Professional wrestling is pretty weird. As fans, we watch real athletes perform genuinely amazing physical feats in sometimes choreographed, always predetermined, fake fights. And then they have to act, even though the vast majority of them are not actors. Today in the WWE, most wrestlers --err, sorry, “sports entertainers”-- have their lines 100% scripted out for them, much to many of their, and our, collective chagrin. In different promotions and throughout different eras, scripting wasn’t so common, and wrestlers were merely given bullet points for their promos. If that.
Regardless, ever since the days of Frank Gotch, the outcomes of these matches have not been determined by legitimate athletic competition but rather by the story being told. And today, unlike in previous generations, all adult fans of pro wrestling realize that what we’re watching is storytelling, not legitimate athletic competition. (At least, I hope to god all adults now realize that.) But this gets at the crux of what pro wrestling is for many of us. Often, what goes on behind the curtain is more interesting than what we see on screen. That’s why those times when wrestlers go off script --go against the agreed upon plan-- are often the most captivating for us fans. Indeed, we just passed the 20th anniversary of what is arguably the most famous/infamous wrestling match ever, the Montreal Screwjob. A match famous because some of the players involved went against the script. It was real. So here are 15 times wrestlers went off script for their own benefit.
15 Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn Don't Take Post-Match Beating
The impetus for this article is the recent incident that aired on SmackDown Live (ironically, not live) in Manchester on Tuesday, November 7. After Sami Zayn’s loss to Kofi Kingston, Kevin Owens ran into the ring and assaulted Kofi. Then, Xavier Woods and Big E entered and Zayn and Owens cleared the ring. The New Day then stayed in the ring while Owens and Zayn ambled up the ramp. To the viewer at home, nothing seemed amiss apart from maybe the sound guy missing his cue and playing The New Day’s music too late. But it was not the sound guy’s fault.
Owens and Zayn were meant to “feed” for The New Day; meaning, they were meant to get back in the ring and bump for The New Day, thus making them look strong, presumably for an upcoming match with The Shield. But it seems that Owens and Zayn refused to follow the plan. As a result, Vince McMahon and other WWE staff were said to be furious and Vince sent Owens and Zayn home from the European tour, upsetting fans. The whole incident seems odd. Why would Zayn agree to job for Kofi, but not sell for The New Day after the match? And sure, it’s understandable for Vince to be upset, but to send them home off the tour? It’s a big change from barely a month ago when Vince trusted Owens enough to give him a beat down including a legitimate headbutt.
14 Wrestlers ‘Blading’ Themselves
In wrestling, “to blade” means to deliberately cut yourself (or another wrestler), usually above the eyebrow, with a razor blade. The blood that flows from the cut then, theoretically, adds drama to the match. Whether out of concern for the wrestlers’ health or to appeal more to families, the WWE has banned blading in various periods of its history, including currently (though some guys seem to be able to get around the ban, interestingly enough). Two of the more infamous blade jobs occurred at WrestleMania VIII. Bret Hart bladed himself in his Intercontinental Title match against Roddy Piper. Ric Flair bladed himself in his WWE Title match against Randy Savage. Bret claimed the blood has an accident --“hard way”. Ric admitted to blading. Ric was punished and Bret wasn’t. Huh.
Five years later, Bret would blade Steve Austin in their I Quit match, leading to one of the most memorable visuals from one of the most memorable matches in wrestling history. Batista was not so lucky when he bladed years later in a World Title match against Chris Jericho. Batista was fined a ridiculous $100,000, with Jericho and the referee receiving much smaller fines. Batista honorably paid their fines but the incident created a rift between Big Dave and Vince that seems to have never healed.
13 Akira Maeda vs. Andre the Giant
Akira Maeda vs Andre the Giant on May 26, 1986 in New Japan Pro Wrestling. This match quickly devolved from a work into something of a shoot. But not a shoot of two guys legitimately trying to win a fight. More like a gigantic man choosing not to sell any of his opponent’s offence and then lying on top of him. There are several stories here and it’s hard to tell what is true.
