Wrestling fans may chide Vince McMahon for his constant talk of it being “sports entertainment.” However, let’s be frank: McMahon is merely saying what the business has always been. From the moment two promoters decided who was going to win a match, wrestling ceased to be a legitimate sport and instead turned into entertainment. It’s always been that way, Vince was just being honest about it.
Like any form of entertainment, things can be planned out but inevitably stuff goes wrong. While most TV shows have the benefit of being able to bounce back with retakes, live stuff doesn’t have that advantage. We see stuff go wrong all the time in sports and live performances: Missed cues, bumbled lines, full-scale bloopers and it can be fun. Let’s face it, something about watching supposed professionals screw up is always entertaining and we get a real kick out of it. Wrestling is no different as we can giggle at a bad promo or chant “You F----ED UP” at a guy messing up a simple move. It’s fun and simple, you don’t mind it too much.
But every now and then, things take a different turn. It goes off-script in a way that leads to some really bad stuff. In some cases, it’s laughable, others it’s quite serious and other times there are long-range consequences that lead to huge trouble down the line. The history of wrestling is filled with a lot of messes but here are 10 in particular that stand out. Ten incidents where things went quite wrong and unplanned and ended up causing a lot of embarrassment, if not outright disaster, for not just those involved but the company itself and put a black eye on the business as well.
By the way, I know many will ask about Owen Hart but that really crosses the line from "disaster" to "utter tragedy." It was a terrible accident in its own way and unplanned but it somehow doesn't feel right to count that horrible moment among some other, somewhat lighter fare. Some may disagree but my feeling is that you can laugh at a few of these but putting Owen on the list just doesn't seem as right.
16 Daniel Puder Nearly Breaks Kurt Angle's Arm
A case of trying to show up the Tough Enough rookies back in the 2004 edition of the contest nearly backfired in a bad way for WWE and Kurt Angle in particular. Angle hosted the Angle Invitational, in which he would invite people to the ring to have a match with him. After beating one contestant, Angle challenged Daniel Puder. There was one problem; it was a shoot fight and Puder had a MMA background. While Angle is an Olympic Gold Medalist, it's unlikely he was prepared for Puder's Kimura lock.
When Angle was locked in the hold, he either had to tap out, or risk having his arm broken. Angle didn't want to tap to a rookie, as it would've embarrassed him. He was able to get Puder in a pinning predicament and the referee counted Puder down, despite the fact he had gotten his shoulders up. Angle escaped unharmed, but Puder was eventually buried and released from his WWE contract in 2005. If Angle had his arm broken, this likely would've been a lot higher on the list.
15 Mick Foley Falls Through Cell
Mick Foley being thrown off the cell through the announce table was planned in the Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker at King of the Ring. What wasn't planned was Foley going through the cell off of 'Taker's chokeslam. Foley has said that falling through the cell was the first time in his career he had been knocked unconscious. What made the fall even worse was a chair that was lying on top of the cell followed him for the fall and landed on his mouth, knocking out some teeth. That Foley finished the match is a miracle and a testament to Foley's tolerance for pain. Rest assured, the same thing would never happen today.
14 Vince McMahon Tears Both Quads
At the 2005 Royal Rumble when Batista and John Cena simultaneously went over the top rope to end the Royal Rumble, Vince McMahon came to the ring, upset that there wasn't a clear winner. What wasn't planned was Vince tearing both his quads when he leaped into the ring. It caused a weird looking situation where McMahon, the referees, as well as Cena and Batista were trying to run through the angle, all wondering why Vince was sitting down on the canvas.
McMahon would need surgery to repair his quads, but in his DVD McMahon he bragged about recovering faster than his son-in-law Triple H, who also tore his quad, back in 2001.
13 The Curtain Call
In a time where the business was still doing a lot to protect kayfabe, the Kliq threw it to the wind in Madison Square Garden. With Scott Hall and Kevin Nash leaving for WCW, the backstage clique featuring Shawn Michaels Triple H, Hall, Nash and Sean Waltman (although he didn't come down to the ring here) decided to break kayfabe in front of the live crowd, embracing in the ring.
The group was resented for this, and McMahon wasn't able to punish Hall and Nash, as they were leaving, while HBK was his world champion. As a result, Triple H was the only one punished, as his push was halted, and plans for him to win King of the Ring were scrapped in favor of Austin.
