Wrestling fans can argue all day long about which time wrestling bookers made the wrong call and put the wrong wrestler over in a match. There are those times, however, when bookers don’t actually decide outcomes. I’m not talking about wrestlers going into business for themselves—though that has happened on rare occasion. On the contrary, there are those occasions when human error comes into play in determining the outcome of a wrestling match.
Sometimes, these unintended outcomes are a result of a wrestler’s error. Maybe the guy taking the pin didn’t hear the ref’s hand hit the mat the first time and still thinks he’s on a two count, or simply forget their cue. This has become an increased risk in WWE in recent years, where management has made the call that referees should count the pin that’s there for the sake of realism and not bail out performers. Other times, the aggressor’s pin or hold may be too tight to escape. Most often in these cases, there’s a combination of factors and miscommunication with different parties blaming each other. In such cases there’s typically some wrongdoing on the part of multiple parties that landed everyone in a bit of a mess.
There are those botched finishes that can be easily enough forgotten. If the wrong guy goes over in a lower to mid card match on a house show, few fans will probably be the wiser, and the result can go more or less forgotten soon enough. There have been occasions, though, even in major companies, in which the wrong wrestler accidentally won a match, resulting in title changes or significant movement in booking for changing each wrestler’s trajectory, and either needing to correct for the outcome, or go with that change in direction. This article looks at fifteen times when the wrong wrestler accidentally won.
19 Kevin Owens Over AJ Styles, Battleground 2017
We’ll start with a very recent, and very impactful outcome. Kevin Owens and AJ Styles had been feuding over the United States Championship on WWE’s Smackdown brand. Styles won the title in surprising fashion, at a house show from Madison Square Garden. Rumor suggested it was WWE’s intention for Styles to hold the title for a good stretch, but then he dropped it back to Owens almost immediately at the Battleground PPV.
The finish was ugly. Both Styles and Owens were cradled in what looked something like a pinning predicament for each of them, though the camera most clearly showed Styles’s shoulders down. The ref counted a slow, almost hesitant pin, before awarding the title to Owens. Styles looked annoyed and argued with the ref after.
While no official word has come out, it sure didn’t look like this was the intended finish of the match. Maybe it was supposed to be a double pin to set up another rematch? Or maybe Styles didn’t think both of his shoulders were down at all? We don’t know for sure, but the fact that Styles won the title right back on TV two nights later further suggests he wasn’t meant to lose it in the first place.
18 Hulk Hogan Over Sting, Starrcade 1997
From fall 1996 to winter 1997, WCW built one of the most epic rivalries in wrestling history. After being accused of colluding with the New World Order, Sting exiled himself for over a year, refusing to associate with his old WCW buddies, while at the same time stalking the nWo. It all culminated in a showdown between Hogan and Sting at Starrcade, WCW’s biggest annual event.
The match was a flop. Hogan wasn’t exactly a master in ring worker at that stage, and Sting purportedly showed up out of shape. So, it was a rough encounter that saw Hogan dominate far too much of he audience, robbing fans of the feel good moment they expected to see. Finally, Hogan pinned Sting, and referee Nick Patrick counted a methodical three.
Supposedly, the plan was for Patrick, who’d previously had ties to the nWo, to do a fast count, to justify guest enforcer Bret Hart storming the ring and restarting the match. Instead, with a normal, if not slow three count, Hogan looked like he really had justifiably beaten Sting cleanly. It’s rumored Patrick forgot to count slowly, or that Hogan commanded him not to do a fast count. Others suggest Sting was supposed to kick out that time to set up the fast count for later. Regardless, the finish looked horrible and Hogan looked dominant, before Hart screwed him into giving Sting an instant rematch for no reason, after which Sting did win the main event and title in anticlimactic, confusing fashion.
17 Booker T Over Rick Martel, SuperBrawl VIII
Rick Martel is an under celebrated star of the 1980s and 1990s who peaked way too soon with an ill advised AWA World Championship run, before receding to the tag team and mid card ranks and, despite his terrific talent, never reaching the top of the mountain again.
But 1998 saw Martel’s final stand, as a top mid carder in WCW and a very good TV Champion. SuperBrawl saw him defend that championship in a gauntlet match against Booker T, and then Perry Saturn. Unfortunately, he injured his knee on a bad landing, and would get more hurt as the match went on with Booker T, forcing them to call an audible. Against all plans, Martel lost to Booker so he wouldn’t have to continue, and Booker and Saturn called their match entirely in the ring with no plans going into their encounter.
