Professional wrestling, at its core, has always been based in the idea that it is very real. Not very long ago, even some of the sport’s biggest stars weren’t smartened up to the fact that wrestling was all a work until their very first match. Just listen to Stone Cold recant the story of his first match with Frogman LeBlanc. Gentlemen Chris Adams hadn’t explained to his trainee that it’s all a show
Little by little, beginning in the early nineties, the curtain was pulled back in strange, curious ways – "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and The Iron Sheik, mortal enemies being caught in Manhattan having a meal together had my dad explaining the concept of it being a show for me. Jim Ross likes to tell tales of his old man asking him how a man can punch another man in the face so many times and there’s no color?
Once the secrets of kayfabe were out, the concept of the shoot became more and more commonplace in the sport. If you don’t know, a shoot is something that happens in wrestling that was unscripted and NOT part of the show. Some of the most famous shoots of all time are Bruiser Brody no selling Lex Luger and the Montreal Screwjob. Ideally, when wrestling is done right, a wholly scripted angle is pulled off so well that it leaves most fans thinking “all that other stuff is fake, but that was real.” In that vein, here are 15 of those times.
15 The Sandman Blinded
For a long time, there were a lot of sponsors and detractors of ECW that thought the whole promotion was real. WWE and WCW might be fake but ECW and UFC–those guys are brutal, too brutal to be fake. Little did they realize that it was only UFC that was real fighting, ECW was simply wrestling dialed up to eleven to meet the demands of fans during the anti–establishment mid–nineties. ECW didn’t get more anti–establishment that the Sandman. The hardcore icon smoked cigarettes and drank a few beers on his way to the ring. But an angle with Tommy Dreamer would pull back the veneer of the backstage area and make a lot of fans believe that The Sandman was indeed blinded by Dreamer putting a cigarette out in his eye during an I Quit Match. The Sandman would be helped to the back, which might be the first instance that the backstage locker room area was shown. It was also one of the first times that both heels and faces were shown together, all abhorred at Dreamer’s actions in the ring. Dreamer would apologize, not meaning for any of it to happen, while The Sandman spent some time off in his home, eyes taped, and living like a blind man.
14 The Undertaker’s Shoot Promo
Several years before he became a biker and showed off what he is really like when not playing "The Deadman," The Undertaker came out to the ring in the middle of Raw and shed any shred of "The Phenom" and spoke to the crowd as Mark. He walked out in a black shirt and sweats. He spoke about how Vince gave him the opportunity to be the ‘Taker and complained about how the Chairman would sic him on any and all giants that his handpicked champions couldn’t beat. He would shoot and state that the boss didn’t want him representing the company, which is why he seldom had championship opportunities. It seemed pretty real at first, especially since he had completely broken character. But then he began chastising McMahon for making him fight his own brother, Kane. The jig was up, and it was obvious this promo was planned. But it did serve as a catalyst for The Phenom to get a whole lot darker and set forth to create his Ministry.
13 nWo Backlot Beatdown
Shortly after the nWo was formed, the stars of WCW were still struggling to understand the gravity of the situation. It didn’t take long though, and during an episode of Monday Nitro when, a frantic and panicked Jimmy Hart rushed to ringside during a match between Sting and Lex Luger against The Four Horsemen, begging and pleading with them to follow him to the back. Once backstage the Big Boys saw their fellow roster mates beaten and bludgeoned at the hands of Scott Hall and Kevin Nash wielding baseball bats. One of the most infamous images in WCW history happened when Rey Mysterio leapt off a trailer and was caught and then subsequently used as a javelin by Kevin Nash. The moment was so real that the Daytona Police Department was called and told that a real fight had broken out at the wrestling match.
12 Hall Invades Nitro
In the middle of a match between two no–names at Monday Nitro, Scott Hall came through the crowd, paid no attention to the competitors in the ring and delivered the opening salvo, signaling the nWo were coming – “you know who I am, but you don’t know why I’m here... you wanted a war? You’re going to get one.” It’s one of the best promos in history and at the time, with no internet to dissect it, a lot of fans actually thought that Razor Ramon had broken into Nitro. Several weeks later when Nash showed up, fans thought that Vince was sending his troops over to Nitro. The angle came off exactly like it was supposed to – fans thought that Razor and Diesel were invading! Vince McMahon and the WWE pursued legal action over the intellectual properties that Hall and Nash once portrayed, but the perception was already put into the minds of the fans. WCW had to pull back slightly on the angle and at The Great American Bash, Hall and Nash confirmed that they do in fact not work for the WWE.
