We as wrestling fans often have dissenting opinions on WWE programming. We want storylines to go the way we predict and when they don’t, we complain. Why? Because most of us feel we could book the WWE better than the men & women employed to do so. However, even in our pessimistic mindsets, the WWE is still able to shock and send us into ecstasy at times.
There are moments in time when the WWE are able to even shock the so-called in the know, smart wrestling fans, better known as smarks. It’s these moments that make wrestling special, allowing us to curate memories for a lifetime. From debuts to returns to great angles, the WWE has found a way over the years to continuously make us mark out over booking decisions.
The element of surprise in recent years has reduced in parallel with the demise of kayfabe. But sports entertainment is such a unique discipline that it still manages to make us mark out beyond our wildest of dreams. When you read the moments on this list you will find goosebumps appearing all over your arms. Get ready to relive greatness.
Here are 15 moments in the WWE that made smart wrestling fans mark out.
15 JOHN CENA GETS DRAFTED TO RAW
You know there was actually a time where John Cena wasn’t getting booed out of every arena he stepped in? I know right, hard to believe. There was an actual time that the 16-time world champion was the most over superstar on the roster. That was proved when a sold-out arena in St Louis nearly blew the roof off as the chain gang leader appeared on RAW.
When The Rock and Stone Cold moved onto bigger things in the early 2000s, there was a gaping hole in WWE’s main event scene. Somebody needed to step up and become the marquee name, that man was John Cena. And when the WWE Champion made the monumental switch from SmackDown to RAW, he took across his massive fanbase with him.
The rise of Daniel Bryan to prominence through 2013 to 2014 is one of the best underdog stories we’ve ever witnessed as wrestling fans. The Yes Movement creator took on the Authority and against all odds, toppled them at Wrestlemania.
Wrestlemania 30 will best be remembered for the night that the Undertaker’s streak was put to bed. That was a moment that sent a 75,000-strong crowd into shock, nullifying their enthusiasm until the main event. A main event in which Daniel Bryan not only defeated both Randy Orton & Batista, he also thwarted the advances of Triple H.
Daniel Bryan did what every single wrestling fan wanted him to do, become the top guy in the company.
13 MARK HENRY’S FAKE RETIREMENT
When a superstar as welcoming and friendly as Mark Henry pours his heart out on the mic, you as a fan are always indulged to listen. What Mark Henry did on the 17th of June 2013 will forever go down as the best piece of acting in sports entertainment.
The World’s Strongest Man fooled the entire arena and the millions watching at home. Prior to that segment, Henry had been sending cryptic posts on social media. That anticipation and frenzy culminated in an epic fake retirement speech on Monday Night Raw.
The scene was perfect, Henry’s acting was stupendous, and they couldn’t have picked a better sucker than John Cena to be laid to waste too. The moment garnered an incredible reaction from the crowd and that shock ultimately sustained the rest of the feud.
12 THE ROCK BEATS CENA AT ‘MANIA 28
There’s a certain level of electricity generated every time The Rock steps into a ring. This time the electricity was magnified as he squared up against another icon, John Cena. In a bout that was advertised for just over a year, the two legends put on a once in a lifetime match at the most successful WrestleMania in history.
As iconic as this bout was, it’s no locker room secret that the majority of smart wrestling fans wanted The Rock to go over. In fact, they quivered with fear every time the possibility of John Cena winning arose. To their pleasure, The Rock would win in his hometown, prompting an eruption from a packed Sun Life Stadium. Of course, Cena would get the win back the following year at WreslteMania XXIX.
11 SETH ROLLINS CASHES IN AT WRESTLEMANIA 31
Heading into WrestleMania 31, the WWE Universe was as we say, not happy with the predictability of the billed main event. Brock Lesnar [C] vs. Roman Reigns was set to headline the show and we were meant to be witnessing the coronation of the Samoan badass. He was inevitably going to be the ‘one’ that slayed the Beast and become WWE Champion. That narrative sent a lot of backlash towards Reigns and the hate began to become borderline intolerable.