Wait, that doesn't sound all bad. Austin 3:16 was born out of it. Maybe it wasn't a disaster after all.
12 The Rockers’ Tag Title Win
Once has to wonder how things might have unfolded differently with this one. For years, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty had been wowing fans as the Rockers, working amazing double-team moves and high flying and were highly popular. In late 1990, WWE decided to finally pull the trigger and have them beat the Hart Foundation for the tag titles. It was taped for a Saturday Night’s Main Event program, meant to be the highlight of the team’s career.
However, mid-way through the match, the top rope came loose, throwing everyone off. They went on however with the Rockers getting the pin and the tag titles. The plan was supposed to be them holding the belt before losing them at WrestleMania to Power and Glory. However, Vince McMahon and others were not happy about how the match came off. Rather than have a rematch, they instead decided to basically erase the entire win, never airing the bout and the belts staying with the Harts. Not only that but when the Nasty Boys arrived to WWE off a hot WCW run, it was decided they would go over the Harts to win the belts at Mania and the Rockers left with nothing.
In a 2011 DVD, Bret and Shawn are up front on how they both hated this, a great moment ruined by such a mistake and never getting the chance to make it up. Thus, officially, The Rockers remain one of the best teams to never hold WWE gold and it may well have sparked a different path for all involved not to mention ruined a lot of kayfabe trying to explain to the fans in attendance why this never came to TV.
11 Bash at the Beach 2000
It’s hard to tell with this one how much was real and how much a work. Indeed, Vince Russo and Hulk Hogan have changed their takes on the incident a few times. What matters is that it was a total mess that got completely out of hand. Russo was busy pushing “this is all set up” at WCW and the story was that Jeff Jarrett was supposed to retain the World title against Hogan but Hogan didn’t want to lose.
The back and forth behind the scenes is wild to read about but what fans saw was Jarrett literally laying down on camera for Hogan to pin him for the title. Hogan then got on the mic to trash Russo for running the company. Russo then came to the ring later to strip Hogan of the belt and lambaste him as a “big bald son of a bitch” among other insults. Supposedly, the idea was to build up heat for a Hogan return. However, Russo’s unscripted rant hit way too close to home for Hogan (always soft about his hair loss) and Hogan really did leave the building in a huff.
Hogan never worked for WCW again and hit Russo with a defamation of character lawsuit. It was still ongoing in 2003 when Russo was working for TNA so Hogan didn’t sign with that company and while they did work together eventually, it was clear it was still a huge problem. It did nothing but give WCW a further black eye with fans and still one of the messiest parts of Russo’s entire tenure.
10 Junkyard Invitational
Hardcore matches tend to get very messy. ECW knew that. WWE knew that. But apparently, WCW never quite got that memo. Their entire “hardcore division” was mostly a total ugly mess, some ECW cast-offs and other guys who never seemed to get that it takes more than just pounding away with weapons to get people into a match.
The “highlight” of it all has got to the “Junkyard Invitational” at Bash at the Beach ’99. WCW actually got an honest-to-God junkyard set up with lights and 14 guys who were set at each other…with no advertising for the match whatsoever. It didn’t matter who was in the match as the bout had bad lighting and much of it shot from a helicopter above to make it look like news footage of a riot. The “rule” appeared to be just to beat each other up and escape the junkyard but WCW added to it with explosions and toppling cars…none of which the wrestlers were warned about so a couple of guys nearly got crushed while others suffered numerous injuries. Finally, Fit Finlay managed to get out to end it but it was massive waste of money and nearly lives that gave WCW bad press it could scarcely afford.
9 The Shockmaster
Really, you can’t do a list of “wrestling disasters” and not have this one. Quite probably the dumbest moment of 1993 WCW (and brother, if you remember that year, you know what a statement that is), WCW wanted to find a new challenger for World Champion Vader. Rather than try to build up a legitimate budding star, they picked Fred Ottman, Dusty Rhodes’ brother-in-law and gave him a muscle vest, jeans and a mask that was just a Stormtrooper helmet with glitter on it. He was set to make his big debut on “Flair for the Gold” as the mystery partner for Sting and Davey Boy in War Games against Vader, Sid and Harlem Heat.