Andre was said to be drunk and his body is already breaking down by this point. Maeda, a great wrestler when he wanted to be, had the reputation for being...well, an asshole. He legitimately broke the orbital bone of New Japan legend Riki Choshu with a stiff kick later on, leading to his dismissal from New Japan. Some believe that New Japan founder Antonio Inoki instructed Andre to no-sell for Maeda to teach him a lesson. In any event, after about 20 minutes of ungodly awkward “wrestling” Andre simply laid down and told Maeda to pin him. Maeda refuses. Then Inoki and a bunch of guys run down to the ring, chaos ensues, the match has no finish, and the fans are left perplexed.
12 Hulk Hogan Stealing the Spotlight After Losses
Hulk Hogan’s specialty was hogging the spotlight. Honestly, you can’t blame the guy too much; he was genuinely so physically charismatic that the camera, and the fans, just loved to pay attention to him. On those few occasions when the Hulkster did have to do the job, he had a knack for making sure the post-match focus was on him. He did it at WrestleMania VI and the Royal Rumble 1992.
However, the most egregious example was at WCW’s World War 3 in 1995. The novelty of Hogan in WCW had worn off and we were in that awful period before the nWo when he was feuding with the Dungeon of Doom. On this night, Macho Man Randy Savage won the three-ring, 60-man-battle royal, capturing his first WCW title. Hogan, however, was never properly eliminated, being pulled under the bottom rope by The Giant. That much had to have been planned. But Hogan’s over-the-top protestations after the match were something to behold. It left Savage, a babyface new champion in a really awkward position. Also, I should point out that this is a moustache-less Hogan at this point and he just looks wrong.
11 Gail Kim Exits Match, Gets Released
On the August 1, 2011 edition of Raw, there was a Divas Battle Royal (this was before “women” existed in the WWE Universe). One of the participants was Gail Kim. Kim says she was told to get eliminated within the first minute of the match. And she did. So what’s the problem? Well, presumably, the match agent backstage didn’t mean for her to eliminate herself. But that’s what Kim did.
She figured that, since she was playing no role in the the outcome of the match and had been underutilized, along with all the women at that time, what did it matter? Kim asked for her release after the incident and was either granted it or wasn’t and had to wait out her contract, which only had about another two months left anyway. She then returned to TNA. Kim stands out as being one of the few wrestlers to have been booked better in TNA than WWE.
10 The Great Antonio No-Sells For Inoki; Gets Pounded
Outside maybe a New Jack match, this is perhaps the most brutal example of a pro wrestling match going off script. Though many would claim that the Great Antonio had it coming. Regardless of whether he deserved to be legitimately kicked unconscious as he was, the Great Antonio was not being professional. Whether it was pigheaded pride or inexperience on Antonio’s part is unknown. By 1977, the Croatian-Canadian Antonio was already 52, was better known as a strongman than a pro-wrestler, wasn’t in anywhere near as good as shape as he once was, and he certainly wasn’t used to the Japanese style.
Or maybe Antonio just didn’t want to sell the smaller Inoki’s offence. Whatever the reason, Antonio no-sold for Inoki and then hit him with some stiff clubbing blows. This was unwise for two reasons. One: Inoki is a legitimate bad ass. And two: Inoki is not the nicest guy in the world. Inoki responded with stiff palm strikes, kicks, and then stomped on Antonio’s head until he was a bloody mess. Ouch.
9 HBK’s “Sunny Days” Promo
I mentioned the Montreal Screwjob in the intro. That was less a case of a wrestler going off script for his own benefit than the promoter changing the script without telling one of the wrestlers. Regardless, much what lead up to their Survivor Series ‘97 match was more real than Shawn Michaels or Bret Hart would like. Much has been said and written about how Bret and Shawn, at one point friends, maybe tried to “work the boys” by pretending to hate each other and/or were encouraged by Vince to “get real” in their promos.
Whatever the reason, by ‘97 they hated each other. And this was typified by comments like Michaels’s “Sunny Days” promo on Raw in which Michaels’ subtly alleges that Bret was having an affair with the “original diva” Sunny. To most fans, the remark seemed like nothing. But to Bret’s then-wife who suspected Bret of cheating, it was a huge point of contention. In fact, Bret would later admit to being unfaithful, but not with Sunny. They both claim they were just friends. Sunny, however, has claimed to have had a relationship with Shawn in 1996. This remark would be the catalyst for the real backstage fight Bret and Shawn would have shortly after. So HBK definitely got himself in some trouble with this one.