11 Goldust and Marlena’s J.R. Interview
During the Attitude Era, the shoot concept really came to fruition and no more so than in three separate Jim Ross interviews, that all made the list! The first one involves "The Bizarre One," Goldust, and his bride, the most underrated hottie of the day, Marlena, aka Terri Runnels. What makes these interviews seem real is that for the most part, the interviewees in question are all out of character and “shooting” from the hip. Taking place shortly after Terri was forced to spend 30 days with the now departed Brian Pillman, the interview begins in earnest enough – Terri discussing just how happy she is to be home with her husband and little girl, Dakota, and how proud she was of Dustin. Sadly, Dustin did not feel the same way and spent several minutes lambasting Terri for all of her transgressions, real or imagined. Whereas Mick Foley’s interview (more on that later) led to the fans becoming more sympathetic to him, ‘Dust and Marlena’s was just painful to watch, which was the perfect catalyst for Goldust’s heel turn, as he berated Marlena, telling him he found someone else and he’s done.
10 Triple H’s J.R. Interview
"The Game" becomes The Game, right here. On Sunday Night Heat, a month before his first big title opportunity at SummerSlam, Triple H shoots off on not needing Chyna, Kliqs, or DX anymore. He tells J.R. nothing that fans didn’t already know as he vents about having to eat a year’s worth of crow for the Curtain Call and now it’s his time. Most importantly, telling JR that Austin, The Rock, and The Undertaker can all kiss his ass. While not nearly as long or informative as the other two JR interviews on this list, this interview showcases the side of Triple H that we would all come to know and respect – "The Cerebral Assassin." In the buildup to SummerSlam ’99, it was the fastest way to get Triple H over as a believable threat for the WWE title and he never looked back. The Game didn’t capture the WWE Championship until the night after SummerSlam, but he was right – he didn’t need anyone except himself.
9 Mankind’s J.R. Interview
Mick Foley had already given a phenomenal promo or two in ECW (re: Cane Dewey), but in the WWE, as Mankind, he was originally perceived as a raving psychopath with an affinity for boiler rooms and an affection for taking endless amounts of punishment. That perception began to change drastically during a series of interviews with Jim Ross. Foley would recant us all with tales of Dude Love and his threshold for pain. According to the hardcore Hall of Famer himself, it was his idea to give the interview in character as Mankind but giving fans the details of his real life backstory. The gamble worked, and the multi–part interview is not only what began Mankind’s transformation from disfigured freak to loveable lug, but the interview is what humanized Mrs. Foley’s baby boy. We were introduced to the man behind the Three Faces of Foley and without this moment, Foley would have still had a great career, but more likely than not, he would not be as beloved as his is.
8 Bret Screwed Bret
The Montreal Screwjob came and went. Bret Hart was WCW–bound and HBK felt like, and perhaps was the most hated man in the company for what he was complacent in. Several weeks later, the true perpetrator of the crime, the Chairman, Mr. McMahon had a sitdown interview with Jim Ross. Just like several Superstars before, he would let loose with his very real thoughts on what had happened, but completely in character. Vince felt bad for the Hart family, felt bad that his own family had to endure what happened at Survivor Series, but he remained steadfast in his opinion that what he did was right. The Chairman broke kayfabe slightly when explaining that Bret Hart did not want to show the proper amount of respect on his way out the door. Vince opines that both men are unwavering in their respective points of view, but used the platform to slowly begin his turn towards becoming the Mr. McMahon character, while still speaking to remembering Bret fondly, even as he delivered the now iconic “Bret Screwed Bret” line.
7 HBK Passes Out
Depending on which story you believe, one night in Syracuse, NY in 1995, Shawn Michaels hit on a married military wife and got the stuffing beat out of him by one to ten guys. No matter how many army guys laid the smackdown on HBK, he was legitimately injured, sent to the hospital, and forced to forfeit the Intercontinental Championship. In one of his first matches back, against Owen Hart, "The King of Harts" would deliver an enzuguri, which would eventually lead to Michaels passing out in the ring. The instant he went down, announcers Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler started stammering their words, while Owen looked confused as to what he should do. The entire segment was one of the first times in wrestling where real life news that the fans knew about inspired the storyline and it was added to the by the mostly silent commentary. No one knowing what to do when Shawn went down only added to the realism and to this day some people still think he legitimately passed out due to injuries sustained in Syracuse.
6 Savage Snake Bite
One time way back when, wrestling was real. That’s a hard statement to quantify and explain, unless you were a young fan in the late eighties and early nineties. Even though the veneer may have been pulled back for some of those fans, moments like this one would still have us thinking how real and how horrifying this entry was. "Macho Man" had been campaigning for months to be reinstated so that he could exact vengeance on Jake "The Snake" Roberts for ruining his wedding day and scaring the crap out of Elizabeth. On one fateful Saturday, on the eve of the 1991 Survivor Series, Jake had goaded Savage into heading to the ring. But awaiting the Macho Man was a beating and a bite from a ginormous King Cobra. Vince McMahon had pondered hopefully that the snake was devenomized. The image of Savage tied up in the ropes with the Cobra chowing down on his arm is still one of the scariest sights for fans who honestly had no idea if the Macho Man was going to survive the ordeal.
