WWE does not hesitate to weave real-life into their fictional storylines. Doing so adds more to the tension, conflict and entertainment value of the product. Sometimes however, the real-nature of such storylines can get in the way of fans suspending their disbelief, or becoming immersed in the fictional nature of the entertainment.
Pro wrestling's history with deception goes back almost to its beginnings. What was once a real sport gave way to a series of carnival cons, thus beginning pro wrestling's long and shaky relationship with reality. While fans understand wrestling is pre-determined, and a fictional sport, there are times when real-life events are able to seamlessly make their way into the fictional WWE world. When successful, these angles can be some of the most entertaining WWE produces. When they don't work however, they're generally disastrous.
Other times, real-life has found its way into pro wrestling fiction in entirely different ways. There are plenty of examples of sports entertainment turning from fiction to reality midway through a match even. Usually these incidents involve someone deciding they aren't going to go with the planned finish. We have plenty of examples of pro wrestling turning from fiction to non-fiction, sometimes even without the fans being aware.
Here are 15 uncomfortable times wrestling got way too real in the ring.
15 Brock Lesnar Opens Up Randy Orton The Hard Way
Brock Lesnar opening up Randy Orton's head in the main event of SummerSlam 2016 was cringe worthy. That kind of blood and gore hadn't been seen in a WWE match in some time.
Lesnar versus Orton was the main event, even though no title was on the line. The match only went 11 minutes, and ended via referee's stoppage. While referee stoppages have occurred in wrestling before, fans didn't expect such a finish in the main event of SummerSlam.
Since WWE currently has a no blood policy, any blood used in the match would have to appear to be accidental. There was nothing accidental about what Lesnar did to Orton's head however. Speculation is that Lesnar, Orton, Heyman and most likely Vince or Triple H agreed that Lesnar should open up Orton the "hard way", as in by actually elbowing him in the head. Lesnar may have overdone it however.
14 Daniel Puder Almost Breaks Kurt Angle's Arm
Daniel Puder's pro wrestling career is best known for the time he almost snapped Kurt Angle's arm. Puder, who would eventually retire 8-0 in MMA, competed in the 4th season of Tough Enough.
During a SmackDown segment, Angle challenged any of the Tough Enough finalists to a "shoot fight", although it may not have been overly clear what Angle actually meant. Puder stepped up to the challenge, and gave Angle more than he bargained for. After Angle took him down, Puder locked in a Kimura on Angle. As he had it locked in however, the referee counted his shoulders down (they weren't) and awarded the "match" to Angle. It is said that Angle was not happy backstage about the incident, although considering the segment was unscripted, some people have a hard time blaming Puder for simply going along with it.
Unfortunately for him, WWE would release Puder the next year.
13 New Jack's Mass Transit Incident
Almost every time New Jack stepped into a wrestling ring things got more real than promoters would have hoped. There are several New Jack stories in this light, however one incident ended up cancelling ECW's original PPV debut.
Eric Kulas, who wrestled under a bus driver gimmick "Mass Transit", lied about his age and wrestling experience in order to get booked as a last minute replacement on an ECW show. He was asked to blade (bleed in the match) but said he didn't know how, so he asked New Jack to do it for him. That was a bad decision. New Jack slit 2 of Kulas' arteries, causing him to pass out.
New Jack was brought up on charges for the incident but was cleared in criminal and civil trial. Unfortunately, Kulas died in 2002 due to complications from gastric bypass surgery and obesity.
12 Great Antonio Vs. Antonio Inoki
Antonio Inoki always seemed like a mild-mannered man. That may have been, but one night in 1977 he had all he was going to take from a wrestler named the Great Antonio.
Antonio began no-selling everything Inoki was doing in the match, so Inoki decided he had to turn things up a little bit. Eventually the match basically turned into a shoot, and Inoki beat him up with kicks to the face.
The Great Antonio's life outside of pro wrestling is an interesting tale. Born in Croatia, he arrived in Canada in 1945 as a refugee. As a 20 year old in a new country, writers have said he wouldn't discuss what he saw or experienced in WWII but speculate he suffered psychological trauma.
