This has to be one of the strangest years in WWE history. From the signing of major new stars like Shinsuke Nakamura to events like the Cruiserweight Classic that feature talent from some of the largest indie promotions out there, 2016 has seen WWE embrace the world of professional wrestling like never before. WWE has always had a reputation for turning a blind eye to other companies, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, when you’re the major leagues of the business, why would you ever risk helping a rival company out by acknowledging they exist?
But just because the rule in WWE has always been to ignore the competition whenever possible, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t exceptions to that policy. Though it doesn’t happen often, there have been a few times in history that WWE has broken their golden rule and actually allowed some of their contracted wrestlers to work in other organizations. The circumstances that led to these appearances may vary, but they are all unified by the fact that each of these instances managed to shock the wrestling world and leave their mark on history. They are the 15 times that WWE let their talents work for other organizations while under contract.
15 Daniel Bryan Wrestles In Dragon Gate USA After Winning The United States Championship
Let’s start with a bit of a strange one. So, after Daniel Bryan was fired from WWE for choking Justin Roberts with a tie during that infamous NXT attack, there was some speculation brewing that WWE was simply working everyone and that the entire firing was done simply to bring back Bryan as a massive babyface down the road. Those who held this opinion weren’t quite sure what to think when Daniel Bryan started to work for independent companies shortly after his release. Surely WWE wouldn’t let someone they intended to bring back work for other organizations, right? Well, it turns out they might.
Even after Daniel Bryan was re-signed by WWE, and won the United States Championship, WWE decided to let Daniel fulfill his remaining independent dates. One of these matches was in Dragon Gate USA against a wrestler by the name of Jon Moxley. What’s particularly interesting about this match is that Jon Moxley is now known as Dean Ambrose and Dragon Gate USA has now spun into EVOLVE; a company that WWE has a working relationship with.
14 Brock Lesnar Fights At UFC 200
Though this one has recently come and gone, it’s still shocking to think that WWE let Brock Lesnar work a UFC fight in 2016. Putting aside the ramifications of what could have happened to Brock in the UFC ring as far as injuries go, there was the very real chance that Brock would simply lose this match and put himself in something of an awkward position upon his WWE return. What’s even more fascinating about this arrangement is that UFC 200 was shaping up to be something of a bust prior to Brock joining the card considering that they were without the services of Ronda Rousey, Connor McGregor and Jon Jones.
In the end, though, this one worked out for everybody. UFC got the drawing power of Lesnar for a night, and Lesnar’s victory helped raised his profile even higher shortly before his match with Randy Orton at SummerSlam. We'll have to see how his potential doping violation plays out though.
13 Christian Shows Up At A TNA PPV
Ok, so while you might be able to understand why WWE would let their wrestlers work a foreign or indy promotion due to the fact that there’s a good chance a significant chunk of their audience will never see it happen, it’s unfathomable to think that they would ever dare send one of their champions to TNA where someone might actually catch wind of the appearance and tune in for a night. Against all odds, however, that is exactly what happened in 2012 when WWE allowed Christian to show up at one of TNA’s biggest PPVs.
To help make sense of this madness, you first need to know that Christian did not actually wrestle at this event and instead gave a speech regarding his time in TNA. As for why WWE would even allow that to happen, it’s because Ric Flair was under contract to TNA at that time and WWE needed to perform a talent exchange that would allow Ric Flair to be inducted with the Four Horsemen at that year’s Hall of Fame.
12 Alundra Blaze Defends The WWE Women’s Championship in Japan
WWE allowing a champion to show up at a rival promotion’s biggest show in order to give a speech is one thing, but how about the time that they allowed Alundra Blayze to go to Japan in order to defend her WWE Women’s Championship against Bull Nakano as part of All Japan’s Tokyo Dome show? Yes, the wrestler that would go on to infamously dump her championship in the trash when she showed up to work at WCW was allowed to take her title all the way to Japan and defend it on a rival show. This one is not actually quite so strange when you think about it. Bull Nakano had been working WWE matches for quite some time prior to this, and WWE probably felt that they owed All Japan by returning the favor. Plus, there are rumors that circulate to this day regarding WWE’s relaxed policy as it concerns their talent working in other organizations during this time due to the company’s dire financial situation.
11 The USWA and WWE Wage An On-Screen War
As anyone who has ever had the misfortune of watching the WCW/ECW Invasion storyline from start to finish knows, WWE isn’t necessarily opposed to developing an on-screen rivalry with another company so long as they so happen to own the other company in question and can make them look weak at every turn. Well, at least that’s what you probably think if you’ve never heard of the USWA invasion storyline that occurred in the early ‘90s. What’s interesting about this invasion story is that you’ve probably only ever seen one side of it. Remember when Jerry Lawler started that feud with Bret Hart? Well, Jerry was actually part of the USWA during that time and was allowed to work with Hart as part of a talent exchange.