5 Matt Hardy Will Not Die
Lita was dating Matt Hardy. Lita cheated on Matt Hardy with Edge. Edge and Lita became the biggest and most hated heels in the company. Matt Hardy was actually future endeavored over the ordeal because he refused to remain professional. But rather than be “Broken” up over the situation, the fans would not relent and every time the devious duo was on screen the fans would chant for Matt Hardy. Thankfully Vince McMahon heard the chants and decided not to let a real heartbreak and affair ruin the possibility for making money and resigned Hardy in secret. Thanks to it being secret, Hardy was able to invade Raw, attack Adam and utter words like Ring of Honor, which were never heard before on WWE television. Bringing Matt Hardy back led to some really stiff matches on TV – who wouldn’t want the opportunity to actually beat the crap out of the guy who took your girl and make some money for it too. He might be experiencing the highest points of his career right now, but years ago “Matt Hardy Will Not Die” was the farthest he had gone at that point.
4 Heyman Shoots on Vince
He might have improvised the whole thing, but rest assured if any of Paul Heyman’s scathing promo on Vince prior to the 2001 Survivor Series wasn’t acceptable, the Psycho Yuppie from Hell’s mic sure would have been turned off real quick. ECW went under and a few weeks later WCW was purchased as well. Then WCW and ECW joined forces to form The Alliance during the lackluster Invasion angle. One of the moments during the angle that certainly was not lackluster was whenever Paul Heyman had the microphone. Most notably, on the eve of the climactic showdown between the WWE and the Alliance, Paul Heyman went off on Vince right to his face, in the center of Vince’s very ring! Heyman didn’t really say much fans didn’t already know – facts like if not for him going to the Extreme, the WWE might not have ever gotten Attitude. But as always, when something is said with Heyman’s conviction, you wind up with exactly what this promo was – one of the best ever.
3 Pillman's Got a Gun
It’s been said before on several of these lists but it begs to be said again – Brian Pillman is the single most underrated and influential wrestler of the mid–nineties, and you’d have to be when you’re the talk of all three major promotions. What’s more is that not one single person – fan or wrestler knew for sure if Pillman was working or if he had simply snapped. For all intents and purposes, most of the stories that have been told about "The Loose Cannon" showcase that the guy was always on, no matter who he offended. In what is to date, Monday Night Raw’s most batcrap crazy angle ever, Stone Cold Steve Austin had already crippled his former friend with a leaping boot into a steel chair attached to his ankle (now forever known as the Pillmanizer), but he wasn’t satisfied and decided he’d go to his old friend’s house in Kentucky to finish the job. Pillman of course was ready for him, brandishing a very real 9mm pistol. Nowadays, we all know that there was no intention of actually firing a shot, but again this is Brian F’N Pillman we’re talking about! Not one single person in the business truly knew how far he was willing to go or if he legitimately had gone crazy.
2 Bret Hart “This is Bullsh*t”
For most of 1997, Bret Hart was always kind of shooting. Behind the scenes, the legend was more and more upset that the fans were turning their backs on stand–up babyfaces like he was and started rooting for complete heels and degenerates like Austin and HBK. His real life feelings would eventually lead to one of the best and craziest runs ever – where "The Hitman" was the top heel in America, but still the top face everywhere else. But before he became the scourge of the USA, Bret Hart had wrestled Sid for the WWE Champion on Raw. He was screwed (naturally) out of regaining his title. But The Hitman snapped and shoved Vince to the mat cursed on live television and lambasted the entire company for turning a blind eye to him constantly being screwed out of getting his title. The company hadn’t quite officially launched into the Attitude Era, but moments like this were the very beginnings of the movement. For fans that think Bret was already gone by the time the Attitude Era began need to watch this promo, and plenty of his work throughout ’97 and you’ll quickly be educated, the Hall of Famer was one of the catalysts for the change.
1 CM Punk's Pipe Bomb
It was the quintessential promo of the past ten years. For every time Cena kicked it up a notch and showed some emotion in his promos, seldom others would do the same. That all changed when one of the writers came to CM Punk with great news - that he would be able to air all of his grievances against the WWE on Raw. If Vince had any doubts about it CM Punk could deliver at the top, one would assume that any and all of those doubts had been dwindled in the wake of the Pipe Bomb promo. Throngs of fans and wrestlers alike praised "The Voice of the Voiceless" for finally becoming the kind of character he was in Ring of Honor, and it led right into one of the greatest matches in recent memory, against Cena at Money in the Bank. Punk had done something that wasn't done since Austin 3:16, and that was tap into a corner of the WWE Universe and carve it out for himself.