In the world of sports entertainment, a lot of the entertainment aspect revolves around two people or more hating each other and settling their differences in the ring, which is where the sports aspect comes in. Non-wrestling fans see this and ask us wrestling fans the same questions time and again – You know it's fake, right? How can you, a smart, rational adult still enjoy this kid stuff? Isn't that soap opera for men? One, the word is "predetermined." Two, because it's fun. Three, a lot of women prefer Monday Night RAW (yes, even present-day RAW) and SmackDown to General Hospital and Days of Our Lives.
While wrestling often gets mocked for its scripted in-ring and on-mic battles, there are also some moments that try to be genuinely emotional as part of an ongoing storyline, or moments whose emotional value comes from the real-life aspect that often blends in with the scripted "sports entertainment." Some of these moments genuinely tug at our heart strings, while others, unfortunately, fall flat, or don't feel quite that emotional if one looks back on them in hindsight.
Which wrestling moments were successful in bringing a tear to our eyes or empathizing with the people involved in them, and which ones ultimately appeared forced and awkward, either in actual execution or in hindsight? Let's find out.
15 Mark Henry's Faux Retirement Speech (Emotional)
For a moment, he had us all fooled. After 17 years in WWE, Mark Henry preempted a John Cena promo, wearing a salmon pink jacket as he thanked the fans, his family, and his friends for making his WWE run so memorable, and announced that he was retiring from professional wrestling. He'd teased it brilliantly on social media, and having just turned 42 at that time, he was at the age when most wrestlers are thinking retirement, if not actually retired. Henry was fighting back tears, fans were shouting "We love you, Mark!", and he looked all ready to ride off into the sunset.
Then, just as Cena acknowledged Henry's retirement, off came the jacket as the former Olympic powerlifter delivered a World's Strongest Slam to the Cenation leader, and bellowed out "THAT'S WHAT I DO!", revealing that it was all a ruse. Fans loved it even more, and for a moment, the aging Henry was revitalized.
Once Henry does retire for real, he can always look back at that moment as arguably the finest in his now two decade-plus WWE run.
14 Hulk Passes The Torch To Warrior (Forced)
This is going to be a controversial entry, I presume, especially for fans in my age range. So let me address the elephant in the room and admit that, even up to now, The Ultimate Warrior's victory over Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI is one of my most cherished childhood memories. One hero conquers another in honorable battle, and the older, defeated hero graciously passes the torch to the younger victor. So why do the emotions feel forced if one watches the match 27 years later?
Blame it on the death of kayfabe if you may, but looking back on that match as an adult, I see one jerk begrudgingly telling the other jerk, "Fine, you win, here's your stupid WWE Championship, just you wait till I convince the boss to have me win it back." A lot of the heroes we 30-something wrestling fans grew up cheering turned out to be less than heroic in real life, and Hulk and Warrior being among them (not to mention hating each other for realsies) kind of makes this moment appear forced in hindsight.
13 Bret Hart Reunites The Foundation (Emotional)
Bret Hart's 1997 heel turn was, even up to this day, something highly unusual. While he was hated by fans in America, fans from the rest of the world still loved him, and some even loved him more for the clearly anti-American slant of his new heel gimmick. And that included dissing the U.S. for its lack of family values, which was something he underscored as he broke up a match between the feuding Owen Hart and British Bulldog, who hated each other despite the fact they were WWE's Tag Team Champions at the time.
Although the live audience largely booed their lungs out as all three men tearfully reconciled with each other, with Bret and Owen most notably ending their three-year period of kayfabe estrangement, the real-life family ties binding these men allowed them to play out an emotional angle, one that I'd admit made me tear up a bit as a teenager. Of course, I knew it was a storyline, but it was so well-executed that the emotions felt real.
12 John Cena Proposes To Nikki Bella (Forced)
Now I will admit that while I was watching WrestleMania 33 from a bar, I was rooting for John Cena as he poured his heart out and proposed to his girlfriend, Nikki Bella, after they defeated The Miz and Maryse. It must have been the alcohol combined with the fact that I've also got a longtime girlfriend, but there I was, beer in hand, cheering the most romantic pro wrestling moment since Randy Savage proposed to Miss Elizabeth. Awwww, John and Nikki. You deserve it.
(Cue record scratch sound effect) Then something happened called sobering up, and that's when I quickly called bullcrap on the whole deal. Of course, Cena must have successfully proposed to Nikki beforehand, because why would he propose to the love of his life on the Grandest Stage of Them All if she was unsure, or if she said no? Still, mainstream media bought into the angle, with many none the wiser, or at least willing to suspend disbelief like any good wrestling fan is supposed to.