15 Men On A Mission Over The Quebecers, House Show 1994
1994 was a bit of a bleak period for WWE’s tag team ranks. The boom of tag teams that had stretched from the late 1980s to early 1990s was over, with teams like The Hart Foundation, The Rockers, Demolition, and The British Bulldogs all going their separate ways. Top visitors from the early 1990s like The Legion of Doom and Steiner Brothers had departed, and staple team Money Inc. had dissolved with Ted DiBiase’s retirement from in ring performance. In their place, The Quebecers became the cartoonish, if still talented, standard bearers, and Men on a Mission were their default challengers.
Mabel and Mo won the tag titles at a house show. It’s been widely reported, however, that this was not the plan, but rather when Mabel went for the pin, he was legitimately too massive for his victim to kick out. So, Men on A Mission got themselves a brief title reign before dropping the titles back to The Quebecers.
14 Kaitlyn Wins A Battle Royal, Raw 2012
In 2012, Raw played host to a women’s battle royal to crown the number one contender to the Divas Championship. Eve Torres was in the midst of a big heel push and the conventional wisdom was that she was intended to win the match and go on challenge Layla for the title. However, in a big miscue, Kaitlyn accidentally slung her over the top rope and wound up victorious.
WWE largely retconned the moment, when Torres kayfabe attacked Kaitlyn at the next PPV to injure and then replace her in the title match so storylines could continue as originally planned. Nonetheless, it was an awkward and unintentional victory that threatened to have an impact on the longer range booking of the women’s division at the time.
13 Dory Funk Jr. Over Gene Kiniski, 1969
In old school National Wrestling Alliance world title matches were contested under two out of three falls rules to arrive at a conclusive finish. The match happened long enough ago, in an era long before shoot interviews, but it’s widely rumored that things went wrong in a one fall match up between NWA Champion Gene Kiniski and challenger Dory Funk Jr. in a special single fall match.
Funk applied a toe hold submission maneuver and Kiniski submitted, purportedly forgetting that it was a single fall match and thus abruptly losing his title. Kiniski spoke to this effect in the WWE produced documentary on the World Heavyweight Championship. While some fans suspect that he was giving a kayfabe excuse, there’s reasonable doubt that he really wasn’t supposed to lose—or at least not supposed to lose that way.
10 Edge Over Jeff Jarrett, House Show 1999
At a 1999 WWE Toronto house show, Ken Shamrock was supposed to challenge Jeff Jarrett for the Intercontinental Championship, only to run into travel issues that prevented him from making it to the arena. Hometown hero and newcomer Edge got subbed into his place and, against all expectation, wound up winning the title.
It’s unclear if this were an actual mistake, but there are tell tale signs. Jarrett appeared legitimately angry in the aftermath, and Edge has spoken in interviews—seemingly shooting—that the victory was a surprise to him in the moment that the ref counted to three. Additionally, Edge would end up dropping the title back to Jarrett the very next night on PPV.
It’s possible WWE was just giving the local crowd a feel good moment or testing the waters on Edge as a champion. Regardless, rumors persist that this was not how the match was intended to go down.
9 Hardcore Holly Wins The Hardcore Championship, WrestleMania 2000
While the accidental nature of a number of the finishes on this countdown are somewhat in question, this is one of the most high profile accidental finishes in WWE history for happening at a WrestleMania and in a title match, and its one that a number of parties involved have openly conceded didn’t go down the way it was supposed to. In the chaotic Hardcore Division, a Hardcore Battle Royal got a lot of extra bodies on the card and communicated the wild, unpredictable nature of the championship in a nutshell.
The trouble is that the match was supposed to end with original champ Crash Holly retaining the title. Time was supposed to expire before Hardcore Holly could steal the final pin over his kayfabe cousin, but due to a miscue he, instead, won the title at the last second.
8 Mickie James Over Victoria and Melina, House Show 2007
Mickie James had her share of success in WWE’s women’s ranks, including winning the Women’s Championship off of Trish Stratus in her very first WrestleMania appearance in 2006. In 2007, however, she challenged Melina for gold in a house show match Triple Threat that also included Victoria. The conventional wisdom would have seen Melina retain in the non-televised match, but instead, James stole the pin.
Sources vary in regards to whether it was Melina or Victoria who messed up, but the consensus that whichever one of them took the fall forgot to kick out, causing the title change. WWE let it ride for the moment, but Melina would regain the title in her next opportunity on TV, shoring up the prevailing theory that she was never supposed to drop the championship in the first place.
