Like so many other television shows and performances, World Wrestling Entertainment programming such as editions of Raw and SmackDown are meant to serve as escapes from our daily lives and from stresses brought on by work, personal struggles and other matters. For several hours every week, we can forget about what it is that is bothering us and get swept up in wrestling storylines and in-ring action. Many fans out there don’t even mind the more ridiculous feuds and ideas that are presented by writers. We know the action and tales that are showcased aren’t actually real, and we don’t care. In fact, there are even times when we prefer knowing we’re essentially watching what is commonly referred to as a soap opera for males and that, for the most part, the athletes aren’t in danger during matches.
Just as with movies, shows, music albums and so many other platforms, however, there have been a plethora of times over the years when the WWE got “too real” and brought fans of varying ages and backgrounds to tears. In some instances, those situations had to do with a beloved act or character legitimately retiring from the WWE and from the industry, in general. Sadly, too many of these moments involved the premature deaths of individuals who left us far too soon. The WWE has taken multiple steps to ensure performers are safe and well in and outside of the company, and the hope is that memorial episodes for wrestlers who pass away in their 40s or even in their 30s will now be a thing of the past.
15 The Undertaker’s Streak Ends
Many WWE fans around the world wanted The Undertaker’s undefeated WrestleMania streak to remain intact up through the end of his legendary career. WWE boss Vince McMahon, and possibly others within the company, felt otherwise about the matter, and ‘Taker took the pinfall loss to former Ultimate Fighting Championship Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX in one of the more surprising match outcomes in the history of the promotion.
Once the shock that came with realizing what they had seen dissipated, viewers and those in attendance were left with the understanding that an era unlike any other in the history of North American pro wrestling had ended. While The Undertaker didn’t retire that night, his persona was never again the same leading up to the spring of 2017.
14 Goldberg’s Farewell Promo
When former World Heavyweight Champion Goldberg returned to the WWE in 2016, fans hoped his second stint in the company would go better than his first. Nobody, at the time, could have anticipated Goldberg would get so over that he would enjoy a run as Universal Champion, but that is exactly what happened until he took a clean pinfall defeat to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 33.
The night after WrestleMania, Goldberg appeared in front of fans attending the Raw show to deliver an emotional farewell speech, one that appeared unscripted and that touched upon several real matters. Perhaps best of all was that Goldberg left the door open for another WWE return, one that would probably draw a massive pop from the audience regardless of where and when he showed up.
13 Rey Mysterio Honors Eddie Guerrero
The death of Eddie Guerrero in November 2005 came out of nowhere, and his passing stunned fans of the former WWE Champion who felt heartbroken upon learning of the news via the Internet or some other source. While so many throughout the industry offered heartfelt condolences and tributes to the superstar, none left more of a lasting memory than that delivered by Rey Mysterio.
Mysterio and Guerrero feuded in storylines on multiple occasions, but the two were very close behind the scenes, and that was clear as Mysterio attempted to maintain composure while speaking about Guerrero during a segment of WWE programming. One can only imagine how difficult that must’ve been for the high-flyer who removed his mask because he was so overcome with emotion after he delivered a monologue that brought tears to the eyes of viewers.
12 The Undertaker Remembers Paul Bearer
Paul Bearer was no longer an active member of the WWE roster when he passed away in March 2013, and he hadn’t yet been inducted into the promotion’s Hall of Fame. The company posthumously honored him with a WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2014, and that ceremony concluded with a special and unique tribute delivered by none other than The Undertaker.
It was only fitting the phenom remained in character as he emerged onto the stage and then dropped to a single knee, as he had done throughout his partnership with Bearer, to pay his respects to his former manager. Fans who remember Bearer working alongside Undertaker throughout the 1990s and portions of the 2000s may still feel chills upon re-living this special and tear-jerking moment.
11 Shawn Michaels Says Goodbye
One thing often repeated to wrestling fans is that they should never say “never” as it pertains to retirements and similar goodbyes in the industry. With that said, Shawn Michaels retiring following his loss to the Undertaker in a “streak versus career” match at WrestleMania XXVI felt more real than other speeches fans witnessed and heard in the past.
The “Heartbreak Kid” had seen and done it all even before that memorable night, and there was nothing left for him to achieve if the WWE wasn’t going to give him the opportunity to break Undertaker’s streak. We knew, deep down, one of the best performers of all-time was walking away, for good, and that’s why we were brought to tears that night. We were right, as Michaels has never again wrestled underneath the WWE umbrella.
10 Lilian Garcia Sings National Anthem After September 11, 2001
While many out there may remember the first SmackDown following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 because of controversial comments made by Stephanie McMahon that aired during that broadcast, nobody should forget that show’s top moment that still sends chills down the spine.
Ring announcer and recording artist Lilian Garcia opened the show with her rendition of the national anthem, and fans and wrestlers alike shed tears as Garcia delivered one of the best versions of that song anybody anywhere will ever hear. To this day, it remains arguably the top single highlight in the history of the SmackDown program, one that is often re-aired every September. Those who have never heard it should take a few minutes and watch Garcia cause an entire arena to erupt with as emotional a response as will ever occur at a WWE show.
9 Bobby Heenan’s Hall of Fame Speech
Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wasn’t the same boisterous manager of old when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. His voice had been affected by throat cancer, but his sense of humor was never lost and was still apparent throughout what some consider to be the best WWE Hall of Fame speech in history.