He would become something of a beloved eccentric character in his later life in Montreal. Amongst other tales, Antonio began telling people he was an alien. He died in 2002 of a heart attack.
11 AJ Lee's Pipebomb Promo
Her husband's "Pipebomb Promo" gets slightly more attention, but AJ Lee's was just as scathing, and just as impactful.
In 2013, AJ was asked to join the cast of Total Divas, but declined. Vince McMahon was reportedly surprised that AJ wasn't interested in taking part in the show, and is believed to have told AJ to explain her reasons live on-air. AJ took aim at her fellow women's competitors, specifically those involved in the Total Divas reality show.
According to interviews AJ would give later, the other "Divas" were not happy with AJ backstage. As a result, the angle ended up going nowhere despite fan reaction to the promo being strong. AJ would retire from the ring following WrestleMania 31, most likely because of the ongoing legal disputes between her husband, CM Punk, and WWE.
10 The Curtain Call at Madison Square Garden
The Kliq's curtain call at MSG in 1996 is one of the most talked about 4th-wall destroying moments in pro wrestling history.
Four of the five Kliq members participated in the incident. Luckily for him, X-Pac/123 Kid/Sean Waltman was in rehab at the time.
May 19th, 1996 was Scott Hall and Kevin Nash's last night in WWE. In the main event of a house show that night in New York, Nash wrestled Michaels in a steel cage match. After the match, Triple H and Scott Hall came down to ringside and the four man group-hugged before acknowledging the crowd. Hall and Michaels were "good guys" and Nash and HHH were "bad guys" and there were many who felt the act broke the rules of kayfabe (pretending it's real).
9 The Spider-Lady vs. Wendi Richter
This was the original screwjob. Before it was done to Bret Hart, WWE did it to Wendi Richter. The incident concluded Richter’s WWE career abruptly after she had been a key figure in the Rock N Wrestling Connection era of the early to mid 80s.
In 1985, months after Richter had defeated Leilani Kai at WrestleMania to regain the WWE Women's Championship, she would be scheduled to defend it at a Madison Square Garden house show.
Her opponent was the mysterious "Spider-Lady", although fans would soon find out her real identity was the Fabulous Moolah. It has been reported that Richter refused to sign a new contract with WWE, so the company wanted to get the title off her. Moolah, as the Spider-Lady, wrestled Richter's shoulders to the mat (for real) and the ref counted a quick three, despite Richter kicking out.
8 Edge, Lita and Matt Hardy Love Triangle
There have been times where real-life was woven into storylines that have led to entertaining angles and some argue, this was one of them.
Matt Hardy and Lita's long-term relationship had ended under poor circumstances. Lita and Edge had started an affair while Hardy was recouping from a knee injury. WWE released Hardy in April of 2005, but fans were having none of it. Fans petitioned the WWE to resign Hardy, and began booing Edge and Lita. It was the first time in her WWE career that Lita became a heel.
WWE brought Hardy back later that summer and immediately entered him into a feud with Edge and Lita. The angle seemed too awkward for the performers involved however, and many fans sensed it. On a bright note, things are going well for all three of them nowadays.
7 Darren "Droz" Drozdov Injury
During a SmackDown taping on October 5th 1999, Darren Drozdov lost his career during a match with D'Lo Brown. The injury occurred when D'Lo was gong for a running power bomb, however Droz was not able to get up high enough for the move and ended up landing on his head. Droz has always blamed a loose fitting shirt he was wearing during the match, and has never held any ill-will towards D-Lo.
In 1999, SmackDown was a pre-taped show, so the match didn't air on TV. Droz was taken to a local hospital where he underwent surgery to try and stabilize his neck. He was left a quadriplegic, but in the years since has gained back much of the movement in his upper body. The footage of Droz being attended to after the accident has been featured on numerous WWE “don’t try this at home” announcements.
6 Brock Lesnar Breaks Hardcore Holly's Neck
Well, Holly always liked his work to look legit. This definitely looked quite real, as most real injuries tend to look.
The incident took place during Lesnar's rookie-run on SmackDown in 2002. For those with the WWE Network, this is a period you may wish to check out. Paul Heyman was the head writer of the show at the time, and SmackDown had a very unique feel during this period.