11 Randy Savage and Elizabeth's Reconciliation (Emotional)
Speaking of Randy and Liz, here they are with some truly emotional moments that still stand out to this very day. When The Mega Powers – Hulk Hogan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage – "exploded" due to Savage's fanatical jealousy and suspicion that the Hulkster was making the moves on Miss Elizabeth, it was time for some "Macho Madness," as Savage turned back to the dark side and took Sensational Sherri as his manager. But when Sherri attacked Randy after he lost his career-ending match against The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII, Liz ran to the rescue as the couple reunited in the ring, with Macho Man turning face for the first time in two years. And at SummerSlam 1991, they were married onscreen, making for another genuine "awwww" moment for fans in the pre-death of kayfabe era.
As we had previously written, Randy and Liz had actually been married in real life since 1984. One year later, the couple would legitimately divorce. Still, one can say the reconciliation angle works up to this day, because aside from the angle being well-written, a lot of what we saw between the two on TV was similar to their real-life ups and downs as a married couple.
10 Vince McMahon "Dies" (Forced)
We've established that old-school, pre-internet era angles can feel emotional today if they closely mirror the reality at the time, and feel forced if the heroic babyfaces were actually the locker room villains in real life. But in 2007, just about everybody above a certain childhood age knew the deal with pro wrestling. Nonetheless, Vince McMahon still saw it fit to write his own onscreen death on a June 2007 episode of RAW, as he entered his limo, only for it to blow up, presumably killing the most powerful man in the wrestling business.
We don't need to elaborate on what forced Vince to hotshot his death angle – the real-life Benoit family tragedy. But you had to wonder what had convinced him to think of something so audacious to begin with. Then again, this is the same man who found Katie Vick hilarious and allegedly suggested an incest storyline featuring his own daughter, so there you go.
9 Shawn Michaels Has Left The Building (Emotional)
Shawn Michaels was a man of his word – on the RAW after WrestleMania XXVI, the very day after he lost a career-threatening match against The Undertaker, the Heartbreak Kid cut a touching speech that, in no uncertain terms, announced that he would be retiring from professional wrestling. And he'd retired years after an unlikely comeback from severe injury, years after he mended his drinking, drugging, and politicking ways as a born-again Christian.
The reason this entry ranks so low isn't the controversy behind Shawn's first retirement speech in 1997 – don't worry, we'll get to that. Rather, it's the fact that he was already 44 years old at the time of his undoubtedly legitimate, and final 2010 retirement, and had accomplished just about everything he had ever dreamed of, and then some. With that in mind, there are a few notable retirements we shall be discussing later on in this list, and we'll tell you why they were more emotional than the time when Shawn Michaels, as he memorably said, had left the building.
8 Goldberg's WWE Return (Forced)
After 12 long years, "Da Man" who had squashed everyone and everything in his path as WCW's biggest homegrown star was back in a WWE ring. It had been a dozen years indeed since a departing Goldberg and Brock Lesnar had flipped WWE fans a figurative bird by delivering one of the worst WrestleMania matches of all time, and in fairness to Goldberg, fans seemed happy to see him back at the age of 49, asking the familiar question of "Who's next?" But were they really happy?
As months passed, with Goldberg even winning the Universal Championship over a distracted Kevin Owens at this year's Fastlane, it became clearer that WWE was building toward Goldberg vs. Lesnar for RAW's top belt at WrestleMania 33. And while this third, and apparently final Goldberg vs. Lesnar match (including the former squashing the latter in 86 seconds at Survivor Series 2016) was very good for what it was, and leagues better than their WrestleMania XX abomination, the WWE Universe, in the end, arguably felt as if the company had shoved another old, casual-friendly name down their throats.
7 Eddie Guerrero Tribute Shows (Emotional)
Eddie Guerrero's untimely death in November 2005 is still arguably the most shocking wrestler death from natural causes – not only was Eddie still in his prime as a wrestler, he also happened to be an active WWE wrestler at the time. That's what forced WWE to divert from regular programming and devote an entire episode each of Monday Night RAW and SmackDown to Guerrero, as his colleagues paid tribute to him and bid him farewell.
There are times when a tribute episode to a recently-deceased wrestler works, and this was it. As hard as it is to watch Chavo Guerrero mourn the loss of his uncle, it's even harder to watch Chris Benoit next to him, clearly devastated by his best friend's death. However, there are also times when tribute episodes like this should work, but ultimately don't, for one reason or another. We'd list Benoit's, but we're leaving it out due to the unusual, unexpected circumstances behind it, and instead, we're mentioning...
6 RAW Is Owen (Forced)
There's no doubt that the Eddie Guerrero tribute episode of RAW was emotional, and that the wrestlers involved truly were missing a locker room brother taken from them way too soon. Likewise, we don't doubt how grief-stricken the WWE locker room was when Owen Hart died, as wrestler after wrestler poured their heart out on a tribute episode called RAW is Owen.
