Wrestling is about the grand spectacle. The huge moments. The unforgettable climax to a months-long story that culminates right there in the middle of the ring with the stakes at their absolute highest! To achieve that level of bombast and gravitas wrestling has had to continually evolve the way it tells stories and with that has come heavy scripting and meticulously planned and laid out choreography to ensure the message the WWE wants the fans to latch on to is communicated straight down the camera lens. By and large, everything you see these days was written down beforehand, only select superstars of the highest faith are trusted to exist outside of these rigid guidelines. But no matter how scripted a show is, wrestling is a live beast happening right in front of thousands in attendance and millions watching around the world.
From the era of Hulk Hogan's dominance until today when McMahon's creation is seen around the world in a dozen or more languages the unpredictability of live television still allows that allure of chaos. A superstar at the drop of a hat can get injured, flub a line, steal focus, or outright reject the plan set out on paper and we see it in real time. Vince can do next to nothing but react on the fly or allow what is happening to dictate the show outside of his control-freak hands and in some ways, it is these moments that are most interesting or most consequential as the story unfolds, whether for mere seconds or if it has ramifications for years afterward. Strangest of all, sometimes those moments pass without anyone of us knowing it wasn't part of the plan.
We're examining those moments that we didn't know were off-script as we watched them, only later realizing or strongly suspecting that the train had jumped the rails.
20 Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn Walk Out On The New Day
Starting with the most recent off-script moment to fly under the casual fan's radar, it was reported that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens were supposed to re-enter the ring and be fought off by The New Day to close the show on Smackdown in England. That didn't happen.
Kevin and Sami were sent home from the European tour going on at the time for the infraction, with speculation that Vince himself was furious the pair didn't follow the plan. It's a cardinal sin in wrestling to 'go into business for yourself' on a show, let alone a live broadcast from the biggest wrestling company in the world.
Kevin Owens is coming off of his biggest feud ever when he beat Shane McMahon and interacted with Vince while Sami is swept up in that on his heel turn but it remains to be seen whether this incident derails their current momentum. Either way, to the casual observer it was a standard heel retreat.
19 Hulk Hogan Eats Randy Savage's Vitamins (And Spotlight)
Hulk Hogan before his recent troubles was rightly praised as being perhaps the biggest star wrestling has ever produced alongside your Stone Colds and Rocks, but the methods he used to maintain that lofty perch are far less endearing than his speeches about eating your vitamins and saying your prayers. He has made a habit out of shoehorning himself in on other wrestlers greatest moments to ensure he isn't ever far from the center of discussion.
A Hogan special where he muscles in on someone else's parade, which will reappear later in this list, this time it was Macho Man Randy Savage who spent the night of his first championship win being latched on to by The Hulkster. Hogan seemingly refusing to exit the camera shot for any length of time, raising Savage's arm, gesturing broadly for Savage and Elizabeth, essentially making the whole celebration 'Hogan-approved' so that fans didn't forget The Immortal One was the real star.
18 Shawn Michaels Loses Bret Hart's Respect
"The boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels" is an indelibly great call on commentary from Vince McMahon after the WrestleMania XII main event. After just completing a grueling Iron Man match that went into overtime the fans were cheering for their new good-guy champion after his long struggle to reach the top. That was what we saw on the surface.
Beneath that though the constant rivalry and outright animosity between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, the latter self-admittedly at the height of his unbearable douchiness, wasn't done for the night. You can see Shawn taking the win about as badly as you can, ordering the referee, his trainer and Bret himself out of the ring so he could bask in his moment. Hebner was instructed to "Get him the f--- out of the ring", which is why you can see Bret stalking around Shawn in disbelief before leaving and angrily yanking his straps down. It simply looked like a stalwart champion frustrated over a loss, but the two legends couldn't have had less liking for one another.
We were none the wiser as fans, but this was just another thing that laid the foundation for the eventual turmoil at Survivor Series '97.
17 The Rock Puts Mick Foley In A Hard Place
In the world of late '90s wrestling chair shots to the head were everywhere. Between the hardcore championship and the buckets of blood, chair shots were almost tame and commonplace at one point, but the truth is that those are real steel and no matter how well trained you are, unless you have Homer Simpson syndrome you don't have the skull to take a dozen or so shots in one night. Mankind did.
In Mick Foley's first book he recounts how the original plan to do only a couple of shots to Mick's head while he was handcuffed turned into over a dozen as The Rock smacked him around in an uncomfortable scene that only got more uncomfortable when you know his family was at ringside. To compound the problem, being handcuffed reduced Mick's ability to protect himself so the shots were cringe-inducing and hyper-violent among a sea of violence.