8 HBK Over-Selling for Hogan at SummerSlam ‘05
The “Sunny Days” comment was typical for Shawn in the 1990s. He was, admittedly, a jerk. (Though it’s not like Bret was a the perfect gentleman, either.) However, during Michael’s second run from 2002-2010, he was a veritable saint in comparison. The one key exception, however, was SummerSlam 2005. At this event, Michaels was in the main event against Hulk Hogan. Hogan was going over. Michaels, presumably, didn’t agree with this decision. Both he and Hunter never much cared for Hogan, always seeing him as the enemy through the 1990s.
Now Michaels was never going to shoot on Hogan. But he did have an unorthodox approach to the match. 'If they want me to bump for Hogan', he might well have thought, ‘then I’ll bump my ass off’. And he did; but not in a good way. Michaels’s ridiculous selling and over-exaggerated bumps were downright comical. It was impossible to take the match seriously. For smart fans, it was funny to watch, but it didn’t resemble a good wrestling match at all.
7 Dirt Bike Kid Shooting on the Great Sasuke (and Vice Versa) And A Beating Ensues
If you know the Dirt Bike Kid at all, it’s probably for this match. DBK had a few matches in ECW but is best known for this debacle in Michinoku Pro. He was brought in for a tournament of masked wrestlers, which is weird because DBK doesn’t normally wear a mask. Unhappy at having to wear a mask and being booked to lose to Sasuke quickly, DBK went into business for himself. He takes off his mask right away, revealing what looks to be a bandanna around his mouth and killing the whole gimmick of the tournament. He then dropkicks Sasuke to the outside and does various high flying dives and splashes.
After this, Sasuke --the owner of the company-- is fed up with playing along. He avoids a splash, and then commences to kick DBK. Over and over and over again. At this point, the Japanese children in the crowd are watching a future politician legitimately beat up a skinny British guy. Sasuke then legitimately chokes DBK, almost to the point of unconsciousness, and wins the match. Afterward, DBK nervously offers his hand for a handshake and Sasuke walks off in disgust.
6 Sycho Sid Playing to the Crowd as a Heel
Sid Eudy/Sid Vicious/Sid Justice/Sycho Sid had a habit of doing this. As early as 1989 you can see instances of the ostensibly heel Sid playing to the crowd, dropping to a knee, and encouraging their cheers. Which he often got. As a tall, muscular, ridiculously intense man, he had a lot of physical charisma that appealed to audiences. Never mind that he couldn’t wrestle worth a damn. As bad as he was in ring, he could be led to a good match by a great workers. Such as Shawn Michaels.
The two worked a title program in the WWE in 1996. At Survivor Series, the MSG crowd began to cheer for the heel Sid. Did Sid and Shawn keep to the script and play their roles regardless? Nope. Shawn, not the professional he would become, gets pissy and even spits at the fans. Unprofessionalism prompted by emotion. Sid, however, motivated by his love for adulation, encourages the crowd. He even celebrates with them after winning the title by hitting Michaels and his mentor Jose Lothario with a camera, causing Lothario to (kayfabe) have a heart attack. Instances like these left those backstage furious and Sid was released shortly after dropping the title to The Undertaker in 1997.
5 Daniel Puder Shooting on Kurt Angle
On an episode of SmackDown in November 2004, Kurt Angle made the contestants of the $1,000,000 Tough Enough show (which Puder won) compete in a squat thrust competition. The segment was at least partially unscripted. Angle decided that contestant Chris Nawrocki won the competition and his prize was a seemingly shoot (amateur?) wrestling match with Kurt. Kurt quickly won, submitting Nawrocki with a neck crank --which is apparently illegal in amateur wrestling-- and legitimately breaking the poor guy’s ribs. He then asked if any of the other contestants wanted a try.
Puder stepped up. The bell rang. The two tussled for a bit before Angle finally, awkwardly, brought Puder down, only for Puder to get Angle’s arm in a kimura. Angle was in incredible pain but couldn’t tap, given how embarrassing it would have been for WWE's best wrestler to tap to a contestant . He leaned over on Puder. Thinking quickly, referee Jimmy Korderas counted the pinfall on Puder, despite Puder bridging up at two. An irate Angle then berated a smirking Puder. Puder would win the competition, but he had tremendous heat the rest of his career for upstaging Angle and as evidenced by Puder getting legitimately pummelled in the 2005 Royal Rumble, he made many enemies backstage.
