely keep her in WWE’s good graces for some time, but the company can’t be happy about her hurting a fellow star and forcing a change in creative plans. Fortunately, Sasha Banks was ready and over enough sub into the title program.