On the USWA side of things, Lawler would defend his USWA title against guys like Tatanka, Randy Savage and Owen Hart. What’s really interesting about this feud is that it actually gave birth to the Mr. McMahon character as Vince would show up on USWA television to mock the promotion endlessly.
10 Eddie Guerrero Returns To Ring of Honor After Being Rehired by WWE
Do you remember that time in 2001 when Eddie Guerrero was caught driving under the influence and released by the WWE? It's rarely been brought up since his death, but at the time, many Guerrero fans wondered if they were going to ever see Eddie in a WWE ring again or if he had burned the bridge for good. Well, while they were wondering, Eddie decided to work some independent events for a few months after his release. One of these events was for a little organization known as Ring of Honor that was just starting up at the time. In fact, Eddie worked their first show ever (The Era of Honor Begins), and his appeal helped spread the word of this promotion far and wide.
Not long thereafter, despite the fact that Eddie returned to WWE shortly thereafter and won the WWE Intercontinental Championship, he still returned to Ring of Honor a couple of weeks later to work a tag match. What’s interesting about that is that nobody is really certain that Eddie even had a prior commitment to work that show.
9 Jerry Lawler Leads An Attack On ECW
Ah yes, the other Jerry Lawler-fueled invasion of the ‘90s. If you were a WWE fan during the mid-90s, you were probably shocked to see wrestlers from a company called ECW show up on Monday Night Raw and promise to revolutionize wrestling. At best, you may have heard of ECW by this point, but given the company’s limited market, it’s doubtful that the majority of fans watching at this time had ever actually seen an ECW show previously. That being the case, it’s also highly unlikely that WWE fans saw what happened in response to this invasion.
After Tommy Dreamer finally beat his rival Raven at Wrestlepalooza ’97, ECW fans were shocked to see the lights go dark and come back on just to reveal Jerry Lawler standing in the ring. Yes, WWE ran a brief angle at this time that involved Jerry Lawler going to ECW to steal their best talent and kill the company. The heat he received was legendary.
8 Shawn Michaels Randomly Referees A Japanese Match
There’s a bit of controversy associated with this one given that nobody is entirely sure what Shawn Michaels contract status with the WWE was in 1999. Michaels briefly took part in a storyline that saw him serve as WWE commissioner in early 1999 but didn’t make many on-screen appearances that year and kind of just faded away by the time the summer rolled around. However, as it is generally believed that Michaels was a contracted WWE employee during the majority of his recovery time from that back injury in 1997, then it is also believed that he had WWE’s permission to serve as special guest referee for an FMW match that saw Hayabusa wrestle a fake Hayabusa.
The big question surrounding this one is “Why?” Why would an organization like FMW want Shawn Michaels to referee a match like this? Why would Shawn have any interest in doing it? Why would WWE allow such a thing? As always, the answer is most likely a hefty sum of money.
7 Bret Hart Works An ECW Card For Terry Funk
If you had a dollar for every time that Terry Funk said he was going to retire from professional wrestling, you could easily begin your own retirement. With all due respect to Terry Funk, the man has wrestled so many retirement matches since the ‘70s that they’ve become something of a specialty match for him kind of like how The Undertaker is associated with Hell in a Cell battles. However, out of the many Terry Funk retirement matches, the one that stands out from the rest is his September 11, 1997, retirement match at WrestleFest in Amarillo, Texas.
Given that Terry Funk was a member of ECW at this time, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that the event was loaded with ECW matches. What is surprising is that the main event saw Terry Funk face Bret Hart who was actually the WWE Champion at this time. This is basically Bret Hart working an ECW show, and it was just about as strange as that sounds like it would be.
6 The Undertaker Works A Major Japanese Match To Return A Favor
So, as mentioned before, it wasn’t necessarily uncommon for WWE wrestlers in the mid-90s to work international shows in order to earn a little extra side cash that WWE was just happy to not have to pay given their desperate fiscal situation. The thing about that fiscal situation is that by late 1997, it wasn’t really that big of an issue. WWE wasn’t quite making hundreds of millions of dollars off of the Attitude Era yet, but they had managed to stabilize themselves and were ready to get back into the ratings war with WCW. So why is it that they let The Undertaker (arguably one of their three biggest names at the time) go to Japan in October of 1997 to wrestle a match against the former Hakushi? Everybody’s got a theory, but the most popular one seems to be that Taka Michinoku called in a favor for helping WWE establish their light heavyweight division, and WWE granted it by allowing The Undertaker to work one of Michinoku Pro’s biggest matches ever.
