Sometimes in WWE, things just simply do not go to plan for whatever reason. It could be due to injuries, a lack of response from the live crowd or simply just a change in direction from those in charge. But when that happens, WWE Superstars often have to improvise. This is never what they strive to do, and going off script is often discouraged (or punished) as Vince McMahon has a very clear idea of how he wants things to go, and any deviation from his path can cause very serious ripple effects.
These situations happen in promos, backstage interviews, and even in the middle of the ring during a match. Sometimes that can be at a house show when the pressure is lower, and other times it can be on the biggest stages possible in front of millions of people around the world.
WWE Superstars are some of the very best at improvising on the spot and it is a talent that they are not given enough credit for. They are often on television performing live, and they can’t edit out their mistakes. Messing up a spot or a line must be played off immediately and adapted to. This list will delve into 15 examples of when WWE had to totally improvise a match, whilst the situations for that may vary, the one thing that remains is WWE and its employee’s ability to switch things up at the last minute.
15. Mankind Vs The Undertaker (Hell in a Cell)
That’s right, the classic Hell in a Cell that is arguably one of the most iconic and memorable matches in wrestling history had moments of improvisation within it. While the original leap of faith from the top of the cell as Undertaker launched Mankind to the floor was planned, his second major bump, through the roof of the cell on to the ring was not.
The bump might not have been as well remembered but is just as uncomfortable to watch and caused major shock behind the scenes in WWE. The two legends then had to improvise the rest of the match, made even more impressive when you consider the physical state that Foley was in.
14. John Morrison Vs CM Punk
This change came under difficult circumstances for WWE and little did they know quite how sad those would be. Chris Benoit was originally intended to face CM Punk at WWE Vengeance: Night of Champions, but due to the unspeakable crimes he committed on himself and his family, Benoit wasn’t in attendance. Despite trying to reach out to him to no avail, the WWE couldn’t wait any longer and something had to be done.
WWE didn’t know of his crime at the time and simply thought Benoit had not shown up for some reason and had to improvise a match to take place for the ECW Championship. In stepped John Morrison who faced CM Punk instead of Benoit on a night that would later change wrestling forever.
13. Chris Jericho Vs Ricky Steamboat (House Show)
The return of Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat in 2009 was welcomed by the WWE Universe and the wrestling legend proved that he hadn’t lost a step in the ring. Originally only returning for the 3 on 1 match against Chris Jericho at WrestleMania, the fan response ensured that he stuck around for a little longer.
Steamboat continued his feud with Jericho which culminated at Backlash, with Y2J picking up the victory. But it was a match during a house show when Jericho decided to improvise due to the fan’s responses. He switched up the result and decided to put Steamboat over and called for the change in the ring, telling him to kick out of the Codebreaker with Steamboat eventually getting the win.
12. Public Enemy Vs The Acolytes
Bradshaw and Farooq were both well known for their hard-hitting style, taking no prisoners and in general, being locker room leaders who wouldn’t stand for any messing around and would put you to task inside the ring if you did.
Well, that’s exactly what happened to the Public Enemy who received a genuine beating from The Acolytes on an episode of Sunday Heat after Public Enemy tried to change the finish of the match at the last minute. The WWE Superstars didn’t take kindly to this and improvised a legitimate beating to the pair throughout the match, continuing it after the bell, turning the wrestling match into a legit fight.
11. Edge Vs Mr. Kennedy
The Money in the Bank is a ticket to the main event scene and a golden opportunity for a wrestler to stake their claim as the number one star in WWE. Just look at what it did for Edge, CM Punk, and Daniel Bryan.
That is what Mr. Kennedy thought would be happening to him in 2007 when he won the coveted prize. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be as an injury forced WWE’s hand and saw Kennedy lose the briefcase. Because of his real injury, WWE had to put together a quick plan and improvise and that’s what they did, having Edge beat him in a match with the briefcase on the line and the rest, as they say, is history.
10. Universal Championship Match
Sometimes injuries play a major part in WWE storytelling, forcing plans to change in a heartbeat and that was the case for the WWE Universal Championship storyline. After Finn Balor became the first ever winner, he was forced to vacate the title the next night due to an injury.
This forced WWE’s hand and they had to quickly improvise before the championship wasn’t taken seriously and they hastily put together a fatal four-way featuring four of Raw’s top stars. In the end, Kevin Owens would go on to win the title and have a great run, providing the championship with the perfect start, but who knows what would have happened had Balor stayed healthy.
9. New Age Outlaws Vs The Radicalz
Back in 2000, the Radicalz group consisting of Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, and Eddie Guerrero, stormed into WWE with high anticipation from the fans and were made to earn their WWE contracts.
They had to win the best of three matches and after going behind with Malenko failing to beat X-Pac, it was expected that Guerrero would earn the second win to take the final match into a decider. However, that didn’t go to plan with Latino Heat breaking his arm during the match, changing the plans for New Age Outlaws to beat him and Saturn, rendering the third and final match pointless and forcing WWE to change the plans of how to get the group signed to WWE.
8. DX Vs Rated RKO
It is commonly known that Triple H once tore his quadriceps in the middle of the match and (somehow) powered through the bout during a match between DX and Rated RKO but when the same problem took place, he couldn’t do it again.