4 Scott Steiner’s shoot promo on Ric Flair
Oh WCW 2000. The gift that keeps on giving. Assuming that you consider horribly booked wrestling a gift. Shortly after Vince Russo was re-appointed as the head writer and he and Eric Bischoff “re-booted” WCW, we got this gem of a Scott Steiner promo. Though, unlike his fractional promo on Samoe Joe years later, this promo was not so charming.
Steiner was a member of the new New Blood stable of heels led by Russo and Bischoff and his promo was meant to further that angle. He came to the ring and ran down Ric Flair, with whom he was not feuding at the time. He went as far as saying that when fans saw Flair on TV, they switched the channel to Raw.
Go off script on your promo? Check.
Insult a wrestling legend with whom you are not feuding? Check.
Put over the rival wrestling promotion that is destroying you in the ratings? Check.
WCW had to punish Steiner. So they suspended him...with pay. Because nothing says punishment like, “Hey, take an impromptu vacation”.
3 Sexy Star Hurts Rosemary On Purpose, Gets Blackballed
This incident made headlines earlier this year. Usually when wrestlers go off script, it’s to make themselves and their character look better or stronger. There is a professional reason. In this case, it seems more personal. It’s tough to say because Sexy Star’s justification for her actions is bizarre. The match took place in Mexico City at AAA’s TripleMania XXV. The match was a 4-way between Sexy Star, Rosemary, Ayako Hamada, and Lady Shani. Apparently, Star and Shani were shooting during the match, not co-operating and throwing stiff strikes. Star somehow got it in her head the she was the target of some locker room drama and they were all against her.
For the finish, she locked Rosemary in an armbar, which is totally fine. Except that Star applied a legitimate armbar, not a pro-wrestling armbar. What’s worse, Star refused to release the hold after the match, injuring Rosemary. Professional wrestling is built on cooperation and trust and Star abused that, leading many to call for her to be blackballed from the industry. In fact some promotions have already claimed they will no longer work with her.
2 Yoshiko Suspended And Stripped Of Title for Ending Act Yasukawa’s Career
What Sexy Star did to Rosemary was heinous but even it doesn’t equal what Yoshiko did. The match, such as it was, took place in Stardom in February 2015. Stardom is the premier Joshi promotion today --that is, Japanese women’s wrestling-- and was where current WWE stars Asuka and Kairi Sane made their names. Like much of Japanese wrestling, it can be stiff and rough. But it shouldn't be this stiff.
The match begins and Yoshiko lights up Yasukawa with strikes. Yasukawa is bleeding almost immediately. Wrestling fans can already tell something is not right. But then they go into standard wrestling spots (Irish whips, etc.) only for Yoshiko, a few minutes later, to resume her assault. The towel is eventually thrown in and the match ends. Act Yasukawa suffered a broken nose and cheekbone, a fractured orbital bone, and a concussion. She had just returned from a long injury layoff that almost saw her lose her vision. Yasukawa has retired due to this match. Yoshiko was suspended by Stardom and stripped of the title. She then retired but has since returned to pro wrestling and is bafflingly still getting booked. As to why she assaulted Yasukawa, nobody’s sure. Maybe she was jealous of the younger Yasukawa’s momentum.
1 Triple H Loses His Push From The Curtain Call
As soon as you read 'off script' in the title, you knew this was coming. With Kevin Nash and Scott Hall leaving for WCW, the Kliq decided to say, the hell with kayfabe and embraced following a match in Madison Square Garden. The smart New York crowd appreciated the breaking of the fourth wall, as it was common knowledge among hardcore fans that Michaels, Hall, Nash, Triple H and Sean Waltman were a backstage group, but it also came during a time when the company was still protecting kayfabe. With Michaels being the champion and carrying WWE's sinking ship, and with Hall and Nash gone, the crap all fell down on Triple H, who as a result was punished for his part in the incident. His scheduled King of the Ring win went to Austin and it took him nearly a year to regain his push.