Some claim that what led to this incident is Holly refusing to go up for the powerbomb, though Holly refutes this. Lesnar had Holly up but couldn't quite get him down correctly for the maneuver. He ended up dropping Holly on his head, and breaking his neck. Holly wouldn't wrestle again for 13 months.
5 JBL Beats Up The Blue Meanie At One Night Stand
At One Night Stand in 2005, JBL legitimately beat up the Blue Meanie during a segment in which ECW wrestlers were brawling with the WWE roster. Perhaps JBL just felt he should legit try and hurt some wrestlers from ECW, and figured Meanie was an easy target given their prior beef.
Meanie suggested he might consider pursuing legal action against WWE as a result, which led to him signing a short-term deal with the company instead. Meanie, along with Stevie Richards and Nova would reform the Blue World Order. He even defeated JBL in a No DQ match three weeks after One Night Stand.
JBL's treatment of announcers and other pro wrestlers has come under much scrutiny in 2017. He was at the center of the Mauro Ranallo controversy earlier this year, which resulted in the much beloved announcer leaving WWE for a few months before becoming the new voice of NXT.
4 Brawl for All: Butterbean Vs. Bart Gunn
In 1998, WWE held the much-maligned "Brawl for All" tournament. The tournament consisted of shoot matches between WWE contracted performers. Under hybrid boxing rules, Bart Gunn surprisingly defeated Bob Holly, Steve "Dr. Death" Williams, The Godfather and finally Bradshaw in the finals to win the entire thing.
Vince McMahon then had the bright idea to pit Bart Gunn up against Super-Heavyweight boxing champion, Butterbean, at that year's WrestleMania. Gunn was clearly out of his league.
It took Butterbean all of 35 seconds to destroy the winner of the Brawl for All tournament at WrestleMania XV. Bart Gunn was released shortly after and the Brawl for All tournament never returned (which truly isn't a shock). Don't except anything similar to ever be brought back, for so many reasons.
3 CM Punk's "Pipebomb Promo"
CM Punk spent most of his WWE career disgruntled it seems. Even when he was one of the company's biggest stars he was upset that things weren't exactly as he wanted them. As was the case on June 13th 2011, when he cut his famous "pipe-bomb" promo while sitting cross-legged on the stage.
Punk, much like AJ would do years later, went on a long rant regarding his frustrations with WWE. At the time, Punk's contract was believed to expire the night after the upcoming Money in the Bank PPV from Chicago. The promo would lead to Punk's hottest run in the company, and the now famous Money in the Bank 2011 show. Unfortunately, Punk's concerns continued to grow, leading to legal disputes and a nasty split with WWE in 2014.
2 The Montreal Screwjob
In late-1997, word had leaked that Bret Hart had signed with WCW. Although he had signed a new long-term deal with the company in 1996, Vince McMahon informed Hart he could no longer afford the contract wages. Hart and WCW then agreed to a deal which had been offered to him the previous year.
Vince wanted to get the title off Bret at the Survivor Series PPV in Montreal. Hart however, had no intention of losing to his longtime rival Shawn Michaels in his home country. Bret and Vince struck a deal where the PPV match would go to a DQ and Bret would vacate the title on Raw. Vince had no intention on going through with that deal however. During the match, Michaels locked-in Bret's own sharpshooter and referee Earl Hebner called for the bell. WWE would play it off as though Bret had submitted sending shock-waves around the wrestling community, one that is still heard to this day.
1 Owen's Tragic Fall
34-year old Owen Hart passed on May 23rd 1999. Hart was supposed to descend from the rafters as his Blue Blazer character, much as Sting was doing in WCW at the time.
It's believed that the quick release mechanism on his harness became triggered. Owen fell 78 feet landing on the top ring rope. While medical personnel tried to revive him, he was ultimately pronounced dead later that night at the Truman Medical Center in Kansas City.
WWE chose to continue on with the event, which was heavily scrutinized by not only the backstage personnel but the media as well. An eventual lawsuit between the Harts and WWE would end up tearing their family apart, as many members of the family still wished to pursue employment with the company. Owen's WWE legacy remains a touchy subject due to ongoing legal battles with the WWE and his spouse.