But we didn't really notice, we were too busy cheering cause it was crazy-awesome.
16 Hulk Hogan Is The Ultimate Glory Hog
Another superstar who legitimately challenged Hogan for his supremacy atop WWE heading into WrestleMania VI was The Ultimate Warrior. His comic book character matched Hogans for hype and the two met in The Ultimate Challenge at WrestleMania to decide who would hold both singles championships in WWE.
At the end of the match Hulk Hogan kicked out right at the count of three so that it looked like Warrior had barely beaten him by a fraction of a second, then stayed around in the ring all through Warrior's celebration to hand over the belt, raise Warrior's hand, cheer him on and essentially make sure they shared the spotlight meant for Warrior. To paraphrase Hogan's own words, "Warrior may have won the match but the people would be talking about Hulk handing over the belt and being a good sport".
Hogan always had an angle, even if we fans didn't notice it.
15 Gail Kim Leaves The Ring... And The Company
See that smudgy blur leaving the ring on the left of the screen? That's Gail Kim bailing out of WWE without a hand laid on her.
Gail Kim is perhaps the best female wrestler in America that WWE simply didn't ever use correctly. Even though on her first night she won the women's championship she was otherwise an afterthought despite her skills and being equally as good-looking as the other women getting way more focus.
Gail went to Impact Wrestling where she excelled, only to return hoping for a better shake than last time. WWE seemed to only want her so Impact couldn't have her, making the same mistakes all over again and marginalizing her even more to the point she was hardly seen for months on end.
The final straw for both sides came when she was told to get out of a battle royal as quickly as possible, and unless you were paying close attention you missed her blatantly leaving the ring without being eliminated, essentially ending her own WWE career in the process.
14 Mankind Knocked Out
Another example of Mick Foley undergoing ridiculous punishment, this came in the infamous Hell In A Cell match against Undertaker at King Of The Ring '97.
Foley and Undertaker had already been to the top of the cell and executed the most replayed moment in WWE history with Mankind exploding through the Spanish announce table, but according to Have A Nice Day it was the second fall that truly messed Mick up.
When Undertaker chokeslamed Mankind through the roof of the cell into the ring, unbeknownst to the fans, Mick was knocked out cold. Between officials and Terry Funk offering himself up for a chokeslam to buy Mick time we couldn't tell, but for a few seconds the ending of that match hung in the balance while we were none the wiser.
13 Triple H Tears His Quad
The infamous two-man power trip tag team championship match where Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H battled Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho ended with a situation that most fans went blissfully unaware of.
Triple H entered the ring to disrupt Chris Jericho applying The Walls Of Jericho to Steve Austin and in the process, his quad muscle tore off of the bone and rolled up his leg in a description that makes it hard not to wince let alone write.
Triple H soldiered on, however, ending up receiving a Walls Of Jericho of his own on the announce table, a feat that must've been excruciating for someone with his thigh muscle somewhere up near his butt. The good guys went on to win, take the championships, and the fans didn't know that someone had persevered with one of the toughest displays ever in a WWE ring.
12 Papa Shango No-Shows At WrestleMania VIII
In the annals of WrestleMania main events, there are a handful of absolutely terrible matches and endings that were not only unplanned but this one here was an outright botch the likes you rarely see in WWE.
As Sid Justice took Hulk Hogan's leg drop and was pinned, the expected three count didn't come as Sid miraculously kicked out and a moment later was disqualified as his manager hopped up and caused a commotion. None of this was supposed to happen.
Papa Shango came shambling out moments after the match but he had badly missed his cue and so ruined the ending to the main event plan. It didn't matter to us for long though as The Ultimate Warrior made his return and cleaned house, helping to overshadow the abysmal ending to Wrestlemania VIII.
11 Miz gets Concussed And Forgets His Most Awesome Moment
Main eventing WrestleMania is every wrestler's dream, and for some, it's only a pipe-dream considering the exclusive club of superstars and celebrities Vince allows to come within a sniff of it. Someone who overcame all those odds only to completely forget it ever happened is The Miz.
In the midst of an unfortunately garbage match with John Cena, the pair ended up in the timekeeper's area and Cena tackled Miz to the cold concrete outside the barrier, rattling his brain and concussing him into oblivion. After a double count-out, some shenanigans from The Rock and The Miz dragging himself into the ring for a three count he was the winner, but Miz has admitted since that he recalls little to nothing of his achievement even if we didn't know at the time he was in such bad shape.