Sting made a big build-up, announced his name, there was an explosion as the Shockmaster broke through the wall…and tripped on a board, falling flat on his face with his helmet flying off. It’s to their credit that the heels managed not to burst out laughing although you can hear Flair’s hysterical “Oh, God…” in the background. Ottman managed to get it back on in time for Ole Anderson (backstage and not seeing this) to do a voiceover making threats while Jesse Ventura led the crowd in laughter. Hands down the worst debut of all time and still one of the most mind-blowing things you’ll ever see in wrestling, ruining a character in two seconds which, even by WCW’s lofty standards, was something big.
8 Drunk Giant
Andre the Giant was known to be able to put it away in his day, often drinking multiple bottles of wine and dozens of beers in one sitting. While wrestling Akira Maeda in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Andre was instructed by the promoter to teach Maeda a lesson, as he was known for having a bad attitude.
The Giant took this to mean to show up drunk and Andre took things a little further than the promoter would've liked. While no-selling a lot of Akira's moves, Akira began applying shoot submissions to Andre. This infuriated him, as he proceeded to use his mammoth foot to kick Akira in the face multiple times. Akira and Andre circled the ring a few more times, with Andre stumbling around drunk. Eventually the promoter came down to the ring, along with other officials to put an end to the match.
6 Richard Belzer Gets Choked Out
Before he set the world record for “most appearances by the same character in different TV series,” Richard “Munch” Belzer was a successful stand-up comic who managed to wrangle his own talk show in New York in 1985. During the build-up for the first WrestleMania, Belzer spent the first part of his show running down wrestling as fake and pot-shots at his guests Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.
Hogan was rather ticked off as he came on, doing his best to keep calm but when Belzer challenged Hogan to show a real move off, it was no surprise Hulk went a bit too far. Slapping Belzer into a front face-lock, Hogan kept the host (who he outweighed by about 200 pounds) in the hold a tad too long, blocking his windpipe and Belzer went limp in his arms. Hogan then let go to allow Belzer to land in a heap on the floor, his head smashing onto the stage so hard that he was bleeding. Mr. T tried to laugh it off as Belzer was helped up by Hogan, both a bit shaken by this. Belzer proceeded to sue Hogan and WWF for $5 million which was settled out of court but it was a bad punch of publicity with why keeping to kayfabe is a practice better left in the past.
5 Ali vs. Inoki
It must have sounded great on paper: Muhammad Ali, the man revered as one of the greatest boxers of all time, at the top of his game as world champion against Antonio Inoki, one of the greatest legends in all of Japanese wrestling. It got huge attention, serious press talk of who would win in a boxer vs wrestling fight and it packed the arena in Toyko in 1976. However, there were issues as the plan seemed to be to have it worked with Ali knocking out the ref and then beaten by Inoki but Ali refused to lose and thus the work turned into a shoot.
Given the two massive egos involved, it's no surprise things would clash but no one expected the debacle that followed. For practically the entire match, Inoki literally lay on the mat, kicking out at Ali, who dodged and circled around while taunting the wrestler. That’s right, the big battle that had gotten international attention involved Inoki imitating a turtle to a frustrated Ali. The crowd was turning on it as Inoki did manage to get Ali down and an elbow in the face but Ali didn’t throw a punch until the seventh round and only five more. It all ended in a 15 round no-decision which gave both guys a chance to say they’d have won. The fact is, the fans were the losers in this total mess that tarnished both men’s legacies.
4 Sting blowing out his knee
Throughout wrestling history, there have been injuries that shook things up. Magnum T.A.’s car accident ruined a fantastic career and Stone Cold Steve Austin would have gone way longer if not for breaking his neck. But when it comes to an injury that caused massive long-term havoc, this may top them all. As 1990 began, Ric Flair had the book for WCW (still under the NWA banner) and they were building the big encounter of him and Sting at WrestleWar. They set it up with Sting kicked out of the Four Horsemen and at Clash of the Champions X, Sting racing down to attack the Horsemen in a cage match against Gary Hart’s guys. However, a fall from the cage resulted in Sting blowing out his knee for real, putting him on the shelf for months.
