When fans think about professional wrestling, they don’t often think about their emotions. Feelings do, however, play a deceptively big part in shaping our reactions to sports entertainment. In an old school sense, promoters aspire to build so much anger in their fans toward the heels that they’ll pay money to see them lose. Of course, there’s also the sense of vicarious joy in watching a favorite wrestler win a championship or a main event level match.
There are other emotions that wrestling drums up as well—particularly for long time fans who have built real connections to wrestling and individual wrestlers across years of watching. There are those moments that can make us genuinely swell with emotion. Sometimes it’s an old veteran announcing retirement, or a star win his first world title. Sometimes it’s a particularly heartfelt promo, or the emotionally rich climax of a long running storyline.
There are other times when pro wrestling can genuinely make fans laugh. No, WWE doesn’t always score with its attempts at comedy, oftentimes going too low brow or juvenile to really land, especially with adult fans. But, there are also those wrestlers like Santino Marella on the national level, and Colt Cabana on the independent scene who largely built careers on incorporating comedy into sound wrestling mechanics.
This article takes a look at some of the most memorable moments in wrestling history—eight of them that made fans tear up, and seven that had fans around the world laughing out loud.
15. Tear Up: Ric Flair’s Retirement Ceremony
There are legends in professional wrestling, and then there’s Ric Flair. As Triple H proclaimed when he inducted the Nature Boy into the WWE Hall of Fame, if there were ever a physical building created for the Hall, Flair would deserve a whole wing.
The night after Flair had his last WWE match at WrestleMania 24, he came to the ring to say a final farewell to the fans. In what appears to have been a legitimate surprise, Triple H would lead a cavalcade of wrestling stars to pay tribute to Naitch, including former Horsemen, classic rivals, mentees, friends, and family. For a star with as much history and as many fond memories behind him, it was hard for long time fans not to get emotional. The retirement ceremony wound up unforgettable.
14. Laugh Out Loud: The Rock, This Is Your Life
In the thick of the Attitude Era, The Rock ‘N’ Sock Connection star team of The Rock and Mick Foley was riding high on their oddball dynamic on the mic and instant chemistry in the ring. One of their truest highlights saw Foley throw Rock a birthday celebration, in which he invited characters from The Great One’s past to say hello and reminisce.
The results were comedic gold as most of the actors and actresses brought in for the promo either embarrassed or were embarrassed by The Brahma Bull, while Foley wouldn’t stop trying to make it a feel good segment. From Foley’s account years later, the segment went way past its allotted time and forced programming changes to the larger episode of Raw. Management was upset at first, but felt better with the result—it ended up being one of the highest rated segments in wrestling history.
13. Tear Up: Bret Hart And Shawn Michaels Make Amends
There are few more bitter real life rivalries in wrestling history than the one between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. The two were friends as up and coming wrestlers and part of the WWE’s 1980s tag team division. Later, they respected one another as colleagues, if not exactly friends, as they rose up through the mid card ranks.
After Hart had graduated to the main event level, and as Michaels approached that level, their level competition picked up. The two were essentially vying for the same spot as the face of the company. Each man was smaller and more technical than previous guys in the top spot, and each could make a case for himself as the best in ring performer of his generation. A professional rivalry escalated into a personal one based on petty behavior, jealousy, and personal attacks, culminating in the Montreal Screw Job and Hart’s exile from WWE.
All of these tensions melted away 12 years later when Hart finally returned to the company. He wasn’t a bitter old man, but rather came across as wise and at peace. Michaels, for his part, had done a lot of growing up as well since finding religion and cutting out substance abuse. Seeing the two hug it out in front of a live crowd offered closure to one of the business’s great unresolved tensions, and a simply awesome to long time fans watching Monday Night Raw that night.
10. Laugh Out Loud: Sting And Davey Boy Smith On The Beach
There are those times when pro wrestling humor makes us laugh on purpose—because a company built in a joke and it struck the right chord with the audience. There are also, however, those moments of unintentional humor. WCW had a tendency to slip into these moments, and it was particularly the case when they decided to release a series of short films to hype main event level matches in 1992 and 1993.
One of the most laughably bad efforts preceded Beach Blast 1993, for which Sting and Davey Both Smith squared off with Big Van Vader and Sid Vicious in a star studded main event. To build to the match, the short film saw Sting and Smith playing volleyball on the beach with a bunch of orphans, only for the heels to show up with intentions of deterring our heroes from coming to the PPV. Their backup plan? To bomb and kill everyone.
11. Tear Up: The Tribute To Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero was one of the greatest all around wrestling talents of all time—a great worker, a great personality, and a well-liked veteran among the wrestling community. By 2006, he’d been crowned a world champion, and it’s widely rumored that he’d win another world title at some point in the years to follow. Guerrero’s life ended suddenly, however, due to a heart issue. Friends and fans seemed to generally agree that he was still in his prime and expect great things still up ahead for him. They were saddened by their loss and shocked given how unexpected it was.