Kind of unfortunate for a guy who managed to be more entertaining than either of the other two men who hijacked the main event spotlight from the reigning WWE Champion.
10 Foley Forgets His Line So Stephanie Throws Him One
When he was the Commissioner Mick Foley had essentially one job and that was to monologue at the start of every Raw and be emasculated by Stephanie every other week. The only problem with that setup was that Foley has admitted to having some legitimate memory problems when trying to recall WWE scripts so it's fallen to Stephanie to give him reminders and pointers live on-air to try to hide these mental lapses.
Foley credits Stephanie with sometimes having to handhold him through entire segments when he couldn't keep the script in mind, openly lamenting the WWE's new policy for fully scripted promos over the bullet points he's used to. Mick was always better flowing with an idea he had in his head and using his own words, so when we ever saw him pausing for a bit too long and Stephanie sidled up to him, that was Mick getting prompted.
9 Shawn Michaels Breaks Cena's Heart
In WWE's never-ending quest to get 100% of the fans to cheer John Cena (they're currently closer than ever before at roughly 87%) they wanted Shawn Michaels to give John Cena a marquee-worthy match in the WrestleMania 23 main event that Cena could hang his hat on.
Replacing Triple H who was supposed to go back to back against Cena for some reason, in the match Shawn focused his attention on attacking Cena's leg. A tried and true method of engaging a crowd in a match's internal logic, Shawn saw his good work explode in his face when Cena ignored the 15 minutes of careful groundwork to pop up and win the match in classically anticlimactic fashion, sending the crowd into a frenzy of boos and Cena into tears as his big moment amounted to a shameful one.
A planned handshake after the match between the two to further 'make' Cena didn't happen as Shawn was visibly furious and began walking up the aisle. Cena pressed his luck by chasing Michaels down and looking perturbed but Shawn simply shook his head and muttered 'not today', leaving Cena to wallow in his lacking effort and the crowd's vitriol. At least this time Shawn had legit reasons for dissing his WrestleMania opponent.
8 Brock Lesnar Goes Hardcore On Holly's Neck
Injuries are as common in wrestling as any other sport and when they are as severe as this they are never a joke. Hardcore Holly was in a match with Brock Lesnar during his first run and was picked up for a powerbomb, a move that the inhumanly powerful Lesnar should've been able to pull off without incident. For whatever reason, and for the record Holly himself just puts it down to their timing being off, Brock wasn't able to maintain the lift and as the two struggled to regain balance to complete the move Holly came down badly on his neck and immediately felt numbness.
The move looked brutal but the pair regained their composure and completed the expected routine that was supposed to result from the move. Holly had regained feeling, albeit slower than anyone would like and it's only in the aftermath that he learned the severity of the injury he'd sustained, requiring surgery and significant time off. For the live audience though, it was just an ugly move that was soon in the rearview mirror.
7 The Undertaker Burns
The only thing more frightening than The Deadman marching to the ring with his familiar dark entrance could be when that same huge man is flaming and sprinting to the ring like a bat out of hell. Such was the case at Elimination chamber 2010 when during his entrance his fiery pyro engulfed him as he stood on the stage, necessitating some swift footwork and removal of a cloak that became a leathery nightmare.
Undertaker legging it to the ring was an unfamiliar sight but it was quickly overlooked when he entered the Chamber. Meanwhile, The Deadman was seeking out the medic at ringside, getting some balm or salve slathered all over his torso with water so he could wrestle after literally being set on fire. He wasn't called The American Badass for the t-shirts. Well...he was, but it applies here too.
Word is that Undertaker simply told the refs that whoever was responsible better not be backstage when Undertaker got back there and considering the lack of a followup murder police report, we assume the guy got out of dodge. The fans weren't really sure what happened though, so it goes down as another fascinating tidbit.
6 Randy Orton Forgets To Remember
Randy Orton doesn't have quite the amount of excuses that Mick Foley does in regards to having his brain shaken around his skull like the pea in a spray can but sometimes The Viper draws blanks on live tv as well.
On an episode of Raw from April 2014 Orton was in the ring with a slightly less stupid looking Sheamus and mid-speech wondered over to the confused Celtic Warrior and said simply "what's my line?". Sheamus, to his credit, looked dumbfounded that one of the pillars of WWE, a third-generation superstar and the youngest WWE champion of all time was flubbing under the big lights and seeming to hardly care, so it took Randy repeating the question about three times before Sheamus was able to fill him in.
It's pretty hilarious to look back on now but the live crowd and people without their ears pressed against their tvs didn't catch it. Even WWE knew it wasn't a great look and it's been removed from the WWE Network version.