Against all odds, the main event of WM31 delivered a highly compelling match. A bout in which both Reigns & Lesnar displayed world-class storytelling. However, it wasn’t their storytelling that made the WWE Universe mark out, it was the arrival of Seth Rollins. The Architect ran down the aisle, inserted himself into the championship match and walked out as WWE Champion, sending the 76,000-strong crowd into ecstasy.
10 CHRIS JERICHO DEBUTS
What better way to welcome in the new millennium than with the debut of the Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla, Chris Jericho. We can truly look back at the past eighteen years and definitely say that the WWE wouldn’t be where it is today without Y2J.
Chris Jericho jumped ship from WCW because he wasn’t seeing any potential career progression neither was he enjoying the tyranny of Eric Bischoff that much. So, he embarked on becoming a household name in the WWF.
Do you remember the scene? The Rock’s in the middle of the ring holding the crowd in the palm of his hand and the infamous countdown clock struck 0. Not only did Y2J interrupt The Rock, he upstaged him in a verbal slanging match shortly afterwards. The crowd became unglued and it’s now one of the most memorable debuts in wrestling history.
9 STONE COLD RETURNS TO SAVE TEAM WWE
When Stone Cold’s popularity began to dwindle in the early 2000s, Vince McMahon being the creative genius he is conjured a way to revitalize interest in him. A heel turn at WrestleMania X-Seven set in motion Austin’s revival, allowing him to join hands with Vince McMahon himself. This turn would go on to play a massive role in the biggest storyline of the year.
When the billionaire owner bought out Ted Turner’s WCW, it paved the way for an Invasion angle, an angle in which WCW performers came to take over WWE and stomp out their wrestlers. Cut a long story short, the WCW roster was getting the better of WWE in the ring, this allowed the ‘old’ Stone Cold to march down the ramp and stunner everything that moved to a deafening crowd reaction. Unfortunately, the Invasion angle was doomed from the start and Austin would soon lead the Alliance, which proved to be a bust.
8 FINALLY, THE ROCK HAS COME BACK
The most electrifying man in all of entertainment left the WWE high & dry in 2004 and when he finally returned in 2011, he set the place alight. With his return, the Brahma Bull was confirmed as the host of WrestleMania XXVII. The return would be part of a three-WrestleMania deal as The Rock would enter a memorable feud with John Cena.
I remember the night the Rock returned, it was the night that many casual viewers turned into hardcore fans again. The Rock returned in front of a boisterous crowd in Chicago and those smarks came unglued in his presence. That kind of reaction can only be attributed to the popularity and star power of The Rock. From then on, the pops maintained, and the Rock’s electricity sustained RAW for a few more years.
7 BROCK LESNAR RETURNS & F’5s JOHN CENA
What better way to mark your return to the WWE than to F-5 the greatest superstar of all time in John Cena. And that’s what Brock Lesnar did and with that moment, it marked the beginning of the extra hype around the ‘RAW after Mania’. It’s arguable that Brock Lesnar received the biggest pop in wrestling history on that night, such was the ferocity of his reception.
When Brock Lesnar flipped the bird at WrestleMania XX, many believed they would never see the Beast ever again. He went on to dominate the landscape of UFC and become a fighting icon in the mainstream world. Since coming back, what he’s gone on to achieve is second to none. He broke The Undertaker’s undefeated WrestleMania streak and he’s beaten Triple H, John Cena & Goldberg in successive years.
6 DOLPH ZIGGLER WINS THE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
This was when the show-off was at his peak in terms of both popularity and relevancy. At the time, his arrogant heel persona shone brightly, and it related perfectly with the smarks. Fans felt Dolph Ziggler was one of those guys that’s talents weren’t matching up to the position he found himself in.