While this certainly helped sell the Horsemen as career-killers, it also meant no Sting/Flair WrestleWar showdown. So Lex Luger, after a great run as a heel, was turned face to go against Flair who refused to drop the title, wanting to wait for Sting. This led to various cheap finishes of Flair keeping the belt which led to a drop in attendance. During this, Ole Anderson convinced Jim Herd that Flair’s booking was the problem so Ole got in charge and started pushing out the fresh young talent for old guys like Junkyard Dog which did little to help things. Sting would finally return in July to win the belt but that led to the horror of the Black Scorpion and even worse business so Flair was able to talk his way back in charge and champion as 1991 began. What should have been WCW taking its big step forward instead shot the company in the foot big time and a stumbling it would never truly recover from.
3 Victory Road 2011
Among the lowest points in the history of TNA (which is saying a hell of a lot), this may be karma for them putting up with someone with as shaky a history as Jeff Hardy for so long. The main event of the PPV was going to be Hardy challenging Sting for the TNA World title, a match built up for weeks and supposed to be the highlight of the show. Rumor is that folks knew Hardy was in poor shape before the match but no one realized how poor until it took him nearly a minute after his entrance music started to stumble out through smoke and toward the ring.
It was obvious to anyone the guy was stoned out of his mind and the very idea of him doing this before any show, let alone a PPV main event was enough to get folks howling. After the intros, Eric Bischoff came down to cut a promo but was very obviously telling both Sting and the ref (who looked as pissed as everyone else did at Hardy circling around) what was going to happen next. He was taken out to give a bit more time to things and then the match started. Actually, calling it a “match” isn’t fair; it was Hardy circling around, a couple of punches, then Sting hitting the Scorpion Death Drop out of nowhere for the pin. It’s notable how this is one time you see a guy really trying to kick out as Hardy apparently truly believed the match was going longer but Sting held him down for real in order to end it. That’s right, a PPV main event lasting about one minute, a low even WCW never sunk to. The fans were irate and yelling “bullshit” with Sting shown on camera calling out “I agree” as he stormed off and Hardy just sitting there as if not even realizing the match was over.
2 The Brawl for All
Even WWE today doesn’t hold back calling this a complete and utter travesty on every level imaginable. In various specials and books, they cite this as a poor idea that went worse than anyone anticipated. The idea was to have a “tough guy” competition, wrestlers trying to prove themselves as real boxers with the idea to sell Steve “Dr. Death” Williams as a major star and possible new challenger for Austin.
It didn’t go over well with crowds immediately chanting “boring” during these fights and wanting wrestling. Of course, the big problem was that the fights were made legitimate shoots…which meant when Bart Gunn knocked out Williams, it was unplanned and threw the entire damn thing off. The rest of the fights were messes with injuries to Hawk and Steve Blackman with Savio Vega injured so badly that he left the company. And how did it all end? With Gunn being knocked out by doughy Butterbean at Wrestlemania XV in 35 seconds. A total travesty from start to finish that accomplished nothing and helped no one out and a low point of the entire “Attitude” era.
1 Mass Transit
ECW’s rise and fall has been well chronicled over the years. Looking back, it’s amazing they lasted as long as they did as that rabid but small fanbase still wasn’t enough to compete on a major level with WWE or WCW. But it’s frankly nothing short of a miracle that the company didn’t go under in 1996 following this horrendous incident. When Axl Rotten failed to show up for a tag team bout, Eric Kulas, an 18-year old who claimed to be in his twenties and acting as “Mass Transit” volunteered to take his place with D-Von Dudley against the Gangstas.
Kulas asked to be bladed and New Jack obliged with a blade job that turned the kid into a bloody mess after a brutal beat-down. They had to stop the show to cart Kulas off and it took 20 minutes to clean the blood out of the ring. It was caught on home video with New Jack beating the kid down more and doing a promo on how he didn’t care if Kulas died or not. The blade job was far worse than intended as medics had to treat Kulas and when his true age got out, it caused a cluster-storm of disaster as the media presented Klaus as an innocent pawn for ECW supposedly knowing the truth all along. It cost ECW an early shot at PPV and nearly killed the company right then and there.
Kulas himself would instigate a years-long lawsuit that only exposed his own wrongdoing in lying about his age and asking for the blade job so the jury found in favor of ECW. Kulas would die in 2002 at the age of 22 with things never fully settled and his legacy in the wrestling world is showing how a guy can go way too far making things “look good for the show.”