Words, alone, cannot do justice to this speech for those who have never before heard it. From Heenan joking about betting on wrestling to his heartfelt words about friends and those he managed during his career, “The Brain” made us both laugh and cry as only he could. The wrestling business will miss you so long as it exists, Bobby, and we hope both you and Gorilla Monsoon are calling the big WrestleMania in the sky.
8 Paul Heyman Shoots on Vince McMahon
Art imitates life, or so we are often told, and that is how it felt when Paul Heyman delivered a promo about the original Extreme Championship Wrestling organization ahead of the 2001 Survivor Series match that would serve as the end of the failed “Invasion” storyline and the final death of the first installment of ECW.
While this, technically, was a “worked shoot” since it involved a storyline playing out on WWE programming, anybody who followed the industry during the “Attitude Era” knew Heyman spoke harsh truths about all that had occurred leading up to ECW going out of business. We had tears in our eyes watching this because we understood the ECW that meant so much to so many was about to disappear, once and for all, and that WWE was the only big dog left standing following the “Monday Night Wars.”
7 End of ECW One Night Stand 2005
Wrestling fans didn’t know the first ECW One Night Stand show in 2005 would lead to a second Pay-Per-View and, ultimately, to a version of ECW returning in the future. Therefore, it was, to date, one of the most emotional WWE shows to ever occur even though it was presented as a product produced by the defunct hardcore promotion.
The end of the first One Night Stand felt like a final goodbye, as wrestlers who helped build that brand stood tall in the ring while being saluted and cheered by fans. Legendary announcer Joey Styles, the voice of the original ECW, seemed to hold tears back as he signed off after he thanked viewers. Styles and ECW gave so much to so many, and we thank them even 16 years after the original promotion’s demise.
6 Jake Roberts’ Hall of Fame Speech
Those who know about the life and times of Jake “The Snake” Roberts are likely familiar with the personal struggles he has gone through over the decades. Things were so bad during the 2000s, in fact, that it often felt as if the wrestling world was merely waiting to hear or read a story regarding the performer’s death.
That’s probably the biggest reason why Roberts’ Hall of Fame induction speech in 2014 brought some to tears. Roberts defied odds and conquered demons en route to getting to that memorable evening, and he has spoken candidly about mistakes he made and about receiving the help he needed to save his life. Fans around the world sincerely hope Roberts’ story has a happy ending. It’s the least this icon of the business deserves.
5 Brian Pillman’s Widow
The unexpected and untimely death of Brian Pillman in the fall of 1997 left a massive void in the wrestling business and saddened so many who watched him perform in both WCW and the WWE. As heartbreaking a story as that was, the WWE choosing to interview his widow during a segment of Raw that aired roughly 24 hours after Pillman’s death was both disgusting and difficult to watch.
Viewers witnessed a wife and mother seemingly in shock speaking about losing the closest person to her at a time when no entity should have ever even thought about putting a camera in her face. She deserved better from the WWE, and her words would bring any person who has even an ounce of compassion to tears 20 years after Pillman’s passing.
4 Jerry Lawler Heart Attack
The hope among viewers is that anything that airs on WWE programming is a work and all part of the show. That, of course, wasn’t the case when Jerry “The King” Lawler suffered a heart attack during an edition of Raw in 2012. Fans feared for the worst, particularly once the seriousness of his condition became public.
While that brought us to tears out of worry for his health, fans emotionally responded with happiness and a sense of joy when he made a triumphant return to the announce chair roughly two months after he nearly lost his life. Some may have been turned off by the fact the WWE used his health scare as part of a storyline. Anybody who knows anything about the King’s history in the business would know Lawler wouldn’t have had it any other way.
3 Shawn Michaels Ends Ric Flair’s WWE Career
Wrestling fans who weren’t lying to themselves ahead of the WrestleMania XXIV showdown between Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair understood they were about to see the “Nature Boy” wrestle his final WWE match, but that didn’t make the closing seconds of the contest any easier for those who grew up with Flair as a weekly character.
As Michaels prepared to hit Flair with the final blow that would send the legendary performer into a WWE retirement, he mouthed “I’m sorry. I love you.” Michaels then hugged Flair immediately after the ref’s hand touched the mat a third time for the pinfall before departing the ring and giving the stage to the iconic performer. Regardless of how long pro wrestling exists, we’ll never again see such an amazing ending to a retirement story.
2 Daniel Bryan Retirement
Wrestling fans who watched Daniel Bryan emerge as arguably the greatest underdog story in WWE history wanted reports that he was retiring in February 2016 to be nothing more than part of a detailed storyline or, at worst, his leaving the promotion for greener pastures.
That wasn’t the case, however, as we learned doctors had told the former World Champion he had to retire due to the many concussions and brain injuries he suffered throughout his career. His retirement speech, one that occurred in his home state of Washington, moved us to tears because anybody watching could see the pain in his eyes. It’s possible Bryan will one day make a return to in-ring action, but it will likely occur outside of the WWE. Whatever he chooses, we hope Bryan considers his long-term health.
1 Owen Hart Tribute
The tragic death of Owen Hart that occurred as the result of a horrific accident at the 1999 Over the Edge Pay-Per-View shocked viewers so much, at the time, that many watching didn’t know how to react.
The following night, the WWE produced an edition of Raw affectionately known as “Raw is Owen,” a program fully dedicated to the memory of the gifted performer. All storylines were put aside for the evening, and wrestlers were presented opportunities to speak openly about their memories of Hart and about what he meant to them. The ending of the show featured “Stone Cold” Steve Austin having an in-ring toast as he gestured toward a picture of Hart displayed on the big screen. Nobody could be blamed for still getting choked up by this two-hour tribute to a great worker and a wonderful human.