7 Razor Ramon Over Jeff Jarrett, House Show 1995
In 1995, Razor Ramon was firmly established as a top mid card face and gatekeeper for rising heels to make it to the main event scene. Jeff Jarrett was one of those top up and coming bad guys and had a lengthy feud with Ramon centered on the Intercontinental Championship. The rivalry included a series of ladder matches contested at house shows. The ladder matches offered a fun spectacle of a different kind of gimmick match, besides protecting Ramon to a reasonable extent because he didn’t have to get pinned or forced into submission, and WWE didn’t need to lean on the old standby of the champion saving his title by absorbing annoying disqualification or count out losses.
Unfortunately, in one of these house show matches, there was a disconnect. Jarrett purportedly missed his cue to cut off Ramon from retrieving the title. Ramon waited for him, but was conscious that if he waited for too long he’d look like an idiot. So, he went ahead and retrieved the title, capturing his third Intercontinental Championship out of happenstance. He’d drop the title back to Jarrett shortly thereafter.
6 John Cena Co-Wins The Royal Rumble 2005
This entry is a bit beside the point, because John Cena didn’t technically win the 2005 Roya Rumble—Batista did after Vince McMahon restarted the match to have one, decisive winner. Cena did have claim to have won, though, and if the company had followed kayfabe precedent from 1994, he would indeed have been a co-winner for falling from the ring and landing outside at essentially the same time as The Animal.
The reality of the situation? Inexperienced and overzealous Cena and Batista grappled their way to a double elimination when really only Cena was supposed to be out (and according to some accounts, wasn’t even supposed to be out yet). Vince McMahon charged the ring, irate at the mistake, only to tear both of his quads getting into the ring and have to give orders to restart the match from the strange position of sitting down on the mat.
5 Billy Kidman Over Dean Malenko, Nitro 2000
In 2000, WCW decided to put Billy Kidman and Dean Malenko’s technical prowess on display, in a special attraction Catch As Catch Can Match, that included odd rules like neither performer being allowed to leave the ring. It’s unknown what the intended outcome was supposed to be for the match, or how the wrestlers were supposed to arrive at it, but it’s widely agreed that the match didn’t reach its planned finish.
Malenko rolled out of the ring in the first minute of the match, which would be a fair enough part of the ebb and flow for a normal contest, but in leaving the ring, he inadvertently got himself disqualified before the action could really heat up at all, failing to realize any of the potential this specialty match seemed to have represented.
4 Mr. Hughes Over Diamond Dallas Page, House Show - 1998
Diamond Dallas Page is known to be a perfectionist in the ring who liked to plan things out and get better in his performance with each outing. The loss he absorbed to Mr. Hughes at a WCW house show may have been completely lost to the sands of time were it not for Page’s tendency to obsess and to retell this story, which has led to it showing up in podcasts, books, and websites.
The story goes that Page was at the beginnings of a big push that would eventually see him enter the main event scene. He had a match with Mr. Hughes and much to his own frustration, simply forgot to kick out of a pin and lost the match. More than the match itself, Page was purportedly concerned about how the blunder would look to management and that it might make them second guess his push.
3 CM Punk Over Jack Swagger, Raw 2012
In an early 2012 episode of RAW, CM Punk squared off with Jack Swagger. To be fair, it’s clear enough Punk was going to go over in this match, given the two men’s respective places in the company at that time—Punk a main eventer, Swagger locked into his frequent directionless mid-carder status. There is the matter of how Punk won, however.
Punk hit an elbow drop and applied a loose cover. Every indication was that Swagger would kick out of that move to continue the match, maybe entering the finishing stages of the match from there. The ref counted three however, even after Swagger’s should came up, and in the aftermath, the referee, Punk, and Swagger all looked upset with each other.
1 The Vaudevillains Over Enzo And Cass, Payback 2016
Enzo Amore is known as a skilled talker, but no one has ever accused him of being graceful in the ring. In 2016, a worst case scenario came up when he took a bad bump in the early stages of a match between himself and Big Cass, opposite The Vaudevillains. In a freak accident that was, if anything, a result of Enzo’s misstep, he took a nasty clothesline from the bottom rope and wound up hurt outside the ring.
Enzo and Cass were intended to win the match. They certainly were the hotter, more heavily pushed act than The Vaudevillains, but they were also a face team vying for the right to challenge another face team—New Day—for the tag titles. Regardless, the injury was clearly an accident and, at minimum, changed the way in which the match’s finish went down.