So, when he won money in the bank, the whole WWE Universe couldn’t wait for him to cash in. Even when the face of the company challenged him for the briefcase at TLC, the fans universally rejected John Cena in hope that Ziggler would retain it. He did and then went on to cash in to one of the loudest receptions ever heard around a WWE ring.
The crowd’s reaction was heightened by the fact that Alberto Del Rio nearly spoilt that cash in with a superkick to Ziggler’s face. For Dolph Ziggler, this will go down as the peak of his career.
5 TRIPLE H RETURNS AT MSG
The cerebral assassin has thousands of detractors worldwide, but they would be the first to admit, they miss him when he’s gone. In 2001, when the Game completely tore his left quad, his wrestling career hung firmly in the balance. What the doctors didn’t know was that Triple H is a different kind of animal when it pertains to rehabilitation.
At his time of injury, he was perhaps the biggest heel in the company but when he came back, the reaction he got was that of a babyface. To heighten matters the more, his return took place at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. Only a wrestler of Triple H’s stature could garner such a special reaction, a reaction that will never be topped in our lifetime.
4 JOHN CENA ENTERS AT #30
By the year 2008, it was abundantly clear to the WWE Universe that they were in the middle of the John Cena. Stars like Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton and Batista were all branded as supporting acts to the Cenation leader. It was because of this handpicked status that most WWE fans rejected Cena but at the 2008 Royal Rumble, they couldn’t hide their excitement to see him.
Any normal human being wouldn’t have come back from a torn pectoral in the record time that Cena did. At the time for the Royal Rumble, Cena was a doubt for WrestleMania let alone that Rumble match. Subsequently, his entrance at #30 blew the roof off and for once, male wrestling fans cheered Cena. YES, male wrestling fans.
3 HULK HOGAN SLAMS THE GIANT
Whenever you think of the word ‘iconic’ the name Hulk Hogan springs to mind. And what was the moment that defined his career? The night he slammed Andre the Giant. WrestleMania III, the main event, 93,000+ in attendance and the two biggest stars in the industry standing face to face in the ring.
What many thought was impossible, the real-life superhero in Hulk Hogan was able to accomplish. He lifted a 500 pound giant over his shoulder and slammed him down in preparation for the iconic leg-drop.
Back in the 80s, kayfabe was still alive and storytelling was at its peak, no one represented those two philosophies better than Hulk Hogan. The Hulkster was single-handedly responsible for taking wrestling from its niche market audience to the mainstream world.
2 CM PUNK WALKS OUT WITH THE WWE TITLE
When you mention revolutionaries in the wrestling business, CM Punk’s name must stand right at the top. Who would have thought that one outspoken unscripted promo would have changed the course of professional wrestling as we know it. With that pipebomb, CM Punk instantly became a main event star and he began to go toe to toe with John Cena, often eclipsing him.
Some would say Punk’s record 434 days as WWE Champion is the pinnacle of his career but without a doubt, his match against John Cena at Money in the Bank is the biggest moment of his career. Leading into MITB, the storyline of CM Punk’s contract began to play out and with that, we got the biggest crowd reaction of this century as Chicago gave one of their own the greatest send-off imaginable.
1 STONE COLD HELPS MANKIND WIN THE WWF CHAMPIONSHIP
It’s not an opinion that this moment won the Monday night wars for WWE, it’s a FACT. On that night, over at WCW Nitro, Eric Bischoff being the controversial figure he is, decided to announce live on TV that Mankind would be winning the WWF Championship. And with that decision, thousands of viewers tuned over to Monday Night Raw and McMahon’s superiority reigned forevermore.
It’s hard to distinguish whether Stone Cold’s appearance or Mankind’s pinfall got the biggest reaction of the night, either way, the roof was blown off. There’s nothing better than seeing a classic underdog story play out in front of you and with the odds stacked against him, Mankind still overcame Vince McMahon and his bunch of goonies. It was that dynamic that allowed a whole arena to mark out uncontrollably.