5 Hulk Hogan Disses The WWE Championship In Japan While He Is WWE Champion
Did you know that Hulk Hogan used to be a really, really big deal in New Japan Pro Wrestling? Not only is the man a former IWGP Champion, but many believe that had Hulk Hogan not decided to take the career path that he did with WWE that he could have easily been one of Japan’s biggest stars. If you ever need proof that Hulk Hogan was also a fan of NJPW, just watch his 1993 match against The Great Muta which shows the man busting out moves he’s never displayed in America.
Wait a minute…1993? Wasn’t Hulk Hogan the WWE Champion at that time? He sure was. Actually, that was part of the problem. Between Hulk Hogan’s steroid trials and his enormous contract, WWE was more than happy to let someone else take the Hulkster’s paydays off of their hands. Perhaps the most entertaining part about this encounter is Hogan’s pre-match promo which saw him refer to the WWE Championship as a toy and the IWGP Championship as the real prize.
4 WWE, WCW and ECW Wrestlers Work The Same Show In 2000
From 1998 to 2001, an Ohio-based wrestling promotion was hosting a Brian Pillman Memorial Show that saw various wrestlers come together to pay tribute to the man and raise money for his family. While WWE did not let its performers work these shows initially (actually, the first show was headlined by a match between WCW’s Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho), they eventually caved in and gave their consent for wrestlers like Mick Foley, D’Lo Brown and Road Dogg to work the show in 1999. However, that was nothing compared to what happened in 2000. That year, the memorial show promoters managed to bring in wrestlers from WCW, ECW and WWE together for a single event.
In fact, both the WWE Intercontinental Championship and the ECW World Heavyweight Championship were defended at this event. Given that all three promotions were still very much at war with each other during this time, it’s nothing short of surreal to see them all lend talent to a little show in Cincinnati.
3 CM Punk Rescues Ring Of Honor From A Nightmare Situation
Although they had lost the services of some of their biggest wrestlers by the time that 2006 rolled around, Ring of Honor was slowly building a new generation of stars that began to replace the likes of CM Punk and Samoa Joe. They actually had quite a bit of talent on the roster at this time, which makes it even more of a shame that most of their talent was not going to make the February 11, 2006, show on Long Island due to a major snowstorm. ROH learned that the weather situation was only getting worse a few days before the show and started to cry out to anyone that could hear them for help. One of the people who heard them was current OVW wrestler CM Punk. Even though he was a member of WWE’s development system, Punk was given permission by the company to make a jaw-dropping surprise appearance at the show in order to help them out.
2 A WWE Wrestler Beats A WCW Wrestler For The ECW Championship
Like CM Punk returning to ROH, this is just one of those really great moments that emerged from a really bad situation. To help put this into context, we need to go back to April of 2000 when Mike Awesome made an appearance on WCW Monday Nitro despite being the ECW Champion at the time. Allegedly sick of constantly being owed money by ECW, Awesome decided to simply jump ship. The only problem with this was that WCW wasn’t sure where they stood legally on the matter of Awesome wearing the ECW belt on television. Deciding to settle the matter amicably, they let Awesome (who was a contracted WCW employee at this time) drop the belt at an ECW show in Indianapolis.
Now, what makes this story so great is that Paul Heyman had secretly worked out a deal on the side that allowed WWE’s Tazz to return to ECW for one night just to take the belt off of Awesome in a moment that nobody could have possibly anticipated. This is truly one of the most bizarre occurrences in wrestling history.
1 Vince McMahon and John Cena Work a High School Gym in 2007
When the people of Byfield, Massachusetts showed up for a Chaotic Wrestling show held in 2007 at a high school, they probably weren’t expecting anything more than your typical wrestling indie wrestling show filled with some good intentions, a couple decent matches and maybe the chance to see a future star in action. But this night became a little more interesting when it was announced before the show that John Cena was going to be making an appearance in order to sign some autographs and work as a special guest referee in the main event. Given that this wasn’t too far from where Cena grew up, it kind of made sense that he might drop in and spend a little time giving back to the fans.
What was much more unexpected was when Vince McMahon himself showed up to make an appearance in the main event. Yes, for reasons that remain unknown to this day, Vince McMahon and John Cena stood shoulder to shoulder at a random indie event held in a high school gym in 2007.