WWE offered a fitting tribute to Guerrero on the episodes of Raw and SmackDown to follow. In particular, that initial episode of Raw was a tear jerker, opening with the roster on the ramp, following with a variety of wrestlers wearing Eddie’s t-shirts to the ring, and featuring backstage interviews with Eddie’s friends and colleagues. The show also included Guerrero’s long time close friend Rey Mysterio picking up a rare clean win over Shawn Michaels.
It’s a bit of a cliché in wrestling that a departed wrestler would have wanted for the show to go on, and that that’s the best way to honor his or her memory. The adage never felt truer than on this special, emotional night of Raw.
10. Laugh Out Loud: The Beer Bath
Stone Cold Steve Austin was an exceptional wrestler in the ring, but his character got so explosively over in the Attitude Era based even more so on his extracurricular antics. The Texas Rattlesnake cut hellacious promos and engaged in a number of attacks—particularly on Vince McMahon—that were so far outside box, and often funny, that fans couldn’t help but laugh out loud.
One of the most famous instances showed up in the Beer Bath. While Stone Cold would routinely celebrate the end of his matches with a few brewskies, he took it way over the top one night, to retaliate against Vince McMahon and The Rock. The segment saw him drive a beer truck to ringside, and proceed to hose off the whole heel entourage. The moment offered such comedic gold that Kurt Angle would offer a reprise a few years later, with milk in place of beer, to fit his character.
9. Tear Up: Daniel Bryan Says Goodbye
Daniel Bryan’s WWE story is one of under realized potential, from a performer with a unique connection to the crowd. Rarely has a talent so organically gotten over with a crowd as Bryan did. WWE recognized him as a talented performer, and afforded him upper card opportunities. The guy ascended to the next level in 2013 with his infectious Yes! chant and stellar in ring performances. At least for a half year or so of time, there’s a very real argument that Bryan was more over than anyone had been since Steve Austin’s heyday.
Bryan’s real life head injuries caught up to him, though, forcing him to miss over half of a year in the heat of his biggest push. From there, his follow up run lasted less than half of a year before he was forced into an early retirement.
In February 2016, he and WWE had made peace with his condition—particularly after a stark new diagnosis—and he got the main event spot on Raw to say goodbye to the fans.
Bryan’s departure wasn’t as star-studded as Ric Flair’s, but the core of what he said was beautifully articulated. A star who had truly captured the imagination of fans was earnestly thanking them for their support and setting a magnificent, tragically short WWE tenure to rest. It was, no pun intended, a moment of raw emotion and one of the most earnest promos in wrestling history.
8. Laugh Out Loud: Mae Young’s Son Returns To Raw
The Attitude Era tends to be remembered quite fondly by wrestling fans. After all, it was a cutting edge period of violence, sexuality, and dirty jokes, not to mention some excellent wrestling. The period gave rise to Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, Mankind, Kurt Angle, and plenty of others as top tier worldwide stars. For all of its great elements and moments, however, the Attitude Era did have some missteps. One was angle that saw Mark Henry impregnate geriatric Mae Young. As if that premise weren’t bad enough, the storyline culminated in Young giving birth to a rubber hand.
The whole scenario was ridiculous and probably best left forgotten. WWE demonstrated a fine willingness to laugh at itself, however, in the special 1,000th episode of Raw. In a bit of a throwaway gag, Young was shown backstage, and she had with her was a young man in an over-sized hand suit purported to be her grown up son. The whole thing was absurd (and not altogether logical because, even if you accepted the rubber hand had lived on, he still should have only been twelve when he returned). As a funny throwback and an inside joke, however, this moment was a lot of fun.
7. Tear Up: Mick Foley’s First World Title Win
Mick Foley had a long career in wrestling before he ever headed to WWE. He had even flirted with the main event, including challenging Sting and later Big Van Vader for the WCW Championship. He was never really taken seriously as a top level star however, until he signed with WWE.
To be fair, it doesn’t seem as though WWE meant for Foley to really be a headliner either, but his hard work in the ring his commitment to his character, and his ability to connect with the crowd all combined to get him over huge. Finally, on an episode of Monday Night Raw that aired January 4, 1999, Foley would win his first world title by pinning The Rock.
WCW thought so little of Foley as to openly advertise his title win in an effort to mock WWE. The tactic famously backfired, as the ratings shifted with curious fans tuning into Raw. For long time fans in particular, it was rewarding to see an unlikely cult favorite broach the top of the mountain. Given that Foley would carry on as a legendary figure for years to follow, the moment has, if anything, developed more sentimental value, as a committed performer finally got his just desserts.