5 Chris Jericho tries to lose against a grounded Neville
Injuries in wrestling can happen at any time, in the freakiest of ways, and from moves that have been done a thousand times without incident beforehand. Such was the case in a match between Chris Jericho and Neville when The Man That Gravity Forgot went for a standard baseball slide between Jericho's legs and caught his foot in such an awkward way that he broke his ankle. The thing is, Neville wasn't letting the injury stop him as he hardly lost a step and continued valiantly wrestling Jericho, even executing kicks and a hurricanrana on the destroyed leg.
It went over everyone's head except Jericho, who realized Neville wasn't 100% and began seeking a way to end the match, which he did by getting in referee Charles Robinson's face. The two devolved to swearing loudly, some of it caught by the ringside cameras, as Robinson continued to misunderstand Jericho's intent until Jericho basically bellowed in his face "he's hurt!". The odd ending to the match afterward may have been clunky as all hell but somehow the majority of people watching at home and in the arena didn't know Neville was legit injured until he was helped slowly to the back.
4 Vince's Quads Get Eliminated/Batista & Cena Accidentally Draw.
This entry sounds extremely painful and it must have been, but the funny side of the story is too much to ignore.
After Batista and Cena were the last two in the 2005 Royal Rumble, Batista hoisted Cena up for a Batista Bomb to finish proceedings but accidentally tumbled out of the ring with Cena, hitting the ground in perfect synchronicity. In the following chaos, Vince stamped out from the back, furiously breaking into a run as he hit the ring before attempting to stand and his legs giving way. As he slumped to his butt he elected to simply sit at the bottom rope, looking perturbed as referees and wrestlers yelled their cases.
What had happened was Vince had bashed his quadriceps muscle as he entered the ring and when he tried to stand it tore completely, like his son-in-law Triple H's had a few years prior. Not to ever be outdone, Vince reportedly tried to walk unassisted to the back and the toll on his opposite leg tore the other quad. Trust Vince to try to 'walk it off' without one leg.
At least Batista was able to win the restarted Rumble as planned.
3 The Black Hart Breaks Austin's Neck
Perhaps one of the most significant moments in WWE history, at the time it was a mere curiosity as the Steve Austin Vs Owen Hart SummerSlam match over the Intercontinental Championship came to a screeching halt. As Owen stalked around the fallen Rattlesnake taunting and gesturing the reality that Austin was in dire trouble wasn't known to the crowd.
Owen Hart's Seated, Inverted Pilediver had been executed poorly and left Austin's skull far too low, crashing his head into the matt and breaking his neck. In usual circumstances of an injury like this Hart would merely roll Austin up, pin him or the ref would call it, but the stipulation in place meant Austin would have to kiss Hart's ass and that simply couldn't happen.
Thus, Owen stalled as long as possible until Austin was able to muster the ugliest roll-up cover in history to end the match and reclaim the Intercontinental Championship. At this point, Austin's battered state was becoming evident, but as it originally happened the fans didn't know Austin was numb in his extremities and hardly able to function.
2 Randy's Collarbone Break
Randy Orton and Triple H were in the middle of one of their vicious rivalries and that extended over into reality when an RKO attempt by Randy Orton ended with him flying over the top rope to the floor, bracing himself with his left arm only to have his collarbone break.
Randy clutched at the injury but due to their match only being minutes old and the crowd being out of the loop Triple H stalked around him for a time, assessing the situation and deciding how to get out of it.
As surprising as the injury was, Triple H's solution wasn't. He went to the ring apron and fished out his trusty sledgehammer, bashing Randy a few times to give him an out and then waited for the referee to finish a 10-count for the match to end. The crowd was only slightly confused at the simple match but cheered for Triple H plenty enough, only finding out they'd seen the last of The Viper for a while over the next week.
1 The Hitman Gets Headshot
In a sport where injuries and damage are shrugged off, seemingly determined by the will of the receiver, it can be jarring to find out after the fact that what we saw was all too real. Such was the case when Goldberg kicked Bret Hart so hard in the head that he effectively ended his career before our eyes and we didn't know it.
Coming to the end of their World Championship match at Starrcade Goldberg reversed Hart's Irish Whip and launched a vicious Mule Kick that caught Hart directly in the side of his head. Hart went down and even though no one knew it, even the Hitman, his career had just effectively ended.
Within two months Bret vacated the World Title and announced his retirement, shortly followed by WCW firing him unceremoniously. The fans in attendance that night didn't know they saw the last great work Hart was able to put together.