There is, however, a big difference between a show aired right after the unexpected death of a wrestler from natural causes, and a show aired after a wrestler gets killed in a stunt he shouldn't have been allowed to do. RAW is Owen was WWE's way of exercising damage control after Hart fell to his death at the Over the Edge pay-per-view in 1999, and unlike the aforementioned Eddie tribute, this was one aired while WWE had blood on its hands.
5 Mankind Is Mrs. Foley's Baby Boy (Emotional)
Thanks to his first autobiography Have a Nice Day, a lot of us now know that Mick Foley had an average, happy childhood in New York, and was a well-liked kid with a good sense of humor. But as WWE sought to humanize the deranged Mankind through a worked-shoot four-part interview with Jim Ross, "Mrs. Foley's Baby Boy" took liberties in retelling his life story, transforming the young Mick into a strange, disturbed young man who ate worms for kicks and always felt like an outcast among his peers. While, of course, losing himself in the character he created as a teenager – Dude Love, baby.
As we explained above, Foley expertly stretched truths to give himself, as Mankind, a strangely believable and sympathetic backstory. The JR interview, as a result, paved the way for Mankind to become a more lovable, goofy character, as well as the introduction of the other two "Faces of Foley," Dude Love and Mick's old WCW/indie gimmick, Cactus Jack.
4 Roman Reigns Retires The Undertaker (Forced)
Career-threatening matches where both competitors are beloved by fans – 'Taker vs. HBK and HBK vs. Flair come to mind – can make for emotional farewells for the wrestler whose career has just ended. Rest assured we've got both those matches covered in our list. But once one of the competitors in such a match inspires never-before-seen fan vitriol despite the fact WWE adamantly pushes him as a babyface, there's a mix of emotions once his beloved opponent loses, and presumably rides off into the sunset.
Of course, we're referring to Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33, and we don't doubt that a lot of fans were devastated by the outcome, expected as it was. But that devastation was combined with a feeling of anger at the WWE for once again presenting Reigns as the alpha babyface, and the only man suitable enough to end 'Taker's legendary career. The fans let Reigns have it on the RAW after 'Mania, and one can only imagine the fury in the WWE Universe, should the company's plans to have Reigns go over Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 34 push forward.
3 Ric Flair's Retirement Match And Farewell (Emotional)
"I'm sorry, I love you." With those five words and one Sweet Chin Music, Shawn Michaels had ended Ric Flair's career at WrestleMania XXIV. It was a fitting end to a wrestling career that had spanned three and a half decades, and the way it ended at 'Mania is still talked about to this day as a touching moment. Michaels, despite his veteran status, had grown up watching the Nature Boy, and here he was, ending his career per stipulation, after Flair had dodged the forced-retirement bullet in a series of career-threatening matches beforehand.
Flair's farewell address on the RAW after 'Mania made for another touching affair for the WWE Universe, and it was quite notable for the fact that everybody broke character, with several onscreen allies and rivals personally thanking Ric for what he'd done for them and the wrestling business. Heck, even The Undertaker broke character that night, though WWE made sure not to have TV viewers see this unlikely moment.
2 Shawn Michaels Loses His Smile (Forced)
As you'll notice, a lot of the entries in this list have something to do with a wrestler's retirement, specifically their farewell addresses. There's even one entry dealing with a faux-retirement. And all those retirement speeches we mentioned in here are notable for the real emotions they triggered in fans. But what if a wrestler doesn't appear to be sincere in his desire to hang up his boots, or the reason for hanging up said boots? For that, you'll have to go back to 1997, and that moment when Shawn Michaels lost his smile.
At that time, Michaels was only 31 years old, with a comparatively banged-up body for a wrestler his age. But many fans and wrestlers weren't buying those crocodile tears or HBK's claims of a career-ending knee injury. Was this all an elaborate ruse, an excuse for Michaels to avoid putting Bret Hart over for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 13? That's still debated to this very day, though Michaels didn't help his cause by never, even once, looking like a man with a serious knee injury in the months that followed this controversial retirement address.
1 Edge and Daniel Bryan's Retirements (Emotional)
When a wrestler retires well before they're expected to, that makes for a truly sad moment for their millions of fans around the world. In 2011, Edge was just 37 years old and was currently fresh off a successful defense of his World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXVII. So seeing him announce his retirement a week and a day later was an absolute shock, and an absolute tearjerker for many fans watching live and at home. One could take solace, however, from the fact that he literally quit while he was ahead.
Daniel Bryan's retirement five years later was less shocking than Edge's, as he'd been out of action for months due to concussion issues, but wasn't any less heartbreaking. At 34 years old, Bryan still should have been on top of his game, and it was evident he still wanted to wrestle so very badly, only for WWE's doctors to say "no" to the "Yes!" Movement leader. With "grateful" as the main arc word of his retirement speech, Bryan officially ended his WWE career, and like Edge, issued a heartfelt goodbye to life as an active wrestler. Though who knows if he could return to the squared circle someday, albeit most likely with another company?