6. Laugh Out Loud: DX Mocks The McMahons
D-Generation X rose up as an anti-authority, anti-establishment group. Their shtick centered on rebellious, juvenile behavior bolstered by the credibility of Shawn Michaels being one of the top stars in the business at the time, and Triple H being a top up and comer.
When the group relaunched in 2006, the rebellious spirit felt more out of place for two fathers in their late 30s to early 40s, who were among the most set in stone main event stars in the company. They did however, still achieve some comedic gold. In particular, they succeeded with a promo segment in which they dressed up like Vince and Shane McMahon, and proceeded dance it out to the “Stand Back” track that Vince had recorded some 20 years earlier.
5. Tear Up: The Horsemen Reunite On Nitro
The Monday Night War saw WWE and WCW largely eschew tradition, in favor of pushing new characters and stables. The creative direction shifted from simulating sport, and from family friendly storylines in favor of more vulgarity, sexuality, and realistic violence. For WCW, that included the rise of the New World Order. While Hulk Hogan was an establishment guy, and the group featured a lot of other guys who’d made their names in earlier years, the group itself was centered on more of a cutting edge, and rejecting business as usual.
For as over as the nWo got, there was still an undeniable nostalgic appeal for the Four Horsemen—the super group to precede them, and to feature top tier workers in the years before. As such, it was pretty emotional to see the gang get back together to stand against the nWo on a 1998 episode of Nitro. Clad in tuxedos, welcoming some newer faces, and featuring the return of Ric Flair, this moment about as emotionally rich as WCW ever got.
4. Laugh Out Loud: Bobby Heenan Is Kicked Out Of Raw
The first episode of Monday Night Raw suggested a real paradigm shift for WWE. Gone was the sterile environment that was part re-cap show, part talk show on Prime Time Wrestling. In was a cutting edge new program, at first airing live from the Manhattan Center, featuring a raucous crowd and relatively high profile matches for a normal TV show.
One of the highlights of that first episode included Bobby Heenan’s dogged efforts to get into the building, switching into different disguises as the show went on. It all culminated in Gorilla Monsoon kicking him out once and for all, effectively blowing off their years of feuding over the microphone. In retrospect, it’s sad to see Heenan having left WWE, but it was also a fitting comedic high note for one of WWE’s best comedians to go out on.
3. Tear Up: Kurt Angle Joins The Shield
TLC 2017 saw one of the most unlikely comeback stories in wrestling history. Roman Reigns was diagnosed with mumps. WWE needed a last minute pinch hitter to cover for him, particularly in the super high profile Shield reunion match. WWE had an ace up its sleeve, ultimately sending Kurt Angle into the fray.
Angle had been estranged from WWE from 2006 to early 2017, and had reentered the fold as a Hall of Fame inductee and an on air authority figure. He’d made it clear he wanted to wrestler for WWE again, but it was unclear if the company would medically clear him.
With their backs to the wall, WWE hurried to get Angle cleared, and to get him in the ring, subbing him in to team with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose for the main event match.
While opinions vary about the execution of that match, the sight of Angle, positively beaming as he joined up with The Shield to make their entrance was a huge moment. A true all time great had come home.
2. Laugh Out Loud: The Rock Returns To Host WrestleMania
WWE achieved one of the greatest surprise returns in WWE history when The Rock showed up on Monday Night Raw in 2011, announced to be the guest host of WrestleMania XXVII.
Dwayne Johnson had been gone from WWE for nearly seven years (outside of one Hall of Fame appearance). Based on the success of his acting career, the general consensus was that he was done with the wrestling business. It was impressive for WWE to navigate this return of one of the biggest stars in company history, and all the more remarkable to have done so in an era of social media and plentiful dirt sheets, when keeping a secret was all but impossible.
What might have been a tear jerking moment for a Superstar come home quickly turned into one of the funniest segments in Raw history. Few wrestlers have ever controlled a crowd like The Rock, and he quickly had the palm eating out of the palm of his hand as he tore apart the current roster and left the audience rolling.
1. Tear Up: The Locker Room Pays Tribute To Owen Hart
There may have been no moment in WWE history more emotionally raw than the episode of Monday Night Raw from the night after Owen Hart plummeted his death in the middle of the Over the Edge PPV.
Any wrestler dying in such a fashion would have been a tragedy. This instance was particularly heartbreaking for just how well liked Hart was by his colleagues. As Jeff Jarrett so memorably articulated, “In this business, you have a lot of acquaintances, but you don’t have very many friends. Owen was one of those friends.”
Just about the entire roster appeared on the stage to pay tribute to their fallen comrade, before delivering heartfelt, emotional messages to him throughout the show. Just watching these larger than life men and women break character to speak honestly could have been a tear jerker—that Hart was an established veteran made the fans feel like he was a part of their lives, too. The show was devastating and unforgettable.
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