With HHH out of the match, Shawn Michaels had to quickly improvise and make it work on his own against Edge and Randy Orton. Michaels quickly proved why he is one of the greatest of all time and took the fight to the pair, making this an even more exciting match than it previously was. HBK threw his buddy a chair and they went to town on Orton, before The Game incredibly managed to Pedigree Edge onto the announcer’s table in what was an improvised match of brilliant chaos.
7. Shane McMahon Vs Kurt Angle
Shane McMahon has been involved in some crazy stunts during his WWE career, from diving off Titantrons and Hell In A Cell’s, but his match with Kurt Angle might have put him through more pain that all of them due to a mistake on WWE’s behalf.
The classic encounter between the pair at King Of The Ring in 2001 was a brilliant match, but McMahon was put through some serious pain. The iconic moment of Shane’O getting put through the glass window is one that fans remember well, but the fact it took several attempts was never in the script. WWE was supposed to put in a plexiglass which would have been simple to break and less painful, but they did not do that, getting normal glass instead. They then painted that with a double coat, making it near impossible to break, but the pair improvised and tried as many times as needed to shatter the glass to make the moment happen.
6. Neville Vs Chris Jericho
A seemingly random match on an episode of Monday Night Raw saw Chris Jericho take on Neville. You would expect in a situation like this that it would wrap up pretty simply and not need any drastic changes in the middle of the ring, but that is not how this one played out.
In the end, a freak injury to Neville during the match ensured that the match would be remembered clearly by fans due to the altercation between Jericho and referee, Charles Robinson. With Neville shattering his ankle, Jericho wanted to quickly wrap up the match to get Neville to the back and told Robinson to count to three, which he didn’t do. So instead, Jericho took to shoving him in order to be DQ’d, then that didn’t work and the two had an almighty argument in the middle of the ring for all to see, proving that improvisation doesn’t always go to plan.
5. Brawl For All
The entire concept of the Brawl For All screams for improvisation because WWE had absolutely zero control over the outcome of every single match, something that seemed to be an oversight on their behalf. The concept that wrestlers would fight for real under boxing rules made no sense at all in protecting what wrestling means and stands for, but regardless, the tournament went ahead and unsurprisingly, the person WWE initially wanted to win (Dr. Death, Steve Williams) was beaten by a surprise winner in Bart Gunn. That should tell you how much this was improvised.
WWE was hen forced into a corner and they had to then improvise another match, on the biggest stage of them all, WrestleMania. Putting Gunn up against a legit fighter, Butterbean, as a way to solve the entire situation, thankfully for them, that result went the right way with Gunn being knocked out in convincing fashion.
4. Daniel Puder Vs Kurt Angle
This is a match that is often brought up on lists and it suits this better than most as what should have been a simple situation quickly escalated into one that required some quick thinking and improvisation from WWE officials.
During Tough Enough, Daniel Puder was expected to call out Kurt Angle and be defeated cleanly by him, due to Angle’s obvious star power. However, that didn’t go to plan, with Puder improvising on his own, locking in a submission that had Angle in a tricky situation. The WWE officials, quickly realizing that Angle was in real pain smartly called a very weak looking pin to bring an end to the match and ensure WWE’s plans were followed through.
3. Alberto Del Rio Vs Jack Swagger
Sometimes, WWE is forced to improvise before a match even takes place, with situations forcing major changes on the card. During Dolph Ziggler’s peak following WrestleMania 29, he had captured the World Heavyweight Championship and was set to defend the gold in a triple threat ladder match with Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger.
However, due to a legitimate concussion to Ziggler, those plans were scrapped and WWE had to quickly improvise with the company switching it to an I Quit match between Swagger and Del Rio. This would prove to be a major moment in Ziggler’s career that started the derail of him in the main event scene, but WWE had to improvise and that’s exactly what they did.
2. Royal Rumble 2005
The Royal Rumble matches are arguably the most difficult to plan and put together on a yearly basis and while there is a structure to the match, a lot of what happens inside the ring between eliminations is improvisation from the wrestlers.
However, one moment that is certainly planned to the finest detail is what takes place between the final two competitors and who, ultimately, should be the winner of the match. That plan did not happen during the 2005 Royal Rumble, where Batista and John Cena were eliminated at the same time (thankfully for them). Because of this, a furious Vince McMahon marched to the ring and famously tore both of his quads, leading to him simply being sat in the ring, demanding that the match be restarted and the two remaining stars were left to finish the match as they saw fit, with Cena picking up the win.
1. Montreal Screwjob
Of course, this is the absolute classic when it comes to improvisation. While it was a planned screw job between some of those involved, Bret Hart didn’t have a clue about what was to occur that fateful night that changed wrestling forever and the improvisation had major effects on everybody involved. The bitterness from this piece of improvisation by WWE is still felt to this day, despite what they might say when the WWE cameras are rolling. But the fact remains that Vince McMahon felt he was backed into a corner with Bret Hart holding the WWE Championship with him about to jump ship to rival WCW.
The decision to improvise a screw job finish halfway through the match was one solely made by WWE and there has never, and likely never will be one that has a bigger impact than this. The fact that if this list was made in twenty years time it would still rank highly, if not at the top, shows exactly why it takes the number one spot and is one that wrestling fans will talk about forever.
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